Posts Tagged ‘Cavaliers of Mars’

New Cavaliers of Mars dev blog

An oleph, by Jeff Holt

An oleph, by Jeff Holt

Just a note that I blogged on some of the creatures of Mars over at the Onyx Path blog. In general, expect to see new Cavaliers content turning up there on a regular basis.

Two Swords of Mars

Illustration from "Two Swords of Mars"The fourth issue of Epidiah Ravachol’s Worlds Without Master zine is now out. It includes “Two Swords of Mars,” a new Cavaliers of Mars short story. Meet rogues-for-hire Valentine and Soteria, and find out what they do with a dead body, an ominous young woman, and a monastery full of blind — but sword-wielding — priests!

This is my first fiction published by someone other than White Wolf or Onyx Path. :)

Recent Projects

Blood and Smoke cover

Blood and Smoke

I released two core books in 2013.

Demon: The Descent is a game of techgnostic espionage, where you play a rogue angel who’s defected to the human race.

Blood and Smoke: The Strix Chronicle is a standalone update to Vampire: The Requiem that revitalizes the game’s focus on visceral drama and personal horror.

Deeper personal reflections on these might be in order at some point. Demon is my game about the masks we use to get through daily life, the different identities we adopt with our family and friends. Vampire is my game about the difficulties of adult relationships, and what happens when they slide into exploitation.

I also stepped up as Onyx Path’s development producer, coordinating the schedule and all products in the manuscript process. That’s been an interesting road. While our project lifecycle is similar to that at White Wolf until the PDF/print stages, the work environment is totally different. For a company that’s spread out across the Western world, much less one composed mostly of freelancers, you have to take a very different approach to managing teams. I’ve learned a lot from software development here, and am continuing to work on refining the process.

Cavaliers of Mars is running late because of all the WoD and administrative work this year, but it’s moving along. The core system works, and merely needs some additional playtesting for recent tweaks, and sections of the corebook (like the bestiary) still need writing. Onyx Path is still lined up to publish it as our first creator-owned project.

I’ve been doing a lot of game hacking this year that hasn’t made it to Fantasy Heartbreaker. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I tend to get more feedback over on Google+, but I think people’s eyes glaze over faster when I start to get into detail. I’m rather attached to my blog, but when you’re doing game design, feedback is fundamental. For example, I got way more comments on my space opera hacks of Cortex Plus Action there than here.

My latest small hack is Mouse Guard to run a game in the spirit of Hero’s Quest/Quest for Glory. Mayhap I’ll post more on it here, but the G+ issue lurks there.

I don’t know if anyone’s still bothering to comment here after my long silence, but if so, what are your opinions on the social network/blog divide?

The laughter of heroes

Cavaliers of Mars is about the contrast between the sadness of a dying world and the frantic vitality of its last renaissance. So there’s a sense of melancholy to it, as well as a reckless energy and a sense of laughter at the morbid and absurd.

That laughter is a trait of the better sort of heroes. Fritz Leiber wrote of Fafhrd and the Mouser:

There is something in the inmost core of you… [s]omething that lets you laugh in a way that only the Elder Gods ever laughed. Something that makes you see a kind of jest in horror and disillusionment and death.

Howard described Conan as:

…black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth.

More famously, Raphael Sabatini wrote:

He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world is mad.


I have a suspicion Leiber was referencing Sabatini. In part, it’s the friction between romance and cynicism.

But I wonder if that laughter is something that could go into the mechanics. The jovial at the morbid, the gigantic mirths that follow the gigantic melancholies. The echoing laughter of the Elder Gods.

What would you call that trait?

Introducing the Onyx Path

Cavaliers of Mars, art by Chris Huth

At Gen Con, White Wolf creative director Richard Thomas has announced his new venture, Onyx Path Publishing. Onyx Path has a really cool lineup of roleplaying games, including:

  • Cavaliers of Mars, my game of swashbuckling Martian adventure.
  • Both Worlds of Darkness and Exalted, under license from CCP.
  • Trinity and Scion, which Onyx Path now owns.

