I had to give it a little thought on what to review this week, and decided to do my first RPG review. This wasn’t an easy decision to be honest – I mean there have been a fair number of really good role-playing games released in the last while, each deserving of a fair shake.
So that brings me to the subject of my review this week. Now I’m a big (ok…huge) fan of RPGs which seek to tell a good story, and give you the tools you need to do so. I’m not looking for pages and pages of new feats, powers, or anything like that. What I am looking for are new and interesting ways to bring about a good story.
That true believers is exactly what Margaret Weis Productions‘ newest licence does. You won’t find reams of pages detailing how you can give your character the Uber Eye Rays of Doom, or how much punishment they will be able to take. In my minds eye, that is not what is most important thing about a Superhero game. The hero is the most important bit, and the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game puts the core of the character front and centre, not their powers.
Capitalizing on their successes with the Leverage and Smallville licences, MWP has crafted a game that can easily support almost any Superhero story you could want. That is the key here though, this is very much a game about the story of being these heroes. In my opinion every rule contributes to the creation of this story. I won’t go into the nitty gritty bits of the system, as there are already a large number of other reviews, a couple of which are here and here.
The largest contributors to this feel of story creation are the Doom Pool, Plot Points and the Initiative system. The Doom Pool is basically the “catch all” opposition pool which the Watcher (MHP’s name for the GM) rolls when the Players are not actively opposing one of the NPCs. This pool shrinks and grows, similar to the Drama Pool from Smallville, and gives a visual representation of the level of tension in the current Act.
As I mentioned above, this Doom Pool grows and shrinks throughout the act based on what happens in the course of the Act. The primary method in which the pool grows is anytime the players roll a 1. The Watcher may then choose to hand over a Plot Point to the player, and add a d6 to the Doom Pool. If more than one 1 come up, then the Watcher may add in more d6s, or step up a die that is already in the pool. The Watcher is also able to spend dice from this pool to activate Villain powers, add in scene elements, and even “force” an end to a scene in some dramatic fashion.
I’ve briefly mentioned already Plot Points, which I am a big fan of. The mechanic itself isn’t new – it’s featured in all the other Cortex based properties, and is a similar mechanic to Fate Points from FATE, and Bennies from Savage Worlds. In Cortex, and in particular MHP, they are invaluable to the players in adapting the story to their wishes. Using Plot Points, players are able to influence their rolls (by adding in extra dice to the pool they roll, “keeping” an extra die on their total, and host of other uses). In MHP they are also used to power SFX - which are special applications of one of the heroes’ powers. They can also be used to create new assets and scene details to assist, or hinder, the plot.
Perhaps the most unique thing about MHP however is the way they handle initiative. There’s no real “combat” system as such in the game, which is nice. Rather, anytime there’s some kind of conflict, the table decides who goes first in a given conflict. That person performs their action, and then passes initiative onto the next person they think should go. While I haven’t had a chance to try it in practice yet, it smacks of an initiative system I adore which appears in the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space game from Cubicle 7. This system really captures the feel of a comic story I find.
That all said, the weakest part of the game would be the creation of your own heroes. By weakest I don’t mean disappointing though, I only wish there was a little more meat here. That said however, what we do have is a very clean and versatile system which focuses on the story aspect of the character, and not so much on what they can do. The only downfall with the system is the reliance on the group to “balance” itself. Then again though, this would be very much in line with the comics of the day, where you’ll have relatively “low” powered heroes right alongside truly “super” heroes – but the spot light shines equally on all of them.
At the end of the day, I think MHP is a fantastic game which really emulates the genre of comic book action. I really look forward to having a chance to run it. To that effect, I’m considering running it via Google+ Hangouts. Feel free to contact me for more details on this.
You can get Marvel Heroic Roleplaying right now via PDF at Drivethrurpg.com where it’s currently 25% off as part of their GM’s Day sale. You can also order directly from MWP the hard cover of the game (US and Canada only from what I’ve heard).
Over all, I’m going to give the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game