How to "sell" Barsoom?

“As you know I am not of Barsoom; your ways are not my ways, and I can only act in the future as I have in the past, in accordance with the dictates of my conscience and guided by the standards of mine own people.” All RPGs base based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories can be discussed here.
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How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by finarvyn » Thu Jun 06, 2019 4:49 pm

So I cut my teeth on Barsoom going back to my early OD&D days, and my high school buddies are the same way. We read the books, we played all sorts of games on Barsoom, we did OD&D-Barsoom crossovers. I picked up the new 2d20 John Carter game and it's been getting me thinking about Barsoom again. The problem is that my current crew has no knowledge of the setting, with the possible exception that they may have seen the 2012 movie.

(1) How do I "sell" Barsoom?

Many of the stories in the books focus around a "rescue the Princess" vibe, but my group is half female and this won't be as much of a motivating factor for them.

(2) Any ideas for cheap props?

Back in the day I had a bunch of stuff to run a decent Barsoom campaign, but much of that stuff seems to have gotten misplaced in one move or another and at the moment I cannot find a lot of it. I don't have the new $300+ miniatures line, and don't anticipate buying them in the near future. What would be the best source for miniatures (cardboard cutout or otherwise) and other props for the game? What about for airships? Tharks don't look much like anything I have at the moment.

Seems to me like most D&D campaigns are generic medieval fantasy and I have a lot of battlemats for those, but Barsoom has a different look. I think I have some Dark Sun stuff that might work for landscapes. Maybe something Egyptian? I have to dig into some old boxes to see what surfaces.

Basically, I'd like some ideas on how I can put together something visual and clearly Barsoom in a hurry and on a budget.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Kythkyn » Thu Jun 06, 2019 5:52 pm

I have run the save the Princess style game for a woman on more than one occasion. Granted, I am her wife, but all the same. Jokes aside, the basic concept still works. Save the X, where X can be anything from a Princess to a calot. So don't discount when you can just redress.

On top of that, if you are familiar with the source material but they are not, they can explore the world and that can be a lot of the game too. And if they're coming from D&D, it's easy to cast the tharks as orcs, and then show the players how wrong that assumption was. Plus, if you like, this is your chance to rewrite / reuse stories and characters from the books without having to be beholden to other parts that are fun to read but less fun to roleplay through.

My Husbutch is very familiar with the setting, it's one of her favourites. But when I ran a Barsoom game for her, I started her off on Earth, and had her transported to the alien world. And it gave us both the chance to explore the world through fresh eyes. So don't discount starting off the players all as Earthlings, and let them find themselves on Barsoom.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by finarvyn » Thu Jun 06, 2019 6:32 pm

Great points, Kthkyn. You only get to be introduced to a setting for the first time once, right? Rather than try to get them to read up on source material, it makes sense to let them experience it through role-play. And they'll think I'm a lot smarter than I really am, since I can steal a lot of ERB's ideas and they will assume they are my own. :D
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Havard » Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:56 pm

I really like the idea of Dejah Thoris less as a voluptious princess in need of rescue and rather reimagined as a competent warrior princess of her own.

I'd probably frame Barsoom as a strange alien world where city states and tribes clash in frequent wars.

You need to have a concept for the campaign. Do you want the PCs to be heroes from Earth, or could you make a party entirely made up by locals?

How about a story based around the PCs starting as captured slaves/pit fighters who need to escape and then get involved in wars between city states, more or less like the movie?

Or you could have them be a mercenary band, being hired to fight for whoever pays the most?

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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by finarvyn » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:46 pm

Havard wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:56 pm
I'd probably frame Barsoom as a strange alien world where city states and tribes clash in frequent wars.

How about a story based around the PCs starting as captured slaves/pit fighters who need to escape and then get involved in wars between city states, more or less like the movie?
Both awesome ideas, especially when combined with the "you don't know Barsoom so experience as you go" notion. Start them as pit fighters who try to escape, then are travelling the wilderlands of Barsoom trying to decide who to side with and who to fight.

I remember reading on some webpage the thought that there are no evil races on Barsoom. Everyone is savage or civilized, everyone is trying to fight for their own cause. No one to automatically hate. Contrast with Middle-earth where orcs are automatically the bad guys.
Last edited by finarvyn on Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by finarvyn » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:49 pm

finarvyn wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 4:49 pm
(2) Any ideas for cheap props?

Back in the day I had a bunch of stuff to run a decent Barsoom campaign, but much of that stuff seems to have gotten misplaced in one move or another and at the moment I cannot find a lot of it. I don't have the new $300+ miniatures line, and don't anticipate buying them in the near future. What would be the best source for miniatures (cardboard cutout or otherwise) and other props for the game? What about for airships? Tharks don't look much like anything I have at the moment.

Seems to me like most D&D campaigns are generic medieval fantasy and I have a lot of battlemats for those, but Barsoom has a different look. I think I have some Dark Sun stuff that might work for landscapes. Maybe something Egyptian? I have to dig into some old boxes to see what surfaces.

