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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.

[5 of 5 Stars!]