I was a fan of the TSR Marvel RPG back when it came out. I mean ... it wasn't Champions but we had some fun with it over the next few years.
I did not play the SAGA Marvel game. No experience, no reference, so no opinion on that one other than I know some people really liked it.
It took a while but I eventually grokked the entirely different approach taken with MWP's Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and I have never had a bad session while running it.
All of these were innovative in some way - TSR's version had the color chart with different levels of success mapped in. SAGA had the whole card mechanic thing. MWP was a very different take on superheroics and changed the way some of us look at these things.
Now there is a new Marvel RPG. I've had it for a few weeks now. Read through it a few times, thought through it, haven't played it yet though I hope that will change in the near future. My rough take is that it feels pretty playable but I'm not sure it has the innovation that the other versions had. I think it will take a few posts to work thought the things I want to cover so let's start with the basics.
The short take: It's sort of like a d20 game but with 3d6 instead of a d20. Add 3d6 together, add modifiers, and compare to a target number. Beat that target number and you succeed, roll under and you failed.
They call it the "Action Check". One of the 3d6 dice needs to be a different color because it triggers special effects like the Wild Die in d6 Star Wars. They call that one the "Marvel die". Alrighty.
They also call this "d616" because it's a reference. It does help distinguish it from a normal 3d6 roll but we're pushing the "cute" envelope here.
If the Wild Die - I mean Marvel Die - comes up as a 1 then you count it as a 6 - called a "Fantastic" roll. If this happens when the two normal dice come up 6's then you have the best possible roll in the game, called an Ultimate Fantastic roll.
If the special die comes up a 1 when the other two dice come up as 1's (so triple 1's here) you do not get the free 6 - your total is "3", and it's a Botch, the worst possible roll in the game.
I'm not sure how much they will really push the terminology but they do call it out so I'm noting them here. Specifically, a Fantastic success result (so a 6 on the Wild die) is called out as a "Yes and" type of result. A Fantastic failure result (a 1 on the Wild die) is a "No but" type of outcome. Now the preceding rules section specially says "Fantastic" for a success and "Botch" for a fail, but here we get Fantastic Success and Fantastic Failure. I kind of like those terms better anyway and hey, it's a playtest set of rules so it won't be perfect.
An "Ultimate Fantastic Success" is an auto-succeed and ignores any "Trouble" - more on that below.
I get the intent here. I'd say the goal is to get a range of results beyond pass/fail without having to do something like add in a bunch of special dice that generate interesting outcomes if you can interpret the runes in a timely fashion. This avoids both sending new players - and I suspect this game is aimed at a wide audience - out to buy a bunch of weird dice and complicating and slowing down play by asking a GM to interpret a mix of symbols into a fun result. Some powers, especially attack powers, have an effect listed for a normal success and then a stronger effect and/or a bonus effect on a Fantastic Success so there are some places where this is already called out.
That's all fine - Savage Worlds does something similar with Success, Success and a Raise, Failure, and Critical Failure, then it also has Bennies mixed in to play around with that even more.
So ... a player makes a roll - "Action Check" - to see if they pull something off. Similar to d20 there will be a target number. No, there is not really a standard number for this. There is a chart ... because there are Ranks.
Ranks are basically Power Level from Mutants and Masterminds. They serve as a guideline and limiter for powers and challenges but are not really part of an assumed progression by all characters and you do not automatically start at 1.
So first, you have to look at the rank of your character. That gives you the target number for a "Challenging" test. There are 7 levels of difficulty in Marvel Multiverse - Challenging is the middle, the +/- 0 level. Below that are "Routine" for a -2, "Easy" for a -4, and "Trivial" for a -7. Above it are "Difficult" for a +2, "Ridiculous" for a +4, and "Impossible" for a +7 to the base target number. This is of course shown on another chart:
Not a big fan of "Impossible" as a difficulty class. That's a word that literally means "you can't do it". Surely we can find another word to use there. On the other hand I do like "Ridiculous" as a difficulty ... a lot.
Most normal tasks will use this difficulty chart-based number. Sometimes though you are opposed by a living opponent. In those cases each character has a "Defense" number for each Ability as well which is based off of their particular details. A character "attacks" by rolling dice +modifiers to beat an opponents defense.
So, say a PL10 hero ... I mean a Rank 10 hero, like Spider-Man, for example, wants to do something. Rank 10 gives a TN of 23. Say the GM thinks it's a bit tough to pull off so decides it's "Difficult". Now he needs a 25 ... on 3d6. Tricky.
