One of the things I really love about the Marvel Heroic system is that it makes it very easy to switch between different characters. There are several great mechanics to make each character feel and play differently while retaining the same basic components.
Milestones are a good tool to encourage you to roleplay the character differently but it is a characters SFX that makes the game feel different. The SFX allows you to bring in new rules or gain an advantage if your character performs specific actions, thus encouraging the player to use them.
This became very evident when, in the last session of our Civil War campaign, I played three different characters; Misty Knight, Venom and Cable.
We began with a short scenario focusing on the Thunderbolts first public mission. Since they were being followed by a camera crew Misty (my character) picked the most controllable members of the team; Swordsman and Elsa Bloodstone.
Responding to a report of non-registered heroes fighting a monster in the small town of Herbert Wells in New Mexico. We arrived to find American Eagle, Jack Flag, Sepulchre and Steel Spider had successfully taken down the HYDRA created creature.
Attempting to take a diplomatic stance Misty congratulated the heroes and said that once they’d done the paperwork of registering they’d be free to go. The non-registered heroes weren’t having any of it, calling us fascists. Wanting to send a message Misty gave the order for her Thunderbolts to take them down (with no casualties).
During this combat Misty’s SFX of Rapid Fire and Take Aim helped make her weapon fire much more effective, stepping up and doubling dice as needed. The Anti-Metal SFX allowed her to do more damage to Steel Spider by striking his mechanical harness.
The Cryogenic Blast SFX was particularly useful in hampering the magic wielding Sepulchre with a complication, allowing me to add a D6 to my pool and stepping up the effect die. She was quickly encased in a block of ice that she never managed to escape.
The rest of the Thunderbolts were particularly bloodthirsty, with neither pulling their blows. Elsa Bloodstone went to town on Sepulchre, shattering her into tiny pieces and then stomping on those pieces. Swordsman was out for blood, doing deadly damage and demoralising the enemy.
American Eagle was left searching for cover, hiding behind a brick wall. I finished him off with a combination of her superhuman strength (her cybernetic arm demolishing the wall) and a blast from her weapon with the rapid fire SFX allowing me to use three dice, rather than two, for the result.
Misty addressed the camera crew as the non-registered heroes (or what was left of them) were taken away, stating that they weren’t punished for being heroes but for breaking the law.
Having established the tone for the third act, with the Pro-registration side clearly in control, the Watcher asked what each of us were doing with our main characters. Spider-Man’s player announced that he was going to infiltrate the Baxter building looking for information the anti-registration side could use.
This had a dramatic effect on the plot, which we’d established last session was going to be about the anti-registration side using a Gamma Bomb on SHIELD. Instead the initial focus became Spider-Man’s dodging security systems and stealing data about the Negative Zone prisons.
He successfully escaped with the information but was attacked by Venom, now working for the Thunderbolts. I took the role of the villain and it was our first instance of player vs player combat.
Speedball joined the fight, allowing Spider-Man to pass the vital stolen data to his ally. I decided that Venom was only focused on Spider-Man and concentrated on him rather than chasing after Speedball.
Venom proved to be a vicious fighter, particularly due to his SFX. His focus SFX allows him to replace two dice of the same size with one stepped up die, which is great if you can get a big dice pool going. A few complications, stresses and assets and I could frequently bump up 2d8s into a 2d10. The chance of rolling a higher number or using a big die for the effect dice was worth the risk of losing one die.
The Envelop SFX was perfect for neutralising Spider-Man’s agility. I created a complication called ‘Not Getting Away’ which represented the tendrils from Venom’s suit yanking Spider-Man back if he tried to escape.
Finally I brought down Spider-Man using the Claws SFX, stepping back the highest die in my pool but increasing the effect die. Venom charged into Spider-Man, knocking them both off of a building and into a dumpster down below, finally creating physical trauma.
This conflict was interesting, as the Watcher left it in the hands of the players. I felt things went much more quickly, as we didn’t have to wait for any NPCs to take a turn. You also got to experience what is like to be on the receiving end of common PC actions.
For example Spider-Man’s player frequently spent plot points to add additional die to his result. This meant that even if I got a really good result on 2 die it would be easy for him to beat by adding two more die to his result. This did mean he was low on plot points, so couldn’t muster a sufficient attack on Venom, but kept him alive.
