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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War Fifty State Initiative
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Ashley M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/31/2012 14:56:19
This book is about the government sponsored pro-registration teams that were formed after the SHRA was passed. The book's in three chunks, one about the Initiative (a team in every state), another about the Thunderbolts (poachers turned gamekeepers) and the last one about Heroes for Hire (bounty hunters). There's also a shed load of data files.

The Initiative section is half good, half mystifying. The first chunk is about Camp Hammond. This is the place where newly registered and inexperienced heroes go to get trained. Trained so they don't make the sort of mistakes Spidey did trying to save Gwen Stacey. They're also taught enough about ethics so you don't end up like Wolverine. There are a couple of action scenes covering aspects of training and their first serious mission. There are enough data files in the back of the book to gather together a young team, chuck them in and see what happens. So far so good. Now the mystery begins...

The rest of the Initiative section is an outline of some of the Initiative teams. We have the Rangers and the Great Lakes Avengers/Champions amongst others. Each team gets a quick - page long - description, a guide to playing them and a set of Watcher character data files. Er, Watcher data files? Why? What are they for? Why not player data files? Is it so the Watcher gets to play Squirrel Girl (not a bad thing to be honest, after I finish writing this review she's being transcribed to a player data file ASAP)? There doesn't seem to be any explanation of what this section is actually for. Maybe these is an explanation somewhere but I haven't found it in a couple of readings. I suppose one use would be to give anti-registration heroes something to complicate their lives. Anyway, I found the reasoning a bit lacking - your experience may vary though!

The second section is about the Thunderbolts. They're villains given the choice of helping round up anti-registration heroes or rotting in the hell-hole of Project 42. It gives a quick overview of who and what they are at the time of Civil War and mentions that they eventually end up under the control of one Norman Osbourne. There's a couple of good action scenes and the playable data files for enough undesirables (Venom and Bullseye fans rejoice!) to give you a really strong springboard to start a Thunderbolts campaign. The data files also include a few nice milestones which help you visualise the internal conflicts and motivations of the characters. All in all well chuffed by this section.

The third section is about Heroes for Hire - a bunch of mercenary heroes hired to round up anti-registration heroes. Unlike the Thunderbolts this lot are in it for the money, not because they want to avoid prison and/or reform. Again there are a couple of cool action scenes and data files for the key members of the team. These data files also have good milestones and as a Watcher you can develop a decent amount of conflict between team members AND internal conflict for the team member. For example would Black Cat shop Spidey or let him go? Which way does her emotional compass point at this time? And yes, this means that you've got official data files now for a Black Cat/Spidey combo in games outside the Civil War. What's not to like?

The final section are data files. Some I'd heard of, others I hadn't. With 8,000 characters in the Marvel universe I'm not surprised. Most of them look fun to play and have evocative distinctions and milestones. For me Moonstone sticks out as someone interesting (and not just her picture which is in the best bottle-fed tradition of Super Hero art). She's sufficiently conflicted as to make anyone who thinks super heroes are one dimensional a reason to think again.

My final comment is that the book is a bit short for the price. I know, small doesn't necessarily mean low quality or lack of utility. I don't begrudge having paid the cash as there's still a lot to use but the Initiative teams just feel like filler.

So I'll drop a point for the size, drop another for the second half of the initiative section me add one back for Black Cat, Moonstone and Squirrel Girl.

PS: There's been an update recently which has addressed the fuzzy art issues and the lack of printer friendly data files. Hurrah, those really narked me so I'm glad they've been fixed.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War Fifty State Initiative
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Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
by Ashley M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/17/2012 08:34:21
I got to play this at a convention back in March and while it wasn't a life changing experience it was a lot of fun. When I got home I laid out for the PDF, was generally impressed and I've GMed about 20 hours of the game.

So first off let's deal with the bad bits. Or rather bad bit. Had it not been for the game I played at the con it would have taken me a lot longer to get the hang of the rules. The order they're presented in and the way you have to keep hunting all over the rulebook to find a particular facet of a rule is, for me, a nightmare. It's not the Necronomicon of RPGs but my sanity did feel a bit dented afterwards. "HULK SMASH!" and "PUNY AUTHOR" probably summarise my frustration.

