Wednesday, June 20, 2012

MHRP: Learning the Ropes

Whoever thought of the name for the mechanic and the
accompanying picture deserves a raise.
I did a review a while back on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, with a caveat that I hadn't actually played it. Now that I'm running an intimate online PBEM game with two other gamers interested in the system and the setting, I'm ready to post more observations -- colored by the fact that we haven't gone all out with all the rules yet.

Paradigm Shift

I think that there is a fundamental shift in thinking here, and yet I'm having difficulty pinning down exactly why that is the case. In the main resolution mechanic(s), there are several well-known game system elements that are certainly not new to me:
  • building dice pools to roll
  • choose the best 2 values from the roll (by default, anyway)
  • an action roll compared against an opposing roll
  • an effect mechanic tied to a single die from the pool
And yet, the differences somehow add up to a different way of thinking. You can build up your dice pools to something massive if you're creative (though somewhat mitigated by 'story rationale' and the Plot Point mechanic). You can bend the rules of being restricted to only the best two values for your action roll (mitigated by the Plot Point mechanic), and you can bend the Effect Die mechanic (again, mitigated by the Plot Point economy).

There are interesting decisions that can come up in putting together your dice pools and rolls: you can choose a crappier die to add to your die pool because it can add 1 Plot Point to your dwindling pool; you may have to choose between using that 10 you rolled on your d10 as a component of your action total, or as the lone Effect Die; you may shift your d10 expertise into 2d8 or 3d6 -- sacrificing a potentially high roll for a bellcurve-aided chance at getting a decent set of values to choose from.

It feels oddly like a CCG in some ways, but one flexible enough to tell story games with.

Plot Point economy

I come from the Hero paradigm, and disadvantages are something that you put on your character sheet for points but hope and scheme never to have come up in game. In MHRP, players (and Watcher-controlled characters) bring up disadvantage-like options in gameplay regularly to get precious Plot Points into their pool.

The Plot Point mechanic is an interesting one that bears furthers study. I recognize its roots in the FATE system -- quite honestly, I never got it and played MHRP in the hopes that it would help me understand the mechanic finally.

What does make it confusing: how it is equivalent to the Doom Pool?

The Doom Pool

I like this mechanic, a way to keep track of the increasing tension in a scene and a pseudo-currency of Plot Points for the Watcher. I can see how the Watcher gets to do similar things that players would do with their character to add to the Doom Pool, and can see how 'spending dice' from the Doom Pool also acts like Plot Points -- but the fact that you can do other stuff with the Doom Pool complicates matters for me.

I suppose that the parallel to a CCG comes up again -- I have to manage the various uses of the Doom Pool as a resource at the same time I'm running the game story-wise.

It's a little bit difficult, but perhaps it's something that just needs getting used to. Like Weapon Speed Factors in Arduin. Or not.

We'll see.

Record Keeping

Despite all the fiddly bits that you can create with the resolution system, there isn't a substantial amount of record keeping. In fact, coming from the HERO background, it's all quite easy to keep track of things like Complications and Stress levels and Plot Point totals in your head, and the values are low enough that chips and tokens will aid you handily.


Ultimately, I like what I see but we still haven't fully utilized the system. It's still under playtest for us, and we're trying to bend the rules, as well as figure out how it's supposed to be played.

I'm not about to jump on the bandwagon yet, complaining that it's confusingly written. I think there are some passages that should be cleared up, and I'm thinking of drafting several diagrams to clarify the scene resolution options and flows -- but the sidebars of the book are wonderful cheat sheets already, and I like (in general) how they give lots of examples on how to build and roll and use dice.

However, I think that in some cases, notation might have served better. Especially to differentiate when you're building a pool but haven't rolled the dice yet, and when those dice have been rolled and you're now choosing which dice to put together for the action total and the effect die -- as done, sometimes you're not sure which of the two you're looking at.

Still, it's been fun, and combat / conflict resolution is really fast, which is a godsend for PBEM games. I may have found a PBEM system of choice for supers gaming.

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That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.