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Airship art and tiles

So ERB’s Mars series is one of my favorites and was actually what got me into reading as a child. He painted a vivid adventurous world and once I read about it, I was hooked on SciFi and Fantasy and never looked back. One of the great things about the series was the Airships. Clearly described with the large warships riffed off of his eras seagoing leviathans set into the air via “ballast tanks” and modifications to allow or good old swashbuckling sword play much like we saw on the old Earl Flynn movies. He even described them as using propellers.

But now I suddenly have major concerns. Some of the artwork shows the airships drawn and being feathery flappy things like that horrendously bad abortion of a movie. Please tell me that the game and the supporting tiles are taking their imagery from the books and at worst the 80’s comic and not that crappy mess that stole two hours of my life. Please tell me the design team at least read the books once, no cliff notes. Please tell me that the artist were shown stills from the movies and told that under no circumstances should any art work even come close to resembling that ■■■■-fest.

Since they started Modiphious has built up a well deserved reputation of uncompromising quality. And they showed that when they put out Conan and hewed closely to the books/stories that Howard actually wrote. PLEASE tell me they are not falling of the wagon with this classic.

Old thread, but I’d like to voice similar concerns. I like the movie, but the old artwork from the 1970’s (?) vintage covers are the ones I think of when I imagine airships of Barsoom. I see something like a wooden sea-going Earth ship, only one that flies and has a propeller. The feathery design from the movies just doesn’t fit my concept of Barsoom. :worried:

Hullo, Spence, Finarvyn,

I don’t know whether this post was followed up at all, but I trust that you’ve got your copies of the John Carter of Mars RPG by now. The airship artwork is inspired more by the novels, some of the comic illos that I’ve seen, and a few other sources, but less so by the movie as far as I can tell.

Hopefully we’ll see a lot more airship artwork when the Dotar Sojat book comes out. :wink:




I like the airships from the movie as well as the “sailing ships that can fly” aesthetic. :grin:

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Hullo, CoolRockSkii,

The Core Rulebook does discuss a bit how the airships function on Barsoom, through the use of the 8th ray, and I suspect that the airship rules in the Dotar Sojat book will have the same type of detail as the stuff found at the back of the Narrator’s Toolkit booklet on skirmishing rules.

Have to wait and see. For now, handling airship combat using the tile set for mapping stuff out and the like.


Reasons I want a bit more detail on JCOM airships:

  1. The airships are a huge part of the John Carter genre as described in the books.
  2. There are many references to “battleships” which, in my opinion, are not given adequate stats in either the JCOM core rules or the Phantoms of Mars Campaign Guide. I expect to see some forthcoming rules that cover batteries of guns firing from said battleships without having to roll 2D20 for each individual gun as stated per the airship skirmish rules.
  3. Said battleships referenced in the John Carter books carry 100 plus single-person Scout fliers which may or may not have weapons. Rules for these would be good to see.

That said, the JCOM RPG system is fantastic game and I have no problem as a GM adjudicating situations where battleship or scout scale fliers are present in the story!

/////// EDIT ///////
I just found a solution for multiple radium cannon on airships compliments of @Modiphius-Lloyd:

“ Good morning. Minions in John Carter work with the Nromal 2d20 plus teamwork. If you wish to have groups attack the same person, feel free to use team work to represent the others helping in the combat.“


I’m looking forward to running a session on an airship where its bouyancy tanks get punctured, and it’s hanging vertically in the air, and its crew has to cling to it or fall to the ground below! That happens a bunch in the Mars novels.


Until the more detailed airship rules are available, I’m going to add another Flier Class ( page 93 of the Phantoms of Mars Campaign Guide ) called “Massive Flier” with the following stats that will represent battleship scale vessels:

  1. Speed: 2
  2. Hull Points: 30
  3. Maneuverability: 8

Number of radium cannon: 11
4 starboard arc
4 port arc
2 forward arc
1 ventral “ball” style turret with 360 arc field of fire

Each Massive Scale airship Radium Cannon is a twin mounted gun ( for aesthetic purposes and to reflect the JCOM movie art ) and does 4D damage.

Massive Fliers inflict 16D damage for ramming.

Carrier capability: The battleship may have up to 100 small flier scale scout craft armed as per page 94 for small flier class.


Hey JohnK,

I did get my copy and can say the books are very well done and the game reads great. I suspect that it will play great too.

But as for the ships, it is obvious the artist watched that movie and never bothered to read the books. ERB was very descriptive and it is very plain that there were no wing-let flippy things and that the ships were driven by propellers. Boarding actions were big and most of the designs they have in the book would not be able to lay alongside.

