[Marvel Heroic RPG] Tell me about how it runs

edited January 2014 in Story Games
Hi folks, been a long time since I posted here.

I've been thinking about using the Marvel Heroic RPG for a short run. I've read the core book and Civil War a couple of times and it looks good on paper but I also have some concerns. Some of these come from my experience playing FATE in its Spirit of the Century incarnation. I can see some strong parallels between SotC and MHRPG, but I also know that the state of the art has advanced a lot in the intervening years.

I was wondering if anyone with table experience could speak to the following questions about MHRPG:

1) How well does it handle conflicts with unequal numbers of participants? Can I run Magneto vs 5 X-Men? Dr Doom vs 5 Avengers? Darkseid vs the JLA? Or do I have to pile up a bunch of mooks on the villain's side to keep the heroes from dogpiling them?

2) How long do combats tend to run in terms of the number of rounds?

3) The game I have in mind won't be all that combat focused. How well would MHRPG handle Tony Stark spending a month in his lab trying to solve a tricky engineering problem? A super-speed race between Quicksilver and Northstar? A bake-off between zombie Julia Child and the Amazing Forbush Man?

4) How well do the social mechanics play out? I see, particularly in Civil War, that there is some suggestion about playing social scenes, court appearances and the like as Action Scenes. Because so much of the dice pools come from powers, I kind of imagine this playing out like X-Men / Alpha Flight where the characters are constantly blasting each other with energy bolts while they philosophize over the rights and wrongs of whether to save the world.

5) How reactive/responsive is the GM able to be in terms of structuring scenes in play? I have a hard time reading the published Events and not feeling like they are massive railroads, but I think I may be reading them wrong. It seems like in principle the scenes they suggest could be used like Key Scenes in TSoY (I even think that term is used in one of the books somewhere): those scenes could be sprinkled in amongst player-driven scenes as appropriate and a balance could be struck between player-authored and GM/scenario-authored content. But how has this really played out at your table?

Thoughts greatly appreciated. Apologies too if there are good discussions on this to be found on the web; I've done a bit of digging but haven't really turned up answers to these questions elsewhere.

Cheers,

Robert.

Comments

  • edited January 2014
    1) How well does it handle conflicts with unequal numbers of participants? Can I run Magneto vs 5 X-Men? Dr Doom vs 5 Avengers? Darkseid vs the JLA? Or do I have to pile up a bunch of mooks on the villain's side to keep the heroes from dogpiling them?
    For singletons vs. powerful groups, you normally need to either have some powerful SFX (Darkseid and the Hulk are good examples here) or have lots of Resources (or some minions, sure) based on their evil plans. The way the action order works, the players can pick to have everyone go before the villain if they're confident they can take him out before he acts (of course if they are wrong, he gets to go twice in a row.) So it's possible but you definitely need to check the stats.

    Don't forget you can spend a Doom die and yell "NOT SO FAST, SPIDER-FOOL" (this is mandatory) and have the villain skip in line in the action order. Do this a lot, it really makes players hate the villain, especially if they are X-Men and not Spiderman.
    2) How long do combats tend to run in terms of the number of rounds?
    Can't really answer, much depends on the size/importance of the combat. I had a few that were over in one round, but most went 3-5, one went about 10, but it was a magilla of a double-sized issue with everyone on multiple sides and Doom going through the roof.
    3) The game I have in mind won't be all that combat focused. How well would MHRPG handle Tony Stark spending a month in his lab trying to solve a tricky engineering problem? A super-speed race between Quicksilver and Northstar? A bake-off between zombie Julia Child and the Amazing Forbush Man?
    The game is set up to really, really, really charge after the experience of reading a Marvel comic book, including lots of action. Few Marvel comics actually have setpieces like the ones you describe, so it is not going to be perfect. That said, an action scene that's not combat like the race or the bake-off are fairly well-handled especially in Civil War. However, the tricky engineering problem or whatnot will be handled with one roll, much like in the comics it would be depicted as just a couple of panels of him working with the inscription "Months Of Work Later..." in a narration box.
    4) How well do the social mechanics play out? I see, particularly in Civil War, that there is some suggestion about playing social scenes, court appearances and the like as Action Scenes. Because so much of the dice pools come from powers, I kind of imagine this playing out like X-Men / Alpha Flight where the characters are constantly blasting each other with energy bolts while they philosophize over the rights and wrongs of whether to save the world.
    When you don't have a power that applies, the die pool still works because of your Resources, expertise and core aspects. I wouldn't use a Power in a court scene unless I was Emma Frost and had absolutely no respect for pathetic human lawyers trying futilely to constrain my superior mutantness. So you have smaller die pools but the system still works fine because the main thing dice do is not necessarily to build a pool, but to generate 1s and Doom.
    5) How reactive/responsive is the GM able to be in terms of structuring scenes in play? I have a hard time reading the published Events and not feeling like they are massive railroads, but I think I may be reading them wrong. It seems like in principle the scenes they suggest could be used like Key Scenes in TSoY (I even think that term is used in one of the books somewhere): those scenes could be sprinkled in amongst player-driven scenes as appropriate and a balance could be struck between player-authored and GM/scenario-authored content. But how has this really played out at your table?
    Read the section in the main rulebook about creating a series. To some degree comic book characters are primarily reactive (you are right to identify that at least one of the sides in Civil War is not like this!) Something bad happens and everyone swings into action to do something about it. This means that every single thing you do will always feel like a railroad, especially when discussing it on story hyphen games dot com, which seeks railroading with microscopes and klieg lights.

