Our pulp game was on hold again for illness in one of the players, leaving me with the “what do I do now?” moment all GMs have at some point. I could continue running the Battlestar Galactica stuff, but over the last week or two, I had been spitballing ideas with the player and GM apparent for our superhero campaign about ideas for the game. We’d been talking about possibly co-GM duties — something that’s led me to think about running “historical” games in the universe we’re creating — so I suddenly decided “hell with it” and slapped together a couple of characters for the players coming and a simple adventure to test drive the Marvel Heroic RPG rules by Margaret Weis Productions.

First, the plot: We started with a teaser that introduced one of the players as the head of the Special Crimes Unit of Liberty City — a combination of Gotham and Astro City (which funnily, I have not read, but just doing research for the game, the setting caught my attention — otherwise known as the “masks and capes” squad. They use power armor when going up against dangerous supers and tech threats, and the rest of the time are working plainclothes detective work. The player had the leader of one of their SCU squads, and they were confronted with a bad guy in an underwater demolitions combat suit. They planned their assault to rescue the hostages of a bank robbery gone wrong and take down the bad guys. It went quickly, and the use of the affiliations — working in teams or with a buddy, or solo to maximize their effectiveness — was something they cottoned onto quickly.

The use of the dice pool and how you put it together was a bit confounding through most of the play, but both players felt they were getting the hang of it by the end of the night. I was a bit befuddled by how the doom pool was used for non-opposed tests, but I figured it out. The cheat sheets that come with the electronic version were indispensable and kept me from having to dig around the book too much (this is where the hyperlinked pages came in very handy!)

They snag up the baddie, a gang girl that stumbled onto a power suit and called herself Demolina. The cop character took the suit down with a single punch. It was a bit anticlimactic, but it was a teaser, so I let it stand.

The real story starts when the other character finds out his sister is back in town to promote her up-coming new album. The family is old money and the character has the alter ego of Paragon — the hero that helped Liberty City grow to rival New York after he stopped a Nazi attack on Washington and destroyed the chunk of Delaware that became the city. Paragon is not one man — he’s been around since the ’30s. The character’s father and grandfather were the hero at one time or another. All have weather control powers, flight, and the usual strength and stamina. He’s a corporate tool more interested in gaining sponsorships, and in his normal identity represents Paragon.

The sister has been getting increasingly creepy and specific threats on her life, so he contacts LCPD to help watch her. There is eventually an attack on her car while she’s on her way to MTVs studios in the hip, Streamline Moderne City Center of Liberty City. This fight was more protracted and made them use different affiliations and distinctions (like Paragon’s “Gigantic Showoff.”) They managed to capture the leader of the group that turn out to be minions-for-hire. (I based them on the Empowered Witless Minions idea — they pose as stupid henchmen, then rip off the supervillain at the appropriate moment.)

The play went quickly and I was spinning off tons of asides to help flesh out the world on the fly — from creating supers and bad guys that we haven’t seen, but have reputations (and borrowing names and general ideas from everywhere I could think of.) We even got a glimpse into the alternate history of the world — that Paragon became famous for stopping a Nazi super from destroying DC during WWII, that Normandy went smoother than in real life thanks to Britannia, a water-controlling superheroine who created a tsunami that washed away the Nazi defenses. Or Strongman — the descendent of Paragon that fought “the Moustache” to stop an attack on President McKinley; their even older relative that fought Lion Rampant, a Scottish super, during the Great Lakes campaigns of the Revolutionary War.

I established as a toss off that Liberty City was the greatest population of supers because, like Hollywood (the second largest concentration), it draws the freaks. We established that many of the supers in Europe have Greek or Italian heritage, and that India has the largest collection of supers on the planet. China has the lowest, but they have the weirdest and make up for the lack of numbers in raw power. Super powers are inherited for the most part, and they always seem to have a psychological component that decides their abilities. Many of them get a crap hand in life and are too poor to get licensed to use their abilities legally (it requires very expensive insurance in many countries) and this forces them into crime…or so the liberals keep telling us. (And for some, it’s true!)

The worldbuilding was fast and furious, and meshed well with helping the players get a handle on their characters’ personalities — from Paragon’s casual, silver spoon condescension and arrogance, to the cop’s background as an army special forces guy that was on Team Achilles — specially trained to deal with supers, even though many of the team are normals. That was another conceit of the universe: superpowers will get you far, but if you tick off enough mundanes, they will gang up on you and eventually win…

The mechanics: as I said in my review of Marvel, the sheer amount of things you can do with plot points gets confusing, and one of the players just couldn’t wrap his head around the SFX and Limits — more I think because we were learning the essentials first. I screwed up the stress/injury mechanics a few times, mostly because their description is a bit toss-off in the rules book, but a quick reread after play (I was up all night with serious post nasal drip, so why not..?) Opportunities were the bit I screwed up the most. I didn’t give them the plot points I should have, and I mistook how the doom pool worked for non-opposed, simple tasks; I thought the dice were used up, as when they go to NPCs. Wrong. Despite the confusions and the stripped down play, the system did not get in the way of the fun, and the players did like the method of initiative and the ability/need to describe how they want to do things (I made them describe the panel.)

I think the system’s got some legs, although a nitpick both I and one player had was the vagueness of the levels of power — what is encompassed in “enhanced” or “superhuman”? They tell us to use common sense, bu that doesn’t help much. It’s the same isue I had with the old TSR Marvel Superheroes rules set. That said, the game’s worth a few more test runs, and the campaign world almost certainly needs to stay around, if only as interstitial play between other campaigns.