Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marvel Heroic Role-Playing (Week 3)

With a few sessions under my belt I feel like I can comfortably start discussing the actual game play of Marvel Heroic.  First and foremost I have to say that the dice pool system used is not nearly as complicated as I had feared and even playing on  a virtual tabletop we were able to fairly quickly pull which dice we would be using from our rolls.  I'm always scared of running a game that's mechanics rely on physically moving dice from one pile to another online since more often than not those dice rolls are just listed numbers in a chat box.

I know this isn't the final thoughts on the system ( that would be next week), but I feel like I can't actually bring up my opinion on playing this game without stating that just about every aspect of it has left me feeling indifferent.  While I'm definitely liking the added structure this free form system has over some other systems such as FATE I feel like every aspect I enjoy has a portion of it that me or my players are equally having problems with.  It may just be another simple compatibility of play issue, but I figure I'll bring them up now.

The first thing I feel like I should point out is probably my favorite aspect of the game mechanically and that's the fact that every single roll is opposed.  Simply forcing players to roll to defend against actions and knowing that I will be doing the same seems to bring a much higher level of focus to the table.  My players that tend to get easily distracted where more or less constantly on the ball with this game as everyone was always involved whether or not it was their turn since at any point they might need to pick up their dice and roll.  I will admit that there isn't much I didn't like about this mechanic other than figuring out the "doom pool" mechanics which are the dice I roll if the players aren't rolling against a specific character.  At the end of the day I eventually got the hang of it, but some of the rules jut felt convoluted based on being able to buy x dice or raise a dice but not any dice only these dices until they are this high then I can raise this dice too.  IF that sounded complicated that's because when you mix it with the some what poorly laid out structure of how the rules are presented it is.  It also end up causing issues where simple actions early in the game can become near impossible if I as the GM haven't been spending that doom pool directly on the heroes.  While I get the concept of escalating threat and what they are going for in a group atmosphere is can cause issues where one players bad roll can almost flood my doom pool and thus make life harder for everyone at the table.  One of my players put it as "a crit fail that punishes everyone regardless of if they are even in the scene" and I can't argue with that as the doom pool carries over through an entire act of a story before resetting naturally.

Speaking of story, I'm not sure if it's just my love of the marvel universe or something about how the mechanics let me toy with things outside of basic combat while staying just as simple, but I found myself really grooving on being able to write a super hero based story.  Normally I have issues with the whole supers genre. Not because I dislike it by any means, but because I personally find it hard to come up with situations and scenarios that can challenge truly powerful characters while not getting repetitive.  I mean you can only save the world some many times from an  invasion or massive galactic force.

The flip side to this is I found that Marvel Heroic does not play well with open ended games.  The over all structure of the game is based around narrative which makes sense, but it's structured in  a way to almost require a three act format.  The GM is expected to more or less write a script while the players act it out and depending on out comes follow branching paths.  While this isn't horrible it is much more of a choose your own adventure format than an actual open world.

I do have to say though that while scenes need to be more or less plotted out in advance they do give a ton of options on how to handle those scenes.  I'm a fan of any game that doesn't expect combat to be the one true encounter and that doubles down for me once players are incredibly powerful.  Marvel Heroic does this by basically taking the mechanics of combat, but then using them against a characters mental or emotional state as well as physical.  This lets a well crafted argument or pushing a hot headed character's buttons be juts as effective as throwing a punch.  Again this is one of those mechanics that I love in concept and even to an extent in practice, but has some flaws in their execution.

Players love being able to confuse or befuddle NPCs but telling a player that the NPC sets them into a blind rage or other emotional mess simply because of what they said and a couple dice rolls left most of my group feeling sour.  Yes this is a narrative game and the dice are governing the swing of that narrative, but with how the pool system works combined with the way emotional damage is portrayed it is a fine line this game walks with actual player control.  I really feel this aspect of it is a by product of the expectation of playing as one of Marvel's pre-made characters over a uniquely personal hero.  It just doesn't hurt as bad if the GM tells you that Wolverine or Iron-man got their buttons pressed and are set off as we all know these characters and know that some times they do that.  That's not the case with a character someone put a bit of themselves into.  I'm of the mind set that the GM tells the players the consequences of their actions which in cases like this could very well be "the NPC digs deep pulling out your personal daemons", but that should in no way tell the player how their character interprets those consequences internally.

There's also the fact that as we played enough to look into how characters advance there is a huge glaring issue for me.  While yes characters do advance it is expressly written that after finishing a full story arc or campaign heroes are expected to retire.  While I can see this as some what understandable as stating this as the actual end of a game to prevent them from dragging on mindlessly afterwards, it is the second portion that that worries me most.  If heroes do return for later adventures their data-files (basically character sheets) should be reset.  So if you are playing a pre-made hero it literally is just a long video game as yes you can play them again, but none of what you've done before changes the hero.  I get it from a power inflation and capping standpoint as the system has issues there I plan on discussing next week, but also it means that the Iron-man you play can only veer so far away from Marvel's Iron-man before they hit the big reset button to bring him back to being "correct".  Again I feel this is a by product of the expectation of not having original characters since, while still insulting, I can understand reigning in characters they want control of.  The issue is it's for ALL heroes so the experience your personal hero makes while lasting within a single campaign has no lasting effect.  Sure this can be ignored, but to me it says a lot about the game itself and I don't like what it has to say.

Week 1
Week 2

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