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Monday Lab: Make Mine Marvel

That's four role-playing games, from 1984, 1998, 2003, and 2012. Each one is strikingly different from other games of its respective publishing era - at the very least interesting and ambitious, and in my view, worth a lot more than "at the very least."

Some of the points in the discussion include why each one is so limited in scope and in publishing life compared to the licensed material, how each one's system is curiously and perfectly suited to the one thing that distinguishes Marvel characters, and what lame characters languish in our minds which could live again, for the better, in playing these games.

The follow-up will be a long-term project, including playing all the games, working up the Midnight Men from All Alone in the Night for all of them, and getting some of the creators involved. Not in the next months, but after that.

My verbal and not-very-careful account of Marvel history in the video is better presented in my blog writings, most specifically in Context!, but with better (uh) context in Context too! For a good application, see Marvelous, meet miraculous.

Comments

Ross's picture

I am blaming you Ron for the amount of time I wasted last night finding my msh books and creating a character (surely the preferred past time of all comics fans who can't draw!)

I am certainly getting an early nineties marvel vibe off the result but I do wonder how much, with these sort of "here's some random stuff, you make it make sense," character creation rules, that is down to my comics reading history and your blog rather than anything in the rules.

Ron Edwards's picture

Feel free to scan your character sheet and post it here!

Maybe we should investigate user-influence on the MSH rules. I could have sworn the comics content was classically 1978, practically synonymous with Archie Goodwin's chief editorship and then the first year or so of Jim Shooter's. But that's what one would expect me to say, if I were projecting "my gut Marvel" into it.

I also don't know much about the difference between the first release and later ones, which one of the people in the video alluded to. Maybe the later material was more easily identified with the later comics.

Ross's picture

So I kept meaning to come back to this and since ramdomness in games appears to be cropping up all over the site now seems a good time.

As an exercise for the reader I though I would list out what the random rolls gave me so anyone who feels so inclined could create their own hero / make their own choices - which you only have to do at two points, when you chose specific powers and at the end when you try and make sense of the output of the process. Anyone who wants to play along, and maybe compare what they create, will probably need the orange Campaign book from what gets called the Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set, pdf's of which can be easily found on the internet.

So, Step 1 -I rolled up an Altered Human, so not a mutant or alien but a normal person who has gained super powers in some way - cosmic radiation, radioactive spider bite etc. 

Step 2 -For the famous FASERIP stats we have:

  • Fighting - Incredible (40)
  • Agility - Good (10)
  • Strength - Excellent (20)
  • Endurance - Typical (6)
  • Reason - Poor (4)
  • Intuition - Excellent (20)
  • Psyche - Remarkable (30)

Step 3 - from the rolled stats we determine Health - 76 and Karma - 54. I rolled Good Resources. You start with a popularity of 50 modified based on things like public identity etc. At this point I have no clue what this should actually be so will have to come back to it.

Step 4 - POWERS! and some choices to make, but first a roll says we have 4 powers, further rolling tells us what categories these fall into and then you can choose from these categories. Once you have chosen you roll again to determine power ranks for each power (but I've added these below already).

  1. Body Alterations, Defensive - Excellent
  2. Resistances and Senses - Feeble
  3. Energy Control - Remarkable
  4. Resistances and Senses - Remarkable

 After choosing powers you can increase one ability or one power by one level, e.g. Feeble up to Poor.

Step 5 - Rolling again tells this hero has the following talents:

  • First Aid
  • Business/Finance
  • Genetics

Step 6 - Finally you "determine details about the hero's personal life". These a list of questions which doesn't actually include "How does any of the above make sense" but it probably should. Also the hero gets as many friends, relatives or contacts as powers, so in this case 4, and you can detail them too. 

I'll post my character sheet once I have it scanned in, it would be fun to compare and contrast if anybody wants to join in (and if anyone asks nicely I can probably post the three power category lists you need for step 4).

Ross's picture

So based on this I created Dark Heart, link to a pdf of her Character Sheet here:

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1C-Xzv2Ym_UTV-9JrMet-tDxFJ4E_SiSi

Dark Heart is a vigilante / darkforce vampire in NYC (because Marvel).

Viola Beaumont, a Cuban-American New Yorker who worked through college getting a genetics degree then went to work on Wall Street. Working on real estate developments in her old neighbourhood brought her into conflict with the community and escalating tension ended with her attacked / cursed by a Priest, her heart ripped out and the void filled by the Darkforce and its gnawing hunger. With the resulting stange new powers but deadened senses and clouded thoughts predictably her life collapsed. Gone are the uptown parties and high end fashions, now she scrapes by on Paramedic shifts, as she did in college, trying to keep the payments going on her flat and meanwhile stalks the night in her old neighbourhood to feed the hunger and maybe make the night a bit safer.

(Notes: Some of this was prompted by the Genetics talent but Poor Reason (I bumped it up to Typical but still...) discrepancy - the Altered Human alteration felt like it had to have effected her more than physically. And I have written Vampire Squid right in the middle of my working notes - for reasons I can't know recall - but maybe partly because of the Energy Control powers Darkforce Generation seems the most interesting. I've also cheated a bit and bumped up the Cold Resistance with a has to have "fed" with the Darkforce power limitation because I wanted something to add to the vampire aspect, there are rules for limitations but there a bit vague and require Judge (GM) approval. Also I'm not sure how I worked out the Popularity score. Finally I think originally the source of the curse was even more crasly a Santeria priest - which would have been very 90's Marvel in all sorts of additionally terrible ways I think).

