27
May
11

simple marvel minion rules

Gearing up for a one-shot of the Marvel Super Heroes Role-Playing Game (“MSH”), I’m wondering how to handle the minion arms race.

Ordinary villainous henchmen–your street thug, your violent civilian in a lynch mob–has around 20-30 Health Points.   If you’re a superhero, you’re going to be fighting mobs of these dudes frequently, and you can’t afford to spend too long plowing through them.

We ran into this exact situation a few years ago, when a friend was playing Nightcrawler dealing with an violent gang of anti-mutant bigots.  Nightcrawler connects with a punch maybe 60% of the time, for 6 points of damage.  He would, on average, need six rounds to subdue a perfectly ordinary guy.   This is extremely disappointing, because the one thing Nightcrawler can do reliably is whomp on whole mobs of minions.

Now, sure: Nightcrawler might get lucky and stun people with a single hit, using finesse and talent rather than raw power.  But that requires him to score a very rare “red” result on the combat table (around 5% of the time) and for the minion to then fail an Endurance saving throw (which happens about 50% of the time), so Nightcrawler is only going to take someone out with a single hit about 2.5% of the time.

So two ways to handle this: boost Nightcrawler’s Strength score to around 30 points, or lower the minions’ Health to 6 points. (I guess you could also make stuns easier by massively changing the game’s economy, but sheesh, lots of work.)

Boosting Nightcrawler’s Strength is kind of a bad solution.  Your Strength score has an objective value in the game: if you have 30 points of Strength, you’d be able to lift 1 ton, which doesn’t fit Nightcrawler at all.  We’d have to reconfigure the Strength chart, and boost everyone else up accordingly.  Plus it would de-value characters’ body armor: if you have 20 points of Body Armor, Nightcrawler couldn’t hurt you with 6 points of damage, but would wear you down if he did 30 points.  Nerfing body armor might not be a bad thing, since it’s extremely powerful in this game, but I think that step needs to be thought-through very carefully.

The easier solution would be to use something like minion rules.  Here’s a thought:

Minion Rank Health Points Example
Feeble 2 Schoolyard bully. Angry invalid.
Poor 4 Civilian, riled up by Hate-Monger or whoever
Typical 6 Normal, un-organized criminal hoodlum guy
Good 10 Serious crook. Mobsters. Policeman.
Excellent 20 Mafia hit-man. Soldier. The Enforcers.
Remarkable 30 Super-goon.
Incredible 40 Robotic or extra-brutish super-goon.
Amazing 50 God-goon

Minions can have the same Primary Abilities as any other NPC, just that Health is figured based on their Minion Rank rather than totaling up the scores of their physical Primary Abilities.  Optionally, Minions can have an Endurance equal to their Minion Rank, making them easier to slam and stun.

As soon as a minion gets a name and agency, he or she ceases to be a minion and becomes a regular NPC, with regular Health points and so on.

Note that this also would permit certain characters to have Minions as a super-power: in any particular scene you can have 1d10 Minions to assist you, at a cost of, say, 10 Karma per minion.

ETA: getting the last word, from the future, but in the past

So I’m incompetent at blogging.  Below, Zak S comments,

If your Nightcrawler guy is walking up to minions and smacking them, the wrong player’s playing nightcrawler.

I meant to throw some images in a reply comment, but I don’t know how to do that.  So:

it kills me I can't place this issue - I think it's Dave Cockrum's art though

And then also:

Claremont and Byrne - like, issue 131 or 132

I’ll be generous and say that reasonable folks can differ over something so vitally important to the world at large as Nightcrawler’s ability to show off in comics from, like, 30 years ago.  So it’s not like Zak is insane: this character does have a license to get creative.  But I think this is an established trick, too, and I’d like to be able to pull it off a little bit more reliably.


29 Responses to “simple marvel minion rules”


  1. 1 Zak S
    May 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    I’m agin’ it!

    Nightcrawler would:

    A) use his teleport to disarm minions
    B) use his teleport to dodge minions at the last minute and make them shoot each other
    c) use his teleport and agility to grab a minion, teleport it 3 stories up, then drop or threaten to drop the minion

    et cetera.

    If your Nightcrawler guy is walking up to minions and smacking them, the wrong player’s playing nightcrawler.

