Aliens Meets the Martian Chronicles Meets John Carter Meets Savage Worlds

Today my Savage Worlds gaming buddies and I tried a space-based RPG set mostly on Mars, with aliens and ray guns, in a self-contained “one-shot” adventure (It took us about four and a half hours, including character creation and running out for beer and sushi).

I’d had a germ of an idea already, inspired by bits and pieces of the Aliens movies, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, the old John Carter books and a review I’d read of Savage Worlds’ Space: 1889. I still had to improvise most of the adventure on the fly, but it seemed to work well. If anyone else wants to run this adventure, here’s the guts of it.

Character Creation

The Hero Wild Cards are androids, kind of like the very human-like ones from Aliens. We based their stats off a Space Marine-type character template on the Savage Worlds Wiki, added some points in Engineering and Piloting, switched up 8 dots worth of skills wherever they wanted it and mixed and matched some Hindrances and Edges to give these guys some “humanity” (Their positronic brains had been given some digitized memories of actual humans to make them function normally among other humans). I also gave them an extra point of Toughness for “synthetic flesh” and a Healing Power with 10 Power Points to represent nano-bots auto-repairing their systems as required. When one of the Players suggested taking the Invisibility Edge (as a “cloaking ability” through his android flesh), I let him take it, balancing it out with the One Eye Hindrance (which was still a very good deal for him, on balance). The other guy took Gadgeteer.

For equipment, the Wild Cards each have a laser pistol and a police-style collapsible truncheon.

Plot Points

Enroute to a Martian Satellite Station. Right off the bat, the lead android has to make a Spirit check. Assuming a success and a raise, they’ll get some background information (but either way, their brains have been somewhat scrambled by an EMP pulse-type effect emanating from the surface of Mars out into deep space –an effect that has kept most human ships away from this area for the past year. This helps explain some of the Heroes’ Hindrances that ordinarily wouldn’t have been programmed purposefully into the androids).

Assuming a success, the Heroes remember their mission, which was to check on a Terraforming facility that’s been running on Mars for the past 50 year or so. It suddenly shut down, about the same time the satellite and nearby human ships started getting destabilized. Their mission is to investigate the satellite and learn what they can there before heading down to the surface in their ship.

If the Heroes make a successful Piloting roll, they manage to dock with no problems at the Mars Satellite Station. (Otherwise, they crash and do damage to their ship. On a roll of snake-eyes, if they decide not to use a Benny, their ship flies off into deep space and that’s the end of the adventure).

The Martian Satellite Station. There are two androids on this small, ISS-sized ship. The gravity is off, so all physical Trait rolls get a -2, at least until the Heroes can fix the artificial gravity. As the Heroes enter, they see a floating android that resembles a dead body and they must make Guts checks or they panic (Yes, androids can get scared). This android is no longer functioning at all.

When the Heroes get to the control room, they find an Android doing the funky chicken. He looks like he’s having bad seizures (and has been having them ever since the pulse from Mars nearly took out their ship). Roll the NPC reaction table — any kind of unfavorable reaction means he attacks with his bare hands until he is put out of commission. Otherwise, he just becomes inert.

After dealing with the psycho android, the Heroes can glean some further information from the parts of the satellite’s data banks that haven’t been corrupted. They confirm that the satellite was nearly put out of commission on the same day the Terraforming facility went down, and that up until that day, both the station and the facility were functioning perfectly normally.

A successful search of the ship reveals whatever equipment the GM thinks is appropriate.

A successful Piloting roll will get the characters down to the planet’s surface (A raise will get them exactly where they want to be, within 50 meters of the Terraforming facility. Otherwise, they may have to do some walking in some surprisingly hostile terrain).

The Terraforming Facility. Anything breakable on the outside of the building has been trashed, including several satellite dishes and various types of equipment and sensors. With a successful Engineering or Repair roll, the Heroes make it inside. Everything inside is fine — whatever happened outside didn’t get in through the thick metal hull. It would take at least a week for the Heroes to get this facility working even to a minimal standard again.

A successful Tracking or Investigate roll lets the Heroes find the recording of the attack on the facility during the beginning of a Martian evening. Dozens of bestial four-armed green humanoids between 8 and 12-feet tall attacked this place and tore apart whatever they could.

Given that no human has ever spotted so much as an indigenous bacterium on Mars, it is surprising to our Heroes to discover fully-formed humanoid aliens wandering about.

By now, it is already turning to night (A Martian day is about as long as an Earth day). While the terraforming technology has already managed to alter Mars’ climate somewhat and android bodies are very resilient (not needing food or water and able to survive even in space for brief periods), if the Heroes go out at night, they will have to make a successful Vigor roll not to get Fatigued.

If the Heroes decide to spend the night there, they won’t be disturbed.

The facility also contains Samsonite, a bulky R2D2-type of robot that is basically a mechanical pack animal, able to ferry one ton of equipment. It already contains mining and other equipment. It can move as fast as the players.

Hitting the Trail. Tracks of the aliens lead to a huge hangar-sized opening in a canyon wall about ten kilometers from the Terraforming Facility. If the Wild Cards make a successful Notice roll, they not only notice the huge metallic doors that have opened up from the cave, but also have flickering visions of there being no door at all there. It soon becomes apparent that the androids’ new bionic eyes are able to see what had been cloaked from human vision and ordinary camera technology.

