Monday, March 05, 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

March is rolling in like a lion. Not so much in terms of weather (depressingly mild for somebody hoping to get in one more ski trip), rather it has been insanely busy. So much for grand plans of posting every day...

Anyway, I did pick up the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game last week and I've been kind of obsessed about it. It seems like every time a new superhero roleplaying comes out, I think "this is how you do supers"*. But then another game comes out. I went through this with Mutants & Masterminds, Truth & Justice, ICONS, and now Marvel Heroic.

My first impression of the game is that it might be a little too fiddly in its dice mechanic and a little too meta in its scene/event construction for my taste. But there is undoubtedly a lot to love about the game. Two of the things that stand out:

Character Creation
I knew that it lacked a balanced character creation system going in, so was actually surprised to find something so flexible, detailed, and (on a story level) balanced. I actually really like the idea of building supers characters to concept without having to worry about points. What matters is that regardless of power level, every character is useful and every character has something cool to do. Characters in Marvel Heroic meet that criteria.

I spent a little time creating original characters to see if the system actually worked. And yes, it does (I hope to post some characters soon). Assigning affiliation dice, distinctions, specialties, and even powers were really easy. The only thing that gave me pause was the currently limited selection of special effects and limitations. Even then, it really wasn't hard to make up new ones.

The strangest part about character creation is the design of character milestones. These are essentially roleplaying keys that, if you hit them, award you varying levels of experience points during a scenario. It effect, the player is creating their own experience point table (which is replaced when they complete their milestones).

Combat Initiative
I love, love, love the Initiative system in this game. I have never seen anything like it before and I'm strongly considering adapting it to my future (and possibly current) campaigns, regardless of system.

In a nutshell, you use common sense to determine who goes first. After that, the acting character gets to choose the next character in the order. You do this until you run through all the characters (including NPCs) and the last character gets to choose who goes first in the next round.

The GM has some tools to insert themselves into the order, but the real balancing mechanism is that if you let the GM characters go last, they gain control of the initiative sequence through their ability to determine who goes next in subsequent rounds. Fred Hicks has a great post on this here.

One More Thing
I almost forgot, but I really like how the doom pool would seem to allow for escalating tension, without having the GM be responsible for all that. In a nutshell, the GM (called Watcher) has a supply of doom dice that act as both anti-plot points (the player resource for awesome) and also represent the base difficulty level for opposed rolls. Not sure how it works in practice, but it seems really nifty.

So, I'm really liking wha I see so far. Now if I could only play to game to see if it is as awesome as I hope or fiddly as a fear.

* Obligatory disclaimer: Of course, you could always use Risus.


Trey said...

This game keeps sounding better and better.

Kaptain Kobold said...

That initiative system looks great - the explanation of how it works, and how different uses plays out is excellent. I can see it working in certain types of miniatures games actually.

matt jackson said...

I scanned through the book and my initial thoughts matched one of yours: too fiddly for me.

The die mechanic takes so long to explain, well, I grew bored and stopped reading it.

Jesse said...

It's not the die mechanic itself that's worrying me as much as all the kinds of traits, permanent and temporary, that a character has or can create, and that they all have very similar but JUST SLIGHTLY different rules. There's a lot of just slight differentiation between very similar systems.

For instance, there's two kinds of damage, stress and trauma. You can attempt to heal both kinds during combat, but the system for doing so is slightly different for each, as is the system for doing so outside of combat. That's four slightly different systems for essentially the same thing. I think the designers have done some great things, but I wish they had been able to unify these systems a bit more.

This is also one of those systems where it's very difficult to do a some simple things that should be a no-brainer, like running away from a pursuer. On the Story Games forum, in the rules questions topic for Marvel Heroic, there's a 40-post discussion on how to handle a situation where the Vulture tries to fly away from Spiderman. Is 'running away' an action, and 'attempting to prevent it' a reaction? Is "getting far away" a complication imposed by the Vulture on Spiderman? Everyone has their own interpretation. These are not insurmountable difficulties if you have time to think about them, but that's the problem - at the table, you won't have time, and it's difficult to handwave these problems away because of the very important dice economy that the mechanics are really all about. Handwave it away and all the dice rolling you've done in the current scene is made meaningless.

I'm hoping some genius can come up with a simplifying hack. It's a seriously cool game and I really want to play it, but after a week of studying I'm still not sure I know how to run it.

Barking Alien said...

It's really not as complicated as it sounds, though by all mean if you enjoy overcomplicating things be my guest.

For instance, in the above example, is Vulture "getting far away" from Spiderman a complication. Cause that sounds silly. Also, most powers and such in the game have no ranges.

If Vulture wanted to impose that complication on Spiderman (or Spiderman wanted to impose it on himself) by saying Vulture is out of Spidey's webshooting range, it could easily be countered with a Hero Point and a cool excuse.

Otherwise, it's just something you say is happening and then Spidey needs to close the gap between them (this sort of happened in our demo game).

I am already thinking of some really cool new ways to use XP from milestones. Can't wait to try them out and then post the results on my blog.

Risus Monkey said...

@Trey: especially as I see the positive play reports coming in

@Kaptain: oh yes, definitely. I love how it encourages teamwork. I also dig the strategic element.

@Matt: the die mechanic seems fiddler than I suspect it is. At the same time, I worry about how hard it will be to explain it to other players.

@Jesse: I checked out the Storygame thread but I'm not sure that particular issue throws me that much. I'm comfortable with a varie of rulings in that case. Still, I really need to pay the game to see how well it works.

@Barking: yes, milestones are pretty nifty, if a little strange. When making some sample characters, that was the hardest part of the process.

GeneD5 said...

Thanks for the review! This is a good reminder that many of my current role-players would like to return to superheroes (almost regardless of whether we're using Mutants & Masterminds 3e/DC Adventures, Icons, FATE 3e Kerberos Club, or Marvel Heroic Roleplaying)!

Risus Monkey said...

@Gene: I still have never run an actual spurs game. I *really* have the itch.

Dr Rotwang! said...

I just got this for Father's Day. I like it. It reminds me of FATE to a great degree, so being familiar with it helped MHR make more sense to me.

And, yes, you could always use Risus.