Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Marvel Multiverse RPG - Playtest Report


Saturday night four of the regular crew got together with me and we gave the new Marvel game a spin. 

One of the great things about playing in a well-known universe like this is being able to pick a character you like and jump right in. I did not want to get bogged down in character creation this first time so we picked from the 100+ heroes described in the book:

  • Thing was played by Grognard Mike
  • Iron Man was played by Variable Dave
  • Spider-Man 2099 was played by Next-Gen Patty (who also brought a copy of the book)
  • Beast was played by Battletech Terry
So that was our mix of heroes. One of the best parts of sitting around the table with a group of guys like this is that everyone has strong comic book knowledge so over the course of the evening I learned:
  • Mike spent some time looking up Jimmy Durante videos and info so he could sound more authentically Thing-like and figuring out which era of Ben Grimm he was aiming for.
  • Dave worked up Tony Stark's speech that kicked off the adventure with no prompting from me.
  • Patty broke down the history and origin of SM2099 for us because it has been 20+ years since I looked at any of that.
  • Terry spelled out the relative capabilities of original-form Beast vs. Blue-Fur Beast as we debated various numbers assigned to the different characters 
This was not doing Google-searches on the phone - this was guys talking through it as we played. Very casual and tons of fun. 

There is no starter adventure for this outside of Roll20 or Demiplane or whatever online play platform they are using so I had to put something together fairly quickly. The situation is this: Stark Industries is launching a new ferry boat in NYC harbor powered by a new Micro-Arc-Reactor. Once tested this will usher in a new era of clean safe power that could be expanded to other infrastructure uses and will also allow riders to charge up their electric cars as that becomes a more common need.  Stark will be there to make the speech, Miguel wanted to see the speech and also scout out a new Roxxon facility going in across the river, while Hank and Ben are meeting there and then going to try a new restaurant afterwards. 

Unfortunately Hydra has its eye on this new technology and has hired The Hand to disrupt things while a pair of Hydra agents steal the reactor. Classic Marvel stuff in my mind.

So this first part was to try out heroes vs. mooks as everyone that will be showing up here is at a lower rank than our heroes. I had a second phase sketched out that would have involved more actual villains but we didn't get to that point. It does leave me an easy in for a second session though.

The Scene: a large ferry boat with a lower deck about half-full of cars, 20-30 people milling around there and on an upper deck where our heroes have gathered along with a few notables. It's still at the dock for the moment. 

So some open areas, some cover, a somewhat limited area overall assuming you don't want to go into the water, an upper and lower level to add that third dimension plus some cars to throw or blow up along with a lot of potential hostages. I try to give my guys options.

This game uses 5 foot squares so I sketched it out on a battlemat and added some toy cars and 40K vehicles and a monitor stand for the second level and we were set!

Tony Stark says his piece, there is applause all around, and then a bunch of ninjas led by the infamous Elektra  appear out of the crowd and the shadows and begin ordering people to the back of the ferry.

I had thought we might work in more social interaction but my players were really just waiting for the trouble to start so we jumped right in. Initiative is the standard 3d6/d616 as they call it roll modified by Vigilance + any Traits or Powers. It is called out on the character sheet so it saves you from doing the math each time. We ended up with:
  • Ninjas
  • SM2099
  • Beast
  • Thing
  • Elektra
  • Iron Man
The Hand is busy doing crowd control. We decided in this universe Stark still has a secret ID as does this Spider-Man so they spend the first round ducking out of sight and changing. Beast drops into a Defensive Stance while Thing grabs a ninja and throws him into another ninja (Quick Toss - a Super Strength power) knocking them both out. - an awesome start!

Starting with this first round a growing feeling crystalized for me: many of these powers feel like 4th Edition D&D powers. I felt like it after re-reading the powers section and my players came around on it too. Here's the Quick Toss power:

Every character gets a Move Action, a Standard Action, and a Reaction every round. So the trick here is to use a Standard to grab someone, then use your Reaction to do this and damage two targets. There are a LOT of higher-end powers that do interesting things like this. 

Another thing to note is that this one has a Focus cost. Originally I thought Focus was just another damage track to cover non-physical stuff but a lot of powers (particularly the more advanced ones) have a Focus cost and there are ways to recover some focus during a fight. This feels a lot like the Vitality and Wounds system from the first version of d20 Star Wars (originally used in Spycraft) where Jedi burned Vitality to use force powers and yes there are consequences to running out of Focus. We will need to play more to see just how extensive this is in play but it is a pretty common thing among the higher-up Powers.

Next round most of the Ninjas start lining up on the heroes as Elektra moves to engage Beast. Iron Man appears as if out of nowhere and unloads a missile swarm onto part of the upper deck catching multiple ninjas in the blast!

Now admittedly we did get a laugh out of Tony Stark's area effect blast being based on his Ego but this is one area where the flavor feels a little off. Iron Man's Elemental Control powerset is labelled as "Energy" which is fine in general but a) I never pictured Iron Man as an "Elemental Control" type character and b) the character write-ups have zero notes on what the different powers are supposed to represent beyond that broad descriptor. Johnny Storm, sure, I know what his blasts and barrages probably look like. Iron Man tends to have a bunch of different ranged attacks and while I get leaving it up to the player's interpretation is a valid approach in general I didn't design this character so I would really like a few words next to each power describing what they were thinking. Which version of IM is this? Is one attack meant to represent the palm repulsors? Is another the uni-beam? Is another one missiles like we went with? Flavor is a huge part of a superhero game and this one falls down a little here. 

