Sunday, June 19, 2016

Warriors of the Red Planet Review — Improves on OD&D

Dungeons & Dragons was firmly rooted in the Barsoom stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and to a lesser extent, other sword & planet stories. There actually was a game from TSR released during the OD&D era called Warriors of Mars, which was something between a miniatures game and an RPG, but that apparently ran into legal trouble and was pulled from the market.

So sword & planet was mostly ignored (save a few Dragon articles) until Dark Sun came out, a fairly popular setting at least until TSR went under. Unofficially there have been a few attempts to make D&D with the genre. A bootleg version of TSR's Warriors of Mars using more D&Disms by "Doc", an OSR version of Swords of Almuric (based on Robert Howard's novel of the same name), and an appendix in my retro clone. But the most ambitious is these is Warriors of the Red Planet by Al Krombach with Thomas Dennmark doing illustration and layout. It released a while ago on Lulu, but now is out in PDF form, both there and RPGNow/DTRPG/OBS.

At first glance Warriors of the Red Planet looks like an old style little booklet, the rules feature many modern innovations, most notably base attack bonus (or to hit) and ascending armor class, though the old way is still supported. Thankfully though, it does not have that single saving throw which ruins (IMHO) so many games and (again, IMHO) makes a mockery of being a retro-clone or old school. It's one thing to base a mathmatical procedure based on addition rather than subtraction, it's another to completely dispense with any sort of diversity in saving throw type.

Ability scores are generated using 3d6 in order, though the 4d6 drop one method is used for the sample character. Given the unforgiving nature of Mars, I think the 4d6 drop one method makes more sense, since most weaklings would be dead before they become 1st level. It uses the bonuses from Basic D&D, that is, 13 to 15 is +1, 16-17 is +2, and 18 is +3. I've always thought that is the most sensible range, so I'm glad to see it here.

Characters can be five different classes, one optional: Fighting Men, Scoundrel, Mentalist, and Scientist with the fifth, Sorcerer appearing in the 2nd appendix. Fighting men requires no explanation, it's a basic fighter. The scoundrel is a thief except much more competent at both combat and thieving skills. The mentalist sounds frighteningly close to a psonicist, but while it's a mental power using class, it uses a variation on the Vancian system and a spell list more like a cleric's.

The scientist is essentially a magic-user, but instead of spells he has gadgets or inventions that provide the spell's effect. The sorcerer is pretty close to the traditional D&D magic-user, but with a far more vancian flavor, including every spell being named after some wizard or another.

Claases go to 10th level, with each level giving them another hit die, which varies from class to class (ranging from d10 for fighting men, d8 for scoundrel, to d6 for scientist/mentalist. Combat ability (that is, base attack bonus or THAC0) improves by one every level for fighting men, two by every three levels for scoundrels (topping out at +7 at 10th), and one every two levels for the rest. This is pretty close to AD&D attack progressions and much better than OD&D.

Race is handled both vaguely and specifically. There are general guidelines for playing various sword & planet archetypes in the main rules, then in an appendix, there are specific details on playing specific races from Barsoom, Red Men and Green Men most notably, with small details for the other races (Black, Yellow, and White). Playing an Earthling also gets some coverage.

There are nearly 110 monsters, plus several variation of man, both difference races and different archetypes of that race. The stat block for each is pretty minimalistic, even for an OSR game with AC (both ascending/descending), HD, attack, damage, save as (given as class and level) and movement. Each gets a short paragraph of description and about 1/3 are illustrated with small but well done line drawings.

The booklet itself follows the original little booklet style format and has a lot of really nice art.

I really love Warriors of the Red Planet. Unlike a lot of OD&D based games which keep the broken stuff and make things worse (single saving throw most notably(,  it keeps the good old stuff (more than one save, characters being able to do stuff without skills for everything) while using the new improvements (characters competent at combat, AC that starts at 10 and not 9).

Beyond that, it's simply a remarkable complete game, it has all you need to play on Barsoom.


  1. Thanks for the heads up, your review has lead to this ending up on my wishlist.

  2. Night Owl Workshop now also has their first game module out for Warriors of the Red Planet, titled " Mechanized Men of Mars " !

    I will be taking my players in my roll20 campaign through this after they visit, " Expedition to the Barrier Peaks " !