Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Great Martian War Television Mini Series For Your Old School Campaign

If you've been on Facebook or Twitter, Reddit, etc. This footage has been floating around the internet of the Great Martian War. Some fantastic footage of Martian war machines in a special for the History Channel. According to the History channel website of the upcoming series : 
On its 100th anniversary, The Great Martian War tells the story of the catastrophic events and unimaginable horrors of 1913-17, when Humankind was pitted against a savage Alien invasion.

The mini series is actually supported right over HERE
With powerful and detailed First World War parallels, The Great Martian War fuses sci-fi fantasy with specialist factual history to explore the real-world tragedies and unique horror of World War One.

Needless to say that this is some fantastic stuff to inspire an Old School campaign right from the get go. We're given a timeline, Martian forces, background, complete battlefronts, etc. all done in the style of an alternative history from the front. Pretty much everything you could want as a set up including troop types.
This is a four year war with some very nasty bits thrown in here and there parelling HG Well's fears which were well founded of the growing threat of WWI.
According to the producers the look of the special had some very definitive influences and were driven by some solid desires to capture a homage to HG Well's War of the Worlds but with their own spin on the themes and ideals set down in the Wells story : 

What better way to frame a convincing allegory about WWI than to build it within a story world and against an enemy that would have been familiar to the men and women who fought the 14-18 war? War of the Worlds was a famous story to the WWI generation and how else would the people of 1913 have sought to label an Alien Invasion than to have pointed the finger of suspicion at the mysterious Red Planet.
This desire to create a war between worlds that feels like one the people of 1913 would have recognized extends to the look of the film and fake archive. Our Alien machines and the Alien technologies that are thrown against mankind in our documentary are heavy, steam shrouded, earth bound, mechanistic and grinding, just like the huge industrial weapons of WWI. It was important that the look of those Alien machines echoed contemporary Edwardian visions of what an Alien invasion would look like, anything else would have sat very unconvincingly among the archive of WWI.
Rather than approaching our sci-fi elements from the perspective of the here-and-now, it felt right to take inspiration from the great writers of the period, the true pioneers of the genre like H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs and, a little later, H.P. Lovecraft. Their perception of life beyond planet Earth and extra-terrestrial visitations from outer space was our jump-off point, and the Red Planet is of course an iconic part of that. Of course, whether the Aliens did in fact originate from Mars, or were mistakenly christened Martians by the people of 1913 eager to give a name to the enemy, is one of the things we find out in the film.
Needless to say I'm a bit excited to see the finished product. And then set down a review of it. The online support for the project is impressive and reminds me of some of the production values for a video game property rather then a History channel mini series. Here for example is a break down of some of the Martian forces which look damn impressive to me. This seems to really capture the spirit of the above comments by the producers and keep the material constant through out what they've set down in the production: 

There are three types of Martian machine, each of which is given a name by the Allied soldiers at the Martian Front:
These are the largest of the three. They are up to 300 ft high, slow moving but in the early stages of the war, invulnerable to human weapons. They are armed with an energy shield, a devastating energy cannon, and surrounded by clouds of poisonous gasses that mirror the atmosphere of their pilots’ home world. What is inside each Heron is unknown at first, but it’s clear that they can lay waste to the great cities of Europe in a matter of days, and also that they act as the hub for battalions of smaller tripod war-machines, that the troops have christened 'Spiders'.

Heron great martian war

These are the fast moving attack dogs of the Martian Invasion. 20ft high they wield a tentacle like weapon and are merciless close-quarters killing machines. The 'Spiders' appear to be acting under the command of their Heron masters, but as our story unfolds a number of key events point to a very different dynamic.  For contained within the Spider machines is an important secret that will prove pivotal to the course of the war and the future path humanity takes.