    Also, keep in mind minions aren’t necessarily terribly brave–if they get thrashed hard enough in the first few rounds–well then they’d just scatter.

  2. May 27, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    Zak wrote: “minions aren’t necessarily terribly brave–if they get thrashed hard enough in the first few rounds–well then they’d just scatter”

    I’m of the opinion that Marvel Super Heroes RPG probably needs morale rules, probably keyed to Psyche. One post at a time!

    Zak also wrote: “If your Nightcrawler guy is walking up to minions and smacking them, the wrong player’s playing nightcrawler.”

    Concededly, Nightcrawler has a variety of ways to deal with that problem, but
    (a) other characters may not
    (b) even Nightcrawler thrashes mobs of people on occasion

    I’ma try to edit some images into this comment, but given the limits of my blog-competence I may have to throw it as an addendum to the blog post. (EDIT: Hmm, I can’t do it. Gotta edit the main post.)

  3. May 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    I like the basic idea – taking out mooks using the MSH rules does take far too long for too little gain – but I think you may be over-complicating things. I’d be tempted to either A) declare that minions and other civilians only have 1/4 their normal calculated Health, or B) such characters get the Health score from their Encumbrance rating – Fighting, Agility, and Strength aren’t factored in.

  4. May 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    That said, Nightcrawler should probably have a Strength of Good (10). Anyone who can routinely throw and catch other people are part of a circus acrobat routine probably has above-average strength.

  5. 5 Zak S
    May 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I’m guessing he gets multiple attacks for stun effects.

    But: more importantly–for EVERY character superhero games pretty much HAVE to be about tactical creativity. It’s the basis of the whole genre: Oh no, how can we stop the Juggernaut, he’s literally unstoppable? Oh no, how do we stop the Blob he;s literally unmovable! How do I handle 8 mooks with guns at once? That’s the superhero business, bub.

    But then, I’m old school. I like fights you might not win.

  6. May 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Zak S wrote: “–for EVERY character superhero games pretty much HAVE to be about tactical creativity”

    Agreed! But I don’t think the Kingpin’s flunkies are in the same category as the Juggernaut, either in the fiction, or in their role in a comics story.

    The horde of dopey goons exists for only a few purposes:
    * To slow the heroes down. “Quick, the Crime Master is making his escape! Gotta get to the shuttle bay, if only these mobsters would get out of our way.” The challenge isn’t survival, or even overcoming the goons, but rather, getting around this boring obstacle.

    * To present a dilemma, usually in stories involving demagogues or mind-control. “The Hate-Monger whipped these Boy Scouts into a fascistic frenzy! How can we protect ourselves without killing children?” Again, the assumption is that victory in a straight fight is assured, but morally problematic.

    * To make heroes look good by going down easy. “Look at Spider-Man go! He’s fighting like a demon! Those are our best men!” I don’t know movie-lingo, but maybe this is like an ‘establishing shot’?

    But more broadly: if you’re looking for a super-hero game that facilitates tactical creativity, Marvel Super Heroes is not an especially good choice. You either have to design a scenario in such a way as to include lots of opportunities for lateral thinking, or you have to empower your players with authority to create deus ex machina type circumstances on the fly. Both of these are workable and necessary, but the game itself isn’t going to assist.

  7. May 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    James,

    Forgive me as i haven’t played MSH yet (hint, hint) but am familiar with systems that deal with hordes/mooks and have a passing familiarity with the Nightcrawler character.

    The curve you’re looking for is to have Nightcrawler pretty much take out the minion except for really bad rolls (say, a 1 or a 2 on a d6 of damage) and maybe allow for 6s or however MSH does crits to let the player get a second attack due to the character’s agility?

    In any event, I’m all for dehumanizing npcs unless they have significant gravity in the ongoing story.

    x
    e.

  8. May 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    ^ sorry, burgernerds = Double King. I must still be signed in on our NerdBurger account somehow.

  9. May 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Burgernerds wrote: “The curve you’re looking for is to have Nightcrawler pretty much take out the minion except for really bad rolls”

    More or less, yeah. Marvel Super Heroes makes this problematic, because by default the “to-hit” chance depends solely on the attacker. So Nightcrawler hits a minion 60% of the time, or Juggernaut 60% of the time. Furthermore, damage (and damage reduction) are fixed and unchanging, though rarely you might score a special result, like the chance to knock out an enemy or slam them across the room.

