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Martian tripods and smoke in London

Generic Martian invaders

(War of the Worlds and variant stories) (Part #1)


Context

This article is a study about Martians as they appear in H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds, but also The Crystal Egg, and The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes – two novels by Wells that are less famous.

Then it reviews various sorts of Martians that are derived from Wells’, from a robust variety of works.

It is presented as game stats because that’s how we worked back then. But it’s easily readable by non-roleplayers – since the bulk of the text is description and analysis. Just skip the numbers, eh?

More context

  • Edison’s Conquest of Mars, by Garrett P. Serviss, the infamous CBS radio adaptation by Howard Koch, the movie adaptation (and television series based on the movie), and John Christopher’s Tripods series (novels and BBC adaptation), while not specifically used for the game stats, are briefly described.
  • The Crystal Egg was added mostly on a whim. It would seem to fit Wells’s idea of “instruments… such as we have scarcely dreamed of,”. It also helped flesh out Martian life.
  • Some of the history is interpolated from the known facts. There is no sure way to know the history of Martian evolution and the events leading up to the invasion. But this appears to fit all the facts, and most of the speculation provided to us by Wells.

There are S P O I L E R S, in the unlikely case you’re not familiar with the story.

Sequence

We’re going to cover a lot of ground in a detailed. For the sake of slower readers, the article is therefore split into two halves for digestibility.

.

This article is from the early 2000s, so two sections near the end our now outdated. One day, there’ll be time to update them.


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Background

  • Real Name: Unrevealed, if names are even relevant.
  • Marital Status: Likely none—Martians reproduce asexually and are emotionless.
  • Known Relatives: Other Martians.
  • Group Affiliation: Martian military forces.
  • Base Of Operations: Mars.
  • Diameter: Approx. 5’0” oval. Weight: Approx. 500lbs.
  • Eyes: Dark, luminous. Hair: None.


Video

An excerpt from the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds.



Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG

Tell me more about the game stats

Typical Martian

Dex: 01 Str: 01 Bod: 04 Motivation: Cultural Survival
Int: 04 Wil: 02 Min: 05 Occupation: Alien Invaders
Inf: 02 Aur: 02 Spi: 03 Resources {or Wealth}: Salvage (see below)
Init: 007 HP: 010

Powers:
Split: 01, Telepathy: 05, Thermal Vision: 02, Vampirism: 01

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Vampirism has a Range of Touch.
  • Split takes approximately 17 APs of Time to complete, but is Permanent. The “child” loses 2 APs (though this can and will be recovered through Character Advancement) and the “parent” loses none, and both parties retain the Split Power. This is the Martian reproductive process, which occurs through asexual budding.

Skills:
Gadgetry: 06, Scientist: 03, Vehicles (Martian): 04, Weaponry (Martian): 05. See also “Martian Technological Aptitude,” below.

Advantages:
Iron Nerves, Resource Salvage, Life Support (Sleep), Scholar (Martian Technology).

Drawbacks:

  • Strange Appearance.
  • Minor Physical Restriction (cannot distinguish blue and violet colors from darkness).
  • Minor Physical Restriction (hearing is limited in Earth’s heavier atmosphere).
  • Serious Physical Restriction (weight greatly exceeds muscular capacity).
  • Attack Vulnerability (-2CS to all microbe-based attacks).
  • Attack Vulnerability (-1CS to all gas-based attacks, due to their massive lungs).


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Design Notes

While the Martians have 16 tentacles, they use each set of 8 as we would a single hand. So, no Extra Limb Power in DC Heroes terms.

Also, while the claim was made that the Martians were far more intelligent than we were, I certainly didn’t see any evidence of it. Other than nifty technology, which is Scientist and Gadgetry.

Likewise, Scholar (Martian Technology) is used in lieu of Genius. It represents the fact that the invaders are more technically advanced than humans, but cannot create anything outside of their current technological level.


New rules – Resource Salvage Advantage

Cost: 25 Hero Points.
A Character with the Resource Salvage Advantage makes no purchases, instead fully capable of “living off the land,” locating whatever he needs in the trash or in obscure corners nobody else would consider.
In terms of mechanics, the Character has no Wealth/Resources Rating of his own. However, when a Wealth Roll is required, the Character may use, as AV/OV, half the APs of Wealth of the wealthiest character in the region (the “region” is defined by the GM, and should depend on the situation). RAPs, of course, act as normal.


