This is the first of the Eric John Stark stories & its got all of the pulpy weirdness we've come to expect from Leigh Brackett's Mars.
"Gaunt giant and passionate beauty, two dragged thirst-crazed across endless crimson sands in terrible test of endurance. One knew where cool life-giving water lapped old stones smooth - a place of secret horror, death to reveal
S.O.S. Aphrodite by Stanley Mullen - No wonder that signal stabbed out into the icy void from a ship of hate and evil"
When it comes to iconic Martian tales they don't come closer then Queen of The Martian Catacombs, I've been rereading this tale while I've been flat on my ass with the Flu. Yeah, yeah, I'm taking care of myself and drinking plenty of fluids and the usual whatnot that folks tell you when your sick. What I've also been doing between fever gripped spasms has been rereading Queen of the Martian Catacombs by Leigh Brackett. Don't let 'the damsel in distress' routine of the Planet Stories pulp artwork fool you. The women in Brackett's tales are power players. They've got more on their minds then mere biological imperatives and it doesn't involve our heroes. In fact the give and take of the players that are involved here remind me of the best of Robert Howard's & Edgar Rice Burroughs. But its that touch of the forbidden wastelands of Mars that sends it home for me into the field of the Lovecraft circle of writers. There is another twist in which the hero becomes involved with the Terran agents and a little brush fire war going in background of the wastelands of Mars.
The story telling is rapid fire & the material reads like partly between a normal sword & planet mixed with a banana republic revolution set against the dying embers of a world that is half forgotten. In other words a perfect venue for a sword & sorcery style game.
The "Giants of the Earth" articles in old issues of The Dragon gave the D&D stats for Stark( Issue #28, p. 35.) and as I remember he was a total bad ass. This story can be dovetailed right into the C.L. Moore North West Smith tales. This is a Mars on the edge of a boil and almost but not quite brought to its decedent head by internal forces. Here is the perfect Mars to marry to both Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea & Warriors of the Red Planet. I'll never forget running into the cover for Volume three The Reavers of Skaith. Brackett's Mars has the space ports and Earth's interests clearly marked out, settlements drawn, but this is a world where Clark Aston Smith's Lovecraftian horrors clearly hide out in the desert sands.
Once again the idea here of the power of the Martian desert world set with the PC's dealing with its ancient realities mixed with the modern Imperialism & Earth Colonialism is a powerful combination. Take the basics of the AS&SH as the back bone system mix it in with the Warriors of the Red Planet retroclone and your ready to go. But there's far more to this combination then simply meets the eye. If we start looking a bit further a field into Gulliver of Mars, by Edwin L. Arnold then we begin to see a very different area of Old Mars. The swampy & highly dangerous temperate polar regions of the Hither & Thither peoples.
Give the expansiveness of Old Mars this isn't a surprise & there are hints throughout several novels of classic pulp and Victorian authors of connections between lost Hyperborea & Mars as a possible colony. Brackett & Moore take this implied connection and expand on it until we have solid Lovecraftian leads and in roads especially in
Queen of the Martian Catacombs
Here's where the PC's could easily get caught up in the politics of the Terran Empire & the system crap stirring its engaged in on Mars. This is the same sort of interference & tactics that we see the wizards of Thundarr's era engaged in back on Old Earth. There's far more that's implied here & the connections to some of the politics that we see in C.L. Moore's North West Smith stories can't be mere coincidence. In fact if I was to speculate I'd say that the Sol system pot of Old Earth's system with its bloated suns had been messed with before. This feeling of a trodden upon Mars gives the planet a 'lived in' & on ancient decadence that we don't get with some of Burroughs books.
1d20 Random Ancient Martian Minor Treasures Table
1d20 Random Ancient Martian Minor Treasures Table
- 1d4 ancient Martian mind jewels worth 60 gold pieces to the right collector, they contain weird & half remembered alien dreams
- Short sword jeweled for a small alien hand more of a +2 dagger in a human hand or larger.
- A small soul mirror worth 70 gold pieces to the right buyer.
- An ancient map of the dead sea bottoms worth 700 gold pieces
- Twin jeweled mind needles capable of delicate surgery 1000 gold pieces to a medical collector
- An ancient hand of jet and onyx that points the way to an ancient treasure vault deep in the Martian desert .600 gold pieces
- Weird Martian jewel made from a preserved alien brain. There is still a psychic trace of the former owner 70 gold pieces as a curiosity
- Pathan warrior harness plain 70 gold pieces with the names of two hundred tribal warriors of renowned names carved into it
- A long sword carved with 15 names of protection from ancient demons of the Martian nights
- A clawed gauntlet of red Martian iron spiked +3 damage worth 700 gold pieces in the Southern markets
- An ancient seed of Tu worth 700 gold pieces
- A water crystal with the Southern beam marked clearly and in solid working order at least 100 gold pieces
- The dark heart of a Martian dead god now a curiosity of morbid aspect 300 gold pieces to a black magician
- Weird crystal face mask of the ancients worth 700 gold pieces and able to block telepathy and mind probes
- The globe of Tous A Hither people artifact that allows its owner to gaze into certain parts of the Martian underworld. Worth 8000 gold pieces
- Plain silver dagger with a gem set in the handle. 70 gold pieces
- A cut jeweled statue of a Martian night angel 200 gold pieces
- Strangely wrought statues made of a solid ruby from the ancient sea bottoms with several White Ape claw marks 300 gold pieces
- Green Martian horn of sounding 700 gold pieces because of the fine workmanship.
- The black gem of Far 'ru This gem allows the owner to see into the hearts of those preserved on the sea of death. Its worth 1000 gold pieces for the workmanship.
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