May 19, 2012

MHRPG - Giving it a test drive

So this past Wednesday, instead of playing our bi-weekly NJO campaign, we opted to give the Marvel Heroic RPG a try.

By dint of having a PDF of the book, I had a partial leg up on the other players, mostly as I'd already built my character (though Darkhawk needed and still needs a bit of fine-tuning), so I could help the others with their heroes.  After an hour, we had four of the six possible heroes ready to go (the other two players were still trying to figure out which non-movie comic book character they wanted to be), so the GM decided to throw us into a quick scenario to let us try and get a feel for the system and possibly make any tweaks before we settled on our respective characters.  The scenario itself was pretty simple, a group of separate heroes minding their own business in downtown New York City when a mad scientist criminal mastermind shows up to cause trouble.

The group of heroes (won't go so far as to call us a team) were a pretty interesting lot.  Aside from Darkhawk, we had the following:

X-23: This one was pretty easy to build, since she's pretty much Wolverine as a teenage girl, so she used the official stats for Wolverine as her blueprint, dropping the Weapon X powerset and replacing Wolvy's enhanced strength with claws to get her powers (though her recovery ability isn't quite as potent) and not being as good a fighter.

Miss Hex: Drawing heavily on the base concept of DC's Zatanna, this one turned out to be much easier than Darkhawk to build, as she only had one Power Set and just a few powers within it.  To say nothing of her player using the write-up that she'd made for a Mutants & Masterminds game I'd tried to run in the past but ultimately went nowhere, so she already had the core character idea in place, making it easy to determine Distinctions and Specialties.

Maverick: I'm pretty sure the name's been used elsewhere in the Marvel comic universe, but the fellow for this session can be boiled down to "Captain America as the result of intense training" with some commando gear instead of a mighty shield.  Naturally, the official write-up of Cap was used as the baseline for this one.  Since we're pretty much going to be playing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the player chose to have Maverick be part of S.H.I.E.L.D. in much the same capacity as Black Widow and Hawkeye.

The villain was Professor Haywire, which if you've seen BARON's character threads over on Green Ronin's Atomic Think Tank forums you'll probably recognize.  In short, Haywire is a mad criminal genius that relies on his "techno-cane" for his powers and a blonde, buxom, leggy fembot named Miss Marilyn that can toss cars as his "gal Friday."  The good professor also had a mob of street thugs for some added muscle, and I think his stated goal was to intercept a couple of armored cars to build up some "venture capital" for his next grand scheme.

As an added bit of fun, the group member that's big into HeroClix brought his figures over, and I was able to use the Darkhawk mini for my character.  Now while MHRPG doesn't really have tactical rules, having a map on the table and minis to place certainly helps the other players keep track of who's where in the scene.

The Affiliation aspect was proven to be a great deal more variable than I first thought, but that could just be the GM willing to play a little loose with the rules in some respects, as Darkhawk and X-23 weren't forced to use our Team affiliation, though it did cut down on the assets we could be given; X-23 often went it alone rather than work in a group or with a partner, and Darkhawk really got a chance to shine when working in tandem with a partner, while Maverick and Miss Hex were definitely built to work in a group.

Combat in MHRPG moved pretty quickly after some adjustment to how the dice pools work.  To give an example, let's say that Darkhawk, having just seen Miss Marilyn almost flatten Miss Hex with a thrown car, decides it's time to put the robo-moll down with a Force Blast.

I start off with Affiliation, which since I'm directly aiding a single hero, the GM approves my usage of my Buddy die.  Next is Distinction, which I first think Edge Against Crime since Haywire and Marilyn are known crooks, but since this is more of a gut reaction on DH's part, I suggest Anger Issues instead, which the group agrees fits the scene, which gives me a d8.  Next up are Powers, and while the rules say you can pick one die from each Power Set (of which I have two), nothing in the Armored Form set leaps out as being applicable, so I skip to Darkhawk Weapons and grab Force Blast for a d10.  I also decide to bring his Unleashed SFX into play, and go with doubling by the die type, so I now add 2d10 to my pool.  Of course, this means that if my attack fails, I'm going to give the bad guys an extra advantage (likely narrated as being some excessive property damage).  Lastly are Specialties, of which I can only pick one, and Combat is the natural choice.  So, Darkhawk's dice pool to blast Miss Marilyn is as follows:

d10 (Buddy) + d8 (Distinction) + 2d10 (Power) + d8 (Specialty)