Martian gear

Heat ray

[BODY 06, Heat Vision: 07, Range: 10, Limitation: Heat Vision has No Range, use the listed Range instead].

The Martian Heat-Ray is a heavy, camera-shaped box with a funnel-shaped barrel, just larger than a man. Once fully unleashed, it projects a white-hot beam of heat intense enough to incinerate a man in a single shot. The ray can lay waste to about a one mile radius.

Given an operational base, the Martians may direct a Heat-Ray skyward, and direct its energies with a parabolic mirror of some unknown black material. Or it may be mounted on a mobile platform (see below).

The beam of the Heat-Ray, not unlike that of a laser, is difficult to see. However, over time, the narrator seems to have learned what to look for.


Black Smoke

[BODY 06, Fog: 12, Poison Touch: 08, R#2; Fog and Poison Touch are only usable as a Poly-Attack, but get appropriate reductions to the Penalties. (More modern notation would be a Combined With usage. Poly-Attack was an early iteration on the concept — ed.)].

Canisters of Black Smoke are hurled from a cylinder (which has the BODY Attribute) thought to use magnetic acceleration, as it produces no flash or smoke. On shattering, the canister releases a viscous, dark mist that clings to every surface. This spreads and instantly kills every breathing thing in its range.

It immediately, however, precipitates to a harmless powder on contact with water. It will eventually do so in a non-dessicated atmosphere over time, represented above by the Reliability Number.

It is thought to contain an unearthly element – three bright green lines show when subject to spectrographic analysis. It might combine with argon (which is frequently found where oxygen is).

Its exact effect, however, is unknown. It is therefore up to the GM whether Sealed Systems will work in any particular case.


Tripod walkers

TRIPOD WALKER [/DEX/ 04 /STR/ 06 /BODY/ 08 /INT/ 01 /WILL/ 01, Extra Limb (six total): 06, Growth: 10, Running: 05, Skin Armor: 02, Super Breath: 01, Super Ventriloquism: 10. Bonuses & Limitations: Growth is only cosmetic ; Super Breath comes from steam jets in the legs, making it ideal for taming Black Smoke ; Super Ventriloquism amplifies the hoots of the Martians for purposes of communication].

The Martian fighting machine is a 100-foot tall, mobile tripod. It features jointed legs, tentacular arms, and a rotatable, cowled “command perch” protected on top. All are made from a surprisingly strong aluminum alloy.

It is capable of ripping trees from the ground.

It moves faster than any human can run in a strange, loping gait. Each leg swings in succession to produce something of a mincing, lumbering motion with a loud ring at every step.

Little less than a direct hit with a bursting shell can penetrate its armored hide. Worse, the machine is capable of a certain amount of independent motion. So that it may continue its path of destruction for a short time, should the pilot become incapacitated.

If it is being used, the Heat Ray is slung beneath the perch on an articulated arm. Other Walkers mount or carry the “cannons” which launch the Black Smoke cylinders. Still others carry a basket behind them, for carrying humans that are to be “harvested”.

Note that the Tripod is usable even without Growth. In such a position, no other Powers are usable—the legs are collapsed inward, and there is no room for the tentacles. But it is eminently usable as a strong shield when under attack (BODY and Skin Armor).


Handling machine

HANDLING MACHINE [/DEX/ 06 /STR/ 04 /BODY/ 04 /INT/ 02, /WILL/ 01, Special: 08. Each handling machine has a single purpose, represented by its “Special” Power or Skill, which is consistent for each such Gadget].

The Martian “handling machines” are what we might term universal robots. They are used by the Martians almost as bodies to their brains.

Each is a five-legged device with some, specialized to work toward a particular goal, such as excavating (Digging) or smelting and casting aluminum alloys (Flame Project). Many of these can be set to operate entirely autonomously.

The next generations of handling machines were to be equipped with the Martians’ prototype flight units. To integrate these, begin with 2 APs of Air Walking, moving to 5 APs, and then to actual Flight. However, these were never in evidence, only rumored and the remains of one such flyer located.