Ron Edwards's picture

Great! The Marvel Super Heroes random generation is either one wiggle away from my personal standards of being "just right," or I am one wiggle away from embracing it. I don't know which.

There's an odd author-audience thing going on here, isn't there? Take Spider-Man as an authored phenomenon. You probably understand fully, from the blog, that I think the usual Lee/Ditko dichotomous author-debate is nothing but fanwank. Spider-Man is an amalgam of the older hero the Spider Queen, from a Halloween costume, and which artist, which written work, and which vagary of publishing a knockoff short story in a canceled title genuinely doesn't matter - what matters is that all of these things/people were there in one pot at that moment.

Anyway, to what extent does randomization factor into that? In philosophical, causal terms, nothing could be more random than the intersection of that older & forgotten hero, that costume, that artist (or artists if you're into the Kirby contribution), that executive owner (Martin Goodman, sensing a hit with these oddball heroes), that off-the-leash frustrated novelist and effectively line editor, and that off-the-leash artist, each of the latter two with distinct protagonist/literary ambitions?

Meaning, that the nearly absurd toss-together, often contradictory results of this random method may be more like what real comics people do or end up with, than the chin-stroking, this-and-that, planned and planning fan-image of the lone genius creator at work.

And what might that mean for me, finalizing the rules for my version of the hands-down grandparent RPG of all "make up what you want" character creation systems? [I'm leaving aside here the random generation option in Champions III because it is absolutely terrible.] I am seeking a way to put people into the opportunistic state of mind that framed the invention of Spider-Man, including its willingness to grab whatever happens to come to mind and to twist it in any way that seems fun, and especially its complete freedom from expectations and in its wide-open potential for "damn, we get a new title for this? Now what'll we do with him?!"

Ron Edwards's picture

I can resist anything but temptation.

I rolled 93, hence a robot. Awesome. Really dreaded “mutant.”

Fighting 33 Good, Agility 80 Remarkable, Strength 02 Feeble, Endurance 89 Incredible, Reason 66 Excellent, Intuition 51 Excellent, Psyche 18 Typical

That Strength sticks out nicely. I consider the idea of keeping it that way, turns him/her/it into a more interesting robot.

Health 203, Karma 135, Resource 44 Excellent

He loses 20 starting Popularity for being a robot, so I decide his identity and origin are public knowledge, therefore starting at 60. I’d rather start him as heroic and see what happens; the “everyone hates me” thing Is a bit of a crutch.

Powers! With a rolled 63, I get four: Nature at Good, another Nature at Remarkable, Body Alteration (Offense) Incredible [wow this is looking great!], Body Alteration Defense ... Typical. Ouch on that last one.

Let me tell you what came to mind – that this guy (male for some reason, just felt that way) wasn’t constructed to be a superhero, and I’m even imagining him as very un-built, a nonthreatening physical affect. He’s definitely not a fisticuffs sort. Hey – maybe even mild and overly “friendly” looking like a toy that some committee designed to please the most violence-aversive possible parents. I’m even imagining him as vinyl looking, hair and all. The powers would therefore be due to some energetic or elemental glitch or accidental vortex in his inner workings.

Four close friends or relatives – for a robot, that brings up neat questions, like whether a relative is a prototype or companion model or something like that. Anyway, I’ll get back to this after some thought about the concept.

Roll for Talents: Archaeology, Martial Arts, Genetics. OK, that’s weird. I’m kind of sorry about the Martial Arts, which is usually the oh-please-let-me-roll-it result, but in this case doesn’t fit at all. But hey – what if he had been constructed as a tutor, and these are the modules that he happened to have in him when the “zap powers” activated? Not bad.

I get to boost something up a level, and I decide to increase the Defense power to Good.

These are just the rolls and a little bit of musing along the way.

I haven’t even chosen the actual powers yet, although I am pretty sure the Nature stuff won’t be air, so I won’t be distracted by Red Tornado thoughts. I’m leaning toward earth with a focus on crystals and metals, perhaps.

I’m torn on the Body Alterations, leaning toward Energy Touch (but dammit, that’s the Vision!) and it’s real toss-up between Body Armor (sensible) and Reneration (more fun).

The key issue will be deciding upon sone Limitations and what might really make them pop as this exact robot concept. Easy and fun – too much fun to rush through, so I’ll mull it for savor.

Certainly those friends or relatives are going to be very important, even central. But I think Vinyl Man has a good start here.

Forgot I wasn't actually registered yet, whoops...

Anyway, character sheets for the '84 system below.  I eyeballed a rough point-buy system based on the random chargen rules toward the back.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1a-RakuI9lJLqrqwn3rix6DRO9_7bl2cV

I haven't read the core rules from front to back, but I did notice that it seems to opens with a fairly precise statting-up of spiderman and comparisons to other big-name Marvel heroes.  I can kinda see where the supplements were headed in that sense?

Ron Edwards's picture

I agree about that latter observation, in that anything and everything about mid-80s role-playing publishing and comics-corporate identity had just one way to go. Both Marvel Super Heroes and DC Heroes were born trapped in the mire of "this is how strong Superman is" as a raison d'etre, in direct contradiction to the potential of role-playing for making - you know - a thing of your own.

I'm an outlier in both topics, as it seems perfectly reasonable to me to use a licensed character in a personal/our unique application, up to and including revising anything you want to about that character ... just like any new creative and/or editorial team does with that character in the comics. But that wasn't really in the cards at that time.

It may be pure projection on my part, but it does look to me as if in design, MSH was wide open to doing with the hero as you will, morally speaking, whereas DCH was far more, uh, willingly (? maybe not the right word) committed to comics-fandom portraiture as a function of play.

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