The Onyx Path web site will go live soon.

I’ve been waiting a long time for this news to go public. I literally jumped for joy.

Fun with Failure

Do you allow your players to declare that their characters automatically fail?

Let me tell you about my character. Trooper Shiv came from rural Georgia. He joined up with the 3:16 because in the unbearable lightness of the far future there were only so many jobs. So Shiv signed on the dotted line, went through basic on the moon, and promptly got shipped off to a war nobody could possibly be prepared for.

Shiv had a lot of bad luck. He was blinded on an early drop, and the replacement eyes the 3:16 gave him never actually worked. The best thing that ever happened to him was when he got stuck with an alien brain parasite. At last he had a friend.

He wasn’t a bad soldier. He just wasn’t the kind of guy things worked out for. A lot of the time, I’d roll the dice for him, and I’d be hoping for a failure. Not really to torment him, just because I didn’t really think that his story was a happy one.

In 3:16, there’s no upside to failing conflicts or even individual tasks.1 It’s not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where you get points for taking one for the team or the story. I just hoped my character would fail.

One of the themes of Cavaliers of Mars is that characters’ fortunes swing wildly. While they’re generally competent, sometimes they’re just going to be down on their luck… and sometimes the dice are going to bring them low. But players can also choose to blow a task check. Specifically, they can choose to critically fail. In exchange, they get a point of Luck, so that things will swing back their way at some point in the future.

The Luck point is there to encourage certain kinds of drama, but the main reason characters are allowed to just fail is that I think that players should be able to shape the hardships their characters face. It’s really just an extension of allowing players to choose impossible odds.

Does a player deliberately screwing their character up break your immersion? Do you feel that your favorite rules cause failure often enough that letting a GM or player inflict more of it damages the tone of the game? I only addressed games with a roughly traditional player/GM divide here… are your preferences different when it comes to games like Fiasco?


  1. Although taking a Weakness can spare your character from getting killed.

Cavaliers of Mars rules announcement

Cavaliers of Mars

Cavaliers of Mars

In addition to Wushu, Cavaliers of Mars will ship with swashbuckling rules powered by Barbarians of Lemuria and Honor + Intrigue.

Some of the earliest playtests of Cavaliers of Mars were done with Barbarians of Lemuria, and Honor + Intrigue takes the game to the next level in providing exciting melee combat.

Cavaliers will feature new stealth infiltration and chase mechanics, as well as a number of other new, light subsystems.

The game will ship dual-statted for both Wushu and Barbarians. I’ll be posting some dev blogs in the future talking about the adaptation process.

Cavaliers of Mars Quick Start available now!

Cavaliers of Mars

Cavaliers of Mars

The free quick start adventure for Cavaliers of Mars is now available at DriveThruRPG. This demos the Wushu version of the rules; the full version will include both Wushu and Barbarians of Lemuria.

Return now to dying Mars in its last age of glory.

A planet of flashing swords and choking sands, of winking courtesans and lantern-lit canal cities. Mars, where fortune and death are two sides of the same obsidian chit, where lost cities and dry oceans stretch between the last bastions of civilization. Where the First Martians, the monument-builders, are but a haunted memory. Where the Red Martians become decadent and reckless in their last days. Where the Green Martians rule the wastes, remembering a history whose weight would crush a lesser people.

Tonight, find yourself in Vance at festival time. When revolutionaries strike a visiting prince, you’ll need to explore the city’s dark underbelly, before racing across its towered tombs! Save lives, end lives, and earn your water!

Live, fight, and love on Mars, a world of red death and strange mystery, a world of savagery and romance.

The quick start includes:

  • A complete adventure set in one of dying Mars’ greatest remaining cities.
  • The innovative Wushu rules, for high-flying, swashbuckling adventure.
  • Five pre-generated player characters, ready to get into the heart of the action.


