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.
— Brett Evill
My SFRPG setting, Flat Black© My posts on SFRPG must not be reproduced beyond the board except with explicit permission from me.
Last edited by Agemegos on Wed Aug 03, 2011 3:53 am, edited 1 time in total.