If you have ever had a five minute conversation with me than you know that comic books are one of my favorite things in the world. My gaming group knows that superhero games are my favorite type of rpg. I love my fantasy, horror, and pulp, but it was the original Marvel Superheroes Roleplaying Game (commonly referred to as MSHRPG or the “FASERIP system”) that made me want to run a game and really jump head first into rpgs. When I heard that Margaret Weis Productions had been granted the license for a new game based on the Marvel Universe I was once again twelve years old and anticipating running my players own group of characters in some of my favorite comic storylines. My own original storylines would also need to be supported. Could the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game tell an original or established comic book style story for established or original characters without the rules getting in the way as they seem to from time to time in other systems?
If you have played the Cortex system or perhaps Fate than some of the mechanics may seem a little more familiar to you than if you are coming from only a Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder style game background. I picked up the mechanics quickly and began to catalog Event ideas that I might write after about fifteen minutes of reading the rules. I attribute that to the amazing examples that follow each rule. These immerse you in the Marvel Universe as you read them, but that isn’t all they do. These examples clearly explain how to use the rule and what it looks like in both a narrative and statistical meaning. If you have engaged players who are sensible and a Watcher (that is what the Gamemaster is called) that has a strong sense of the event and what story they want to tell the rules will sort out quickly with group cooperation and storytelling. I am a fan of group storytelling systems that include the GM in a role that includes more than setting up bad guys for PC’s to knock down. The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game appears to deliver.
The character generation rules are light. To some gamers that is not going to be viewed in a positive light. There are lots of different types of gamers and a system that doesn’t lend itself to manipulation and corruption without the stink eye from other players and the Watcher will not be of interest to some. That is fine there are many systems that do that well. If you want to start with your completed character and not build up from a C or B stringer into an Avenger or Justice League member than this system will work for you. Some players will ask how you balance one character vs. another to see that they are equal. That is valid. A suggestion for those concerned is that if your power set has three powers at a D12, D12, D10 then you only have one power set. How about you just create the character that you picture in your head and that is the character you play from the start? There are many examples of characters in the book to draw from and a little imagination you can easily twist, tweak, mod, or hack to your personal taste and vision. I will concede that the majority of the baddies being written up in the Breakout adventure is a little bit of a pain as far as looking to get examples but this is minor. As a tip if you buy the PDF you can cut and paste the characters both heroes and villains into your own reference log. As more characters become available this could really help.
As far as the mechanics go there are five steps of power essentially D4, D6, D8, D10, and D12. Several mechanics and situations exist which may break these dice down into several smaller dice such as a Cyclops Optic Blast at a D10 using its Versatile SFX (special effect) to instead use 2D8 or 3D6. I think that covers a wide enough range to accurately depict the comics. The Thing, Hulk, Juggernaut, and Colossus would all have the same Godlike Strength D12 but the SFX and Limits really alter how each of them applies there strength to situations. The same for durability or any power really, the detail is in the SFX and Limits that you choose to differentiate your character from the thousands of other comic book characters in existence. If you are a details oriented gamer who enjoys working out the exact numbers than you may have a hard time with this at first but if you want enough mechanics to tell a story and not have charts, tables, graphs, and grids get in the way then you will enjoy.
From several factors including Affiliations (Team, Buddy, Solo), power(s) involved, plot points, among others you will build your dice pool and have your action opposed by the Watcher’s doom pool. It is that simple really. If you or the players feel like the heroes are having too easy a time with action scenes then just increase the Watcher’s doom pool. The initiative system may take some getting used to, maturity, courtesy, and a Watcher who takes charge to get smoothed out at first. Once you accomplish handling the inventive mechanic the players must be engaged because you never know which hero or villain could go next. If you ever played the card game Lunch Money the flow of the turns feels similar only with super powers and backstory.
I was surprised by the simplicity of the game to play but the detail that it allows for. I can see myself running many Events and my own home brews with the system. Check out Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game for only $12.99 (it is on sale from now until March 7th for the GM's Day sale for $9.74) for the PDF at DriveThruRpg. The Online Dungeon Master has a Marvel RPG framework for MapTool. Dice Monkey has Datafile write-ups for Rhino, Ultron, and Doctor Octopus as well as several great articles on using the system. Check out the site if you haven't already. You can also check out my interview with Cam Banks, the Lead Design for the game here. Try a new game at the price it can't be beat and look for the Civil War and Age of Apocalypse releases coming up later in the year. Until next time, Roll Hard!
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