(Review) John Carter of Mars Core Rulebook


“Hey Sans. Wanna do a review for me?” “Sure, as soon as I land from flying literally across the world and starting a new job.”

But you’re not here to listen to me wonder where the time went while getting set up in Bangkok – you’re here to hear about JOHN CARTER OF MARS.

John Carter of Mars!

The John Carter world hails from the era of pulp novels – a bygone time that I’m pretty sure my parents weren’t alive to read.

It’s an old, old property. And this fact will be relevant throughout this review.

Originally written up as a serial story for pulp magazines by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the John Carter of Mars saga is a tale of a man out of time, transported (in a way) from the American west to Mars (or as they call it, Barsoom). It’s influence over speculative fiction as well as fantastic worlds can’t be understated – we wouldn’t have Flash Gordon or the movie Avatar without John Carter.

Barsoom For Us All

If you’re a fan of the John Carter universe, you will feel right at home with the information presented in the book. The writing team does a great job with making sure enough of the world that has been brought up in the books are translated here for the player, from the races to the landscape. Barsoom is illustrated very well, provided you like the color red. It’s the red planet, after all.

As someone who isn’t familiar with the John Carter universe (seriously, I’m not young but I’m not THAT old), it was a bit rough to really wrap my head around the world itself. It comes from a bygone time, and some of the world building choices reflect that era. Yes, this means slavery and sexism are reflected in the text, but to their credit the team made it a point via the sidebar to try to address it and have downplayed references to it whenever they could (so you could completely ignore it in your play group, or not – it is simply a thing that exists). There are references to Burroughs’ writing, illustrating that he had a number of examples of women being competent (“Golly gee whillickers, who would have thought a WOMAN could have done something useful?”) and noted that the slavery stuff wasn’t going to be expanded upon at all, which was a nice touch. They acknowledged it, pointed out what it was used for, and gave suggestions on how to sweep it under the rug if so desired.

Rules As Light As Barsoom’s Gravity

The rules are based on other systems Modiphius has published, the 2d20 system. It works well for people to make the kind of character they want to make, but rules lawyers will need to check their knee-jerk reactions at the door – there are many points in the rules that essentially say “whatever the GM says”. Stats exist, but skills are this nebulous thing that your character can either do or not do depending on where they hail from, or if they apply it to their backstory. Talents are equally nebulous, although they have a list of expected powers per tier that can help guide players.

John Carter of Mars is really designed for the roleplayer in mind, which makes it a neat counterpoint to the miniatures game (which is a bit crunchier). If you’re a fan of the genre or want to sink your teeth into a world conceived a century ago, this is a good rulebook to read through. If your gaming group likes to focus on having a more free-flowing system, definitely pick it up.

A copy of the game was given to the author by the publisher, where it sat in his laptop for like a month while he navigated a country where English isn’t the most common language and the sun barely relents, which helped him really get into character when reading about Mars.

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