marvel heroic – illustrated example of play

Here you can see why I have no future in the fine arts!  Also, I will teach you how to cheat at this game!  Plus random Steve Ditko art!

(I’m using bold text for the GM (a/k/a the Watcher).)  Okay, so let’s cut to a new scene.  Spider-Man, you’re on top of the Fisk Building.  Since you stopped to threaten the Kingpin a second ago, I’m going to say that the Vulture’s had a few minutes to take to the air.  I’m plunking down Asset: Far Away, and I figure the Vulture flies fairly fast but not supersonic, so it’s rated with a d8.  (I’m allowed to do this to set up the scene; later it might cost me from the doom pool.)  The Vulture looks over his shoulder at you and snarls, “You’ll never catch the Vulture, wall-crawler!”  What now?

(I’m using regular text for Spider-Man’s player.)  Well, I guess I could try to web him up.  But I’m running low on plot points.  You know what?  Screw it.  I’m activating the limit on my Web-Slinging power set.  I’m out of webs!


Yeah, I mean, I really wanted to ruin the Kingpin’s upholstery back there.  You should see the place.  Webs everywhere.  I guess I shouldn’t have been so wasteful.  Anyway, I’m shutting down those powers, and you have to pay me with a plot point.  Thanks.  Spider-Man thinks to himself (makes thought-bubble gesture) “Without my web-fluid, he may be right!”

Okay, so you’ve shut that group of powers down, but what about for your action?

There’s probably heavy industrial stuff on this rooftop, right?  Like A/C units, satellite dish, water tower, that kind of thing?  I’m gonna rip up a big chunk of roofing machinery and chuck it at the Vulture.  That’s my Solo d8 + Superhuman Strength d10 + Wisecracker d8.

Man, don’t spam the Wisecracker trait.  You gotta give me something.

Fine.  “Hate to wreck property, but I gotta keep the HVAC unions in over-time!”  I notice you don’t force the Black Widow act out her Dangerous Liaisons trait. Anyway, that’s a . . . roll of 8 on the d10, and 6 and 3 on the pair of d8’s.  I’m going to keep the 8 and 6 as my total, for 14.  That leaves me with a d8 for my effect die.  What have you got?

There’s nobody to oppose you, so you’re rolling against the doom pool which stands at 3d6 + 1d8.  Rolling that, I get 6, 6, 4, 2.  My reaction is 6 + 6 = 12.  You beat me, and rip up the AC unit.  Now what?

Let’s use my d8 effect die to create an Asset: Torn-Up AC Unit d8.  What’s the Vulture doing?

Um, getting away but I’m honestly not sure.  The rules don’t say precisely how to increment assets like Far Away or Raging Wildfire.  Let’s try this: the Vulture’s gonna roll against the doom pool too.  If he wins, and his effect die is greater than d8 (so, a d10 or d12), then his Far Away asset takes on that value.  If he wins but his effect die is a d8 or smaller, the asset’s value bumps up by one.

Sounds okay.  That’s like the stress system, isn’t it?

Yeah, I guess so.  There’s a lot of self-similar stuff in this game, which is kind of confusing, but also, once you learn one trick, you can apply it elsewhere.  I still don’t know how I feel about that.  Anyway: Vulture’s got Solo d10 + Cowardly d8 + Feathery Flight d8.  He’s also trying to coax a little more performance out of his flying harness, so that’s probably +1d8 for his Tech Expert specialty.  Dang, this game uses a lot of d8’s–let’s pretend this Tens dice is a d8 and I’ll re-roll a 90 or 00.  I roll 7, 5, 5, 1, for a total of 12 with a d8 for my effect die.

Here, I’m rolling the doom pool: 3d6 + 1d8 . . . 8, 6, 3, 3.  The reaction is 14, beating your 12, so you lose.  Maybe the Vulture has gotten a little overconfident and still hoping to stay within gloating range?

Sure.  So my Asset: Far Away stays at d8.  And I rolled a 1, that’s an opportunity.  Do you want to buy it for one plot point?  It will let you bump up any push or stunt on your next action.

Nah–I have something else in mind.  Okay, so I’m going to throw the AC Unit one-handed at the Vulture and break those smelly wings.  “Vulture, if you’re flying south for the winter, you’ll need air-conditioning!”  Solo d8 + Wisecracker d8 + Superhuman Strength d10 + Asset: Torn-Up AC Unit d8.  Hmm, you do need to buy more dice!  I hate this stupid Tens dice thing you do.  Anyway, that’s an 8 on the d10, and 5, 4, 2 on the 3d8.  I’m gonna make my total 13, and use 1d8 for my effect die.  And maybe something else… but let’s see how you roll.

Vulture’s reaction is Solo d10 + Feathery Flight d8 + Acrobatic Expert d8 + Asset: Far Away d8.  I can’t think of a distinction that applies.  So that’s 8, 5, 5, and 2.  My reaction is 13, equal but not greater than yours, so you hit the Vulture.  You’re going for d8 physical stress with your effect die?

Yes, but I’m also spending that plot point, which lets me use a second, unused die on my roll for an effect as well.  So in addition to d8 physical stress with my first (free) effect die, I’m going to damage his Feathery Flight trait with my second effect die, a d8.  Try getting away now!

