|Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
||[Feb. 28th, 2012|08:44 am]
I picked up Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MHR) just over a week ago. I have had some contact with two of the writers and respect them. Also, Smallville and Leverage, the two previous Cortex Plus games, have been getting some buzz with my gaming circle. I had avoided the two games for two reasons:
1. The licences didn't appeal.
2. I am not particularly a fan of the collaborative "PTA style" upfront setup in Smallville. though often productive, I find them shortlived in usefulness and often a hurdle to getting into the game itself.
Anyway, with MHR, these two barriers were lifted. MHR uses the Marvel universe, which I like quite a bit, and it takes a more traditional route with players playing PCs through a GM derived story.
First, let's get the bad out of the way. Cam Banks has a really cool game here. But he struggles to explain the mechanics. In an effort to be as explicit as possible the writing loses any sense of prioritisation or elegance. At first glance, there are probably two or three times as many concepts than there actually are. The real shame of this is that MHR should appeal to traditional RPGers pretty well, but I think that a combination of reservations about the narrative/metagame/story mechanics mixed with the poor writing will drive a few away needlessly.
So, other than the impenetrable writing style, what's the game like? Bloody good, actually. Its one of those games that I will need some actual play experience with before settling on an opinion, but it hits all the right buttons. Its a simple yet involved system. It has mechanics to encourage players to take the initiative and support all sorts of scenes. But it doesn't attempt to shift the GM responsibility too far and the mechanics are not too abstract.
One complaint I have with FATE is that it feels too samey mechanically, relying on the narrative to provide distinction. MHR has more mechanical distinction but still has the narrative flexibility that I like. Also, nearly all the traits reflect how good that thing is in a non-abstract way. This is not a game where Mary Jane can beat up the Hulk with her Love of Spiderman Trait.
The key to its success is IMO the multi-axis dice pool system. A major issue with Super RPGs, esepcially ones that don't revert to a narrative rule system like With Great Power or PDQ is that trying to equate power levels in various spheres just breaks down the game and makes any narrative difficult. Not only do superheroes' power levels change due to story concerns, but also they remarkably seem to adjust based on the scene. The Hulk has been known to be knocked unconscious by normal people. Captain America can deflect Thor's hammerstrike with his shield. A Jotun who shrugged over Thor's lightning bolt is suddenly pressured by Wasp's sting.
As said, MHR does provide traits for each power (including skills and other factors) that are immutable. However, all actions don't rely on just one trait, but a combination of factors including teamwork, skill and narrative elements. What this means is that Hulk's strength can be respected but it will never dominate like it would in a traditional RPG. In fact, given the right set of circumstances a much lower powered character may actually be able to overcome the Hulk.
The other thing I love is the Doom Pool. At its base, its a Plot Point system for the GM. First, its just a remarkably useful tool in that it means that the GM doesn't need to keep track of Plot Points for each NPC. It also hs some other very cool uses. It also acts as the default Difficulty for any action. As the tension grows everything gets harder, even recovery. It also means that nearly any action that the PCs make has consequences. This is one of the most difficult parts of running a traditional RPG IMO, that is giving weight to the PCs actions both in success and failure. The Doom Pool provides a physical representation for and mechanical way of giving this weight.
I think many designers would have gone on to make the Doom Pool a way of limiting GM resources more fully like in Agon. But Cam doesn't, for which I think he shows great design sense.
There are other things in the game I like. The way it encourages players to initiate scenes and complications, as well as the interaction between player and GM are fantastic. Its treatment of bad guys is also cool, including mobs and monsters.
Overall, I am excited to see it in action. Its another good example of lots of cool mechanical technique being applied to deal with problems that traditional RPGs have struggled with, without moving the posts too far.
I'm reading through it at the moment and have to agree the mechanics are poorly presented.
I can send you my cheat sheet if you want it. It helped me hugely.