Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Events and Milestones

This week I picked up my hardcopy of the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game. I enjoyed reading the pdf and my first attempts at playtesting. And there is a lot to like in this game. I’m a big fan of the way dice pools are generated. The plot point mechanic is also well done and doesn’t trigger the same negative reaction as similar mechanics do in other games. The player facing nature of the choice to trigger your limitations and to use them for plot points works well for me. Initially, my only negative about the game was its complete lack of a character creation system. Of course, MWP has released a random character generation add-on that is pretty neat, so that solves part of that problem. Also, if I were running the game I’d certainly adopt the house-rule I read about somewhere of letting PC heroes take D6 Specialties (I really wish I could remember where I read this, if anyone knows, let me know and I’ll link it). I understand that the game is not really meant to be “grainy” and that the skill and power system is very abstract but I tend to run my superhero games with young heroes and it feels like we need that 3rd level. For example, it weirds me a little that Armor has the same combat ability as Daredevil.

For all the things that I like though, I am not a fan of two parts of the system: Milestones and the Event structure. In some ways the two problems are linked, since Milestones are tied to the Event structure. Events are an easy enough thing to get around. Just ignore them. Run the game in a more traditional structure (or, at least, what is traditional for me…) and simply allow sessions and game events (as opposed to Events) bleed into each other naturally. The comic book structure of story arcs and events is great — for comics — but it really doesn’t reflect how I’d run a game.

Milestones are a little more problematic, in that if you eliminate the Event structure and the Milestones you really change the dynamic of giving out XP and this, in turn, has an effect on things like Unlockables (another part of the Event structure I don’t like…) and PP distribution, since players can spend XP to add PP to their pools.

So what’s the problem with Milestones?

Well, first of all, they can all to easily stop being a useful guide to RP and instead become a boring and gamey set of boxes to check off as the player runs through the event. Not a fan at all of mechanics like that. The second thing is that they can be awkward to come up with. I sat down to convert the characters from a long running Supers game I ran, some supers I’ve played, and then even tried to do it with other characters I’ve played, some with careers of 6+ years of play time, and I was hard pressed to come up with three things to fill up one milestone, much less enough for six lines. And these characters all have good backstories, long play histories, and plenty of personal drama. I think the problem is that Milestones are just really artificial constructs related to the XP mechanic and the Event structure more than useful tools for RP.

Overall, I think I could live with the Event structure of the game — I’d just map it backwards. That is, I think I could probably apply it retroactively to events in the game to keep the structure intact. When running the game though, I’d probably adopt a more traditional method of handing out XP and compensate with a few more PP during game-play (if that even became necessary). The Milestones just don’t work well for my style of gaming as a player or GM.

Is anyone else disappointed with Milestones or the Event structure? Any other thoughts on how to work around them? I’d love to hear any ideas. I hope to run this game at some point soon and some alternatives would be nice.

Thanks for reading.

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14 responses

  1. I think they are good for a series of one shots/short series. A more traditional-esque game, I’m going to find them as frustrating as you do to come up with.

    Something I plan on doing, if I ever use the game is to look at various Keys from The Shadows of Yesterday.

    I know MWP is coming up with more examples, suggestions, etc. For the events. They just put out a random hero generator.

  2. Apparently my comment got eaten.

    I’ve seen a lot of people have this problem, and I think I’ve seen Cam Banks comment that there will be DLC on Milestones and Events creation and suggestions/examples.

    If I were to try and use the system, I’d probably take a look at some of the Keys from The Shadows of Yesterday to be inspirational, basically have one set for “Who You Are” and another for “What you want”.

    The Event structures are what throw me because I rarely am that structured in how I plan things out, so coming up with unlockables to spend XP on is somewhat daunting.

  3. I have not read the game as deeply as you appear to have done. I wasn’t all that fond of the Milestones, but they didn’t bother me either. For me the most questionable thing was placing the focus so directly on Marvel Characters rather than the Marvel Universe (thin chargen system, not wholly addressed by the random generator just released as a ‘perk.’)