Hmm!  Let me mark off the stress.  The Vulture’s Feathery Flight is rated at d8, so you’ve demolished that power completely!  The Vulture groans in pain and plummets from the sky!  Okay, for his action he’s going to try to recover. I’m going to take that d8 out of the doom pool and use it to reestablish my flying trait.

Wait, I thought you can only try to heal yourself during a transition scene?  In an action scene someone else can try to heal you, but if you’re doing it all on your own you need to wait until things quiet down.  Unless you’ve got healing powers like Wolverine.

Huh!  Let me see, I thought I could do that.  (Checks rule book.)  Looks like you’re right.  Okay, well, let’s just say he’s falling toward a building helplessly–thinking maybe he had a spare power pack somewhere and realized he forgot it at home.  What do you do now?

I’m going to eliminate the distance asset.  That’s Swingline d8 + Solo d8 + Acrobatic Master d10–eh, you know, I’m going to split that d10 down to 2d8.  And can I fold in the Vulture’s d8 stress because he’s still hoping to get away?  Yes?  Okay, that’s me rolling 5d8 . . . 8, 8, 4, 3, 1.  Do you want to buy that 1 off me?  My total is 16, with a d8 for my effect die.

Sure.  Here’s a plot point, and I add 1d6 to the doom pool, which is now 4d6 + 1d8.  And for his reaction, the Vulture rolls Solo d10 + Acrobatics Expert d8 + Asset: Far Away d8.  I’m going to include my Cowardly distinction at a d4, because that lets me step up the lowest die in the doom pool, making it 3d6 + 2d8. 

Come on, man, how are you cowardly?

The Vulture’s screaming out, “My wings, my wings!”  He’s unsure whether to be more scared of Spider-Man or hitting the rooftop, and so isn’t able to prepare well against either.  Hmm, that’s 4, 4, 4, 4.  My reaction is 8, you beat me.  In fact, you beat me by more than 5, so your d8 effect die steps up to d10.  What were you hoping to do, again?

Eliminate your Asset: Far Away d8.  I’m closing in on my web-line.  Thwip!  Thwip!

Okay.  And–hey, wait a minute!  Weren’t you out of web-fluid?  You didn’t reactivate your Web-Slinging power.  I think your dice pool was wrong!

I, um, forgot.  Yeah, forgot.  Say, you know what’s interesting about the Vulture?  He’s like Spider-Man’s evil grand-dad or something.  They’re both gadget-guys, they’re both acrobats, but Peter Parker is a nice kid and the Vulture’s this mean old ex-con.

Oh man, don’t get me started.  There’s this whole anxiety about fathers in the Silver Age Spidey stories.  Jameson exploiting his astronaut son, Robbie worried about his kid’s politics, Harry freaking out on drugs and becoming the Goblin.  Captain Stacy.  It’s frequent and really sustained.  What’s kind of cool about the Vulture is that he’s got that same thing going on with his super villain career, but in reverse: passing the costume on to the younger Blackie Drago who has no respect for his elders.  A hero with no father and a villain with no heir.  Vulture and Spider-Man really deserve each other.

Gee, how about that!  So, um, what’s he doing on his round?

Trying not to splatter on the roof, I suppose.  He’s rolling Solo d10 + Acrobatics Expert d8 + Spry Geezer d8.  And I’m going to spend 2d6 out of the doom pool to add to my roll.  That’s 6, 6, 4, 4, 1, total of 12.  Want to buy that 1 off of me?

Sure.  Here’s a plot point, now I can push harder or stunt better on Spider-Man’s next turn.  The doom pool is now 1d6 + 2d8, right?  And also maybe the Vulture’s d8 stress.  Let’s roll: 5, 4, 3, 2.  Reaction of 9.  So I guess you don’t get splattered.

Okay, so let’s say you’re clambering onto the rooftop where the Vulture landed.  He’s all banged up and looks like he’s seen better days.  What now?

(play continues)

56 Responses to “marvel heroic – illustrated example of play”

  1. March 7, 2012 at 1:56 am

    The artist in this example stupidly did not follow his own script, which said that Spidey was out of webs. Hence, the cagey cheating in the play example here.

  2. March 7, 2012 at 2:09 am

    Not 100% sold on this game yet, but you’ve got Spidey’s classic banter down frighteningly well.

  3. March 7, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Don’t you love how in the Silver Age supervillains were allowed to keep their high-tech costumes while in jail?

  4. March 7, 2012 at 2:27 am

    I’m not sure I’m sold either; it’s too soon to tell. That play example is about 2000 words, for about a page of a comic, and probably would take 10 minutes at the table, just for one pair of characters having a pretty brief exchange.

  5. March 7, 2012 at 2:27 am

    “There’s no law against a man owning a costume!” Especially a costume that will permit you to escape the jail and/or murder people when you get out!

  6. March 7, 2012 at 4:55 am

    There’s a lot I like at play here–I actually like the dice pool mechanic, and the idea of disabling powers/using disadvantages to add to your dice pool. I think they’re all nice mechanics. But the more I think about it, the harder time I have picturing a full group playing through a game, especially with the sheer NUMBER of dice being rolled.

