Saturday, April 7, 2012

First Thoughts: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

I picked this game up yesterday, having read a lot about it at various blogs that I follow.  I'll be putting up a decent review of it after I fully digest it, but in the meantime I thought I'd as you, gentle readers, a couple of questions.

First, how important is PC balance to you?  Some games have a pretty strong mechanic towards PC balance, usually enforced by a crunch-heavy system.  Others, like Rifts for example, have uber-powerful characters fighting side-by-side with guys who are barely more than everyday humans.  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (which I'll call MHP for short) eschews PC balance to reflect the disparate power levels of its source material.  Hawkeye and Iron Man on the Avengers, or Colossus and Shadowcat on the X-Men.

Frankly, and I may be in the minority about this, but I think it matters a lot.  There's a scene in the inital run of Justice League Europe where Captain Atom flies up to this big evil cloud and just incinerates the entire thing.  As he returns to his group, Metamorpho says, "what are we, your cheerleading squad?"

I think that if you have a game where there are some PC's who are able to do much, much more than the others, than the ones who can't are going to eventually ditch their under-performing PC's for ones that aren't.  And in a no-point-build game like MHP, all you have to do to accomplish that is convince that your new PC Cosmic Lass is just as good a concept as your previous character, Bolo Lass.  And frankly I'm not sure the counter-argument that "mature" players are going to willingly play de-powered characters holds that much water in a game where you are smacking villains most of the time.

Which brings me to my next question?  How should good roleplaying get rewarded?  MHP incentives playing PC's "true to type" by giving them bonus dice when they do.  So if Spider-Man makes wise-cracks while battling a villain, he gets more dice to roll which means he does better.  This is a break from the old model, which tends to reward good roleplaying after the session as an XP bonus of some kind.  MHP still has those XP awards, but they tend to be plot- or task-motivated, e.g. you get a bonus if you quit a team, or help a teammate recover from being emotionally traumatized.  You're still true to type, mind you.

Finally, how important is it to you that you know what your supers PC can do, and how well s/he can do it? What do Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, and Sentry all have in common?  They all have the same stat: d10 Superhuman Strength.  For whatever it is worth, the Thing has it at d12.  Now I'm pretty sure that there is some disparity between the ability to lift heavy objects between those four individuals, but there's no game mechanic to suggest that.  Marvel's ersatz Superman is going to hit you as hard as radioactive spider guy.  I have this suspicion that in gameplay this may actually mean that my aforementioned concerns about balance are misplaced and that everyone is essentially the same level (a d8 or d10).  I've heard reviewers excuse this by saying, "well, how often are you going to have to raise the question of who would win in a arm wrestling match?"

My own personal inclination is to think that there is something inherent to the genre that has players asking how strong, how fast, or how smart is my PC?

Or President Lincoln, for that matter

Okay, that's enough for now.  More ruminating on MHP later.

1 comment:

  1. A year later I'm still trying to understand this poorly written game. It seems like it might be a lot of fun, but also seems to be ripe for abuse as players just need to justify additional dice to get advantages. I dunno.

    As for power balance, everyone seems the same in MHR since there is really no yardstick. But in games where there is a way to compare, yeah: no one wants to play Robin when the other PCs are Thor and Iron Man.


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