I grab 3d10 and 2d8, and roll them out, getting the following results:

5 (d10) + 8 (d8) + 7 (d10) + 1 (d10) + 6 (d8)

Now you only get to keep 2 dice to determine the total of your roll, so I'll take the 8 and the 7 for a total of 15.  I could choose to spend a Plot Point to keep an extra die, but I think a 15 is good enough.  Since one of my d10s rolled a 1, I set that aside (we'll get back to it in a moment).  Of the remaining dice, I have to choose one to set aside as the effect die, which determines just how powerful my attack was, and since I want this to count, I choose the other d10 (the result on the die doesn't matter at this point).  Now since I rolled a 1 on that third d10, the GM can choose to exploit that to increase his doom pool (what he uses to power bad guy abilities and resist hero rolls that don't target a specific opponent), which he opts to do, giving me a shiny new Plot Point point in exchange.  However, since I know that Miss Marilyn is one tough broad, I choose to spend that Plot Point to add that last d8 to my effect dice.  If this attack hits, it's gonna leave a mark, and the GM is regretting having handed me a Plot Point for that one.

Now, since Darkhawk is attacking a specific opponent (Miss Marilyn), she gets a roll of her own to resist, using much of the same formula: Affiliation die (probably Buddy given her partnership with Haywire) + Distinction die + Power die (likely a resistance-based power) + Specialty die (probably her own combat die).  The GM rolls it, and spends a die from his doom pool to try and boost an otherwise lackluster roll, but only manages a total of 9.  Not only do I beat the GM's total, but I get an extraordinary success, allowing me to kick my primary effect die up one step, meaning Miss Marilyn is getting hit with a d12 and a d8.

Okay, but of rules fuzziness here, at least on my part, but the way stress (damage) is tracked, if the effect die of the most recent attack is higher than the degree of stress you already have, the smaller die is replaced without any added effect.  But if the most recent attack as an effect die that's smaller than whatever stress die you currently have, the existing stress die gets bumped up a level.  For instance, if Darkhawk already had a d6 on physical stress and got hit by a d10 effect, he'd step his physical stress up to d10.  However, if the attack only did d4 stress, he'd go from a d6 in physical stress to d8.  Now, what if you have two effect dice?  It makes sense to apply the highest die first and then use any subsequent dice to kick it up, but the rules (at least from what I can tell) are vague on that point.  That was how the GM ruled it, so that's how I'm playing it out in this example.

As d12 is the highest you can go in terms of stress (physical, emotional, or mental), Darkhawk's force blast causes Miss Marilyn to hit the top of her physical stress track.  If I only had the one effect die, then she'd be battered but not out.  However, since I do have that extra effect die, I'd force her to step her physical stress track up a die, but as it's already at a d12, she becomes "stressed out" which translates to her being taken out of the fight.  So Darkhawk just took out the heavy hitter of the bad guy duo, but wound up drawing Haywire's ire in the process.  Good thing Darkhawk's got a force shield to help protect him form the inevitable retaliation that's coming his way...

In the end, the impromptu quartet of heroes claimed victory of the crazed crook, and there was a surprisingly low degree of property damage (three store fronts, one billboard, an armored car, three civilian cars, and one police cruiser).  I did have to use my Null Zone Repairs after nearly getting taken out by Haywire's reprisal.  The way initiative in this game plays also works to reinforce a "group mentality" in that you do need to keep your fellow PCs in mind, and sometimes going last in the order can be a good thing for the good guys.

I'm still not 100% sold on this system, but at least it was fun, so I'm willing to give it another go at least once more.  It's also an interesting crew, though I've still no idea what likely obscure character the other two guys are going to wind-up playing (they're both comic book geeks), but it should be interesting whatever they wind up choosing.  Even if the character bore no resemblance to the comic book version, I'm now glad that film!Deadpool exists, as I shudder to think what the one guy that has a weapons-grade man-crush on comic!Deadpool would be like if he was allowed to play that character.

May 18, 2012

MHRPG - Random Datafile generator

In my last post, I mentioned that character generation for the Marvel Heroic RPG was pretty free-form.

Well, as it turns out, there's a free download offered by Margaret Weis Productions off their own website allows you randomly generate a character, and can be found at the following link:

This could also be used as a set of guidelines for GMs to help their group make their own set of heroes.  Especially if they're worried about potential system abuse, namely when it comes to powers and specialties, or the GM wants the heroes to have a unified theme (all-mutants, all cyborgs, all-aliens, etc).