  7. March 7, 2012 at 8:08 am

    In my experience what is happening at the table while those two players are doing that thing for 10 minutes is that my son and I are screening mental comic book movies and being like “hey you can make Colossus look good if you draw the bands on his armor like so” and “I dig the way you put some muscles on Vulture.” In other words it gets a pass on a storygame thing I hate (where individual turns in the spotlight go on way longer than even 4e when you are doing the fighty fight thing the game wants to be about) just because the comics stuff is so rich and fun. You know how we say sometimes that the great virtue of old school games is that the mechanics don’t get in the way of your imagination? Here it is kind of like that too. The game gives you fun comic book scenarios, and then every ten minutes it is someone else’s job to feed the mechanics to keep them out of the way while everyone else has a good time drawing and does the comics jibba jabba James also renders so well here.

  8. March 7, 2012 at 8:08 am

    This sounds excruciating–not the story mechanics so much as all the translating and uncertainty and mountain abstract crunch. The only advantage you get out of it over FASERIP seems to be _which guy_ at the table decides the web shooters are outta fluid.

    I feel like tagging a “Disaster-for-Karma Buy Off” mechanic (the kind already in use in many horror games) to FASERIP would give you the same effect with way less math and hair-splitting.

  9. March 7, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Plus it seems like you can’t do anything unless you know the rules backwards and forwards.

  10. March 7, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I didn’t feel that not knowing the mechanics or the comics kept me from doing stuff. The scenario made it clear there were things to do – James thought he was railroading us, but I needed no encouragement other than “that strange light in the sky will probably give me an excuse to blow stuff up” – and the presentation on the character sheets made it clear how I would engage with the mechanics. I haven’t played FASERIP but I tend to bounce off other supers games like Champions or M&M because I feel like I have to know how OCV relates to my Wound Threshold or whatever in order to make an informed decision. The decisions here were light-weight mechanically which avoided analysis paralysis and is part of that virtue of getting out of the way.

  11. 11 drnuncheon
    March 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    We tried this out and it is really not a slow as you might think. By halfway through our first conflict of the night my players were happily leaping out of helicopters, throwing Buicks at gang members, super-speeding to the hardware store to tie a guy up with a chain—it was frankly pretty awesome.

  12. March 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    With due respect to Tavis, I think he had an unusual experience by virtue of not normally playing super hero games.

    “But the more I think about it, the harder time I have picturing a full group playing through a game, especially with the sheer NUMBER of dice being rolled.”

    You’re going to need a bin to hold the dice in the doom pool, and some kind of corral to separate the dice being rolled from the dice waiting to be picked up. And you’re going to need a very large number of d8’s.
    “The only advantage you get out of it over FASERIP seems to be _which guy_ at the table decides the web shooters are outta fluid.”

    The advantages over FASERIP is an open question to me as well. In that game, Spider-Man picking up something to throw at the Vulture, and then hitting him with it, probably takes 45 seconds. In theory this game gets the “Thief of Fighting” effect, where in order to play Marvel Heroic at all, you’ve got to pause every time you add a die to your pool to describe some fictional correlate–“The Sub-Mariner is shouting ‘Imperious Rex!‘ so that’s a d8 for me.”

    This means that the fiction will always be richer than FASERIP at its most rudimentary “I attack . . . I hit!” level, but (a) I don’t know anyone who plays it that way all the time, and (b) sometimes you just want to get stuff over with. Frankly, three rounds against the Vulture probably isn’t worth 10 minutes of time.

    The groups I played with had a lot of fun! But the type of fun differs, in some subtle ways, from the kind of fun I normally have.

  13. March 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    The biggest superhero game on the block for decades was Champions, and it is known for both being incredibly slow and requiring a metric fuckton of dice rolling. I bought one of those Chessex boxes of 36d6 when I started running it, and then went back the following week for two more. So although I can understand some of the complaints from the indie filth crowd, who typically decide conflict results by consulting their feelings, the new rules seem far easier to manage than most of the superhero games I’ve tackled in the past.

  14. 14 Adam
    March 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    “Frankly, three rounds against the Vulture probably isn’t worth 10 minutes of time.”

    One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is the importance of speed in a rpg (especially speed in combat). Partly this is based on thinking about why I don’t particularly like 4e; partly this is thinking about what I want to see in 5e; and partly this is thinking about my reservations about Epidiah Ravachol’s Dread (and related games, like my beloved homebrew Heroic Dread variant): it’s awesome, but it’s slow. What could be 10 minutes in a fast system could be an hour in a slow system. And that means each fight has to be that much more fun, because it’s squeezing out time for all of the other fun stuff.

    I’m currently thinking that there is room for the epic, set-piece battle that takes an hour or a couple of hours to play. That’s fun as a big climax, as the resolution to the adventure, as the way you take down the giant villain. But nine times out of ten, that’s not what I want. When I start thinking that every fight is going to take a long time (which dice pool systems are terrible about), then I start thinking that a system isn’t very good for me… with the possible exception of games that are doing something really different. A single conflict in Dogs in the Vineyard can take a long time–but that single conflict carries a lot of weight and meaning. A single fight in Dread can take a long time, but it does a ton to ratchet up tension and build that horror feel.

