A look at John Carter of Mars. Modiphius Entertainment

John Carter is something that has been close to my heart since I was a small boy.  My grandfather Richard Henry Shepherd used to read the stories of this awesome character first to me and then with me as I was growing up.

pulp
/pʌlp/
noun
  1. 1
    popular or sensational writing that is regarded as being of poor quality.
    “the story is a mix of pulp fiction and Greek tragedy”
    synonyms: trashyrubbishycheapsensationalluridtastelesskitschy;

    informaltacky
    “perhaps pulp fiction is your métier rather than poetry?”

Carter, like Conan, and Tarzan was a very popular character in the fiction movement that is often known as Pulp, due to the fact that it was often seen as throwaway fiction, with outlandish stories of high adventure, and not as high brow as the works of Shakespeare or Keats.

So for those who have perhaps not heard of John Carter before, (something sadly that Disney Studios didn’t understand at the time of doing their awesome movie of the same name!) he is a fictional character who shortly after the American Civil War finds himself transported from Earth to the mysterious red plant we call Mars.  Here he interacts with the indigenous people of what they call Barsoom and has many wonderful adventures, going on to be more or less the Earth equivalent of a king!

Barsoom is filled with many strange and dangerous creatures from the exotic Red Martians (basically humans with super model looks and red skin), the Tharks a race of green skinned humanoid creatures that stand on average fifteen feet in height, have four arms and a double torso, with huge dangerous looking tusks!  Add to this lighter than air vessels that can fly, magical powers and giant white apes who could easily rip an elephant in two with their sheer strength!

Barsoom is a great setting and over the years I have done my share of visiting this wondrous planet, reading the novels and comic books, and as I got older using it as a setting for roleplaying adventures.  Now after fifty years of being entertained and enthralled by this amazing collection of stories, I am about to fall in love with it all over again thanks to Modiphius Entertainment.

When it was announced that Modiphius would be bringing out a roleplaying game based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and his amazing and stylised characters from the Barsoom series of books I was a little overjoyed and extremely happy. Now those books are finally with us and look amazing!

The slipcase edition is a limited run variant of the core rules for the game and comes complete with a secondary book in the slipcase in the form of a campaign book (which also features rules for the miniatures game), both books beautifully illustrated throughout by some of the top names in roleplaying art and with the core book being quite hefty, weighing in at 278 full colour pages and the campaign book coming in at 118 full colour pages.  This is truly a stunning book to hold and browse through.

 

Rather than being presented in the usual format of portrait style, both books are in landscape (side on) which really adds to the epic nature of the game and makes them feel grandiose and larger than they actually are.  The slipcase is made from high quality and durable card stock with a semi matt finish to the painted cover that makes it feel like silk.

 

The core rules cover the basics you need to know for your adventures in Barsoom with everything from character generation and combat, too narrator hints and tips and much more, all designed to all both players and narrator get the most from the product.

Its quite hard to quantify but there is something really epic about this book that makes it feel much larger than it actually is, as mentioned above this could be down to the landscape format, but also could be attributed to the layout which is very clear and concise and allows the reader to navigate with no difficulties at all as they look through.  As always there is both a contents page and indices which make navigation far easier and I do wish that many other games companies would take a leaf from Modiphius Entertainment’s book and follow suit.

The game uses the companies own in-house mechanic at is very core and is a 2d20 system, that has featured in many of Modiphius Entertainments roleplaying lines so far, including Conan, Star Trek and Dust, and will be used in upcoming systems too.  It is fast and pretty straight forward and easy to learn and within a few moments, you will understand what all the jargon means from Momentum and Threat to Skill checks and more.  I will cover the mechanics in a future article.

The game gives you full details and step by step guides on building your characters from the ground up and how best to use them within the universe provided.  With six player races and dozens of archetypes to flesh them out, this game will allow players to recreate almost any character from the novels or come up with their own unique version to become a true warlord of Mars!

The races of Barsoom are what make it stand out from many other settings as humans are the aliens here rather than the norm and we have all of the main races featured in the novels represented in some form or other, those being

Red Martians: The most common race on Barsoom, these appear as red hued or skinned humanoids who are slightly shorter than normal humans on Earth, but tend to be far more athletic looking with toned and muscular bodies! In the novels, most Red Martians are depicted as handsome or beautiful looking with rippling muscles and many are often naked or scantily dressed.

