Sunday my son, Ian, and I had a great time at the launch party at Labyrinth Games for Margaret Weis Productions new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game. As with Labyrinth's other demo events, this was termed a "Taste of" and it certainly was a lot of fun, even though it definitely left us wanting more.
I am not going to try to recount our experiences moment by moment as I lack the time to do it justice, but I hope that I can give an overview of the thing we experienced and convey why we had such a good time.
Ian and I drove down to Labyrinth yesterday and arrived in the area 10 minutes early. Unfortunately, it took another 15 minutes to find a parking place and another 10 or so to get back to the store. Labyrinth has a great location in Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, but parking is a challenge.
So, there were two filled tables (being run by Rob Donoghue and Nate) and our two reserved spots left at Dave Chalker's (aka Dave the Game) table. We had somewhat missed the preliminaries and did not manage to really properly introduce ourselves or catch the names of everyone at the table, though Tom Cadorette was playing Iron Man; I am sorry to say I did not catch and retain (typical for me I'm afraid) the names of our fellow players who had Ms. Marvel and Daredevil). Ian got the hero he hoped for, Captain America. I had planned to take Daredevil, but he was taken, so I grabbed Spider-Man.
Dave quickly outlined the basics of taking actions, how to build a dice pool from various character attributes and how to roll and read the dice, and then we were off and running. The game "event" was the adventure that comes with the basic book, and it, in turn, is based on the storyline of "New Avengers 1-6", a story arc called "Breakout."
The heroes had to start in different places when the breakout started. DD, in his civilian role as Matt Murdock, defense attorney, was with Ms. Marvel at a supervillain prison called The Raft. He was going to see some guy who claimed he was a former hero called The Sentry who wanted to be locked up because he believed that he killed his wife. Captain Americal was on a helicopter, returning from addressing the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, DC. Tony Stark/Iron Man was addressing a corporate gathering, and I, Spider-Man, was just about to cuddle up to my wife, Mary Jane, on the couch for a romantic comedy and our first quiet night at home in forever.
Having sketched out these beginning scense, Dave, as The Watcher (the term for the game master in MHRP), quickly launched into the central problem of our first act. Lightning seemed to strike The Raft, and to go on to overload the entire power grid, backups and black out not just the prison, but all of New York! Captain America was able to observe that a bolt of lightning also seemed to leave The Raft and head away. The residual energy fried the helicopter flight controls and it was going down!
Inside The Raft, Matt Murdock, his law partner Foggy Nelson (NPC) and Ms. Marvel suddenly found themselves in the middle of a maximum security block where all the cells were suddenly open!
Tony Stark (played hilariously by Tom, who channeled a lot of Robert Downey, Jr. for his portrayal) found his meeting suddenly cancelled by the blackout, realized that this was a huge outage that might be the result of some kind of attack and went Iron Man (while posting on Twitter, checking Stark Industries stock numbers overseas and making sure that 1000 lawyers were on retainer if this was somehow tied at all to Stark Tech).
I, as Spider-Man had to profusely apologize to MJ, put on the Wall-Crawler tights and zip off.
I quickly spotted the helicopter in trouble and swung onboard. Cap was able to take care of himself, but I rolled well to grab the SHIELD pilot and get us down safely to The Raft. This gave me an "asset" of being able to call on the pilot for help in a later roll which was a cool game effect.
Down below, Ms. Marvel was throwing thugs back into cells as much as possible, while DD as Matt Murdock did his "helpless" blind man deal while knocking around, tripping and "running into" the mob of woud-be escapees.
Up top, enter the first Super Villain. Just as Ian, as Captain America, looked into the smoking elevator shaft, he spotted the evil Count Nefaria rising out of the prison. His reaction was what any red-blooded American hero would do in his place. He jumped into the elevator shaft shield first to take out the evil-doer (and he would figure out how to survive the rest of the fall later).
Let me just say a little about how action flows in the game. There is an "action order" system, which basically has The Watcher pick someone to go first (often with input from the table), and that person finishes the character's action and picks someone else, friend or enemy, to go next, until everyone has had a turn. Last person to go, hero or villain, decides who starts the next order. This is fun, allows for fluid, yet tactical play, and really feels like the organic flow of action in comic book panels. As we played, I could visualize the action leaping off the page. It was pretty impressive.
So, for any attack, you build out a dice pool based on various attributes (see my earlier posts to describe the attributes), and then roll to try to produce a high base number and pick a leftover die, as large as possible, for an effect. Once again, simple, once you are doing it, fun (picking from the menu of what your character can do), creative, imaginative, evocative and relatively fast.
So, Cap rolled his action (attack), and Count Nefaria rolled his reaction. One thing is that the reactor knows the number to beat, so it pushes the actor to try to do as well as possible to put success out of the reactor's reach. Anyway, that was not how it worked out. Nefaria blasted Cap to the side, and suddenly he had to come up with how to survive the fall down the elevator shaft.
