This past weekend I had my first chance to run Margaret Weis Productions' Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game as the game master (the Watcher, in MHRP parlance). I have played RPGs off and on for over 30 years, but I had not yet run MHRP.
Some friends of ours generously host a game day at their home about three times a year. The focus is mostly board and card games, but my son and I decided to take MHRP to see if anyone would sit down and play a brief event with us.
Fortunately, last week MWP released as bonus content, a "What if" scenario based in part on New Avengers issue 6, which happened to be one of my favorites from that era of Brian Michael Bendis' run. The original story had to do with a batch of the New Avengers (Spider-Man, Spider Woman, Luke Cage and Wolverine) ending up having to fight The Wrecker (who is constantly reminding them that he has successfully fought Thor) and having quite a hard time of it. The mini-event gives you the opportunity to run an encounter with The Wrecker, but also provides datafiles for the rest of the Wrecking Crew, as well as Thor, and provides some ideas on how to run an alternative scenario from how it played out in the pages of New Avengers. Quinn Murphy wrote the action scene and Cam Banks and Dave Chalker (Dave the Game!) developed the bonus content download. Amanda Valentine edited. I mention all these folks, because they provided something that I was able to immediately jump brand new players into with minimal effort and prep and we all had a really good time.
Before I go into how things ran, I want to send a few more shoutouts to the professional and fan community surrounding MHRP. I have been watching the development of the game by following Cam Banks (lead designer), Philippe Menard (The Chatty DM) and Dave "The Game" Chalker on Twitter, and I had the good fortune to go with my son, Ian, to a launch event at Labyrinth Games in Washington, DC and sit at a table with Dave the Game as Watcher. I have learned a lot from them. Further, I have been really impressed and learned a lot from the fan base of MHRP. Especially helpful have been Dr. Doom and Marvel Plot Points who through posting support materials, actual play reports and events (adventures) have really fired my imagination.
I have to give major prop supports to Plot Points, because I printed out a bunch of their unofficial hero datafiles to add to the official ones from the basic game in order to have an even broader appeal for my potential players.
One pro-tip on printing datafiles from Plot Points: the image files will kill your printer as is. They are beautiful and would totally work if you are using them off of a tablet (e.g. iPad), but to print out they are a challenge. However, here is how I solved it. I use Picassa 3 (free from Google) as my photo-editor. I imported the datafile images into the program, and then I transformed them using Picassa's "Pencil Sketch" tool. Just a little fiddling with the intensity of the "sketch" and I had very legible sheets that did not kill my printer FTW.
So, how about some actual play in the actual play report? [This is what happened to the best of my recollection]
We arrived at the game day, and immediately, my son, who is 14, looked to recruit players. He immediately had 3, our hosts' two sons (12 and 9) and the younger son's good friend (also 9). I sat them down and they all selected heroes. We soon had a team consisting of Captain America (my son), Mr. Fantastic, Iron Fist and Rogue (thank you Plot Points!). I started to do my best impression of someone who knows what he is doing (thinking back to playing at Dave the Game's table) and explained how the basics of the game worked and how to read the datafiles. Then two more boys sat down, each about 13. We were happy to add them, and they picked Spider-Man and Iron Man. Aside from my son, I think all the kids were pretty new to RPGs and most I did not know well, if at all. However, we got everyone up to speed and launched into the mini-event.
In the wake of the Breakout at the Raft, heroes had been assembled to try to recapture the many Super villains who were at large. SHIELD intelligence had identified a collector of super villain and super heroic memorabilia who might have acquired dangerous technology/gear that belonged to some of the escaped villains. Heroes were dispatched to secure the items and set up to try to apprehend any evil doers who might show up.
Captain America had the lead. Reed Richards was the scientific advisor, since they were unsure as to what they would encounter in this collection, Iron Man was along to provide firepower (both scientific and physical) and Spidy, Iron Fist and Rogue were there for their versatility, experience and ability to punch things hard. They touched down in a Quinjet on the cul-du-sac near Ed Gross' McMansion.
They quickly split into three groups. Iron Man was flying over watch, Cap, Rogue and Mr. Fantastic went to the front door, and Spidy and Iron Fist went around back. Cap asked Mr. Fantastic to do some kind of scan to give them an idea of what to expect. Dr. Richards quickly jury rigged something and soon had a full schematic of the house and its secure sub-basement filled with all sorts of super-tech and mystic junk. Also, Richards could tell they some super-powered individual was already in the basement with someone else.
