“Barsoomian Adventures” Sessions 4 and 5 — alternate timeline

Fellow role-players, here are notes from our fourth and fifth sessions, which Brian W. hosted in Newton, Mass., on Monday, 18 March and 1 April 2013:

>>Player Character roster for Jason E.R.’s “Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars” (Tē-sis ē Bâr-süm) pulp planetary romance miniseries, usingSavage Worlds,” as of spring 2013:

  • Sgt. Joe ‘Knack’ Kanaki” [Gene D.]-male Nisei Jasoomian (Japanese-American Terran human) tail gunner; two-fisted patriot who’s smarter than he looks
  • Beauregard ‘Bo’ Jennings” [Beruk A.]-male African-American Jasoomian, USO trumpet player, expatriate (NYC), former professional boxer and member of the French Foreign Legion
  • Kar Dalan (Kâr Dé-lan)” [Brian W.]-male aysismad (red Martian), an independent panthan (sellsword/scout) currently serving the nation of Raxar (Rax-âr)
  • Olera Gala” [Sara F.]-female Barsoomian masena (Thurian/Martian), one-eyed feline hunter and scout
  • Capt. Billy ‘Rip’ Rohrer” [Bruce K.]-male American Jasoomian pilot of the “Lucy Goosey,” a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber
  • Betsy ‘Blaze’ Harper” [Rich C.G.]-female American Jasoomian, fiery redhead, former Olympic hopeful, and aspiring actress on USO tour for exposure and patriotic duty, along with Carla Rizena and Lucy McIntyre
Perils of Barsoom
Barsoomian dangers

>>[Historical records] “4 January 1944:” The group quickly suspected that this was an alternate Barsoom, one where history had been altered radically. Noticing a group of white-skinned warriors retreating, the Jasoomians of the party leaped with their earthly muscles to intercept.

Instead of a peaceful introduction, the Jasoomians landed in the middle of a firefight between the morgor {m’R g’R} and the soldiers. A fierce battle ensued; Blaze suffered a horrific injury from a morgor plasma rifle, but luckily the Barsoomian medical paste healed her very quickly.

All the morgor died, and all but one of the soldiers. He introduced himself as “Than 4722515,” a soldier bred on Jasoom and stationed here on Barsoom to repel the morgor invasion of the solar system. He didn’t understand any of our complex questions about reality and time travel — he suggested that the group accompany him to Horz to talk with a Van (Barsoomian for Priest). Blaze grabbed a working morgor plasma rifle.

In Horz, the Thans were reassembling their forces. The group met the local Vans (513, 675, 926), who, according to Kar Dalan and Van-tija, resembled therns. The Thans and Vans dared not utter the sacred name of Issus, instead referring to her as Aysha [É-ša], which means “The Forbidden One”. Van 513 showed his medallion, which projected a visual image of Lucy dressed in an ancient Barsoomian costume.

The Vans told the group about the coming of Issus 1 million years ago and the founding of Kiptang. Zylor Bar was well known as a historical villain. Once Issus’ herald, soothsayer and high priest, Zylor Bar had the gift of prophecy and held council with powerful leaders of the time to discuss an ambitious plan that spanned a million years. Apparently, he then betrayed Issus and was killed by Issus’ champion, Kar Kilad.

Van 513 led them to the museum at Horz to the exhibit of Zylor Bar, which still contained his notes and the time machine behind thick glass! After fruitlessly hacking and shooting at the glass, Blaze finally used the remaining fuel in the plasma rifle to melt a hole. The air rushed into the vacuum, disturbing the silence of a million years. The group decided that Bo and Van-tija would stay behind to pore through the notes to discover a way to repair the machine.

The rest commandeered 2-person fliers or kozar [kō-zâr] and headed for Raxar in search of Knack. The group discovered that the city of Raxar did not exist — in its place was a large field, with two sets of tracks leading north, both tracks eventually converging, implying that the travelers were companions.

Olera noted that the second set of tracks was made by a masena. Kar Dalan reminded them that the mines of Emar Radtai were located to the north of the city in the foothills.

Nearing the mine, Olera noticed that an invisible vessel was following them. Sensing this, the ship released its skin of prismatic magnetic sand (which appear to have been bending the light) and attempted to flee. Rip pulled an Immelmann turn and blasted the morgor scout vessel out of the sky.

The group was met at the mine’s entrance by a host of Kors or miners. The overseer Kors (5814481, 5793207, 5943392) explained that their friend had volunteered to enter the mines to investigate the disappearance of several miners over the past two cycles (approximately two weeks).

Skeptical, the team nevertheless agreed to enter the mine as well. They came upon the wounded mutated masena in the passageways. Next, they saw the unconscious Knack, webbed up as captives of horrific, blind digging creatures, the rykor [rī-kōr]. At the same time, creatures began to enter the mines: morgor, greb {g’R ‘B} (morgor tracker hounds) and syhar {S ‘R} (morgor war hounds). Although the group vanquished the rykors, the vast numbers of morgor seemed insurmountable.

Strangely, none of the morgor or their hounds attacked the group. A morgor captain whistled for his forces, stated that the mines were now under the control of the morgor and that they would return with the right equipment. The morgor collapsed the mine entrance, leaving the reunited group in the back of the mine….

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars

>>”From the correspondence of Joseph Kanaki, 8 January 1943:” I’m not exactly sure of the date anymore. I had gotten separated from the rest of the crew of the “Lucy Goosey.” Yes, we’re still on Barsoom, as the locals call this version of Mars. I should say, “versions,” since Zylor Bar’s infernal machine had thrown us into an alternate timeline, where the red planet was still lush with vegetation.

If you think this is confusing, just imagine how we felt. The city of Raxar had vanished, and the mutated masena (cyclopean, cat-like Martian) from Padzok was still with me. I made my way to an encampment, which turned out to be a mining outpost (the source of Emar Radtai’s wealth on the other Barsoom). I learned that the red folk had been wiped out and that Barsoom had been repopulated by Jasoomian (Earthling) slaves. What had Zylor Bar done?