    This isn’t an ideal combination, in my view, since if you’ve got a character who has less than 24 points of Strength, you will need to hit a minion at least twice in order to take them out. This is arguably appropriate to Nightcrawler, who isn’t especially aggressive physically. But it’s a bad fit for Captain America (20 Strength) or Daredevil (10 Strength), both of whom smash through minions on a regular basis.

    The easiest hack is to just lower the Health points of second-rate adversaries. As you say, that involves treating some NPC’s more like scenery than as genuine people, but I think this is genre-appropriate in this specific circumstance.

    Knightsky wrote: “I’d be tempted to either A) declare that minions and other civilians only have 1/4 their normal calculated Health, or B) such characters get the Health score from their Encumbrance rating – Fighting, Agility, and Strength aren’t factored in.”

    What was the genesis for the idea, but I figured I couldn’t get a whole post of it. I suspect that both of your options equate to my idea in a lot of cases, though there may be a few exceptions.

  10. 10 Zak S
    May 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    “You either have to design a scenario in such a way as to include lots of opportunities for lateral thinking…”

    ummm…why would you ever -not- do that?

    Anyplace the PCs are fighting should be full of water mains, electrical wires, chop-downable trees, pieces of glass, droppable weapons and 9000 other things that can be used to turn the scenario upside down.

    Oterwise you;re just going through the motions, right?

    Plus: look, you got a whole handful of players. If the mooks take one down–so be it. The scenario just got more complicated.

  11. May 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    @Zak S wrote: “why would you ever -not- do that?”

    I’m not sure what we’re arguing about.

    Here’s my position:
    1. Super heroes triumph over significant adversity by lateral thinking). Super heroes don’t require lateral thinking to overcome insignificant adversity; that’s why we call them “super” heroes.

    2. No-name NPC punching bags are not significant adversity as combatants. They may be a significant adversity in some other context.

    3. Therefore, lateral thinking should not be required to overcome no-name NPC punching bags as combatants. Whether you need to think laterally in some other context will depend on that context.

    What’s the source of the disagreement?

    @Doubleking
    DK, let’s talk. How comics-nerdy are you?

  12. 12 Zak S
    May 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    I guess I’m just saying that I wouldn’t include the minion combat at all unless they were also a combat challenge. And you’re saying other reasons include…


    * To slow the heroes down. “Quick, the Crime Master is making his escape! Gotta get to the shuttle bay, if only these mobsters would get out of our way.” The challenge isn’t survival, or even overcoming the goons, but rather, getting around this boring obstacle.”

    Well then I don’t see the problem with goons having high stats because you don’t need to punch them unconscious, just get past them. Which is really easy if you’re nightcrawler. Or spider-man, or can fly or…pretty much if you’re anyone in tights, really, but the point is their health score has nothing to do with the minion-as-obstacle. You don’t pulverize a speed-bump, you just go over it.


    * To present a dilemma, usually in stories involving demagogues or mind-control. “The Hate-Monger whipped these Boy Scouts into a fascistic frenzy! How can we protect ourselves without killing children?” Again, the assumption is that victory in a straight fight is assured, but morally problematic.”

    Ok, so, again, why does their health score matter? You’re specifically trying NOT to cause them to get down to 0 health so you go for the knockout. Nightcrawler can’t kill them? Good.


    * To make heroes look good by going down easy. “Look at Spider-Man go! He’s fighting like a demon! Those are our best men!” I don’t know movie-lingo, but maybe this is like an ‘establishing shot’?

    Sure that happens in movies, but if that happens in games you’re playing a totally different game than me so whatever.

  13. 13 Eric G
    May 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Wouldn’t the Teleporting-as-fast-as-he-can-punch trick be treated as a Power Stunt in MSH? I think that would go half-way in terms of describing the trick. The rest of the problem is based on Nightcrawler’s Strength still not being enough to knock them out. Either make a Mook rule or count getting punched from an unexpected position as a “backstab” worth more damage or a possible stun.

  14. 15 Double King
    May 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

    “@Doubleking
    DK, let’s talk. How comics-nerdy are you?”