At this point Iron Man got bored, or at least the kid playing him did. I felt a pang of failure as a watcher for not being able to immediately engage him and keep him interested. However, no one gave him a bad time about deciding that this was not for him, and he went to find a more conventional game. Later, my host told me that he actually doesn't like to play games that much, but he comes to the game days because all the other neighborhood kids come and he does not want to be left out. So, not an epic fail, but, so long Iron Man.
I informed the players that Iron Man had to respond to an emergency at Stark Enterprises and they were going to have to deal with things on their own.
So, then we switched to Spider-Man and Iron Fist. They detected the intruder as well, but the old fashioned way, since someone had come in through the rear, ripped out the sliding glass door and stomped through the house and down to the sub-basement. Spidy and Iron Fist followed the trail and soon heard some mean guy threatening a teenage girl. The heroes immediately leapt to action.
I chose Spider-Man to act first since he seemed the most tentative of my players and I wanted to give him a moment to shine. We talked about what he thought Spidy would do and I showed him how to form a dice pool. He had a great role and he leaped into the room, web-shooters blazing and quickly had webbed Wrecker's face and feet! I then explained how action order worked in MHRP and he wisely chose to let Wrecker go next, so Iron Fist could bat cleanup.
Wrecker, who can at least go a few rounds with Thor, was not going to let some web slinger do more than annoy him. He ripped the webbing off his face and teleported away from the webs on his feet and behind Spider-Man, recently recovered magic crowbar raised to strike. The collector's teenage daughter (being held hostage by The Wrecker) really started screaming at this point.
Into this calmly stepped the Living Weapon of K'un Lun. I turned to the nine year old playing Iron Fist and said, "What do you want to do?" "I think I should kick that crowbar out of his hands."
One terrific role later, the crowbar was out of the Wrecker's hands and imbedded in the wall across the room.
Iron Fist graciously picks Spider-Man to act next. He was not sure what he wanted to do next. Bullpen style, we all gave him some suggestions. Next thing he was rolling to grab the crowbar with his webbing and swing it upside Wrecker's head. "Hey Wrecker, I think you dropped something!"
Spidy K.O.'s the Wrecker with his own crowbar (d12 physical stress).
Wrecker falls onto a pile of alien technology, mystic artifacts, and superhero fan magazines. Sparks start to arc and there is a little smoke curling from behind his head.
The teenage girl continues to scream.
Back to Cap's group. They briefly consider knocking down the door after the house foundation jumped when Wrecker hit the floor, but then they did decide to check the door, and low and behold, the collector's (Ed Goss) daughter has left the door unlocked (much like many a forgetful son and daughter I have known).
The heroes rush down to the basement, led by Mr. Fantastic’s holographic schematic and arrive to find one ex-hostage teenage daughter near hysteria, one unconscious super villain lying on top of some stuff that probably should not have been crushed together, and two very satisfied heroes (Spidy and Iron Fist).
Suddenly, Wrecker's limbs start to spasm, and before anyone can take an action, his right hand grasps the crowbar and he vanishes [yes, this was some mean old Watcher fiat, and I can explain that I had planned to have Loki (thank you Plot Points!), masquerading as the Norn Queen, manipulating things; I was going to follow the flow and decide if he would take a direct hand at all, or if he was just jerking everyone around. At this point, he was just making mischief and putting Wrecker back into play with the rest of his Crew.
Reed Richards quickly scanned and could tell that Wrecker was being joined by three other like powered individuals and they all seemed to be approaching the parked Quinjet.
In this brief transition scene, everyone besides Spider-Man decided to spend plot points to make assets based on picking up useful things from Ed Gross' collection. Everyone made up what it was they were taking. Cap picked up a Hydra pulse rifle. Mr. Fantastic picked up a pocket mass canon. Iron Fist picked up a mystic staff. Rogue picked up an energy baton. Then, they all raced topside, except for Cap, who took a moment to calm the distraught teenager who was sure her dad was going to kill her when he saw his collection.
Cap reassured her, and she said he was kinda hunky for an old guy. Cap beat a hasty retreat and sprinted to join the rest of the heroes.
