Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Forgotten Edgar Rice Burroughs Post Apocalypse Novel - The Lost Continent

I was looking for some inspiration because I've just been told that I've got a game to run on Saturday. I stumbled on this novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Because of the release of John Carter by Disney everyone has been talking about a Princess Of Mars.
 However as of late I've been looking at other novels & stories by ERB. I stumbled on this one quite by accident.

The year is 2137. Two hundred years ago -- in our time, more or less -- Eurasia fought a war to end all wars, a war that meant, for all intents and purposes, the end of the Old World. The Americans managed to retain their civilization -- but only by engaging by the most extreme form or isolationism imaginable for two centuries, now, no American has ventured east of the thirtieth parallel. "East for the East . . ." the slogan went, "The West for the West!" Until a terrible storm at sea forced American lieutenant Jefferson Turck to disobey the law, seeking safe harbor in England -- where he found that two centuries of isolation have desolated the land. The damaged ship found a Europe that is no longer an enemy -- a ruined land that is utterly unable to be an enemy -- or a friend.
The Lost Continent" (a.k.a. "Beyond Thirty") is very much an alternative history mixed with a post apocalypse premise. The premise behind this alternative history story is that the United States did not get involved in the "Great War" in Europe but instead followed its isolationist tendencies to such an extreme ("The East for the East...The West for the West") that no one from the United States has gone past 30 degrees or 175 degrees latitude for over 160 years, which means no one in America even knows who won the war.
 The novel reads like the HG Wells movie 
The Shape of Things to Come but this is ERB we're talking here. So of course there's action galore but its an anti war story. Written in 1916, it postulates a world where WW1 never ended. Instead, the combatants kept fighting for decades until they reduced themselves to the level of the stone age. Reflecting the American sentiment for non-involvement, the United States combines with the rest of the Americas to form the United Americas- a fortress of civilization barricaded against any contact with the world beyond the seas
 Wiki had this to say: 
The novel, set in the year 2137, was heavily influenced by the events of World War I. In the future world depicted in the novel, Europe has descended into barbarism while anisolationist and politically united Western Hemisphere remains sheltered from the destruction. The title Beyond Thirty refers to the 30th meridian west that inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere are forbidden to pass.

There's lots for an enterprising Dungeon Master to use here. The novel is a quick read & breezes through a ruined Europe that has all sorts of interesting developments. There are 2 possible routes that one can go here. 
The alternative history route ~ Grab your classical history books with plenty of photos let the players be aboard an  aero-submarine of the Pan-American Navy of their own. Let them explore the strange ruins, poke around in the various places of Europe & generally have a great time. Simply use Original D&D, Swords & Wizardry, or Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future & cut out the fantastic elements. 
Option number two use the Lost Continentant as a spring board for your imagination & use Swords & Wizardry, or Labyrinth Lord, & Mutant Future. Here you add in the magical elements & the mutant stuff. The war has forced Europe into a new fantasy age. The world has grown far more Moorcockian & the ages of Law are ending. 
                    There's lots to mine here. The novel features conventional guns, weird technology such as the aero-submarine Coldwater under the command of Captain Jefferson Turck of the Pan-American Navy, & a very strange twisted United States that none of the players will recognize.
 It worked for Star Trek & it can work for you!  The Omega Glory trod this post apocalypse landscape as well.  A summery of the Omega Glory can be found Here
Who knows what strange bio weapons are floating around in the air of Europe or what weird mutants might be lurking there ?
The novel reminded me of Michael Moorcock's HawkMoon without the weird factors that one finds in his books. The post apocalypse Europe is eerie & sort of haunting in a way. A place to visit for adventures but not one to live in at a long term capaign.

 The novel is really a blank Post Apocalypse canvas to do with as you please. There are infact several different places for support of this novel
ERBmania has the novel on line Here
The Ebook Here
A complete Summery Here

The novel is within the public domain & fully within rights to use. Have fun & watch the wild life! 


  1. The Lost Continent was one of the inspirations for the world of the City, specifically in the devastation of the Old World after the Great War. I those not to make it as post-apocalyptic as Burroughs did, did I borrow his idea to limit its importance.

    Hawkmoon combined withe The Lost Continent is a great idea.

  2. Great write-up, I'm off to grab the novel!

  3. Trey I've seen traces of the WWI elements of The Lost Continent within the City but since its such a blank canvas you've been able to put a much more unique spin on the setting making it your own. Unique in this case is much interesting & cool for an rpg adventures. Still I've yet to grab the material money has been tight right at the moment.
    I've read through The Lost Continent, the first thing I thought of is HawkMoon! The places,elements, etc. are all European but without the fantastic thrown in. However Moorcock's struggle of Law & Chaos wouldn't take one thing away from things in my opinion.In fact I think its a great blank canvas.

  4. Jay I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Its bubble gum pulp entertainment at its best.

  5. Great post, I have never read this, so I'm off to hunt it down for my collection! Thanks!
    Are you going to run something using this setting?

  6. Yes I'm designing something as we speak! I don't want to jump the gun yet but there's something in the works. I'm kind of excited about doing it. I'm working with my friend Larry on it. This one is filed under special projects yet..
    There will be more on this one. Partially I'm thinking of using this as a basis for an alternative Earth track for my Post apocalyptic Mars. Thanks for the comment & there will soon be more Bill!

