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Defending Attributes

I ran a one shot of JCoM yesterday and we really enjoyed it. I’d made up some quick cheat sheets with the suggested attacking and defending attribute combinations from the books and that included Daring and Passion for defending in melee. What we realised was that it led to all damage from sword attacks (except from the Sharp quality) being to the Fear tracker which felt a bit counter intuitive.

I know different combinations can be used but I didn’t want to duplicate some player’s talents (e.g. you can always defend against melee with Might) by just allowing other players to choose to use a different attribute. I imagine this is partly a narrator balancing act that I’ll need to master.

What combinations do people generally see in play for defence and how do you avoid unerring other players talents with that?

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I’m still trying to get a handle on this myself, and I agree with you that this seems like a potential flaw in the system that somehow needs to be addressed.

It’s nice to spread out the value of the stats so that no one stat dominates the game, and in that light I like the notion of Passion as part of melee defense. (If it’s in an example somewhere, I missed it.) But I agree that this leads to the damage=fear issue, and it seems counter-intuitive to me as well.

I think that 5E D&D has a similar effect, where a character can use certain weapons as “strength” or “finesse” depending upon their character’s abilities, but in 5E they only have one type of damage which can be taken so the source of the damage is irrelevant.

A solution that occurs to me is that maybe only half of the “damage” would be fear and the rest regular stress. It still causes some strange effects in the game, but not as severe as what you tried.

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I haven’t started GM’ing John Carter yet, but I plan to keep it simple - Melee attacks will defend using Cunning and Daring, and only varying unless they have a Talent that allows them to use another. I think allowing players to use whatever they want in respect to task rolls is a way for players to avoid having to use abilities they are weak in.

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A good point, Doc-Savage. Characters should get to maximize good stat use, but still have to endure lower stat use as well. The bad with the good. Must ponder further.

I think the problem of using Cunning and Daring for both attack and defence is that those attributes become super stats. I’d assumed that was why on P63 they suggested Daring and Passion. I was expecting Daring and Might for melee.

I think you run into the same problem with dodging bullets. I can kind of see Cunning as an option but the way I read the examples I’d expect the default to be Daring and Empathy which again leads to the same problem with a lack of physical injury.

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If somebody wants to use a different attribute a lot without a talent, I’ll make sure it has some more significant basis in the narrative than a flimsy action description. Maybe even some sort of establishing action whose sole purpose is to size up the opponent to justify using reason for attacking, and they might be able to throw you off when they realize you’re matching their moves. If someone really wants to use passion they better be fighting on behalf of someone they care about (who isn’t themselves)—either fighting their attacker or making defense actions for them. If the opponent changes targets then no more passion. If you want to switch it up all the time then get talents. Adjusting the difficulty could also be another possibility. Passion huh? Pretty wild and reckless with those attacks? Sounds like you’re sacrificing your defense.

I’m not saying I’d do all of those things at once, but they’re things I’ve thought of while reading the rules.


I concur with Werlynn wholeheartedly. Thats the way I run JCM; if the player can justify it, then why not? Itll be doing half my work already!

Passion is the suggested attribute to use for melee defence though. That’s really what I’m querying.

The primary attribute is Daring. The secondary attribute is more flexible. I didn’t read passion as being the default, just an example. Bravely meeting the enemy’s sword with your own to parry. That default would not work to dodge a bullet because bravely meeting a bullet head on is frequently lethal. It’s also not the only way to parry. You could be reading your opponent and either going off your gut (empathy) or recognizing moves from the classical dueling school (reason).

If damage ends up on the fear track it’s not a big deal. How often to the heroes in these kinds of stories get actually injured? Taking fear stress from a sword or gun attack is just the “Wow that was too close!” kind of reaction. The PC will change up their attribute combinations on their own quickly if they’re not dividing their stress and injuries across tracks from the start.

Also don’t forget that swords all are going to deal some injury stress every time an effect is rolled, regardless of what attributes the character defended with.


Yeah. I went for Passion because it was the example and I took it as a default. Like you said above I didn’t want to give them free reign to choose a different attribute each time without a talent to do that. I’m guessing its a balancing act but I was hoping for a default while I initially introduced players (and myself) to the game.

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Hullo, UncleRiotous,

Yes, the business of using Daring + Passion for defense does tend to be counterintuitive. The key to remember here is that Passion is usually about emotion and the like. But something else to remember is that a lot of times in the John Carter stories, damage is more often psychological than it is physical. Or so it has seemed to me.

When it comes down to it, attacking and defending have a simple base. For the attack, no reason to get away from the Cunning + Daring for physical melee and the Cunning + Reason for the physical ranged attacks. I could see a physical attack using a different Attribute with Cunning, depending on the attacker’s Talents and whether they’re approach the attack from an emotional point of view, one of strength or will, and so forth.

Defense, on the other hand, very much should start with Daring, as movement of some sort will always be involved. The second Attribute, on the other hand, would and should vary based on how the defender is approaching their defense. Someone who is physically strong might use Might, someone who tends to fight deviously would use Cunning, and so forth.

