make mine Marvel!

Poor Captain Marvel. The years have not been kind.

It’s been a while since I ran a game, and since the New York Red Box crew is well-saturated with fantasy at this point (Tavis’s OD&D campaign, Eric’s B/X campaign, and Adrian’s Rune Quest II arc), I figured I’d run a few sessions of Marvel Super Heroes.

I have a long, frustrating non-history with this game.  I’d bought it in 1985 – my second RPG after Mentzer Basic D&D – an fell in love with it, but none of my friends were comic fans, so it stayed unplayed, in time joined by its brother the Advanced Set.  Aside from a brief two-hour session a year ago, I never had any exposure to it in practice.

So, I’m organizing a handful of sessions for some people I don’t get to game with very often, applying a mixture of old and new school approaches.

The old school approach I’m going for here is a classic sandbox.  Marvel Super Heroes was released after the Golden Age, as Grognardia observed, and the standard adventures published as part of the line were of the worst railroady sort.  But the Marvel Universe is basically a sandbox waiting to happen, as it’s nothing more than a map with beloved locations (Daily Bugle, Gamma Base, City of Toads, Blue Area of the Moon, the Dark Dimension) populated by NPC’s and monsters (J. Jonah Jameson, the Hulkbusters, Deviants, the Watcher, Mindless Ones).  Rather than come up with an overarching plot, there will be a handful of threads and the sessions will go wherever the players lead me.

The new school approach will probably be Beliefs, Instincts and Traits, stolen from Burning Wheel.

  • Beliefs are brief statements about how your character views the world and his or her place in it; they should, ideally, be drafted to apply to the current situation.  Beliefs help the player figure out the character’s general goals, but also give the GM a target, a way to catch the character off-balance or address challenges that are relevant.  “With great power comes great responsibility!”  “Anyone can be a hero – the secret is to never give up!”  “Puny humans never leave Hulk alone!”  “I’m the best there is at what I do…”
  • Instincts are habits, reflexes, or schticks that the character can always be counted to employ.  This helps the player resist GM force, but also helps the GM create situations to show off (or problematize) those habits.  “Always keep my ruby-quartz visor on,” “Invoke the hoary hosts of Hoggoth when surprised,” and “When talking to people, boast about how great the Sub-Mariner is–Imperius Rex!” are instincts.
  • Traits are general comments about a character’s personality.  They’re mainly there so that the group has a baseline for awarding points for good play.

We’ll see how it goes.  At the very least, I’ll be able to cross a game off my list after 25 years of wistful speculation.

7 Responses to “make mine Marvel!”

  1. 1 Invincible Overlord
    June 13, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Freaking awesome idea! I want to play. It’s great to see you HACKING.

  2. 2 Scott LeMien
    June 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Rework the karma mechanic to include these as rewards. One annoying thing about this game is that, from my perspective at least I’d imagine captain America having a bank of 10k karma, not 60, to explain how he bests superior foes. The marvel game solution seems to be giving villains lower ranks than heroes. I’d suggest a liberal 1-2 column shift in villain stats as you deem appropriate, but make karma easier to earn via roleplaying, with the same or similar rules on karma loss. This might or might not make sense, I’m hastily typing this at a playground chasing after my son.

  3. 3 Naked
    June 13, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Are you needing players? I had the same set and loved this game back when, but never got to play it much. Will you organize thru the Red Box page?

  4. June 13, 2010 at 4:42 pm


    So, that’s actually one of the major attractions but also one of my major frustrations with traditional super heroes gaming, which I left out of the original post to avoid flames. I love how indie games do this by focusing on dramatic necessity, rather than realism: it’s obvious to me that this is how comics “really” work. But at the same time, this strains my sense of disbelief because once you get into free-form trait systems where everything is equally weighted, it feels like the world isn’t “really” there. So there’s this tension between versimilitude (Captain America really is kind of weak compared to the Hulk) vs. drama (they’re both equal in the reader’s sight).

    It’s something I don’t really know how to reconcile. I guess we’ll have to see.

    I want to get a few sessions under my belt first, but if it doesn’t suck I might expand it out into the Red Box.

  5. 5 Scott LeMien
    June 13, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    One thing I’d like to recommend working in is villain scenes! I still remember when you first did that. Offer karma payoffs for great performers who direct villains into hero beliefs!

  6. 6 pingstanton
    June 23, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    In Redbox now and again, but would love to get in on this game. Any open slots?

  7. June 25, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Maaaaaaybe. I’ll probably post something this weekend.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

June 2010

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