With the release of John Carter stirring up the fascination for sword and planet goodness again, I’m thinking quite a few of you are raring to run or play in an S&P adventure. So here’s my celebration of the movie’s triumphant reception, a free systemless adventure set on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom. Feel free to edit, add details, adapt it to whatever system you like, or even transpose it to a different setting.
The city of Valzor seems to have disappeared; lately all caravans and merchant fliers expected from it have been failing to arrive, nor have attempts at long-distance communications been answered. Your city’s merchant guild has decided to send a team to investigate – and because this is Mars, a dying world, to salvage whatever you can!
This adventure will work with characters who are resident of the home base city – it can be Helium or any of the other cities mentioned in the series, or a new one of your invention – or unemployed panthans who can be hired by the merchant’s guild.
Act I: Devastation
When the player characters reach Valzor, they will find it a smoking, empty ruin: there are no survivors in sight, but there are signs of a terrible battle. As the PCs go through the ruins, however, a band of green men attack!
These green men, however, are not green, but a pallid gray all over, and their normally red eyes are instead a dead white. They are also more than 20 feet tall, instead of just 12-15 feet. Nothing short of decapitation or total destruction of their brain pans – such as by exploding radium bullet – will stop them.
Possible outcomes of this encounter:
- The PCs escape;
- The PCs are captured;
- TPK – this is a pulp adventure, so unless the players are playing really badly, this should not happen, but instead just have them be captured
Act II: the Immortalizer Ray
If the players are on their toes, they should realize that pallid gray green men 20’ tall are not a common thing at all, and want to investigate.
The easiest way to do so is to find some way to follow their attackers from Act I without being detected. Other means are possible, for example finding other settlements that have been destroyed by these monsters, and triangulating the center of disturbance.
Another possibility would be for someone in the party to realize that the mutated green men could be the result of radium over-exposure, and then recall that in ancient times there were radium mines in the Abreas Mountains not too far away. Or, they could find a hidden survivor in Valzor, who gives them this clue.
However they find the information, the clues point to the ancient radium mines in the Abreas Mountains. Again, if they can make it here without detection – there will be sentinels posted in hiding on the mountainside – they will find the mines are again active, with human slaves going in and out of the mines to a heavily fortified green man encampment in the foothills.
At the center of the encampment is a huge tent that periodically glows with energy – so much that the opaque thoat hide covering it glows! Within the tent is the Immortalizer Ray, a radium-powered mutagenic device that can turn living creatures into powerful albino zombies.
If they investigate further, they may also learn that most of the camp’s mutated warriors and the Immortalizer Ray machine will be sent on a raid upon the hatchery of another green man tribe, the Wathiq. (The mutants are members of what used to be the Zeronn tribe.) If successful, the raid will give the mutant tribe a huge number of new members! But at the same time, it will weaken the defenses here …
Act III: Swords Against Radium!
The thrilling climax! A big-bam-boom battle in true Barsoomian style! What actually happens in this last act is very much up to the players, but here are some ideas:
- Recruit the Wathiq Horde:
It may be possible to recruit the Wathiq Horde and bring them to defend their hatchery. A full horde of green men with their radium rifles may just be enough to turn the tide, and give a chance to destroy the machine.
- Sabotage the Immortalizer:
Another possibility is to sneak in and sabotage the Immortalizer machine so it blows up when next used. This could be combined with an attempt to free the slaves and get them to revolt as a diversion.
- Use the Immortalizer:
This is rather like taking the One Ring and putting it on yourself, but … if the Boromirs win in the planning, your players just might do this. If the ray’s discoverer – a mad red man scientist – can be persuaded, or the secret gotten out of him, the ray can be used on some PC and NPC heroes to turn them into supermen (or women!).
- Call the Air Force:
Another option – though this should be made very difficult, as it may take time to go back and recruit some friendly city’s aerial navy – is to get some war flyers in and bomb the machine’s location. This can be played as a race against time, to reach a friendly city, convince its ruler to help, then find the camp or marching line of the Zeronn and attack before they can start working on the hatchery. If they reach the hatchery, the hatchlings will be put through the machine as rapidly as it can be operated, producing enormous numbers of ‘radium demons’ all capable of wielding a mature green man’s sword, lance, or radium rifle.
Secret of the Immortalizer Ray
The immortalizer ray was discovered by the mad red scientist Vor Raxos, and it was he who conceived of using it to create an army of mutated super-creatures. The machine, found in the ruins of an Orovar city, was originally built to cure disease – probably cancer – but a malfunction while Vor Raxos was experimenting with it caused it to have its current effect.
Bathing a living creature under the Immortalizer’s rays has the following effects:
- The subject grows by 25-30%; if juvenile, maturation is also accelerated;
- The subject acquires great physical strength and stamina, in proportion with its size increase and a bit more;
- The subject retains its memories and basic mind-set, but also becomes more aggressive;
- The subject’s life span is gravely reduced; a red man that could live to a thousand years normally will die within four or five years after exposure to the ray;
- The ray’s effects may be reversible, but current Barsoomian science will not suffice; perhaps the machine may be re-tooled to do this, or perhaps a trip to the Orovar city where the machine was found will reveal a solution.
Vor Raxos, Mad Scientist
Vor Raxos was a Zodangan scientist who lost his family to John Carter’s attack on Zodanga. His great hate however is focused on the green men of the Thark Horde, Tars Tarkas in particular, because his only son was killed in battle by Tars Tarkas.
This is why Vor Raxos is using his ray on green men: not only are they providing him a powerful army hostile to Helium and the Tharks, the inexorably destructive nature of the ray satisfies his sadistic hate of the green race.
Vor Raxos is not only talented in understanding and repairing Orovar technology, he is also a cunning manipulator and a perceptive telepath, easily able to read the thoughts of almost anyone he can lock gazes with; he uses this ability to find out what others want and play to their fears and desires so he can get his way. This was how he was able to make the jeddak of the Zeronns take him in and help him with his plans.
Bal Shanga, Jeddak of the Zeronn
Bal Shanga is the ruler of the Zeronn Horde, a savagely ambitious but not very wise chieftain who dreams of supremacy over other green hordes – specially Thark, since Tars Tarkas once shamed him in battle. He plans to use Vor Raxos until he has learned how to operate the Immortalizer Ray machine himself, and then he will get rid of the hated red scientist.
Vor Raxos is aware of this, though, and has made sure that Bal Shanga never finds out how the ray is used. As added insurance, Vor Raxos is also grooming another chieftain, Dak Zor, to take over Bal Shanga’s place when the time is ripe.