Sand and Sky [Cavaliers of Mars]

Cavaliers of Mars, Open Development

Image of a Martian City

The City of Vance by Chris Huth
(the detail is worth clicking for)

Hi, folks! Welcome to Mars.

Bottom line at the top: this post starts a series in which I’ll be serializing the beginning of chapter one from Cavaliers of Mars.

With the announcement of Pugmirerecent requests I’ve gotten on social media, and the fact that progress is beginning to start up again after a year devoted to the World of Darkness, I thought it was time to start open development on Cavaliers of Mars.

What is Cavaliers? I like to say “Mars has canals, therefore Mars must have Venice.” And that’s the genesis of the idea: dying Mars is experiencing its last renaissance, and your character seeks out or gets swept up in swashbuckling adventure. It’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser having adventures with Captain Alatriste and Flashman. There’s vengeance and romance, beauty and horror, and a whole lot of clashing swords.

Cavaliers builds on the work of some of my favorite authors: Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, and Arturo Pereze-Reverte, to name a few.

Let me start by plugging the free quickstart, which was actually the first product to carry the Onyx Path logo. And I should also mention the short story I published in Worlds Without Master, which illustrates a typical Cavaliers adventure.

What experiences have you had with games inspired by pulp fantasy or swashbuckling yarns?

To give you a closer view of the setting, I’m going to serialize a story that gives a first-person tour of our Mars, starting in the dusty desert towns. This is part one of a five-part series. My plan is to post new installments every few days.

I hope you’ll enjoy visiting Mars with me.

The Apprentice’s Tale

“I have lived a long life,” my master used to say. “Soon it will be my turn to die. And not long after, the world’s turn.” And then he would order another drink.

When my master took me in, I might as well have been an orphan. He bought me from my mother for a handful of ceramic chits laced with the radium of Illium. They were worth a dozen rations of water, but he might as well have handed her his flask of liquor directly. I know he was carrying one.

Why my master did that, I don’t know. He told me, at various times, that my father had been his brother-in-law, or that they had served together in the war. There were other stories, too. Any or all of them could have been true. I often suspect that he took me on because he pitied me.

Whatever the case, he raised me from the age of 13 as his own child.

He died three years ago.

The master was a man of wild stories. He had been across our Red World a dozen times or more. He told me of hard-fought battles, of daring deeds, of the love of princes and princesses. He talked most often when we were practicing with swords. I think he talked to teach me how to fight while distracted. He told me his stories, and he told me that one day I would have as many of my own.

From the time he adopted me until his death, he made his way as a fencing instructor and a hired bravo. He made little money this way, but always enough to keep him in his cups and to keep me well looked-after.

This book is our world as he saw it, the world he lived and died in. I am giving you his words, as honestly as I can, and with care taken not to reveal certain indelicate secrets. I am giving you the words of a dying man on a dying world. I am giving you Mars.

The Desert Towns

I spent the first 13 years of my life in the desert. It is, as anyone will tell you, a hard life, harder even than in the cities. We were fortunate… we had an old well, an artifact of the First Martians that plunged deep into the permafrost and sucked out the water.

The desert brigands merely collected dues from our village; we were spared the seasonal ravaging that came to so many others. My master told me about the brigands. He told me that no man joins them by choice, that they are bands of outcasts driven farther away from society than any others, save perhaps the lost inhabitants of the dusk cities.

He never said whether he fought with or against them.

Without walls or buildings, the desert towns are also subject to the full fury of the elements, including the dust storms. When those great red clouds come rolling out of the desert, they bring scouring debris. Worse, though, is the dust itself, fine as smoke. It will seem to suck the moisture from your tissue, and you must try desperately to hold your breath, lest you be taken by a ghost. Storms give voice and motive power to the dead, who can otherwise travel only on the wind.

Still, there are reasons to stay. Overland trade can support many a community, as can the rare operating mine. Some take the difficult path of raising meat animals, and bring in a measure of prosperity in selling them to the larger settlements. Some few are even located on oases, where vegetables can be grown and water is not quite so scarce.

Desert towns aren’t precisely hospitable, but they can be good places to go to ground. I can vouch for this from experience. More than once, my master and I were been hunted across the desert by those would have our water. Some towns will hire wanderers as protectors, to ward off desert raiders, or even to enforce the law.

A few of our ill-omened expeditions into the lost places began in towns like the one I grew up in. Despite the danger ahead, I was never tempted to stay behind.

Sand and Sky

We live upon an old world, and you can find that in every aspect of life and death. My master often spoke of the world dying. As a child I imagined I could hear its groaning sighs on the wind. As a grown woman, that is not a fancy I have entirely left behind.

My first voyage across the desert began the day after my master bought me. Or, as I’ve come to think, bought my freedom. Clad in long desert robes and silk breathing masks, we set out beyond the borders of the square mile in which I had lived all my life. The desert, then as now, was temperate by day, frigid by night, and extended forever in all directions. Though we followed an ancient track, no one could have seen it who had not learned it by heart. Master to apprentice, as it was with me.

My master often said that the sun no longer looms as large as once it did. Certainly, it no longer warms the planet with the same intensity. While the air itself is thin, it is thick with dust, creating the strange scarlet skies. As the sun rises or sets, the dust gives it an eerie blue halo. Like many, my master was superstitious about night and the color blue. Twilight lasts an hour or more at both at sunrise and sunset, and at that time you can clearly see the blue star called Earth.