    Normally the action scenes are setpieces and the interstitial scenes are player-driven. "I go rough up some goons to find out who's selling Mutant Growth Hormone in Hell's Kitchen", or maybe "I hassle Foggy to get information from his drug dealer client about who's selling MGH", or maybe "I disguise myself as a junkie and go out to try to buy some MGH" - all these things are relevant to the bad thing of "MGH is being sold in Hell's Kitchen", all these things will lead to confrontations with the Owl (god damn, fuck the Owl) and the attendant action scene where Matt Murdock beats him up with his beautiful, sad fists, so if that's a railroad, then it's a railroad.

    Again, this is if you use the as-written dichotomy between action scenes and interlude scenes, which I highly suggest you try before you throw it out because it works and feels really really good, like a good, solid comic book.
  • 1) How well does it handle conflicts with unequal numbers of participants? Can I run Magneto vs 5 X-Men? Dr Doom vs 5 Avengers? Darkseid vs the JLA? Or do I have to pile up a bunch of mooks on the villain's side to keep the heroes from dogpiling them?
    Big Bad villains are designed as Large-Scale Threats which can easily handle multiple PCs. Each PC action has an NPC reaction with the possibility of inflicting stress on the attacking PC. That coupled with their design toward fighting multiple characters allows for easy replication of such fights.
    2) How long do combats tend to run in terms of the number of rounds?
    If everything's humming they can last between one to six rounds. I had Spider-Man one shot Count Nefaria in a playtest, and I've had that same villain handle several PCs for a few rounds. I think that's what you'd call "swingy".
    3) The game I have in mind won't be all that combat focused. How well would MHRPG handle Tony Stark spending a month in his lab trying to solve a tricky engineering problem? A super-speed race between Quicksilver and Northstar? A bake-off between zombie Julia Child and the Amazing Forbush Man?
    Despite the inclusion of mental and emotional stress, the game is designed almost exclusively toward combat. There's not even a proper chase mechanic. Several fan ideas for such, but nothing official. The engineering problem would be a plot point for an asset, stunt, or bit of gear (I forget what they're called). No chase mechanic, so...
    4) How well do the social mechanics play out? I see, particularly in Civil War, that there is some suggestion about playing social scenes, court appearances and the like as Action Scenes. Because so much of the dice pools come from powers, I kind of imagine this playing out like X-Men / Alpha Flight where the characters are constantly blasting each other with energy bolts while they philosophize over the rights and wrongs of whether to save the world.
    That's largely up to role-playing. You can do social conflicts with the system, but there's a dearth of non-combat stuff. Skills are handled as either an in-combat roll, or spending a plot point for an extra die for an in-combat roll. You can do it, but you'll be rolling 2-3 dice instead of 5-7 for combat.
    5) How reactive/responsive is the GM able to be in terms of structuring scenes in play? I have a hard time reading the published Events and not feeling like they are massive railroads, but I think I may be reading them wrong. It seems like in principle the scenes they suggest could be used like Key Scenes in TSoY (I even think that term is used in one of the books somewhere): those scenes could be sprinkled in amongst player-driven scenes as appropriate and a balance could be struck between player-authored and GM/scenario-authored content. But how has this really played out at your table?
    They are massive railroads. They're designed to follow the exact story as presented in the comics, so those same scenes are presented. If you get off the rails there's nothing in the published adventures for you. Some NPC stats and a bit of rules here and there. You certainly could use the scenes as presented for key scenes, with the stuff in-between as whatever you want, but you're still pushing them back onto the rails for the key scenes.

    Like any other game, GM-authored adventures largely depend on the GM and her ability to run the game while telling an engaging story.