While this was frustrating to begin with I began to anticipate this and so even if I got a good result I’d add an extra die just to be sure. This was key to finally bringing him down. I did feel guilty, since I’d neutralised a PC, but also satisfying as I’d taken down a big superhero.
I also had fun running Venom, threatening and intimidating the two heroes while getting XP from talking about how Venom was going to eat them. Venom was also able to provoke them by saying he would win this time as he was the hero and they were the criminals.
The scene ended with Venom’s handlers activating his nanochain before he could eat the unconscious Spider-Man’s brains. Speedball could only watch in the distance as SHIELD agents loaded up the fallen hero for transport (presumably just taking him across the road to the Baxter Building).
We switched to the anti-registration underground where I took the role of Cable. Personally I was against using the Gamma Bomb but I kept true to the established motivation of the character, drawing upon the nightmare future that Cable was from as justification why they needed to take this drastic action.
When Speedball returned with the data of the Negative Zone prison and news of Spider-Man’s capture I felt it would be something that Cable couldn’t ignore. The plan was changed so that the Gamma Bomb would be set off at Ryker Island, allowing one team to enter the portal to the Negative Zone there.
Cable would accompany a team made up of Dagger (still mourning the loss of Cloak) and Namor (contacted by Speedball after his player had spent the XP needed to unlock this character) to the Baxter Building to gain entrance to the Negative Zone there while the heroes were distracted by the attack on Ryker Island.
Waiting until the Fantastic Four left the building to respond to the emergency Cable teleported the others directly to the SHIELD controlled portal room. While the others attacked the SHIELD agents Cable concentrated on unlocking the portal. After all, while it was very sophisticated for the 21st century it was positively quaint from Cable’s time travelling perspective.
The Watcher announced that to unlock the portal Cable would need to reduce the Doom Pool to 0. The big advantage I had here was Cable’s Man with the Plan SFX, allowing me to remove die from the Doom Pool to use in my own roll and then return it one size smaller.
I tried to get the other players to refuse plot points so that the Doom Pool wouldn’t increase in size but not everyone listened. I ended up struggling to reduce the Doom Pool while it slowly grew bigger.
Dagger and Namor (aided by his Atlantean soldiers) were making short work of the SHIELD agents. Much blood was spilt but Cable was only minutes away from breaking the security on the portal.
Things became more complicated when the Thunderbolts (led by Misty Knight and consisting of Venom, Slapstick, Swordsman and Bullseye) arrived. I continued to have Cable concentrate on finish activating the Negative Zone portal but was forced to fend off several attacks (which did allow Cable to make a comment to Bullseye about how he likes to fight enemies who wear targets).
Dagger demoralised Misty Knight, confronting her with the loss of life that the Civil War had caused and how she was now working alongside criminals like Bullseye and Venom. The Watcher asked me, since I’d played Misty the most, how she would react and I said she’d use the nanochain on the others, which we’d foreshadowed in our first Thunderbolt focused game.
This neutralised most of the Thunderbolts allowing Cable to open the portal. An ever rebellious Venom immediately leapt through and opened all the security cells, not just the heroes.
The prisoners flooded through in a riot. On the bright side anti-registration heroes Captain America, Luke Cage,Nighthawk and Spider-Man were returned to our fold. Cable insisted that they didn’t try to stop the escaping villains as this would act as a distraction for the pro-registration heroes giving us more time to escape ourselves.
Before we could get away the pro-registration heroes arrived, with Reed Richards using his technology to prevent Cable teleporting the others away. Hank Pym then announced that the Gamma Bomb, which was only supposed to do structural damage (and maybe gamma-irradiate a few prisoners and guards), had vaporised the entire Ryker island!
This was a horrifying twist, with the anti-registration side being equally negligent as the pro-registration side. Neither side could now claim the high ground.
We are now set for the final scene, as the heroes are set for a final show-down, with an added complication that there is a huge group of newly released villains.
This was an interesting session as it was three big fights but each felt different, thanks to the conditions and rules involved. Changing characters allows players to experience different sides in a big story and having them take the role of the opposition makes things like the capture of Spider-Man less of a bitter pill to take because they occur out of the players actions.
I am excited for the final part of our Civil War campaign as I want to know how we will conclude it.