    For occasional play, you can overcome this, of course; I have fun in 4e games, and while I had a wading through molasses feel when playing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I found that humming the theme music to myself during the fight scenes still made it kinda fun. But for games where there will be lots of fights, not occasional emotionally wrought fights, I want a system that covers the medium long fights in 15 minutes and the short fights in 5 or 1 minutes, with hour+ reserved for the most important, most exciting fights (less than one per session.)

  15. March 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Your Heroic Dread is beloved by me too!

  16. March 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Just piping in that I *love* transcripts of play reports. They are probably my most favorite thing in the world to read.

    That said, I could barely make it through this one. I’m glad someone likes this, but I do not think I would have fun.

  17. March 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    I liked the game, but, then again, I also really liked James’ comic, too. This game confers mechanical advantages to roleplaying, so you shoehorn in all your dice. Sorcerer did it and now Marvel does it.

    One big advantage over FASERIP: In the old game, characters are so set in stone, they may have nothing to fear from lower powered ones. In this game, you can fiction-in reasons for your second string hero to pull off a win if the dice cooperate. Black Widow finished off Count Nefaria?

  18. March 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    @Scott LeMein

    Well the zone of uncertainty there is Karma in FASERIP. All Black Widow’s character has to do to get karma is role-play. And then she can use it to push any result against Count Nefaria into the red.

  19. March 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    Karma can do a lot, but you need a bunch of it, and in some situations no matter how well you roll, you still can’t overcome a character’s defenses. If I recall, for example, the Hulk has something like 75 points of damage reduction, which makes it hard for somebody like the Wasp to take him out physically. Obviously this is a puzzle-type encounter: “How do I overcome this guy?” (I thought about doing an example of play in which the Beast takes on the Juggernaut, which is kind of the same thing, but had already drawn this comic and didn’t feel like making another one.)

    In FASERIP, overcoming these types of puzzles depends, basically, on GM largesse. As a player I can say, “GM, I look around for a big pit of wet concrete to drown the Hulk in,” and either the GM says it’s there or it isn’t, in which case I’ve gotta play Mother-May-I some more until I hit on the right solution. (Nothing wrong with playing mother-may-I.)

    In this thing, players supposedly don’t need to play that game. You can just say, “I’m using my flying powers, and maybe my vestigial Insect Control power (ugh, taking some emotional stress from using it) to scout around for a big pit of concrete. Aha, found one: that’s an Asset at d10. I’m going to spend a plot point to make it an asset that persists from round to round. Don’t scowl like that, GM, I rolled it fair and square.”

    There’s an ability to edit the fiction meaningfully in play, which is cool. Except for two problems: first, you’ve still got to play Mother-May-I in this game because you could say something that throws off the other players, like, “Use my powers to summon Hostess Fruit Pies d10” in a serious style of game, and it would have the same effect as the pit of concrete. Second problem is that this may make puzzle-encounters easier than we intuitively think they should be. Wasp defeating the Hulk ought to be one hell of a struggle requiring a ton of creativity. Maybe it still is in this game–I haven’t played it out–but I suspect it would be a different kind of creativity. (Shades of playing skill-system D&D versus non-skill-system D&D.)l

  20. March 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    @james nostack

    This whole “Mother May I” vocabulary seems kinda tedious.

    Like when someone goes “Well in older versions of ____ you have to play Mother May I to find a rock on the
    floor of a cave”

    I think “Well in older versions of ____ you have to _have a GM who is not a complete and utter dick_ to find a rock on the floor of a cave”

    I think it’s just a term used to belittle the idea that a good GM is an important part of any functional system.

  21. 21 Jesse
    March 7, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Hostess Fruit Pies should be used in the book as an example of using the 2d12 Doom Pool dice scene-ending option in favor of the players. In fact I don’t think there’s another way to use them. A d12 asset isn’t powerful enough.

    Or, actually, I guess you could introduce it as a complication on an enemy and strengthen it turn after turn (“rich, moist cake” d10, “luscious creamed filling” d12…) until the target is incapacitated (“Our plans have been foiled by these delicious golden cakes.”). Jesus, these rules can handle anything.

  22. March 7, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    But Zak, that’s assuming that good GM’s are all going to decide an issue in the same way.

    Let’s assume we’re playing a supers game, and a player says, “Hey, is there a big construction site that I can get to within one round?” Let’s say we’re not playing with a map, but the timing issue is relevant to what’s going on.

    I don’t think there’s a categorical “good GM call” here. One GM might say, “Yes, there’s construction site just across the street. It’s got, like bulldozers and a pile of concrete pipes, and girders and concrete mixers and everything.” Another GM might say, “Not within one round of you–it’s the Lower East Side, after all–but you can probably get to the Financial District, 9/11 memorial thing with gobs of tourists nearby. That might take you 3 rounds.”

    Both GM’s are painting a fun scene, but there are different pacing requirements involved, and those 3 rounds might really be critical to what the player has in mind.

    Even once you get there, there’s the question of how long it takes to fill a pit with concrete, how likely it is that the Hulk will fall in, whether he gets stuck, etc. One GM might whip up a fair set of rules and say, “Hey, you succeeded! That’s really cool, you earned it. Congratulations.” Another GM might devise a different set of rules based on what he thinks is likely and say, “You think you’ve finally got him–and then the Hulk busts loose! He’s leaping toward the United Nations, where the president is speaking!”