Green Martians: The Tharks are a race of green-skinned creatures that tower above any other race on Barsoom, often standing over fifteen feet in height and their huge stature is only aided by the fact that they have two sets of arms, huge tusks and are deadly and fierce warriors.

Okar: Another human-like race that lives on Barsoom is the Okar.  With a bright yellow skin tone, these humanoids live in the colder areas of the red planet and are quite xenophobic, preferring not to venture far from their own lands, though from time to time the odd adventurer will do so and satisfy their wanderlust

Earthborn: All Earthborn are just that, born on the planet we call home and through one reason or another find their way to Barsoom.  From the red planet, Earth is just a small dot in the night sky, called Jasoom by the natives and it is from Jasoom that these characters hail originally.  Slightly taller than average Martians, Earthborn all have a unquie feature in that they are extremely strong and agile, due to the lower gravity on Barsoom and being born on Earth.  They are able to leap great distances and travel at extremely fast speeds and possess a strength that most Martians could only ever dream of.

Firstborn:  The Firstborn were the first race to appear on Barsoom, and ruled over the red planet for many generations. They have an almost totally black sheen to their skin and are often well defined with large muscles and toned bodies, and all are trained in the art of combat.

Each race has its own unique traits and characteristics that make it different from the others and add to the gameplay of the setting.  You further flesh out your characters by adding in archetypes from the pre-generated ones presented or create your own with the help of the narrator.  Once you have followed the simple steps during character generation, rounded out your character and given them a name, you are more or less ready to play!

The next section of the book gives both the player and the narrator everything they need to get the most from the game, from the dice mechanics and combat to using experience and renown to grow your character to almost god-like reverence among the people of Barsoom.  Add to this the unique weapons, clothing and equipment and the rules to use it all, as well as all the other rules you need to play and more.

The final part of the core book is given over to derails of Barsoom itself and the world, its geography, flora and fauna and its technologies, as well as expanding on the background of the main races in great detail. Everything seems to have been covered here more or less, and the core book does an amazing job of getting the information across to the reader without spoon feeding them lots of facts and stuff about the novels that they would not most likely know.

The books are covered too with details on the background being touched upon, and major characters such as John Carter, Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas being presented for use as player characters or non player characters, a whole host of creatures to fight against from six legged lions to the huge and imposing white apes of the mountains of Barsoom.

Finally the book is rounded out with a full adventure that is ready to play right out of the book, just need some dice, friends, and characters (though there are several already generated playable characters dotted throughout the book itself)

The second book in the slipcase is the Phantoms of Mars Campaign book which gives you a fully blown campaign to really get stuck into with your players, and features a sprawling epic adventure that will see your characters traverse the red planet and find themselves involved in political intrigue, epic battles and much more! Each part of the campaign can also be played stand alone so it can in essence be used as an adventure book, and the book is packed with new weapons, equipment, plot hooks, NPCs and much more.

The later part of the book is given over to the 2d20 miniatures system that will allow you to use the beautifully rendered and sculpted resin miniatures that Modiphus has also produced. These miniatures are some of the crispest and finest looking models I have seen in a long time and capture the feel of the John Carter universe perfectly.  As soon as I can get my hands on some I will be taking a look at them on our YouTube channel.

Overall this slipcase edition is a very worthwhile purchase and a must for any collector.  Priced at £75.00 it is excellent value for money, with a luxurious satin feel to the product, in full colour and both books have some amazing illustrations throughout! The layout using the landscape format only adds to the prestige look and quality feel and so far this year this is the most impressive roleplaying product I have seen.

John Carter of Mars is unavailable directly  from Modiphus Entertainment and from all good games stockists now!

About Marc Farrimond

I'm a 55 year guy from Wigan in Lancashire living in Edinburgh, Scotland with two of my four awesome kids and my long suffering wife Laura. I have worked freelance over the years for some of the biggest names in tabletop and roleplaying and I am a very keen cosplayer and photographer.
This entry was posted in Eye on Modiphius Entertainment, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s