Marvels, Mutants, and the Murder Castle

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Available right now in PDF from DriveThruRPG.com and later this month in print, the new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game is by Margaret Weiss Productions, the same folks who brought you the SerenityBSG and Supernatural rpgs.  More to the point, they are the ones who did the Smallville and Leverage rpgs using a system called CORTEX Plus, a variation on their standard dice pool system from those earlier games that is extensively modified to suit the particular game and genre being emulated. With Smallville, you’ve got dramatic tv series with powers rules that under the hood could do just about anything the awesome indy game Prime Time Adventures can do, though with a more codified tactical structure.  Similarly, from what I’ve seen of the Marvel game, it does a similar job for high action serialized stories (ie comic books, or even, dare I say it, the pulps!).  As PTA is to Smallville, I see Spirit of the Century (or more generically FATE) is to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

Friends of mine worked on the book, and the preview I’ve seen so far looks beautiful.  I ran a demo of the MHR game at my FLGS, The Gaming Goat, this past Saturday.  This was to be part of the official ‘Launch Party’ for the game, but since the print books have been delayed a few weeks, the Goat’s party has been postponed until April.  I showed up, anyway, in case some didn’t get word of the reschedule. Good thing, since two players showed, and a third who was awaiting a later D&D Lair Assault game joined in.  Since we were pressed for time, rather than run the prepared ‘event’, I simply started with my players choosing their demo characters, and followed the premise that suggested; Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine walk into a bar…

My players indulge me and pose for a snap in the costume bits I brought.

Instead of a brutal battle royale with a major villain or two, they faced off with a mob of minor villains, which helped illustrate the way the game deals with multiple opponents and can abstract the mob as a single target when convenient, and multiples when it needs to through the tactical decisions made in using the dice pool.  Also different from most systems, initiative is decided by whomever went last, a process that is kicked off by the GM (called the Watcher).  I started with Spider-man, who unfortunately couldn’t follow through with his web-cages and leaped to the ceiling to avoid the crowd, taking physical stress in the process.

He chose the mob to go next, and they had an ability to attack multiple targets at once, so they rushed Cap, two breaking themselves on his shield, one on Wolverine’s adamantium bones and another on his claws, but they succeeded in pulling Spidey from the ceiling and increasing his physical stress.  Next up I chose Cap, who used a trick with his shield to knock out two more of the mob, leaving the rest to be taken out by Wolverine on his turn next.  Only one turn, but it got the basics across!

As you can see from the picture, I brought a costume bit for each of the demo characters.  Well, that was the plan, but since the party was postponed I didn’t dig up all of them from my Halloween archives so my Captain America chose Daredevil when it came time to take a picture.  I’ll have Cap’s cowl available when the official party comes around.  They didn’t play with the masks on, but indulged me afterwards by putting them on for the photographic proof.  DD is holding a laminated copy of one of the cheat sheets that the demo kit came with.

After that we had to break for the D&D game, which is a shame, since the Lair Assault player wanted me to start another battle!  Everyone seemed to grasp the concepts and were having a good time.  I did have to remind one of the players to think of what he wanted his character to do, first, THEN look at the sheet to determine how to build his dice pool to do it.  In this new iteration of Marvel game, Spider-man CAN do whatever a spider can, and only requires a fairly straight forward and simple character sheet to build the dice pool to do so. Once you wrap your mind around that, the games opens up to some pretty fast-paced action that resembles comics to a surprisingly high degree.

The new Marvel game hasn’t been the only reason I’ve had superhero roleplaying on the mind lately.  I am also prepping the next stage of my ongoing Mutants and Masterminds campaign.

We’ve had new players show up, others move away, and I’ve tried something a little different to get them all integrated into the main group carrying over from ‘season one’.  Which takes me to another MWP product, the Smallville RPG.  Smallville has something called a Pathways character creation system, which involves going through several stages to build your character’s abilities, as well as generating NPCs associated with them (called Extras) and locations for use in the ‘series’.  Now, we’re sticking with M&M 2nd Edition for stats and gameplay (at least for now – I may have to try MHR at some point, if my players agree), but I ran a Smallville-style character generation session to generate the Extras and Locations, and all of the connections between them and the Main Cast (ie, the players).  In this way we could reinforce some of the backstory that we had generated during ‘season one’, summarize it for the new players, and let the new guys plant their own hooks into the mix, giving everyone a reason for being there together.

As is the case for all Pathways sessions, the resulting relationship map is both a mess, and a thing of beauty.  I’ll most likely make another post just about it at some point, once I work the bugs out.  For one thing, since then we’ve had someone else move away, and two – we’ve had three new players join our Thursday night group!  Great for the group, but now I have to figure out how to add them into the Pathways web, and what to do about our resident mage, Lucy Fur (magic cat girl, of course), who left.

One tidbit I have to share, though, involves the HQ they chose for themselves.  As part of a Christmas session, they saved Santa’s workshop (really!) from being destroyed, and were promised an HQ of sorts as a reward.  There were many suggestions, from a hidden subway station ala Blankman, to a hidden floor in the Hancock Tower (nice try – I’ve already got supers living there!).  One of the new players suggested the Murder Castle of H.H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers who built a convoluted, trapdoor-ridden hotel of death that would have made the Winchester House look… well, no the Winchester House would probably still win for weird.  Unfortunately the so-called Murder Castle was destroyed before the turn of the century (the 19th-20th), but why should that stop a perfectly brilliant idea!

So, the Murder Castle it is!  And our Pathways session finished with it being haunted by a ghost connected to our players to boot!  And I was able to dig up partial floor-plans of the place from old newspaper clippings, so they’ve already started choosing rooms!  Awesome!

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