Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Barsoomian MAGIC

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian tales portrayed religious figures as frauds and scheming political leaders, not ordinary mortals touched by the divine and capable of miraculous wonders.

“The whole fabric of our religion is based upon superstitious belief in lies that have been foisted upon us for ages by those directly above us, to whose personal profit and aggrandizement it was to have us continue to believe as they wished us to believe.  I am ready to cast off the ties that bind me.  I am ready to defy Issus herself, but what will it avail us?”  (GM, X)

Despite the lack of legitimate priests and wonder-workers in the source material, most fantastical roleplaying systems rely on those character types and their presence is expected.   Furthermore, Burroughs’ novels are not lacking in wondrous, spell-like occurrences.  This chapter is intended to assist the game master caught “between the wild thoat of certainty and the mad zitidar of fact” (GM, III) by introducing methods to resolve this conflict between player expectations and the source material, as well as providing rules for adjudicating super-natural effects.

Magical Barsoom

The referee has several options if he wishes to expand upon the Martian tales that inspired Red Planet and include magical phenomenon in the game.  He is free to use all, some, or none of the suggestions below.

1) Allow individual spells to select characters: Spells are not magical effects, but the product of exceptional mental prowess.  Many telepaths exists on Mars; that a select few are able to create wondrous phenomena by thought alone is plausible.  In this case, the priest’s or parapsychologist’s power comes from within.  This is the best option for GMs wishing to keep religion a superstition in their games.

2) Religious Revival: Following the death of Issus, a new spiritual age arises on Barsoom as Martians of all colors return to the nearly forgotten deities worshiped by their ancestors.  This option might serve as the plot of several game sessions where the characters seek out lost temples in ruined cities to recover religious texts, icons, and other temple goods now in demand. 

3) Priests of specific origin: Although the cult of Issus is revealed to be fraudulent, this need not be the case of all religions. In ancient isolated, or exotic populations, (CM, V), true gods are worshiped that grant their devotees special powers. All priest characters must originate from one of these places or groups, and may face persecution outside their small enclaves if they do not keep their beliefs and origin secret.
      “Gahan, a man of culture and high intelligence, held few if any superstitions.  In common with nearly all races of Barsoom he clung, more or less inherently, to a certain exalted form of ancestor worship, though it was rather the memory or legends of the virtues and heroic deeds of his forebears that he deified rather than themselves.  .. . he did not believe that they had the power either for good or for evil other than the effect that their example while living might have had upon following generations; he did not believe therefore in the materialization of dead spirits.”                                                                                      (CM XX)
Miniatures from