Buckets of Dice: AKA “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying”


So recently I was going through that phase that (almost) every roleplaying geek goes through where they think; “Oh hey, I should totally make a roleplaying game….from scratch!”  Like most other gamers that get this weird itch, I had no idea what I was doing.  But I knew that I wanted to make a superhero roleplaying game that simulated the concept of playing a superhero inside of a comic book.  Long story short, I was getting nowhere pretty fast.  This was even after I had looked to various supers games that I knew and even a few that I didn’t.  I wanted to take little bits that worked from all of them and incorporate them into a simple, fast action, story flowing roleplaying system.  While I was doing this, of course, I took a look (again) at the latest Marvel rpg called “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying” by Margaret Weis Productions.  Somehow, my interest was derailed from creating something from scratch to tweaking the hell out of this system to that it wasn’t so damn complicated to follow on paper or to play at the table.

Now, I should probably point out that I have never played or ran this game with any group.  I’ve never even seen the game being played.  However, even after reading COUNTLESS reviews, forum posts and responses from one of the designers on the system, I have discovered that attempting to simplify this game may actually be a fool’s errand.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the game, MHR was advertised as a simple to play, unique system by which players can control their favorite Marvel characters and play out a gaming session that will end up feeling very much like playing through their favorite comics.  Sounds great.  Except that if you read what I read this past week on all these online forums for the game, you would probably be more confused and aggravated about the whole thing before you ever sat down to roll your first bucket ‘o dice.  Yes, this is a dice pool game.  A dice pool game that, apparently, has players rolling anywhere from 3 (minimum) dice to 12+ dice.  Keep in mind that the main mechanic in this game is:

“Choose which abilities/distinctions/specialty dice your character is using to do something and roll those dice.  From the results, keep two and add them together–that’s your effort/attack target number.  Then, you choose one of the dice you didn’t add up as the ‘effect/damage’ die for that action.  The GM rolls difficulty against your effort or a character being attacked rolls THEIR dice pool (using the same mechanics/methods) and compares their numbers and effect dice to yours.”

Sounds simple?  According to those who have actually played it, its a lot easier to play than it seems in the instruction manual.  Apparently, the manual for the game isn’t very easy to follow.  Whether its a layout or writing issue is anyone’s guess or opinion, I suppose.  But I have to admit, trying to grasp the immense amount of terminology the game uses made my brain explode and want to do something else.  Just to give you an idea, the GM “cheat sheet” that was put out by Weis Productions is three pages long!  Looking at it, it was like someone was trying to say, “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is as easy to understand as…” a Honda engine.

Behold: The Watcher Cheat Sheet

In writing this post, I actually found a much easier to follow explanation of the rules here.  Go ahead and take a gander at that one if you’ve never read the main book–its a really good indication on how overcomplicated this game is on paper.  For starters, there’s like six different things you can do with Plot Points/Doom Dice.  Then there’s the terminology:  Assets, Complications, Stunts, Push Dice, this list goes on.  Its an overly complicated game for what’s supposed to be a fast, easy to understand game where you play superheroes.  Its overly complicated in that there are so many little facets to the game that the mechanics seem to get in the way of creating a simple scene of actions.

There’s a fairly infamous example of play on the internet forums and blogs for this game that has Spider-Man using his super strength to rip up a piece of machinery on top of a building and hurling it at the Vulture (who’s trying to get away) in order to “Shutdown” his flying ability or his “Asset: Far Away” (whatever that means).  In the example, the author explains how that scene would play out via the rules of the MHR game system.  The fucking thing takes up almost three pages of text!  In any other supers system (yes, even M&M) this simple action scene would have taken infinitely less time.  Well, go ahead and read the example yourself.

Like I said, buckets of dice.  Buckets of dice for a scene that should have been resolved a little longer than it takes to read the illustrated version.