Yes, the game is defunct. I still like it. And one thing i noticed wasn’t present in the otherwise excellent modeling of the comic book style is knockback in fights or throwing things. Anyone familiar with Fate will now tell you the answer (as I’m about to…otherwise, I would be writing this): it’s a Complication. You want to have the Hulk run into a bad guy and knock him through a building? The Complication is “distance” and the you probably need to throw a plot point and add another effect die for damage to the building to put the target baddie through it.

Similarly, if Captain America wanted to toss a Hydra bad guy over a railing into the water below, it’s a Complication — say, Out of the Fight d6. To get rid of the distance complication, they would have to do some kind of run/climb/fly/movement action with the effect die knocking down the complication.

There you go — now start knocking the bad guys around!

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.)

Here’s a few characters from our up and coming Liberty City campaign using the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying by Margaret Weis Productions that just got jerked out of print by Disney.

PARADOX (Dr. James Fravik)

Affiliations: Solo d8, Buddy d10, Team d6

Distinctions: It’s All Just Math, Just Lucky I Guess, What the @#$% Did I Do?

POWER SETS:

Probability Manipulator: Probability control d8, Intuition d8, Teleport d8; SFX, Can I Help?: Can loan his Probability Control Die to another player and shutdown the power until the other player has used the die. Can recover the die early with a plot point; SFX, Need a Lift?: +d6 and step up affect die one to inflict a complication on a target; SFX, Second Chance: Can reroll a Probability Manipulation test spending a plot point; SFX, Superpostion: 1 plot point to ignore physical stress; Limitation, Exhausted: Gain a plot point when power set is shutdown. Recover with an opportunity or in transition scene; Limitation, Fate Fights Back: On a 1 or 2, create an opportunity for the Watcher.

SPECIALTIES: Business Expert, Covert Expert, Science Master

MILESTONES:

I’ll Take My Chances: Gain 1XP when first using Probability Manipulation, 3XP when Watcher uses PM opportunity against the team, 10XP when power set leads to catastrophe or overwhelming success.

One Many, Many Worlds: Gain 1XP when he questions the reality of his situation, 3XP when he fails a power set test that causes stress to him or his team, 10XP when he has a cognitive break that requires him to leave the team or abandon the mission.

 

PARALLEL (Manny Byquist)

Affiliations: Solo d6, Buddy d8, Team d10

Distinctions: Many Copies, Many Problems; The Ultimate Backup, What Haven’t I Done?

POWER SET:

The Human Copier: One Man Mob (3xd8); SFX, Absorb Dupes: 1plot point to eliminate any dupe complication. If they resist step up emotional stress; step up any stress that the dupe has taken; SFX, Did I Do That?: In a transition scene can create a dupe-related resource; SFX, Plenty to Go Around: Acts like area effect; SFX, Take One For the Team: 1 plot point ignores physical stress on him or any team member; Limitation  Fly in the Ointment: Gains 1 plot point when a dupe-related complications is played, step up his emotional stress +1; Limitation, Mob Cohesion: his One Man Mob power can be targeted with area effect, and a d10 physical stress takes a die from One Man Mob power. Can be recovered with an opportunity or during transition scene.

SPECIALITIES: Covert Expert, Combat Expert, Crime Expert, Medical Expert, Psych Expert, Tech Expert

MILESTONES:

It’s Kinda My Fault: Gain 1XP when one of his dupes causes trouble for the character; 3XP when dupe is involved in a major criminal event as hero or villain; 10XP when he or his dupes defeats the team in a scenario.

Back Up…and Side and Front, As Well!: Gain 1XP when he or a dupe “Takes One For the Team”; 3XP when a scene is won primarily due to his dupes; 10XP when a team member dies protecting or being protected by a dupe.

Hey, Disney, suck it!

Looks like either the money-grubbers at Disney pulled the license for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game from Margaret Weis Productions without warning, or MWP couldn’t make the reup on the license work out since they couldn’t move enough product (I’m guessing it was a combination — they couldn’t pay for a more expensive license and Disney just pulled the license, complete with a cease and desist for selling product they were authorized to sell, although now you have until April 30 to snag all the material at Drive Thru RPG.) MWP is trying to make amends by crediting pre-orders 150% the cost of the books they aren’t going to be getting; I think that’s a stand up move.

