Pain of Publication: Ninja Testing

Like many aspiring writers, I lack the luxury of being able to dedicate a full-time portion of my life to these endeavors.  So, I have to make my time work for me.  I have been eager to run Marvel Heroic Roleplaying in its finished form, but have not yet found a suitable occasion to do so.  This post explores the pitfalls and potential of using an unorthodox method of giving a new system a spin.  Switching systems in an established campaign should be an opportunity for all participants to examine what propels their campaign, learn the benefits of a new system, and get out of a gaming rut.

Having successfully been a Guest GM before and having been inspired by excellent posts on using Marvel to power a fantasy-based system, I decided to try something odd.  I sensed my normally tireless DM was getting burned out in Pathfinder, so I offered to take over for a few adventures.  The group was pretty positive about a change of pace, but there was a lot of surprise when I said I was going to run the same characters, the same world, in campaign continuity with a different system.  My own character is being removed from the action, and the DM’s  “Dungeon Master Player Character” (DPC)  will be used as a player by our typical DM.  This all begs the question: why go through all the trouble to change the system from my group’s perspective?  I want to try it out, but I owe it to my playgroup to have a “payoff.”  That payoff is to give the group a completely different feel of the game and scope of the adventure.

17th Level Pathfinder is a game of superheroes, but bound by the Pathfinder ethos of very explicit rules and limits.  While the party is able to blow through 95% of anything in the world, we spend entire adventures dealing with the 5% of the universe that presents a challenge.  The other 95% is taken care of by skill-rolls and underlings because we play our combats with such simulationist tendencies it isn’t worth precious table time to deal with lesser issues.  Consequently, as with many D&D games, players find themselves constantly playing through harrowing situations where the characters are constantly in peril of dying (and not feeling very badass) despite being some of the most powerful people on the planet.  My goal with these sessions is to let the players exult in their characters’ superheroic nature without it being bland or boring.  I plan on their being challenges too, but there will be ample opportunity to just kick ass and not have it bog the game down.  In short, I want the players to have the opportunity to lord over weaker threats and struggle through tough situations all in rapid succession.

I anticipated difficulty convincing my soon-to-be players to buy-in to the idea of their character completely reworked in a different system.  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has flexible character creation, but I needed to go the extra mile to make sure the characters reflected their Pathfinder counterparts’ flavor.  Some of the characters had very easy conversions (Immunity to Fire for our Fire Sorceress and Fire Cleric, for instance), but others proved vexing.  The most challenging of all was the aforementioned “DPC”, an antipaladin known as The Warlord.  The problem became clear when comparing him to the other characters: he’s not as strong or as tough as some characters.  His gear is solid, but not on the same level as our fighter.  In sum, I was left with a character that had a bunch of good, but not great attributes.  He felt second fiddle, even though in gameplay he had his own unique style.

I ended up distinguishing the Warlord through SFX.  In MHRP, these are special abilities that characters have and can use with their abilities.  In the case of the Warlord, he “debuffs” with auras and uses a bunch of specialized fighting styles.  To encapsulate his ability to cleave through multiple foes, I gave him area attack.  His disease attacks/smites became an affliction.  I tweaked the normal immunity FX to reflect the fact he is a vector for disease and passes diseases on, but ignores the effect himself.  Finally, his reach weapon and fear powers are represented by counterattack SFX that deal with physical and emotional attacks, respectively.  Ultimately, the character that presented the greatest challenge to convert ended up being the one I’m most proud of.

As suggested to me by Dave, to give the game a MHRP feel I also intend on playing with party milestones ingrained in the adventure design.  Each character will also have the opportunity to create their own milestones during the time we typically spend with casual table talk.  Although adventure goals in our Pathfinder game run the gamut from explicit to implicit, Marvel  is an excellent model for showing players the carrot.  Saving the elves is great in Pathfinder, there’s probably some XP in it, but in MHRP I plan on (literally) laying the cards out on the table and showing the players what is it they can do and what they’ll be rewarded for it.

I have been pleased with how the planning process has forced me to consider what makes my Pathfinder game, and its characters, tick.  The exercise has also shed light on some nooks and crannies in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying that I had not yet considered.  I believe I am well on my way to offering something new and unique to the players.  Ultimately, though the planning process has proved to be enlightening, the real test will be running the game with my hijacked players.