Beasts of the Brackettverse: The Martian Khom

“Rikatva and Tchava, the Martian Reclaimed Areas. The Tri-Council—great minds of three worlds—had poured money into them in an effort to give the unwanted overflow of a crowded civilization a chance to get off the public charity rolls. Water, brought in tanker ships from wetter worlds; Venusian humus, acid phosphate, nitrate nitrogen, to make the alkaline desert fruitful; after that, crude shacks and cruder implements, scrimped together with what was left from the funds wrung so hardly from resentful taxpayers.
“It was common talk throughout the Solar System that the Areas were a failure. Only the destitute still had hope.” (78)
“…Huddled and squalid under the huge loom of the water tanks, the cheerlessness of Thern was horrible; here and there rose the shattered marble spires of the ancient city, mute prophets of futility.” (79)
“…The road they followed out of Thern ran between dusty fields, set to beans and alfalfa and yellow Martian grapes. Here and there the land was stripped bare of green things as though a plague of locusts had descended.” (81)

Leigh Brackett‘s first published story, “Martian Quest” (in Astounding Science Fiction, Feb. 1940), is a pulpy yarn about hardscrabble settlers in the deserts of Mars. Brackett packs a fair bit of worldbuilding into this short tale, introducing vaards and Venusians. There’s a dangerous monster, but it’s not quite the tentacled, man-eating kind. Here’s some game statistics for Labyrinth Lord.

Martian Khom
No. Enc.: 1 (1d4×10)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90′ (30′)
Armor Class: 2
Hit Dice: 11
Attacks: 1 (tail or trample)
Damage: 2d8 or 2d6
Save: F6
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: None
XP: 2000
A Martian khom is a great desert lizard. A khom has an triangular reptilian head, a yawning jaw with a set of rat-like incisors, and a horny frill. Its body is eight feet long, covered in thick armor plates, and supported on sturdy, clawed legs. The khom’s main weapon is the spiked mace at the end of its twelve-foot tail, which can kill a man with a single blow. They often attack by charging past or trampling a foe and swinging at them as they pass. Although not carnivorous, Khoms are extremely aggressive herbivores and likely to attack those who interrupt their feeding. They are known as “the Destroyer” for their ability to strip farmland, break and eat wooden buildings, and gnaw scrub, cactus, and the vines of the yellow Martian grape to the ground. Individual khoms frequently kill farm workers attempting to drive them off, but the creatures will swarm by the dozens to attack creatures that smell like the musk of their wounded juveniles.

Martian Quest Khom


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