Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Warlock's Review: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (First Impressions)

As I mentioned in my C2E2 recap, I was lucky enough to pick up a copy of a game that I've been eyeing up for quite a while:  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, from Margaret Weis Productions.  While we haven't had a game night to give the game a whirl, I couldn't help but put down my first impressions of the product. 

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
from Margaret Weis Productions
First off, this book is gorgeous.  Obviously, one of the biggest advantages of any comics-licenced property is the massive stable of art that the layout gang is able to pull from, but the choices here are really inspired.  Pulling from some of the best of Marvel's bullpen over the last decade or so, MWP really raises the bar for the feel of a full-power comic book.  The book itself emphasizes this feel, coming in a graphic-novel sized full color paperback that almost feels like you're reading an Avengers trade paperback.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is nominally based on the Cortex+ system, used by MWP in the Leverage and Smallville rpgs, though takes a few different spins with it.  A pseudo-dice pool system, MHR rates a hero's powers, skills, and natural distinctions on a scale of d4 up to d12+, which are rolled together.  The two highest dice results are added together to get a result, which is opposed by the target's roll, while a third die type represents the effect of the attempt.  The higher the die type, the more effective the attack is.  Any die showing "1" is called an "opportunity", which allows the opposing faction a chance to act in opposition.

Coupled with this, the hero can conditionally add in more dice to their pool by creating assets and power stunts, through various "SFX" unique to the Hero's power set, using Power Points, and through the hero's affiliation.  Is your hero on a solo mission?  Toss in your solo die.  Are you paired-up with a single other hero, Heroes for Hire style?  Add in the buddy die.  While I like the concept of affiliation--particularly for emulating various types of combat and encouraging players to "split the party" and achieve multiple objectives simultaneously--it's easily the most discardable mechanic.  A multitude of system hacks already exist to refit affiliations into other cases.

Also of note is the "Doom Pool"--a set of dice representing the tension and conflict built into the given scenario.  As players roll opportunities, the Doom Pool begins swelling, allowing the GM--called The Watcher--to trigger villains' abilities and add dice to their attacks.  From a wicked GMing stand point, I love this mechanic.  While it took me a touch to understand all of the uses of the Doom Pool, it really makes for a neat way to make things hard on the PCs.  Plus, use of the Doom Pool typically refreshes heroes' Power Points, which gives the players an incentive to take risks and try stunts, even if they don't pay off.

Hawkeye and Thor! 
We want stats!
The rules for MHR only take up about 120 pages, while the remainder of the book consists of a mini-campaign arc based on Brian Michael Bendis' "Breakout" arc from Avengers and a series of datafiles on popular Marvel heroes.  While I was fairly pleased with the sample adventure, I did have some questions in my mind about the heroes contained within the datafiles.  While the typical Marvel mainstays are there--Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Captain America--there are several notable absences!  No Hulk?  No Thor?  No Hawkeye?  No Wasp or Giant Man?  Is X-Men D-lister Armor really that important as to include them over some of the original Avengers?  Same thing with Sentry, particularly considering he's considered to be an NPC during "Breakout".  While supplemental "event books" are already in the works, based on "Civil War", "Annihilation", and "Shadowland", it would have been nice to see some of the classic Marvel stable, as opposed to more obscure characters.

I also worry somewhat about the ability for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying to portray a darker, more visceral game.  While the game is perfect for encouraging over-the-top action of the current era in comics, I can't see myself running a Watchmen-esque game using this system.  I guess that's good for me!

The PlatinumWarlock's first cosplay?
Time will tell!
However, I also thought of another style of game that might just be great for this:  a Masters of the Universe game.  The over-the-top stunting and team-based mechanics really would make for a great representation of He-Man, working with the various Masters against Skeletor's forces.  I've been meaning to do one of these for a while, and this system just might be the ticket.

Plus, it'd give me a chance to show off my latest--yes, another one--project!  For a few years now, the PlatinumChick has been slowly nudging me towards doing cosplay with her.  And, after seeing some of the great costumes at C2E2, I think I finally know what I might do.  I'm going to start working this month on a Man-at-Arms costume, complete with armor, mace and big-ass blaster!    I'll be sure to keep you guys updated on my progress, of course.  Pics or it didn't happen, right?

Anyway, as for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying?  It's a fantastic little system, with the flexibility of an ICONS coupled with the storytelling capacity of Marvel comics.  While it has a few flaws--set to be remedied in upcoming supplementals no doubt--I'm definitely looking forward to giving this one a whirl!

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