Fortunately, this allowed him then to choose your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man to act next. I told the SHIELD pilot "cover me" made some dumb joke about Count Nefaria breaking out for good Italian food, and started shooting webbing like crazy. I managed to create a web-trampoline under Cap to save him, and it gave him a bonus on his next action as he sprang up from behind Nefaria. Second, I completely webbed Nefaria's face, so he was blinded.
I think we bounced back to Ms. Marvel and DD, and they were holding their own against the mob, but Foggy got taken away.
Then, in comes Iron Man and Tom played him just as overconfident as possible. He tried to fly into the shaft and basically put Nefaria through the back wall. Instead, Nefaria managed to beat his roll and get the opportunity to activate a counter attack. So, basically, Iron Man flew in, and there was a huge explosion and Iron Man flew out, not under his own power, after almost being taken out. Tom and Dave did a great job of describing how the suit's alarms were all going off and the heads-up display was filled with error messages and everything was reading "offline." Again, I could totally see it both on a comic book page, and on screen.
So, it was just me and Cap against Nefaria. I had my doubts, but while distracted Nefaria who failed to blast me, Cap completely clocked him by surprise with a shield blow to the temple. Moments later, we had him safely webbed up and had rebooted enough of Iron Man's systems to go down into The Raft to join up with DD and Ms. Marvel in the hunt for Foggy and to try to reactivate the systems onboard.
I need to metion, that during this whole action sequence, the main game currencies were flowing freely. These are Plot Points, which players receive for voluntarily taking penalties in their dice pools (rolling d4s), based on their personal foibles which are sometimes advantages and sometimes not, and also for rolling 1s, which add to The Watcher's source of currency, The Doom Pool. Players speend Plot Points to get bonuses, activate special effects and opportunities, take counter attacks, change the way dice get counted or to create stunts, among other things. The Watcher uses the Doom Pool in a similar fashion for the antagonists, but can also sometimes just roll the Doom Pool as the difficulty in a situation that calls for an challenging roll, but there is no opposing force, except for how dire the situation is.
This gives the game lots of tactile and visual goodness. When building a dice pool, you get to pick up the dice that represent the powers/skills you use. You see the Doom Pool growing or shrinking based on your actions. You can count Plot Points with hash marks, but more often (and more fun) with poker chips, counters, or some other thing you can gather in piles to see how ready you are to take on the opposition. If you are out of Plot Points, you need to start adding in some disadvantageous dice or accepting other limits to bank those for when things really count. On the other hand, there is no sense in hoarding the points. If you need to KO Count Nefaria, you need to spend and spend big (go big or go home) so you either force The Watcher to deplete the Doom Pool to save the villain early, or to allow him to go down to conserve the Doom for what else is in store. It makes the game fun and fiddly in a good way.
So, to go with my promise of not going blow by blow, after our first battles, things just continued to be fun and awesome. While Cap and I rappelled down into The Raft, Iron Man, of course, just flew underneath and punched in through the bottom to get to the control room, kinda because he could.
We played through searching for Foggy, found Foggy, got attacked by Carnage, who apparently just has a "totally disable Spider-Man" power, which got used on me. We found out that Captain America is REALLY COOL and he basically was two for two in taking out Super Villains. DD held his own and rescued Foggy. I learned about "trauma" and that is is not a fun thing for your hero to have.
Iron Man and Ms. Marvel ended up fighting Graviton. This was not Graviton's day however. For one thing, Dave's d12 kept rolling 1s, which made Graviton less of a threat. Iron Man and Ms. Marvel totally capitalized and took him out. Then Iron Man convinced him to help us, and he told us who engineered the escape and for whom (Electro for Sauron (not the big flaming eye from Middle Earth, but instead a mutant energy vampiry guy who can turn into a fire breathing Pteradactyl; go figure). We also talked to Sentry who seemed pretty crazy, but said he could help us if we called on him.
Then we went to talk to Electro. We had learned that much of the hit first and then talk had not worked so well the first time around. However, when Cap tried to talk to Electro, DD decided instead to try and take him out. I said something like, "wait, we're going with the punch first plan?" Iron Man rescued Electro's ex-girlfriend from the scene and flew off, lightning bolts started shooting around, Ms. Marvel ended up charging up Electro, and just when it seemed to be all going south, Iron Man flies back and hits Electro like a ton of, well, iron, taking him out.
We had fun interrogating him, and I told him he was going down with the Bad SHIELD guys, not the ones that worked with Captain America. They guys that did waterboarding. He said he'd spill it all if we promised minimum security Club Fed. We made the deal and off we were to find Sauron in The Savage Land.
There was a lot more fighting (I helped KO a T-Rex) and merriment (Ms. Marvel chose SHIELD over the rest of us and tried to take Iron Man out) and the game went really well.
I will spare you the details and just say, it was a heck of a good time, so I can get this posted.