Not that big of a deal, as there are only a handful of pics to cringe at and the tiles are actually well done. Just shows once again how a brutally bad movie made by people that never read the book can taint a setting for years afterward.

But at least John Carter was not as bad and completely off the mark as that bug-hunt calling itself Starship Troopers.

Anyway, big pluses to Modiphius on the game. Well written rules and gorgeous production value.

An interesting thread.

I for one will adopt the axiom; Your Barsoom May Vary.

I too am truly looking forward to solid yet simple airship rules and mechanics that lend themselves to the cinematic. The idea of air ships truly captured my imagination as a child. I could easily imagine sailing aboard one. As for their visuals…well…frankly, the movie analogs appeal to me far more than ERB’s literary imagery, but I plan to draw from both genres, use what I like and ignore the rest.

For example, my airships won’t be ERB’s glorified surf boards with propellors because even at age eight, as B52s flew low altitude training missions over my house, I felt prop-driven aircraft were rather silly in a world where brains could be transplanted, giant machines maintained the atmosphere, and radium bullets existed. They will have buoyancy tanks, however, because as stated above, crazy (threat-complication) cool stuff happens when they’re damaged.

Though it’s canon, my Tharks will NOT be able to shoot the center out of an ace of spades at three miles distance, nor will they be as tall and, frankly, goofy looking as the image ERB’s descriptions of Tars Tarkus conjured from my young mind.

My female adventurers will most decidedly NOT be the objectified ERB damsels-without-a-dress waiting for a John Carter to rescue them. They will be more like Lynn Collin’s depiction of Deja Thoris: confident and competent, sharply intelligent, independently ambitious, boldly adventurous and very [red] human.

I’m going to introduce new flora and fauna, exotic races and cultures, as well as different myths and legends that might draw a little on Herbert, working up a slightly more water-driven economy; a little on Bradbury, spinning legends of great plagues that wiped out whole martian cities that encountered the first Earthlings on Mars; or a little on Scot, introducing far older star-faring races that visited Barsoom and seeded it with the DNA which would eventually give rise to the Hordes and other multi-limbed predators.

The point is, my Barsoom is going to be slightly different than ERB’s, or the movie’s, or even Modiphius’s. Shrug…no problem because I believe the Modiphius game is robust and flexible enough for a whole spectrum: from fully traditional ERB-centric games with prop-driven buoyancy-tanked airships to Disney-esque movie imagery sporting solar-power and a unique 9thray application. I’m not going to demand it be one way or another, save only that it capture the feel of Carter’s Barsoom. If there are things in the game as published—pictured or described—that don’t match my vision, then so be it. I’ll take the best—according to my imagination—and leave the rest to others, wishing them luck as well as hours of enjoyable play.

Hail Barsoom, and hail Modiphius for a crackin’ game that can support both die-hard ERB traditionalists and sacrilegious GM’s like me who can’t leave well enough alone.

Cheers…and remember: YBMV ,



This is a great response, Sunwolfe. I feel the same. There are so many beautiful aesthetics that have been used to capture Barsoom over the years. The academicism of Fortunino Matania’s painting of Dejah Thoris being led away by Thark women in feather headdresses is one of my favorite, and the Tharks aren’t even green! It captures the grandeur and detail of Barsoom, like an academicist painting does of ancient Egypt.

And as much as I love the later 1970s work of Michael Whelan, especially his use of color, I think I’m most partial to the earlier and contemporary art-nouveau figurations of Barsoom, like those by J. Allen St. John. This aesthetic seems like the most sustainable of any that could be applied to Barsoom. And I think Francesca Baerald’s new map and character sheets capture this beautifully. From the point of view of an art-nouveau representation of Barsoom, organic wing-like appendages to the airships may be more appropriate, though the Disney airships don’t capture this either.

I’m trying to be faithful to ERB’s universe as I plan future games, and am even using John Flint Roy’s guide to Barsoom to help find additional flora and fauna names. But on some points, alterations will need to be made. It’s been impossible to find oval-shaped pi, teepi, and tanpi coins, for example. I may have to settle for circular ones. :man_shrugging:


Hail Ehrman!

Oh yes! Matania’s painting is fantastic. I remember running across it during my art history studies in college. It was consequently one of the first I harvested from the internet for my “Barsoom” folder of materials because “Gosh darn it, someday I’m gonna run a John Carter game!”