Marvel Heroic RPG - Building a Hero

In my last post, I mentioned that I was willing to consider trying at least a one-shot of Margaret Weis Production's Marvel Heroic RPG due in no small part to how much I enjoyed the Avengers movies (which I've seen three times so far, enjoying each viewing just as much as the first time).

Well, as the Star Wars NJO campaign that I play in on Wednesday nights gets ready to launch into its end-game, the GM of that game pitched the idea of his running Marve Heroic RPG once the current campaign came to an end.  Seeing as how the Avengers was still fairly fresh in our collective minds, we agreed.  But the GM had two caveats: The first was that we had play a hero; not an anti-hero or borderline villain, but an actual heroic character.  Also, we could use an established hero from the comics, but only if that character had not appeared in a movie form.  So no Film!Avengers, or X-Men, or even Spider-Man for us.  Truthfully, these really only annoyed one player that was eager to role-play Deadpool, but for most of us, this wasn't much of an issue.

Having only really gotten involved with comics during the early to mid 90's, I opted for my favorite character from that era, the novice hero Darkhawk.  Seeing as I hadn't been paying all that much attention to Marvel comics for some time, I wasn't fully aware that he'd been brought out of relative obscurity and promoted to participant in cosmic-level events and that apparently most of the events of his old series had been retconned away as being one big delusion.  Wowzers.

Well, as the GM was thinking of setting this in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that did give me some leeway in concocting Darkhawk's background for this campaign.  So I gave some thought to that, decided I'd keep the core concept: Teenage kid finds a weird psuedo-magical amulet that transforms him into a super-hero.  And I can always flesh out a background blurb later, deciding what aspects of his personal and family life from the comics I want to keep.  For those of that have no clue who Darkhawk is, you can get most of the salient details from the fansite Darkhawk Zone, found here:

Okay, got my character concept, so on to character creation... and pardon the sarcasm, but this is where the real fun begins.  In opposition to just about every other RPG on the market, character creation in MHRPG is almost entirely freeform.  No points, no rolling, no classes, no hit points.  You pretty much pick what powers suit your concept and slap the numbers together.  Maybe it's the power-gamer aspect in me, but this just seems so ripe for abuse.  Well, no matter, on to creating as faithful a PC version of Darkhawk as I can manage.

So, starting off, each character has three affiliations: Solo, Buddy, and Team.  These form the basis of your dice pools in the game, and are generally based upon whether you're working alone, with a partner, or with a group, assigning a d10, d8, and d6 to reflect how good you under those three circumstances.  Going by his solo series, Darkhawk seems pretty good at operating on his own, doesn't often work with a team, but seems to work pretty well with a partner, so I opted to set his affiliations a Solo d8, Buddy d10, and Team d6.

Okay, next step is Distinctions.  Pretty much, these are three core traits that reflect either who the character is or their personality, and are added to your dice pool when they would apply.  These can be used as d8s for a better chance at success when used, or as d4s which also grants you a Plot Point (in-game currency to do cool stuff).  So, having read-up on Darkhawk's entry pages various web-pages, I chose to go with "Anger Issues" (never was the most level-headed person, even during his own series, "Edge Against Crime" (what he thought of himself as during the early part of his run), and finally "Into The Fray" (never really saw Chris as being one to hesitate to get into the action, which can easily be a double-edged sword).

Third, we come to the real doozy... Powers.  If any section of a superhero RPG needs firm guidelines, it's the powers section.  And when it comes to choosing the, MHRPG has little beyond "here's what they generally do, chose what feels right for your hero, but don't be a dick and pick straight d12s for your powers."  Yeah.  So, back to building Darkhawk, I figure he's got two Power Sets, which is the term that MHRPG uses to describe collections of powers, such as Wolvy having "Feral Mutant" for his healing factor and senses, or Iron Man having "Powered Armor" for his suit and "Weapons Platform" for the suit's weapons, or Captain America putting his 'peak human abilities' under "Super-Soldier Program."

