When I first began playing Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game I was not too interested in the XP. Playing established characters I had little desire to actually change them. As presented in the corebook they are pretty much definitive.
I would use what XP I did earn to unlock adventure specific bonuses, such as having NPCs help or gaining extra resources. Since the games I played in were centred around Events (such as Civil War) I was happy to have a static character and a dynamic story.
Recently I’ve been part of an ongoing campaign, reliving the early days of Marvel comics, rotating through the Avengers (where I played Thor), X-Men (where I took the role of Beast) and the Fantastic Four (where I was the hot headed Human Torch). The Watcher has encouraged us to deviate from canon if we want and I decided to embrace that.
Further more, since this is the early days, the pre-generated characters were rookies. While Thor is still powerful characters like the Human Torch and Beast were lacking in skills and all had low dice in their power sets.
Now I wanted to get XP, not just to unlock neat bonuses, but to make important changes. This was especially true after the Human Torch was knocked unconscious by Doctor Doom, Beast was less than successful against the Brotherhood of Evil and Thor was easily despatched into the past by Kang.
This encouraged me to try and hit my milestones more than ever. This has the added bonus of propelling my characters through significant plot arcs, since to get a 10 XP they usually have to do something dramatic.
Human Torch hit his 10 XP milestone by causing trauma with his fire power. Now he had to take his powers seriously, realising the harm he could cause if he wasn’t careful.
The Beast defeated an opponent with his mind rather than his mutant abilities and so decided that he wanted to be known for his intellect not his brawn.
Thor saved a life in the form of Doctor Donald Blake, allowing him to realise the good he can do as a man and begin to think about spending more of his time actually living like a mortal.
The completion of a milestone opens the door for a new chapter in the characters life. Beast has recently convinced Professor Xavier to let him transfer to New York University, arguing that if they hope to have humans and mutants learn to co-exist they can’t segregate themselves. His new milestones are now centred on improving relations between humanity and mutants (as well as allowing Beast to live a normal life).
As those XP came in the first thing I improved was the specialisations, either stepping up their dice or adding new ones (I gave Beast a specialisation in Medicine). Powers were also stepped up to make the characters more a force to be reckoned with.
I found that SFX can be a good way to spend XP, since they give you a host of new options and add distinctiveness to a character. For Human Torch I purchased Afflict (so that he is better at setting people and things on fire), Counterattack (because hitting someone on fire isn’t a good idea) and Burst (so he can bombard an opponent with fireballs). Let’s see Dr Doom knock him out now!
Adding new powers can allow you to take characters in new directions. Beast now has enhanced senses and Human Torch can now control fire in all its forms. This gives you new areas to improve over time (and more reason to earn XP).
It is worth changing your affiliation dice based on who your games end up. Both Thor and Human Torch had a D10 in solo but since they spent most of their time fighting alongside their team it made sense to switch their affiliation dice.
Allowing yourself the freedom to make a character your own can emulate the progression that occurs in comic book characters (albeit in a much shorter span of time).
It isn’t hard to imagine that the progression of Marvel Girl to Phoenix, Invisible Girl to Invisible Woman or the Hulk in his many incarnations could all be represented by stepping up dice or adding new power sets.
Spending XP makes me more excited for upcoming games because I’m looking forward to trying out a new power, SFX or speciality. I want to see how it affects play and I’m excited to earn more XP so I can spend them before the next adventure.
A Watcher may worry that if a player spends too much XP their characters will be unstoppable and thus there won’t be a challenge. There are several approaches you can take.
Firstly you could increase the cost of purchasing upgrades. This slows the progression of the characters to a manageable pace.
You could put a cap on the number of powers are D12, D10 and D8 (ensuring that characters are only strong in specific areas). This requires players to think tactically in which areas they want to focus in and then allow them to diversify their powers in other areas.
Giving players a roster of characters and allowing them to share their XP amongst their selection also slows the progression. Adding further additions to their roster gives them more characters to spend their limited number of XP on.
Players and Watchers should work together to make sure that the spending of XP makes sense for the characters. Intangibility is a cool power but you better have a good reason why you think Spider-Man or Captain America should have it.
Or you can simply not worry about it. As long as the hitting of Milestones and the spending of XP creates entertaining stories and everyone is having fun there is no need to put limits on the players.
When your games aren’t limited to Events and you start thinking about the big picture there are lots of exciting possibilities. Who knows where my version of Thor, Beast and Human Torch end up?
I don’t know but I’m going to have fun finding out.