Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The End Scene Mechanic

With the little segway out of the way, we can now return to talking about the Marvel Heroic RPG. Only, today I don't want to talk about the game itself, but rather one of the mechanics in the game. It is an interesting tool that the GM has, but it is also an expensive one to pull off. Anyone who has the book and has read it knows what I am talking about already (hint: read the topic of this post.) For everyone else, you're just going to have to click 'read more.'

The Mechanic
In the Marvel Heroic RPG the GM has the ability to spend 2D12 out of the doom pool to narrate the end of the scene. If the scene is going well for the heroes, this would then likely be them wrapping up the fight. If the scene is going poorly, then it could be them getting captured. Either way, the GM has the ability - coded into the system - to end a scene early and take out chance as they narrate the scene.

Now this is an expensive mechanic. For one thing, it is hard to get a single D12 into the Doom Pool, let alone two of them. Also, any time a D12 is spent from the Doom Pool every played directly affected gets 1 xp. Ultimately this means the GM is handing out 2 XP to everyone and reducing the doom pool by two very heavy hitting dice (dice that could make a villain a lot more fun to face later on) in order to end a scene early.

Can't I Just End It Anyhow?
This is one of the mechanics that I expect a lot of people to have asked the bold question of when it came up. As a GM, an all powerful being in the game world, don't I have the power to end a scene early anyhow? The answer to this is of course: yes, yes you do. However, the fact that it is coded into the Marvel system is important. Why? Well, for one, it brings the ability up front and center to everyone as something that can be done. By doing this it also brings up the idea that it should be done. In a lot of ways this is similar to Mutants and Masterminds saying that GM fiat is fine, just give the affected player(s) a hero point to pay for it. It gives the GM a tool to use to keep the game going, and to focus on the narrative. At the same time, it gives the players a boon as well which serves as a reward for playing along.

Nothing stops the GM from ending scenes early regardless of this mechanic. I've done it myself in games - particularly when fights were extremely one sided - but the players have always had the option to ask, or  insist as they did in some cases, to play it out and let the chips fall where they may. With this mechanic, the GM can make a choice - a mechanical choice - to just end it and move along.

Power To The GM
One thing I like about this mechanic is that it specifically gives the power to the GM. There is generally an unwritten rule that says scenes should be played out to the end, and while the GM's all reaching power can supersede that it was still good form to follow. With this, and with a focus on narrative, the GM can simply wrap up a scene with the players being captured, or forcing other important story elements through.

A License To Railroad
On the other hand, by keeping 2D12 in the Doom Pool, the GM is effectively reserving a license to railroad. Yes, the system gives a guide that fights the players are winning should end with them being the victor, but that isn't something that has to be followed. Nothing stops the GM from spending 2D12 and rushing in more goons before narrating the players surrender to the overwhelming odds.

Overall I like the mechanic. Marvel Heroic RPG makes no bones about the fact that it is focused on the narrative more than anything. Games are supposed to be broken up into Events - or story arcs - that work with multiple acts. The system gives players freedom to define their abilities and the limits of what a power can do are more defined by the narrative description (a fire blast for instance could cause an explosion in a methane filled room) of the power than anything else. This is a tool for the GM to help move the narrative along and to help speed scenes up. It is a powerful tool, but it is no more powerful than players being able to arbitrarily assign power ranks on their character's abilities as they see fit, and the cost means that by using this mechanic a lot the players are going to have a lot more XP (not necessarily a bad thing, but you get the point.)

Mostly I like this mechanic because I can see a lot of uses for it in a lot of situations. Not the least of which is describing how a villain gets away, or what happens when they bite it if I want to set up a "but there was no body!" moment.

How about you? Any thoughts on this mechanic, or mechanics like it?

1 comment:

  1. Not that hard to pull off if the players start to fight amongst themselves. You just sit back and watch the doom pool grow.