Much like the prior chapter, I’ll be discussing my thoughts on the various GMing chapters in the book and the contents that they have rather than repeating stuff here on the blog.
Narrators of Mars
This is the GMing chapter, which takes the potential GM through the genre conventions and how to run John Carter in a way that is much more action-adventure oriented and with a few cinematic tricks to make it work.
The chapter is solid, and includes a lot of mechanical advice such as how to use Threat in a way that can push the “firm but fair” tone that a GM should uphold, while making things interesting for the other players.
Conventions of the genre are discussed in detail, and are a great way to help new GMs who might not be aware of the stories to get the feel of the game right without having to go through the novels to understand it.
Beasts of Barsoom
John Carter requires a bestiary. Given that you’re in an alien planet with savage wilderness and alien creatures, the setting is full of weird flora and fauna for your to run into and interact with.
Creatures are presented not just with stats, but also a bit of context and even better, a related plot seed!
Secrets of Barsoom
This chapter details a lot of the bigger mysteries of the setting and goes into the background material related to these. Players who aren’t as well versed in the setting are in for a lot of fun surprises here, and the GM is given enough material to throw these major curveballs and integrate them with a bigger campaign.
Champions of Barsoom
This details the various NPCs that you could run into, including the titular John Carter of Mars, Dejah Thoris and the rest of the heroes that you’re likely to know. Stats for characters that serve as NPCs but don’t actually have names are presented as Archetypes here as well.
The other half is a selection of kickstarter backer characters, with a pretty interesting range of concepts, and can easily be integrated into a campaign.
Mind Merchants of Mars
This is the starter adventure packaged in the book. Kicking it off with an arena fight (like the one used in our sample combat chapter) the adventure is a pretty good run with four episodes of adventure and a host of dastardly villains. I’m considering running this to fuel an Actual Play Impressions article, so more on that soon (I hope!)
In case the novels aren’t enough, the book also has a healthy selection of adventure seeds in this section. With the primary seed, the roles of NPCs needed and a host of variations to mix it up, there’s plenty to work with here start your own Sword and Planet adventure serial!
The John Carter of Mars RPG comes out at a time when there is a great demand for games with laser-focused mechanics that know exactly what kind of experience they aim to deliver. While built upon the existing 2d20 framework, the team was able to craft a quick, punchy, and perhaps most important: authentic John Carter experience with this game.
Layout and Artwork
John Carter of Mars is published in a non-standard landscape format that works well for such a cinematic game. I imagine that the physical format of these books is impressive as heck, and I eagerly await the copies I ordered a few weeks back.
The artwork is beautiful, and portrayal of the Red Martians is tasteful as opposed to other portrayals of their clothing in other materials. I’m honestly relieved as I’ve had the hardest time getting my wife interested when all she gets in Google Image search are pinup artwork of Dejah Thoris in exceptionally revealing attire.
Also cheers for Francesca Baerald’s gorgeous character sheets! There is no excuse to not use the colored versions.
Not only do the game mechanics read well, they deliver the power-levels expected of these larger-than-life heroes, for which death defying adventures are the norm. Paired with design choices that highlight these, (like the lack of cover rules) the players are guided both mechanically and thematically towards the genre it was meant to run.
The game also handles the potentially problematic elements of the game with surprising grace, framing John Carter’s adventures and characters in a way that makes sense in a day and age where we’re more aware of issues such as sexism and racism, without detracting in any way from the source material.
For fans of the setting, the RPG also delivers on the depth of analysis that discusses the social norms and cultures of the various societies in Barsoom in a way that rings true. There’s never this sense that the designers just built the rules and left you the hard work of world building or baking in the feel of the game.
Fast, fun, but backed with a solid framework of the 2d20 mechanics, John Carter of Mars the Roleplaying Game is one of those games that reaches out and seizes the GM’s imagination, demanding to be played.
Much like it’s titular hero, the game cuts down any and all opposition that gets in the way of the primary goal of being able to play a fun, swashbuckling adventure game. Streamlined mechanics, and a focus on Renown as a means of denoting advancement leaves player characters less worried about survival and has them looking forward to the next dire peril that the GM will throw at them next.
GMs, on the other hand, are given the keys to the kingdom, with an entire toolkit for making Sword and Planet adventures, and the means to run them right with confidence.
Overall, John Carter of Mars the Roleplaying Game is a must have for fans of the setting, and for those who are looking for something new, but with solid depth to its setting.
If you’d like to check out the game, you can get it in PDF over a DriveThruRPG!
Physical copies are best ordered through the Modiphius Webstore, where you can find everything including some splendid miniatures you can use!