While I couldn’t quite pass for a native, I offered my services in the hope of learning more about my surroundings. After all, I’d need more allies than a former lab rat if I was to find my companions and get home. Nearly everything we’ve encountered here is hostile, beautiful but deadly, or both.

The miners gave some sob story about missing miners, so I thought about volunteering but opted to make for the city of Kiptang instead. Well, I must have been knocked out, because I don’t remember what happened when I turned my back.

When I awakened sometime later, “Blinky” the hapless masena and I were bound in giant spider webs. What tortures or monsters would we face next? Fortunately, the rest of my merry band found and fought their way to me.

“Bo” Jennings had fled Hors, a city populated with Vans (priests) and Thans (warriors). The city was besieged by the shriveled morgor. With Bo was the clever Van-tija, former aide to Thuran Gan, a.k.a. the Thern mad scientist Zylor Bar.

Van-tija was angry that Zylor Bar had picked Lucy McIntyre to pose as the goddess Issus in the distant past, rewriting history — don’t ask me, I don’t come up with these cockamamie ideas. At least she made herself useful by studying the notes for rebuilding the time machine.

Kar Dalan tersely explained where and when we were. The red scout and the Amazonian “Blaze” Harper have been exchanging lingering glances, but I don’t want to think about that right now.

Olera Gala, another masena but not mute like “Blinky,” identified the cracked power source for the device as a seenar [sēn-âr]. Of course, the stones were rare. Capt. “Rip” Rohrer got us back on task — the morgors had collapsed the exit, so we’d have to find another way out of the mines before they returned.

We delved deeper until we came to a large intersection. In the center of the chamber was a control panel with three buttons. There were three tracks leading out, two with two-person mine cars, and one with a four-passenger car.

After some debate, we tried pushing each of the buttons, which apparently fueled the vehicles, sent them down the tracks, and then recalled them. The cabin of the four-passenger one filled with a strange fluid. Rip and I took one of the two-seaters for a look.

We came to a disused cell with an ancient timekeeping device, but we couldn’t read the many dials and numbers. I shuddered at spotting yet more webs. We rolled back and shared our findings.

The other two-seater led Capt. Rohrer and me to a spherical chamber with a strange column in the center. It looked broken, but we could tell that the top and bottom somehow fit together. I think this area was some sort of refinery.

Brave Kar and impatient Blaze took the larger car down to what they described as a larger chamber with a possible exit. It turns out they didn’t have to hold their breath — the goo that had enveloped them allowed them to breathe as they descended through rock and water.

Bo and Van-tija rejoined us, having slipped by the morgar army assembling outside the mine. Olera and Blinky smelled their hounds, so we took turns in the four-seater and descended to the lower level.

We followed artificially lit passages to a row of mechanical humanoids standing behind more buttons. Beyond them was a room with seven alcoves, and we soon realized that each robot was like a key.

When I pushed a button, my body slumped to the stone floor. As I opened my eyes, I saw from the perspective of one of the robots! Blaze followed suit, but she got two robots stuck in the arcing electricity of one of the doorways. I had to hop to help free them.

We also learned that if a robot was affected, we’d wake up back in our own bodies. After some trial and error, we matched up the automata with their corresponding buttons. My hopping android enabled me to avoid the lightning and push one button.

Bo dove into a deep pool to push one button with a blast of air, while Kar used a long bar to move aside barbed wires from another. Rip took control of a flying robot to ascend a vertical shaft. Blaze’s strong construct lifted a stone blocking one button.

Olera and Van-tija reluctantly entered robots to extend a metallic arm through a tapering passage and rapidly push a segmented set of buttons, respectively.

When we pushed the buttons simultaneously, a large spherical chamber similar to the one we had encountered previously opened up. The column or pillar at its center came apart, but nothing else apparently happened.

Unfortunately, six morgor commandos led by a giant representative of that horrible race, Gorgum {g’R g’M} caught up to us. We didn’t know how to get out of our robotic forms, and they had already tied up our Earthling bodies and Blinky. Rip and I dove into the emaciated menaces, knocking several down. Capt. Rohrer’s robot was melted, but he returned to his own body.

Bo blasted one at short range with a burst of compressed air, and Olera and Blinky turned invisible and freed Rip. Kar smacked some of the morgor until his robot was destroyed. Blaze wandered toward the pillar, and Van-tija went to a control panel and returned to her own body.

We returned to the control room, where more of Gorgum’s morgor troops waited. They assigned us numbers. The general gave us one zode (two hours) to find a seenar. Smooth-talking Bo got permission to go out to his hidden flyer to retrieve some “mining equipment” — actually, the inert time-travel device.

Scrambling for a lead and an escape route, we went back to the first spherical chamber. Now that we knew how to operate the pillar/piston, we activated it. We found writing in English from Lucy giving a date: “Oct. 12, 9,996,539 B.C.E.” This must be where, or rather when, Zylor Bar took her.

We quietly raced to the old clock, as the morgor ignored us. We eliminated the remaining rykors and destroyed the spider-like hatchlings.

Under Kar and Olera’s watchful gaze, Van-tija reset the clock, which had been counting down to a date three days hence. We saw a floating image (hologram) of Lucy, but it dissolved into static and sputtered out. A vault then opened, revealing an intact seenar on a pedestal!

Apparently, Zylor Bar’s machine could travel through space or time, but each trip through the latter consumed one gem. We transported ourselves through space just outside of Kiptang, which was being sun bombed by the morgor. Relieved to be free of the morgor in the mines, we then plunged back in time, nearly 1 million years.

If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to undo the damage caused to the past, restoring Barsoom to a dry but somewhat free planet and returning to Earth to fight the Axis. But to do this, we have to stop Zylor Bar without killing him.

