marvelheroicYou may be wondering why you should use the new Marvel Heroic roleplaying game. What does it do differently? How well does it capture the feel of the comics?

After playing many different superhero roleplaying games I’ve found that this system is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

Some systems require you to  list all of a characters abilities. With superheroes this can take hours and it becomes a nightmare to prepare sheets for teams of characters.

The Marvel Heroic system boils this down into a handful of iconic abilities and defining distinctions.

The Distinctions are usually just a sentence that define a character.

I love being able to read the comics and picking out a few lines of dialogue that best capture them and then use them during a game.

I like that the system lets players decide what abilities, distinctions and skills are appropriate for the challenge in front of them.

I’ve been in more than my fair share of games where combat devolves into simply rolling your dice on your turn to see if you hit or not, with no attempt made to visualise what your character is actually doing.

Not so here.

The explanation of why you’re using the dice you are creates a vivid picture of what is happening.

I like that you get  rewarded when bad things happen. When you roll a 1 or take a risk, like using a distinction in a negative way, you have the opportunity of getting a Plot Point.

Plot Points are what allow you to pull off the truly heroic feats.

Sure, the games master gets to add to his Doom Pool if you accept the Plot Point but it wouldn’t be fun without a challenge.

I think that giving the players the ability to decide who goes next in combat is very empowering.

You soon find that players are picking characters because they want to see what they’ll do next. It turns them into an excited reader, flicking the page to see how the hero is going to escape certain death.

To me this game combines the best aspects of narrative games like FATE with a crunchier, more understandable rule-set.

One of the highlights of this is that you can create assets with a success, as an alternative to just hurting your opponent.

These assets can aide you in subsequent challenges and can help your allies.

Miles stones are a clever way to promote roleplaying during a game.

These are markers that indicate when you get XP that can unlock additional benefits during the game.

Typically a Mile stone is behaviour or actions that are closely linked to the character, such as Captain America’s team leadership or Thing’s self-hate.

They give a reason for players to role-play and even take actions that adversely affect them.

I think it is a stroke of genius that the game focuses on Events.

Yes, this is a roleplaying game that doesn’t focus on levelling your character up, which never really had a place in superhero games since characters mostly remain iconic.

One of my worst qualities is that I like change, even in a roleplaying game I’m enjoying.

The fact that players and games master aren’t locked into a single set of characters, setting or time period is sheer joy for me.

Now the whole Marvel universe is open to groups. You could decide to stick with a particular group(whether it be the X-men, the Avengers or the Fantastic Four) or you could jump around, trying out different combinations of characters as they get involved in huge, world-spanning events.

The ease of creating characters makes it easy to play iconic characters in different stages of their life.

Want to play the Grey Hulk? You can! Want to play were-wolf Captain America? You can! Want to play the Scarlet Spider? You can!

No one persons datafile of a character is going to be definitive. You can have a hundred different versions of Iron Man and they’ll all be equally valid.

With so much to explore why limit yourself?

So where do you start?

You can’t really go wrong with subscribing to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

This gives you access to thousands of Marvel comics to read on your computer.

It is this archive that I’ll be drawing upon for material for this blog.

There are just so many interesting characters for players to run. So many villains for them to fight and so much of the world to explore.

I hope that others will find it useful in their own games.



  1. I was interested in this game during development but completely lost when I looked at it. My eyes just glazed over reading it and it seemed to be a bunch of narrative rules made to promote a style of play, not a set of rules to actually play a game.

    Maybe it is just too far removed from what I want. Certainly, I don’t like FATE at all… I like my superhero game rules to be fast and action-oriented, “Swing-Hit-Punch through the wall!” style.

    Could you maybe clarify (by really quick example) why these narrative rules (Mile Stones, Events, Plot Points, etc.) are actually a good idea and not just the play encumbrance that they seem to be to me…

  2. I’ve been able to play a few games so I can confirm that they do work in practice. I’ll try to give some examples that came up.

    Plot points aren’t totally unique as many games use them or something similar (Buffy, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space are the first to come to mind). They act as a currency to allow you to push things in your favour.

    You need them to activate certain Special Effects (SFX). So I was playing Captain Britain who has the Invulnerable SFX. If I’d been hit during the game I could have spent a point to ignore damage from an attack.

    When you’re successful in an action you sometimes have the option of creating an asset, which lets you add an extra dice to your roll. When the GM rolls a 1 you have the opportunity to spend a plot point to increase the size of your dice.

    During play Captain Britain flew through a group of AIM agents allowing me to create the asset ‘Scattered’ to reflect I’d broken up their battle formation. Shortly after this the GM rolled a 1 and I spent a plot point to increase the dice size of that asset, showing that their failure had caused the AIM agents to scatter further. This made dealing with them much easier.

    You can also spend plot points to add extra dice to your roll and when you’re determing have successful you are. At the end of an adventure we foud out the base we were in was about to self-destruct.

    I declared that Captain Britain was going to fly through the base, find the explosives and get them as far away from the group as possible before they went off. I knew that this was going to be difficult task but I had a lot of plot points. If I didn’t have the plot points I wouldn’t have succeded and so I wouldn’t have even attempted to it. Having the plot points allowed me to be a hero.

    I guess the best part of plot points is the way they are awarded. Normally rolling a 1 or getting a fumble is bad. Here you get a plot point so that you can redeem yourself later. Heck, you get a plot point for deciding to roll a low dice (which increases the chance of rolling a 1).

    In game I used my distinctions negatively all the time, showing the more headstrong side of Captain Britain. My gamble paid off most of the time, netting me a steady flow of plot points to use later.

    Milestones are tricky because you can only select two sets of milestones so you’re hoping that the appropriate events occur during play. I didn’t get to use my milestones but I did see another player making good use of his.

    He was playing Ant Man. His milestones were based on pursuing women and gaining respect from his team mates. This encouraged him to roleplaying some encounters with female NPCs even though he knew he had no chance with them.

    It also made him work hard to get people on the team to like him, trying to impress Beast with his science skills and Captain America with his bravery. He even voluntered to be fired out of a torpedo so he could infiltrate the enemy base.

    Some players will do this kind of thing just because it is good roleplaying but the fact he was getting XP when he explored these facets of his character was a good incentive.

    Events as a concept is really just a way to frame the adventures. If you want to model your campaign as an ongoing comic book you can view Events as story arcs. The fact that a GM can assign Mile stones to an Event does give the players an idea of what is expected of them and goals to try to achieve.

    I have found that each scene takes around an hour. This will really depend on how many players you have and how quick they are at deciding what they want to do. It seemed to be fast and encouraged you to pay attention to everything that happened.

    You were always watching for things that would impact your character, opportunities that you could exploit and assets that you could take advantage of. Although there aren’t standardised attributes you always know how things will interact.

  3. Thanks, that helps make it a little more clear to me.

    Sadly, it really doesn’t sound like my type of system… But for Referees more comfortable with narrative systems I can see the appeal. For me, I just dislike these styles of game rules and I don’t have the patience for them in my grumpy old age. It is the opposite of the usual problem in superhero games, which are often too complex and unbalanced, but this has swung too far the other way for me.

    I’ll be following Watching Earth 616 anyway, but with more of an eye towards using it for Marvel SAGA, my own long-time favourite superhero rpg.

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