If the Wild Cards go inside, they enter a long hall that leads to a huge control room.

The Martian Ark. Almost immediately on entering the facility, the Heroes will encounter some Martians (Roll a die to see how many there are). These are the green four-armed beasties. They can walk on their legs plus two arms or their four arms. They might not be immediately hostile — roll on the NPC reaction table. If they are neutral friendly, they won’t attack, but they will surround the Heroes and “sniff them” to see what they are. These aliens have 1d4 or 1d6 Smarts (other stats are similar to a Dire Wolf), but they are really more animal than man. It won’t take much to spook them or prompt them to attack. Still, if the Heroes are lucky and not overtly hostile, the Martians will simply escort them inward to the control room.

The Control Room. Almost as soon as the Heroes enter, the vaulted ceiling of this vast chamber will begin to glow. In ten seconds, the room will be fully illuminated. (If Martians are escorting the Heroes, they may be spooked by the effect and attack — re-roll their NPC reaction table to see what they do). With a successful Engineering or Repair roll on the control console on any side of the room, the Heroes are rewarded with a holographic image of what looks to be a very intelligent, bipedal and relatively friendly Martian. This is the digitized consciousness of a Martian Scientist who died millions of years ago. If the Heroes converse with him with a successful Persuade roll, they may learn the following (either on purpose or inadvertently):

  1. This place was created to preserve the Martian race.
  2. A “Data Transferral Area” exists deeper in the Martian Ark where the Heroes may be able to assist with the “next phase”. There are hints of very advanced Martian technology.
  3. A 3-D map is presented, showing the location of the “Data Transferral Area” — through several other large chambers.

If the holographic projection learns from the Heroes that they are “off-worlders” (he can’t see them, but it may come up in conversation) he’ll clam up. He meant to transfer knowledge to fellow Martians, not “aliens” who just happened to be able to decipher his language due to similarities in their positronic brain structure and their own communication devices.

Enroute to the “Data Transferral Area”. There are a few rooms of note where the Heroes might encounter small groups of wandering Martians. A “Library” containing all kinds of collected technology looks like something out of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Further in, a “Feeding Chamber” is where most of the Martians are “nesting” — huge piles of Martian waste are piled up in one corner. Another side of the room has machines that are basically like giant hamster food dispensers, which provide nutritious discs of food generated from basic minerals in the walls of this place. There is a Martian “Headman” who is 12-feet tall and has very good fighting stats. If the Heroes try to enter the Data Transferral Area from here, he will try to block them (If the Heroes are escorted by other Martians, he won’t attack — but he will be suspicious. Martians can only be Persuaded or Intimidated at -4).

The Data Transferral Room. If the Heroes can make it past the Martian Headman and the other aliens, they will end up in a relatively small room, less than half the size of that first vaulted room. There is all kinds of equipment here, most of which has stopped working. Still some of the consoles are still lit up — with a successful Engineering or Repair roll, the Heroes can get the stuff to work. If they do, they must immediately succeed on a Spirit Roll or they must take 4d6 damage from a disruptive energy wave that can affect their android brains.

Assuming the Heroes are OK, they are then treated to a new holographic projection of a Martian Scientist who looks very similar to the one they saw before. This one explains that the machines in the Ark have not been working well, but the Heroes’ mere presence and some actions they’ve taken have helped to repair the damage of many years of neglect. He asks if the Heroes are ready to help the Next Phase along.

If they agree, with a successful Smarts Roll, the Heroes are treated to new revelations. The Ark contains the stored DNA and some actual living specimens of the original Martians who were left here to repopulate the planet if there was ever such a time that the climate managed to recover from the conditions that drove the Martians underground in the first place. The Ark was only supposed to open to the world when the planet’s outside conditions began to improve again (as they had under the Terraforming technology brought by humanity). Anticipating potential interplanetary rivalry (since the Martians had long ago discovered signs of life on Earth and possibly other planets), the Ark was also fitted with technology to disrupt interstellar vehicles coming to Mars after the Ark opened, to ensure the reborn race of Martians could go out to their old lands unimpeded by “off-worlders”.

Due to malfunctions in the machines, some Martians were “reanimated” early. Sadly, they de-evolved over the next millennia within the Ark, unable to use the technology of their ancestors and condemned to live in near-darkness, kept alive with the few machines that were operating and able to sustain them. In the last year, the Ark opened, the de-evolved Martians discovered the Terraforming Facility and tried to destroy what they could not understand (not realizing that without the Terraforming technology, Mars would ultimately revert back to an inhospitable planet).

As the Heroes are distracted by the data transfer, some of the de-evolved aliens approach the room. When the Martians get within 30 yards, they collapse and seem to undergo seizures. The Heroes can see these Martians transforming before their eyes — the hologram may explain that “gene therapies have been introduced” to allow the Martians to revert to a form capable of re-learning how to use their old (yet advanced) technology. Within an hour, they will begin to resemble their ancient form.

The End

Do the Heroes assist these Martians as they recover their technology and help them rebuild their ancient and mysterious civilization? Do they try to wipe out the Martians while they are still transforming and relatively helpless, understanding that their human masters may not be too happy about an indigenous Martian presence laying claim to a planet that humans wanted for themselves? Do they try to explore this planet further and see what other surprises are lurking just under the surface? That may be another game, but you can end it here as the Heroes solve the mystery of what happened to Mars.


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