Kiptang was little more than a village, surrounded by tents. Kar noted that it looked like a religious revival, and Olera invisibly scouted ahead. Rip and Blaze wanted to charge in, but Bo and I realized that we were outnumbered.

Olera returned and confirmed that Zylor Bar appeared to be in the village square, presenting Lucy as the divine Issus and holding a version of the device. We had to rescue her from his shackles or mental control, but first, we had to find a way to get close. Rip grabbed some period clothing, and we prepared to follow Zylor Bar and Lucy as they headed toward the nearest ancient Barsoomian city….

As always, feel free to add any details I’ve missed as you post notes for the past two sessions. I look forward to continuing our adventures later this month! -Gene

“Barsoomian Adventures” Sessions 2 and 3

Fellow role-players, here are Jason’s and my notes for Sessions 2 and 3 of his “Barsoomian Adventures” game, which Brian W. hosted in Newton, Mass., on 18 February and 4 March 2013:

>>Player Character roster for Jason E.R.’s “Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars” (Tē-sis ē Bâr-süm) pulp planetary romance miniseries, usingSavage Worlds,” as of spring 2013:

-“Sgt. Joe ‘Knack’ Kanaki” [Gene D.]-male Nisei Jasoomian (Japanese-American Terran human) tail gunner; two-fisted patriot who’s smarter than he looks

-“Beauregard ‘Bo’ Jennings” [Beruk A.]-male African-American Jasoomian, USO trumpet player, expatriate (NYC), former professional boxer and member of the French Foreign Legion

-“Kar Dalan (Kâr Dé-lan)” [Brian W.]-male aysismad (red Martian), an independent panthan (sellsword/scout) currently serving the nation of Raxar (Rax-âr)

-“Olera Gala” [Sara F.]-female Barsoomian masena (Thurian/Martian), one-eyed feline hunter and scout

-“Capt. Billy ‘Rip’ Rohrer” [Bruce K.]-male American Jasoomian pilot of the “Lucy Goosey,” a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber

-“Betsy ‘Blaze’ Harper” [Rich C.G.]-female American Jasoomian, fiery redhead, former Olympic hopeful, and aspiring actress on USO tour for exposure and patriotic duty, along with Carla Rizena and Lucy McIntyre

Perils of Barsoom
Barsoomian dangers

[From the correspondence of Joseph Kanaki] “30 December 1943:” Dear Mother, while this may seem like the rantings of a shell-shocked airman — and for all I know, they are — the past few days have reminded me of the very real difficulty of remaining honorable in combat.

As with my previous entries, in which I discussed how my B-17B bomber went far off-course, I don’t know if this will ever make it home or past the censors. Still, you were right that writing calms the nerves, especially after the “Lucy Goosey‘s” crew and passengers found ourselves marooned on some version of Mars, or Barsoom, instead of North Africa as planned.

Scouts Kar Dalan and Olera Gala had helped bring us to the city-state of Raxar. The surviving U.S. Air Force personnel and U.S.O. entertainers tried to acclimate to the customs of the aysismad, or red Martians. They all looked like magazine models or Hollywood stars, but they seemed otherwise human in anatomy and motivation.

Teedwar (Col.) Kal Dan, commander of the airship “Banzar,” helped Capt. Billy “Rip” Rohrer and me get some sword training. We had radio operator Sgt. Eugene “Pick” Lydic and waist gunners Sgts. Harry Houchins and Billy McMillan make repairs to our downed bird.

Unfortunately, we lost track of the other Jasoomians, or Earthlings. Sketchy Kar had warned us (in vain) to avoid local entanglements, and cyclopean cat Olera snuck off to snoop around.

Rip and I later learned that Beauregard “Bo” Jennings had gone into town, while Betsy “Blaze” Harper was also engaging in weapons training. Leave it to the performers to think that they’re in charge, just because we crash landed in a strange place.

At the laboratory of isvar (physicist) Thuran Gan, we saw the usual mad scientist array of devices with sparks, dials, and the like. Capt. Rohrer asked if he could help us get home. The older man — one of the few we’ve seen — said it could take about two weeks. Gan also agreed to look into providing folding dragonfly wings like those on the Martian craft.

We were interrupted by Kal Dan, who warned us that a member of our group had been poking her nose where it didn’t belong. Of course, Kal Dan had eyes only for Teeza, the daughter of the jed (king), Daris Nar.

As Rip and I left the palace, we were joined by Kar Dalan and Olera Gala. The masena (feline Martian) had just run into a servant carrying small metal cases. She snagged one, and it contained paste that we could use to disguise ourselves as red men. We asked Olera to see if she could find and follow that servant.

Speaking of servants, don’t get me or Bo started on the castes here. Just like on ancient Earth, Barsoom’s nobility is a mix of warriors and idle rich. Below them are wealthy merchants, then workers and entertainers. Farmers are below them, not that I’ve seen anything I’d recognize as a farm, with slaves at the bottom. Our fellow Earthlings have barely noticed, but they’re mostly white (more on that later).

Back at our quarters, sweet Lucy McIntyre confirmed that Carla Rizena had wandered off. We found Carla mooning over Kan Baniv, another scientist and the nephew of Vobia, the jeda (queen). The prince of Toonol [Tün-ōl] seemed relieved when we arrived, but Carla said she’d answer only to Bo. Rip might have offended the local custom of visha when he touched her arm.

Even though most of us had changed into Barsoomian clothing, if it could be called that, it wasn’t too hard for Rip to track Bo by asking people on the dusty streets. No, he wasn’t gambling on Yano. We found ourselves at the gem-encrusted mansion of Emar Radtai, a mine operator interested in Daria, another princess of Mars.

Bo had met Van-tija [Van-tē -ĵâ] and Nolat [Nō Lat], two First Born or Negroes of Barsoom. Van-tija was widowed by the infamous Jasoomian hero John Carter, and Nolat was a dator, or prince, of Kamtol, exiled after being defeated in a duel by Carter. Great, more people who hate Earthmen.