It’s a sad day as, while I’ve not been a fan of the Cortex Plus direction the company took, Marvel was a superb game the mechanics of which really captured the flavor of a comic like none of the other, in my opinion. On the up side, MWP has an upcoming Firefly RPG. Let’s hope they can keep the license.

This character is unique to our campaign, which is an “original” setting (or as much a one as supers campaigns get.)

I’ve been told our Liberty City campaign is a bit dark. The recent adventure, which featured the suicide of a security guard with the unfortunate power to release a power noxious gas from his nethers, aided in stopping a robery on a casino in the LC. Since the gas also affects dies, it ruined the carpets, paint, and fouled the air of the place badly enough the lobby will need to be refurbished…for that they fired him. It was a poignant scene and continued a theme I’ve been pushing — powers don’t make you smart, talented, or competent. The villains are still mostly idiots who can’t do much other than crime (and that rarely well), and the heroes don’t necessarily embace their gifts, or have them make their lives marvelous.

Here’s an upcoming villain that keeps that darkness going. The campaign is essentially a police procedural show with superpowers. In an upcoming episode, they’ll have a series of child abduction/murders that link into an FBI serial killer manhunt. They know very little, other than the suspect uses some kind of hypnotic weapon to draw in the kids. Only once has someone identified the perpetrator, and that agnet was killed with some kind of sonic weapon — possibly the same thing used to lure the kids. The FBI has dubbed him the Pied Piper:

THE PIED PIPER (real identity unknown)

Affiliations: Solo d10, Buddy d8, Team d6

Distinctions: Pedophile, Takes a Lot of Planning, Centuries of Experience

POWERS SETS:

Psychic Vampire

Lifeforce Drain: d10     Superhuman Durability: d10   Superhuman Stamina: d10

SFX, Psychic Vampire: On a successful life force drain test, shift the effect dice from the Pied Piper’s stress to the target. With an opportunity, can shift trauma from the Pied Piper to the target.

SFX, Memories!: With a successful life force drain, can trade 1PP for  the highest die from the opponent’s next action pool for his action or reaction.

SFX, Unleashed: Step up or double a Psychic Vampire power for a turn. If the action fails, the effect die goes to the doom pool.

Limit, Love of Innocence: When lifeforce drain is used on an adult, takes the targets reaction die in mental stress.

The Flute

Sonic Blast d8     Mind Control: d10

SFX, Come Hither: +d6 for each extra target and keep an extra die for effect.

Limit, Made for Children: 1PP and step the Mind Control effect down to d6 on adults.

Limit, Gear: 1PP and shutdown Flute. Needs to make a test vs. the doom poo or use an opportunity  to recover.

Specialities: Covert Master d10, Crime Master d10, Menace Master d10, Psych Expert d10

So this week marked the return of Marvel Heroic RPG to the gaming table. It’s been a couple of months since we did the test play, and we found that the game ran smoothly despite a few “what was that rule again” moments on my part.

The campaign is still a homebrew universe, set primarily in Liberty City, Delaware — a fictional city founded by the grandfather of the current, and who was the original, Paragon after he bested a human nuclear bomb the Nazis had sent to destroy Washington in 1945. There’s a big helping of The Incredibles and The Venture Brothers, meets Wild Cards and various comic books I liked back when I collected comics.

The game opened with an origin story flashback sequence for one of the new characters, El Gato — a former barrio hood from Los Angeles that was turned into a cat by strange chemicals at a “jump” factory run by rival white gangs. Jump is a main feature of the adventure — it is a drug, originally a military experiment to create supers (or metahumans, as they are officially called) during WWII, to counter a similar Nazi program. Jump gives normals powers at between a d6 and d8 level (what we call Class C powers) for between 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on the person’s biochemistry. Their genetic code, biochemistry, and it is thought, their psychological makeup lead to what kind of powers they get, how powerful they are (Class B: d8-d10, Class A d12), and it can occasionally lead to permanent powers (For “jumpers”, I roll randomly unless I need something for the story.) The drug also has a nasty effect on the nervous system of the user and burns your brain pretty quickly. It’s highly addictive psychologically; having super powers is cool.

