Thursday, September 05, 2013

Make Marvel Savage!!!

The recently cancelled Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game is among the better superhero rpgs to see publication. It combined a deep knowledge of the source material with an easy to learn and robust game mechanic. Marvel Heroic took a "drama" driven approach to comic books and the Cortex+ system was a good match. The license for the game ended before Cam Banks and crew were able to complete their goal of providing three campaigns for the game -- Civil War, Annihilation, and Age of Apocalypse -- but the source material they published is a gold mine for anyone playing any superhero game.  If you can find copies of the system and supplements pick them up.

As much as I enjoy the Cortex+ system, not everyone in my regular gaming group liked it as much as I did. They all recognized that it was a good system, but some of them are more tactical and miniatures minded than the game robustly supports. These gamers prefer more action and combat focused games like 3.X, 4e, and Savage Worlds. All games that can be played dramatically --just as MHR can be played with a combat focus -- but which lend themselves well to the use of miniatures. Of these games, I am most fond of the Savage Worlds game system due to its focus on quick and easy game play. I'm a busy GM and the Savage Worlds system and support material greatly aid the "working GM."

Yesterday I started posting write-ups from my old "Savage Worlds Character a Day" website, and I plan to continue that trend and to provide new write-ups as well. While my backlog contains characters from many genre -- including the Firefly Crew who are now a part of a new Cortex+ game -- my new write ups will largely be adaptations of comic book characters. Make that Marvel comic book characters based on the write ups in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game. Why? Because I think I want to run my players through Civil War or Annihilation...maybe both...and this is a good place to start. The Savage Worlds Super Powers companion has a very flexible and workable super hero system that has some guidelines/switches that add to the system's ability to emulate a wide variety of heroes. For example, it has guidelines for both street level and cosmic level hero campaigns. The thing is that Marvel characters are often a combination of the two. Nova is a mid-range hero when he's battling the villains of New York City, but when he exits the atmosphere he is a truly cosmic hero. Below are how I propose toggling the switches when running a Marvel game.

Savage Marvel Settings

When playing a Savaged Marvel game, it isn't as easy as stating that the current game is "Street, Baseline, or Cosmic." The circumstances of the story set the overall power level of the basic "Environmental Options" that are used in a gaming session. Character Power Point options are still determined by a Street, Baseline, or Cosmic character type but the underlying switches change. For example, Luke Cage's Super Strength lifting capacity fits more with "Street Hero" environment when he's hanging out with the Heroes for Hire, but when he's running around with the Avengers his lifting capacity seems to fall more in line with the "Baseline" campaign.

Note that this is an adjustment to the "Enviromental Options" and not reflective of the "Power Point" options. Luke Cage would likely be a "Standard" hero in that mix while the kids from Power Pack would be Minor Leaguers and Skeets and Boom-Boom might be Second Stringers.

According to the Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion the most common super hero campaigns have he following setting rules:

  • Baseline Environment
  • Inherent Power
  • Knockback
  • Recurring Roles
  • Super Karma
  • Unarmed Defenders
I would argue that the Savaged Marvel Game doesn't quite match this common campaign description, but only with regard to the environment. I would argue that the environment in Savaged Marvel campaigns should match the evening's (or plot point's) circumstances rather than be static. Characters in a Savaged Marvel campaign should be designed with their "Origin Environment" in mind and gain/lose benefits based on where the adventure is taking place. With this in mind, I recommend the following adjustments to the Environmental Options.


  1. The carrying capacity, flight, and speed modifiers for the Street Environment are used  instead of the Origin Environment.
  2. Knockback is reduced. Ever notice how The Thing doesn't seem to knockback "normals" as far as he would villains in his "Street" stories? 
  3. The character must spend a Bennie to get the benefit of their Heavy Weapon or Heavy Armor abilities.
  4. Cosmic Heroes must spend a Bennie to gain the Focus effect on their powers.

  1. Carrying capacity, flight, and speed scale to Baseline. It's amazing how Nova slows down and Spider-Man scales up. (I would argue that Spider-Man is a Standard "Street Hero").
  2. Knockback is normal.
  3. Street Heroes can spend a Bennie to gain the Heavy Weapon trait on their powers for 1 round.
  4. If a Street Hero purchased Heavy Armor in Street Environment the hero can spend a Bennie to get a +6 to toughness against a non-Armor Piercing attack.
  5. Cosmic Heroes must spend a Bennie to gain the Focus effect on their powers.

  1. Carrying capacity, flight, and speed scale to Cosmic automatically. Colossus and Gladiator have similar, but not identical, capabilities.
  2. Knockback is at Cosmic.
  3. All heroes can spend a Bennie to gain the Cosmic Focus ability that all Cosmic Origin characters have in this environment. 
  4. Characters with Strengths of d12+1 or higher, or those with an appropriate theme, may gain Heavy Armor for an entire combat with the expenditure of a Bennie.
As you can see, the major change from the rule book to the "Savaged Marvel" is that it allows characters from one Environment to team up with heroes of other environments at the "same level" so long as they are willing to spend Bennies to get certain effects. I think that this house rule allows a rough approximation of how heroes behave in the comic books. For example, Wolverine's claws would likely have the Focus ability at creation but when he's in a Street Environment he might have to spend a Bennie to get that bonus (signaling extraordinary effort for the Environment).

This house rule is far from official, but I think it will be a great aid when contemplating how Gladiator and The Hulk should have similar Strength stats even though Gladiator is a Marvel Superman proxy.

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