The First Born were on their way to an audience with Daris Nar and Vobia to negotiate on behalf of Irek Rad [Ir-ek Rad], an arms merchant. Not only was Emar going to help finance the jed of Raxar’s purchases, but he was also interested in Daria.

Kar Dalan knew of Rad by reputation back in his home of Manataj, and he warned us that we must try to stop the profiteer from fomenting conflict among Tunol, Phundahl [Füń-âl], and Helium. I wanted nothing to do with Barsoomian feuds, but Bo and Rip were more than happy to jump in for fortune (coins in pi) and glory.

Bo started to bargain for waste gems from Emar’s mines, and Kal Dan summoned us back to the palace. Since Rip had sworn fealty to Daris Nar, Kal Dan assigned us to accompany Nolat and Van-tija to verify a cache of weapons in some other lost city. We departed immediately on a 10-person flyer or teezar [tē-zâr].

Kar Dalan directed Rip from the bow, while I kept watch aft. Bo played his horn, briefly intriguing Van-tija. Olera quietly told us that the servant and containers led back to Thuran Gan. Was someone besides us trying to pretend to be a red man, or was he merely obtaining supplies for us to blend in?

After a zode (2.7 hours), we approached Padzok [Pad-zâk], a small extinct volcano. On its rusty slopes sat ruins very similar to those we had first crashed into on this planet. Rip set us down in a courtyard, and aristocrat Van-tija and guard Nolat led the way.

Cautious Kar Dalan and bold Rip followed, as did curious Bo and stealthy Olera, followed by javelin-toting Blaze and yours truly. As we entered a mostly intact building, large white apes blocked our exit. I knew it was a trap, but we needed to know the arms merchant’s intentions. We found some sort of greenhouse, with colorful plants, like you’d see in an aquarium.

The chamber was lit by a harsh bulb, and a bald, white-skinned woman approached, with a hideously mutated messina on a chain leash. Olera wasn’t happy. The pale woman identified herself as morvar (biologist) Zallia [Zal-ē-â], the daughter of Thuran Gan, who was actually a Thern [ŧür-en] named Zylor Bar [Zī-l&# 333;r Bâr].

We realized the purpose for his makeup cases, and Zallia asked Van-tija and Nolat why they were early. They explained that they had to move up their plans because of our arrival. Zallia gave a monologue about her father’s plans to rule Barsoom and invade Jasoom, but we just wanted to fight our way out.

Amazonian Blaze hurled a javelin at Zalia, who summoned three huge insect-like monsters. I pulled out my Colt 1911 and shot at one that Kar Dalan identified as a ghek [gek] or enlarged wood beetle. Survival expert Kar Dalan engaged the sept [seţ], or root grub, but missed.

Again ignoring local protocol, Rip leapt toward Zalia, wounding her. Bo tried to grapple sword-wielding Nolat, and Olera Gala used her camouflage ability to surreptitiously attack Van-tija. Zalia and the mutant masena fell back as Rip pressed his attacks.

I maneuvered around a shrub and shot at the wood beetle. Unfortunately, I must have hit some sort of gas sac, because I was briefly overcome by fumes. When I managed to regain consciousness, I could see that my companions had continued the battle.

A huge scarab or moak [mō-ak] had waded in, knocking Olera aside. Zalia had grazed Rip with a “radium” or irtay [ir-té] bullet, and Kar Dalan had slashed at the beetle. Van-tija tried to disengage, but Bo tripped his opponent.

The scarab bit Olera, but Kar Dalan slew the wood beetle. Bo and the root grub traded blows, and Rip killed Zalia. The scarab again hit Olera, and Van-tija cut Bo with her blade. Blaze dropped the woman just as I reopened my eyes.

Bo injured the gargantuan grub and dodged its many arms, as Kar Dalan struck Nolat, who explained that he had fallen out with Irek Rad. Olera missed with her claws, and Rip killed the grub with a Barsoomian bullet. Blaze and I narrowly missed our targets.

Once again, Bo proved that his boxing talents weren’t all behind him, and Olera, Rip, and Blaze helped him finish off the scarab. Unfortunately, the white apes had destroyed our flyer, and Zalia and Nolat couldn’t answer any more questions.

We found more rooms with supplies, as well as pens holding other misshapen beasts, once a dog-like reptilian calot [kal-ât] and an ulcio. Kar Dalan put them out of their misery, and Olera released the pitiful masena. Bo grabbed whatever notes we could find, for later translation.

Things got even uglier when we debated what to do with uncsonscious Van-tija. Capt. Rohrer, Blaze, and Olera wanted to kill her rather than have her tell Thuran Gan about what we had done. Then he’d stop helping us to get home.

Kar Dalan pointed out that executing an unarmed prisoner was murder and that he would have to be left behind rather than be a party to such dishonor. I added that we could still get information out of Van-tija and use her as a bargaining chip. Bo argued that we had to stop Zylor Bar from invading our world, even if he’s one of the few who knew how to get there.

We managed to calm down long enough to find a sleek flyer belonging to the First Born and Thern spies. We took Van-tija and returned to the academy at Raxar, dreading a confrontation with Thuran Gan/Zylor Bar. Whom would the local authorities support, us outworlders or him?

Instead, we faced a whole new set of headaches: madvar (anthropologist) Vora met us after we landed. She said that Lucy and Thuran Gan were missing, and the jed wanted us to find them….

Canyons of Mars
Valles Marineris

>[Historical Records] “1 January 1944:” The true impact of Vora’s news was settling in. Thuran Gan, Lucy and now, we learned, Carla were all missing.

Kan Baniv stormed in, distraught and animated. He informed the Jasoomians that the jed [king] Daris Nar had summoned them to court. Taking Van-tija, the group went to an almost empty throne room.

