Martian (Barsoomian)

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Denizens of Barsoom

Barsoomian, also known as Martian Dreamlanders, Martian Humanoids.

Origin: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels (John Carter Martian planetary romances)


"Barsoomians" are those nearly-extinct native inhabitants of dying Mars who have fled the apocalypse of waking Mars for the Martian Dreamlands of Barsoom. Most of these Martian Dreamlanders closely resemble Earthly humans (and indeed were either modified and brought to prehistoric Earth by Horned Martians to populate that young world with vessels for the Horned Martians to possess, or modified primitive humans were brought to a dying Mars by Horned Martians to serve as slaves). All of the humanoid races of Mars and Earth may have been the result of genetic tampering by Horned Martians and other prehistoric races of aliens, with humans on Earth perhaps being modified from Martian humanoid stock, or Martian humanoids descended from modified Earthly human stock. Barsoomian Martians come in several varieties:

"White" Barsoomian Martians

Refugees from a Dead World:

"White" Martians are the Dreamlands descendants of the most ancient and civilized (perhaps "over-civilized" - proud, cruel, evil, and decadent) humanoid race of Mars, having regularly traded with humans and other Earthly races from the dawn of human prehistory until the twilight of White Martian civilization in the age when the last of the Martian seas dried up during the Hyborian Age on Earth. Today, White martians in the Daylands are all but completely extinct, with their time on Mars at an end and most of their last survivors having fled into the Dreamlands and the rest descended into monstrous savagery in darkened vaults below the Martian surface as the Martian Seas dried up, and the Uliri invaded the dying Mars to consume what little life remained.

In the Martian Dreamlands, "White" Martians are genetically compatible with Deep Ones and other such races, and are nearly indistinguishable from Earthly humans, due either to a shared genetic ancestry or the influence of powerful Dreamers, with most White Martians exhibiting a wide range of skin, eye, and hair colours comparable to those of Earthly human races, and are not necessarily "white" in the usual sense, except for being generally lighter-skinned than their jet-black or crimson-red Martian cousins. In fact, white Martians encountered in the Dreamlands are similar enough to Earthly humans that one could easily pass for the other with minimal disguising.

The last remnants of the "White" Martians found on waking Mars are very different, and look considerably less like Earthly humans; these waking "White" Martians include the mummified remains of the Yorhis, the repulsive cannibal Therns, and the monstrous Kaldanes.

According to some theories, "White" Martians are the descendants of a variant of humans engineered by Horned Martians to more easily survive on Mars and Earth and act as vessels for a mass mind-transfer of Horned Martians in their last-ditch effort to escape the changing environment of dying Mars; it is unclear whether the Horned Martians succeeded in their mind transfer, but whatever the case, the bodies of the Horned Martians have long since gone extinct, and were succeeded on Mars by a dark age followed by the rise of the White Martians, until the drying seas and encroaching desert wastelands drove the White Martians too into extinction, with Red Martians in turn engineered to succeed the White Martians only to descend into their own savagery and extinction as Mars fell to waste, while on Earth the human civilizations of the Hyborian Age fell into chaos and entered a dark age from which Earth has only recently begun to recover.


Having risen the highest in civilization among the humanoid races of Mars, the "White" Martians fell the furthest as their world died around them, with the frail, anemic, albino offshoot of White Martians known as the Therns being among the worst examples. The Therns gleefully descended into cannibalism, and maintain a position on Barsoom roughly equivalent to Tcho-Tchos and Deros on Earth. The manipulative Therns propagate a false Barsoomian religion among other residents of the Dreamland of Barsoom which encourages exhausted Barsoomians upon reaching the age of one thousand years to undertake a pilgrimage down the River Iss to "Paradise" into the Valley Dor, where the hapless pilgrims find instead a crater valley full of carnivorous "plant men", controlled by the Therns, who capture the pilgrims, tear them to shreds, and drink their blood, leaving the meat for Therns to consume. The Therns have also mastered a strange technology based upon a mysterious "ninth ray" that powers teleportation machines, weather control, weapons, telepathy and mind-control rays, and other devices.

"Yellow" Barsoomian Martians

Native Dreamlanders:

Yellow Martians are almost completely extinct on Daylands Mars, still existing in small numbers in secret domed cities at the north pole of Mars. Yellow Martians look very much like yellow-skinned, bearded humans, and claim a kinship to the Men of Leng, with an origin myth that describes their exodus from Earth's Dreamlands into those of Mars, from which they dreamed their way back into the Daylands onto Mars itself. Yellow Martians are generally genetically compatible with Earthly humans, Deep Ones, Ghouls, and other Earthly races, as well as the Barsoomian Martians, suggesting a common ancestry. The Yellow Martians have probably always been more populous in the Martian Dreamland of Barsoom than they ever were on Dayland Mars, and after the death of Mars, this is likely to be especially true; they may well be the descendants of humans from Earth who colonized the Martian Dreamlands of Barsoom in ancient times, before migrating in small, isolated numbers to Daylands Mars.

The Yellow Martians have traveled deep into the Dreamlands, and have seen many regions of both Dream and Nightmare unknown to Earthly Dreamers. Yellow Martians are most commonly encountered by Earthly Dreamers as merchants, traders, pirates, raiders, and conquerors, and in addition to being closely related to the Men of Leng, Yellow Martians bear many similarities to denizens of that Earthly Dreamland; many of their tribes even share faiths in similarly cruel and monstrous alien cults and serve equally cruel and monstrous alien masters, though Yellow Martians in general can and do exhibit any or all of the personality and social traits common to Earthly humans.