    A qualified “somewhat”. Grew up on them and then returned to them about 3 years ago. Never played MSH but def played a little Champions and perhaps some V&V in the 80s.

    J, another way to look at the mooks question would be to hack them into a swarm. So that in the abstract Nightcrawler might miss because of the confusion of bodies but when he hits the characters can get creative about the sulphuric stench and aerial acrobatics. Not entirely unlike a skill challenge in 4E. It might be too far a leap for this game system. Dunno.

  15. May 28, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Eric G: “Wouldn’t the Teleporting-as-fast-as-he-can-punch trick be treated as a Power Stunt in MSH? I think that would go half-way in terms of describing the trick. The rest of the problem is based on Nightcrawler’s Strength still not being enough to knock them out.”

    Exactly! Nightcrawler, like Quicksilver, is a guy who can attack a zillion times for very little damage. This is precisely what you’d expect when fighting a super-villain, but for my money it’s a little too weak against hordes of underlings.

  16. May 28, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Actually something I’ve run into three times now is the party pimp-handing somebody of fight-the-Avengers power level like the Mandarin or Skurge and then getting their asses entirely handed to them by the goon squad around these guys. Really it has just been fantastic dice rolls from the henchmen, but it sort of destroys the villains’ menace and the players’ sense of capability and power. I’m currently on a henchman hiatus.

  17. May 28, 2011 at 1:53 am

    …and Henchman Hiatus is going in the band name file.

  18. May 28, 2011 at 2:17 am

    Yeah, I can totally see that happening. It’s like a party taking on a single monster in D&D, right? Even against really serious enemies, the bad guy only gets 1 attack per 3-5 attacks of the party, and the villain usually can’t afford to dodge all the time (because, at least in the Basic set, dodging costs you your action for the turn). Once you end up in smackdown range it’s all over.

    Minions, meanwhile, have kind of the opposite problem: they outnumber the heroes, and may have enough guns or brute strength to do appreciable damage, but they don’t fold quite fast enough, unless you’re rolling with a 4e-style Controller who can whomp a whole bunch of dudes at once for significant damage.

  19. 20 Stevius
    May 28, 2011 at 2:24 am

    I am with Eric G on this one as well. Nightcrawler isn’t a brawler, so he should be using his powers in tactically advantageous ways; like in the video and comic panels. Even if he doesn’t knock them out in one shot, he can use his ‘porting to maneuver around them, trip them, disorient them, drop them on each other. A goon that is charging ‘Crawler could be bamphed and sent charging into his friends. Not only has ‘Crawler used his strength against them, but IIRC the teleportation leaves the subject dizzy and nauseous FOR TWO ROUNDS! Heck, why not ‘port the poor mook onto some roof, then port back?

    Plus, ‘Crawler has a power feat where he can lay the pain on one target four times in one round, and he can do this once every four rounds, while dodging! And what about his Martial Arts and Acrobatics? Don’t forget his dark blue fur, mooks have a hard time seeing him to attack him in shadows (-2CS), why not give ‘Crawler a modifier to hitting them when he strikes from shadows? Heck, why not stack his four hit power feat with an attack from the shadows?

    Dude, he has a tail! Kurt would do everything he can to stack the odds in his favor. His Agility is far higher than his Strength, so if he were to wrest away a mook’s gun he sure as hell wouldn’t hit him with it. Kurt would chuck it at someone, thus using his Amazing Agility! Now if he teleported into a shadow behind a mook, then threw the gun at the minion’s back using his tail, how many CS modifiers could you give him for that?

    That’s narrative gaming as God (and Stan Lee) intended, and it gives the GM some leeway in adding modifiers to both the hero and the mooks for surprise, creativity, and playing the character to his strengths. Otherwise, why play Nightcrawler at all? You might as well roll the Punisher without his guns.

    Basically, the point is not to buff the ‘Crawler, or to weaken the minions, it’s to force some “outside the box” thinking on the part of the player.

  20. 21 Stevius
    May 28, 2011 at 2:38 am

    You know, I forgot about misdirection. In the movie, Kurt allows them to see him, and give chase. He then uses his teleportation to double back on them while half the Secret Service guys are chasing their tails. What an excellent way to split their forces!

