Iâ€™m going to be talking about the Breakout mini-event in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying rulebook. Iâ€™m going to be giving away more about things than in the previous act so, if youâ€™re planning on playing the adventure, Iâ€™d say skip the Actual Play section.
You Have Been Warned!
A few weeks back, I got together with my gaming group to finish off our run through the Breakout mini-event in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying core book. Our first session had gone pretty well, and I was interested to see how the second act played out.
There were a number of very specific things I wanted to learn from running this second act:
- The first act is primarily one big action scene. I wanted to run the second act to see how the game handled stuff that wasn’t just face-punching ((This is a bit of an unfair characterization of the combat in MHR, which tends to be very flavourful. But you take my point.)).
- I wanted to see how the experience point system worked in play, and to do that, I really needed to run the second act.
- I wanted to gauge the learning curve. Everyone was pretty much up to speed at the end of the previous session, but the gap between sessions was pretty long, and I wanted to see how much of that mastery they had lost in the downtime.
- I wanted to see if I could speed up the action scenes so that players didn’t have to wait as long between their turns.
So, I brushed up on the act, gathered my MHR gaming kit, assembled my players, and away we went.
Our roster of New Avengers ((Heavy on the X-folks, but what can you do? X-men make fun characters to play.)) was:
- Black Widow
- Shadowcat ((And Lockheed the dragon, of course.))
At the end of the previous session, Black Widow had determined that the breakout at the Raft was intended to free Karl Lykos ((AKA Sauron. No, not that Sauron. This Sauron.)), and that he had probably fled to the Savage Land. Further research at the start of this session turned up some mysterious blanks in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files on the Savage Land, specifically on one of their outposts there.
The team spent some time gearing up – that is, using the transition scene to create some Assets and Resources for themselves to use in the adventure. They came up with a couple of fairly standard things, like med kits, but also a device that could detect Karl Lykos’s unique mutant energy signature. The X-folks signed out a blackbird, and they flew off to Antarctica.
Shadowcat was piloting, and ran into the magnetic and meteorological anomalies that prevail in the Savage Land, and pretty much on cue, someone brought up the fact that no one ever lands in the Savage Land. They always crash ((This is almost verbatim what Spidey says in the actual book.)). Kitty looked at me, and asked if she could roll to land the plane safely.
Now, in the adventure, the default action is that the plane lands safely, but then gets stomped by a T-Rex. I had intended to let that happen, but when a player asks to roll on something, that’s usually a signal that that moment matters to them, and as GM, you should do your best to make it a memorable moment ((This is a good rule to keep in mind, alongside Vincent Baker’s “Say yes or roll the dice.” Combining the two ideas does a lot to illuminate when you should and should not ask for dice rolls.)). Given that reasoning, I let her roll against the Doom Pool, which was still at 2d6, to land safely.
Well, her roll boosted the Doom Pool by a couple of dice thanks to the opportunities she rolled, and the Doom Pool roll beat her. I spent one of the new dice in the pool to counterattack, inflicting a d6 of emotional stress on her, as she wrestled the blackbird in for a landing, describing it as a barely controlled crash that left the plane largely intact, but cut a huge swath through the jungle. Everyone got out to survey the damage and decide what to do next.
And that’s when the T-Rex came and smushed the plane.
The T-Rex fight was interesting primarily because it showed off the sophistication with the rules that the group had developed after only a single session. The players worked the Plot Point economy efficiently, taking their Distinctions at d4 to gain points, spending points in clever and useful ways, and even using their power limits and spending experience points to get more Plot Points when they needed them. I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by skillfully everyone worked the system.
Better than that, though, was the way everyone got into narrating the action based on what dice were in their pool. The T-Rex had two dice knocked off its Solo pool in the first round thanks to clever things like Storm lowering its core temperature and Daredevil and Black Widow co-operating to use their swinglines to trip the dinosaur ((Actually, that last thing didn’t work out so well, thanks to some poor rolling, but Daredevil took the opportunity to lose his billy club and get a Plot Point for invoking his Gear limit.)).
After walking through the jungle for a while, homing in on Lykos with their detection device, I dropped the mutates on them. My goal with this fight was to boost the Doom Pool up to 2d12 so as to end the scene with the heroes captured. This proved to be an interesting exercise in resource management, as I need to spend enough from the Doom Pool to keep the bad guys up and fighting, but save enough that I could reach that magical 2d12 level. This wound up generating a fair number of Plot Points for the good guys, which made the whole thing a pretty epic battle.
