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PostPosted: Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:59 pm 
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In September I am going to start running a new campaign inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series (especially Master Mind of Mars), S.M. Stirling's In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, Jack Vance's Tschai (Planet of Adventure) series, and the movie Stargate. The premise is that four Australian soldiers are mysteriously transported from the battlefields in France in December 1917 to the habitable, indeed inhabited, surface of Mars.

I think my main suspender of disbelief is going to be the fact that in 1917 respectable scientists confidently reported that Mars was habitable. Apart from that enabling assumption and the mysterious transportation I want to put as little strain as possible on my players' SoD. (Don't flog a willing horse, and all that.) So I want to smear, to shade fin de siecle astronomy into what my players know of science*, maintaining the "This is what they believed then" while avoiding cognitive-dissonance-inducing clangers. That means re-imagining Barsoom completely, starting with its planetology and geography.

I toyed for a while with using one of the lovely modern relief maps of Mars, and simply adding water to a level that would cover about a third of the surface. On further consideration I decided that that would be a false step, because in the first place that would draw the mind towards modern ideas of Mars, and in the second place many features of the Martian surface are not compatible with a breatheably thick atmosphere: many million-year-old craters, for instance, would have eroded away in a few millennia if the atmosphere were breatheable.

So I think I'm going to start with either Lowell's or Schiaparelli's map of Mars and add detail.

My grandmother's 1890 Handbook and Atlas of Astronomy tells me Mars' size correctly, that it's density is 7/9 that of Earth, and that its surface gravity is 0.38 gee. I think I have to stick with those figures. It tells me that Mars is a planet" not nearly so mountainous as Earth", with all its continents lying are a rather low level. And it assures me that there "undoubtedly take place there all the phenomena of rain, hail, and snow". Observing oceans and rather small ice-caps, it concludes that the coldness due to Mars' great distance from the Sun is moderated by the heat-retaining power of the atmosphere, so that the polar regions are drier than on Earth.

On the other hand, I think my players will strain to believe in a Mars that is not colder than Earth: perhaps the icecaps are small because there is little water? Also, I wonder whether it would reassure them to acknowledge the fact that Mars really has enormous differences of relief, and the tallest mountains (Olympus Mons and the Tharsis volcanoes) in the solar system.

What geographical Easter eggs might add an air of artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing tale? Should the oceans be saturated with salt, and sterile like the Dead Sea? The vast plains of Mars were once ocean floors, I suppose. There ought to be enormous deposits of halite. What else should have precipitated out as the oceans shrank away?




* One is a mathematician, one is a computer systems engineer, one is a philosophy graduate, and one is I think a teacher.

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Last edited by Agemegos on Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 12:09 am 
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Agemegos wrote:
What geographical Easter eggs might add an air of artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing tale? Should the oceans be saturated with salt, and sterile like the Dead Sea? The vast plains of Mars were once ocean floors, I suppose. There ought to be enormous deposits of halite. What else should have precipitated out as the oceans shrank away?

You might want to look up images of the Salar de Uyuni. It is the salt flat left over after a highland lake evaporated. Also it has heaps of minerals there. Nearby are blue (disolved copper) and pink (more salmon really) lakes (I can't remember what is disolved in that one). In the pink lake there were heaps of flamingoes filtering the water. Maybe analogous martian flamingoes?


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 1:01 pm 
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You could make it cooler without making it COLD. The "deserts" are more like the Mongolian desert than the Sahara for example. The equatorial regions would be temperate or even semi-tropical, with temperatures reaching about 100 oF.

Keep the mountains tall, don't worry so much about that from the 1890 book. The ice caps are what they are, just about everyone is familiar with them. If you don't have an ocean near the poles, the ice caps will be smaller; so that might work without wiping out the oceans; just keep them away from the poles.

You might look at Kim Stanley Robinson's map in Blue Mars - It shows a partially terraformed Mars with a breathable atmosphere and some surface water.

Don't forget that to keep the temperature warm, you will have higher CO2 in the atmosphere - Low Lying regions could be deathtraps of CO2, especially isolated valleys that don't get a lot of wind currents.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 03, 2011 11:02 pm 
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I was vague thinking of genetically-engineered plants that produced and emitted potent greenhouse gases such as methane, propagated by the ókori mérnökök as an Areoforming, or planetary engineering, measure. I'm not sure that CO2 would be enough by itself, even in quantities that would interfere with Earth-human respiration, because it only takes so much to make the atmosphere practically opaque at the relevant wavelengths.

I'm acutely conscious (though I see not need to remind the players) that water vapour provides the largest component of Earth's natural greenhouse effect, and I'm afraid that if Mars were too cold its atmospheric humidity might condense or sublime out, making it colder, and that if it were too dry its troposphere might be way below saturation anyway.

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— Brett Evill

My SFRPG setting, Flat Black

© My posts on SFRPG must not be reproduced beyond the board except with explicit permission from me.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:05 pm 
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Methane adds the issue of flamability though; I don't think it takes too high of a concentration to make it flamable? Not sure though.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 1:43 pm 
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The flammability of methane is not a serious problem. Its explosive limits are 5%–15% in air, and it is a significant greenhouse gas at the parts-per-million level.

It is of more concern that it isn't very stable in moist air, subliminally oxidising to carbon dioxide and water through reactions with hydroxyl radicals. The mean life-time of a methane molecule in Earth's atmosphere is only about a decade. You need a large flux of the stuff to maintain a significant effect.

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My SFRPG setting, Flat Black

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 2:45 pm 
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Agemegos wrote:
The flammability of methane is not a serious problem.

Still, I would not go near the methane producing plants with any
open flame ... :shock:


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 11:30 pm 
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I found a nice image of Laguna Colorada:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10649730@N05/2159312742/

an image search on google will bring up heaps.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 08, 2011 4:54 pm 
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Agemegos wrote:
The flammability of methane is not a serious problem. Its explosive limits are 5%–15% in air, and it is a significant greenhouse gas at the parts-per-million level.

It is of more concern that it isn't very stable in moist air, subliminally oxidising to carbon dioxide and water through reactions with hydroxyl radicals. The mean life-time of a methane molecule in Earth's atmosphere is only about a decade. You need a large flux of the stuff to maintain a significant effect.


Sounds like you need some large underground Methane Hydrite deposits; like exists under the Carribean Sea. Gives you lots of opportunity for "explosive" mining and rather quick changes to the climate if desired.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 09, 2017 4:25 am 
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Well, that campaign didn't work, partly on account of my having to drive 300 km each way to run it, and partly on account of Fate being a poor choice for a game in which the husbanding and decisive use of ammunition was going to be significant, and partly because one of the players playing style had a stronger dash of the absurdist than I felt suited things.

But I'm going to have another crack at it starting in a few weeks, with ForeSight instead of Fate, by Skype or the like instead of at the end of a three-hour drive, and with a different group, of more sober players.

I've found some maps of Mars following Schiaparelli that will suit my needs, I think. I'm a little disoriented, though, because Schiaparelli identified the dark Southern Highlands as ocean. Syrtis Major is a gulf; Hellas and Argyre are islands.

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— Brett Evill

My SFRPG setting, Flat Black

© My posts on SFRPG must not be reproduced beyond the board except with explicit permission from me.


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