So for Darkhawk, I go with two Power Sets, the first being "Armored Form" (I figure that since this is a starting-out version of Darkhawk, he's not really aware of the whole body-swap android body thing, and I may not even go that route with this character) and the second being "Darkhawk Weapons" to cover his amulet and claw bracer.  For the Armored Form, I stick to Enhanced (d8) levels of Durability (resisting damage), Reflexes (reaction time), Stamina, and Strength, while also picking up a Senses power (labeled as Infrared Visor) at d8 and Subsonic Flight, also a d8.  The last bit was a point of contention, as under his default form, Darkhawk is generally restricted to gliding, but since DH is also considered to be on par with Spider-man in terms of strength, the GM allowed it since I'd chosen to be weaker than Marvel has officially pegged the ol' bucket-head at being.  For "Darkhawk Weapons," I take Force Blast at d10 (kid can do some damage with that sucker), Superhuman Durability to reflect his amulet-generated force shield (giving him an even better shot at avoiding damage), and Claw Bracer at d6 to round out the set.  In the comics, his Claw Bracer also had a grapple line, but since my DH can fly, that's not really needed, and he's got plenty of powers already from his "Armored Form" power set.

Next step is to add at least one SFX and one Limit to each Power Set, which boils down to a special trick your hero can employ in regards to that particularly power set and something that works against you in regards to that power set, respectively.

As part of his new history, Darkhawk has access to something called "the datasong," which is a means apparently for the "Fraternity of Raptors" to communicate and work towards their goals.  Over at the Doom Pool (a fan website for MHRPG, found here), the site's author gave his version of DH an SFX version of the datasong, giving a boost to noncombat rolls.  I opted to just go with a straight Boost SFX, since this Power Set is only available when Chris is in the Darkhawk form.  Another trait of Darkhawk is his "body swap to insta-fix Darkhawk's damage."  That one gave me some trouble, and I ultimately wound up using something similar to Wolverine's Healing Factor SFX, which is a bit more powerful (especially if I spend a Plot Point), but the entire power set gets shutdown the reflect the "body swap."  Allows for really fast healing, but can be very costly in terms of Plot Points if I need to do so in the middle of a fight.  For this power set's limit, I again took inspiration from the Doom Pool's write-up and used a shutdown limit that allows me to just "switch off" any Armored Form power to gain a Plot Point, though turning that particular power "back on" isn't as simple.

For his Darkhawk Weapons power set, I go with the Unleashed SFX tied to his Force Blast, allowing him to really cut loose if need be, though at a risk of growing the GM's doom pool (pretty much what he uses to bolster NPC foes and make life tough for the heroes) if I fail my action roll, so something to be used with caution.  I also tacked on a Limit that says if Armored Form is shutdown, so to is Darkhawk Weapons.

Okay, powers are resolved (phew!), which brings us to Specialties, which are MHRPG's equivalent to skills.  This are pretty much macro-skills that cover what your hero is good at.  A d8 rating means you're pretty good (better than the average joe by far), while a d10 means you're amongst the best in the world.  For Darkhawk, I chose Combat (he's hand some martial arts instruction), Crime (both parents are involved in law enforcement, so he's bound to have picked up a few notions on crime-busting during dinner conversations), and Menace (his dark form and freaky voice are better suited to intimidation than friendly persuasion).  Well, that was easy.
Last part to building a character are what's called Milestones.  Pretty much, this is a way for your hero to gain XP to advance your character by playing in character with their particular story arc.  For Darkhawk, I opted for the first one to adopt the "Amulet & Anger" Milestone from the write-up on the Doom Pool site, changing the first entry milestone to trigger when DH uses is Unleashed SFX, but keeping the 2nd and 3rd entries.  For his second milestone, I decided to create my own Milestone to reflect that this version of Darkhawk is still a rookie crime-fighter and is a bit hot-headed.

So now that I've gone through all that, here's the final result:

Affiliations: Solo d8, Buddy d10, Team d6
Distinctions: Anger Issues, Edge Against Crime, Into The Fray

Armored Form
Enhanced Durability d8, Enhanced Reflexes d8, Enhanced Stamina d8, Enhanced Strength d8, Infrared Visor d8, Subsonic Flight d8
- SFX: Datasong. In a pool including an Armored Form die, replace two dice of equal type with one die of +1 step.
- SFX: Null Space Healing: Recover your physical stress or physical trauma, or spend 1 pp to recover both and then shutdown Armored Form.  Recover Armored From by spending 1 pp or during a Transition scene.
- Limit: Amulet Interference. Shutdown any Armored Form power to gain 1pp.  Recover power by activating an opportunity or during a Transition scene.

Darkhawk Weapons
Claw Bracer d6, Force Blast d10, Superhuman Durability d10
- SFX: Unleashed: Step up or double Force Blast for one action. If the action fails, add a die to the doom pool equal to the normal rating of your power die.
- Limit: Restriction: If Armored Form power set is shutdown, also shutdown Darkhawk Weapons power set. Recover Darkhawk Weapons power set when Armored Form power set is recovered.