The Apprentice’s Tale

The City of Vance, by Chris Huth

The City of Vance, illustrated by Chris Huth

“The Apprentice’s Tale” is my exploration of the world of Cavaliers of Mars. It tells the story of a young girl taken from her broken home by a cavalier and raised as his apprentice. As she recounts their years together, we see the world they live in.

Here are links to each part in order:

The Apprentice’s Tale: The Lost Places

This concludes “The Apprentice’s Tale,” a serial exploration of the world of Cavaliers of Mars.

As I was saying, during my recovery, we began to plan an expedition to the lost places. We traveled to Chiaro. We took up lodging in a tent city in Chiaro-that-is, but within sight of our goal: Chiaro-that-was. Chiaro-that-is is a reasonably hospitable place. Poor, but the basic necessities of life are available. Oases within the city space provide food,  along with some yumocs raised for meat. We were just two more would-be tomb robbers spending our last chits on the chance of a fortune.

At night, by blue flames, we would stare out at Chiaro-that-was, silhouetted against the stars. Staring out at what the First Martians left behind.

In that epoch, the world was filled with life. Plants, beasts, and sentient creatures all thrived and multiplied. The First Martians built grand cities along the azure seas, yet still pushed back the many-colored jungles only a little. They even built cities under the oceans, protected by crystal domes from the water and from the great leviathans of that impossible age.

In Chiaro, as in a few other places, they left monuments of unimaginable scale. Here were the pyramid-tombs that must have housed their kings, and sphinxes with their eyes towards heaven. Why they built on this scale is hard for those of us who remain to imagine, but I think they did so simply because they could.

Now, these places are abandoned. No throngs fill the city streets, no worshippers gather at the feet of the pyramids or in the eyes of the sphinxes. Many of the treasures of the First Martians lay untouched, as they have since times undreamt of. Not that that’s ever stopped anyone from dreaming of the treasures themselves.

The First Martians are so long gone that even their ghosts have likely scattered on the winds. Yet their treasures still have guardians. The tomb stalkers are strange, tripodal machines that move quietly through the ruins. Their voices are keening and creaking… I only heard them from miles away, and still the memory makes me shudder. They sweep the abandoned streets of all life, sparing the occasional beast only so that it can chase intruders into their paths.

In Chiaro, I was told many times that those tomb stalkers that can be seen within the ruins are only a fraction of their number. Many more, I was told, lie slumbering beneath the sand.

Of course, the ruins of the First Martians are not the only forsaken places on the Red World. Lesser peoples have risen and fallen, leaving their own abandoned cities and degenerate remnants. These so-called dusk cities lie empty, or inhabited by small, cult-like populations who cling to the homes of ancestors they can no longer comprehend.

All of these lost places are tempting targets for graverobbers and treasure hunters, such as my master and I. We spent weeks in Chiaro-that-was, hunting for an untouched tomb, for a cache of relics no one had yet dared plunder. We carried blue flames to keep the tomb stalkers at bay… perhaps they worked.

Perhaps we would have found our treasure there. But one evening, as the blue star rose and we made camp, my master’s coughing was a little worse than it had been. His body seemed a little more bent than the day before, and it had seemed a little more bent the day before that. As the twilight dwindled, he told me stories about my father. I don’t know if they were true; I hope some of them were.

He talked, and he sang, a little feebly. Old soldiers’ songs, maybe learned on the steppe in his youth. He told me of the end of the world, of the days when the atmosphere processors would breathe their last, of desert winters that would last forever. He kept asking me to refill his cup; when there was no more liquor, I filled it with water. He didn’t seem to notice. And as the ice of night fell around us, my master died. His final words were simple, affectionate, and then he closed his eyes forever.

I packed up our camp. I could hear the tomb stalkers, and had no desire to take any chances. In the icy night, I began my walk back towards the blue lamps of Chiaro-that-is.

And so, in the lost place, I left the man who found me.