Saturday, July 12, 2008

Planet of War

My last post was about a setting inspired by William S. Burroughs. Today, I've got a setting inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is purely coincidence.

Planet of War

The gimmick here is a pulpy, sword-and-planet version of Mars, amped up to God of War or 300 levels of crazy, over-the-top violence. Major trappings would be taken from the various occult correspondences new agey types associate with the planet: war, iron, blood, fire, strength, wrath, vengeance, competition, that kind of thing. I'd also make shameless use of the usual pulp Mars tropes: It's an ancient, fallen world, a desert dotted by the ruins of more noble and advanced civilizations.

  • hot, arid environment, warmed more by underground fires than the sun
  • dry canals, ruins, fossilized vegetation, the dust of dead seas
  • subterranean water reservoirs
  • civilization generally in its iron age
  • planet, conveniently, is loaded with iron
  • lots of other fun, weird, powerful fantasy McGuffin materials, both naturally occurring and created through alchemy (not above Herculoids-style "energy rocks", here)
  • primitive guns, along the lines of carryable cannons
  • crazy alchemical weapons, like swords that burn when exposed to the air, and hammers that generate a jolt of electricity on impact
  • low gravity, so jumping really far is a major element of locomotion, and very crazy architecture is possible
  • lots of huge, dangerous fauna (possibly unnatural), including beasts bred and armored (and alchemically mutated?) for battle
  • warring empires, rival clans, blood debts, ancient enmities

Naturally, a Burroughs-style take on Mars necessitates multiple races of Martians. And, of course, that's also the kind of thing that's a lot of fun in RPGs. It seems a little unlikely for a whole mess of sapient species to emerge independently, though, so I'm gonna say my Martians are all technically one species divided into several wildly divergent bloodlines, possibly through some millennia-long eugenics program in the planet's forgotten past.

Iron Tribe
  • sense and generate magnetic fields (powerfully enough, in many cases, to deflect sword blows)
  • consume raw metal ores and refine them in their bodies
  • hairless, dark gray skin, made shiny and tough by iron content
  • can encode and read information in the magnetic fields of small bits of ferrous metal
  • more vulnerable to non-ferrous weapons (and, for the same reason, often carry at least one non-ferrous weapon for use against their own kind)
  • tend to wear armor made of brass, as it doesn't interfere with their magnetic capabilities
  • known for aloof and superior demeanor when dealing with other tribes, consider personal honor paramount
  • currently a powerful force on Mars, and sometimes claimed to be the tribe that dominated the planet's lost Golden Age

Stone Tribe
  • large, powerfully built
  • tough skin, which thickens to plate-like carapace on back, shoulders, other areas
  • yellow-orange-brown coloration, tusks, blunt features, stiff manes of hair
  • great craftsmen of sturdy, solid stone and metal constructions, such as buildings and simpler weapons, also known as sculptors
  • highly traditional, formalized culture, where uncontrolled emotion is looked down on
  • little political ambition; willing to work as soldiers or craftsmen for other groups without any qualms
  • great respect for scholarship and history
  • hold particularly stable territories, where they are responsible for much of the world's agriculture

Sand Tribe
  • like smaller cousins to the Stone Tribe
  • tough skin, but no carapace, agile rather than powerful
  • pink-red-brown range of coloration, no tusks, short tails
  • incredibly sharp senses, and able to absorb and process a massive amount of detailed information at once, good memory
  • traditionally nomadic, living in caravans that chase good weather and good hunting, with some permanent encampments in reclaimed ruins
  • adaptable, pragmatic, fall easily into any cultural niche, but rarely found in any position of power over other tribes
  • known as ingenious scavengers, even thieves, unrestrained by personal dignity or moral compunctions
  • associate easily with other tribes, and always eager to trade
  • skilled at riding, and breeding beasts for war, convenience, or consumption

Wind Tribe
  • small, lightly-built
  • using powerful legs and tails, able to jump great distances
  • extrude temporary gliding membranes from their backs, like sheets of spider silk
  • natural skin color is a soft brown, but somewhat able to change color to match environment
  • armed with small claws, better for climbing than fighting
  • tend to wear loose, neutral-colored, abbreviated clothing, to avoid impeding gliding membranes and camouflage ability
  • traditionally live in high, difficult-to-reach areas, separate from more integrated Martian societies
  • work as messengers, spies, and assassins in integrated societies
  • paint faces and bodies as a sign of security, power, and honesty ("I don't have to be able to hide.")
  • deadly ambushers, prefer poisoned javelins hurled silently from great heights, en masse

Smoke Tribe
  • tough, deep red, somewhat scaly skin
  • resistant to heat, poison, and disease
  • decent night vision, and typically live in caves and subterranean settlements, frequently in close proximity to the fire caverns which heat the planet's surface
  • mine and refine much of Martian society's exotic alchemical materials, and are known as the planet's greatest gunsmiths
  • not especially light-sensitive, but tend to be nocturnal for the advantage their night vision gives them
  • typically wear dark, thick, concealing clothing
  • ambitious, often at odds with the Iron and Water Tribes

Water Tribe
  • fully amphibious, as effective underwater as on land
  • pale, pinkish, slick-skinned, hairless, adorned with elaborate fins and crests
  • very powerful night vision, somewhat vulnerable to direct sunlight
  • low-level magnetic sense, a much weaker version of the Iron Tribe's ability
  • almost strictly subterranean, controlling most of the Martian water supply, as well as having underground farms and access to precious gems
  • powerful force on Mars, limited by their aversion to the light and dryness of the surface, often acting through hired servants and mercenaries from other tribes
  • ancient rivalry with the Smoke Tribe, who also seek to control the deep places of Mars
  • holders of some of the Golden Age's lost secrets, particularly medical and biological sciences

The various tribes traditionally (since the end of the Golden Age, anyway) live apart, but come together in some of the few powerful, cosmopolitan cities, and in bandit nations made up of the exiled refuse of other settlements. They're capable of interbreeding, but attraction between tribes is uncommon. Also, hybrid children tend to lack either of their parents' strengths (although they do sometimes display some wholly their own).

The sort of plots I'd run a Planet of War game with would be straight out of Conan and Greek myth: clashes of civilization and savagery, the disputes of powerful families played out between nations, ancient secrets misused, settlements menaced by monsters and bandits, and so on. I'd want to do both violence and intrigue, so ideally all characters would be capable in a fight and also have a bunch of stuff they can do outside combat.

I'm not entirely sure what system I'd use. Exalted seems like it could easily be perfect, but I've never used it myself. Same story with Feng Shui. Naturally, I really dig the idea of using Spirit of the Century, and that's definitely an option. SotC is crazy-ass-stunt-friendly, it would save me the hassle of actually coming up with stats for all the different tribes, and Mike Olson's Spirit of the Sword hack would be a great resource for the sword-and-sorcery stuff. Of course, if I do feel like doing crunchy work, some flavor of D&D could work nicely. Planet of War would be a nice way to experiment with 4e, at last (although, honestly, I should probably run 4e straight before I start messing with it).

Man, I am digging this whole idea. I don't know if I'll ever end up doing anything with it, but I'll definitely add it to the pile for future reference.

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