"Red" Barsoomian Martians

An Uliri Foodsource:

Red Martians - once a dominant culture on Mars; in the Dreamlands, these lawful and civilized people resemble crimson red-skinned Earthly humans, but hatch from eggs, and are generally not very compatible genetically with humans, though some interbreeding in the Dreamlands has occurred. The hardy and adaptable Red Martians are said to have originally been bred by a coalition of forward-looking "White" and "Yellow" Martians to inherit Mars in their place in preparation for the days when the Martian Seas finally dry up, before being tampered with further by the invading Uliri; in the Daylands, the specially-bred descendants of Red Martians, in the form of Aihais, now serve as a docile food source and servant class for the Uliri. Most other Red Martians are encountered in the Martian Dreamlands, where they more closely resemble Earthly human beings.

Red Martians tend to hold ancestor-worship as their religion, though they may also adhere to any of the Mythos cults that Earthly Dreamlanders might be subject to; similarly, Red Martians are generally ruled by warlords called Jeddaks, though they may also be subject to any of the variety of governments that Earthly Dreamlanders might follow. The technology of Red Martians tends to be somewhat primitive and crude compared to that of Earthly humans, with Red Martian culture tending toward the savage and superstitious, though Red Martians have also been known to inherit and carefully tend and preserve more advanced technologies developed by other Martian and alien races from earlier epochs of Martian history.

According to some scholars, the Red Martians were bred and engineered by White Martians to succeed them on the dying Mars; if so, the time of the Red Martians, too, has nearly passed.

"Black" Barsoomian Martians

Dwellers in the Vaults:

Black Martians are a technologically advanced Barsoomian race that in the Dreamlands resemble dwarfish Earthly humans with jet-black skin and eyes. The origins of this race are lost to the dust of Martian history, but were probably the result of tampering with Martian and/or Human stock by White Martians. Black Martians are generally genetically compatible with Earthly humans, and the subterranean Deros may have been the result of interbreeding between Black Martians and Earthly proto-humans in some ancient epoch of Earthly history.

The Black Martians have all but completely abandoned dying Daylands Mars, fleeing instead into the Martian Dreamland of Barsoom, or hiding in secret enclaves underground on Earth in cooperation with other secretive, subterranean, alien beings such as Ghouls, Deros, Grey Aliens, or Serpent People.

Those few Black Martians who remain on Daylands Mars have retreated into subterranean tunnels and caverns deep below the surface, from which they wage a nightmarish guerilla war against the Uliri invaders. Those specimens remaining on waking Mars perhaps resemble Yorhis or Aihais, adapted for concealment and survival in caverns deep under the Martian surface.

Small, twisted, cruel, mysterious, and given to strange and evil practices, faiths, and lifestyles evolved through many generations of deprivation, hardship, and isolation, Black Martians generally act as the subterranean, nocturnal bogeymen of Barsoom, usually best avoided by milder and more civilized peoples.

"Green" Barsoomian Martians

Savage Nomads:

Green Martians are 12-15 feet (3.7 to 4.6m) tall, are a nomadic, savage, warlike people with little concept of friendship or love, and a general tendency to delight in torture and conquest. They have green skin, independently-moving eyes mounted on the sides of their heads, two arms and two legs, as well as two intermediary limbs that they can use as either arms or legs at will. They wander between the ruins of dead Martian civilizations where they set up temporary dwellings, manufacture their own edged weapons, and raid other Martian civilizations for more advanced technology.

Green Martians are said to have been the result of an ancient biological experiment which went awry, meant to produce a breed of intelligent Martians who could survive on the cold, desiccated, post-apocalyptic Mars, but resulting in a typically cruel, savage, and warlike people which still subsist as brutal and merciless raiders on the dead Martian seabeds.

Trivia, Heresies and Controversies

  • H.P. Lovecraft read and apparently enjoyed Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom novels, and seems to have been partly inspired by the stories for his own Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (fiction); the Barsoom novels would also go on to influence many later science fiction writers, including Ray Bradbury, and would be a major influence over the popular role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons.
  • There are, of course, no actual direct literary relationships between the Martians created by Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, etc. - for the purposes of this Wiki and the development of a Martian Dreamlands setting, a loose relationship between various types of Martians has been shoehorned into place to provide a working framework for their coexistence in the same setting.
  • Vaguely humanoid Martian races depicted by Clark Ashton Smith, the Yorhis and Aihais, are the "Daylands" equivalent of Edgar Rice Burroughs humanoid Martians of Barsoom; this is the result of both genetic tampering and of the power of human Dreamers to shape the images of Martian Dreamlanders to familiar forms; this also accounts for many of the other more or less humanoid forms that Martians have taken in science fiction literature. (fan theory and rationalization)

Keeper Notes

  • There are, of course, no actual literary relationships between the Martians created by Clark Ashton Smith, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, H.G. Wells, etc. - a loose relationship between various types of Martians has been shoehorned into place to provide a working framework for them to coexist in. For best results, Keepers should probably not use more than two or three different "races" of Martians in any given campaign, and one author's unique style should be emphasized over the others when using more than one author's creations.
  • A traditional E.R. Burroughs-style Barsoomian planetary romance campaign might best be suited to a "pulp" Cthulhu treatment, while a slower-paced archaeological exploration of the secrets hidden in abandoned Martian ruins or a Martian invasion story might work perfectly as a more "vanilla" Call of Cthulhu scenario.
  • An expedition of subterranean "Black" Martians to Earth has burrowed its "flying saucer" under the ground in the rural farmlands outside a small town, and have been luring humans close enough to their ship that they can drag their victims under ground, and perform strange experiments and surgeries upon them for mind control and other, more sinister purposes. (Invaders from Mars (1953 film))

Associated Mythos Elements


  • Fiction: Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom franchise, including A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Chessmen of Mars, etc.
  • Film: John Carter of Mars