Game: John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment
Degree of Familiarity: Pretty familiar. I’ve been a fan of the the source material for five decades, and have been running the current game for the past few months on and off in preparation for the campaigns I’ll run on my Friday and Sunday gaming groups.
Books Required: John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook.
Please note that this post is extremely long, as I've gone into the game mechanics a bit in terms of character creation, and have provided background on the character and the choices. Hence the majority of this post is behind the cut. That said, there is some of the game mechanics and descriptions of game world elements that I've skimped on in this write-up, so if you want to know more, just drop me a line in the Comments.
For those who don't know, the John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game is a science fantasy sword & planet roleplaying game set in the world of Barsoom (what we call Mars) based on the 11-book series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Anyway, here's the character creation process. Bear in mind that this material is quite long, due to the way the background section is written up.
Step One: General Concept.
The first step to creating a character of John Carter of Mars is to decide on a general concept, the general sort of character to create. Keeping the concept generally vague is a good way to begin, as it allows the character to change and adapt going forward. Some sample concepts are provided in the book, but one can just as easily create one’s own concept here.
Given that the game is Sword & Planet, I decide right off the bat to stick with the conventions of the genre for this character. After looking at the sample character concepts provided, I decide that I’m going to keep it simple. I decide he is a wandering Panthan (mercenary) out for glory and fortune on Barsoom.
Step Two: Starting Attributes.
The player has a number of Attributes that are used to determine a character’s general aptitudes and abilities. Unlike other game systems, Attributes in John Carter of Mars are abstract and result-focused, concentrating more on how a character accomplishes something and less on the exact physical or mental abilities used to accomplish the task. There are six (6) Attributes in the game - Cunning, Daring, Empathy, Might, Passion and Reason. I’m not going to go into details on the Attributes for the game, but that information should be somewhere out there on the internet. (If someone finds me the link for it, I’ll add it here.)
A starting player character begins with 4 in each Attribute. Furthermore, each character begins with 2 extra Attribute points to distribute among their character’s Attributes. No Attribute can be raised higher than 12.
I make note of the starting value of my six Attributes, and note that I have two (2) more points to spend when I finish character creation. (See Step Nine, below.)
Thus my starting Attributes are as follows.
Cunning 4, Daring 4, Empathy 4
Might 4, Passion 4, Reason 4.
Step Three: Selecting Your Race.
The next step in character creation is to select the Race to which the character belongs. By default, most Barsoomian cultures are racially homogenous, and there are many common traits in different cultures dominated by the same race. The Races available at the start of play are Green Martian, Red Martian, Earthborn (Jasoomian), First Born (Black Martian) and Okar (Yellow Martian). Red Martians are the most common race, followed by the green. Earthborn are the rarest, canonically only including a handful of individuals. Mixed heritage characters are also possible in some cases, but are discussed elsewhere in the rulebook. There is a small section, usually occupying a page, that discusses the various races in more detail, including general knowledge of Barsoom, common abilities, and other considerations. A more detailed section on the races is found in the Narrator’s section of the book.
I decide that the character will be a Red Martian. Looking at the Attribute bonuses, I get to add +2 to one of the following: Daring, Empathy, Passion, or Reason. I also get to add +1 to any two others. Since I am creating a Panthan, I decide to add +2 to Daring, and then add +1 to Reason and Passion. This makes the Attributes look as follows.
Cunning 4, Daring 6, Empathy 4
Might 4, Passion 5, Reason 5.
In addition, I have the following
What You Know
You speak and read common Barsoomian.
You know of your nation and its neighbours.
You have likely heard of the great cities of Helium and Zodanga, even if you don’t hail from there.
You know of the threats, politics and customs of your home kingdom.
You know the basics of airship operation and red Martian science.
What You Don’t Know
The customs of people in hidden places and remote locales.
What You Can Do
You know the basics of self-defense, including the use of blades and firearms.
You can operate basic machinery and use medicines and machines common to red Martian culture.
You can fly most vehicles under normal conditions and ride trained mounts.
Step Four: Select Archetype.
The player then chooses a general Archetype for the character. These are designed to be broad and cover a wide range of concepts from various races and cultures. Each provides certain Attribute bonuses and a suggested free Grade 1 Talent (see below) that makes sense for a character of that Archetype. Also included with the Archetype is a common list of What You Know and What You Can Do as a member of that Archetype.
Looking through the list of Archetypes, I settle on the Panthan (surprise, surprise!). I gain a bonus of +2 to each of my Daring and Might Attributes as part of the Archetype. This raises my Attributes to the following.
Cunning 4, Daring 8, Empathy 4
Might 6, Passion 4, Reason 4.
In addition, I see that I’ve got the Grade 1 Talent Who Dares Wins, which gives me a bonus Combat Die [CD] of damage and adds 1 to the total damage rolled on a successful attack. Nice! I decide to take this one.
In addition, I have the following.
What You Know
The most popular mercenary companies and those nations and organizations that frequently hire them.
Tactics and strategy, especially small-unit and guerrilla tactics.
History of military conflicts on Barsoom, especially those making extensive use of mercenaries.
What You Can Do
Fight with common military weapons, such as the sword, firearms and the dagger.
Negotiate basic contracts and agreements, especially for mercenary work.
Plan small scale assaults and military operations, even with minimal resources.
Step Five: Select Descriptor
Characters in John Carter of Mars are larger than life, and tend to be boldly presented. This is usually one adjective or description that sums up the character, how they deal with conflicts and problems and what many characters seem to think of them. This is called a Descriptor, and it affects what Attributes a character favours.