Spidy leapt from the front door to a lamppost and saw that the other three of the Crew (Bulldozer, Piledriver and Thunderball) had arrived in a huge dump truck. Wrecker was back on his feet. Thunderball, the genius, was cracking the code to get into the Quinjet. Spider-Man acted decisively and leaped to the front of the dump truck and flipped it at Bulldozer and Piledriver. He only rolled well enough for one effect die (and I got to add a d8 to the doom pool!) and he smashed the engine block onto Bulldozer's head, additionally exploding the gas tank and spraying burning fuel around the neighborhood (DOOM POOL, YAY).
Mr. Fantastic notified SHIELD authorities than an evacuation of the local neighborhood might be warranted.
Iron Fist got himself in position to stop anyone from escaping in the Quinjet. He was unable to create an effect die to help him by melting into the shadows, but he still was in good position.
Bulldozer said "You are dead Spider-Man!" and attacked.
At this point, Spider-Man's player, unfortunately, was stating that he was tired (I think he spent the morning at the pool) and was thinking about going home. I told him we would miss his participation, but if he needed to go, we would be okay.
Bulldozer then hit Spidy so hard he went flying out of the neighborhood and into a nearby playground jungle gym. The Bullpen decided that Spidy probably would see some folks trying to get out of the neighborhood that needed rescuing and would get caught up doing that before he could get back to the fight.
Piledriver then went after Iron Fist, saying he was going to plant that old Bruce Lee wanna-be six feet under. Iron Fist easily evaded.
Thunderball declared that Mr. Fantastic was clearly the most serious threat given his intellectual superiority, so Thunderball put everything he had into catching him with his huge ball and chain and flinging Reed Richards out of the neighborhood. Despite a valiant attempt to evade the attack, Reed Richards soon found himself having avoided damage, but under the complication of "hurled far away".
Rogue went after Wrecker directly, flying straight at him (gloves, literally off), grabbing his face, flying up with him, leeching his strength, and then pounding him into the ground. How do y'all like that Sugah!
Wrecker's attack was ineffective against Rogue.
Reed Richards halted his flight, crashed into someone's skylight, but then (again literally) began to spring back to the action.
Then, Captain America hit ALL the bad guys with his shield. He made sure that he put two effects on Thunderball. One was physical stress, but the other translated to mental stress.
While I could spend from the Doom Pool to activate invulnerability for Wrecker and Thunderball, I had to sacrifice and take some stress on Bulldozer and Piledriver.
Iron Fist then continued his fight with Piledriver. Somehow, the battle took them up onto the Quinjet where Iron Fist swept Piledriver's feet out from under him and made sure that Piledriver's crotch hit the wing (hey, this was a nine year old narrating). More physical stress to the Wrecking Crew.
Wrecker then teleported behind Captain America and laid him out with the crowbar. Cap was down, but not out. Rogue in turn took Wrecker down with his own stolen strength.
Iron Fist easily leaped over Bulldozer’s charge, but could not counterattack.
Cap caught his second wind and threw the shield to hit Bulldozer and Thunderball again. Bulldozer went down, but Thunderball sucked a die from the Doom Pool and ignored the physical stress.
"I'm smarter than all of you put together" declared Thunderball. "You'll never take me down!"
Ian, playing Captain America did a facepalm and said, we have to stop hitting him and stress him out mentally! We need Mr. Fantastic!
At which point, in sprang Reed Richards!
"Take him down with SCIENCE!" yelled Cap!
Cut to brilliant and funny nine year old playing Mr. Fantastic: I make my head really big, and I explain to him what the many probable outcomes of his continuing to fight with us. I tell him he is going back to maximum security and tell him his intellect is nothing compared to mine! Also I shoot him with my pocket canon.
One roll later, Thunderball collapses in a pile of overwhelmed nerves and neurons.
Cap: "You talked that guy into unconsciousness! Way to go!"
After that, it was all cleanup.
“When do we fight Loki?” asked the kid playing Iron Fist (who had noticed the sheet in front of me).
“Not right now,” I had to say. We needed to break and everyone wanted to try some other games.
There was a lot of interest in doing some more, but we did not have time then. But, I would totally sit down with those kids again, probably in one or two action scene and one transition scenes at a time. My core group of 4 totally understood the game and really got into it. They were uninhibited, creative and enthusiastic!
My Reed Richards proudly declared "Mr. Fantastic is definitely my favorite superhero ever!!"
For me, these kids epitomized why I play RPGs. We went to a different world and had a whole lot of fun by cooperating together to tell a really interesting and exciting story.
It was a blast. I don't know when my next opportunity is going to come, but I am definitely running this game again!