This brings us to modifiers and here the game goes it's own way again. Every character has ability scores - taken from a point buy system - this is pretty normal. The ability score is a modifier to any action Checks using that ability. Basic human ability is rated "0", they can go as low as -4, and super abilities appear to run on a 1-10 scale. This is one of the 3 main sources of a modifier. The stats are:
Yeah it spells "Marvel" but they do acknowledge and own it in the book so I'm OK with it. They represent exactly what you think they do - and yes Ego is mental power just like in Champions.
|Here's the sheet for Spider-Man. Im not going to cover all of it today but it's good to have an example.|
Each character also has to choose an Archetype, of which there are six: Blaster, Bruiser, Genius, Polymath, Protector, and Striker. At first glance you might want to scream "classes!" but they are not quite that. The main aspect I am concerned with in this post is that they grant another set of modifiers for each ability based on your rank. Spider-Man is classified as a Polymath. Say he's trying to do an Agility-based Action Check. He would get the normal d616, +7 from his Agility, and then another +7 because he is a Rank10 Polymath. Yes, there is another chart for each Archetype. I don't think this is automatically bad because once the numbers are on your character sheet you won't be consulting that chart again unless you rank up.
This same chart also covers Defense at each Rank for that Archetype, and that number is modified by the characters Ability. Again, it's noted on the character sheet so you don't have to consult a chart every time you roll or get punched.
The third modifier is circumstantial stuff: It's dark. It's raining. It's alien tech. That kind of thing. There is no table for these it's left up to the GM.
The last wrinkle to the dice system is "Edge" and "Trouble".
- Edge lets you reroll one die and take the better result. Yes you can have multiple "edges" and you can use them all on one roll as you see fit.
- Trouble forces you to reroll one die and take the worse result. Yes you can have multiple "troubles" and could be forced to keep rerolling one or both dice.
This is pretty much advantage and disadvantage from D&D 5th edition adapted for this dice system. I would say it is totally appropriate for a superhero game and fits in well. My only real question is when do you use this approach vs. using modifiers to the TN as described above. Would "It's raining" be worth a +4 to the TN, or would it be better as one or two steps of Trouble? This is where playing the game for a while would probably help a lot.
|Did someone say "Fantastic"?|
The only overall mandated use of either that is mentioned is that for a Fantastic Success the default assumption is an Edge. So if you can't come up with anything more appropriate to the act then the player gets a reroll for their next action. I'd say a default on a botch to "Trouble" makes sense as well.
I tend to think these should be a token or a point that one could spend at any time, like a Savage Worlds benny, and not tied to "the next action" but that's just me and is another thing some actual playing time would aid.
The numbers are calibrated to give a hero of a given Rank about a 50/50 chance on a Challenging task. He has a +14 to a 3d6 roll using Agility , and his own Agility Defense is a 25. Average result on 3d6 is a 10.5 but since you can only roll either a 10 or an 11 he's right at 50%. If you look over the sample characters Modifiers and add 10.5 you will be right up against their Defenses, barring adjustments from specific Powers.
I'm not sure I like the Difficulty chart by Rank. If, say, climbing this brick wall is a "Challenging" task then why is the target number a 15 for a Rank 1 character but a 23 for a Rank 10 character? Theoretically, a higher rank makes you better at everything ... so then why do we have to up the difficulty for the higher rank as well? I'm sure the math is being worked to keep things in a certain range but this is scaling the world based on the character's power, something I am generally against in an RPG and it seems particularly egregious in a superhero RPG. D&D 5E manages to not do it this way. Savage Worlds, Shadowrun, Hero System ... all can have high-powered characters in a mostly normal world and none of them take this approach. It's my least favorite part of this game so far.
Just as an example, let's say Iron Man decides to punch Captain America. Both of them are Rank 15. Melee attacks are Might vs. Agility. Stark has a Might modifier of +11. Cap has an Agility Defense of 24. Success is greater than or equal to so Tony needs to roll a 13 or better on 3d6 to do damage.
Say Cap returns the favor. he has a Might modifier of +13 while Tony has an Agility Defense of 28. Cap is going to need a 15 or better to tag Shellhead.
While I'm not going into the full combat system here there would be a damage roll if either succeeded. Armor and shields absorb damage in this game so some of it would be mitigated and then the remainder would come off of their Health total. More on combat in a future post.
So wow, a whole post on dice mechanics. It seems like a lot but this is where the chrome is in this game. This is the system for everything. You don't have skills and you don't have feats or advantages or disadvantages - everything you do is tied to a stat, an "Ability" and 1 out of 6 times you're going to get a bonus and 1 out of 6 times you're going to get a negative consequence of some kind. Once in 216 times you're going to be awesome and once in 216 rolls you're going to absolutely fail. I'm guessing that handing out Edge and Trouble all through a session is going to liven up play considerably. Knowing your odds of success will help tremendously in deciding when to use an Edge, and how screwed you are with a Trouble.
More to come on this later in the week.