Welcome to Barsoom bold adventurers! John Carter’s rich world of Mars at the turn of the 20th Century is brought to life by Modiphius’ latest 2d20 system role-playing game. From the cities of the Red Martians to the Green Martian Hordes sweeping the vast desert wastes of the planet, the world of pulp science-fiction is brought to life and cast in glorious full-colour.
Players build characters from one of the major species that inhabit the planet. They are:
- Red Martians.
- Green Martians.
- Black Martians (First Born).
- Yellow Martians (Okar).
- Jasoomians (Humans).
Your character might fit into an archetype, but that is only where their story begins.
Character creation and development in this system is like the other 2d20 systems. Your character begins with six statistics as well as an archetypes and talents. Deciding on equipment and where their character’s influence lies. Every character you create is destined for greatness and most come from a position of power or influence that they can draw upon during adventures.
Like all of Modiphius’ 2d20 system games, John Carter uses a success system involving rolling under a character determined value (rather than a task determined value like many systems) and using extra successes to create greater effects or store up momentum to boost themselves or others at a later moment in the adventure.
Sadly, the system falls down through the sheer lack of options. There is an inherent freedom in all 2d20 systems. However, the John Carter system strips this back a little too far. There are a total of zero skills in the system, six fewer than even those found in the Star Trek Adventures system. This means that all test difficulties are determined by two attributes combined. That in itself can be liberating, as you're encouraged to come up with novel solutions to problems. Sadly, this can lead to characters constantly trying to shoehorn two good attributes into a task.
The system features interesting talents. You're even able to create and craft your own. However, this in itself can be a stumbling block. Want to be a great swordsmartian? Take a talent which adds a bonus dice to attack tests. Want to be a brilliant swordsman who strikes in just the right place? Take a talent which adds bonus dice to damage.
Sadly, these two can’t be combined. Instead, your character will need to take a brand-new talent, costing the same as purchasing the other two talents. This can encourage you to think about your character from a story point of view. It may also promote forward planning. However, it can also lead to you hoarding experience to build one super talent that does everything you want later on for your character.
That said, the system also features the idea of a signature item. This is something that defines your character so much that you can always guarantee you will have it at any moment in a story, something that your gamesmaster must hand you momentum to deprive you of and that you can always manage to replace with little difficulty.
Final Thoughts on the John Carter of Mars Core Book
The 2d20 system is brilliant, very dynamic and active. John Carter of Mars is certainly not the worst iteration of the system. Sadly, its stripped-back form, whilst aiming to be representative of the pulp-style competency of the stories, fails to hit its mark. The Conan system is from a similar pulp era and manages to capture the mood with skills and more defined talents.
The freedom of John Carter might well be a boon for some. However, for many others it will be a hindrance and off-putting to new players who will struggle to manage to know what to do.