    I think the trouble you describe with representing characters from your past games in the format of the game is the real reason why you are having trouble with the Milestones. It’s sort of a question of dimension. I think if you generate characters from scratch with the idea in mind that Milestones will be needed, that you will be able to create interesting and evocative ones. Taking a long-lived character with real history, and a development arc that is represented in the campaign as a whole, not a 2-4 session event is not going to be an easy task. Conversion of this sort almost means stripping the pre-existing character of some of its humanity, to trade for some sort of comic-book authenticity…. or something like that.

    1. Yeah, the Random Character Generator is a nice toy but you are right, the game doesn’t actually have any character generation rules to make your own from scratch at this point. The rules in the book are really about adapting existing Marvel characters, not creating your own.

      And that addresses the Milestone issue. The problem is, Milestones are supposed to flow out of the vast (I wish that echoed) history of these Marvel characters… The Milestones are supposed to be evocative of the long-running histories of characters like Wolverine and Captain America and Iron Man.

      But I have the same problem when I consider how I’d create them for a short term character (or just new character) as well. I feel like Milestones are such a painfully “mechanics-focused” adjunct to roleplaying that they are artificial and strip characters of interesting humanity.

  4. Third time is the charm for me to try and post this comment.

    Apparently my comment got eaten.

    I’ve seen a lot of people have this problem, and I think I’ve seen Cam Banks comment that there will be DLC on Milestones and Events creation and suggestions/examples ala the random character creation.

    If I were to try and use the system, I’d probably take a look at some of the Keys from The Shadows of Yesterday to be inspirational, basically have one set for “Who You Are” and another for “What you want”.

    The Event structures are what throw me because I rarely am that structured in how I plan things out, so coming up with unlockables to spend XP on is somewhat daunting.

  5. I guess part of the problem with Events for me is the same problem I had with 4E being so tied to the Encounter structure. It feels super-gamey to me. I mean, just looking at the “unlockables” (heck, just the fact that there is something called unlockables) in the sample Event…you have things like, “Spend XP and the Sentry will drop in and blast your foes then fly off.” That kind of thing happens in Marvel fighting games on your PS3. I’m not sure I want it happening at the game table. I don’t mind — during game — when a player says, “hey, I’m going to do X” but that’s a far cry from really false-feeling sorts of “Spend XP and get a 1 time drop in bonus.” Not a fan.

    I think, barring a major revelation, that if I run the game I’ll just be dropping the Event structure altogether and just running an ongoing supers game that doesn’t reward/expend XP in quite such a gamey way. It just really puts me off.

    1. Yes, the game is very gamey and in the end, that may be the reason why I find myself not liking it. Black Campbell has been putting up some interesting characters on his blog, mostly conversions of past characters from his games. I imagine he will be able tto make the game work for his group.

      1. Can you give me a link for the stuff Black Campbell has been doing? I’ve been trying to check out everyone who is writing about the game. Thank you.

    2. Well I don’t think it is a game designed for that. From things I’ve read from Cam Banks, I’ve gotten the impression that it is a game written for short highly designed arcs, and that the fact that terms like DLC and specific arc milestones that can be purchased feel more like what we are used to from video games.

      But thankfully – easy enough to strip on out to use the core bits of the system.

      1. Yeah, I wish they had not focused quite so much on the “short, highly designed arcs.” Then again, I suppose they were making a “play Marvel heroes” game not a “superhero” game. So I suppose that they’ve succeeded in their design goal and that’s really what counts.

        That said, it is fairly easy to strip out the stuff you don’t like and the core of the system remains a very solid Super RPG.

    3. All of Black Campbell’s posts on the game (in reverse order by date) can be found here, including a playful attempt at immortalizing his infant daughter in game stats.

  6. I would take a look at some of the work Judd Karlman has done with Milestones:

    http://githyankidiaspora.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/marvel-heroic-role-playing-marvel-milestones/

    Pay attention to Chris Chinn’s (bankuei) examples in the comments, too.

    Milestones are a great idea (basically Keys from TSoY) that weren’t well-implemented. Ralph Mazza has also suggested jettisoning XP entirely and having Milestones be another way to generate PP.

    1. I’m not really a fan of the “Keys” mechanics either. But I’ll certainly check out the links. I’m interested in seeing how others are manipulating this system.

      Thanks.

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