Off to the side on a raised platform was the infamous Irek Rad delivering the conclusion to what we can assume was a lengthy speech. “And here are the villains now, led by the notorious renegade and convicted criminal, U-Ban of Manataj.”

Daris Nar conceded the point, but reminded everyone that a panthan [pan-ŧan] abandoned his old life and the past did not carry forward. Daris Nar asked his dwar, Rip Rohrer, to give his version of events.

Irek Rad claimed that the Jasoomians instigated the conflict, killing his employees and breaking the traditions of Barsoom by attacking and killing a woman (Zallia); he also claimed to have photographic evidence (moving picture cameras were installed at Padzok).

Daris Nar announced that this required more review and commanded that the Jasoomians remain in the Academy in the meantime. Rip’s request to investigate the disappearance of Thuran Gan was met with a compromise: Kal Dan would be at the Jasoomian’ s disposal to conduct any activities.

The Jasoomians returned to the Academy to review the televised evidence, search Thuran Gan’s room and talk to Kal Dan. The broadcast was recorded without sound, so it was very ambiguous and appeared to show that the Jasoomians attacked first. It also showed the death of Zallia by the hand of Rip.

Thuran Gan’s room confirmed everyone’ s suspicions, the tenthy ray device was missing, along with key notes. Strangely, the pimalia [pē-mâ-l&# 275;-â] paste containers were still there, and used by the Jasoomians to disguise themselves.

Olera Gala picked up the scent of Lucy and Carla, discovering the open courtyard where the trail ended; internal security cameras showed Thuran Gan and armed men escorting the two girls onto a five-man flier and speeding away.

Kal Dan was sent on a wild goose chase, and Knack was asked to guard the “Loosey Goosey” while the Jasoomians headed to Padvok on the speedy First Born flier. Evading the city patrols quite easily, Rip piloted the craft to the southeast, while trusting Van-tija to navigate back to the volcano stronghold.

At Padzok, the Jasoomians viewed a battle in progress: dozens of feral white apes or athurth [â-ŧür-i&# 359;] were swarming four green warriors near the entrance to the secret chamber of Zallia.

Rip positioned the flier above the fray. Kar Dalan, Bo and Rip leapt/rappelled down with grapples to engage the fierce four-armed brutes. Olera guarded Van-tija as Blaze opened fire on the roiling mass of ape flesh.

Kar Dalan provided needed cover for the green men, while Bo and Rip dispatched apes left and right with well-placed shots, spattering the area with fresh blood as the radium bullets exploded on impact.

A white ape managed to jump from a high balcony onto the flier, gripping the railing of the vessel. After failing to claw the creature, Olera resorted to a bloodcurdling roar, and much to everyone’ s surprise — including the white ape — frightened the white ape into releasing his grip and tumbling to his death.

The ladies on the flier moved to a more secure location and descended. Everyone made for the small opening, which only allowed two people at a time.

Eventually, everyone was safe inside, the only casualty being a green man warrior. The leader of the green men introduced himself as Harkan Thul [Âr-kan Ŧül], a jed of Zarquad. He explained that he and his retinue were sent here by his jeddak, Vorquas Vorith [Vōr-kws Vōr-i&# 359;] to investigate why a promised cache of weapons from Irek Rad were not delivered.

Blaze and Olera noted that Van-tija had slipped away. She was quickly found frantically searching Zallia’s notes, explaining that she was very curious as to where Zylor Bar was hiding. She showed them the map of a dead city called Kiptang [Kē-ţ aŋ], which none of the Barsoomians had heard of.

Olera led the green men on a treasure-seeking quest while the team searched for and found the secret passage to the cache of weapons deep in the volcano’ s cone. Inside were many firearms and two fliers: a 10-man or teezar [tē-zâr] and a gigantic cruiser or tanzar [tan-zâr] which is built for a crew of 100-200.

The Jasoomians used their earthly muscles to load everything (including the small flier) into the cruiser. Flying the colors of Raxar, Rip cautiously piloted the immense airship out of the volcano. They contacted Vora, who has been covering for the AWOL Jasoomians.

A knowledgeable historian, Vora transmitted the location of Kiptang, a small dead city north of Horz [Ōr-is]. The group sped towards Zarquad to drop off the green men and then onto Raxar.

The Raxar military ordered the cruiser to halt. Kal Dan broke in on a private radio frequency and told them to flee immediately. The group boarded the ten-man flier just as two battleships converged on the cruiser. The ancient flier was surprisingly swift and tore across the dead sea bottoms toward the dead city of Kiptang.

At Kiptang, the group spotted Thuran Gan’s flier moored near an immense temple complex. Before they could come up with a subtle strategy, they noticed another flier with the banners of Raxar and the Science Academy and the skulking figure of a red man entering the temple. It was Kan Baniv! Vora must have told him about Kiptang…

The group sneaked into the temple entrance which featured a colossal statue of Issus [Is-is], once revered as the goddess of Life and Death on Barsoom, but exposed as a wicked, ancient First Born woman by John Carter.

At the far end of the crumbling temple was Thuran Gan/Zylor Bar toting a weapon connected to the tenth ray machine. Flanking him were the bound and gagged Lucy and Carla. Kan Baniv was cautiously edging his way toward the Thern scientist, when Zylor Bar exclaimed, “I have no quarrel with you, Kan Baniv. And I have no need of the woman Carla. Take her and leave. That is my offer.”

Kan agreed, and Zylor Bar released Carla, who ran to Kan. Their embrace was interrupted by Zylor Bar’s mad cackling, “It’s a pity you never went to Padzok, Baniv. Most unfortunate.” He then fired the strange weapon at the two, dissolving them in a play of light.

Olera turned invisible and sneaked down the edge of the chamber. Kar Dalan headed toward the statue, trying to keep out of sight. The three Jasoomians leaped towards Zylor Bar, covering about half the distance when Bar opened up on them with the strange weapon. A cone of energy shot out and they disappeared into nothingness…

Luckily, the Earthling trio found themselves outside of the city of Kiptang and raced to the gates. Meanwhile, Van-tija ran toward the statue screaming, “No, I was to be Issus. You promised. That was the plan! I was to be Issus!”