    I don’t think the GM is being a dick in either case. But the fiction is far, far more sensitive to his input than to yours as a player, and what you can do depends in large part on his judgment–with the recognition that reasonable GM’s may differ. Even if the GM isn’t being an asshole, you might still prefer to play in a game where your view of the fiction gets a little more oomph.

  23. March 7, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    James, I re-imagined your example over on the SG thread about this same scene; dunno if you saw it. Let me quote what I posted there:

    My take based on some re-reading while I was on the train this morning, and tell me if this makes sense.

    VULTURE: I’m getting out of here! I roll [Affiliation + Distinction + Power + Specialty], and I spend a Doom Die to add the Stunt, “High-Flying Retreat d8”.

    SPIDEY: I’m going to stop him! I roll [Affiliation + Distinction + Power + Specialty], and I spend a PP to add the Stunt (or use an existing Scene Distinction), “Hurled AC Unit d8”.

    They roll. Assuming that Spidey was rolling a Reaction and not an Action, if he succeeds, I think he simply prevents Vulture from escaping this round. He could spend a PP to use the Effect die to shutdown the Vulture’s Wings trait, I believe.

    If Spidey was rolling an Action, then he could declare his intent to be a shutdown of the Vulture’s Wings trait, and Vulture is simply trying to defend himself by getting as far away as possible.

    Anyway, if the Vulture wins in either case, then the fictional result is that he’s flown off, and anyone attacking him either needs to have the ability to pursue him or attack at range. I don’t know that specifics about range really matter. We’re talking about superheroes here; they will find a way, be it a repulsor ray shot or a Fastball Special.

    Basically, I don’t see any need for the Vulture to create an Asset to represent his distance; Assets are intended to be used by any character, so it does;t make sense. And Spidey should not have to roll in order to rip up the AC unit. The OM specifically talks about what things various powers can do without rolling; Spidey’s strength is easily high enough to pick up an air conditioner.

    Ergo, your whole scene could be handled with one roll, I think.

    Granted, I have not played the game yet, only read the book.

  24. March 7, 2012 at 9:48 pm


    I see your point. But in I’m not sure this is the most elegant way to get that control.

  25. March 7, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    James, have you ever played the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game (the one that used the SAGA cards)? The way it handled overcoming defenses made it my old group’s favorite superhero game after years of FASERIP loyalism. (We were really bummed out that Cap was practically unable to harm a chump like the Rhino in FASERIP.)

  26. March 7, 2012 at 10:20 pm


    Sometimes Cap beats the Rhino because he’s all worried he’ll get smeared but then he thinks of a clever plan

    Sometimes Cap beats the Rhino because he is really mad because the Rhino is fucking with WHAT AMERICA STANDS FOR!!!!!

    Which Cap do you want to play?

    For my money FASERIP gave both equal weight: you need a plan but you can get karma to fuel it by making corny Cap speeches.

    In this game you don’t ever need a clever plan. Ever.

  27. March 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I’m not sure it’s the best way to do it either. Also, somehow I cannot post a reply on your website – I ended up hitting submit several times because it seemed like it wasn’t taking. If that results in, like, 6 posts in a row, I apologize!

    I haven’t played it, though I have read it on your recommendation. It looks really good, but I just don’t have it in me to create one of those decks from scratch.

  28. March 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    “In this game you don’t ever need a clever plan. Ever.”

    Here’s a question, meant in all sincerity: in the context of a role-playing game session–the real people at the table, talking about improvised fictional events–what is a “clever plan”?

  29. March 7, 2012 at 10:41 pm


    A clever plan is a way to use the assets _already given_ in a way no-one had expected or heard of before that _according to pre-existing rules, rulings and scene descriptions_ would have to work.

    i.e. An emergent tactic.

    Simple example: the first time Reed Richards slingshotted The Thing at somebody it was “a clever plan”.

    Another example: Call of Cthulhu scenario. PCs must gain access to a heavily-guarded secret society.
    PC kills one guard, then applies for the security guard’s job the next day.

    Another example: PCs are on a boat being grappled by a giant starfish. They want to fireball the starfish but not risk setting the boat on fire. So instead of targeting the starfish itself, the wizard targets a piece of floating debris that is less that the blast radius away from the starfish but more than the blast radius away from the boat.

    Both of these outcomes _can_ happen when the player has a tremendous amount of environment/story control, but when the player _doesn’t_ s/he is forced to do this more often.

    Also, in all these scnenarios someone can pixelbitch until they find some scrap of territory where the GM’s desire to make the plans above work (or lack thereof) could make the clever plan more or less likely to work (“who decides that the secret society places a public ad for new employees? the GM.), but it is equally possible to describe platonically “locked down” scenarios where every single moving part required to make a plan work is pre-described and pre-ruled.

    That is, after all, how emergent tactics in wargames work. Someone discovers a combo that is devastating, there is no GM, the other player looks in dismay at the rules: Yep (shakes head) there is no way to jigger the rules so this is not brilliant. Like in Wh40K 1e: throwing a globe of change at your own horde of snotlings.

