Thursday, August 3, 2023

Marvel Multiverse RPG - First Look


Quick take: this is a vastly improved system compared to the initial playtest rules. I talked about them here and then a later take on the playtest updates here. I did not like that initial version at all but had more interest in the final playtest rules. This new version is improved in every way over those and I like it enough I will be trying it out with the crew this weekend. 

Of course they're going to want to sell you some dice!


  • It's still 3d6 with one designated as the Marvel die where a "1" counts as a "6". Add these together, add a stat modifier, then compare to a target number where meeting or exceeding = success and rolling under = failure. So it's similar to most d20 systems but with a bell curve and a wild die mechanic. 
  • A 6 on the Marvel die and succeeding means you have a "Fantastic Success" which gives a bonus effect depending on what you're doing. Some of these are defined but there is a lot of flexibility here. A failure when you do this is a "Fantastic Failure" and means something good still happens - this is similar to netting out with only advantages in FFG Star Wars. It's not a success but it's still beneficial somehow. 
  • Rolling all sixes is an "Ultimate Fantastic Success" and is an auto-success which ignores any Trouble (see below)  and is pretty much the best possible outcome you could have.
  • Some powers, traits, and situations, grant "Edge" which is reroll one die from your roll and take the best result - so it never hurts you. 
  • "Trouble" is triggered in similar ways and means you must reroll the highest die and take the worst of the two. Trouble and Edge can stack up individually and they do cancel each other out if both would apply. 
  • They dropped the "Botch" concept from the early version so they figured out that you don't really need a critical failure mechanic, especially in a superhero game. That said the concept is out there if anyone wants to add it back in. 

  • A character is built around the 6 core stats: Melee, Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, Logic. Yes it spells Marvel. Yes they mention it. Your score in these stats is your modifier like Mutants & Masterminds. Human average for all of these is zero and derived stats typically have a minimum of 10.
    • Melee drives HTH attacks
    • Agility drives ranged attacks
    • Resilience x30 is your Health - hit points by another name.
    • Vigilance x30 is your Focus - this is another damage tracking stat but it's not Stun as in Champions or Shadowrun. It's more for emotional or possibly fatigue type effects. This is where psychic damage hits. Reaching zero here gives a character Trouble on all rolls. I think there are some interesting implications in this.
    • Ego in D&D terms is sort of Wisdom + Charisma and it drives magical attacks and rolls
    • Logic covers the obvious and also drives mental powers. The example given in the book is that Reed Richards and Professor X both have high Logic scores.
    • I think the usage of these are fairly obvious but I do like seeing Vigilance in the mix there. Perception type skills are used a lot in in RPGs in my experience so why not make them a core stat?

    • There is also "Karma" which starts off equal to Rank and allows one to heal and activate Edge and Trouble once per point and then refreshes with a good night's sleep.
    • Beyond the stats a character is defined by Powers, Traits, and Tags
      • Powers are covered in about 14 pages and I am sure we will see more in future books
      • Traits are like advantages in other games. They add flavor and typically give a small bonus like Edge on certain checks
      • Tags are more like disadvantages in other games - think secret identity, dependent NPCs, code of honor, etc. - and give no mechanical benefit but can be touched on for Karma
    • They did, thankfully do away with the archetypes and the 25 ranks that were in the original version. I really don't think many people are asking for classes and levels in a superhero game these days and they figured that out during the playtest. 
    • Rank is still a thing though. There are six ranks that are really a power tier kind of system. Rank 1 is "normals" even with some training, Rank 2 covers neighborhood protectors as they say - like Daredevil & Elektra. Jump to Rank 4 and that's where most of your Avengers and X-Men fall like Spider-Man, Cap, Iron Man, Black Panther, Colossus, Wolverine, etc. Rank 5 covers your heavier hitters like Thor and then Rank 6 is Cosmic level - Captain Marvel and the Silver Surfer types.

      This does have a mechanical impact on the game as your Rank is a multiplier to damage. So if someone throws a punch it is the result of the Marvel die (so 1-6) x the characters rank  and then we add the Melee stat modifier (the stat is the modifier like Mutants & Masterminds, average human is "0"). 

      Example: War Machine has a Melee stat of 2 and is a Rank 4 hero so a punch will do 1d6 x4 + 2. There may be some additional power or circumstance that could impact this but that's the base. Also, a Fantastic success  in melee means double damage so that could change things dramatically.