The Handling-Machines, almost ironically, move so fluidly and with such self-direction, that they can easily be mistaken for living beings.&emsp.Especially when contrasted with the lethargic and clumsy movements of their masters.


Capsules

CAPSULE [BODY 18, Cold Immunity: 06, Flame Immunity: 12, Sealed Systems: 21, Hardened Defenses].

Cylinders 30 yards across at the base (presumably tapering to a bullet-like shape in front), constructed of an unknown metal. These served as the “vehicles” in which the Martians were almost literally catapulted to Earth.

As such, they survived the blasts sending them into space, travel through space, atmospheric reentry, and final crash-landing, with their living cargoes—about 5 Martians and some Old Martians for food on the long trip—intact.

It is conceivable that, within an atmosphere, the capsules can be piloted to a very small extent. But this was never proven. See “Martian Technology,” below, for details. If this is the case, then 1-2 APs of Gliding should be added to the Capsule’s Powers.

Regardless, though, on landing, the back panel is essentially a bolt. It can be safely unscrewed from the inside to allow the passengers to exit once the metal has cooled.

It may also be noteworthy that the capsule seems to have traveled with approximately 13-14 APs of Speed. The cannon which launched it, therefore had a STR Attribute (or Bomb, or whatever makes the most sense) of around 30 APs. It was certainly large enough to be visible to the naked eye from Earth.


The Crystal Egg

[BODY 04, Eye of the Cat: 38; Flash: 05. Bonuses & Limitations: Eye of the Cat operates between pairs of eggs, but works in both directions. It is also Fatiguing to the user (Bashing Damage to MIND); Flash only emits a steady glow].

Hundreds of Crystal Eggs were sent from Mars to observe, and at least one arrived on Earth.

It is conceivable that, under certain violent atmospheric conditions, an egg can be “linked” to a person’s vision. This allows them to see distant places without an egg at all. In DC Heroes RPG terms – Remote Sensing: 22, Always On, always a particular distance and direction along the planet’s circumference from the subject’s location.

The Eggs are approximately palm-sized, and after exposure to light, appear to be luminous (much like real-world glow-in-the-dark objects). Those sensitive to the egg will see a brighter light (Flash appears to be equal to the observer’s AURA, with a maximum of the AP score noted above). A narrower beam of light, however, activates the device.

At this point, examining it from an angle of about 137 degrees from the incoming ray, sensitive observers, for a short time, can see as if they were looking from the position of the egg’s “sister.”

On Mars, there is at least one “field” of Crystal Eggs. Each is seated atop a tall spire, set out in a grid-like formation. The Martians vault up to them with the help of metallic wings, and view them for short periods, as part of their surveillance.


Martian Technological Aptitude

The engineering procedures Martians perform would be totally unmanageable unless each engineer involved has a powerful eidetic memory.

The Recall Power is not listed above, since it seems like it would be “dedicated” to this task. And, thus, figured into the Scientist and Gadgetry scores. Still, a completist might add 25 or more APs of Recall to the Martians’ Powers. This would allow them to memorize the design of something about the same complexity as a jet fighter.

If pursuing this course, it is also possible that at least a fraction of the Martians are constructing their devices by rote.

For these cases, they would not have the Scientist Skill. Instead, they would also have a special Limitation to the Gadgetry Skill, giving them a +2CS Penalty on OV/RV for all rolls to construct or repair non-Martian Gadgets. This represents an inability to work with technologies outside their education.

In this hypothesis, one can also reduce both INFL and AURA to 1 AP each (and Initiative to 6). This represents a lack of creativity.

Note, of course, that there still must be Martian scientists somewhere, to invent the technology and design these esoteric procedures. So these modifications would merely represent the highly-trained grunts assigned to the mission.

Martian Technology

The people of Mars clearly did not develop science and technology in the patterns familiar to the people of Earth. Like the Incans who created a superb system of roads, but no wheel, Martians appear to consistently use devices that any human would consider esoteric and convoluted, but technologically surpass anything previously seen on the planet.

Specifically noteworthy is that Martian mechanical technology (not unlike that of the Incans) is oddly devoid of wheels. In its place is a pseudo-musculature which appears to consist of flexible, electrically-driven cylinders of a greenish fluid, which periodically fluoresces and evaporates or burns away.