Dust storms are common, and can cover huge regions. We were fortunate not to encounter any during my first desert crossing. A few times a century, a storm will rise out of Hell’s Basin and engulf the entire world. A planet-wide dust storm can leave behind an epidemic of the maddened and possessed. It had fallen to my master sometimes to put such people to the sword.

Bodies of water are few, and rain is rare and precious. Some parts of Mars have not seen a drop in thousands of years. Sometimes I’ve seen ice clouds in the coldest, highest parts of the sky, giving it a violet hue. This ice can be harvested by intrepid flyers – one of the thousand ways Illium maintains its flowing fountains and generous water rations. Other water comes from ancient wells, or is processed from layers of ice beneath the sand. The marsh people of the old sea beds distill their water from the muck. Indeed, I have been forced to do so myself, and can say that the results are musty and unpleasant, but as life-giving as a drink from any other source

Yet Mars’ greatest waterworks, those which sustain our remaining societies, are the canals. The canals are the final legacy of the First Martians, miraculous channels which melt water from the polar cap and irrigate large sections of the planet. Nearly all of the Red Cities depend on the canals for water and trade, and repairs to the canal network are one of the few subjects which can bring our feuding rulers together in cooperation.

Next: The Cities of Mars


  22 comments for “Sand and Sky [Cavaliers of Mars]

  1. Arcane
    October 24, 2014 at 11:15 am

    At long last! I’ve been waiting to see this rise from this from the dust.

    • Rose Bailey
      October 24, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Thank you! It took a bit of a nap this year because of me taking on World of Darkness and general OP work that was slipping through the cracks. There’ll probably be more of that picking up extra work in the future, but I’m trying to rework my schedule so that Cavaliers can be a part of my work week every week.

      So, open development, ho!

  2. Scutarii
    October 24, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Ah ha! Been waiting for this to get going for a while now! I wonder if it’ll slot in to replace 7th Sea as go to for buckled swash…

  3. Felipe
    October 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Very iteresting! I liked the swashbuckling element, I love those kinds of stories, toped with those mysterious canals seens that this game will be very interesting!

  4. iceblade44
    October 24, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Finally, let the Fantastical Awesomeness begin!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  5. Aurumae
    October 24, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    Very interesting. I have to say I hadn’t paid much attention to this game, but now you’ve got me excited!

    • Rose Bailey
      October 27, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Glad to hear it!

  6. gapb
    October 24, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    I was unconsciously reading this in a young man’s voice until the first paragraph of “Sand and Sky,” so thanks for that reminder. It made me happy. : – D

    You hooked me at “therefore Mars must have Venice,” and the world-building you’re doing in this story just cemented the hook. I look forward to the next installment.

  7. reseru
    October 24, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Dying Mars is my favorite kind of setting that isn’t Earth, especially when I would mash it up with Dark Sun back in the day (and Numenera now to an extent, but those dungeon crawling campaigns with these settings were a long time ago).

    I’ve been waiting for Hollow Earth Expedition to release Revelations of Mars for five years and I unfortunately had no idea about its KS last year.

    So this? Yeah, I’m really excited

    • Rose Bailey
      October 27, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      I really like dying world settings. I got paperbacks of Vance’s first two Dying Earth books as a kid because my Dad couldn’t get into them… and I was hooked. There’s something haunting about dying earth stories, and yet there’s plenty of room for adventure and roguery. Later on, I got into Clark Ashton Smith (who originated the loose genre), and more recently into Leigh Brackett (whose planetary romance stories have as much in common with Howard as Burroughs).

  8. Jack Stephenson-Carr
    October 24, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Glad to see this emerge once more. I’m excited for this as I am for any other amazing Onyx Path. Swashbuckling Mars is a sweet spot for me!

    • Rose Bailey
      October 27, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      This is a game that’s been in my mind — and that I’ve been running in different forms — for a long time. It’s the intersection of a lot of different gaming and literary interests for me.

  9. Ephsy
    October 25, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Would I be wrong if I was detecting some Edgar Rice Burroughs on it’s influences? I love me some Barsoom.

  10. NateD
    October 25, 2014 at 12:54 am

    Wow! Gotta say, hadn’t really been too interested at the start, but that was enthralling! And dat artwork! O_O

    • Rose Bailey
      October 27, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Chris Huth is an amazing artist. If you like that piece, you might look at Pelgrane Press — he does a lot of work for them.

      I’ve got another Chris piece that goes with a future installment.

  11. Cardul
    October 25, 2014 at 3:42 am

    Yay! About time! Glad to see this being worked on again! I look forward to the Kickstarter for a deluxe version of this!

    (No..seriously..there should be one, because this deserves one!)

    • Rose Bailey
      October 27, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      I don’t know yet about kickstarting! But I’ll keep the enthusiasm in mind. 🙂

  12. Foebk
    October 26, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    I’m glad to read this, for a few weeks now I have been thinking about finding a place to express how much I’m looking forward to this game.
    I wasn’t looking for anything new and then I made the mistake of reading through the quick start and was instantly sold. Maybe nostalgia played its part as it reminds me of all those books I red when I was young, and of a kind of sf that never really made it to rpgs (the only one I can think of right now is Jorune?).
    Long story short, I know that I will run a game of Cavalier of Mars at some point.

    • Rose Bailey
      October 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm

      I’m fond of Jorune, too. 🙂

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