Review: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Basic Game)

Superhero games are tricky beasts for a number of reasons. The sheer scope that’s taken in by the milieu of long-underpants comics has to take in everything from the masked vigilante to the red-white-and-blue alien god-immigrant, everything in between, magic, world-eating techno-gods and everything else.

The old Marvel Superheroes game (FASERIP) did a lot well with its easily graspable power levels and simple rules structure but there was still no way an underpowered hero could hold his own against the mega-threats as they might in the comics. Comparing heroes was a bit like a game of top-trumps.

This stuff, yes.

Aberrant brought a post-Watchmen sensibility to tabletop superhero games, grounding them in a reality – albeit an alternate one. The system worked very well for the powerful end of the supeheroic spectrum but not so much for the masked vigilante end. It was also all a bit po-faced and deadly serious which made the default setting not a huge amount of fun, though you could use it to replicate other setting well enough.

Marvel Heroic avoids a lot of the issues of both games by making traits and abilities useful at any power level. This lets heroes and villains compete with their strengths on much more of an even basis. The old Superman Versus Batman (yeah, DC reference, I know, sue me) doesn’t so much come up here as intellectual and technical superiority can compete on an even footing with alien superstrength so long as the person playing the character can justify it.

This. Not so much.

Characters are defined as much by their descriptions (distinctions) as they are by their powers and their skills and this gives an enormous freedom to the kind of thing you can create and represent.

I’m not entirely sure that I’m getting the rules entirely right but after one session it seems to flow relatively intuitively.

My only hesitation with the game and its system comes with its relative incapacity to replicate the more brutal end of the spectrum. As things stand running a game with a harder edge like The Boys, The Authority or Planetary or even The Ultimates, is going to be a bit tricky and rebalancing the stress/trauma (damage) rules to work for this more ‘hardcore’ kind of game is going to be tricky without throwing the whole system off.

That’s my needs clashing with the aim of the kind of games the system is meant to represent I think. So not actually an issue with the game itself.

All things considered this is a great, light, system that in the form presented in Marvel Heroic could be easily adapted to just about any genre or type of game, not just superheroes.

The presentation is great, using art form the books and printing it in a trade paperback format. My only concern about that is that TPBs don’t handle the kind of wear an RPG book needs to take very well. It looks great, but I’m, not sure it would handle day to day, week to week heavy referencing. Fortunately, once you grasp the system you shouldn’t need to do that much heavy reference.

Style: 5 (Very pretty, well presented)
Substance: 3 (Presented adventure events are very linear indeed, lack of good character creation guidelines)
Overall: 4

Review: Vornheim

I know people have reviewed Vornheim but to my point of view it’s not, particularly, a book that can be reviewed. It’s more like a work of art or an experience. Like being hooked up to a fire hose of creativity or a cut-up.

There’s only something like 65 pages but it’s dense with material, ideas and inspiration. Even the dust jacket is thrown into use as is the cover of the book itself. There isn’t a corner that isn’t used.

It has a contents but I think it’s best experienced as something to dip in and out of for inspiration. It’s weird, strange and just right for the weirder end of the horror-fantasy that fits Lamentations of the Flame Princess in particular.

There’s a lot of ‘city books’ out there, lists of people, places and things and these can be good but the sheer degree of detail can make them practically unusable unless you play in them often enough for everyone to learn the layout of the fictional city.

The old Night City for Cyberpunk 2020 worked for that but Vornheim takes a better approach, in my opinion, being more of a tool kit, an urban fantasy resource. It provides the main locations but only inspiration and ideas for the other aspects. Vornheim creating the ‘feel’ of the city, rather than its geography. Just as Paris or London have a character all of their own, so does Vornheim and even if you don’t use Vornheim itself, a similar approach can work wonders for any other city you care to create.

I think Zak Smith and the D&D With Porn Stars crew are one of the best things to happen in gaming for a while. A fresh approach and a new perspective, paradoxically tied into the Old School movement. Long may they continue to provide us with cool shit to play with and fresh perspectives.

Style: 5
Substance: 3
Overall: 4