  • 5) How reactive/responsive is the GM able to be in terms of structuring scenes in play? I have a hard time reading the published Events and not feeling like they are massive railroads, but I think I may be reading them wrong. It seems like in principle the scenes they suggest could be used like Key Scenes in TSoY (I even think that term is used in one of the books somewhere): those scenes could be sprinkled in amongst player-driven scenes as appropriate and a balance could be struck between player-authored and GM/scenario-authored content. But how has this really played out at your table?
    I'm going to hop on this question because most of the other ones have been answered in ways that I'd probably answer and don't really need to go over it. I ended up running Civil War online, and it was an amazing experience. I had 12 people playing it (yay play by post which allows for that kind of size without making it so that people were bored with inattention), and while the setup was there we really started to veer wildly from the "original plot" pretty quickly. We did end up with a Sue Storm, Goddess of Thunder almost right off the bat. And then much like anything else, it was decisions that we made as a group that really shaped what was happening. And yes, like any other GM run game a lot of it was depended on the GM decided what was next, but it can be heavily shaped by what the players want as well.

    That said, one of the things that I love about MSHR is that the GM has this great kind of power to set the scene how they want to, and place the players in an action spot trying to do something, and then you let it go because the players get a bigger say about what happens after that because they get to shape and frame the narrative with the initiative order pass.

    Also, as what Jason said, you shouldn't throw out the transition scenes because that's where a lot of the player direction comes from I found. Who they wanted to talk to, and what actions that they wanted to accomplish really let the GM know what direction they wanted to go in.
  • Jonathan, JD, can you tell me a little bit about how you manage the "scene economy" at your tables? (Um ... in your forum?) Specifically,

    1. Do you rigidly alternate action / transition / action / transition or do you sometimes allow multiple action or transition scenes in a row?

    2. How tightly do you frame away from the ends of scenes vs letting things drift along, particularly during down time and planning?

    3. Is the camera always rolling (or the artist always drawing)? ie. are transition scenes quite performative and melodramatic by their nature or do they tend to have a lot of OOC chatter and strategizing?

    4. How pre-planned are the action set pieces? Do you just look for the next opportunity for Super Battle and plunk the pieces down there or do you have pretty clear goals for upcoming scenes and look to make them happen?

    5. Do scenes have particular stakes associated with them, eg. "capture a Marauder" or "discover the truth about the Thunderbolts" or are they more free-for-all conflict from which any outcome may emerge? If there are stakes, when do they get decided? In prep or spur-of-the moment when the Watcher calls for them?

    6. Do you frame action scenes that aren't combat oriented but instead involve eg. sneaking into an enemy base, rescuing hostages from a burning building, stopping the stage collapsing at a Lila Cheney concert etc? If so, what kinds of scenes like that have you tried at your table and how did they shake out?

    If that's too many questions, just answer the ones that interest you.

    Thanks,

    R.
  • I've run one self-made "event" and about 5 sessions of "Civil War," which I had to cancel due to scheduling problems. (In my mind it's still on hiatus, but I'm kidding myself.)

    1. Do you rigidly alternate action / transition / action / transition or do you sometimes allow multiple action or transition scenes in a row?
    I go with my instinct in terms of pacing, and in terms of what follows from the previously established fiction. Remember, per the "Operations Manual," the main purpose of a Transition Scene is to figure out what Action Scene comes next. (I.e., "What do you want to achieve? How are you going to go about that?") There's some other stuff in a Transition Scene about healing up, or swapping characters around, and calling in Resources for preparation, but it's all in the service of figuring out what the players choose to do next.

    In my latest session, I went Transition ("Let's hunt the Hulk!"), Action ("Oh jeez this was a terrible idea! Get up, Grimm, get up!"), Action ("Mister Fantastic, stop giving me grief about fighting the Hulk. You're a terrible scientist, to be completely honest about it.")

    2. How tightly do you frame away from the ends of scenes vs letting things drift along, particularly during down time and planning?
    I frame pretty tight. "(Hero's Name), what do you want to achieve next? What's your plan for doing that?" I get an answer, we role-play for a little bit, describing what happens. If there's a really juicy role-playing opportunity or the players are all jazzed up in-character, I give it room to breathe, but otherwise, curtain comes down; curtain comes up in Action.

    3. Is the camera always rolling (or the artist always drawing)? ie. are transition scenes quite performative and melodramatic by their nature or do they tend to have a lot of OOC chatter and strategizing?
    They've been performative with an eye toward strategizing.

    4. How pre-planned are the action set pieces? Do you just look for the next opportunity for Super Battle and plunk the pieces down there or do you have pretty clear goals for upcoming scenes and look to make them happen?
    Uh.... I basically treat the rosters as a Monster Manual, but I also have an idea for some factions or guys who are up to no good connected to the fiction. Generally the fiction will suggest something to the players, which can lead to Action Scenes if there's a faction or roaming villain who would make a good antagonist. Otherwise, I just roll with stuff.