      If you're wondering how this stacks up to his defenses ...

      War Machine has "Sturdy 2" which reduces the multiplier of incoming attacks and has 90 Health so an average punch to himself would do 3.5 x2, so 7, +2, so 9. So he could take 10 average punches from himself.

      But if, say, Thor whacks him with Mjolnir, well ... now we're looking at a d6x10 (which we reduce by 2 for the armor) so 3.5x8 = 24, then we add 12 for the stat ... so BAM! 36 points in one average hit! On the third one of those Rhodey is down and out!
    How many spider-characters will be in this book? 10? 20? 100?


    • This game does use rounds of 5 seconds where each combatant gets a move action, a standard action, and a reaction once per round. 
    • Initiative is a standard 3d6 test - highest goes first.
    • Distances are measured on a grid of 5' squares. This is the weirdest thing left in this game to me - an obvious D&Dism that is just silly in a game where people fly and teleport and run around the world in ten seconds. It's not really an obstacle to anything, just a weirdly specific baseline to have.
    • In addition to Health and Focus damage there are various conditions like Blinded, Stunned, etc. I think the game covers the full range of things one would expect. 
    • The topper: Knockback ...

      It's a good start ...

    That example just cracks me up and this whole section shows me that someone gets it on the writing team.

    Initial Concerns

    • Well, there is no skill system. Your stats combined with Traits pretty much describe your day to day life.
      • You're not going to make a "Stealth" roll - you're most likely going to make an Agility check with an Edge from your "Sneaky" trait if you have one.
      • Defensive use of stats, like say the guard you are trying to sneak past, is the modifier + 10. So this sneak check would be Agilty + bonuses vs. the guard's vigilance defense which would be Vigilance + 10. 
      • Not much modifies these rolls - having a trait gives you an Edge or gives the opponent Trouble, depending on who is doing what. It's playable but it's not exactly intuitive coming from many other RPGs. 
    • There are no vehicles listed in the core book. I have a process for throwing a car at someone and a process for punching someone through the side of a battleship but I don't have stats to use either of those things in the game. That feels like a miss.
    • Task numbers are good but there is one concept that leaked in that is a personal beef:
      • There are 7 levels of difficulty from Trivial at -6 to Challenging at 0 to Absurd at +6, with steps of +/-2 in between. This is fine and expected.
      • Then there is a separate chart for "Challenging TN by Rank" which presents the base target number for "Challenging" tasks as 10 + Rank. I really really dislike this approach as a task, in my mind, should be rated in its absolute difficulty - If climbing the side of a skyscraper is a "Difficult" rated task then it should be, say, a TN14. It shouldn't be a TN12 for a Rank 1 character and a TN 16 for a Rank 4 character. Rank 4 types are inherently more capable so yes, they will typically have an easier time completing the same task than a Rank 1! Changing the base number equalizes the difficulty between the two which defeats much of the reason for designating Rank in the first place.
      • This feels especially off when they note that many teams have members of different Ranks like the Avengers where Hawkeye is Rank 2, Black Widow is Rank 3, Captain America is Rank 4, and Thor is Rank 5. 
      • I'm going to try it as written first but I will be keeping an eye on it.
    It's not just a pun - pretty sure he will be in my game this weekend!

    Things Done Well
    • The rules are presented in the right order: Basic task resolution mechanics, then how to read a character sheet, then combat, then how to create a character, then the reference sections. Excellent! Don't jump into telling me how to build a character before I have any idea how the system works!
    • The layout, language, and examples all seem right. It's a good-looking book.
    • It does contain a full character creation system so one can make an original character right from the start.
    • There are about 130 pages of character profiles and they take one page each so that means we start off with about 130 Marvel characters to use. Now some of these are things like "Hand Ninjas" or "Vampires" but the vast majority are named Marvel characters which is exactly the kind of thing a game like this needs. Well done!
    So there's my initial rundown of the book. I'm going to get my hands dirty with it this weekend I will post about that next week!

    Monday, July 31, 2023

    Campaign Planning 2023


    I say 2023 because I am betting this will start later this year though you never know with schedules and complications and I'm not going to rush the Deadlands game to a conclusion. It's good to have a plan though. 

