Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Marvelous Miami - First Session Impressions

So, on the down side, the thunderstorms my area had last night meant no blog post was ready to go up today at midnight. On the upside, that means you don't have to wait for tomorrow to get my first impressions from the first official session with the Marvel Heroic RPG. Let's dig in, shall we?

The Session In A Nutshell
There is a saying that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and this fairly nicely sums up what happened with the session last night. Not that things didn't work out, and not that people didn't have fun, but it wasn't how I planned it. I had planned for a lot of little scenes to be able to happen, but hadn't accounted for the inherent slowness that happens with people learning mechanics. In the end, we shifted from a more normal Marvel session with lots of little scenes into the more traditional large scene.

The scene in question? A giant action extravaganza. I focused on combat for two big reasons. One, I wanted people to have a lengthy introduction to the system and how it works, which combat does. Two, the Marvel system lends itself to more action type games and I wanted the players to be able to get a feel for their characters and what they could and couldn't do.

To sum it up even more, the first session essentially dealt with an alien attack happening in Miami with a couple of other events that coincided with the climax of the Avengers movie. I won't give more details than that, as I don't want to spoil the movie. Those who have seen it though know what I am talking about.

Freedom Is Daunting
The first big thing I pulled from the session is that the freedom the system gives can be daunting. There aren't specific rules for how a lot of things work, and the players have a lot of freedom. What constituted a stunt versus an effect seemed to confuse some players, and others were simply hesitant to really explore what the system allowed them to do. This is something I was expecting and it will smooth out as the players - and I - get used to the system. For now though, it is interesting to see. I give it another 2-3 sessions before everyone is having fun describing their stunts and utilizing effect dice and other things to do what they want to do in the scene.

D4 Distinctions
One of the key FATE elements that the Marvel system uses are Distinctions, which effectively work like Aspects. When you tag one of your Distinctions as a player you can add it as a D8 to your dice pool, or as a D4 and get a plot point. The way the book presents this is that players will do the D4 spend as a sometime thing when they need plot points. This wasn't much the case in the first session with my players. Of all the dice rolls done - and there were a lot of them - almost every one was done with the "I'll use this distinction as a D4 to get a plot point." This may even out as the game progresses, but for now it is interesting to see how it works.

Descriptors Work As Restrictions
One of the weirder areas for the game is the fact that the descriptor you put on your power than uses common sense (granted, through comic book logic) to be a limiter for that power. For example, if you used flame powers in a room full of methane gas, the GM has every right to have the room blow up because of the fire. At the same time, the ability to rip up and throw earth could be useless in space, and an air blast could be less effective underwater.

At first, to me, these seemed rather arbitrary and silly, but they came up a few times in play in ways that I liked that added elements to the game. One of my players has "Death Senses", as in they have a general idea of how long people in the area will live or die and can use that to read the situation. That power does nothing against, say, a robot, but it can work well against living beings. Another player had an issue when their desired attack (they wanted to use their Kinetic Mastery to throw the enemy's bullets back at them) fizzled because the enemy attack didn't operate off the desired key word (they were energy projectors, not slug throwers so kinetic force didn't really have any say.)

I am rather pleased with this as it doesn't necessarily hinder the player, but it does put the focus on narrative and narrative aspects. You have a rule of common sense (with the GM's common sense out ruling others for the most part, though they should be fair ) which means that you can naturally challenge people and keep them focused on the story.

The Doom Pool
The Doom Pool is awesome, and it is fairly easy to add dice to it. Players have abilities that will add to it, and it is only a matter of time before 1s are rolled that can be added to it as well. The Doom Pool can grow surprisingly fast, and get dauntingly big in no time at all. As such, I need to work on spending dice from the doom pool for things. This will be easier in larger plots (the first session was a one shot mini-event) but is definitely something I need to keep in mind. I am of the opinion that the game works best when there is a healthy exchange of dice going into and out of the Doom Pool matched by a healthy exchange of players earning and spending plot points. Speaking of...

Plot Points
It might be that everyone in my game has played at least one game of Mutants and Masterminds but I was very happy with how quickly my players took to spending their plot points. Marvel gives players a lot of reasons to spend them - activate GM opportunities, activate SFX, remove a limit, etc - and they dove right in with using them. I pulled out about 25 chips at the beginning of the session to use as Plot Point counters, and while at numerous points of the session I was down to less than 12 of them in hand (with six players thats not a whole lot) at the end of the session only 5 weren't back in the original stack.

Overall I feel the system performed well. There is still a lot more to test with it. For example, we did nothing with resources and a lot of the tricks are still being used. Initiative is well done and interesting, but didn't really get a solid work out from the PCs just yet. I am looking forward to seeing how the group develops alongside the system. I am also looking forward to seeing how the system engenders creativity for doing things, as it really is a system where you are limited only by your own creativity.


  1. Never let a plot, story-arc or a planned event get in the way of a great game.

  2. Definitely, and I've had more "thank you, game was fun" trickle in today from everyone which is awesome. In general, the plot happened as it was planned to It was just less broken down into multiple scenes and more one big, giant, flowing combat. Lots of prep work went unused...then again, all that prep work is still there for next time a fight happens in Miami. Shouldn't be too hard as that is the game's primary location.