    When it's easy to anticipate the players' desires, I go all-out set-piece. She-Hulk fighting the Silver Samurai and the Viper aboard a flaming cargo jet packed with gold bars as AIM agents swoop in on sky-sleds to steal the gold, etc. etc.

    5. Do scenes have particular stakes associated with them, eg. "capture a Marauder" or "discover the truth about the Thunderbolts" or are they more free-for-all conflict from which any outcome may emerge? If there are stakes, when do they get decided? In prep or spur-of-the moment when the Watcher calls for them?
    Never explicitly declared. Sometimes implicitly declared by the fiction, or interpreted as a result of the Doom Pool's state or someone's Mental or Emotional Stress. Generally, the players have told me what they want to achieve; if they achieve it, great; if they fail, too bad. But it's pretty easy to see in play.

    6. Do you frame action scenes that aren't combat oriented but instead involve eg. sneaking into an enemy base, rescuing hostages from a burning building, stopping the stage collapsing at a Lila Cheney concert etc? If so, what kinds of scenes like that have you tried at your table and how did they shake out?
    Oh definitely! We've had a scene where Doctor Strange persuaded Stilt-Man to give up his villainous ways, and wrote him a Mystical Letter of Recommendation to Nick Fury, and where Doctor Strange had a psychic duel with Professor X as to who was the better psychologist to treat a traumatized Kitty Pryde. We've had a scene where the Hulk tried to escape from the Helicarrier before Wolverine could gut him like a pig. Most recently, Hawkeye out-witted Mister Fantastic, calling him a terrible scientist when all's said and done.

    It's a great game - but combat takes a very long time by my standards. If it were twice as fast, it would be perfect.





  • 1. Do you rigidly alternate action / transition / action / transition or do you sometimes allow multiple action or transition scenes in a row?
    I've run it both ways (though never 2 action scenes in a row, that's boring).

    When I did it really tightly it worked phenomenally for people who loved comics and could feel their rhythm happening.

    When I was more loosey goosey with transitional scenes, the people who didn't like comics enjoyed it more.

    Mechanically it was fine, because the loosey goosey transition scenes didn't rigorously result in more Resources or whatever, people just wanted to play out more non-actiony things and that was okay.
    2. How tightly do you frame away from the ends of scenes vs letting things drift along, particularly during down time and planning?
    I always nailed down the start of action scenes and the location of transition scenes, otherwise the transition scenes wandered away into just conversation.
    3. Is the camera always rolling (or the artist always drawing)? ie. are transition scenes quite performative and melodramatic by their nature or do they tend to have a lot of OOC chatter and strategizing?
    I always tried to keep it in-character, but that has nothing to do with MHR.
    4. How pre-planned are the action set pieces? Do you just look for the next opportunity for Super Battle and plunk the pieces down there or do you have pretty clear goals for upcoming scenes and look to make them happen?
    Because of the reactive nature of superheroes this is not actually different.
    5. Do scenes have particular stakes associated with them, eg. "capture a Marauder" or "discover the truth about the Thunderbolts" or are they more free-for-all conflict from which any outcome may emerge? If there are stakes, when do they get decided? In prep or spur-of-the moment when the Watcher calls for them?
    Players set the goals, or they are just turning up and reacting to what's happening in the moment.
    6. Do you frame action scenes that aren't combat oriented but instead involve eg. sneaking into an enemy base, rescuing hostages from a burning building, stopping the stage collapsing at a Lila Cheney concert etc? If so, what kinds of scenes like that have you tried at your table and how did they shake out?
    So long as there's bold visual action, it works fine. The sneaking thing doesn't work so well because success means nothing happens. I would set up some other goal or problem during the sneaking if it was an action scene and not just another transition.
  • Much like before I'm just going to answer the one where what I think wasn't really covered.

    1. Do you rigidly alternate action / transition / action / transition or do you sometimes allow multiple action or transition scenes in a row?

    I think the other thing to realize is that you don't have to have an Action Scene end and then go into a Transition Scene. They mention it in Civil War, but there can be that pause moment in a big battle where you have a Transition Scene. Think of it as being behind the boulder in the middle of the gun fight and the heroes bend down to plan, or wrap a sharp stone around a stick, or try to heal or catch their breath. You don't have to "finish" an action scene to have a transition scene.

    I have done an action scene to an action scene, but that was mostly because of what was happening. One action scene the Punisher got captured by Hydra, and then the next scene was him in a chair being interrogated. It wasn't really a place to transition from one scene to the next, but it was enough of a change that it didn't bore the player.

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