Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: The Basic Game (First Thoughts)

Not really a review so much as my initial impressions of the game, I wanted to take a quick tour of the new Marvel Superhero game from Margaret Weis Productions.

First Impression: Physical Appearance and Layout

The book is beautiful. Of course, I only have the PDF, but even so, it’s actually enjoyable to read on my laptop (as opposed to many game PDFs which I often find frustrating to read.) The presentation is clean, the colors are bright and enjoyable to look at without detracting from readability. The visuals in terms of presentation of game content and examples of dice pools, etc. are all well done and the superhero art is well chosen and improves the quality of presentation of the book.

Layout is often a consistent complaint for me with some modern games but the layout and design choices here all seem to enhance the reader experience rather than detract. Also, I haven’t read the book in minute detail yet, just two relatively quick reads for content but the editing of this product seems at first blush to be very well done as well. Poor editing in RPGs is a constant problem and MWP seems to have put in the work on this one to make it great.

Basic Dice Pool and Simple Mechanics Talk

I don’t want to overly analyze the mechanics until I have the chance to actually play the game but on the surface I found them — again, after reading the game — to be interesting and innovative without being divorced from the expectation of players of other RPGs. The dice pool mechanic is a little bit of a mix of a “roll and keep” system with an effect die (like Dragon Age RPG’s Dragon Die). The rolling of 1s on the die is also important to the system and generates dice for the Doom Pool — a collection of dice used by the Watcher in place of Plot Points (which villains don’t have).

The use of plot points can manipulate either of those (the pool/kept dice or the effect die) and in multiple ways. Plot Points are a vital currency of the system flowing back and forth between players and Watcher (the very Marvel term for the GM). In this way I am reminded of the use of points in FATE style games but without all of the baggage that always bothers me in FATE games.

The basic dice pool resolution (with application of Plot Points) covers the majority of actions in the system (including combat) and is easy to keep up with. Whether you make the same connections I did above or you are a relative newcomer to RPG play, this dice system should be simple but robust enough to remain consistently interesting in play.

Heroes, Character Creation, and Powers (and Stuff)

I’ll admit, I’m still learning the powers system. I get the way it works. I think it will work well at the table. But I’m not going to wax on about it beyond saying… I like it, I like how free form and open it is and the availability of crafting powers on the fly. This system seems to make it very easy to balance the game no matter what powers you give to the characters… I think at one point the book mentions that they system is very forgiving and it really is. I think the power system and the hero and villain profiles reflect the comics well. I was impressed with these.

Now, I’ve read a couple of other reviews (here and here) that mention the oddness of the character creation rules. But here’s the thing… if you read the book, there are no character creation rules. Or, at least, there are no rules for “new” heroes. The rules in the book (more like guidelines) are really there to suggest how to make a profile for an existing Marvel character you want to adapt. That’s what they are designed to support. Now, can you make original heroes with this? Absolutely. But it’s not what the book is set up for and if you are looking for any kind of “balanced system” that tells you “how many powers you can have, etc.” you won’t find that here.

Other Notes

This is my first Cortex system game (I played the Leverage Quick Start but that hardly counts). I had put off diving into the game because, as much as I love Firefly and Leverage, I knew I would never get to play them, so I had no impetus to buy them. But superhero games are an easy sell to me — and the Marvel Saga System (old card-based version of the game) is probably still my all time favorite superhero game. The best thing I can say for this game is that if it performs as well at the table as it seems like it will in the book, it will easily become my new favorite.

Except for one thing. I wish it had been DC. Because now I have another Marvel System I have to convert all the DC characters I love into because they aren’t here… Oh well, I guess I should get on that.


7 responses

  1. I’m not much on superhero games, but your discussion of the mechanics has me intrigued. I might pick it up. Great review.

    1. I tried out a few sample rolls and actions last night. Played around with the dice pools and stuff. It was a lot of fun.

  2. did you order it from margaret weis productions? the only option i have for purchase appears to be a hardcopy which requires 25$ shipping and handling. did the pdf come with the purchase of a hardcopy? or is there some way to purchase just a pdf that I am missing (which would not be the first time 🙂 )

  3. Try this link.

    This is where I bought it and it still says 12.99

    Good luck. It’s a cool game.

  4. The game is great. It is a different take on superhero rpg than more rules intensive systems like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds. If you are used to point limits to check yourself instead of solid story and character concept than look elsewhere. I did an interview with Cam Banks, Design Lead on the game and if you want to check out more info here it is. Great look at the game.

  5. Thanks for the interview link. That’s great.

    I’m definitely a fan of games that “trust” the group more than legislate to them. Don’t get me wrong, I think M&M is a great superhero game — for people who want to have that attention to balance and math. I don’t.

    After a little playtesting I’ve realized that I like the aspect of the game that lets me play with the scene and the action but I’m not as fond of the constant shuffling of dice and PP back and forth across the table… that distracts me as a player and a GM and makes the “exchange” start to seem more important than what triggered that exchange… maybe I need to write a post about this…

    Ah well. I do think it’s a very clever game and one I could really enjoy playing.

    1. We feel absolutely the same about the best and most intriguing part of M&M was the few opportunities for the players to adjust environment and some effects on the fly. The shifting of PP and dice around will be a bit clunky until you get the hang of it. The funny part about dice shuffling is player superstitions about their dice. Superhero has always been my favorite genre of rpg so I am biased in hopes of greatness always but this system just needs for the Watcher and heroes to find their rhythm with it. I can’t wait to read more of your thoughts on this and what you find out during play.

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