IN THE WORLDS OF
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2005
I recently received an email that read, in part:
I have a small miniatures game company called Chipco and we publish rules called Fantasy Rules! For many years my partner and I have wanted to add an ERB Mars supplement to the game. The supplement is less than five pages and would be offered for free on a content area of our website. Both of us have very fond memories of the books and would love to see them translated effectively to tabletop games.
Intrigued, I sent a reply requesting a little more information and received the proposed rules by return as a MS Word document--which immediately crashed my aging WordPerfect...but that is a different matter! I eventually loaded the document and started reading.
I am not much of a role player, or military gamer, and certainly haven't played such games in many years; however, the possibility of Barsoom kept my interest. More on that later, if you'll indulge an aside at the moment.
One reason I am not a military or role player is that past experience has been less than satisfactory. Rules were cumbersome, sometimes innately unfair through poor game planning or understanding of "realities," or took inordinate amounts of time to setup, get started and WORSE, to finish! Unlike board games where rules are relatively standardized, free-form miniature war games are fluid, sometimes sprawling, and subject to multiple interpretations. These inconsistencies often result in poor game play, and when played in a fantasy world where the rules are often "different," might result in hard feelings between those that know the material and those who do not!
Additionally, there was--at the time I did play these games--the problem of those on short budgets having to setup some strange looking battlefields that might often spread across a living room floor; populated by fierce bottlecaps, avenging matchsticks, dangerous gummy bears, or mighty M&M's (these latter usually suffered alternate fates as sustenance to the game players rather than dying in glorious battle). Over the years since I stopped playing fantasy games with miniatures. The cost of the "game pieces" have come down in price and even the lower quality figures are acceptable in appearance. There is some uniformity of scale measured in millimeters, which means the giant is appropriately large without casting a shadow down the neighborhood street. Thus, with the problem of figures and affordability thereof somewhat alleviated, there remained, in my mind, the game play.
As a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs I've looked at some of the Barsoom RPGs available on the net. All fall into two categories: Incredibly Complicated or Bewilderingly Simple, which meant my personal opinion of role playing games did not need adjusting. I could imagine some of the brawls which might happen in the former, or the utter boredom in the latter.
Military games, based on battles, combatants, etc., are a different category of gaming, and I wondered how Barsoom might fare in such an environment. I get this email. Five pages. Free. The email with the rules also asked if I had any suggestions. Well! That certainly put a new face on things!
Expecting to find the submitted rules riddled with ERB canonical errors, I was pleasantly surprised. Other than the use of the few odd fantasy terms like "magician" or "alchemist," The FR!3 rules (sic) sent by Chip Harrison seemed to have a real feel for occupational strengths and weaknesses, the cities and industries of Barsoom, the creatures both domesticated or wild, and the science. About halfway through the five pages I followed his advice to take a look at his company's web site, read the mission statement, and looked at a few samples of their rules and game play.
Chipco has not set out to create an RPG module for Barsoom fans, rather, they have a solid set of rules that allows Barsoom units to work with other fantasy units, greatly extending the playability, and fun, of using Barsoom elements in military, combat, melee style games. Additionally, the rules fit into their larger Fantasy Rules! game world. Many of the game play elements are similiar to long established conventions of military gaming and the inclusion of descriptions such as Napoleonic Artillery, Horse Cavalry, etc., will make it easy for more traditional military gamers to understand and use Barsoom in their game entertainment.
I sent a reply to Chip with a few thoughts (about 3½ pages) regarding the world of Barsoom, the cultures, and wild life of Burroughs' planet of war. A revision of the rules which embraced many of my suggestions was returned, and you'll find a link for those rules below. Quite unexpectedly, I find my name has been attached to the rules, and for that, thank you, Chipco!
When viewed within the scope of games in general, this Barsoom module has all the NECESSARY elements to provide good play in the paradigm of ERB's Mars. The few areas where terminology such as "Alchemist" or "Beastmaster" might intrude it takes only a minor concession for fans of Burroughs' Martian series to make things work. Chip has promised a Venus (Amtor) version which embraces the land ships, but that is for another day.
I have not, by any stretch of the imagination, seen all the Barsoom war games created in the last 30 years, but I can say that this set of rules would work for me. Give Mars and Venus: Using Fantasy Rules! 3 in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Worlds a try.
The Mars and Venus supplement was developed by Curtis Wright for Chipco.