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Old 06-28-2011, 01:39 AM   #1
Agemegos
 
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Default Mars 1917

I have an idea for a campaign, which needs a little kicking into shape.

The idea is that the PCs are [Australian] soldiers on the Western Front in December 1917: exhausted, disillusioned, alienated, and jaded by two and a half years of the industrial butchery of infantry combat in WWI. They are caught in the effect of an experimental weird-science weapon, which tears other men apart, but which fortunately transports them bodily to another world. (Where they arrive in the midst of piles of Flanders mud, pieces of weapons and kit, and body parts of other men who have been only partly caught in the beam.)

In keeping with contemporary tradition (E R Burroughs, especially Master Mind of Mars) the other world is Mars, a desiccating, dying, dusty world, home to a decadent culture. I'm torn between using Schiaparelli's map and laying a bit of water on a modern relief map of Mars. Likewise in keeping with tradition, I intend to make the Martians comfortably human enough for romantic motivations &c.

The idea is to make the culture of Mars pretty violent, but romantically, dashingly, heroically so—in contrast with the ghastly impersonal violence of trench warfare. The PCs will get to swash their bucklers, and to feel as they do so that they are fighting bad men who deserve to die. Do I need an establishing sequence in France to make the contrast?

Decadent Mars is basically sword and sandal, with a strong dash of sensawunda provided by relict TL10 or TL11 bits and pieces, both High Tech and Bio-Tech. This will be indistinguishable from magic at the start of the campaign, but I want the PCs gradually drawn in to the plots and intrigues of a nearly-immortal caste of engineers who, though they no long have access to the industrial base to use the stuff, at least know what it does, and can use it effectively, even repair it using cannibalised parts.

Relict tech, especially lethal weapons, is rare enough that the PC's SMLEs, Webleys, and Mills bombs will give them an advantage in early encounters. But running out of ammunition will force them to take on local weapons and kit, and then they will gradually accumulate heroic outfits of relict stuff. Bio-tech relics, at least such of them as are self-reproducing, will be more common than hard tech ones, but less inclined to be weapons. There will certainly be improbably-useful plants: battery bushes and gobsmackingly useful medicinal berries.

Initially the PCs won't speak [ the | any ] Martian language. I am thinking of putting them in circumstances that will force a long overland march with a Martian or party of Martians, perhaps fleeing pursuit along a canal choked with desert sand, with the spires of lost cities sticking up out of it. Give them a few weeks to pick up enough lingo to get by. I'm thinking that the PCs might get placed to rescue a beautiful Engineer from the machinations of his or her enemies without realising what is going on, and that he or she might guide them and accept their escort in a flight of a thousand miles or so: teaching them Language and showing them survival tricks unknown even to most Martians. That should get them to arrive on the littoral plains with enough lingo to get by.

Can I run a campaign in which the PCs are the allies and champions of an NPC wizard who is striving to regain her throne? Or won't players cope with playing the second fiddle? Can I make ally/champion a first-string position without making the wizard unattractively weak?

What relict bio-tech ought to be available? What ultra-tech?
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Old 06-28-2011, 04:55 AM   #2
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Default Re: Mars 1917

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Can I run a campaign in which the PCs are the allies and champions of an NPC wizard who is striving to regain her throne? Or won't players cope with playing the second fiddle? Can I make ally/champion a first-string position without making the wizard unattractively weak?
Generally, I don´t see why not. Campaigns in which PCs run errands or solve quests for powerful NPCs are commonplace, after all. In your case, that is in a campaign of displacing PC groups into radically strange environments, it might be hard to create enough motivation for them to actually do so, e.g. railroad them into your intended campaign framework. Either the NPC is established in a convincingly positive way and his opponent in a negative way, which would still leave the PCs the freedom to simply wander way to do other things, or they have but no choice to join one fraction, because their very survival is at stake. Can you count on the players cooperation if you present them the obviously intended way for the camapign to go ?

By the way, Wizard ? Is this another term for the old engineer caste or where does magic come in ?

Quote:
What ultra-tech?
Apart from Burroughs, do you know Moorcocks Kane Of Old Mars series, an homage to the former ? From these books I remember a nice gadet, a kind of autofac, which simply produces plastic parts to the specifications of the operator, which in turn allows the main character to do all kinds of interesting engineering feats, without being too powerful, since it is plastic, after all (no guns, no combustion engines, for example).
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Old 06-28-2011, 05:35 AM   #3
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Default Re: Mars 1917

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Originally Posted by Brett View Post
The idea is to make the culture of Mars pretty violent, but romantically, dashingly, heroically so—in contrast with the ghastly impersonal violence of trench warfare. The PCs will get to swash their bucklers, and to feel as they do so that they are fighting bad men who deserve to die. Do I need an establishing sequence in France to make the contrast?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, to underline the contrast, I would try to arrange things so that a mixed party gets sent, probably from the midst of a melee. If the party can adjust to changing circumstances and put behind their prejudices, instead of finishing off the Huns who are just as uprooted and isolated as they are, they can present a stronger front against the Martians. It might help them along if Hans and Franz see that they are now alone with triple their number of Australieners, drop their weapons, and, remembering the Christmas Truces, fall to their knees and attempt to sing "O Tannenbaum" and "Waltzing Matilda". If either is allowed to live, they can fill out the party as bearers and if trusted with weapons can wield battleaxes improvised from shovels.