Looking over the list of Descriptors, I decide that the character is Disciplined. He is a hard-working individual and takes great pride on his warrior’s craft. The Disciplined descriptor gives my character a +1 to Might and a +1 to Reason. I note these down, and the Attributes now look like this.
Cunning 4, Daring 8, Empathy 4
Might 7, Passion 4, Reason 5.
Step Six: Talents
Player characters have Talents. These represent those unique or developed abilities that make a character special. Basically, Talents are ways for characters to accomplish special actions that normally require Momentum. In some cases, they can also allow a character to use Momentum in ways not normally allowed.
In addition to the Talents provided by Race and Archetype (see above), a character starts with five (5) Grades of Talents. These can be selected from the Talents provided in Chapter 3 of the Core Rulebook or can be designed by the player in consultation with the Narrator.
Looking through the list of Talents in the book, I decide on what I want for my character. I take the following Talents
Cut Them Down (Grade 1)
Eye For Danger (Grade 1)
Disarming Parry (Grade 3).
See the character sheet, below, for more details on what these Talents do.
Step Seven: Starting Renown and Equipment.
It’s time for the character to assign starting renown and Equipment. Renown is part of the character’s advancement, representing the character’s fame and notoriety. All characters receive 10 points of starting Renown, except for Earthborn, and this is used to purchase titles, allies, contacts, or other starting advantages.
Looking through the material on Renown, I see that the character starts with ten (10) Renown. I decide that the character will start with an ally, in the form of a green Martian Chieftain. I name the chieftain Takk Tillak. I note this down on the character sheet, and note that I’ve spent 6 of my 10 Renown on this ally.
While most characters carry various pieces of equipment, many player characters have what is called Core Equipment. This represents an item or type of item that a character always has available and can always easily replace if stolen or lost. Core Equipment is essentially a specialized Talent, but I won’t go into the details of that here.
I decide that the character’s core equipment is a sword. This makes sense, since as a pantheon, he doesn’t want to ever not have his trusty sword to hand. I note this on the character sheet.
Step Eight: Choose A Flaw
Each player character hero, no matter their greatest virtue, has a flaw. This Flaw tells one not just how the character acts, but also the challenges they regularly face. Flaws may represent psychological flaws, social constraints, or just plain bad luck that tends to manifest in a particular way around the character. Think of them as “anti-Talents.” They are usually an event or class of events that cost the character some Momentum or damage unless they engage in the stated activity.
Looking over the sample Flaws provided, I decide to take the Overprotective Flaw. When someone in his charge becomes injured as a result of his action (or lack thereof), he loses 5 Momentum from his pool. If he cannot lose 5 Momentum, he takes the excess in Fear damage.
Step Nine: Name and Finalize Concept and Attributes
In this step, the player finalizes the character’s Concept and Attributes, and chooses a name for the character.
First off, the player spends the two Attribute points that were given them in Step Two, above.
Looking over my Attributes for the character, I decide to increase my Cunning by 1 and my Might by 1. This makes my final Attributes the following.
Cunning 5, Daring 8, Empathy 4
Might 8, Passion 5, Reason 6.
Once this is accomplished, the player needs to determine the three Stress Tracks of the character. There are three Stress Tracks that are based on the pairing of two Attributes: Confusion (Empathy and Reason), Fear (Daring and Passion) and Injury (Cunning and Might). The character’s scores on these Stress Tracks is equal to the highest Attribute of the pair related to the Stress Track in question.
I determine the character’s three Stress Tracks. His Empathy is 4 and his Reason is 6, so his Confusion Stress Track value is 6. His Daring is 8 and his Passion is 5, and thus is Fear Stress Track value is 8. His Cunning is 5 and his Might is 8, so his Injury Stress Track is 8. These are pretty good numbers, so I’m happy with them, though he may be prone at times to becoming Confused.
The maximum Momentum that I can hold in my pool is equal to the lowest of my Attributes. The same applies to the maximum Luck I can hold in my pool.
With my lowest Attribute being my Empathy, which is 4, I determine that my Momentum and Luck pool maximum is 4, and note these for future reference.
The player should list the weapons the character has to start with, and record these and any features of them in the appropriate section.
I start the character with a Dagger, which does 1 [CD] and has the Sharp Quality (which inflicts 1 extra point of damage per Effect generated). The character also has a Sword, which does 2 [CD] of damage and also has the Sharp Quality. I also note that the character has acquired a Radium Pistol at some point in his past, which does 2 [CD] of damage and has the Fearsome Quality (that inflicts a point of damage to the Fear Stress Track per Effect).
Finally, I decide on the character’s Name. Red Martian names consist of a first and last name containing one or two syllables. Alliteration is common, but names often share common traits with a parent or ancestor. Some nobility and adventurous travellers sometimes use only their first name and their homeland.
Thinking about this carefully, I determine the character is male (there was never any doubt of that) and give him the first name Haju. I like the idea of alliteration sort of, and go with the last name of Hallan.
And thus, Haju Hallan is born.
See the character sheets presented here for the full picture of the character. :)
And there you have the character that I created for the John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game. This character took me about 25 minutes to create, with about 10 minutes of leafing through the Core Rulebook and the like. Character generation in John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game can definitely take a while, if one doesn’t know what one is trying to do, the Talents portion of the process taking the longest. If one has an idea of what one wants in the player character, the process will definitely take no more than about 15 minutes or so, but to be honest, this is a game system that is a lot of fun to work with, even if it doesn’t seem to present a wide variation of characters.
Comments and feedback are welcome. :)