Being a treatise on VSF and Mars, and on 19th Century colonial warfare in general

(with a nod towards Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan, lest I take myself too seriously)

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Green Martians - backstory

Here's a topic that is so far off-canon for Space:1889 that I almost hesitate to mention it.  Almost ...

Black Hat EMP401

The Meandering Intro
The fact is that I love the look of the four-armed giant green martians from Black Hat and I've been looking to find a way to squeeze them into My Mars somehow. I mean, what could be more typically Martian that a big green creature with four arms? No, I never mentioned Barsoom, not me!

But, being a slave to rationality (not to mention one with time on his hands), I needed to have some justification or backstory to have them on my oh-so Chadwickian Mars.

Black Hat Octosaur vs Hexosaur
The solution came to me when I was tinkering with a couple of ocotosaurs (stop sniggering at the back!), basically removing the rear pair of spindly legs and converting them into hexosaurs.  I think it's quite an improvement for a small investment in time. Just my ha'pennyworth.

But I digress.

The said tinkering led me to thinking about the triceratops-like hexosaur which looks like it might worm its way into my collection if I'm not careful. And how the giant martians also have six limbs. And how their mounts have six limbs as well (or they will once I chop the rear ones off like I did with their smaller cousins). Then the thought occurred that this might be a very different branch on the Martian evolutionary tree; one with six-limbed creatures, hexapods if you will, rather than the "normal" four that is seen elsewhere.

So far so good, but how had these escaped the notice of Earth explorers and, more importantly, how are they absent from Martian records?

Then ideas fell quickly into place, involving some sophisticated selective breeding, experiments that-are-not-permitted-for-a-very-good-reason, rioting mobs, coverups, evil geniuses (genii?) looking for the Ultimate Weapon, and other pulpy goodness in general. I think there might also have been a "bwahahahaha!" in there for good measure.

The Backstory Bit
The rapid evolution of hexapods was kickstarted millennia ago, as the seas receded and Canal Martian scientists were looking for a way to improve drought resistance in domesticated animals. Their experiments mostly involved selective breeding of a variety of six-legged rodent-sized creatures that already survived well in arid conditions. Some of their work was very successful indeed, enabling them to breed quite large creatures that could be bred for food or used as beasts of burden and yet still survive extremely dry conditions. In fact the experiments were so successful that some scientists strayed across a line-that-should-not-be-crossed, and attempted cross-breeding between Canal Martian and hexapods. Against all the odds they were successful. How it was achieved is not known - those records were destroyed long ago - but they had succeeded in breeding creatures about the size of a roogie that were fertile and even bred true. The creatures had a bipedal stance, and both pairs of upper limbs had the standard Martian hand (three fingers and a thumb). The upper pair were capable of finer manipulation than the more muscled lower pair. Their intelligence was soon bred and trained to the level of a young child. And there the work stopped. The hubris of the scientists knew no bounds, but the religious establishment determined that abominations had been created. Overnight there was a huge backlash against the scientists. Laboratories and breeding centres were attacked and razed. Anything that moved, whether it had four or six limbs, was killed and thrown into cleansing fires. Records were destroyed. It became a taboo topic. It never happened.

Of course not all of the more remote research stations were ever found; stations that became more remote year by year as the waters receded and the lands dried ever more. Some of the breeding stock survived, and even thrived in the dry conditions. They were never huge populations but they were large enough to be self-sustaining and life was challenging enough for the bipedal forms to evolve in size and in intelligence.

Then about two Martian centuries ago (that's about 300 Earth years) the Worm Cult came across some strange writings concerning a time of cleansing, and started to look for remnants from that time. For some years there had been tall stories from Hill Martians about large green devils erupting from the desert. Not unnaturally these had been discounted by civilised types, but the hints were suggestive enough for the Worm cultists to locate a couple of tribes and to nurture them, hoping to develop them into a tool to destroy civilisation and return the planet to the chaotic state they craved.

And what a tool they have found! By dint of further breeding they developed warriors that now stand over three metres tall, and that can tear a man's head off with their bare hands. They are not rocket scientists, but they certainly aren't stupid either. They are hardened desert warriors, with cunning and a natural gift for combat. When they ride to battle, it is on large aggressive war mounts. They can appear from the deep desert, strike hard and then disappear again as if they never existed.

The next step in the appearance of the Giant Martians was when the Worm Cult was able to negotiate agreements (alliances would be too strong a term) with several High Martian clans, and migrated some Giant Martians family groups to live in the rugged canyons of the highlands where they would be difficult for sky navies of civilised states to find. That was the point at which their numbers started to explode - what looks rugged and parched to a Canal Martian is a land of milk and honey to a Giant Martian.

The Wrap
This all explains why the Giant Martians have only been a problem for Canal Martian for the last 40-or-so Martian years, since about a generation before the arrival of the Red Men. Any records that still exist are either buried very deep or phrased in such a way as to mean nothing without knowing a lot about the context. And if anyone does know the context, they aren't about to have their dirty racial laundry washed in public - it would again be a matter of great shame to the Canal Martian psyche. Thus the Giant Martians have, in effect, burst out of nowhere, and they are starting to run amok.

The Worm Cult now works hard to keep them supplied with weapons, ensuring they cause general mayhem and destruction where they will. High Martians recognise that they can get their Giant Martian neighbours to do a lot of hard fighting for them and will often tag along, providing airborne support (an area where Giant Martians are vulnerable). If the Worm Cult have a specific task in mind for their Giant Martian allies (for they are no longer clients) they will deploy small detachments of their robed cultists to maintain focus.

Linguistic footnote - the Parhooni word for a Giant Martian translates as "man-and-a-half", referring both to their height and to the number of limbs.

