We’ve been trying to recruit a few more players for our group of late. One of the draws was an interest in several for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game (hereafter MHR) — which I like tremendously. So last night, we took a crack at playing this game again. We last played MHR around September, before the collapse of the gaming group as people moved away, and one of those “lost” players was joining us via Skype (there will be a post on that either tonight or tomorrow.)

The game involved PARAGON, a Captain Marvel-esque corporate tool who has weather control, flight, lightning bolts, and is physically superhuman; PARADOX, a probability manipulator and teleporter who is part of a government agency studying supers; PARALLEL, a Multiple Man-esque character who is — other than the ability to make copies of himself — normal and subject of PARADOX’s studies; and Special Agent Garcia — a telepath and mind controller, who the players later named “the Psychiatrist” to keep the unintentional P-naming convention that cropped up.

The characters and situation are introduced: one of Parallel’s dupes has gone rogue, launching a one man –well, multiples of one man — war on Jump gangs along the Eastern Seaboard. Jump is a drug that can temporarily create superpowers in people, is highly psychologically addictive, and does damage to the user’s mental faculties over time; good stuff is usually stolen from military stocks, but awful Jump analogues are popular with middle-class and well-to-do drug users. We introduced Garcia doing a scan on PARALLEL to make sure he wasn’t connected to the drug violence. The two were then sent to Liberty City, Delaware (our fake metropolis for the game) to link up with PARAGON. PARADOX, the probability guy, joins the team to observe PARALLEL in action because he thinks the multiplying power is quantum-related.

While looking into the targets the  dupe — who the police dub “Doppleganger” — might be targeting there was a big philosophical discussion on whether or not the dupes were “real people.” The police were horrified by the casualness of PARALLEL’s suggestion they either kill them, or he will reabsorb them (and their knowledge.) PARAGON is worried that the reabsorption process could damage PARALLEL’s mental state, if the dupes have been using Jump…and from past experiences, it’s entirely possible. In the process of explaining the mechanics of his power, PARALLEL spawns a dupe to have him “get coffee.” When the dup returns with coffee, he offers to help with the data analysis (giving him access to all the police data on the jump dealers in town), but he is not the same one (PARADOX uses his “Intuition” power to figure this out) and fails a pass & response test they’d put together to know PARALLEL from DOPPLEGANGER.

The fight ensued, with loads of dupes and action. There were a lot of 1s rolled and the doom pool grew quickly. There were a few things that cropped up quickly that needed to be addressed:

1) There’s an issue with scaling in the EFFECT rules. using the mechanics as they currently are, a normal person could conceivably hurt a Superman type if they had a big enough effect die (OM51 in the operations guide.) For instance, the One Man Mob power gives PARALLEL (or his dupes) a 3d8 to add to their dice pool and they get the same d10 Team affiliation die. The bad guys were thus able to use their d10 affiliation die to do stress to PARAGON, who has superhuman durability. Unlikely. Riffing off of the “Everyone Has Limits” rules at OM55, you could step back their effect to d8…still, this seemed unreasonable for the power level of Paragon. So a new house rule went into effect. If the power level is one level lower than the target durability, (say an Enhanced Strength of d8 vs. a character with a Superhuman Durability of d10) you step the die back one. If you are two or more levels below the target , you cannot inflict stress, but could inflict a complication on the character.

This should better reflect when a character like Daredevil goes up against Colossus. He’s not going to do anything to the man of steel unless he gets clever and targets his weaknesses. Much more likely, he will use his abilities to try and confuse, distract, or throw complications on Colossus.

2) There’s nothing to address a tie in effect dice. We had the dupes die on effect with one of the NPC cops. They didn’t fail, but they shouldn’t gain the full effect die in the opinion of the table…so we instituted another house rule: ties mean the attacker steps their effect back (in this case from a d8 to a d6.) If the attacker had gotten an extraordinary success (five over the reaction dice of the target), this wouldn’t have been an issue, since the that would have given them a step up to a d10 on the effect die.

3) Supporting NPCs — how should they be handled? We had a squad of six well-trained cops with the heroes. Rolling for each of them would have seriously tipped the focus from the heroes to the NPCs. I’ve decided to use them as a “mob” — in this case they would provide a 3d8 (well trained) support action to one of the heroes a round of play, and can use  area attack.

This also played into an issue with me not paying attention to the One Man Mob powerset for the bad guys. I had them rolling once against the heroes with area attack effects, but the players were targeting individuals. We were rolling the dupes as individuals (using PARALLEL’s sheet as the basis for their die pools.) Problem: the dupes, who are still normals, were having a decided advantage over much more powerful players characters. I forgot to have them target the One Man Mob power, as per OM55. They should have been able to knock back the powerset (effectively knocking out the dupes) for every d10 of effect.

Otherwise, the game went well, with the players getting the hang of the mechanics over the course of the night. the big issue for me (the Watcher) was opportunities — I couldn’t quickly find the rule on it (it’s stuck in a sidebar in OM21) — and was letting them buy dice I rolled a 1 on for an action, instead of letting them take a d10 stunt or d8 push die.  One of the players found the amount of things that could be accomplished by plot points confusing, and suggested a dumbed-down set of mechanics. I don’t think, reflecting on it, that’s particularly necessary. If the players want to ignore the things they can do, good enough, but they can have the options.

I found the the die mechanic — using d4 through d12 —  far superior to the classic FATE mechanics, to which Cortex Plus and MHR owe a lot. (I recently playtested a FATE-based game and found the +/- dice and number of modifiers truly annoying.) Equally, we found the stress/asset/complication mechanic borrowed from FATE to be occasionally overly complex, although it works well for creating quick modifiers without having to do the math. Just use the die if applicable. The other issue…if you’re not a dice pool rules fan, MHR is dice pool heavy. You can have as low as two dice, but up to a dozen dice, easily. This can get hard to manage for a player or Watcher.

That said, I find I still really like MHR for supers and other settings where you have sharply different power ranges (like, say, a Transhuman Space  or Eclipse Phase type setting.)