Not too long ago, they approached me to let me know they wanted to go back to classic campaigns. We spent most of the last 2 years playing one-shots of mini-campaigns of various game systems. When I asked what game they’d like to tackle, the answer was unequivocal: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. They wanted to play with heroes they’d make from scratch and participate in home brewed adventures.
This request brought quite an interesting challenge for em. You see, the Marvel game is principally presented to play out specific events set in the Marvel Universe using pre-established heroes. These events will be based on published plot arcs like the upcoming Civil War or Age of Apocalypse. The events will mix events that occurred in the official storyline with ”what if” elements where players make decisions that may send the story in directions not covered by the original stories.
Thus, what my players requested was not something that I felt entirely comfortable doing right off the bat. Thankfully, I wasn’t without options. The basic rules provide plenty of guidance to make/adapt characters and create your own adventures. But I wasn’t sure I could pull off what they expected: a structured campaign based on my own ideas and my (still) limited knowledge of the Marvel Universe.
(Game designer aside: With over 70 years of history and 9000 characters, I’m not ever going to be a Marvel expert. I joined the team as a Game Designer and as the token “13 y.o boy who played FASERIP“)
Then it dawned on me, I have the tools I need. All those different game systems I’ve been playing these last 2 years give me a lot of options. much like the stuff that Dave and I blogged about here. The Marvel system itself doesn’t inhibit telling my own stories.
Thus I hatched the following strategy to prepare my first RPG campaign in over year.
First, we’d take a whole session making characters. The game provides clear guidelines to create/adapt your own hero but they do require a certain level of rules mastery to get exactly what you want. We spent a few hours individually then together at the table picking Distinctions (personality traits and catchphrases players), Specialties (skills), Power Sets and, more importantly, Special Effects (ways to use powers that bend the rules of the game, like Captain America’s area attack). Getting special effects right was what took us the longest as we wanted to go beyond those found in the book and tweak/create effects that went perfectly well with each hero’s powerset.
We ended up with the following four characters:
Nightcrawler (Franky): Using the available rules, we were able to create a faithful rendition of our favourite swashbuckling mutant teleporter. We established that the character was not being held to canon unless Franky felt it was fun and didn’t constrain his creativity.
The One Man Army (Yan): Inspired by Multiple Man, the self-duplicating mutant seen in X-Men 3 (and X-Factor), He’s a wisecracking troublemaking ex-con who’s idea of problem solving is throwing more manpower at it until the problem vanished under a pile of clones.
The Great Gregory (PM): Inspired by Nick Cage’s character in Next, Gregory is a jaded low-end stage magician and casino cheat with the ability to see one minute into his future. I must say that making a precognitive character was quite a challenge but as you’ll see in Issue #1, the game’s engine can support it much better than I expected.
Tsunami (Alex): A water elemental-like creature that looks like a Japanese idoru. Ami Tsun used to be a physicist who got caught in the Fukushima nuclear reactor in last year’s catastrophe. She got caught in one of the flooded reactors and developped Water Controlling powers.
Player Generated Setting Elements
In order to have something upon which to build our campaign world, I suggested an overarching setting based on the Marvel Universe. Using my recent research for the upcoming Civil War event books, I proposed that the players could be one of the federally-backed supers teams assigned to a specific American state (very loosely based on Marvel’s Fifty State Initiative). They agreed and we chose California.
Borrowing from my own “party generation template” and Dave’s excellent Gammarizer, I asked each player to come up with one setting element (places, recent events and minor characters) linking their character to the setting. Here’s what we came up with.
Sharon S.: S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and former actress. She was to act as the team’s liaison to her organization.
Tow-Wing’s Garage and Halal Fried Noodles: The One Man Army’s work place. I apologize if you find the name culturally offensive, but Yan’s PC is named “Mohammed Chang” a Muslim born from a Sino-Arab union. We all assumed that the business was named by a socially incompetent person… Which kinda fits TOMA to a T.
Hiroito Takashima: A crackpot scientist conspiracy theorist (or is it terrorist?) obsessed with the origins and powers of Tsunami. He has been diverting his own research grants into tracking her to America.
Thomas Redgrave: A Paranoid Casino Security Consultant who once caught Gregory slipping from his usually disciplined casino cheating routine (win slowly and quit before being noticed). He lost many jobs in various Las Vegas casinos trying to convince people of Gregory’s threat. The man is on a vendetta.
Father O’Reilly: Kurt’s Irish confessor and local community leader. Recovered alcoholic, of course.
Le Cirque: A seedy ripoff of Le Cirque du Soleil featuring a pool and scantily clad acrobats. Tsunami works the show’s controls and mechanical sharks. Yes, you read that right.
The Circus Act: Nightcrawler makes occasional guest appearances at the circus in a cheap Houdini act featuring an iron coffin covered in chains, dunked in a pool and stabbed by sword-wielding acrobats. Of course, when that happens, Kurt is safely reading magazines in his dressing room.
Your Mutant Past Will Bite/Help You Someday: In TOMA’s recent past, he dealt with Magneto and Mystique in some undefined way. There’s a good chance they’ll be back to follow up on that.
This setting element brought another one that Franky didn’t want to assume initially but he chose to go with Canon.
Nightcrawler’s Parents: As established, Kurt was born of Mystique and Azazel.
That’s so much material to pick from to create a game.
The last element that we needed to establish before the game started was to give character milestones (the game’s experience system based on rewarding specific actions). According to the game, players get to choose 2 from an established list of event or character specific milestones. We took the time to generate one character-specific milestone per hero, agreeing to make setting specific ones in later sessions. I won’t go into specifics as they”ll likely change with time but here’s a summary of each.
TOMA: Dealing with his criminal past. Bring criminals to justice and get his record clean.
Nightcrawler: Being a devout catholic. Putting himself at great risk or even exposing himself in order to save ordinary people. Possibly becoming a priest even.
The Great Gregory: Deal with his boredom by choosing ways of putting his allies in trouble and letting villains escape for a later confrontation. Might even go as far as putting a friend or himself in mortal danger.
Tsunami (To be further defined): Retain her link to humanity or chose to forgo humanity altogether.
Armed with all these, I was totally ready to start a campaign. And let me tell you, it started with a BANG!
Up Next, Issue #1: Electric Ninja Boogaloo!