John Carter: First Blood

5714094_origThe John Carter alpha playtest rule-set might best be described as loosey-goosey at the moment. Some might have felt too much so, as I had one player with existing experience of the 2d20 system and JC currently leans in the direction of super-extra-lite.

From my perspective, I can see that more structure needs to be built in here and a pool or two of additional counters might well be incoming in future releases; but, for me, I’d like my crunch relatively lightweight. I wouldn’t want my pulp action overcome by mechanical baggage.

The Session
I ran a very short, very light session. Too warm for anything too serious and we didn’t really get going until about 8.45pm with a 10.45pm finish.

I did some very brief explanation of the pre-generated characters and the setting – having read up on Barsoom myself. Some familiarity with John Carter in the movies existed. One player had read the comic books. A reference to Space: 1889 also helped as a framework for Martian existence.

The playtest documents currently come as a locked down PDF. It is possible to convert it to a Word document – but that was a bit of a pain. The problem I had was that copying text from the PDF and pasting into Word for my reference led to weird stunted columns of text – unreadable stuff. Also, as a working document, Modiphius have been putting in strong green and red highlights to show changes since the last version – and these made some sections of the character sheets very hard to read!

As a playtest document, it would be nice to have clean versions of the characters as a separate file that you can just print out and play with.

Grasping 2d20
The game ran well enough. I got to grips with the 2d20 mechanics well enough. I had an early misunderstanding with converting a roll to success.

Basically, a test involves two Attributes and you need to roll low. If you roll beneath the combined attributes, you get one success. If you roll beneath the higher Attribute, you get two successes. If you roll beneath the lower Attribute, you get three successes.

You judge this per die rolled – and the basic test is 2d20. For some reason, I read this as if you could get one option off the success menu and once claimed it was gone. So, if you had Attributes of 5 and 7, then rolled two 6s, you could get the lower than higher and lower than combined for three total successes. Actually, you judge each of the dice against the options each time – so that roll actually gets you four successes.

I read it wrong. I adjusted. I have probably just explained it badly!

I also struggled a bit with working out Attribute combos for certain tasks. At one point, someone asked if they could check their flying car for tampering and I stared at the Attribute list.

Aggression. Attacks, Insults, Theft, Healing. Apply force to animate and/or aware objects.

Daring. Movement, Piloting, Defence, Risk.

Empathy. Understanding, Connection, Healing, Sense about Others.

Might. Lift, Bend, Break. Apply force to inanimate objects.

Passion. Lead, Love, Entertain, Convince.

Reason. Apply the mind or senses to resolve something logically or with learning.

And I stared. And a bit more. Eventually, a player suggested something, but it was a bit of a brain twist.

I think we settled for Daring and Reason in the end.

A Short Adventure
Anyway – the characters had met up with a merchant called Maron who the Princess in the group had offered patronage to. She wanted a certain special stone that he claimed to have the means to acquire for her. He took everyone to his favourite club for a drink and they discovered (a) he had a soft spot for a young poet and (b) he clearly had money problems he was keeping secret.

When they left the club later, with the poet in tow, they found someone had tampered with their flying car. They could repair it, but they wanted to find out who had tampered with it more – so followed a trail toward one of the canals. There, an ambush ensued.

This ended up as Edgar Rice Burroughs channelled through Sam Peckinpah, with more than one spray of arterial blood and the Princess ripping the heart from a green martian’s chest and biting into it. I don’t know where this came from, nor why John Carter found the sight strangely erotic.

It seemed to work out well enough. After the battle, the players discovered that some local criminal bigwig had hired the green martian goons to “grab the royalty”, so they pumped the surviving martian for information and headed to the hideout. We ended there.

The session was fun. The players got involved. My wife managed to grok the basics of the system – including Momentum, which I haven’t mentioned at all; but, basically lets you add another die, increase damage or make other small adjustments to the flow of play.

I’m interested in seeing where the playtest goes and keen that the system stays light and entertainingly pulpy.


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