Or they can fight it out amongst themselves, and take the consequences of carrying their war to this strange new yet ancient place.
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Old 06-28-2011, 06:02 AM   #4
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If whoever was operating the teleport gun was sufficiently trigger happy you could even introduce several factions of humans - the player faction (mixed) and one or more competing factions who are determined to carry on the war - perhaps a German faction determined to finish the battle and eliminate the entire allied presence and an Allied faction lead by someone determined to colonise Mars. Thus as well as the Martians the players can bang heads with other humans - who probably regard them as traitors - and the diplomatic chaos they create with Martians whose first encounters with humans were with dangerous fanatics.
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Old 06-28-2011, 07:12 AM   #5
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Default Re: Mars 1917

This past weekend, my group just started making characters for a Steampunk Mars game set in 1889. I'm basing it on Stirling's "The Court of the Crimson Kings" as much as "A Princess of Mars".

I have the Martian tech mostly be TL 4 with remnants of Biotech and Psitech. Most of the biotech is food, medical, and construction related with poisons and drugs (delivered via dart guns) being the primary weaponized biotech. Living gasbags make the ever-popular AH zeppelins possible. The psitech is rare and is mostly odd energy weapons and some communication devices.

Have you decided upon the political structure(s) on Mars? Stirling has the major city on Mars based around the Tharsis area (which gets some cloud formation in real life) with the Grand Canal around it. The Martian ruling Dynasty is tens of thousands of years old. I liked the idea that the Martians are old and refined in ways that have no direct earthly counterpart but in decline along with their planet (I'd actually model them on ancient Egypt in many ways; like the idea of Ma'at).

I haven't came up with reasons for the Martians to have never developed (or developed and lost) space travel given that Earth has discovered various ways of using ether-based space travel. I may use the same as Stirling and have them be very retarded in physics.

I would definitely limits any advanced manufacturing except for biotech (plants, animals, chemicals). Why do the immortal engineers no longer have access to an industrial base? I'm thinking about using a war between Mars and the former planet that is now an asteroid belt to account for a great decline (it made a marginal situation tip over into being unsustainable with resources and psychic ability both being nearly used up). What is stopping them from gradually rebuilding an industrial base, even if a small one?
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Old 06-28-2011, 07:24 AM   #6
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Have you encountered S. M. Stirling's In the Courts of the Crimson Kings? It seems quite apropos to your premise; its Mars has an ancient civilization with extremely advanced biotech that largely makes sense by current scientific standards, and with complex political intrigues in a decadent and corrupt planetary empire. I think you would find things in it worth borrowing.

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Old 06-28-2011, 08:37 AM   #7
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Default Re: Mars 1917

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I haven't came up with reasons for the Martians to have never developed (or developed and lost) space travel given that Earth has discovered various ways of using ether-based space travel. I may use the same as Stirling and have them be very retarded in physics.
How about:
There is no FTL ... teleportation on the other hand or stargate style technology does work. The martians used to use it before they collapsed but no longer do (this is possibly the PCs route home if they can find and re-start a long lost gate) - the disruptor weapon that sent them to Mars uses the same physics for a different purpose (unless they were trying to pull a "Messines Ridge" by teleporting away a big chunk of the front line). The Martian collapse was partly triggered by some massive malfunction of the gate network - or of its power source.
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Old 06-28-2011, 08:42 AM   #8
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Default Re: Mars 1917

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Originally Posted by Brett View Post
Relict tech, especially lethal weapons, is rare enough that the PC's SMLEs, Webleys, and Mills bombs will give them an advantage in early encounters. But running out of ammunition will force them to take on local weapons and kit, . ?
An interesting item of realism is that experienced WWI trench warriors are likely to already have melee weapons and experience with them.

The militaries of the day did significantly more bayonet training than more modern forces though according to All Quiet on the Western Front when the Germans went over the top they used grenades and sharpened shovels (probably Two-handed Axe/Mace) instead.

There were a lot of "trench knives" both factory made and field expedient and a number of other things (spiked clubs and such) that look like they were made in a prison workshop.

If the Martians engage in stand up sword fights one of rhe long WWI rifles with bayonet isn't that bad a spear (though very heavy comapred to a real one).
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Old 06-28-2011, 09:07 AM   #9
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Default Re: Mars 1917

Quote:
Do I need an establishing sequence in France to make the contrast?
Yes, absolutely. If this is a theme, it also probably needs to make an appearance later. Perhaps the bad guys have their own Engineer whose conquest involves introducing the industrial butchery style of warfare, displacing the romantic sort. The PCs know exactly where that leads, and are motivated to stop it.

(The American Civil War also had this disenchantment with the Byronic romance of war. In this case, you want to preserve the romance. But perhaps there's some imagery or atmosphere to be drawn from there.)

Quote:
It might help them along if Hans and Franz see that they are now alone with triple their number of Australieners
Interesting. This can also mean that they learn Martian together as their common tongue, which seems to me to help reinforce the "industrial war bad, band of heroes good" theme. Plus it gives you a bit of suspense -- is Franz really trustworthy?
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Old 06-28-2011, 10:54 AM   #10
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Default Re: Mars 1917

Arg! I want to run this campaign! Or play in it! Unfortunately, I don't have a group right now that would be a good fit for it.

Maybe I could do something like it as a one-shot convention game.
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