    Also, he used all of his abilities (including wall-crawling, but not fencing) to tip the scales in his favor. He fought smart. Hell, he could’ve even made use of his fencing if he had grabbed one of those theater-style rope posts in the beginning; it doesn’t need to be a sword.

    Basically, the movie showed how Nightcrawler should be played. If it takes you six rounds to deck one guy, you’re doing it wrong.

  21. 22 Stevius
    May 28, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Damn, I love this post of yours! It has me thinking!

    Why wouldn’t ‘Crawler use his wall-crawling or teleporting to smash some of the lights in the building, virtually guaranteeing him a tactical advantage due to his dark blue fur? Or hell, he could break lights by throwing stuff, did I mention that his Agility is Amazing?

    Kurt has more tricks than a brothel in Amsterdam!

  22. May 28, 2011 at 2:54 am

    Stevius,

    My issue isn’t Nightcrawler being able to hit people. The issue is the severity of the wound per hit. In the rules-as-written, I’m not sure there’s any canonical way to increase damage output aside from using a blunt object (+1 shift), a sharp object (fixed damage by weapon type) or by charging, which is handled as a special case.

    Using a whole boat-load of situational modifiers to damage would be another way to handle it. I tend to assume all of that stuff is being done anyway – sort of like how a “to-hit” roll in D&D presumably carries with it all kinds of nifty maneuvering which a player might narrate however she pleases–so if you roll a 20 you narrate in this absolutely stunning attack sequence, for example.

    But I could see a GM giving shifts to damage too. That might be a work-around for the problem of Body Armor, come to think of it. It’s a promising idea!

  23. 24 Stevius
    May 28, 2011 at 4:30 am

    Yeah, the only canonical way to up his damage is to use a weapon, or charge. However, I don’t think his strength is really a problem.

    Kurt is quick, not strong. Assuming he can manipulate his environment to his advantage, he can lay a four hit combo that’ll wipe many of your weaker hoods out. If he can gain a +2 CS bonus to hit, then he will hit 70% of the time, while stunning 10% of the time. All the while remaining canonical, ie. using his dark fur, shadows, teleporting, acrobatics, wall-crawling… whatever.

    His power feat allows him to hit up four times, for a max total of 24 damage empty handed; or 40 points with a bat or something. So on average we can expect him to pump out 18 or 30 points per round. On rounds where that power is not available, he can ‘port away to set up a charge. Like the running/teleporting/two feet to the face maneuver he pulls in the video. That’s good for at least 30 points right there. He can still attempt to attack more than once per round as well.

    Not quite the Nightcrawler in the movie, but still holding true to his comic book self. Besides, Kurt wasn’t well known for his ability to dish out damage so much as his ability to AVOID taking it.

  24. May 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Another thing to remember (and I think this is the biggest mistake people make in understanding how FASERIP Marvel works) is that the whole system is wired for determinism as long as the players act like superheroes – if Nightcrawler had, prior to that scene, dispersed an anti-mutant hate mob, saved a baby from being trampled by the crowd, told Wolverine to be more in touch with his feelings and read a bible-story to someone, he could think nothing of spending a couple of hundred points of karma to get whatever rolls he wanted and squash those thugs.

  25. May 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    MartynEm wrote: “if Nightcrawler had, prior to that scene, [earned lots of Karma], he could think nothing of spending a couple of hundred points of karma to get whatever rolls he wanted and squash those thugs.”

    I’m taking that as hyperbole. Karma awards for generic good deeds are somewhere in the neighborhood of +10 to +20 points per scene. Defeating a very powerful supervillain might earn you considerably more, but you’ll very likely have to spend Karma in the process, so that’s maybe a net of +30 or so (assuming you don’t split it with anyone else).

    It’s true that a superhero with 6 points of Strength could save up a ton of Karma, and then plow through a whole bunch of thugs, spending (say) 40 points on every single roll in order to have 50% chance of stun results (of which maybe 50% would lead to knock-outs). But that would require maybe a dozen build-up scenes, likely over multiple sessions of play, and would leave you with no reserves to take out the Big Supervillain.

    It’s certainly possible, but I think it turns mobs into much bigger threats than they’re usually depicted in Marvel comics. Maybe if Karma awards were 5x or 10x greater, but still spent at the same rate, it could work.

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