I like Baeraki’s map for sure, but I also like this hot piece by Disney and this sweet gem I got wind of from ERBzine(dot)com site by an artist named Oberon who published a gazette along with it. I ordered poster-sized prints from him and plan to use them in-game.

As for coinage, check out Shire Post Mint and the Dejah Thoris Pi, my friend. I bought one for myself and my daughter. Very cool!

To be sure, I don’t plan to go too far of the reservation with My Barsoom plans, but there sure is a lot of open territory out there, unexplored and just waiting for the right story. I love that about this particularly setting–there is serious room to expand and put one’s own stamp on it while at the same time maintaining a viable Barsoomian feel.


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Hullo, Spence,

Glad to hear that you got your copy of the game and all. :slight_smile:

I can’t say that I’m fond of some of the airship illos from the main book, but understand the rationale and all. Whle the movie wasn’t great, it was entertaining and fun and was a decent attempt to bring John Carter and Barsoom to the screen.

While the propellors and the like made sense in the original fiction, one has to wonder why with all the scientific knowledge and advancement on Barsoom, propellors weren’t replaced by other propulsion means.

Anyway, looking forward to the Dotar Sojat sourcebook, and the information on airships and airship combat.


Hullo, Sunwolfe, Ehrman,

I had a lot to say about your last three posts combined here, but to be honest, it doesn’t belong in this thread about Airship Art and Tiles, should have been a new thread. Heck, there would be a lot to discuss in such a thread! So I won’t respond to it here, but I can’t figure out how to cut-and-paste the text into a new thread.

Perhaps one of the Moderators would be good enough to do so? :slight_smile:


True statement, but false premise. To carry it to it inevitable conclusion, why do they have swords? With their advanced science they should be only using radium firearms, fully automatic ones. Or even rayguns. But that would completely sidestep the premise.

All of the JCoM stories were written around a Hero and swashbuckling sword fights. Firearms were only used to bring the fight to blade-point so there could be the epic swashbuckling. The ships were just platforms to promote this, like Earl Flynn and the Spanish Galleons. That is why the movie was so crappy. Want stupid wingy things? OK, but don’t put them in a place that prevents two ships from coming along side so the crews can board and have their epic sword fight. The ship tiles are OK because the only wingy things easily seen are on the bow. I almost didn’t see the aft ones and the midships tile doesn’t really show any at all. So a boarding action is easy.

Comes back to the question. Did they actually read the series, or the Cliff notes. After all of the detailed effort into Conan. This really disappoints.

As to the idea of better propulsion, laying aside the fact that the stories were written in the 1910’s. The ships are open deck and the crew are expected to work in the open. Slap modern propulsion on them and kick the airspeed up and not only would they need to be fully enclosed ships, but there would no longer be any boarding actions.

ERB’s Mars = stately maneuvering airships exchanging radium gunfire until they close for sword to sword warrior to warrior honorable action. Even the Green Men only used their deadly rifles to bring down ships so they could close into hand to hand action.

New high tech revision = why have swords or swashbuckling at all. Whooosh pew pew pew. Charge the shields Scotty…

I already have Traveler and Star Trek Adventures, I was hoping for Barsoom and the mighty air fleets of Helium!

Just an opinion. I am glad that the written rules were done by people that read the book. I am just disappointed the artist and art editor dropped the ball. I look forward for to playing the game. But I need to find ship plans now. Most of the people that I want to run for have read ERB and were repulsed by the the mess of a movie too.

Hot Take: The movie was excellent and all you need to play the game:

That aside: I apologise JohnK, but I believe I will leave the texts here - mostly because I feel it is still relevant to the current conversation. However do feel free to start a new Thread!


Hullo, Spence,

Your argument about the propellors and all makes a lot of sense, as does your thoughts on the advanced science of Barsoom. Your thoughts on the wingy things on the Barsoom airships in the movie makes a lot of sense here, and I really would have loved to see some boarding actions myself.


Hullo, Lloyd,

If the movie was excellent, why didn’t the game present the Therns as all-knowing, snobby, immortal shape-shifting creatures, hmm? :slight_smile:

Okay, not a problem, Lloyd. :slight_smile: Will consider that.


Thank you. I’m glad somebody else agrees. I wish they’d done sequels. I’ve never read the books and I didn’t watch the movie until after I got the RPG, but I’ve watched the movie twice in the less-than-a-month since I got the game. May go watch it again.


I really like the movie airships for JCOM and that design and style is my basis for the airship aesthetic in my campaign.

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