Thursday, April 14, 2016

TSR Marvel Super-Heroes From Memory

You were born with powers, or you acquired powers, or you built/purchased some items that approximate powers, or you're some weird category that blurs those lines like Superman or Vision. You figure this out first.

If you never played before you've got to know two things which are really one thing: the power ranks (which are descriptive in that there are comic book style adjectives for every tier) and percentile dice, unified in the form of the Chart. I like the Chart, every other table in the book suffers for not being compatible with the Chart.

Now you either pick a guy, roll a guy, or build a guy. If you pick a guy you have access to pretty much all of Marvel's 1988 stable to choose from, and you can play that guy straight or you can slightly reskin them, turn human torch into Inferniex, boom you're John Byrne now.

If you roll a guy then you do some character's stats on THIS table and a different kind of character's stats on THAT table and you raise and lower power levels and add and remove features and so on, THEN you roll up your powers, talents, or contacts, then you roll to adjust your resources with the table I've only ever used for adjusting resources so it's pretty pointless?

If you build a guy then you win a free argument with your DM (Daredevil Man) about what the point build threshold should be, do we need different pools, can we swap between pools, do I get a bonus to these pools for this kind of guy...Otherwise you just buy everything you want in terms of FASERIP and powers by using the median values on the Chart (so 6 for Typical, 10 for Good, etc) and then get completely finished before you remember about talents fuck shit is this a whole other pool or do I have to readjust my guy damn it...

You also get to determine what powers if any are off limits, in case you don't feel like dealing with the fact that teleporting across a room is more difficult than walking into another dimension. Some powers count as two powers, some powers come with bonus powers, some powers let you roll for an additional power...Usually when rolling characters everyone has an upper limit to their number of powers or contacts before advancement, for building characters I suppose just don't be an asshole about it is a good rule?

Now it's time to play a game. This usually breaks down like
  • Hear about a current attack or investigate the threat of a future one. If the former, head right over there and fight.
  • If the latter you need to exploit your superhero and non superhero contacts and talents and make a lot of reason and intuition rolls. Zak made an excellent post about this recently. Anyway since you're a superhero you may spend most of the session using your cleverness and powers to position a confrontation to your advantage but it's ultimately a build up to a confrontation each session. Talents usually change which column you roll on and contacts affect what kind of help you can receive.
  • Confrontation: combat time. One side goes first but which side? I know intuition modifies initiative and some super powers let you slide around in initiative. I guess roll a d10 for simple initiative and we go in order of highest intuition or super power. I know the book had something like everyone says what they're doing then you roll initiative and resolve mental attacks then energy so forth, something like that, but this way is easier. I guess some super powers let you act outside of initiative, like even if you lose initiative you get to go first?
  • Moving was by area and like everything else super powers fucks with this. I don't remember how movement was done so we're going to say you can move 1 area and attack, two areas and defend, or 3 areas but you automatically go last in initiative (like even if you win initiative you go after the bad guys) and can neither attack nor defend. Super powers can make all of this hell.
To attack or use a super power you roll on that column of the Chart. You get one of four results and then you cross reference that with the attack types across the top of the chart and check it against your actual super power's writeup to see what else is going on there. After a few times this gets more automatic but with new players/characters/powers it's slow going at first. If your players take the time to gear up before battle by rolling their Resources to see if they can bring weapons and like a jet car, this can be a lot of the night, going what does this do again?

You defend by either rolling to dodge and reduce the efficacy of an attack by shifting its roll column to the left; interposing an object and letting its material strength absorb some of the attack, with you taking the spillover; or just hiding or hanging back, staying out of combat as much as possible and getting a bonus for jumping back into the fray later.

Damage is first reduced by super powers and body armor and then taken out of Health/HP. When you go to 0 HP or when you've been hit with a Kill you start losing a level of Endurance every round and when you're out of schlitt's you're out of beer. I think you're supposed to roll to stop endurance loss but short of someone helping you out with medicine or powers I don't see how you can walk off a head shot. I'd let someone roll to stabilize but then they'd be out of the fight until they received attention.

Popularity is a little misleading but basically means people know who you are and are inclined to help you out without threat of force or promise of profit. This is something from the investigation section really but when you're playing in a group it means that the whole group's popularity is basically the most popular guy's rank, unless you have like Carnage along for the ride to mess things up. It only really matters when you split the party, which players are generally reluctant to do even though it's super genre appropriate.

Karma is a good system of instant experience points and it was always hard to remember when to dole it out and by how much, so accustomed are we to doling out advancement at the end of a session. So basically you can add karma to any roll to improve your chances but you have to declare your add before your roll. I think this makes players reluctant to risk "wasting" hard earned karma so I ignore that part. Otherwise you can lose karma by killing people, hurting people, fucking up, letting bad guys get away, letting chaos or disaster go unchecked, etc. You gain it by kicking ass and succeeding but also by playing the absolute hell out of your guy, and for my money the person who plays a Spider-Man that sounds and feels like Spider-Man will always have more Karma awards than the guy who only pays attention when it's time to roll to hit, even if the second guy is absolute aces on the dice and nails it every time.

You can use karma for an instant reward in the form of a successful roll, for which you may earn karma back, or you can hoard your karma up against the possibility of advancement. I remember this being slow going, superhero power levels being more or less static outside of plot point shifts. So I would encourage people to either forget about that altogether or spend their karma forging new contacts if anything.

One of the best uses of karma is on power stunts. Basically if you have something it seems like your powers should be able to do then you can try it but if it's a little weird and you've never tried it before the roll to pull it off is difficult. You only pull it off on a red roll, next time you only pull it off on a yellow roll, next time you can pull it off on a green roll. If you fail a roll at any level you're sort of stuck trying to nail that roll until you do. Once you've successfully vetted this aspect of your powers you can pull it off all the time. So you see how spending a lot of karma can help here. Using weather control to fly is a good example. Or how Spider-Man used to make baseball bats out of webbing and hit bad guys with those, haha what?


Now all of that sounds like a lot but if you're someone who never played the game you've got to keep track of
  1. the English language, being able to read the words on your character sheet
  2. how numbers work, and to a lesser extent how percentile works, since that's all you'll be rolling to exclusion in this game apart from the occasional initiative roll
  3. which color is which, to know if you succeeded and how well
  4. a general idea of how superheroes work and there are people walking the earth who were cannibals sixty years ago and still know who Superman is so this might be a lower barrier to entry than some of the above...
That's an easier game than BX. And since it came out around that time and from that company there are other similarities. Like unless your bad guy is a mega bad guy any one guy is not going to be nearly as effective as a bunch of HYDRA agents by dint of simple initiative.  A ton of super powers also seem to have a built in changeover like the Magic-User spellbook, with lower levels and lower results being kind of useful but higher levels and results being god mode...and yet not all super powers, since you can only breathe so much water in the day...

Now I know I got a lot of this stuff wrong. And I know all of you out there can correct me. But this isn't my misunderstanding of the text as read, this is my hazy memory of the game from four years ago mixed up with different modifications made on the fly. So I don't need or want correcting, and I think it will work better with my ignorance frankly. There are too many little fiddly tables covering movement and equipment and materials that really should all be judgments made from the Chart, to my mind, so not remembering how those work isn't really a detriment. I'll revisit these assessments after the next time I run, assuming that ever actually happens.