The game started with El Gato landing in Liberty City for an SMA (Superhuman Martial Arts League) fight. He usually does tandem fights, as he is small (3’6″) and not overly strong…but he’s hard to hit and has a mouth that will piss anyone off. He’s the distraction for his teammate. He gets to the venue, the Indian Run Casino on the river and moments later the place is attacked by three jumpers — one a sonic blaster, two with super-strength and durability, of which one can set off earthquakes by punching or stomping on the ground. The other characters just happen to be in the area: Paragon is flying home from trying to score a licensing deal, and the head of a “capes and masks” unit of the police is nearby getting himself a YooHoo and a Bust-a-Nut bar.

The fight went well and the players were able to use each other’s strengths to quickly put down one of the villains. The cops were badly outmatched by the bad guys, but Paragon and El Gato evened the scales. For the mostly normal cops, they have to use their wits (since they didn’t have their power armor handy) and instead of trying to inflict stress, they used their shotguns with “goop” rounds and soporific gas grenades to hit the bad guys with complications to slow them down.

One of the bad guys is run out of the casino by a security guard who has a power…one that earned him the metahuman registry alias of Stinkbug. You can guess his power. They eventually capture the bad guys, take them to the SCU (Special Crimes Unit — the official title of the “capes and masks” squad) for interrogation, where they learn the jump is coming from a small group of hoods out of Atlantic City currently testing their product so they can put together a jumped-up army to go against Grendel (the Matt Wagner Hunter Rose version) who is kicking their crime family’s ass right now.

The cops get sidetracked a few hours later for a capes and masks call that includes a HAZMAT team order. Stinkbug, having blasted the lobby of the casino with putrification that changed the color of the carpets, paint, (as well as Paragon’s uniform), and left a smell they are hard pressed to get out, was fired from his job. Having been called Stinkbug in the press, despite giving his real name and having attempted to change his alias in the registry, has committed suicide. The note mentions his inability to keep a job, get a girl, or lose the horrible nickname his dad gave him. This will be a running theme: superpowers don’t always improve your life. They also don’t make you competent, as would seem in normal comic books — criminals are still usually stupid or lazy; heroes are not always good guys. Or competent.

El Gato manages to track down the dealer for the jump, questions him, and finds out he’s working for their prime jump manufacturer, Bernie Corso. They get the dealer back to SCU and find out from him where the factory is.

Next time: big fight at the factory.

I decided to take a shot at building one of my favorite characters from the Marvelverse…I don’t know why this character appeals so much — maybe it’s the visual, maybe it was Longshot was just so out there it caught my imagination…here she is:

SPIRAL (Ricochet Rita)

Affiliations: Solo d10, Buddy d6, Team d8

Distinctions: Lovelorn, On Her Own Side, Slave Hunter

POWER SETS:

Genetically-Altered Cybernetic Alien

Superhuman Reflexes d10   Superhuman Psychic Resistance d10   Superhuman Durability d10   Enhanced Strength d8   Enhanced Stamina d8   Enhanced Speed/Jump d8

SFX, Multiple Arms: Add d6 and keep an extra effect die per extra opponent; SFX, Psychic Domination: On successful reaction to psychic stress, inflicts effect die on attacker with same complication, etc.; +1PP to for +1 step to effect; LIMIT, Exhausted: 1PP when GACA power is shutdown; recover with opportunity or in transition scene.