Specialties: Combat Expert d8, Crime Expert d8, Menace Expert d8

Amulet and Anger
- 1 XP When you first use the Unleashed SFX of your Darkhawk Weapons power set.
- 3 XP When you first exploit emotional or mental stress to fuel a die pool.
- 10 XP When you either become emotionally stressed out or deal trauma to a foe while exploiting emotional stress.

Rookie Hero
- 1 XP When you first do something brash or unwise.
- 3 XP When you ask another hero for help or agree to help another hero.
- 10 XP When you join a hero team or turn down an invitation to a hero team and choose to go it alone.

Thanks to NunoXEI for his work on the Darkhawk Zone fansite, which proved quite helpful in coming up with my "Marvel Cinematic Universe" version of Darkhawk.

May 7, 2012

Avengers Assemble!

Sorry, been a tad busy of late.  Fair warning, there's going to be some spoilers regarding Marvel Studios' latest cinematic offering, Avengers.  So if you've not seen it, you may want to skip this post.  Then again, it's going to be a fair amount of fanboy gushing, so you might want to skip it anyway.

So I opted to catch an evening showing of Avengers at the local cineplex, figuring that after a long day of work, I'd take a chance to unwind a bit.  I tend not to go into most movies with high expectations, just that I'll be entertained for a couple hours.

To sum up, Avengers rocked.

It was pretty darn close to being a perfect super-hero movie, with Iron Man just being slightly better in my opinion.  They got each of the characters more or less right, though I'm not sure how I feel on Banner being a tad too light-hearted about his "monumental anger management issues."  Then again, since Thor seemed to be the more mellow fellow he was at the end of his movie, I guess Banner's attitude is just a reflection of his character growth from the end of the Ed Norton flick.  For me, Tony Stark pretty much stole every scene he was in, though I wouldn't have minded Black Widow getting a tad more character time, but that could just due to wanting to see more of Scarlett Johannson on the big screen.  I'm a guy, sue me.

As should be expected from a Whedon-directed film, there was a lot of humor to be found in many of the character interactions, such as "how nothing is gonna surprise me anymore" from Cap to Fury, who responds with saying that ten bucks proves Cap is wrong.  The next time Cap sees Director Fury aboard the SHIELD helicarrier, Steve just pulls a ten-spot out of his pocket and hands it over without a word.  Or the SHIELD bridge member that actually was playing Galaga when Tony made his entrance onto the helicarrier's bridge.  Or Tony making his Big Damn Heroes entrance by first hijacking the PA system on Black Widow's quinjet to blare out AC/DC's "Shoot to Thrill."  Or Tony mocking Thor's old-fashioned manner of speaking.  Or Hulk's reaction to Loki's attempt to scold the giant brute as though he were an unruly child, followed by Loki's reaction to Hulk's response.  Tony was right, things really did not end well for Loki.  Also, the post-credits scene with the group, most of them still in costume, taking Tony's earlier suggestion and having a meal at the shawarma place, which was hilariously awkward as the place is still a mess from the fighting outside and the group is coming off one heck of an adrenaline rush.

But seeing as how this is a super-hero movie, there needs to be great action scenes, and Avengers did not disappoint in this regard.  The entire final battle sequence was just amazing, with everyone making meaningful contributions to the battle and playing to their respective strengths.  But the fight between Thor and Hulk aboard the helicarrier (started when Thor steps in to protect Black Widow from a raging Hulk) was cool as well, as throughout the movie Hulk pretty much dominated any fight he was in, except for this one.  I got the feeling that Thor was still holding back for most of the battle, and he still gave Jolly Green a heck of a fight.

There aren't many movies I'll pay theater prices to see more than once (Revenge of the Sith was the last one), and Avengers is definitely one of those I will gladly pay to go see a second time, maybe even a third.

One a gaming related note, seeing this movie made me fish out the PDF copy I bought of Margaret-Weis Productions' Marvel Heroic RPG and give it a more complete read thru (to be far, I was a good deal more enamored of One Ring at the time).  I dunno if this will ever get on the table, but I can at least appreciate the more narrative approach they took in regards to a superhero RPG, which does at least fit with Marvel's generally "low-powered" feel to their characters.  Still, I might be willing to try a one-shot to see how it goes.