Basically, I'd like some ideas on how I can put together something visual and clearly Barsoom in a hurry and on a budget.
Some great ideas about #1. Any thoughts on #2?
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Yaztromo » Fri Jun 07, 2019 3:05 am

The campaign I'm currently playing (as a player) is going through the machinations of some mad scientist or what a mad scientist left behind in terms of mad technological stuff after he passed away (not sure now) and I can tell you that it works.
A campaign I run in the past (as a Game Master) went through the false religion of Issues (from the classic novels) for players that didn't know Barsoom and that worked very well too. Another trope that I used with good feedback was having the characters as young Red Martians in a small, isolated settlemment that is stormed and destroyed by Green Martians and the young characters are taken as slaves by the Green Martians tribe, with an option, sooner or later, to regain their freedom on the arena (yes, there is quite a bit of Conan the Barbarian in this trope).
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by RobJN » Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:38 am

Havard wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:56 pm
I really like the idea of Dejah Thoris less as a voluptious princess in need of rescue and rather reimagined as a competent warrior princess of her own.
What about voluptuous competent warrior princesses?? :oops:

(I would probably get smacked for suggesting they be used as props, though....)
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Big Mac » Fri Jun 07, 2019 12:00 pm

finarvyn wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 4:49 pm
(2) Any ideas for cheap props?
You might think I'm bonkers for suggesting this, but have you considered large sheets of sandpaper as desert playmats?

Sandpaper comes in several colours (I think that is something to do with the grade) and you might even be able to use different types of sandpaper as different types of terrain.

You could maybe spray it red or dry brush it red and/or use a steel rule and a marker to mark out 1 inch squares for combat.

Even if you don't want to go overboard with this, you might want to use it alongside the idea of gluing sand to the bases of minis and then making it look like monsters are standing on red Martian sand.

And if you do have a sand-coloured playmat, you might want to throw down pre-cut bits of slightly different coloured sand to represent things like sinking sand. A rounded shape might work for that.

Or you could prepare some straight contrasting things, from non-red colours, to represent Martian canals and plop them down on a sandy background.

If you have a think about what would work for your adventure and build cheapo floorplans for that, you might be able to help make your first adventuer as memorable as possible, so that your players want to do more Basoom stuff. And if the campaign continues, you can think about making more complex props or even spending a bit more cash.

BTW: If you are doing a one-shot and don't chop up sandpaper too much, you can probably still use it as sandpaper afterwards. So if you do DIY stuff you could try to make it a zero-cost exercise.

There are probably lots of printable terrain pictures out there too. Check the Chainmail forum for the ones that WotC put online for Sundered Empire wargammers. The Hissing Pool, Hall of Good and Hall of Evil might work for you.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Big Mac » Fri Jun 07, 2019 12:16 pm

finarvyn wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 4:49 pm
(1) How do I "sell" Barsoom?

Many of the stories in the books focus around a "rescue the Princess" vibe, but my group is half female and this won't be as much of a motivating factor for them.
You mention the "rescue the princess" trope and Kythkyn suggested redressing that plotline.

Have you considered looking through all the tropes that TV Tropes lists for their John Carter of Mars article and looking for ways to reboot or subvert one or more of those tropes?

If you include the tropes, from the novel (or go for the tropes from the John Carter movie) your players will probably recognise the familiar elements.

But if you subvert or reboot the tropes (or at least subvert or reboot some of them) they will recognise the setup, but not necessarily be able to anticipate the outcome.

Actually, if you look down the list you will see that TV Tropes gives a few examples of the Damsel out of Distress trope. So I think you could go for a "rescue the princess" plot, where the PCs expect to bring the captured woman back to the NPC that sent them to rescue her and she actually is on some sort of mission that she is not willing to give up on.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Illuminatus » Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:29 pm

I’ve often considered starting a Barsoom campaign on 19th-century earth with a steampunk vibe. A mad scientist recruits a ragtag bunch of adventurers to accompany him on his “rocket ship” to the moon. In a Lost-in-Space twist, sabotage causes their ship to veer off course. Months later, they crash, and emerge onto a vast plain covered with ochre moss…

In this case, it would be less a matter of selling the exotic concept of Barsoom and more a matter of selling a steampunk planetary adventure campaign.

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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Sturm » Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:35 pm

finarvyn wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:49 pm
Basically, I'd like some ideas on how I can put together something visual and clearly Barsoom in a hurry and on a budget.
Some great ideas about #1. Any thoughts on #2?
I would print some google images search as https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch& ... rEZyvjQ9Po or https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch& ... vJqIIDEjSw
If you have more time, you can use the same method to create paper miniatures, as I doubt you can find Barsoomian ones already done.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Sturm » Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:41 pm

RobJN wrote:
Fri Jun 07, 2019 9:38 am
Havard wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:56 pm
I really like the idea of Dejah Thoris less as a voluptious princess in need of rescue and rather reimagined as a competent warrior princess of her own.
What about voluptuous competent warrior princesses?? :oops:
BTW for the time it was written John Carter of Mars was relatively feminist, as Barsoomian women have clearly more freedom in clothing, behaviour and chance to travel than the average XIX century Earthling woman had.