This post has rambled  on quite long enough, but I'm quite happy that the general outline will let me add Giant Martians to My Mars without it disrupting the background. In fact I think it makes it a lot richer for the purpose of wargaming, but I'm biased.

If you're unfortunate enough to game the Space:1889 background in 25/28mm, you don't need to feel left out - there are several figure suppliers out there who are ready and willing to help you bust your budget! *evil cackle*

Comments and improvements always welcome!

Sunday, 18 May 2014


Per the Space:1889 canon large quantities of metals, and thus cannon, are fairly rare on Mars. I have posited elsewhere that this is not due to lack of skills, but a shortage of resources and lower levels of atmospheric oxygen (which make smelting that much more difficult). It's not that the Martians are backward, it's just that they can use their limited supplies of metal more efficiently on other things.

But being an ancient and inventive people, could they not have come up with other ways of protecting missiles with an intent to do damage? (That's "shoot things" for those of you who aren't yet awake.)

Why not torsion engines? Basically we're talking giant arbalests or "Daa-nuu" as they are known in Parhooni

Classical Antiquity
Here is an interesting site with a ¾ size working model of a Roman stone-throwing engine. It mentions that the model (a "medium" engine) can throw a 3-pound ball 200+ yards. Without intending to belittle their efforts in any way, if weekend reenactors can achieve this performance then I am quite sure that thousands (or even a few tens) of years of practical development would easily top that. Josephus mentions a Roman engine with a range of up to 400 yards in his Jewish Wars, for example.

These engines varied in size, from 10 minas (over 9lb missile weight) up to 2-talent monsters (over 100lb). These were the field and siege artillery of classical antiquity! (Lots of wiki goodness here!)

The Daa-nuu
OK, but how would these fare on My Mars?

Wood to make the frames isn't exactly abundant on Mars, but it's not scarce either. Metal could be used for the small parts where required (nuts/bolts, clamps, ratchets, ...). The skeins used for the torsion by greeks and romans were hemp, hair, leather or animal sinews, and I could see the tendons of gashants and ruumet brehrs easily being of the size and strength necessary. Alternatively my jee-oo is a material that naturally resists deformation, so perhaps if properly harvested and preserved it acts as the perfect skein for a torsion engine.

So what might be the downsides of such machines?
- Maintenance was apparently difficult in classical antiquity, with damp being the number one headache. That one's not much of an issue on Mars at least! Wear and tear on the arms and the skeins are also mentioned, but these are at least renewable resources, and I'm sure that Martian skill and ingenuity could get round some maintenance issues. It's still a weapon that requires some technical expertise, but so are cannon.
- Range might be a problem, being outranged by cannon and not out-performing martian muskets by much, if at all. This reinforces the need for daa-nuu to be area effect weapons: there's no point one engine trying to outshoot ten musketeers if all it can fire is a 10lb rock, and that more slowly that a musket can reload.

Missiles - what would daa-nuu fire?
They can fire stones obviously.  If you want some obstacles knocked over they'll do the job, but they aren't going to have much effect on anything solid like a city wall or an entrenchment. I'm pretty sure a 20lb rock travelling at speed would give even a ruumet brehr something to think about.

How about an explosive shell? Space:1889 canon is silent on these as far as Martian technology goes, but perhaps that's the fault of extant Martian metallurgy, with shells being unable to survive the pressures of being fired from a cannon. But being fired from a daa-nuu is a very different prospect and should be a simple manufacturing job. They could even be a ceramic casing, with a simple burning fuse to light the breaching charge. Pack in a few sharp objects as well, if you want lots of shrapnel. That should keep musketeers' heads down!

How about gas of some description? Or smoke shells? Perhaps flashbangs (or caltrop-filled) to disrupt gashant charges? The only limit is Martian ingenuity.

I would see daa-nuu being deployed behind walls and in entrenchments, and masked from artillery fire until the enemy starts to close. Their main use is to break up enemy attacks.

They might be wheeled for improved manoeuvrability, but they are tall and bulky by the nature of the drums/skeins, so I can't see them being horse artillery analogues. You might be able to mount them on a solid cart, but this just raises their profile and makes them an even easier target for artillery. That might still be a handy way to use them against the more backward hill martians, of course.

Daa-nuu would work well on the back of a ruumet brehr as well, as there is far less recoil than with a cannon, and they are also MUCH quieter.

In terms of modelling, there are plenty of companies that make them, with the Essex "30 mina bolt or stone thrower" (XEQ12) being a good size for my Black Hat figures. Unfortunately there's not a photo on their website, so you'll just have to believe me!

Again, that's my shilling's worth.  All comments and suggested improvements gratefully received.

Edit July 2015
See my Hojaan-nuu I post discussing rocket-assisted munitions that would work well fired from a Daa-nuu. But bigger, of course!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

When is a sepoy not an askari?

When he's a Johnny Martian, of course.

Locally-raised troops on Earth were variously called Sepoys, Sowars and Askaris, these terms (and probably others) deriving from corruptions/transliterations of the local usage for a warrior or soldier of some description. I see no reason for the derivation on Mars being any different. But what would the term(s) be? I have never seen anything in the canon that comes close, and the only guide I have is that something with one or more double-vowels would be a good start. So here goes ...

In Parhooni the term for a warrior or soldier is "Sa'anshi" (pl. Sa'anshaya).  In the time-honoured tradition of English-speakers everywhere this has become garbled as Sanchi.

Mounted troops are known as "Qua'anshi" (pl. Qua'anshaya), but this term is only ever applied to Canal Martians and never to Hill Martian mercenaries. The Red Men have garbled this as Kwanchi.

The terms for artillery troops are many and various, depending on the type of gun they serve, and even where the gun is located, but the Red Men have cut through this again, calling all such troops Panchis (sing. Panchi), derived from the Parhooni "Pua'anshaya", or gun soldiers.