(Editor’s note: our very own Chatty DM was the developer on the book reviewed here. As with previous books with a similar situation, we had our staff reviewer complete this review, independent of anyone who worked on it)
The Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game’s Civil War Event Book is hard to quickly summarize as anything but massive. From its massive ambitions, to its incredible scope and to the sizable amount of content, the book is in all aspects a massive value. It might seem like an equally massive undertaking for the prospective RPG gamer, but the guidelines help somewhat in keeping you up to speed. You don’t have to be a comic book expert in order to run it. However, I would still recommend some familiarity with the Civil War, even if just a read through the Marvel Wikia, for prospective Watchers.
Within the covers are 234 pages that the book claims may take as long as six months to play through in its entirety, spanning one of the largest and most popular comic book events in Marvel’s history, the eponymous Super Hero Civil War. As the US congress readies to pass legislation that could forever change how superheroes are seen by the public, and how they behave, the players form a cadre of heroes to fight for their own agenda, broadly divided into the Pro-Registration heroes who support the legislation, and Anti-Registration heroes who oppose it. Soon it’ll be all out war between the two hero factions.
I’m not a huge fan of comics, as we have established, but the Civil War book has enough information to let you know the essentials of the comic book story arc, and all you really have to do is read the scenes and remember not to sweat the small stuff – this is very much your story after all, however it went in the comic. Some of the setting information is found in curious locations, however, that might throw you off for a few scenes if you’re unfamiliar with the storyline as a whole. For example, you read about the effects of the Stramford massacre quite a few scenes in the book before you get a description of what really happened and how it ties in to the bigger picture. You also don’t get to play that scene quite yet – the book claims you’ll be able to play the New Warriors and challenge Nitro to the fatal showdown in the future. This can be a bit confusing on an initial reading for a new fan, but you’ll have to read the whole book anyway, so just have faith in it and it will explain everything eventually.
Targeted primarily at Watchers (Game Masters), the book opens with a series of rules guidelines and innovations for Civil War, such as Troupe Roleplaying, where the players switch heroes wherever appropriate to play many different perspectives on the conflict. You get a very nice, chunky section on milestones and factions (which each faction having its own milestones) that give the Event a good sense of advancement. No matter what you’re choosing to do, you’re bound to be able to accrue and spend some XP. Heroes also have their own datafiles at the back of the book which include personal Milestones.
Some character Datafiles have some rather simplistic milestones, however. Wolverine’s generating XP as long as he is a complete jerk and others acknowledge this (and you basically can’t be Wolverine without being a complete jerk), and the Sub-Mariner just needs an unapproachable female character to start garnering his own Jerk-XP. However this fits their personalities so it’s good at incentivizing in-character actions. There’s some nice touches in the datafiles all told, like Deadpool editing his own. I just wish the Milestones were a bit more inventive in portraying that comic hero ur-jerkness.
The book contains around 40 scenes divided into three acts. Because each scene can go on for quite a bit (especially action scenes, such as battles on SHIELD’s flying base), just listing the number of them isn’t really an accurate measure of how much gaming you’ll get out of them – that really depends on the predilections of your group. Some scenes look like they can be burned through rather quickly, while others are abstract enough to last a while. The Doom Pool is set in each act as normal, and there are a few opportunities to add more scenes. How you advance through the Civil War will be determined by your individual group. If it strikes your fancy, there can be a lot more moments of tense action in the Civil War than those suggested by the book. The transition scenes in the Event book help create points around which you can stock more scenes easily.
Part of the charm of the Civil War Book is its commitment to spinning its own content around. You could have numerous different stories from the same material just by playing Pro-Registration or Anti-Registration superheroes, and by playing different superheroes than before. Most scenes are handled in a pretty abstract sense, with information to set it up whether or not you’re playing a pro or anti registration group. You can play through the Civil War in any way you find fitting, not just how the comic book stories played out. I’m unfamiliar with the comics, however, so I can’t say whether fans that wish for a slavish devotion to the material will be pleased. There is a large bibliography in the back with all of the important issues of the Super Hero Civil War across the various comic book lines, if you want to take a look at the source material.
Between the core rulebook and the heroes and villains included in Civil War, you have quite a large contingent of characters to choose from. It’s even more interesting if you decide to make your own. With this in mind, the Civil War Event Book is sold in two packages. The Premium Edition also contains the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Core Rulebook, which I reviewed in the past and highly recommend. For $23 right now, it’s a complete steal. If you only want the Civil War Event Book and not the core rulebook as well, you can get the Essentials edition for $17. I would pick up the Civil War Event Book almost as a companion Watcher’s Guide – it gives you a really solid look at how Marvel Events can work, and loads of new heroes, villains, factions, milestones, and heaps of inspiration for running games of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. If you’re a fan of the Civil War, that’s a bonus!