So how I obtained the core rulebook for John Carter of Mars: Adventures on the Dying World of Barsoom was interesting. On the RPG.net forums there is a thread titled “Swap Your Unwanted RPGs (v3)” and someone was looking for the D20 version of the Judge Dread RPG. As much as I had fun creating a character for Judge Dread and thought that the JD world would be interesting to role-play in, the chances of actually playing was very low. So I reached out to the poster and several rounds of negotiation later, I sent him all of my Dread RPG books and he sent me three core books that will be used in the 2023 Character Creation Challenge. John Carter of Mars was one of them, the other two will be announced later (but you may have seen the covers on the 2023 Prepping for the Character Creation Challenge blog post).
John Carter of Mars is published by Modiphius Entertainment, the same company that released other games that I’ve used in past Character Creation Challenges. This includes Star Trek Adventures, Dune: Adventures in the Imperium and Star Trek Adventures: The Klingon Empire. So I’m a little familiar with the 2d20 system. The John Carter of Mars core rulebook was released after the Star Trek Adventures core rulebook, so I don’t know how the character creation instructions will come across. I don’t think I’ll have a problem reading the book from what I saw when I glanced through it. Other than that, I haven’t really dived into the rules until now saving my first impressions for this blog post. I’ve got a character sheet printed so let’s give this a shot.
The spine of the book is printed on the short side, which would normally be the top or bottom of another book. But they do give us an attached bookmark ribbon, so that will be helpful. The character creation rules start on page 11. The first step is to select a general concept. The book lists several suggestions that are inspired by the source material. I could create my own, but being unfamiliar with the bulk of the source material, I selected one of these. The idea of an Adventuring Scientist attempting to find lost technologies and create new discoveries sounded intriguing.
Next I am instructed to generate the six attributes. These are Cunning (used for attacks, insults or theft), Daring (used for movement, defensive actions and piloting), Empathy (used for healing and understanding), Might (strength basically), Passion (a form of charisma and leadership) and Reason (using your mind and senses to figure things out). In Star Trek Adventures, you have Attributes and Disciplines that are used together in the 2d20 system. With John Carter of Mars, you select two attributes to work together (For example: use the Cunning + Might attributes to break down a door). So this is slight different than what I’ve seen in Dune and STA. Each attribute starts with 4 points in each category.
Then I select a race. After reading the descriptions, I elected to go with a Red Martian. I added the attribute modifiers and the racial knowledge details. Next came the Archetype (think the character’s class) which was Scientist for my guy. Not only did I add the attributes and the knowledge, but I got to select my first Talent (a specialization, natural skill or some power in something) and I selected Wealth of Knowledge (grade 1)
For our next step, we selected a descriptor. This is a single word that describes the character. Each descriptor adds some points to an attribute. There are fifteen different options from Bold to Driven to Savage etc. Thinking about my scientist, he is Driven because he believes that a lost Martian technology could have saved his father’s life. So I selected Driven and added the attribute bonuses. The character already received one talent when selecting an Archetype, but now we can select five grades (levels?) of talents that would logically fit the character. According to the chapter on talents, I can select what is listed or design my own. I’m not comfortable enough to design my own (perhaps if I had an experienced GM helping me) but I’m confused by the grades. Do I select a single grade 5 talent, or can I mix and match to make a total of 5? Most of the talents were connected to combat. I didn’t really see this character as a “jump in with weapons slashing” type of guy. I’m sure that an experienced GM would have helped here (and when I post this character on the JCoM Discord page, I don’t doubt that someone will answer my questions).
Step seven covers the character’s starting Renown and Equipment. Since this character is from Barsoom, he would have some sort of reputation with society so he starts with 10. With the core equipment, this is something that the character will always have available to them. The equipment section was… interesting. Looking at the sample characters, I decided that this scientist has a dagger that he keeps hidden on him at all times. After being attacked unexpectedly one time, he decided not to be caught unprepared again.
Selecting a flaw is the next step. This makes sense since no one is perfect. The book describes flaws as “anti-talents”. The book really leaves this up to the character to decide. If I had a GM, I could have discussed options with them. But with the limited time that I have available, I looked at the sample characters again and found one that fit the concept I wanted to follow and altered it slightly. Curiosity killed the Banth. Lose 3 momentum when you fail to take an opportunity to explore a new scientific mystery, unknown location (which may hold a device you are looking for).
When I got to the last step, which is selecting a name and finalizing the concept and attributes (and seeing the sample characters listed) I started to wonder if I had missed adding some attribute scores along the way. The 2d20 characters tend to have a set total number when you add all of the attributes together. Looking back at step two, there were 2 attribute scores I could have randomly assigned. I added them and I think I now have a complete set. No, I only have a total of 32 where as all of the sample characters have a total of 36. I went back through the list on page 11 and even the walkthrough on page 29, but I was still missing something. So I just randomly assigned 4 points to my attributes. Experienced players, what did I miss? Anywho, I randomly created the name of Jakour Detha and wrote down his Stress and Afflictions numbers and placed the character sheets in the scanner.
Outside of having seen a few films based off of the source material, I’m not extremely familiar with the world that Edgar Rice Burroughs created. Due to my families fandom of Dune and Star Trek, I was very familiar with the universes they came from. With Star Trek, I probably could have helped answer any trivial minutia that may have come up during the writing process (an offer that is open to them). But with JCoM, I would dive deeply into the background material if an opportunity to play in a campaign came up. On a quick challenge, I didn’t have a lot of time to go into the background information, but I knowing it is there is a plus for this book.
With the “What do you know”, “What you don’t know” and “What you can do” categories, I’d highly recommend using the back of the character sheet to list all of these down. The space provided on the standard character sheet lacks the room to hold them all.
When I first had to create a character for Star Trek Adventures, I had to use a fan-created character creation guide to make sure I had everything correct. I wonder if fans had to make one for the John Carter game as I clearly missed something. It was just a little frustrating.
So would I want to play this game? Well I think I could answer that after trying a session or two. I know that Dune and Star Trek Adventures sessions will be available at the upcoming SaltCon. If I find a John Carter game, I may see if I can try to get into it.
I was able to tinker with the scanner settings and scanned at a higher resolution (300 vs 200). I think the scans came out a little bit better when I posted them in the blog.
Still looking for more participants who are taking the #CharacterCreationChallenge. If you know of any, please let me know. Carl (at) TardisCaptain.com I am still getting the “What is this?” question as people are seeing my social media posts.
Coming Up Next:
This article is open for discussion on the TardisCaptain dot Com Discord server.