The key here is that it isn’t really intuitive to take physical weapon damage to Fear or Confusion, though that sort of thing tends to happen in literary fiction more often than having the target take enough damage to maim the hero. Same is true in the John Carter books… I think that going forward I might house rule that a character has to take at least half the damage from a physical attack with a weapon of any kind to the Injury stress track. It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out.



Hullo, Doc-Savage,

The only problem doing that for defense is that since Cunning + Daring is used as well for attacking with melee weapons, it will put more emphasis and weight on those two Attributes. While limiting it to other Attributes through the use of a Talent is fine, that just means that the player who has a Passion (frex) of 9 is going to take a Talent like Passionate Swordsman or Passionate Defender or some such to maximize that Passion of 9 in combat. Players inherently don’t want to use weak abilities/skills for things they have to do. At least in the game, well mine if nothing else, they have to justify why they want to use a different Attribute if they don’t have it as a Talent. :smile:

And truth be told, if players want to keep taking damage to the Confusion and Fear stress tracks, rather than the Injury one, I have no problem with that. Those injuries, unlike the physical ones, can’t be seen and can make the life of a character even more hellish than a physical one. :smirk:



Hullo, UncleRiotous,

Ummm, no… Passion is not the suggested Attribute for melee defense, it is an example of why one might use it to defend with. Any emotional reaction would justify the Narrator having the player use Passion as part of the roll, imo. Ymmv, of course. :slight_smile:



Blades already deal a minimum amount of damage to the injury track. I don’t think you need additional house rules. The difficulty increase caused by afflictions will already reward players for moving things around and changing things up.

The point of an RPG (IMO) should be to emulate the literary, not the video game. How many movies and TV shows do main characters get attacked or shot at but not actually injured? That doesn’t mean they didn’t take a fear or confusion affliction from nearly getting killed. They’re diving for cover. They’re visibly stressed. Breathing heavy. Panicking. Acting rashly. Swinging their weapon more wildly. They’re having some reaction. Go rewatch them but reframe it. They’re not getting missed by bad attack rolls. The attack rolls are successful. The heroes just taking consequences that aren’t “bleeding all over the place.”

Even if it were D&D hit points, hit points don’t represent actually getting harmed every time you lower your current HP either. The hit point approach is boring and not representative of the awesome fiction people keep trying to emulate with hit points.

Don’t let them “throw dice at their afflictions” to make them go away immediately after every action scene though. Make them actually do something relevant to removing the afflictions in the narrative before they touch dice. They’ll feel the afflictions for a least a little while. It’s a lot easier to narratively justify getting rid of fear or confusion afflictions with a heart-to-heart with your comrade in arms between action scenes or a night of partying, than it is to justify physical injuries disappearing overnight (barring actual magical science medicine).

The fact that it won’t kill anyone to leave it the way it is is kind of the point. This isn’t gritty Conan, it’s swashbuckling heroism.

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Hullo, Werlynn,

What you say here is totally true and very much a good justification for leaving the game rules as they are.

My Friday night group learned this lesson this past week when they played. The Confusion and Fear injuries and some afflictions were a lot of fun for them to work around, and they rather liked that damage wasn’t just physical. That said, there were a couple of instances in the sesison where they couldn’t heal themselves and had to fight through the confusion and fear as best they could. They rose to the occasion, and that’s what being a hero is all about.



I think what I’m taking from this is that a G1 talent will let you ALWAYS use a particular attribute to defend with where otherwise you’d always use Daring but could normally choose which appropriate attribute to mix it with.

You might still be using daring even with your talent—you’ll just be paired with the talent attribute. They might also choose not to use the talent if their damage track for that attribute is beat up. The afflictions apply to the difficulty of defense rolls too.

Side note for everyone: One of the ways I pseudo control what attributes people use to defend is by flavouring my attacks with my narrative - describing the opponent going for grappling moves, or that they attack using a spirited speech and intimidation, or that they lay a trap to catch the player on their blind side, etc. This mostly lets me pick one or two attributes that have to be essential for them to use for their defense, or one or two that definitely would not apply. You have the enemy grappling yoy, gotta use at least some part of might. Spirited speech? Get your passion going. Lay a trap, Reason out your problems, etc.

It doesn’t ALWAYS work for everyone, but I always try to flavour my attacks just SO people have more of an option to what they do.


Very true. My concern is that if you allow players to choose which attributes they use too often, they never have to face their weaknesses. If you have a character who emphasized Might over Reason, they should expect to do poorly when intellect is needed, just as someone who makes a brilliant scientist with a high Reason, but low Might, aren’t going to be lifting huge rocks. Part of the fun is that different players tend to value different traits, so that, hopefully, you’ll have your strong character, intelligent character, and your fast character. Each character brings something to the table that they do well in, that allows them shine at alternate moments, and to do great things as a group.

Isn’t the default defense Daring + Empathy? That’s what it seems to say on p. 12. I mean, obviously other combinations are possible and Passion is also listed on p. 63, but in terms of defaults, doesn’t that cover it?