I am a fan of superhero RPG’s. I have since the first Marvel Superheroes RPG came out. I have played, or run, most of them, and I buy and read almost all of them. I learned to love comics at an early age and the combination of comic book superheroes and gaming is my heroin.
So, of course, I bought the new Marvel Superhero Game. It is a game written by some really quality people, and I am a big marvel comics fan. While I am a big Hero system fan, I am always looking for new systems to run a superhero game in.
The system as it stands has a lot going for it. It uses cortex plus as a base. You have variable die types based on how skilled you are. Yes, you roll a small handful of dice, but not as many as some games and I like rolling a handful anyway. The doom pool as the opposing currency against the pc’s plot dice is a wonderful addition. Overall the system encourages you to role play, to change up how your character does things and keeps things dynamic.
There is a problem. There really isn’t a way to make your own hero. There is a system in place, that is intended to be used to recreate a character which exists in the comics. The system could be used to make the character of your creation, but the guidance available there is sparse at best. The overall conclusion is they would really prefer you play an existing character.
This mystifies me a bit. One of the core experiences in any RPG is making your own character. I would love to play in the marvel universe, to fight sentinels or doctor doom. I would love to have characters run into Spiderman and Captain America. I would not want to be Spiderman or Captain America. There are some who would want to play them, and it is good that you allow for that, but I would think that is the exception, and not the rule in the gaming market. I would be satisfied if they would even announce an advanced version or a supplement or the like to help you make characters, but that does not appear to be the case. The lack or formal system for character creation is not an oversight. The little system they do have amounts to “wing it” within a certain loose set of parameters.
Ironically, one of the most memorable portion of the Marvel Superheroes RPG that TSR put out, was the character creation system. It was random, and in no way balanced, but it was always memorable, especially if you used the Ultimate Powers book.
The actual game play portion of the system is nice. It doesn’t blow me away, but it is solid. There is a strong influence of narrative style games. They do a good job of systemizing the sort of tweaks good GM’s would do anyway, but sometimes not evenly. Unfortunately, I find it hard to picture it a game that my players would want to play. The lack of full character creation rules is daunting. In no way is playing an existing hero compelling to me, and I imagine my players will feel the same. It is just hard to invest in a character you are not creating. Spiderman is never going to be an extension of me, or my creativity, so I will be less invested in him as a player. As a reader, I love him, and the only time I want to play him is in a video game, which is very much a different experience. Given that problem, I have hard time recommending the new Marvel Superhero RPG as a good superhero game. It could have been an awesome one based on the mechanics they do have, but without a good character creation system, it feels very incomplete. Perhaps future books will do a better job of giving more guidance on making your own adventures and heroes. It is not for a lack of skill on the designers part or a lack of inventive systems.
Worry not though, if you wish to have your good system, and even a token effort to make the characters of your own, then my friend Stephen Cheney, has kit bashed a point based character creation system which can be found here. That bit of rules mod might make a real difference. Despite my concerns about the lack of strong character creation in the system, I will be asking around to see if anyone wants to give the game a shot. There is enough there that I am still interested in where they are going. I just don’t think this is a point they should stop at.