Thanks to the support of Margaret Weis Productions I was able to take a look at the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game. As a veteran comic fan I was happy to have a chance to actually try out a new RPG based on some of my favorite stories. To share my experiences, let me present my review !
If you check out the rulebook the first thing you will note that it’s gorgeous. The artwork is great, and the layout seems really good. The book is also filled with references and examples, so I think it’s prefect in this regard.
I have to note, that it’s system is most likely entirely different from what you would think about a super-hero RPG. The main focus of the game is shared storytelling, and therefore game statistics are often taking a backseat. This is mainly an issue with powers, as they are pretty bland in themselves, and they are gaining their colors only by storytelling. Without that a bunch of adamantine claws or fire blast will be exactly the same.
That means that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has an entirely different approach to the super-hero genre than it’s rivals. It’s features a very flexible system in the result, but if you want to know if the Thing or the Hulk is the stronger bruiser, or how fast could Quicksilver arrive from London to Tokyo then it won’t be the system for you.
The game uses the Cortex Plus System, which involves different dice pools and some other assets like Plot Points and XP. When a character tries to do something (hacking a computer, knocking out an enemy, winning a diplomatic meeting) he takes several dice to his pool including : 1 dice for Affiliations, 1 for Distinctions, 1-1 for each Power Set, 1 for an appropriate Specialty, and maybe several other die based on things like resources, stunts or other things.
Affiliations represent if your character is best at working solo, in a group, or with a partner. Distinctions represent your characters background and personality, which could help or hamper you. Take-charge Attitude maybe an asset in face-to-face combat, but it won’t help in many diplomatic issues. Power Sets represent the super-human abilities and equipment of the heroes, why Specialties represent training in different areas.
After the roll some of the dice decide if the action was successful, another decide it’s effect, while the rest is lost. Any rolls of 1 is exception from this, as they couldn’t be used for anything, but they provide opportunities to your opponent.
Another thing is worth mentioning is the Power Points, as the so called currency of the game. Basically players receive PP if they suffer some setback (including if they chose to be hampered by their limitations), and they spend it to make stunts, gain additional dice and activate special abilities among others.
What I really like is that the game rewards imagination. Do you want an extra dice because you just push your limits ? You gain a d6. Do you have an explanation how could you increase your results ? Thats a stunt which gives you a d8 instead. Creative use of your limits are giving you extra PP for the critical encounters. Maybe Spider-Woman gets exhausted now, but next time you may ignore some toxins thanks to your immunity of pend a PP on a stunt.
Overall the greatest asset of the system of it’s flexibility, which enables you to do anything which is plausible in that encounter. On the other hand it needs a lot of work and thinking for the players and even more for the Game Master. Also, the use of the Dice Pool is very complex with a lots of thing adding or replacing dice here and there.
Without spoiling much, the short Breakout Event (adventure) in the book features a mass breakout from the Raft, enabling the players to face many different threats. I think it really helps to show, how to structure and create your own Events, including Acts, Milestones and opposition.
Of course, you may (and should) personalize the Breakout Event itself, and the developers included several useful ideas and suggestions to do exactly that.
I really think that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is a very interesting game, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you want shared storytelling where anything goes, and a you don’t mind the Dice Pool and the somewhat simplified and abstract game effects then it’s a game for you. I give it 4/5 points myself.
If you would like to take a look yourself, the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game is available on DriveThruRPG, on this link.
Zoltán “Cain” Mészáros