But I got to that 2d12 I wanted, and had Brainchild lead the group into an area that he had mined with disruptor bombs ((Yeah, I made that up spur of the moment when I wanted to take them out. It fits comic logic, and no one batted an eye.)), and knocked everyone out.
They recovered as captives of the mutates and Karl Lykos, who spent a little time monologuing ((I had to build up the Doom Pool again, of course.)). But you know who you shouldn’t ignore, even when she’s stripped and manacled to a high-tech restraint table? Black Widow, that’s who. She’s got the skills to get out without tripping the power dampening thingies. And she did. First thing she did was free the others, and Storm and Shadowcat double-teamed Lykos, taking him out in one turn ((Shoulda kept some more dice in the Doom Pool. He needed them. The heroes all had at least three Plot Points each, and that’s a pretty big edge.)).
They mopped up the rest of the mutates, in the room, and I told them that they heard more coming from elsewhere in the complex. So, Black Widow said, “Hey! I’m gonna cash in these 10 xp to unlock the S.H.I.E.L.D. Champion Clearance thing and get the helicarrier to show up and take us away!” Which she did, so that was the end of that. We did a little bit of wrap-up stuff, but that was pretty much it for the night.
So, here’s what I found out about the things I wanted to see in this session, as enumerated above.
- MHR handles non-action scenes just fine. In fact, the light framework they use for the adventures and the fact you can use the Doom Pool to represent the environment makes it very easy to improvise when the characters take unexpected actions. The transition scenes help recovery, but more to the point, they give a lot more options for roleplaying and interacting with the world. The start and end of such things are pretty loosely defined, and I think that’s a big advantage.
- The experience system works fine, as far as we saw. The main use of xp in this short adventure was gaining more Plot Points in tight situations ((Plus, of course, the helicarrier rescue.)). I think that actually spending the xp to buy up character abilities is going to see limited use if using Marvel characters and events – it’s more likely to see use in longer campaigns and using home-made characters. That said, it does everything it needs to, and the unlockables are a very neat mechanic.
- The mastery of the system that the players had gained in the first session came back very quickly, and grew in play. The learning curve is not nearly as steep as I had originally feared ((Though I still forgot an important rule during play and didn’t remember it until after the game. Which rule? Oh, nothing important, he said sarcastically. Just that you can add an opponent’s stress die to your die pool for free. Yeah, ’cause that’s not a big deal.)). So, yeah, the game is pretty easy to master once you get the core concepts down. One important aspect of this mastery that was pointed out is the design of the datafiles. They make it remarkably easy to just go down the list and build your dice pool. Some real thought went into the sheet’s usability, and the folks at MWP deserve kudos for that kind of attention to detail.
- Action scenes are still not fast. I thought they were getting faster, but it was pointed out to me that, as Watcher, I’m involved in everyone’s action, so I’m always busy interacting with the players, and that skews my perception of how long a player is sitting waiting to do something ((Smaller groups will mitigate this to some degree, and larger groups will exacerbate it.)). The fact that combat is symmetrical, with players getting to make reaction rolls and possibly counter-attack when attacked, lessens the sitting around aspect. But the fact that the Watcher has to build a dice pool the same way as a player, but for several different characters, slows down that part of the game. This is far from a game-breaker, but it is something the Watcher needs to be mindful of – make sure that the focus is always firmly on the heroes, and try to keep the spotlight moving briskly and fairly among the heroes to minimize boredom.
And that’s the end of our MHR playtest. Everyone had a good time with it and I think I may look at setting up a longer game in the fall, when my gaming schedule opens up a bit.
As an interesting aside, a number of the players in this group stated a preference for playing canon Marvel characters in these games, rather than creating their own, original characters. I knew intellectually that this was a common preference – otherwise, there would be more emphasis on building your own character in the main rulebook – but I was surprised to hear it in my group. See, for me, it might be fun to play Spider-Man or Doctor Strange in a one-shot, but for a real campaign, I want my own character to play. So, it’s an interesting eye-opener to hear others voice a different preference, and discuss the reasons with them. Enlightening.
Anyway. ‘Nuff said.