So today I went and saw John Carter and enjoyed it immensely. It may be that I was not expecting much, but in any case I was thoroughly entertained by the movie. It was a total science fantasy epic and made no apologies, and that is rare. I've read the first few of the original books and found them faithful enough to the source material and the changes that they did make made for a better movie. I would actually argue they improved the stories overall by dropping unnecessary elements (John Carter's only mentioned once lack of aging or the telepathy).
I saw the movie with, among others, The Wombat Warlord and Ed Stark (of TSR and WOTC frame), so maybe it was the company but coming out of the movie I was enthused to run a Spelljammer campaign as the airships in the movie were really cool and reminded me of Spelljammer. But on further reflection, I wanted less fantasy in space and more science fantasy on another world, and so got to thinking: if I were running Barsoom-esque game, what would I want to do?
Now there are several Barsoom-esque games on the market, such as Adamant Entertainment's MARS or the old Journe stuff, but in thinking about it I would want the "fish out of water" feeling of the John Carter story intact. Most existing Barsoomian settings are pretty focused on playing natives to the setting, which is not what I would want. I don't like asking people to read a ton of background information for games, so asking someone to learn about Barsoom so they could play a Red Martian isn't so much my style. I much prefer to have games where the players learn about (or preferably help craft) the setting as they go. So while many of the Barsoom-esque games out there are quality games and they could do what I want with some work, not really what I'm looking for.
So, this brought me back to my old favorite, A Song of Ice and Fire. With the work I've already done with a Song of Dirt and Wind I could hack together a Barsoom game with the same system pretty easily; mainly need rules for some of the odder weapons, vehicles, creatures, and some new benefits. So given I was using that system, how would I frame the campaign such that the PCs would all be Earthlings brought to Mars together, have good group cohesion, and make them characters that would be able to kick some butt from the get go. My thought was to steal a page from Mr. Burroughs and make them soldiers, but instead of veterans, soldiers who are transported to Mars mid conflict. And what better conflict than punching Nazis.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR JOHN CARTER AHEAD!!!
So my idea for the campaign is this: the players are a company of American infantry (or maybe a tank crew if they want to go that way) along with a handful of partisans, intelligence officers, etc who are sent during the Battle of the Bulge to capture some German scouts who have been nosing around some old cave network. The PCs arrive and find Nazi Occultists working with the Therns and in the process of pursing them are zapped to Mars (if they have a tank, I'd like it to go too even though that does not jive with out the transport works in the stories. The image of driving around Mars in some highly modified Sherman tank in a culture that seems to have no concept of ground armor would be cool). So the players end up on Mars with all their weapons, gear, etc and vital intelligence that they have to get back to the Allied forces.
Unfortunately finding their way back is not so easy as it was for John Carter in that they have to get into the heart of some Thern fortress, and for that they need to help the people of Mars overthrow Thern control/influence. Early the players save a group of Red Martians from attack (relying on the moral certainty of Nazi-aligned badguys to motivate them into action to save these aliens) and become the default protectors/rulers of the region (using the SIFRP house rules). Over time they run out of bullets, medicine, etc and have to make do with local supplies. They could use their modern military skills to form an army, beat down the Therns, and eventually send one or more of their dudes back to Earth (or maybe even back in time to make sure the orders are relevant still).
The overarching "get back to report" story line may put undue emphasis on leaving Mars instead of enjoying being there, so I may drop it. Still, I think it would be a fun game with a good plan for introducing people for the setting, tangible mechanical long term goals (i.e. house system and a larger "Mars goes to war" version of the same), and a built in reason for group cohesion. Now to just find the time.