And how would Barsoom be now? I wonder if someone has imagined how Barsoom could have evolved in the XXI century, and how a contact with Earth could have been. That would be also an interesting campaign, modern earthlings in modern Barsoom..
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by finarvyn » Fri Jun 07, 2019 2:22 pm

Big Mac wrote:
Fri Jun 07, 2019 12:00 pm
finarvyn wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 4:49 pm
(2) Any ideas for cheap props?
You might think I'm bonkers for suggesting this, but have you considered large sheets of sandpaper as desert playmats?
:o You're right. It does sound bonkers at first ... but then I think "mad genius" is more like it. I think it might come down to the color selections and size options. Most sandpaper I've encountered is no longer than maybe 8" square, but if I could find a fine-grain larger sheet that could be a fun way to build a battlemat. Draw in some squares and go.

Maybe a second sandpaper in a slightly different color, cut out some shapes, use for hills. Hmmm. :cool:

EDIT: Online I see a 20-sheet pack of tan sandpaper, 9"x11", for $12. I think I would want something in an exact number of inches in order to make the 1" squares fit exactly. ;) I'll have to go look at some pieces in person, however, as some look like you can see printing on the back when viewed from the front.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by finarvyn » Fri Jun 07, 2019 2:32 pm

Havard wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:56 pm
I really like the idea of Dejah Thoris less as a voluptious princess in need of rescue and rather reimagined as a competent warrior princess of her own.
I feel like that's the sort of vibe that the 2012 movie was trying to insert into the character. Dejah as a scientist, as a fighter, able to take care of herself.

This deleted scene shows more of that than we got to see otherwise.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyzXyo5 ... B3k63CCgXk
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Yaztromo » Fri Jun 07, 2019 2:35 pm

Sturm wrote:
Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:41 pm
And how would Barsoom be now? I wonder if someone has imagined how Barsoom could have evolved in the XXI century, and how a contact with Earth could have been. That would be also an interesting campaign, modern earthlings in modern Barsoom..
Martians can live "naturally" for 10,000 years, with few signs of aging until the very last centuries. In few centuries it is unlikely that their culture and ways of living change very significantly.
Said that, the approach of XXI centuries Earthlings on Barsoom would probably be different from John Carter's, but you need to put in place some major trick to make it stand, as XXI century Earthlings know that there is no atmosphere, life, etc. on Mars, while a century ago it was a more credible kind of science fiction.
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Sturm » Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:28 pm

Yes but I mean, let's imagine Barsoom is the real Mars, i.e. at some point (probably after 1969) Earthlings realize the planet is really inhabited and alive. Or, before that, Martians come to visit :)
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Kythkyn » Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:29 pm

Dejah Thoris and her stuff aside, remember too that there was Thuvia, who had a very different experience in a lot of ways and was less damsely. So Dejah Thoris isn't the only example of what women on Barsoom are. And let's not forget Solas!
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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Cromstar » Sun Jun 09, 2019 5:04 am

Kythkyn wrote:
Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:29 pm
Dejah Thoris and her stuff aside, remember too that there was Thuvia, who had a very different experience in a lot of ways and was less damsely. So Dejah Thoris isn't the only example of what women on Barsoom are. And let's not forget Solas!
In Dejah Thoris' defense, she wasn't incapable of taking action (and did so fairly often), but was very much invested in her role as princess of Helium and the expected decorum of how a woman should act in her society. More often than not, her inaction in situations was a deliberate choice to stay true to her roles and expectations (basically everything she does in the first book is very much her refusing to compromise her position as princess, regardless of the costs). It does not make her less of a damsel in distress or problematic by today's standards, but I would argue it is relevant to her character, especially since we get alternatives in Thuvia and Llana in later stories who don't make the same choices.

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Re: How to "sell" Barsoom?

Post by Kythkyn » Sun Jun 09, 2019 7:22 pm

Cromstar wrote:
Sun Jun 09, 2019 5:04 am
Kythkyn wrote:
Fri Jun 07, 2019 4:29 pm
Dejah Thoris and her stuff aside, remember too that there was Thuvia, who had a very different experience in a lot of ways and was less damsely. So Dejah Thoris isn't the only example of what women on Barsoom are. And let's not forget Solas!
In Dejah Thoris' defense, she wasn't incapable of taking action (and did so fairly often), but was very much invested in her role as princess of Helium and the expected decorum of how a woman should act in her society. More often than not, her inaction in situations was a deliberate choice to stay true to her roles and expectations (basically everything she does in the first book is very much her refusing to compromise her position as princess, regardless of the costs). It does not make her less of a damsel in distress or problematic by today's standards, but I would argue it is relevant to her character, especially since we get alternatives in Thuvia and Llana in later stories who don't make the same choices.
What I meant by that was taking Dejah off the table, because that was not what I wanted to focus on. Not that she wasn't doing anything. She's still probably my favourite character, and the one I identify closest with. I just didn't want the focus of the post to go back to her when I was wanting to discuss the other women that are almost always left out of the conversation
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