Sunday, March 04, 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying - First Thoughts

First a caveat. This is a preliminary review as while I’ve read the rules, I haven’t had a chance to actually play the game. Actual gameplay will likely differ to some degree to my expectations, so I am trying to base my thoughts on what I can infer from a reading.

MHRG is a Cortex Plus game, meaning it uses a variant of the Cortex System, first seen in the Serenity RPG, then later in games such as Leverage and Smallville. Like the various Cortex Plus games the system was designed to work specifically with this genre. In Cortex, various characters scores are represented by dice, such as a d8 or d10. Unlike many traditional RPGs, MHRG doesn’t break down characters into stats like Strength of Dexterity. It takes a very high-level view, one that some gamers will probably hate.

The core mechanic of MHRG is the dice pool. Unlike Serenity, where you take a die for stat and a die for a skill, maybe throw in a die for an asset (a special advantage) and roll them for the result, in MHRG you add dice to your pool from several different sources and roll them. The downside of this is that I foresee players needing more dice, especially with the way the roll is read. If a group plays around the table and don’t mind using each other’s dice it would make things easier. And because of the Doom Pool (the GM’s dice pool which ebbs and grows), the GM will likely need a few more sets of dice.

The dice mechanic will probably have a slightly higher learning curve, as part of it is counter-intuitive (one of the results is determined by the die type, not what is actually rolled on the die). Plot points and Doom Dice will have a steeper learning curve, as it may take a while for GMs and players alike to learn all the ins and outs.

Characters are painted in broad strokes. This means there is little variation in certain aspects of characters. For example, the skill system (called Expertise) has just two tiers of skill, Expert (d8) and Master (d10). This is probably to let a character such as Daredevil play in the same game as Thor. It still strikes me a too little variation and will be one of the first things I’ll house rule, adding d6 and d12 tiers.

There is no character generation system. There are some guidelines for modeling characters from the Marvel universe, but the expectation is that you’ll play actual Marvel characters. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest shortcomings of the game. The advancement system is pretty sparse as well, as XP seems more for building power-ups than improving your character. To play devil’s advocate, many Marvel characters change very little, but it is rewarding for a player to see their character grow and improve.

I’ll probably have more thoughts after actually giving it go, assuming I can talk the players into trying a one-off session.

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