  30. March 7, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    But I think that happens here too.

    “Yo, GM, I wanna use the Thing as a projectile. I’ve got my stretchy-powers and he’s got his rock-hard skin powers, let’s combo that.”

    “GM, we’re in a boat with wreckage flotsam, right? Okay, as Joey and Billy get dissolved by the giant starfish’s extrudable stomach, I’m hunting around for a piece of debris. (Rolls) Hey, great, one’s in range. Now I’m going to detonate it with my psychokinesis.” (If this was breaking the underlying fictional understanding, this wouldn’t be possible–that’s what I meant by forcing the group to police the mechanics a bit.)

    Anyway, I think it’s pretty clear you don’t dig on this design, and that’s okay with me.

    Because for some reason I can’t post on blogger: where are the illustrations?!

  31. March 7, 2012 at 10:53 pm


    Like I already said:

    “Both of these outcomes _can_ happen when the player has a tremendous amount of environment/story control, but when the player _doesn’t_ s/he is forced to do this more often.”

    As for the illustrations: Srsly?

  32. March 7, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I don’t think that claim necessarily follows. Are you saying that when players have the ability to modify their environment without going through the GM, they’ll use it less often rather than more? Or that they deserve less credit for doing so?

    I can see an argument for saying they deserve less credit, but that’s supposes we’re comparing the same skill, and I’m not sure we are.

    And yes srsly. I obviously cannot draw for shit; that took me 10 minutes. It would insult you to say you were merely 20 times better than me, so surely it’s less than 30 seconds for you.

  33. March 7, 2012 at 11:02 pm


    It’s like an oulipo situation. The older game _forces_ you to think tactically. Which I like.

    If you don’t want to do that int he new game, there’s the option of going “well, I draw on my creative writing skill instead”.

  34. March 8, 2012 at 12:37 am

    Thanks for posting that. i liked teh comic. As for the game, I think i’ll stick with ICONS (Which is very, very similar to FASRIP).

  35. March 8, 2012 at 12:45 am

    The unavailability of the card deck is definitely a problem when it comes to MSHAG. The game is a bitch to find used, as it was killed not long after being released. (They didn’t even bring out the last roster book, which was supposed to have all the street-level dudes in it. Bummer.)

  36. March 8, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Sp, we’re not going to address the issue of James getting the rules wrong in his example?

  37. March 8, 2012 at 2:27 am

    Although assets are specifically defined to include “a piece of scenery . . . that didn’t already have game mechanics representing [it]” [OM 23], I grant you the text can be read your way. I apologize for arguably getting a rule wrong in a game that came out a week or two ago.

  38. March 8, 2012 at 2:32 am

    Gotcha, James. I’m absolutely not trying to be a dick. I just wanted to point out that your whole drawing could be handled with a single set of action and reaction rolls. Since Spidey and Vulture are each simply creating traits that help themselves, there’s no need to generate Assets. So this scene is actually really simple to resolve.

    I played FASERIP once and really loved it! Otherwise, I am a long time Champions and V&V player. I’m loving the MHRPG so far. (First session is this weekend!)

  39. March 8, 2012 at 2:41 am

    I’m sorry: that sounded ruder than I meant it to be. If we grant that Spider-Man could just rip up the air conditioner no problem (and I considered that possibility), there are still going to be situations where a PC decides to create an asset out of the fiction. This is a significant departure from many games, and if someone is on the fence about what this game is like, it’s an important thing to highlight and disclose. Zak, for example, really seems to dislike it, and I suspect he would dislike it just as much even if the fictional circumstances were slightly re-jiggered.

    My goal was to give people a rough explanation of how the game works, to decide whether it’s worth their $20. The fact that you and I (and like 5 other people on Story Games) disagree on how to read a really bare-bones sample action is also a design feature of this game which may not be for everybody.

  40. March 8, 2012 at 2:52 am

    One thing to keep in mind if you’re running the Breakout scenario: practically the very first thing that occurs in the session is, the players see Electro fleeing the scene. From the Watcher’s perspective, whether Electro gets away or not is extremely significant.

    Here’s what the rules have to say about that:
    “Heroes outside the Raft have the opportunity see Electro flying away . . . Electro might be identified . . . A hero who chooses to pursue might catch up with Electro […], but doing so means abandoning the Raft, which isn’t
    a great option. It’s best if a non-flying hero—someone who can’t easily pursue Electro—
    witnesses [the] departure.”

    Man, that is some fucked up bad GM’ing advice right there. Either frame past that totally, or else make it something you can interact with. My choice on Saturday was to make it something you could interact with. But how do you handle it?

    First of all, the heroes have the “opportunity” to see Electro flying away–that’s a little different than saying “they see Electro flying away,” and I thought maybe there was some uncertainty about whether they can see him or not. How to resolve regular perception checks in this game? It’s not really clear.

    Second, Electro is getting away–but how long does it take him to do so? When do we know he’s gone? Does it matter how fast I can fly if I want to catch him? Does his head start matter? It’s not really clear.

    Third, if Hero #1 chases after Electro, can Hero #2 (who goes to the helipad on the jail) still interact with Electro? Can Hero #2 throw an air conditioner at him? What about fire an optic-blast? Or shoot long-range missiles with a power stunt? If any of these can be done, does the distance matter?