Another trend to note here is that it is extremely common to have multi-target powers inflict half-damage with full damage + a special effect on a Fantastic Success. Remember a Fantastic Success is a 1 on the Marvel die which is treated as a 6 for the math. So one out of six rolls you will get something awesome so if you're used to d20 critical frequencies, well, these are far more common.

The battle is fully on now and the ninjas are not having a big effect on our heroes - Beast, Iron Man, and Thing are all basically immune to ninja-punches - so Elektra is in the fight trying to keep Beast and Thing busy ...

Alright so many of the power sets have a version of this - this is for Melee Weapons but there is also one for Marital Arts and one for Ranged Weapons, among others. This is a pretty basic attack - notice no prerequisites and no Focus cost - but it does let you do something cool by striking two nearby targets with one action. In this case Thing and Beast and Spider-Man all had versions of this and used it to great effect on ninjas, but for Elektra it was ... not great. She was not going to have much impact on either of her targets with half damage.

After a few rounds Thing has leapt aft to take out the ninjas guarding the hostages while Beast and Spider-Man finish off Elektra and her helpers while Iron Man sprays missiles anywhere he can hit at least two of them. Then two Hydra agents emerge from below decks carrying a chest between them as a minisub surfaces next to the ferry and a giant man in a hydra uniform stands up next to the boat as well. 

This is called "putting a clock on it" as even a mook-fight can get more tense if the enemy has a chance to get away with something important. The heroes were having no trouble at all with the Hand but I was hoping Hydra Giant Man - I literally used the Giant Man stats - would make it a little more tricky. 

It did not work out that way as 2099 gets ridiculous with one of his moves ...

You can see this lets him move, smack two people - possibly webbing them up - and then move again. This felt very spider-mannish!

Meanwhile Beast is playing leader and starts calling out to the rest of the team ...

This felt like a perfect fit.

 IM blasts one of the Hydra Agents leaving the other one to drag the chest to the side of the boat. The Hydra Giant smacks Thing for just about no damage. Ben then sees an opportunity, leaps in between the two, and bashes their heads together!

This move takes out the last two standing combatants and that poor Hydra agent ... in Thing's words "This man needs a hospital". Iron Man picks up the sub and places it on the deck, the pilot surrenders, and the Micro-Arc-Reactor - and the hostages - are saved!

Post-Game Thoughts

  • Number one my players had a really good time. Something about superhero games, especially ones using familiar characters, really brings it out. So right away I will say the rules did not get in the way of a good time.
  • The core mechanic of the game is used consistently throughout and as far as I can tell resolves everything with a single roll - that's huge. It plays quick which meant my players weren't tied up doing math on multiple rolls so they naturally tended to describe what was happening with their powers. I like that a lot. It's not as detailed as the original "One Roll Engine" as seen is Godlike and others with the height and the width etc. but it is easy to grasp and plays quick.
  • It feels very much like 4E D&D when it comes to powers - look at Spider Strike up there. I consider that a good thing.
    • Now look at Battle Plan and Combat Support - the 4E Warlord lives! You can have a character who can fight well who can also hand out buffs throughout a combat! The whole Tactics power tree is made up of powers like this and they are awesome. Beast and Cap and other leader types feel like they actually have useful, flavorful abilities in a fight beyond just punching like everyone else!
    • The possible downside here is that you are choosing from a list of pre-built powers rather than building your own and that's where the lack of flavor and customization could come in. Playing known superheroes it was not a huge problem though Iron Man did feel a little clunky with that power set. Workable, but clunky. Making your own character is going to push you down some set paths that could feel limiting but in return they will help make a cohesive character. We will have to explore that part. 
  • On my previous post I had some concerns - let's talk about those:
    • The 5' square thing did not feel particularly limiting.
    • Lack of a skill system was not the problem I envisioned. This session was mostly combat but I think the tags and traits will allow for enough specialization that it will work just fine. this is probably something to be better evaluated in a long term campaign.
    • The lack of vehicles/animals/robots and the very limited number of NPC type stats is an impediment to putting something together on the fly. There are a few agent-types in the book but not many. I've been spoiled by games from M&M to ICONS to the prior Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for including a lot of these building block type units and it does feel like a miss here. 
    • I didn't change up the task numbers here as it was mostly combat and I don't see a point to adding that in to the mix. 
  • This game could -REALLY- use a cheatsheet. There is a list of specific Standard Actions and Reactions and there is a size chart that is referenced a lot. Many characters have some level of "Mighty" and that references the size chart for how much you can lift and carry and what it does to your combat numbers. I may have to make one myself before we play again. 
  • One rules issue I need to look up: Elektra does that double strike move to hit Beast and Thing. Beast has Defensive Stance up which gives attackers Trouble when attacking him. The attack is specifically called out as one roll vs. both targets ... how does this work? Thing inadvertently benefits from Beast's defensive move? Do we keep track of the roll vs. the re-roll separately? At the time I just went with Trouble on the roll as it's still just one roll but given how many powers use this same approach I'd like a little more clarity.

Anyway that is a very long rundown of our session. It went very well overall and at least one other player was going to pick up the book after trying it out. I am very sure this is not our last round with this system - it's just a question of where it falls in the list of options for The Next Game.