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Marvel Heroic Role-Playing: No Go Area?

Over the years I’ve learned there are game systems I wouldn’t even contemplate running. In the main these tend to be systems that are complicated and have lots of things to remember. If they have both they should certainly be avoided. In the dim, distance past I may have been more tolerant of these things but not these days.

The best example of this in modern times is 4E Dungeons & Dragons and D20 systems like Spycraft. I love the idea of Spycraft but the system is a no go area. Way too many specific rules, all of which interact. It does something brilliant but in a way that’s not compatible with me. It’s good that I don’t really like running systems of this type so I’m never tempted to give them a shot.

Occasionally, a system comes along that sort of sits in the middle ground. It matches my gaming sensibilities brilliantly, and from that point of view it begs to be run, but there is something about the implementation, or the mastery of it in actual play that makes me wonder whether I should keep well away from it?

They’re fiction first heartbreakers. The current perfect example of this is Marvel Heroic Role-Playing (MHRP).

I read it and I love it. There are many things to like. I like the fact it is essentially Fate in many ways just with a lot of the constructs re-named and with dice attached. I like the cool way they’ve broken up the powers in broad brackets that largely reflect the comics (no specific ‘what can I lift’ tables, etc). Like many of the games I like these days, albeit the language of such games is becoming clearer, it’s based on fiction first. I’d love it even more if the whole was more visible in the rules than its interesting parts. It lacks a holistic explanation or a sell of the overall vision.

There is a lot to love. So, what’s the problem? Two problems.

The first problem is the game is quite fiddly to pin down in terms of general understanding. People thought Fate was complicated with all its new terms for everything with the MHRP I feel I need to diagram what everything is and how the artefacts relate to each other and what their purposes are. I’ve even seen the odd one and they’re very useful. This is then compounded by the fact, like a lot of modern fiction first games, they are much harder to master in actual play then they are to conceptualise as a set of rules. You can know the rules well but apply them badly. The fiction is, to a degree, dependent on this sound application. The expertise in application is a considerable factor in success for MHRP. It’s worse than Fate in this regard, I think.

Second, the game is almost impossible to predict in actual play? In some cases the game is quite structured, especially if you read between the lines, in other ways it’s almost impossible to predict. As an example, for any particular character it’s almost impossible to predict how powerful they really are (options, impact, etc) and as a result it’s almost impossible to predict how hard or easy a conflict will be. This is because (a) too many things interact (the dice pool, the players ability to fiction first the pool, the myriad of SFX effects) and (b) the odds of the dice rolled are way beyond the ken of a human to get a feel for and (c) the doom pool fluctuates as a variable so difficulties don’t even exist on a set scale of any kind (it’s always a pool against a pool). This makes me feel (non-system elements of the game aside) I can’t judge or get a feel for any sort designed intent in terms of general prep.

MHRP has a very big experience factor when it comes to using it well, I think.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to whether I want to run a superhero game or not (though it’s more likely to be 1-3 session short game)? If so, then approaching MHRP and its inevitable random results at the gaming table due to the lack of the experience factor will have to be explored (it will be very…random). The main reason for this being I really like the fiction first approach and its Fate-like concepts and there isn’t really much else out there on the superhero front that isn’t too complex or way too simple they’re pretty banal.

This will mean it will come down whether I run a superhero one-shot at the next Cottage Con? It’s all in the balance and my odd relationship with MHRP factors into the decision. One part of me is can I be bothered with the unpredictable hassle? The other half is experiment and be damned?

We shall see. It’s a while away.

About Ian O'Rourke

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