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, 30 June 2012

Martian Terrain - wishlist

OK, so I want to build some really atmospheric terrain for my Martian games; but what?

First I will have to work out what "My Mars" looks like.

Canal Zones
Canal zones are the fertile areas 20-50 miles each side of the Grand Canals.  This is where you will find agriculture, cultivated woodland (and what do "trees" look like?), villages, roads and minor canals.  There will be marshy areas where canals have deteriorated or as the result of a high flow of water.  The Grand Canals will be too big to represent on a gaming table except as a bank on one table edge.

You will also find permanent field defenses in the Canal Zones. Warfare on My Mars is channeled along the canals as these provide the only way to supply an army. Avenues of approach are therefore very predictable and trench works often develop an air of permanence.

Some of the Grand Canals silted up a long time ago. Where they still retain some water flow, they will only be recognizable in an otherwise flat plain by the greenery that springs up in the flow season. Most other features will have weathered away before living memory.

Upland Zones
The upland zones are the old "dry land" areas that lie outside the canal zones and which are now home to nomadic Hill Martians, and also to some barbaric Giant Martians.

The hills are now mostly dry, weathered and rounded. The lower areas of hills often have collections of large rounded rocks that have broken away form the higher ground. Rare areas containing harder rocks may have formed mesas, rising sharply from the surrounding terrain.

Watercourses have long-since dried up and been filled with dust, but these can also act as underground cisterns for what little rain does fall, or for the run-off from nearby canals. These will often be the only areas that offer year-round grazing and so are often the locus for warfare amongst the nomadic tribes of the area. Such areas tend not to be especially lush, but are more areas of scrubland, consisting of hardy grasses, sparse woodland and thorn bush.

Some Hill Martian tribes have been strong enough to control fertile areas and build permanent settlements, with some local agriculture, but most rely on nomadism for protection and survival.

Some mountainous areas do still exist, but do not support a great deal of life.

Desert Zones
The desert zones are the areas of the old seabeds that lie at a distance from the great canals. This terrain is the home of the Giant Martians who adapted long ago to the arid, dusty conditions.

The deserts tend to be flat and featureless, and water flow from distant canals will only feed groundwater deep underground, occasionally rising to form the oases that allow life to exist at all.  Such oases are often found at the foot of rocky outcrops - the remains of undersea ridges.  Some oases are permanent, but many are seasonal or require frequent maintenance to remove silt.

Mars is the "red planet".  I don't see it as a pillar box red, but terrain should definitely bear a red or pink tinge.  I need to find the right shades of sand and flock for this, which will have to be the subject of a later post.

Some plant life will have to be red (Wells' red weed, for example).  I have also decided that any woody growth tends towards red rather than brown, but leafy growth will still be predominantly green (with red veins maybe) as I don't want to have to posit an alternative to chlorophyll!

(Typos corrected periodically after posting)


Elderac said...

It sounds very well thought out. Have you given any thought about what sort of tents the nomadic Hill Martians might use? I imagine they would be some sort of tent made of hide, but have been pondering the nature of the support poles and shape of the tents.


Clive G said...

Good question, and not one I had thought about.

A round nomad tent (of the asiatic style) doesn't need too much wood - only 8-12 poles apparently. And these wouldn't have to be be tree trunks. I could easily imagine nomads coppicing stands of trees in fertile areas, using what they need when they are there and treating these as a common resource. All the local tribes would know of the various stands in the area, just as they would know of the grazing areas. No tribe would dream of abusing the wood as a resource, in the same way as they would never dream of totally exhausting the grazing in any area. (Of course nearby Canal Martians might not have the same qualms, and might use knowledge of such resources to deprive nomads of the means of survival.)

For an asiatic-style round tent I imagine quite light (but springy) poles could be used if the material is sufficiently rigid to be partially self-supporting. For a tepee-like structure the poles would likely have to be longer and more rigid, so I'd go for a round asiatic-style tent.

In fact a tougher question is on the material used to make the walls and ropes. Asiatic nomads use animal hair to weave fabric, make felt and twist into ropes. Hides can be used whatever the creatures available, but what if the creatures don't have a hairy hide? The riding animals in the Black Hat range are "octosaurs", and have a reptilian look. Not much in the way of hair there! OK, so the hides can be tanned fairly easily. Maybe there are herd animals such a antelope or bison with fur that can supply the hair, but ropes, and cloth, could be manufactured from flax- or cotton-like wild grasses. That means the nomads are also gatherers, but I don't see it as a problem.

I'm sufficiently anal to enjoy "logical" solutions to these realistic, albeit fantastical, questions and I'm always open to suggestions and inspiration.

David said...

Some nomadic cultures use the sinews of their herd animals for 'rope-work'. Another consideration is the use of bones (long bones and long rib bones to support roofs of cured octosaur skins - possibly resting on mud brick or piled stone/rubble walls.

The nomads would take their roofs with them, leaving a 'kraal'-like structure that the next group would dig out and repair and then sling their own roofs from.

Hope this helps.

ColKillgore said...

Depending on if your Mars has giant dust storms that last days on end a hide tent my be the way to go. As for ropes and support poles for the their tents, why not have them be a trade item with the Canal martiams?
I assume the Hill Martians are a fierce people, having many warriors to protect themsleves. I may be getting ahead of your design but they would also make good scouts and Mercenaries for the Canal Martians. This could lead to the use of Canl martian supplied ropes and support poles as a status symbol. A less prosperous Huill Martian can make thier own pole but would want the Canal martian produced ones.

I also like Kobold 'Kraal'-type structure idea. The question is whether the Hill Martian roam year round or do they set up a winter camp somewhere? If they don't travel for part of the year then they could have an area of Kraal dewllings where they stay for an extend periods of time. Or maybe some of the different Hill martian tribes chose to have different style of housing.

Gaming wise, I think it would boil down to do you want to make different styles of housing for your Hill Martians?


Clive G said...

Yes, I totally missed the idea of sinews - which is depressing when I KNEW they would be of use in making bows and such. Bones as well would see use in some form. I would have some concerns about the strength of reptilian bones - being more akin to birds they should have a lower density that mammalian bones - but this is My Mars after all and I can decree a different effect if I need to.

I do like your idea of the semi-permament dwelling structures. I wonder how often they could be occupied before becoming infested with vermin (and other peoples' vermin at that - so potentially very unhealthy)?

Clive G said...

as in Space:1889 I certainly see a symbiotic/parasitic relationship between Canal and Hill Martians. As you say the Hill Martians would fight as mercenaries for the Canal Martians sometimes, but sometimes they would turn predator as have most nomadic cultures on Earth. But both trade between the two groups, and subsidies/bribes paid to the Hill Martians, are probable.

As for actually MAKING the tents, that was Elderac's idea and I look forward to seeing his plans *wink*.

But à propos of very little, this link ( ) has some quite stunning photos of modern tibet, including some of tents. (Mutters.... I must work out to insert links.)

And this link ( ) has some interesting-looking 15mm tents, albeit a bit pricey.