Running the Game: 5 Martian Plot Hooks

Martian Street SceneHere are some Martian plot hooks I would have crammed into Sunward if Rob had let me ramble on for even longer...

  • Workin' on the Railroad. As in the American West, railroads will be the key to opening up the Martian back country, and with it, the wealth of the planet. Heavy terraforming equipment, raw materials, and people all move most efficiently by rail. Sure, you can nanofabricate a lot of stuff in situ, but not everything. Railroads are big money, and the hypercorps controlling them play for keeps. Political intrigues abound where railroad rights of way are concerned, and there's a tension between the necessary upheavals of terraforming and the railroads' interest in creating transportation networks. Barsoomian terrorists don't mind targeting railroads when they think it will get their point across, and anybody who's watched Firefly knows that a train heist on a maglev rail system could make for a fun gaming session or two. What about the people building and maintaining the railroads? They're out in the high desert in isolated places -- in some cases not far from areas of past TITAN activity. And by the way, my teacher this week at Clarion West, Ian McDonald, has written two novels on Martian railroads. I hadn't read them when working on Sunward, but both are good inspirations for railroad-based plot lines on Mars. Desolation Road came out in 1988; the sequel, Ares Express, appeared in 2008.
  • East Coast - West Coast. Martian oligarchs don't always act their age -- which can be a pretty bad scene when the parties involved are 170 years old and incalculably wealthy. While much of the conflict over money, power, and influence in Eclipse Phase abstracts into the realm of the digital, good old fashioned territorial pissing hasn't died out. To understand Martian politics, it's important to remember that the big Martian cities are sovereign states, as well. The oligarchs behind the scenes don't like attention, but they all know each other -- and they hate it when a rival plays in their back yard. Characters caught up in these struggles can have a very bad day indeed if they take a job from the wrong person.
  • Space Elevator Murder Train. The Olympus Mons space elevator takes about as long as your average Transatlantic flight to get from Olympus to the counterweight -- and Mesh access is very limited during the trip. A lot can happen during that time, making a space elevator trip a great setting for the type of horror or suspense that works by having the PCs, a bunch of victims, and an antagonist confined in an isolated space together.
  • Never Call Up That Which You Cannot Master. The Ma'adim Valles Pandora Gate opens many times each day on alien worlds. Mostly, it's investigatory teams that come back -- when they come back. But sometimes, other things come back. Security is tight at Pathfinder's installation, but if an alien life form gets loose, it's free in an isolated area of craggy Martian canyon land. And Pathfinder is really going to want it back.
  • Unforgiven/Tombstone/The Quick&the Dead/Straight to Hell/Sukiyaki Django Western. Mars is a frontier world, and people living in the back country have -- very consciously -- adopted the styles of the American Old West. Never mind that most of the population is ultimately of Asian descent; for some reason, people still love cowboys. At the same time, the Martian frontier actually does have a lot in common with the Old West, from the limited reach of the law in isolated back country settlements, to the demands of survival in an arid, rugged land. With this in mind, GMs can have a lot of fun lifting plots from familiar westerns and deploying them on the Red Planet. Kimchee Western, anyone?
Enjoy Sunward, and have a good time on Mars! We've all worked really hard on this product, and it's awesome to finally see it in people's hands.

Image from Sunward by Hideyoshi.
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