Spider great martian war

These are the third type of machine, and they quickly spread a deep, penetrating terror among the men on the Martian Front. Moving only at night and in vast warming herds, these small, ground-hugging crawlers appear to be harvesting the countless dead bodies left out on the battlefield at the end of each day’s fighting. Like the Spiders, the Lice are absolutely pivotal to the entire Alien strategy - but the exact purpose of their nightly harvest out on No Man’s Land is a gnawing mystery whose eventual unravelling will have devastating effects on the common soldier and expose terrible flaws in the Allied Generals’ leadership.

lice great martian war
As the mini series delves deeper into the backdrop of the Great Martian War there are mysteries within mysteries. 
We find strange and weird super science powering the Martian war machines,odd metals with dangerous properties - 
As well as the three types of Alien machines, the Allies also encounter a mysterious substance, which they name ‘Victisite’. It’s a highly responsive liquid metal that powers all the Alien machines and weapons. When the Allies take possession of this alluring, seemingly intuitive wonder-material they quickly realise it could turn the tide of war in their favour and place Victisite at the heart of their own burgeoning fleet of war-machines… without stopping to consider just how different a ‘breed’ of metal Victicite might be, compared to anything ever encountered on Earth.

There are weird twisted differences from HG Well's book and such as Germany asking for help against the Martians rather then their position in WWI. Wiped out to a man this marks one of many alternative history points seen through out the mini series. 
This is a really well done example of alternative pseudo history given form. 

These parallels lie right at the heart of the show and there are far too many in number to mention them all but it was very important to us that every single element of our fiction, whether major incident or minor detail, should be borne out of the real events of World War One i.e. The United States, unaffected by an Alien landing in the heart of Europe, remains neutral for much of the war, men volunteer in their thousands to serve at the Martian Front, women throw themselves into the construction of munitions… We have parallels to the Christmas truce and the Angel of Mons, the sinking of the Lusitania and the bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and have a twisted version of the Spanish Flu feature at the climax of the global conflict.
Throughout we try to ground our outcomes to these major events in the Martian War in the true history of WWI.

So every moment of our war, from the Aliens’ arrival in 1913 to the war’s shocking conclusion in 1917, has a real-world 1914-18 parallel. And it’s also true of our story’s themes: the nature of the Alien enemy, the terrible strategy they use against us, the reasons they came to Earth in the first place, and the threat that their invasion still poses 100 years later. All these things grew out of what we felt were central truths about the nature of WWI.

Right so using 'The Mars The Great War' mini series as part of your old school campaigns really isn't that hard at all. There are several games on the market currently that will allow you to place your PC's right into the action. 

All Quiet On The Martian Front is a perfect 15 mm game that has some fantastic mini's with just the right sort of flavor for this genre.
Find out more on All Quiet On The Martian Front HERE

The PC's in this sort of campaign would be adventurers and mercenaries mostly likely in the employ the Allies as things become quite desperate an the Martians kick the crap out of Earth's forces on almost all fronts. Dungeons here might well be anything from the abandon cities of Europe to some weird alien war machine base or some strange ruins with vast Martian secrets waiting to be discovered.
There's really a ton that can be mined from this mini series and I personally enjoyed the hell out of the mini series. 

The wastelands and no man's land of Mars The Great War would be a truly terrifying place for PC's to be adventuring in. A real fight for survival against the spiders and lice through the battle fields of Europe. There is plenty of room here to use another Well's creation here to get even more milage out of this. By pairing The Great Martian War up with the Time Machine you can get a mash up time traveling campaign where the PC's find themselves right in the middle of an alternative Martian history where the world is brought right to its knees and the PC's are there at this pivotal moment in history.
All in All I think that The Great Martian War is a decent homage with some really cool ideas to mine for your old school campaign. 


  1. You're right, The Great Martian War is great fodder for an old school campaign. The "documentary" itself was well done, complete with video testimonials from survivors of the war. I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.


  2. Very excited to see this come up on my email box. Hoping that the History channel will carry this again soon.
    I'm in the process of getting a copy for review and I got a chance to see half of it from a friend who was over the other day from the U.K.
    The amount of work that they did on the history, setting, etc. is really what sold me on the production. Thanks for the comment and more to come.


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