These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don't care for Burroughs' Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard's Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS and DRAGONS to their taste.So states the concluding paragraph to Gary Gygax's forward [sic] to the 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons. As you can see, Gygax places Edgar Rice Burrough's stories of Barsoom on the same plane as those of Howard's Conan, Leiber's Lankhmar, and De Camp and Pratt's Harold Shea as the foundations on which OD&D was built. Anyone who's read the LBBs closely should have no doubt about his sincerity, as they probably include more references to Barsoom than to any other fictional world, including Middle-earth. It's worth noting as well that Gygax, collaborating with Brian Blume, published the miniatures game (with limited RPG elements) Warriors of Mars contemporaneously with the release of OD&D in 1974, which says a lot about how important Burroughs was to the early hobby.
Confederate soldier turned Martian warlord John Carter made his first appearance in the February 1912 issue of All-Story in a tale entitled "Under the Moons of Mars," part of a serial that would later be collected and expanded as a novel under the title A Princess of Mars in 1917. The novel begins with a letter "To the Reader of This Work" written by Burroughs in which he speaks of his "Uncle Jack," whom he remembers from his childhood as a "tall, dark, smooth-faced, athletic man" who "entered into the sports of the children with the same hearty good fellowship he displayed toward those pastimes in which the men and women of his own age indulged." According to the letter, Uncle Jack, that is, Captain John Carter, formerly of the Army of Northern Virginia, disappeared "some fifteen or sixteen years" before returning without warning, seeming not having aged at all. Carter then gave Burroughs the key to a safe in which he had written the story of what he had done during his mysterious absence and instructed his nephew to divulge its contents only 21 years after Carter's death. A Princess of Mars purports to be the story Carter had written of his adventures.
The novel is therefore a first-person account of Carter's life after he went westward to Arizona to seek gold but instead finds a great deal more.
I have never told this story, nor shall mortal man see this manuscript until after I have passed over for eternity. I know that the average human mind will not believe what it cannot grasp, and so I do not purpose being pilloried by the public, the pulpit, and the press, and held up as a colossal liar when I am but telling the simple truths which some day science will substantiate. Possibly the suggestions which I gained upon Mars, and the knowledge which I can set down in this chronicle, will aid in an earlier understanding of the mysteries of our sister planet; mysteries to you, but no longer mysteries to me.On March 6, 1866, Carter and his companion, Captain James K. Powell, with whom he had gone to Arizona, find themselves pursued by Apaches, who eventually slay Powell and force Carter to seek refuge in a cave, where
A sense of delicious dreaminess overcame me, my muscles relaxed, and I was on the point of giving way to my desire to sleep when the sound of approaching horses reached my ears. I attempted to spring to my feet but was horrified to discover that my muscles refused to respond to my will. I was now thoroughly awake, but as unable to move a muscle as though turned to stone. It was then, for the first time, that I noticed a slight vapor filling the cave. It was extremely tenuous and only noticeable against the opening which led to daylight. There also came to my nostrils a faintly pungent odor, and I could only assume that I had been overcome by some poisonous gas, but why I should retain my mental faculties and yet be unable to move I could not fathom.Carter eventually succumbs to sleep and when he awakens, he finds himself elsewhere. (Readers will no doubt recognize a certain similarity between what happens to John Carter and what happens to Anthony "Buck" Rogers in his 1928 debut.) Carter matter-of-factly explains his intuitive understanding of what had happened to him.
I opened my eyes upon a strange and weird landscape. I knew that I was on Mars; not once did I question either my sanity or my wakefulness. I was not asleep, no need for pinching here; my inner consciousness told me as plainly that I was upon Mars as your conscious mind tells you that you are upon Earth. You do not question the fact; neither did I.Not long afterward, Carter finds himself a prisoner of the four-armed Tharks, a barbaric species native to Mars, the respect of one of whose chieftains he earns thanks to the prodigious strength and agility he possesses due to the lower gravity of Mars. This chieftain, Tars Tarkas, becomes Carter's boon companion and aids him in his adventures, most notably in helping Carter forge an alliance between the Tharks and the Red Martians of the city-state of Helium, whose princess, Dejah Thoris, is the character after whom the novel is named. Along the way, though, there are innumerable obstacles and challenges Carter and his comrades must overcome, which Burroughs narrates briskly, pausing often to describe Mars in a travelog-like fashion.
I don't think it's possible to overstate the influence A Princess of Mars and its many sequels had upon the development of both science fiction and fantasy literature, not to mention roleplaying games. There had been many other stories of interplanetary adventure before this tale came along in 1912, but it was Burroughs who managed to create a formula that deftly combined a likable protagonist, a believable setting, and just enough titillation -- no one on Barsoom wears any clothing, for example -- to seize the public's attention and hold on to it. There would assuredly have been other science fiction and fantasy stories without Burroughs, but I think they'd have been of a very different character, less adventuresome and more didactic. Burroughs's great gift, I think, was his willingness to treat escapism seriously rather than as an object of embarrassment. I find few insights into the human condition or the Big Questions in A Princess of Mars, but so what? Sometimes, being transported to another world, where an honorable fighting man from Virginia can win the love of a princess is more than enough reason to read a story.