Extradimensional Sorceress

Sorcery Mistress d10   Energy Resistance d10   Energy Blast d10   Teleport d10   Invisibility d10   Weapon (Swords) d6

 SFX, Afflict: Can add or subtract power level to a target equal to the number of shifts over the reaction to the spell; SFX, Counterattack: Reaction to energy attacks allows her to inflict stress equal to her reaction effect die; SFX, Life-force Drain: 1PP and Sorcery attack to target causes Physical stress to target and heals all stress and trauma; LIMIT, Astral Silhouette: Invisibility shutdown against astral or mystic-based senses; LIMIT: Energy blast shutdown against living creatures; only effect on inanimate objects or mystic/energy “objects”; LIMIT, Gotta Dance!: If Spiral cannot dance her spells, 1PP and shutdown any Sorceress power created assets or complications. If she fails a resistance reaction to distraction or suffers stress, 1PP and the power and its assets and complications.

Specialties: Acrobatics Mistress d10, Combat Mistress d10, Cosmic Expert d8, Mystic Mistress d10, Tech Mistress d10

Assets: Can call on slave hunters from the Mojoverse (Gang of 3d8) with a PP, has access to The Body Shop — 3d8 genetic and cybernetic body modification medics, or call on members of Freedom Force, depending on the period she is being played.

History:

Rita was a successful stuntwoman nicknamed Ricochet Rita when she encountered the being known as Longshot, a genetically engineered slave of another dimension ruled by the monstrous Mojo and leader of a rebellion there. Rita helped Longshot, falling in love with him in the process. At some point, Rita was abducted by Mojo’s agents and abducted to his universe. There, she became, Spiral a slave-hunter for the Spineless Ones and the the property of Mojo. To ensure Spiral’s hatred of other humanoids, Mojo had Spiral designed with six arms rather than only two and gifted her with the ability to wield magic.

Mojo sent Spiral and various rebel hunters to recapture Longshot, who at the time was rendered amnesiac from a previous capture. They followed Longshot through an interdimensional portal to Earth, although they were ultimately unsuccessful.

It is unknown if Spiral was trapped on Earth or elected to stay. Spiral enlisted in Freedom Force, the United States government’s team of superhuman agents, as a means of learning more about Earth, and served with them on most of their adventures.

Later, Mojo joined Spiral on Earth, intending to prevent Longshot from returning to their native world and stirring up the slaves. Mojo then decided to take over Earth himself, but was defeated by Longshot. Spiral led Mojo back to their home-world. At some point, Spiral returned to Earth and to Freedom Force.

While on Earth, Spiral also created a guise as “pro-priestess” of The Body Shoppe, a place where genetics and technology are used to alter people in the same way that Spiral herself was altered, she is responsible for the transformation of the Japanese warrior Lady Deathstrike into a cyborg, as well as, presumably, many of the cyborg Reavers. Later, Spiral lured the mutant Rachel Summers, the X-Man once known as Phoenix, to capture and slavery in Mojo’s universe. Later still, Spiral and Mojo temporarily captured many of the X-Men’s proteges, the New Mutants, the hero Captain Britain, and his sister Betsy Braddock, later known as Psylocke. Spiral was involved in Braddock’s cybernetic implants in place of her eyes.

Spiral eventually left Freedom Force after a clash with the X-Men in Dallas, Texas, where the X-Men seemingly died in battle with the trickster-god, the Adversary. She presumably returned to the Mojo’s universe, where later, the X-Men Longshot and Dazzler led a rebellion against Mojo. For reasons of her own, she teleported the X-Men to the universe to aid the rebellion. After Mojo was seemingly killed by Longshot, Spiral teleported away.

Later, Mojo returned with Spiral at his side to capture the hero Shatterstar. Shatterstar was mortally wounded by Mojo by being transformed into a digitized state. Spiral saved his life, however, by transporting him and his ally Longshot to the bedside of a comatose youth named Benjamin Russell, who was then physically linked Shatterstar. In that act of heroism, Spiral revealed to have some very deep feelings for Shatterstar and Benjamin Russell, but nevertheless teleported away, apparently back to the Mojo’s universe.

Spiral later appeared during the hero team Excalibur’s encounter with the mystic Dragons Of The Crimson Dawn. Spiral was somehow mystically linked to the Dragons, wearing the same Crimson Dawn-tattoo that Psylocke possessed. After the Dragon’s defeat, Spiral escaped to an unknown location.