  7. I really enjoyed that book. Of all the works of ERB, I like this the most - yes, even more then the Mars books, and that says a lot!

    One thing I found fascinating about the setting, is how he throws the world on its head. You see, the isolationism seen in the book seem to be based on China's historic isolationist policies, so the Americas became the sleeping giant. At the tail-end of the book, Turck and Victory encounters Chinese expansionists, who were taming the savage west in Europe like the US in the old wast, while also laying down railway and telegraph line. They were portrayed as enlightened and progressive. Where Europe was reduced to savagery, Africa became the home to a powerful Christian-based monarchy, who have been aggressively fighting and enslaving the white savages for the belief that they are "saving the heathens for their own sake." Hell, they even sported Colonial-era pith helmets!

    So yeah the Americas and China switched around, as well as Europe and Africa. Once that allusion becomes apparent, RPG-based world-building becomes easier.

  8. What your basically seeing is an alternative Earth with WWI broken out, Americans were predominantly isolationist and wary of being drawn into a European war.
    "The Abyssinian Empire, a black super-state ruling all of Africa, most of Europe, and the Arabian peninsula." is a nice bit of a hat trick by ERB and in house reverse of the usual tropes found within the literature that he helped to give rise to. Although ERB's treatment of race was much, much, different then other authors of his day.
    The allusion is actually the entire key to understand both the novel and how to use it for rpg design. That being said its mostly unknown these days and its got enough twists to really keep players guessing.
    Thanks for the comment and more ERB goodness coming up.

  9. Yes, vary much so. It was not just an anti-war and anti-isolationism book, but it also brought up an other issue: racism. Casual readers might look at how the Abyssinians were negatively portrayed, and assume it was racist towards blacks, or at the vary least "a product of it's time", but the allusion seems to twist the knife on whites. That was pure genus!

    Here are some more background dressing for the setting:

    The Abyssinians are Ethiopians - "Abyssinia" is their historic name. He was also spot-on about how they look, as Ethiopians look black, but they have a strong Semitic features - this was a point in the book, as officers are exclusively Ethiopian, while the enlisted are made up all other Africans. I think made an error about the pith helmets. That was how I imagine them. The frontier troops are dress in basic tan uniforms, while the royal army seem to be dress rather Zouave.

    A major thing to consider with "alternative history" fiction is that much of what happened in the 20th century - WWII, The Cold War, the Space Program, Civil Rights, the Internet, etc. - never happened, and never came into being on their own.

    It was noted outright in the book that racial equality never happen in the US. On top of that, there seems to be an active suppression of knowledge in the PAF (Pan-American Federation), as schools have maps with only North and South America printed on them (everything else is just empty ocean), and books and maps on the greater world seems to be locked away and hidden in privet collections. All-and-all, the PAF seems to be portrayed as highly conservative in law and thinking, and are culturally stagnate because of it. At least in the PAF, one dose not have to think too hard on how they changed culturally over the years - they didn't do much to change themselves.

  10. The setting is rather brilliant for running alternative history and I've used it many times as both background and sauce. The question is do you use all of it or a little of it at a clip.
    The PAF are more of a foil for a reverse on the usual reversal of the 'white man's burden' in my games. The Abyssinians are very solidly done as a civilization and presenting the foibles of the usual science fantasy stuff from ERB's time period. As a setting through for post apocalyptic material there are a lot of blank spots on the map of technology, cultures, etc.
    I haven't used the book in quite a few months but I only recently required a copy of the book. I may have to give the book another go and move on from there. I see another blog post in my near future.

  11. I never used much of the setting in my post-apocalypse games. But I do use an excerpt (from page 57) to highlight how primitive the characters' backgrounds are:

    "[You live among] a collection of rude huts, fashioned from branches of trees covered with skins and grasses and sometimes plastered with mud. All about [your] camp [you] had erected a wall of saplings pointed at the tops and fire hardened. This palisade [is] protection against both man and beasts, and within it [dwells] upward of two thousand persons, the shelters being built very close together, and sometimes partially underground, like deep trenches, with the poles and hides above merely as protection from the sun and rain. The older part of the camp consisted almost wholly of trenches, as though this had been the original form of dwellings which was slowly giving way to the drier and airier surface domiciles. [...] The women [ware] a single light deerskin about their hips, for it was summer, and quite warm. The men, too, were clothed in a single garment, usually the pelt of some beast of prey. The hair of both men and women [are] confined by a rawhide thong passing about the forehead and tied behind. In this leathern band [are] stuck feathers, flowers, or the tails of small mammals. [Everyone wares] necklaces of the teeth or claws of wild beasts, and there [are] numerous metal wristlets and anklets among them. [You are], in fact, every indication of a most primitive people—a race which had not yet risen to the heights of agriculture or even the possession of domestic animals. [You are] hunters—the lowest plane in the evolution of the human race of which science takes cognizance."

    (And yes, everyone starts off topless—even the women)

  12. Sounds like the old Dragon magazine article about adventuring during the Ice Age. Good stuff but I'm not really sure about the topless bit. Hey go for it. If the ERB book has it and your players like then fantastic. Remember the goal here is to have fun.


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