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Sunday 30 June 2024

Getting Marvelous

It is surprising to think that there have been five roleplaying games based on Marvel Comics in the last four decades, going all the way back to Marvel Super Heroes published by TSR, Inc. in 1984 before coming all the way up to date with the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game published by Marvel Universe in 2023—and even that was not the first roleplaying game published by Marvel. The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game lets you play using a huge cast of characters—heroes and villains, from Abomination, Agatha Harkness, and Baron Mordo to Ultron, Venom, and Vulture, from American Chavez, Ant-Man, and Beast to the Winter Soldier, Wolverine—both Laura Kinney and Logan, and Wong. There are over one-hundred-and-twenty-eight villain and hero writeups in the pages of the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, a mix of the well-known and the lesser known—and all of them playable. A group can play at street level with characters such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man—both Miles Morales and Peter Parker; join the Avengers with heroes like Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Squirrel Girl, and Thor—both Jane Foster and Thor; stand up for mutants such as the X-Men with Beast, Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman, Professor X, and Storm; or go to the stars with Captain Marvel, Gamora, Groot, Nebula, Nightcrawler, Rocket Raccoon, and Star-Lord. Thus, it allows the players to roleplay a wide variety of the Marvel Universe’s heroes from both the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe—both on the big screen and the small screen. Or alternatively, the players can create heroes of their own, from heroes of the street to heroes of the cosmos.

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game leaps into the mechanics first. It uses what the game calls the Marvel 616 System. This is named for Marvel-616, the universe where the majority of the stories are told in the Marvel comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That conceit aside, the Marvel 616 System uses three six-sided dice. The middle one of these is called the Marvel die and is either a die of a different colour or an official Marvel Multiverse die which has the Marvel logo on the six face. To have his hero undertake an action, a player rolls the three dice or ‘d616’, adds the relevant ability score, and if it is equal to, or exceeds, the Target Number succeeds. A Target Number typically ranges between eleven and sixteen, but can be further adjusted depending upon how trivial or absurdly difficult the action is. There are three possible special outcomes. One is if the result on the Marvel die is the Marvel logo or a six on the die of a different colour. This is a Fantastic Success and will typically double damage inflicted in combat or grant an ‘Edge’ or bonus on the hero’s next action. It is possible to roll a Fantastic Failure, meaning that the result on the Marvel die is the Marvel logo, but that the roll has failed. This means that although the action has failed, something beneficial has still happened to the hero. This is handled as a narrative effect. There is no critical failure mechanic. There is however, an ‘Ultimate Fantastic Roll’. This is a roll of a six on the two standard dice and the Marvel logo on the Marvel die, which guarantees a success on the action no matter how difficult, and enables the hero to ignore any Troubles besetting him. The dice can also be modified by Edges and Troubles. An Edge comes from favourable circumstances and allows one die per Edge to be rerolled and the highest value used, whilst a Trouble comes from unfavourable situations and forces a player to reroll one of his highest dice results per Trouble and use the lowest value. Edges and Troubles cancel each other out.

Combat uses the same mechanics, beginning with rolling for initiative. This roll cannot fail, as it determines the order in which the combatants act. The fun wrinkle here is that if a Hero or a villain rolls a Fantastic Success, then they have a bonus round in which only they act! A Hero can take one standard action, such as attack, dodge, escape, grab, move, and so on per turn, as well as a reaction like escape, fastball special, help teammate, skulk, and more. Attacks are made against a defender’s Defence Scores—derived from his abilities—and the damage determined by the result of the roll of the Marvel Die, which is then multiplied by the attacker’s Rank. The multiplier for the damage can be altered by the attacker’s powers and decreased by the defender’s powers. It is easy for a Hero to inflict sufficient damage to kill, but the default assumption is that any character with the Heroic Tag will hold back sufficiently to inflict enough damage to take a defender out of a fight, but not kill him. If the Heroes or villains are members of a team, then together they can also perform a team manoeuvre, such as “Avengers Assemble!”, once per fight, which can be an offensive, defensive, or rally team manoeuvre. It costs Focus per participant to activate a manoeuvre. The rules also cover attacking and ploughing through objects, whilst a knockback effect requires the Mighty power and a Fantastic Success to succeed.

Some twenty powers—or rather power sets—are described in Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, from Elemental Control, Illusion, and Magic to Telepathy, Teleportation, and Weather control. Each power consists of at least one basic power and then extra powers which alter or improve the basic power. These are ranked, so that the basic power is Rank 1 and then the other Rank 2, Rank 3, and so on. For example, Phase Self is the Rank 1 power for Phasing, but Phase Object and Partial Phase are Rank 2. In addition, there are Basic Powers. These include Brawling, Combat Trickery, Flight, Iconic Weapon, Mighty, and more. Most require the Special Training Origin to have, but Special Training is the means by which highly skilled characters, such as Hawkeye or Shang-Chi, can be created. Overall, the powers and power sets cover most of the hero types that a player might want to design, but what they are not, is necessarily flexible. Each power does a set thing and what a Hero is in general not trying to do is push the envelope beyond those limits. There is scope for it narratively, at least, if a player rolls a Fantastic Success.