Kar Dalan decided on a rash, but bold strategy. He aimed his radium pistol at the tenth ray machine and fired. The machine sparked and fizzled, forcing Zylor Bar to hover over it, panicked. “No, too soon, I haven’t set it right.”

A pulse wave emanated from the machine as Zylor Bar and Lucy disappeared. Kar Dalan and Olera shielded their eyes and found that the temple had changed. It was no longer ruined. And the face of Issus had transformed itself into Lucy.

The Jasoomians witnessed the same pulse wave and found themselves at the gates of a city under siege. Strange alien craft were bombarding the defenses of a contingent of soldiers armed with radium machine guns. Kar Dalan and Olera quickly realized they weren’t alone when four soldiers warned them that the morgors were coming.

Out of the dark passageways, skeletal figures emerged with large weapons strapped to their bodies. Their cadaverous skin was like parchment stretched over angular bones. The Jasoomians arrived to witness the quick battle as the white-skinned soldiers were melted away by some kind of morgor plasma rifle, but the soldiers (and Rip) managed to take out four of the skeletal warriors.

Cornered, the group did not take hostile action since it appeared that the morgors were only targeting the soldiers. One of the morgors twisted a dial on his belt and spoke in Barsoomian to Rip: “Unknown Jasoomian. What is your designation?” Rip replied. “We are here to help you.” This apparently satisfied and the morgors left the temple.

The group, confused and shocked, hovered near the entrance to the temple under bombardment. Then they noticed the smell of moisture in the air and clouds were floating across a blue sky. Something was very wrong….

Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars, Session 1

Fellow role-players, here are Jason’s and my notes for Session 1 of his latest game, which Brian W. hosted in Newton, Mass., on Monday, 21 January 2013:

Player Character roster for Jason E.R.‘s “Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars” (Tē-sis ē Bâr-süm) pulp planetary romance miniseries, usingSavage Worlds,” as of spring 2013:

  • Sgt. Joe ‘Knack’ Kanaki” [Gene D.]-male Nisei Jasoomian (Japanese-American Terran human) tail gunner; two-fisted patriot who’s smarter than he looks
  • Beauregard ‘Bo’ Jennings” [Beruk A.]-male African-American Jasoomian, USO trumpet player, expatriate (NYC), former professional boxer and member of the French Foreign Legion
  • Kar Dalan (Kâr Dé-lan)” [Brian W.]-male aysismad (red Martian), an independent panthan (sellsword/scout) currently serving the nation of Raxar (Rax-âr)
  • Olera Gala” [Sara F.]-female Barsoomian masena (Thurian/Martian), one-eyed feline hunter and scout
  • Capt. Billy ‘Rip’ Rohrer” [Bruce K.]-male American Jasoomian pilot of the “Lucy Goosey,” a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber
  • Betsy ‘Blaze’ Harper” [Rich C.G.]-female American Jasoomian, fiery redhead, former Olympic hopeful, and aspiring actress on USO tour for exposure and patriotic duty, along with Carla Rizena and Lucy McIntyre

[From the correspondence of Joseph Kanaki] “26 December 1943:” Dear Mother, I don’t know when and if you will get this note, but as I promised, I’m taking notes during my travels. Between the censors at the Air Force and those at your internment camp, who knows if you’ll ever get this? Still, there are moments when things make even less sense than usual.

The “Lucy Goosey,” our B-17F bomber, was assigned to Pavia, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. It has been a hard slog up the peninsula, but the infantry has it even worse, between the mud, the cold, and having a tough time telling friend from foe.

My commanding officer, Capt. William “Rip” Rohrer, is a standup guy. He always tells it straight to the men and understands our frequent need to blow off steam. Unfortunately, not every member of the brass is so relaxed. We got called into the strategy room at the air base. Tarps had been thrown over the maps so we wouldn’t see more than we needed to.

Col. Frank Allen explained that we were to conduct “Operation Neapolitan.” We were initially disappointed at doing a milk run rather than a combat mission, but since it would count toward leave and such, nobody complained too loudly.

Apparently, Brig.Gen. Lawrence had requested specific U.S.O. entertainers for his birthday in Tunisia. We’d have no fighter escort and no bombs aboard, but we shouldn’t need any, Col. Allen said. I offered to check out our passengers and scrounge any extra supplies. You know me; if the skipper wants something, he can count on “Knack” to get it.

As I left the command tent, I ran into Lt. Merlin Shields, he of the thin mustache, superior attitude, and the “Pistol Packin’ Mamas.” I call his unit the “Mama’s Boys.” I know it’s puerile, but every jibe is worth it. Shields was oh so interested in our assignment but couldn’t help but get in a dig at our expense.

Anyway, I found trumpet player Bo Jennings playing poker in the officer’s mess. He had wasted no time since his arrival. His companions were just as interesting: a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead. Lucy McIntyre [Sara/Non-Player Character] was bubbly, Carla Rienza seemed interested only in learning if the officers were wealthy, and Betsy “Blaze” Harper was a real pip, one of the boys in manner, if not in looks.

Sometime later, we took off, turning over the Mediterranean. I helped the already restless passengers get secure and then headed to my gun in the tail. Capt. Rip had already pointed out the uncanny resemblance between Lucy and our nose art, which featured a famous duck pinching a pretty girl.

Up in the cockpit were Capt. Rohrer, newbie co-pilot Lt. Milton Dunlap Jr. [Brian/N.P.C.], and navigator Lt. Victor Frisbie. They were joined by bombardier Lt. Harvey Kramer, flight engineer Lt. Conrad Zufall, and radio operator Sgt. Eugene “Pick” Lydic. All good guys, but I think you can already guess why I’m noting all of them here.