However this is balanced out by the good bits. First the system...

Anyone that's played a so-called player controlled narrative game will get the hang of this real quick. At it's core it's a dice pool system. You assemble a pool from the descriptive traits of your character, narrating how each one helps you achieve your goal. If you've played and liked the systems in "Dogs in the Vineyard" (traits are attributes, traits and relationships), "HeroQuest" (traits are abilities) or perhaps "FATE" (traits are aspects, including scene aspects) you'll be at home here.

Then when you get your dice pool there's what looks like a load of mechanical crunch and options affecting how you interpret the dice rolled. However that's the rule book running you all over the shop to find what the options mean - see my one complaint for details. As a player though a quick explanation of the rules, your Hero's Data File (that's character sheet to you and me) and copy of the player's reference sheet is enough to get playing.

When you get the hang of it (give it an hour or two) play speeds up to the point where, with creative players who embrace the genre, you'll be turning out a panel's worth of story every minute or so. Yes, it's that fast.

Secondly thing is the way the game represents the power levels of the different characters. There's always been the problem in superhero games of representing the Hulk or Abomination at one end of the spectrum and The Black Widow at the other. Various solutions have been tried (logarithmic attributes is one dimly remembered nightmare from DC Heroes, exponentially increasing derived attributes another from Villains and Vigilantes) but none seemed to get it right for me. In this game traits aren't rated by some absolute measure but by how they effectively they can be applied in conflicts - just like "DiTV", "HeroQuest" and all those other subversive indie games out there. So Iron Man can lift more than Spider-man but both have the same strength rating in the game as they're equally effective applying strength in conflicts.

Not only that but as all traits are equivalent in game mechanical terms. If Spiderman lets off a few wisecracks he can counter Captain America's Enhanced Strength but Cap, being one of the top five fighters in the world (TM) can counter Spidey's Superhuman reflexes in return.

And you can handle things that aren't involved in conflicts using "narrative common sense"; by describing things in genre. Spidey, with his Superhuman Strength, can support one corner of a 10 story building on his shoulders for a couple of minutes to let the people inside escape while Thor with his Godlike Strength can hold any building in New York up as long as it takes to get the contractors in, brace it, lay new block work and re-plumb the toilets. If Cap tried it he'd a stain oozing out from under the rubble.

The third thing is the way players and the GM can influence the narrative. The players use things called plot points ("The Script is with me!") while the GM has a pool of dice (cue twirly moustache). Both turn over really fast (Heroes can gain a plot point every time they act) and can be used to aid various acts of Heroism and Villainy. They're similar to FATE points, Hero Points, Action Points, Fan Mail, ad nauseum in other games.

The fourth thing is the way experience works. XP in this game are generally used to buy ephemeral plot based things. So the first time the Fantastic Four faced down Galactus it could have been interpreted as Torch's player blowing 10XP on gaining access to the location of the Ultimate Nullifier. In the example adventure a couple of the unlockables are having the SHIELD Helicarrier arrive at an opportune moment or getting the Sentry to rip Carnage in half.

You gain XP by doing things in character or related to the story. Each action you gain XP for represents a choice your character has to make. The harder the choice the more XP. So Torch gets XP for whenever he has to choose between being a Hero or a dilettante at a party with his girlfriend. Choose the Hero and his girlfriend might leave him, choose the party and the rest of the Fantastic Four won't be too impressed. However making the choice nets him experience.

The final thing that really impressed me was character generation. The rules are basically "decide what you want your hero to be, write it down, play it." And I've found giving the players this freedom means they don't take the mickey that much - they followed Spidey's mantra of "With great power comes great responsibility." This makes it incredibly easy to come up with a character that works the way you want although I'd recommend playing the game as a vanilla canon character before unleashing Rat Man and Vole Boy onto the world so you get a handle on what's interesting and effective.

Anyway, the game gets a 5. Maybe I should have marked it down for the rubbish organisation but I don't want people to think that this is less than a superb game. While it may not say "Face it Tiger, you've just hit the jackpot" when it arrives on your front door it's well worth a play.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Basic Game
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