At the end of this month Margaret Weis Productions is launching their new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game built on their Cortex+ system which powers their Leverage and Smallville games, among others. Next month, I will be getting to test drive the new Marvel RPG at a Taste of Marvel at the wonderful Labyrinth Games in Washington, D.C. I expect the event will be a lot of fun. I have been impressed by what I have seen of the Cortex+ system. It appears to be a very flexible, fast playing system that allows for a lot of creativity and imaginative play that should be a good fit for a comic book style game.
Super hero role playing has been a hit an miss genre for me. I have read a number of games, played a few, and missed many more that have come and gone. Supers has been a style of play that came out pretty early in the RPG evolutionary tree, I think really flowering first in the early 1980s. Champions and Villains & Vigilantes seemed to be the games I remember being on the scene early. The Hero system came out sometime in that distant past too, and all of these were generics, not taking an identity from any particular license. Then both DC and Marvel did get into the game with respective licenses with Mayfair and TSR.
The old TSR Marvel Super Heroes (MSH) was my first experience trying to play any kind of ongoing supers game. I was never much of a comic book collector. I had friends who were fanatics, however, which was good, because I could read their stuff. While DC and Marvel both got represented in my friends collections, the dominating theme of those days were the X-Men and Marvel. DC made some inroads with Justice League International and Man of Steel, and (on the other end of the light/dark sepctrum) the Dark Knight Returns, but Marvel just seemed to dominate the majority of my peers' reading and discussion time. So, naturally enough, there was interest in MSH.
We had a number of abortive attempts to start campaigns (after all it was competing with my sprawling, derivative, and in many ways lame, yet dominant AD&D campaign), but finally it settled in to three characters and the GM. We had an Iron Man type knock off, a Storm knock off and a, sort of, ROM the Space Knight knock off to start with. I definitely learned things from our play about runing these kinds of games and about the system TSR put together.
First, just like any game, you have to run a good story. There need to be fun bite sized bits you can get through, and you also have to have something bigger going on. Even if one night's play is, or seems, to be a one-shot, it still needs to showcase the interesting things about the characters, from their foibles to their awesome powers. So, for example, the game that my character started in was a rather abortive attempt to make an initial campaign that started, as most of our RPG experience did up to that time, in a Dungeon type crawl. That did not work. It was not effectively about anything. Then, as the other players dropped, but I wanted to keep my quirky, strange character, the GM had the very effective plan to drop me into a parallel Marvel Universe, where he then started the other two players, and use the first adventure to basically kill or cripple most of the important heroes in New York. We watched a horrible moster kill or make disappear most of the Avengers, Fantastic 4, Dr. Strange, etc. This was great, because it gave us as players a place to fit in, and small and large things to do. We had to 1) help stop the monster, 2) rebuild the hero teams, 3) find out what was behind the attack, & etc.
As it turns out, the framework to start the new RPG is not that different (now if we could only get paid for having the idea first . . .) as the setting proclaims:
"The Avengers have been disassembled, the Fantastic Four are somewhere in space, and the X-Men aren’t answering their phone. When dozens of dangerous villains are spring from the maximum-maximum security prison known as the Raft, who’s going to stop them? You are."
Of course this is a storyline already seen in the Marvel books as well, and it is a great place to start off because the story is about the player characters and how they can make an immediate impact (perhaps quite literally) on the story. The problem with established supers universes is that they may have one, two or three already of the kind of character that the players want to do. Unless you are having them run the established characters (which is a mixed blessing) it can be hard to make space for them. The problem with a blank slate approach (often the challenge with the generic systems) is where to begin to build your world. The models that people will think of are complex universes with everything from established teams to alien races and magical dimensions. You can find yourself biting off too much. Still, you have room to let the players' characters be the front page news, instead of being a note in the style section while Superman or Thor is on the front page.
I have some (many) more observations, but they will have to wait, as this is to be a lunchtime exersice in trying to write coherently for the next few weeks. So, for now, adieu.
Tomorrow more thrillng anecdoes and unfounded opinions.