In fact, this greenish fluid appears to be an empowering component through all Martian technology. Even the Heat-Ray’s firing is preceded by several puffs of fluorescent green smoke and a deep, resonant hum.

The fluid may also have been used, in some as-yet-unknown way, in steering the landing cylinders. This would contribute to their look of green shooting stars.

The most consistent approach would be for the capsule, itself, to bend, slightly, with the semihydraulic fluid turning the entire device into a sort of tentacle. This could affect its aerodynamic profile as it moves.


Powers and Abilities

Physically, Martians are not very menacing – apart from the retractable bone pipette  which serves as their feeding apparatus.

However their tentacles appear to be entirely usable for most purposes. And their (theorized by the narrator) telepathic ability could, with practice, become something more dangerous to humanity.

Martian tripod looming above a busy street

The Martians are also not quite designed for much physical work in Earth’s environment. On the other hand they appear to be astonishingly good engineers, able to construct complex devices like their walkers or handling machines—seemingly from scratch—in a single night.

As one might imagine, with such a small contingent, this requires high qualifications, innovative techniques, and collective work.

Also, being entirely emotionless, the Martians are obviously resistant to panic and other emotional manipulation. They are able to work continuously, regardless of conditions and outside events.

Their science is little more advanced than that of Earth in the same era. Yet the technology resulting from that science—mechanical engines of destruction, poison gases, and a powerful heat-projecting gun—are far more menacing than anything found on Earth at the time.


Quotes

“Aloo ! Aloo !”

“Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla…”


History (part 1)

Long—perhaps millions of years—ago, the lords of Mars were not unlike humanity. They were bipeds, standing approximately 6 feet tall. They had round, erect heads containing brains much like our own, and had a physiology not unlike that of humans.

The old Martians were of course adapted more for their world than ours. They had relatively feeble musculature and almost spongelike, cartilaginous skeletons. Their white, translucent faces contained large, light-collecting eyes in flinty sockets. Plus two groupings of small tentacles beneath their mouths.

Forced evolution

As eons passed, though, some of the Martians underwent a regiment of forced evolution and genetic manipulation.

Internal organs, brain components, and entire biological systems were sacrificed in favor of better developing the brain. The new Martians, in fact, became little more than brains with minimal life support.

The brains were draped in skull and skin to protect it. They also retained a heart to pump blood, lungs to oxygenate blood, and a bony needle to extract blood from others. The small clusters of tentacles expanded to replace both arms and legs. The immune system was discarded, and a campaign of pangenocide wiped out all microbial life.

The brain’s emotional centers atrophied, and other centers bloomed.

Out with the old

And so, the new Martians began to systematically prey on the old. They herded them into encampments. They even bred them for efficiency as slaves and—because their physiologies used the same processed nutrients—food.

To corral and administrate over their food source, the Martian overlords made helpers in their own images. These were foot-long, beetle-like brain-heavy creatures. These cherub-like beings soared above the pens of the old Martians (now reduced to the role of livestock) on collapsible metallic wings, iridescent in the Martian light.

Overexploitation

Over time, something went wrong with this arrangement. Perhaps the old Martians sought to escape and overthrow their masters. Or perhaps their numbers dwindled to the point where the world’s lords lacked food.

Martian tripods in the night, with searchlights

Mars, itself, may have had a major environmental change over time, causing the overevolved new Martians to be unable to maintain supremacy over their world. Or causing them to thrive to the point of overpopulation.

The narrator suspects that, Mars being smaller and further from the sun than Earth, global cooling and/or overpopulation by the Martian hominids caused a severe and irreversible shortage of basic resources.

Whatever the reason, the new Martians found reason to leave, needing new pastures, a new world.

Specifically, the Martians required their neighbor.

Continued!

. Ulla, ulla , ulla!


Sharing

By John Colagioia and Ethan Roe.

Source of Character: The War of the Worlds, The Crystal Egg, and The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes by H.G. Wells; Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Words (I swear I’m not making it up—check it out on Amazon or something) was also used, but it’s not much more than an abridged version of Wells with disco-ish background music.

Helper(s): Sébastien Andrivet, Morgan Champion, Roy Cowan, Phil Dixon, Eric Eick, David Johnston, William Peterson.