    So right from the very beginning, we’ve got perception checks, a chase with a head start, and (potentially) ranged combat–and the book is totally silent about this. Personally I think that’s a really dumb thing to open with, and my idea of using distance as an asset, while flawed, is the simplest way to handle this mechanically, but in the rules vacuum there’s certainly room for other interpretations.

  41. 43 Oz
    March 8, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Thanks for the write up. While I find the system intriguing, it actually looks even more cumbersome in play than I feared. I use a hack of the SAGA system, which flows pretty fast (unless the cards are being really evil). While I considered getting my group to give the new game a try, I fear it would mostly be an exercise in frustration.

  42. March 8, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Oz, it reads worse than it plays, because I’m making an effort to spell things out to people who don’t know the system. In play, people seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, but I think it takes an unusual perspective on GM’ing.

  43. 45 Buzz
    March 8, 2012 at 3:33 am

    You’re not being rude at all, James. I apologize if I sounded flippant.

    I think that, as we get more familiar with the MHRP system, adjudicating scenarios like your will become less and less of a debate. The game’s only been out like a week, after all! How long did it take all of us to get familiar with D&D when it was new? I don’t even want to think how many years it took me to get a decent handle on Champions. :)

    Anyway, my point we simply that I think the game is simpler than it seems, and that needs to be considered as part of the ongoing discussion.

  44. 46 Buzz
    March 8, 2012 at 3:43 am

    I agree about the opening scene with Electro. I think the text wants to drop the hint that someone is escaping amidst the chaos (as that’s what happens in the original comic), but for some reason waffles about whether the players can do anything other than observe. It would have made more sense for the Watcher to give the players a PP each in exchange for witnessing the escape, but not being able to act on it. I.e., it’s just a clue.

    Still, should they pursue, I think that the distance in simply abstracted. If the hero can fly, they can pursue. If the hero can’t, they can either try a ranged attack or ignore the escape. Even with multiple heroes, I think all that matters is whether they choose to interact with Electro. And, at some point, the Watcher can say that Electro and/or any flying heroes are too far away for grounded heroes to interact with. In fact, the Watcher can spend a Doom Die to split the heroes up, thus changing their Affiliation dice. “Iron Man, you’re now out of range of Spidey’s web shooters. Use your Solo die from now on.”

  45. March 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    There are a few issues to look at here.

    First, you need to decide as the Watcher what FAR AWAY actually is. In this example, you call it an asset. That may or may not work out necessarily, and it certainly doesn’t work the way you describe. If you so chose, you could have the Vulture test his Flight against Spiderman’s abilities at the start of the scene, he’ll be rolling 1D10+3D8 (Solo D10+Cowardly D8+Feathery Flight D8+Tech Expert D8, according to what you have here) against Spiderman rolling 3D8+2D10 (Solo D8+Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman D8+Superhuman Reflexes D10+Swingline D8+Acrobatic Master D10). If the Vulture succeeds, he could use his effect die to establish it as an asset at D(effect).

    You could decide to set the Vulture FAR AWAY as a Scene Distinction, meaning he gets it as a D8 that he can use instead of one of his other Distinctions. This also means that Spiderman can use it as a D4+PP.

    You could also decide that Spiderman should test against the Vulture to see if he can keep up with him. If he fails (or the Vulture spends a Doom Die), the Vulture’s effect die can be used as a FAR AWAY Complication at D(effect). I would probably use this option, because the Vulture can then use his actions to step up the FAR AWAY Complication (exactly like inflicting strees), while Spiderman might use his actions to step it down, and it would be the sort of thing that the Vulture can use on all his rolls against Spiderman. Once the Complication die steps above D12, the Vulture has gotten away.

    The player(s) should never touch the Doom Pool. If the Vulture is trying to get away from Spiderman, then you’re testing Vulture’s movement against Spiderman’s movement (if he’s chasing) or some other Spiderman ability (maybe he hurls insults at the Vulture to make him angry and keep him from flying away and potentially cause emotional stress). If a non-player character takes actions against the Doom Pool, they spend a D6 from the Doom Pool instead of rolling.

    Assuming the Vulture’s Flight has the Gear Limitation, Spiderman can spend a PP to shut it down. So if he hits the Vulture the way he did in your example, he can spend a PP to use the effect to shut down Flight or spend 2 PP to do damage and use the Limit. The Vulture can then, on his next action, spend a D6 from the Doom Pool to reactivate it.

    Sorry for the long comment. I just saw places where things might have needed clarification. I hope I was helpful. The Marvel rulebook isn’t terribly well organized.

  46. March 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for the input! I appreciate the long and thought-out response. Here’s my explanation:

    1. The player’s rolling the doom pool because, in a two-person example in which the GM is rolling against the world, it’s easier to read if we personify the world.

    2. It’s not clear that the GM should be rolling against the doom pool in this instance to settle the question, “Does the Vulture gain enough control over his broken wings to come in for a safe landing?” Maybe rolling against the doom pool isn’t the right approach. I come from a tradition, both in story games and in D&D, where if the GM has uncertainty about what “really would happen” or uncertainty about what’s the most entertaining outcome, then he should go to the dice. Here, Spider-Man’s not opposing the fall, so it’s the Vulture going against … who? (Recognizing that there may be a hidden spot in the rules where this is addressed, this is at least representative of how people wrestling with confusing text would handle it.)

