Saturday, March 16, 2013

Super Saturday - Civil War!

Since I put up a post about Annihilation a few weeks back and had some mixed feelings about it as an event and as a game book for MHRP I thought I would also post my thoughts on Civil War. The short version: It's a great event but a less great game resource.

The Comic Event

 As a comic book event it's great, spanning 100+ issues and involving all of the major characters (except Hulk - I know) and most of the minors and the teams and organizations and a lot of the villains as well. We have a core plotline involving certain groups of heroes and side stories involving a lot of smaller groups or solo heroes. It's truly an epic event.

Additionally, and just as important, it revolves around an interesting question, one that goes beyond the traditional "good vs. evil" or "save the world" adventure stories that have made up the bulk of comic book stories. It's possible to see both sides of the question as "right" on some level, at least as far as why they think the way they do.

Finally, there are serious consequences to the outcome of the story. Depending on which side comes out ahead, things may continue almost as they have, or they may be altered in a huge way - not as with the simple "earth/mutants/magic are destroyed - or not" type of scenario but they are just changed in significant ways. The final effects of the conflict are a step above most comic stories and even some other events.

These are the things that elevate Civil War to a higher level. Which makes it great as a comic book epic but how does it fare as a Superhero RPG?

The Game Supplement

The Good:

  • This is a big, complex event that can involve any hero in the Marvel-verse
  • There are lots of hero datafiles
  • There is a lot of player choice as to side, and both room and precedent for changing sides partway through the adventure
  • The outcome will upset the status quo, opening up room for new heroes to make a place for themselves and take a significant role in the post-war universe.

The Bad:
  • As the first big event for a new game system this is not a traditional superhero adventure scenario. Sure, heros fight each other fairly often, but not like this. Some players may not be all that fired up about a heroes vs. heroes campaign over philosophical differences and the role of government. It's an interesting situation, but if you're looking for a silver age type of game where talking gorillas are a regular opponent and throwing bulldozers at an enemy is a common and fun activity, lectures about keeping people safe and registration ultimatums are going to get old quickly.
  • The huge scope can make it difficult for a new group to find their place in the world before that world starts changing. If your group is going to be playing established Marvel heroes that's less of a problem, but if you have at least a few home made characters you may want to give them a chance to start off with something else and then move into the main plot. Also, it doesn't seem all that appropriate for new hero #23 to move into a leadership role on one side for the war when all the Marvel heavy hitters are available
  • This is a storyline that rewards knowledge of the Marvel universe. The more your players know the more they will get out of it. This isn't automatically a negative, but in a campaign like Annihilation, for example, there's an obvious threat and a clear direction to take even if you're not a comics expert. Here it helps to know how a lot of the heroes well as you interact with them and not everyone will.
Well, I suppose there's not a lot of "Silver Age" in this anyway ...
Overall I like Civil War as a game book, but not as the kick-off to a new campaign. All of the upheaval and loss and sacrifice will mean a lot more if your players have a chance to get to know things as they are, and then get to pass thru that time of change and come out on the other side. Let them build up some rivals and enemies and allies first, then make that scene where a friend chooses the other side a big one. Same thing when an enemy they've jailed before shows up with a badge for the first time - history gives us context and some meaning.  I suppose my ultimate take on it would be "go run your game for a year, THEN run this, for the ideal experience.". Given this I would have liked it better if this had been the third event book, rather than the first, but the answer here is to make your own. There are a fair number of homemade events on the net for inspiration and structure - take a look and get to work! Then run the Big Book. 

That's about it for Civil War. The next big thing is supposed to be Age of Apocalypse and I will be all over that one when it arrives. 


Justin Isaac said...

I had mixed feeling about Civil War as an event. I thought it was a great idea, with mixed actual results. I definitely agree with you about the game book though. It's not bad, but I don't think it's timing was the best. I know as a Watcher I want to have my players invested more before running this one.

Now Age of Apocalypse.... I'm all over that too (especially since the game I plan on running will be primarily X-themed).

Barking Alien said...

While I initially applauded the Events concept, more and more I am leaning toward a dislike of the idea.

For one thing (and its the biggest thing), it simply reinforces the part of Marvel Heroic my players and I are least interested in, 'Come play Marvel Heroes in Marvel Stories the Marvel Way!'. Hmmm. No thanks. We are more likely to find a game that focuses on promoting the concept of playing Our Own Heroes, in our Own Stories, the way We want to play.

Blacksteel said...

I think both of you point towards the big question of the game: How do you run a campaign in this thing? Is it just supposed to be a series of finite event-based campaigns with players starting up with new characters (or a new version of the same character) each time? That's definitely the direction they suggest, and much like the mechanics turn things upside down, I think the MHR concept of "campaign" is different than we have come to expect too.

I'd like to see a "non-event" book of say, "stuff that happens in Marvel New York" that would have a bunch of smaller scenarios to let players play some day-to-day stuff in between the big events. This would give people ideas on how it could be done and show the flexibility of the game as well. Bank robberies, attacks by Aim or Hydra, a Dr. Doom plot, Sentinels - just a grab-bag of things that are "typical" problems that superheroes handle all the time.