Without bombs, it was up to me, ball turret gunner Sgt. Benji Moon, and waist gunners Sgts. Harry Houchins and Billy McMillan to keep an eye out for German or Italian attackers. What we did see was something else entirely — a foo fighter!

A huge aircraft with the rising sun glinting off its dragonfly-like wings overtook us. I warned the cockpit via intercom, and we made evasive maneuvers. It passed us again, and numerous personnel stood on its ship-like decks. When I say “ship,” I mean a sea vessel like the one grandfather sailed. We gained altitude and came about.

The strange airship didn’t look like anything I’d seen before, but we tried to get closer, since it seemed to be struggling to stay in the air. Crazy Rip Rohrer tried to get himself killed as we lowered a cargo net to bring up evacuees. So of course, I had to go after him, but only after warning our crew and passengers to be ready for anything.

The men we brought aboard were underdressed, with reddish complexions and tattoos. They didn’t look or sound like Bedouin, but what did I know? An older man was trying to manipulate some device, which we grabbed. There was a blinding flash.

You’ll never believe this, but try to keep an open mind about what I write next. They say war does strange things to a man’s perceptions, but I don’t know any shell shock that can explain what I’ve seen, so here goes: We suddenly found ourselves flying over an unearthly desert.

Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars

The “Lucy Goosey” flew over some ruins. I thought it was too soon to see North Africa, but with all the fuss over the rescue operation, nobody had time to double-check our course. We clipped a white spire, and something heavy hit the top of our plane.

Rip and I managed to get the crew of the airship aboard our bomber, and we quickly cut the netting loose. Unfortunately, it was our turn to have difficulty, and we crashed into the sands outside the ancient city. We lost Milton, Harvey, Conrad, Victor, and Benji. Like I said, all good men.

After much pantomime, we learned that the old guy with the device was Thuran Gan, an isvar [is-vâr], which we later learned meant “chief ray scientist.” The red men (not to be confused with American Indians) passed around a flask, and we finally started to understand one another. Don’t ask me how; I sure didn’t make the rules out there.

Kar Dalan, a mercenary scout, joined us. He noted that there were four green men at the gates of the city. That sounded reasonable, except for the name of the place — Barsoom [Bâr-süm], or the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ books. Blaze and I had read some of them, but pulp science fiction was now as real as the half-naked men and wrecked airship hanging above us!

The red men knew of John Carter of Virginia, whom we had assumed was a fictional character. They claimed that others from Jasoom [Ĵâ-süm], or Earth, had come to Mars around the time of the Great War — Vad Varo, now in Duhor [Dü-ōr]. I was either dead or going to have one hell of a headache in the morning. Blaze looked for javelins or spears.

A strange beast jumped from atop our downed bird. It looked like a large cat with a cyclopean eye. Kar introduced her as Olera Gala, a masena [mâ-sēn-â]. They had been sent to explore the dead city by Vora, the chief madvar [mad-vâr] of the Raxar [Rax-âr] Academy of Science.

Lucky for us, the city wasn’t entirely empty, as Olera reported seeing the yellow eyes of predatory banths [ban-iŧ] lurking in the dusty streets. Rip and Bo took advantage of the low Barsoomian gravity to jump great distances. The Olympics would sure be different here. The air was thin and cold, but it didn’t seem to bother us.

Four green men rode up on thoats [ŧōt]. I’m not sure which looked stranger, the 12-foot-tall, four-armed humanoids or their rhino-like steeds. They recommended that we seek shelter and said something about an ambassador between their tribe and Raxar, with whom they had a truce. Great, we’re in some other world or dimension, and it’s also at war.

Another airship arrived, bearing the purple banner of Raxar. Teedwar [Tē-dwr] (Col.) Kal Dan talked with Rip, Kar, and Thuran, and they agreed to take us back to their city. The Banzar [Ban-zâr], a huge vessel capable of holding 1,000 troops, towed the “Lucy Goosey,” with our surviving crew and passengers still inside. Rip and Bo jumped around for a while.

The city-state of Raxar was a sight to behold, with bustling streets, strangely beautiful red-skinned residents, and numerous flying craft. Everyone was on a war footing, with even children carrying short swords. We were taken to the academy, where we met the following people:

  • Orad Rel, aavar [â-vâr] or head of the institute
  • Kan Baniv, povar [pō-vâr] or theoretical physicist
  • Essa Naxa, soomvar [süm-vâr] or planetologist
  • Tan Orml, morvar [mōr-vâr] or biologist
  • Vora, the aforementioned madvar, or anthropologist

They all seemed happy to see us, since John Carter had once saved their city, leading to the treaty with the green men of Zarquad [Zâr-kwd]. The ambassador of Zarquad was one Torog, and the jed [ĵed] or king of Raxar was Daris Nar, related by marriage to other rulers, including Carter’s wife, Princess Deja Thoris.

Kan Baniv. the nephew of Vobia, the jeda [ĵed-â], arranged for us to have a royal audience. At the audience we were introduced to the royal family, including the jed’s two daughters, Daria and Teeza.

A wealthy noble (gem mines) named Emar Radtai was openly staring at Daria. We also caught Kal Dan stealing glances at Teeza. The jed’s two sons were killed in the last war. Apparently there is a middle daughter, Phainara, who is missing.

After initial conversations with the scientists, we Earthlings changed into Barsoomian harnesses and loincloths and debated what to do. Capt. Rip Rohrer wanted to offer our services to the jed, and Bo understandably wanted to stay, since he had little waiting for him back stateside. The red men called Bo a “First Born,” apparently from distant Kamtol, their own nation of black men.

I argued that we should look for a way home and maybe try to bring some Barsoomian stuff back with us to help the war effort. Imagine the look on Hitler’s face if he saw the Banzar with allied paratroopers! At least we agreed to keep our gear and people together for now. Me and the other gunners will take turns watching the “Lucy Goosey.”

