Civil War (Essentials)
A Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game Supplement
by Margaret Weis Productions
Civil War is the first supplement for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. It details the events and characters involved in the crossover event that occurred across a number of comic lines within the Marvel Universe. The Essentials version covers only the Civil War, and does not have the rules presented in the MHRG rulebook.
Disclosure: I was given a review copy of the game by Margaret Weis Productions.
Civil War is a campaign, supplement, covering the entire Civil War story arc, and is expected to run for months or more. The book for the most part is a game master resource and is not for player use. The first section discusses the event itself, and breaks it down into three acts. Each act covers a section of the Civil War, from the leadup to the Superhuman Registration act, to the enforcement of the act itself, to the aftermath itself. This is a major campaign, and the aftermath of the Civil War can lead to major changes if you are using it as part of a more personal campaign. The status quo of the setting can be shifted significantly.
New rules are introduced to the game. Advanced Troupe Play is used to provide players with the ability to have an arsenal of characters under their control. Rather than having XP given to each character, each player gathers Experience Points, which can be used on any characters he controls. This allows the player the freedom to switch characters between events or sessions, without having any character hindered because of it. This is also useful if you want to explore both sides of the Civil War - some heroes can be on the side of the registration act, while others may be against it, and players can use characters on either side of the act over the course of the campaign.
More depth is provided on Scene Distinctions and Complications. The game master can set a number of Distinctions on a scene, allowing them to be used either by the heroes or their enemies. These act as normal Distinctions, and the game master is allowed to add new ones to a scene by spending a d8 or better from the Doom Pool, increasing the ante in the scene to hinder the characters. In addition, the game master is reminded that villains can use effect dice to do things other than target heroes. These dice can create Complications, forcing a hero to make tough decisions during a scene. Characters can act to reduce the Complications or remove a Distinction from a scene. Suggestions are also made on how to make such things interactive, allowing heroes and NPCs to spend PP to gain new tricks.
Next, the chapter discusses what happens when heroes battle one another. This can get very personal, and the rules discuss how the game master should arbitrate such conflicts. There are suggestions on defeating opponents without inflicting stress or trauma, allowing the player characters to battle one another witching having to cripple potential allies and friends.
NPCs and 'Specialty Characters' are discussed next. In the Civil War, there are a number of forces at play, and the game suggests that players should be allowed to play specialty NPCs who are allied with their characters. If you have a PC who is a member of SHIELD, then it can be expected that the player can also handle the SHIELD Agents that are working under him. These can be used as normal NPCs, or can act as a persistent Asset (providing a die bonus to the character they are supporting).
Personal Opinion: These rules are helpful, but not essential, to running the Civil War. Some of these are just reminders of rules which may be easily overlooked from the main rules, while others are just solid ideas for making the game run more smoothly.
The next Chapter discusses how some mechanics interact with the Civil War. The first thing discussed is the Super Human Registration Act, and why someone would be on one side of the Act or another. It discusses what is at stake, and how things may play out if the Act passes or fails. It is not a given that the Act would pass or fail, the option is placed in the hands of the game master and the players, depending on what kind of story you want to tell.
This chapter has a number of milestones - 12 are prevented right at the opening, detailing different aspects of the Civil War, and provides options for the players, to help them invest their characters in the campaign. A few of these milestones are presented as either pro- or con- SHRA, but there are a number of milestones which can be used by either side.
Next, the supplement discusses the factions that are involved in the Civil War. Atlantis, SHIELD, Hydra, A.I.M., Wakanda, and the Illuminati are all detailed, with NPCs, milestones, and unlockables that the players can invest in to gain an advantage with one faction or another. On top of these factions, there are other forces in play - the media. Characters can ally with the media (the Daily Bugle and the Alternative are provided as examples), and can gain allies, unlockables, and milestones related to the media to help further their cause.
Locations are provided, with Distinctions associated with them. These are useful for helping to flesh out a scene, and provide the heroes and their opponents with opportunities within the scene. A number of key locations are listed, as well as alternate suggestions that can be used in the game for those who are unfamiliar with New York and Washington DC.
Personal Opinion: There is a lot of crunch here, providing the game master with the many forces that are at play during the Civil War. The write-ups look good, and providing the players with unlockables and milestones gives the players an investment in the campaign. A very solid chapter.
The next three chapters detail the campaign. They discuss important scenes and how these scenes are broken down, along with important hooks for these scenes. Important NPCs and enemies are presented, and options are given for alternatives in how the scenes can play out or how you can tailor the scene for specific characters or events.
Personal Opinion: The way that the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game plays out is different than many other roleplaying games. The breakdown between action scenes and transition scenes flows differently than many other games. Action scenes are where a lot of the conflicts and dice rolls are used, while transition scenes act as links where characters can roleplay and players can catch their breath. While these breakdowns may seem artificial, the point is to give the players the feel of a comic book, where every scene has a point, helping to further the story, rather than providing a more natural flow. I can't judge whether this is good or bad, just that it is significantly different. As a new game master to MHRG, I need to find my own rhythm, and I have not had the experience to run in this fashion.
The next chapter deals with NPCs, covering those who would be encountered by the players over the course of the event. Many of these may be allies or enemies - it really depends on the characters and what side they are on. These NPCs are minor characters, but can be used as PCs to provide greater challenge, or could be possibly unlocked as allies for the players during the course of the campaign.
The following chapter deals with the core heroes, the big players in the game. Two are unlockable -- Namor the Sub Mariner and the Black Panther. These two characters are rulers of nations in their own right, and thus are unavailable as PCs 'out of the box'. Everyone else, however, are potential PCs, and are designed in that fashion. Of course, players don't need to play these individuals, they can make their own characters if they wish, but there are an enormous number of characters fleshed out for player use.
Personal Opinion: I kind of wish the Hulk had been listed here, but he wasn't around in the Civil War (having been launched into space...). Still, there are a number of characters, including some I've never heard of before. Combine this with the heroes and villains presented in the actual Civil War chapters (such as Doctor Doom), and you find yourself with more than enough characters to handle the Event and more to come later.
Final Opinion: This is a solid sourcebook. Not only is it a campaign, it is also a hero guide. One thing I have to say about this is that writing up supplement books in this fashion is a good idea. The NPCs and heroes presented are listed as they were in the Event, and if another Event is done, the NPCs and heroes can be presented with altered traits to match the Event as well, showing how characters shift and evolve over time. This also means that, while you may have redundant character sheets, you also do not need to worry about any specific character being 'dated' by changes in canon continuity. Pick the version you are most comfortable with, and enjoy yourselves. The sourcebook overall impresses me, and I think it has been laid out in a logical fashion. I recommend this book as an excellent example of how to set up a long-term campaign using the Heroic Roleplaying System, and provides enough PCs and NPCs for the game master to use in other Events or in their own campaigns.
Layout: 8/10 Good use of space, well organized, good text size.
Art: 8/10 Recycled from comics, but good choice of artwork.
Coolness: 9/10 Cool concept, excellent ideas.
Readability: 8/10 Easy to read, well organized, flows nicely.
Content: 9/10 Almost completely a GM's book, but filled with useful information and tips, NPCs, suggestions, and aids to make for an excellent campaign.
Text: 9/10 Good font size, easy to follow, useful charts and margin notes.
Fun: 9/10 A very good adventure, and an excellent introduction to Marvel.
Workmanship: 9/10 It is quite obvious that thought was put into this game, with an eye on the players.
System: 9/10 A very solid system, able to handle quite a lot.