A Hero in the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game has a Rank, which determines how much damage he can suffer, how many points can be assigned to ability scores, and how many powers and traits he can have. The Rank ranges from Rank 1 and Rookie to Rank 6 and Cosmic. He has six abilities. These are Melee (which also covers strength), Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, and Logic, and together they form the acronym, M.A.R.V.E.L. They can be zero or less, but they can be much higher. Each works as a straight modifier in the Marvel 616 System. Health is how much damage a Hero can suffer, whilst Focus represents his concentration and willpower. A Hero has karma equal to his Rank. Karma is spent to inflict Trouble on a villain or to give a Hero an Edge. Once used, it is earned through good roleplaying, being heroic, use of a Hero’s catchphrase at the appropriate time, and if a Trait causes the Hero a problem.

A Hero will have several Traits and Tags. Traits typically provide an Edge, whilst Tags are roleplaying hooks. For example, Ms. Marvel has the Traits of Determination, Glibness, Honest, and Quick Learner, and the Tags of Heroic, Inhuman Genes, Mentor: Captain Marvel, Obligation: School, Secret Identity, and Young. Glibness allows her to talk to anyone for the first time and persuade them to give her a hand, which gives her an Edge of her Ego checks, whilst Obligation: School will cause her problems if she fails to attend school or do her homework. A Hero’s Traits and Tags are derived from the two elements of his Backstory, his Origins and Occupation.

Creating a Hero is a matter of a player making choices based upon the Hero’s Rank, assigning Ability points, and then choosing Origins and Occupation, followed by powers. Notably, if a Hero has powers from fewer Power Sets rather than more, he gains a bonus number of powers. A player can also choose to reduce the number of powers his hero has to increase his abilities or add traits.

Codename: Mother Penitencia
Rank: 2
Karma: 2

Real Name: Violetta Santillan
Occupation: Health Care Worker
Origin: Magic: Demonic
Base: Chicago

Melee 1 Defence Score 11
Agility 0 Defence Score 10
Resilience 2 Defence Score 12
Vigilance 1 Defence Score 11
Ego 3 Defence Score 13
Logic 3 Defence Score 13

Health 60 Focus 90

Magic (Demonic): Sense Sins, Penance Stare, Hellfire Chains
Magic: Sense Supernatural
Teleportation: Blink, Teleport 1, Blink Barrage

Tags: Chaotic, Supernatural, Obligation: Family, Obligation: Night School, Heroic
Traits: Clinician, First Aid, Out of Shape, Skeptical, Secret Identity

Background: Violetta Santillan is in her thirties, a health care worker who works in a care facility. She has been studying to be a doctor, but illness in the family meant she had to drop out of school and then she had a family of her own. As the children have got older, she has been trying to go back to school to study. After one of the residents died, he left her a book. When she opened it, she was suddenly cast into Hell and told that she would be the next wielder of the powers of penitence. She is deeply conflicted about her new role, especially as it transforms her, her eyes blazing black, black horns curling from her head, her fingernails turning jet black. So far, she has stopped a couple of attempted robberies at the care facility, and dealt with a street robbery. Worse, she is taunted by the demon, Irzollath, who claims that the gift of penitence was not hers to take and taunts her to act immorally.

Almost a fifth of Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is dedicated to detailing its powers and power sets, whilst two fifths are dedicated to detailing the one-hundred-and-twenty-eight heroes and villains. The chapter on the Marvel Multiverse itself packs in a lot of information, covering history, the current state of Earth-616, other universes and dimensions, and moving between. However, it is a broad overview at best. For the Narrator there is solid advice on setting up and running a game, the scope of a game—from single issues to ongoing series, as well as on how to handle some of the more difficult aspects of the setting and super heroics. This includes interdimensional and time travel, mind control, illusions, and more, as well as hero death—and return. Oddly, this chapter is also where social interaction is covered, which essentially boils down to Logic and Ego attacks versus a target’s Logic Defence or Ego Defence. Overall, the Narrator advice is more than decent.

Unfortunately, Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is not without its issues. One is a matter of choice, given the number of heroes and villains in the roleplaying, there is likely to be characters missing for some reader. Notably, both Silver Surfer and Kate Bishop are missing from the list, whereas Titania of Gamma Fight is included. The A.I.M. Agent, Average Civilian, and Night Nurse are the only Rank 1 characters listed, but not police officer. The writing tends towards the succinct, leaving Narrator and players alike unclear as how powers work or in particular, tags, work. In this, Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is better suited to the experienced Narrator, who is likely to be more aware of the storytelling style of roleplaying. The powers could have been better organised. The powers are listed alphabetically rather than by power set, and the power set trees, showing the reader what power he needs to choose for his Hero before getting the one he wants, placed at the back. So, there is a lot of flipping back and forth during creation and there are no page numbers listed in the power set trees making it even more awkward. Lastly, there is no scenario in the book, unfortunately. In this, and in the lack of an example of play, the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game does not necessarily serve the Marvel fan coming to roleplaying for the first time. More experienced roleplayers will have no issue picking up and playing the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game, but may want to look at other superhero roleplaying games if they want more choices and greater flexibility.

Physically, the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is a fantastic looking book. How could it not be? After all, it has access to, and does draw from an incredible back catalogue of artwork. A nice touch is that the chapters are colour-coded for ease of access. However, it does need a slight edit in places.

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game does give what you want with a roleplaying game based on a huge comic book universe and franchise. It lets you play your favourite heroes from the Marvel universe, but it also lets you create your own heroes and take them on their own adventures in the Marvel universe. It feels fantastically comprehensive in the choice of Marvel heroes to play and the types of Marvel-style heroes to create and play. Overall, the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is a very solid, very serviceable, and very playable superhero roleplaying game that will be appreciated by fans of the Marvel Universe.

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