    Fair warning: this will pretty much be me thinking out loud about various options, many of which I have outlined before, sometimes years ago on this very blog.  Hopefully it all makes some kind of sense.

    I have been running Deadlands "The Flood" since September of 2021with 25 sessions completed. That sounds light to me but there was a 3-month gap at the end of 21 and start of 22 then a 6-month gap last spring/summer as I went house-hunting and then moved into a new place. So when we get going we are pretty consistent but we do have gaps here and there. It has been the main game for the last three years so Savage Worlds has been our main system.

    This year I have also run some FFG Star Wars as a side campaign and ran a Sentinels of the Multiverse kick-off session that has thus far only been that one session. 

    When we finish the Deadlands game that's probably enough Deadlands for me for a while though I do have plenty of material to run more. After running a particular setting for an extended period I like to  switch to something else even if I know I'll be coming back to it later. It helps me to change perspectives and assumptions.

    System-wise I do like Savage Worlds and I have since it was first released but I'll probably change that out too. System mastery is nice but there are a lot of cool games out there and I'd like to spend time with all of them so rotation is important.

    That said let's talk about Savage Worlds options: it's probably Rifts. I'd love to run Weird War II, and for some reason Slipstream has been calling out to me lately, but if I turn right back around into this system it will probably be for Rifts. Even now, 30+ years later that game calls to people with all of the character options and setting weirdness and I should probably take another run at it. I have plenty of ideas and there is more than enough setting material new and old for a nice long run. I had a thought recently about converting some adventures from other games that I like to see how it might go - from D&D to Traveller to Twilight 2000. It's definitely a candidate. 

    Another candidate would be some kind of old school D&D type game. The Black Hack looks like fun, with Labyrinth Lord or OSE as more traditional options. I might run this as a traditional Town + Wilderness + Dungeons/MegaDungeon setup. I haven't run a fantasy game aside from a one-off last year in a long time and this might scratch that itch. The other thing here is that I don't see this being as much of a long-term campaign as some of the others. Make characters, get our hands dirty running through a few levels, and then consider rotating out. There tends to be less system overhead with games like this so in my experience you get more done per session than some games. I'd play this pretty loosely and let the players choose their path of course, as sandboxy as they want, and try to have a suitable stopping point in mind. 

    A smaller contender for a fantasy game would be a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign. This would probably be 2nd edition as I have all of the books and between published adventures and stuff I sketched out years ago I could run for quite a while. It's a fun system and it's not like I don't have the miniatures ... it's just a matter of getting people to try it. 

    The other fantasy contender would be a 5E game that would take the classic path of Temple of Elemental Evil-Against the Giants-Drow Series with a finale at Queen of the Demonweb pits. There are good 5E conversions of most of these so the technical side is easy enough. I've wanted to run these for years and this would be that effort. looking at the long term there are several built in stopping points too - maybe if we completed ToEE my guys might have had enough 5E for a while so we rotate to something else and then come back to it down the road to play through the Giants series. I know I tend to burn out on 5E so if it takes a year I may well be ready to do something else myself. There are enough monster books out now for it that I can probably make them interesting at least and If I do run 5E again this is the most likely path.

    Getting away from fantasy campaigns the dream would be to finally have a superhero game as the main campaign for the first time with this crew. I like Sentinels after trying it out and there are a lot of other good supers rules but for a longer-term campaign I would go with Mutants & Masterminds. Tons of support both books and online , tons of characters and villains both, locations ... it has everything I would need. I'd probably go with my own setting rather than Freedom City but I might still include a lot of FC elements. This is the dream but I have to make sure my crew wants to commit to it before I start going nuts.

    Star Wars will always be an option and I've run enough now that I feel like it's a real campaign but I kind of like it better as the side/backup option. Everyone's familiarity with the setting and the visuals makes it very easy to drop in and out without missing a beat and I'd like to keep it going in that role. So I'm not ready to move it into the main spot right now.

    Other Space type games would be some version of Traveller or Stars Without Number. I'd love to run a post-apoc game like Gamma World or Mutant Crawl Classics but I think Rifts would take precedence. Maybe Hell on Earth makes it in next time as a compromise. Star Trek would be a blast but will probably never make "main game" status. 

    So there are my thoughts on the Next thing. More to come.