    3. Spider-Man’s not trying to activate the Vulture’s Gear limit, because it would be trivial for the Vulture to fix it. Instead he’s trying to destroy the Vulture’s power trait, the way Colossus attacks the Sentinel’s energy beam projector on page OM54. (Whether this ultimately can just be recovered just as easily isn’t totally clear to me, but I think it can’t be if there’s nobody else around to help him recover.)

    4. To shortcut a lot what I’d written about the “Far Away” asset, I think that in a super hero game, getting away from somebody is going to come up and should be represented mechanically somehow. If you’re getting away from just one guy, that might be a complication. But if you’re getting away from multiple people, it’s got to be an asset. (Plus, that one guy is also far away from you, so maybe it works both ways.) A scene distinction might work, but then it means that neither character could use their personal distinctions (without spending some stuff). Also, I get the impression, possibly mistaken, that scene distinctions are fixed in size, whereas you’d think that someone flying away ought to get further and further away. There’s precedent for wearing down complications and assets, so I figure there’s also got to be a way to boost those up.

    4a. The question of when a bad guy is close by, when he’s far away, and when he’s gone-gone-gone–and, if there are multiple heroes, with respect to whom–is an extremely difficult one to answer in this game, at least with the text as it currently stands.

    Anyway, i’ll chew over the methods you discussed, and I appreciate the effort to help.

  47. March 9, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Yeah, here’s a little more of my thinking on your points (not being stubborn, just clarifying myself a bit):

    1) In the case of the Vulture trying to get away, he’s trying to get away from Spiderman. I would read that as working against Spiderman. I also remember reading (though I can’t for the life of me figure out where) that when the Watcher is not opposed, a player volunteers to their dice pool just to give opposition or the Watcher’s action automatically succeeds. A simpler way to frame the idea is that any time you, as a Watcher character, interact with the world (and this may be implied in the rules) , you, as the Watcher have the freedom to dictate the result that makes the most sense.

    2) Yeah, it’s said in the rules (in the box about Watcher Character Power Sets) that a player can activate a Limit on a villain by spending a PP. If a hero succeeds, he can spend a PP to use his effect die (or any additional effect die he might get) to activate the limit instead of inflicting stress. Now the rules for Gear Limits say roll against the Doom Pool, but on other villains with Gear Limits, it tells you to spend a Doom die to reactivate the power set. To illustrate, Spiderman is taking the extra effort to hit a particular spot on a moving target that is at a distance. Once he succeeds at this amazing feat, the Vulture is scrambling to not become a pile of feather decorated mush that smells like Bengay and Old Spice. At the last second he reconnects the loose wire and can use his flight pack again. It also means that Spiderman has an opportunity to close the distance on Old Flappy.

    3) That option in the book is good for what Spiderman is trying to do, and it’s true that the Vulture wouldn’t be able to recover as normal. It doesn’t really say how to make it work. I thought about ruling that the Vulture can spend a Doom die to use his Tech Specialty as an effect die on his next action (similarly to the rules for automatic success/stamina power-based recovery), but since the Vulture is falling, he wouldn’t really be able to focus. The best thing to do at that point is, IMHO to have the Vulture tumble to a nearby roof and take a D6 physical stress (not enough to kill him, but enough to make it hurt).

    4) In a chase (and you’re absolutely right that it’s something the rules NEED), I’d probably go the Complication route. Complications, remember, are disadvantages applied to individuals. I would have the runner roll against the fastest pursuer and apply Complication: FAR AWAY D(effect) on the entire chasing team, or at least each group travelling by the same means (like a group in a jet, for example). Pursuers can attempt to close distance by targeting the Complication. The one trying to escape tries to get away by testing against the pursuer with the smallest FAR AWAY die (using the die size to define the distance). Any pursuer whose FAR AWAY die goes above D12 has to drop out of the chase and if no pursuers remain, the quarry gets away. If any pursuer’s FAR AWAY die goes below D4, then the potential escapee is caught. That’s what I would do.

    4a) This game, like a few of the other more ‘indy-style’ games, doesn’t really concern itself with hard numbers for distance and other things like that. Die size is the only measuring standard this game uses, so it requires a bit of best-guess work. Really, power levels define everything. How far away is it? Could the average person get there in one action? Then it’s a D4. An Olympic athlete? Go for a D6. Is Quicksilver the only one that can get there? It’s a D12. The upside is that you can use the same die to judge distance as you would other effects. Falling damage, for example. Realistically, it can be more complicated than that, but this game’s more about feel than simulation.

    I am ruining you Comment section. I hope I’m at least giving good suggetstions.

  48. March 9, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    These are great observations, Opportunist!

  49. March 9, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Opportunist, you’re not ruining anything. I’ll give it some thought.

  50. 52 gebeji
    March 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    You may want to take a look at this for the Far Away asset vs complication, with a Knockback rule too ;)


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Past Adventures of the Mule

March 2012

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