We asked about Martian customs and learned the following four traditions:

  • Attar [ât-târ]: Literally “loyal sword”. To cast your sword at the feet of a fellow Barsoomian is the pledge your loyalty and trust to that person, even though it may cost you your life. If a man does this to a woman, it can be interpreted as a declaration of courtship. If the recipient is a man, he signals acceptance by reattaching the belt to the owner’s harness. A woman returns the sword, hilt first. To leave the sword where it lies is to refuse the offer. To return it point first is a rejection and insult. This means an immediate duel (if a woman, her closest male relative champions her.)
  • Dartos [dâr-tōs]: Literally “thousand bond.” The proposal of marriage among the red men, which symbolically is to last 1,000 years. A mate must be fought for and won.
  • Koak [kō-ak]: Literally “equal battle”. In private combat, you may not fight a fellow warrior in with any other than the weapon you were attacked. You may choose a weapon of lower status though. To draw a pistol on an enemy facing you with a sword is unpardonable.
  • Visha [vē-ša]: Literally “virgin forbidden”. Barsoomian men do not ask personal questions of women, except for his mother and the woman he has fought for and won (i.e. dartos). Royal women of the courts of Mars are deemed sacred — even touching them without permission has dire consequences for the transgressor.

Before the audience, Kar Dalan pulled a few of us aside to warn us to beware of making pacts too quickly. He was from a different nation of red men and had sold his services to Raxar. I agreed that it would be best for us to find out more and to share as little as possible about ourselves. I also asked him to help train us in swordplay, since blades were as common as rifles on Barsoom.

Of course, the best-laid plans of mice and men…. Not only did Rip offer his allegiance to Daris Nor, but we’ve also already got a mission! I sure hope the skipper knows what he’s doing….

I hope that Sara and Bruce had great birthdays, and I’ll try to post my notes for this past Monday’s “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Circus” fantasy game soon. (Jason and Josh have my notes for the latest “Glassworks” and “Mystic Adventures in the ‘Big D.'”) I also hope that the weather doesn’t inconvenience everyone too much this coming weekend.

Assuming we have power and connectivity, I look forward to continuing the “Vortex: Terra’s Pride” telecom space opera on Sunday night! The current forecast for next Monday night is for freezing rain, which I hope doesn’t affect Jason’s next “Barsoomian Adventures” too much. Happy gaming!

John Carter review — I want to go to Mars!

Unfairly maligned sword-and-planet flick
John Carter's a fun sword-and-planet flick

I recently screened Disney’s John Carter with Josh C. & Sara F. I saw the sword-and-planet movie again later with Janice, who was at a technical writing conference in Memphis this past week. She has also been busy with extra shifts as a volunteer at the Dedham animal shelter. All of us enjoyed the adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Barsoom” stories.

The movie is framed with scenes of a young Burroughs, played by Spy Kids‘ Daryl Sabara, being summoned to the estate of his late uncle, a world traveler and former Confederate cavalryman. Taylor Kitsch, from Friday Night Lights and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, is the eponymous Capt. Carter, who finds himself mysteriously transported from late 1860s Arizona to an inhabited Mars.

On the desert world, Carter encounters tribes of Tharks, four-armed green men, led by the honorable Tars Tharkas (voice and motion capture of Willem Defoe). Despite his initial reluctance to become involved in another civil war, Carter is soon entangled in the conflict between the city-states of Zodanga and Helium, both of which are populated by humanlike “red” Martians.

After meeting the beautiful scientist and princess Deja Thoris (played by X-Men Origins‘ Lynn Collins), Carter decides to fight Sab Than (Dominic West), the Jeddak (chieftan) of Zodanga, and Thern mystic Matai Shang (Mark Strong). He’s aided by Sola (Samantha Morton), the compassionate daughter of Tars Tharkas, and doglike calot Woola.

If this plot seems familiar, it’s because Burroughs created the template for the “planetary romance,” which led to a century of space operas from Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and even Superman to Dune, Star Trek, and Star Wars to Stargate, Farscape, and Avatar. The lost but brave Earth man, the spunky princess and sidekicks, the honorable alien warriors, and the mystic duels have become clichés, but John Carter shows us the vitality of their source.

The actors seem to be enjoying themselves with the interplanetary swashbuckling. The script by Michael Chabon takes itself seriously, but not too seriously, with humor similar to that found in the original Star Wars or another pulp revival, The Mummy. I’m currently reading Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for former co-worker Ken G.‘s “Escapists” book club.

Even in this age of computer-enhanced visuals, the Tharks’ facial expressions, the fleet-footed Woola and fierce white apes, the crawling city of Zodanga, and the steampunk airships were all impressively designed and rendered. The aliens interacted smoothly with the human actors. Despite the daunting amount of exposition required for such a movie, I thought that director Andrew Stanton, who also directed Pixar’s Wall-E, did a decent job of pacing.

The grand vistas include the rough-and-tumble frontier of the American west, the windswept deserts of Mars, the rain-soaked streets of New York, and soaring structures and ancient ruins of Barsoom. The soundtrack also evokes a lost age of adventure, although it’s not as memorable as the works of John Williams.

I’d give John Carter, which is rated PG-13 for violence, an 8.5 out of 10, four out of five stars, or an A-. Many critics have gleefully pointed out that Disney’s adaptation is somehow subject to the “curse of the Mars movies” and gotten less-than-stellar box office. However, I and other fans feel that many of their criticisms are unfair and typical of mainstream prejudice against genre entertainment.

By contrast, I’ve found video game flick Prince of Persia nearly unwatchable, and a preview image for the upcoming Lone Ranger also stirs doubts about its quality aside from easy parody. I’d love to role-play in a Barsoom game run by Tim M.B., Jason E.R., Brian W., or other scholars of early science fiction, perhaps using GURPS Mars, Savage Worlds, or FATE 3e Spirit of the Century and Starblazer Adventures. I recommend John Carter to anyone who appreciates old-fashioned sword-and-planet fun.