Friday, September 29, 2017

OSR Commentary - Martian Echoes Of S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks By Gary Gygax

"The Grand Duchy of Geoff has recently been plagued by a rash of unusually weird and terrible monsters of an unknown sort. This western area, particularly the mountain fastness which separates the Grand Duchy from the Dry Steppes, has long been renowned for the generation of the most fearsome beasts, and it has been shunned accordingly -- save a handful of hardy souls with exceptional abilities. Within the last few months, however, a walled town not far distant from the area, and four small fortresses as well, have been destroyed by mysterious attacks! "

Last night I worked late into the night, I needed something breezy & quick to read. I turned to 'S3 Expedition the Barrier Peaks' Let's get this module's history out of the way quick;"Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was first played at the Origins II convention in 1976, where it was used to introduce Dungeons & Dragons players to the science fiction game Metamorphosis Alpha. In 1980, TSR published the adventure, updated for first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules. The adventure was not updated for later rules systems, but a article did provide a conversion to Future Tech. It included a separate booklet of illustrations, in both color and black and white." Now I've been lately rereading a lot of pulp magazine sci fi & science fantasy stories which I've been incorporating into my 'Old Solar Solar' system setting. But bizarrely it was rereading  the Killraven mini series from Marvel comics about '03 when I noticed some parallels between the two series & Edgar Rice Burroughs. Killraven first appeared in Amazing Adventures 30 (1970) & I literally grew up with him. He's a gladiator stuck in a Martian area who escapes with fellow gladiators who wander a Martian wasteland that was once our Earth. This invasion was the second or third wave of HG Wells War of the Worlds semi set in the Earth of the alternative Earth-691 that happened in 2001.

This series has always sort of shared the Marvel super heroes world with Earth's mightiest heroes dying badly & repeatedly over the years trying to prevent Killraven's world from coming about. Its only now when I reread the '03 updated mini series that I started seeing the subplot of the Martians trying to terra form the Earth into something resembling Edgar Rice Burroughs & Albert Otis Kline's Mars?! Killraven has always had some really weird & funky concepts from Logan Run style gladiator areas, psychic & telepathic Martian soldiers, Martian gene modified beast men, to the Martians themselves. The series history has been interesting & problematic at times;"
Co-creator Neal Adams' early ideas for Killraven involved the character being the son of a Doc Savage archetype.[1] This conception had been reworked by the first issue, a multiple-creator goulash in which the two originators and co-plotters turned the scripting over to another writer, and in which artist co-creator Adams penciled only the first 11 pages and Howard Chaykin the remaining nine. The second issue was fully written by the debut's scripter, Gerry Conway, followed in the third by Marv Wolfman.

After this, the book became the province of writer Don McGregor for an acclaimed run[2] from #21 (Nov. 1973) to the final issue, #39 (Nov. 1976). Pencillers were Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, Gene Colan, and, most prominently, P. Craig Russell from issue #27 on."
"Alan Davis' 2002 miniseries Killraven depicted an alternate-future variation of the original series, set on the parallel universe Marvel Comics designates "Earth-2120"." This mini series comic version of the original saga pays homage to the original series but takes the action in another direction. Mainly we see Killraven & his freemen dealing with the transformation of Earth, its people, and the high cost of peace between Martians & humanity. Its a well done mini series & I highly recommend it.

What strikes me is the artificial nature of the Martian subjugation & transformation of Earth in the original series. This is a very invasive species.  McGregor's writing on the original series has parallels with the nature of concepts laid down in Gary Gygax's writing in S3. According to
"McGregor and Russell, however, remain the series' signature creative team; more than two decades after the original series' end, comics historian Peter Sanderson wrote that,It was writer Don McGregor who transformed the Killraven saga ... into a classic. Of all of Marvel's writers, McGregor has the most romantic view of heroism. Killraven and his warrior band were also a community of friends and lovers motivated by a poetic vision of freedom and of humanity's potential greatness. McGregor's finest artistic collaborator on the series was P. Craig Russell, whose sensitive, elaborate artwork, evocative of Art Nouveau illustration, gave the landscape of Killraven's America a nostalgic, pastoral feel, and the Martian architecture the look of futuristic castles"
This same feel in many ways comes across in S3 where the definitions of what D&D is and could be are challenged, bent, & in some places broken. Something that Killraven for me would go on to do with comic books. But back to the monster ecology. The Warden of S3 comes into & transforms the world of Greyhawk introducing an alien ecology that continues to plague that world for centuries. The lessons of both Killraven & 'Expedition To The Barrier Peaks' can be applied easily to
the current OSR. Invasive ecologies can serve as the prime motivator for a campaign quite easily. Take as an example many of the monsters of  Clark Ashton Smith or Lovecraft which fit the stereo typical 'outsider' or alien ecologies.

This is something we see time and again in adventures from Lamentations of the Flame Princess & Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. It was also something that Robert Kuntz saw using many of the well established principals of science fiction and science fantasy to challenge many of the original players of this hobby of ours. Again the same thing happens in Killraven where species continue to plague the world over & over again. We become the monsters under the tendrils of the Martians something that gets repeated again & again as they continue to transform Earth into their new home. All of these themes are something we see again & again in pulp magazines going back to the childhood of both Gygax and McGregor.  The dungeon isn't a static organism or adventure location, instead its a point fixed by both circumstance & opportunity of creation.

Both S3 'Expedition To The Barrier Peaks' & Killraven are products of their time. They work to create what we know as the modern wasteland dungeon in pop culture. Killraven was/is one of my all time favorite comics, over the years its been a well written and incredible foot note in the incredible pop culture landscape. Both of these products are part of the  legacy of Marvel comics & Dungeons Dragons. Mainly due to the incredible writers and artists of Marvel comics & Gary Gygax.
Without Killraven we would not get the awesomeness of Ape Slayer but that's another blog entry for another time! For now keep those dice rolling.

This blog entry is for entertainment & educational purposes only. It is not an attempt to violate the trademarks & copyrights of Marvel Comics nor the original writers nor artists of such comics. S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is copyrighted & trademarked to Wizards of the Coast & this is not an attempt to violate those trademarks or copyrights. All opinions,ideas, etc are copyrighted and trade marked to @Dark Corner Productions 2017

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