Monday, March 5, 2012

Make Mine...Marvel? Maybe


This is the first and last word I heard from many a mouth at the
Marvel Heroic Launch Party on Saturday, March 3rd for the release of Margaret Weis Productions new Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game. I was a co-GM at the event. 'Co' because after a week or so of trying to understand the rules I could only comprehend about 15% of them. Thankfully my friend and fellow NerdNYC GM James took the reins and really did all the hard work.

Unfortunately, due to some printing or shipping snafu or other, the game itself was not available for purchase. Pity. I would very much have liked to buy it and the reasons are both positive and less so.

So what the heck is Marvel Heroic?

The Marvel Heroic RPG is a variant on the Cortex System, the 'house' system used by Margaret Weis Productions for its various role playing games such as Leverage and the licensed games of Smallville, Battlestar Galactica and Serenity. Now I am only generally familiar with the mechanics of those other games, having played a single session of Serenity and having looked at Leverage for not more than a few minutes. Those more familiar with Cortex tell me Marvel has some shared characteristics but it actually quite another animal.

It is a game heavy on narrative storytelling techniques and light, very light in fact, on what most gamers are used to from an RPG. Oddly, I found the game extremely hard to wrap my head around even though I am an indie-gaming, storytelling kind of guy. Why? Well there are a few reasons I will get to later but the main thing was and is this...

It's a Superhero Comic Book RPG for Comic Book fans not for Superhero Comic Book RPG gamers.

Look at the Supers RPGs that have wowed gamers and taken the lion's share of the market. Basically, Champions and Mutants & Masterminds. Steve Kenson, creator of M&M, made another Supers game called ICONS to much fan fare and you hardly hear about it now. Why? Too simple. Not enough fine detail for the Superhero gamer.

Yes, in a given scene in any given comic book we don't really know if Spider Woman is stronger than Iron Man or if the Thing moves faster than the Abomination but in a game, you do know these things. In Champions and M&M, the preferred favorites, you know all about the specific advantages, disadvantages, bonuses, limitations, speed, carrying capacity and many other minute details of your character and his or her powers, abilities, equipment, etc. Supers games that are popular are also crunchy.

Even someone like me, who generally dislikes a lot of crunch, seems to like it in Superhero RPGs. Why? Not sure. Maybe it provides answers to those age old questions that eternally plague our schoolyards like, can Thor beat up Superman? Who knows? Let's stat them up and find out.

Marvel is a 360 degree spin kick to the head to that way of thinking. It is a game of vagueness. It is a game not unlike
Risus, where cliches/knack/skills like 'Straight Shooter' and 'Girl Next Door' are valid and even encouraged game mechanics.

At the same time a system of rules much more complex then Risus is in play. There are very specific means of forming the dice pool you roll to determine if you accomplish what you wanted to and how well. There are rules for the GM (called The Watcher) to determine how miserable he can make the heroes lives. The Plot Points of the game are not the typical Hero Points found in most but a much more distinct form of game-mechanic economy, spent to improve your chance of success, maximize your effect, buy off disadvantageous situations or execute special effect maneuvers.

Dang, I am running late for the real world and not nearly finished with my review and ponderings on this most unusual and quite intriguing game. Oh well, I shall continue my musings later this evening.

Excelsior everybody!

Barking Alien


  1. A cliffhanger. I like your take on the Supers Game vs comic books. I'm a fan of both and often have difficulty translating the comic book into the game.
    I look forward to the rest of the review. As a long time game, squishy mechanics make squirm.

  2. Again I want to be clear...the reason this game amazes me so is rather complex. I prefer squishy mechanics over crunchy...just not for supers. And yet this games, with its bizarre 'thick n' squishy' nature, really seems to work well.

    More to come.

  3. It pretty much turns Super game standards inside-out. I've been trying to organize my thoughts on it too and that's the best way I can describe it. The crunch is in the mechanics of actually playing the game, not so much in the characters, which is completely different than most Super RPG's.

    I see what they were trying to accomplish, I'm just not sure they achieved it. Regardless, it's an interesting thing to read and experience.

  4. The more I think about it the more I like it but it honestly takes some thinking about.