So, I’ve finished reading over the Civil War event book for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and was really impressed. It is, of course, a beautiful book, full of Marvel comic book art, and Jeremy Keller’s wonderful layout. But that’s only part of it. It really succeeds on three levels: as an adventure book, as a resource book, and as an instructional book for designing your own events.
The Civil War event in the comic books was a big, complex, involved affair, and I was initially skeptical about how it would translate to an RPG adventure. The main issue ((Heh.)) in my mind was the question of taking sides in the war. What do you do if part of the group wants to side with the pro-registration folks, and another part wants to side with the anti-registration folks?
Well, the folks who wrote this book saw that one coming, and offer extensive and helpful advice for how to handle things. They encourage talking about the possibility of player-vs.-player combat, and making sure everyone feels comfortable with it. Beyond that, they suggest using troupe play, with players trading off characters to make sure the players are always on the same side, whichever side that needs to be in the current scene. There’s also a lot of advice about how to run the various scenes in the game for different sides in the way – pro, anti, and undecided. Very solid, useful stuff.
The overall adventure is broken into 37 scenes, split into 3 acts. Not every scene is mandatory, and it’s assumed that Watchers will improvise any other scenes that are needed based on the actions of the players. Scenes are identified as Action (26) and Transition (11), but several of the scenes have notes about running them as the other type. In essence, the structure and scene choices offer not just a sequence of events in the larger story of the Civil War, but a toolkit to let the Watcher and the players develop and explore their own experience against the bigger backdrop.
The structure provided is not rigid, but is a useful default and starting point. There are a few defining scenes that I think are pretty important to make the game about the Civil War, rather than just normal superhero hijinks, but you don’t need to follow the default roadmap to get to them. The structure is loose enough to expand for Watcher-created, player-driven scenes, and to collapse to omit scenes from the book that don’t quite fit. And there’s plenty of fodder in the book to make it easy for the Watcher to improvise both action and transition scenes on the fly.
That said, you don’t have to play that loose with the structure. Following it step-by-step from the first scene to the last in order will give you a solid, exciting event, one that your players will talk about.
The only thing that I think is missing is from the Sourcebook section at the front of the book. This is where the events behind the Civil War, the factions involved, and so on, are described to give you context. It’s very complete, but there are a few story threads that run through the three acts, in various scenes, that I think could have been noted here. Things like the Atlantean vengeance squad, or the MGH trail – threads that wind through the other scenes and that the Watcher probably wants to keep track of. You don’t need anything big; just a quick list of the various story threads and the scenes that directly apply to them.
But that’s a pretty small quibble.
Y’know, this book is worth the price of admission just for the datafiles it contains. You get 32 full hero datafiles. You get 33 villain-style datafiles in the Friends and Foes section, any one of which can be converted to a whole hero datafile with about thirty seconds of work. And scattered through the rest of the book are 59 other datafiles, ranging from villains to average citizens, and 3 add-on power sets. A few of these are duplicates, but the vast majority are at least tweaked from other appearances, either in this book or in the basic game book.
And then there are the milestones. 22 milestones specific to this event – that is, not attached to hero datafiles – and lots of interesting unlockables. While this stuff is tailored to the Civil War event, it is easily adaptable to other events/adventures/characters.
One of the things I look for in a product is material that I, as a GM, can lift out and use with minimal work. This book has that in spades, and has an index just of the datafiles for good measure. Kudos!
Above and beyond anything else, this book is a master-class in designing for your ownMarvel Heroic Roleplayinggame. Want to see a stunning example of how to build an event? Look at this book. It’ll teach you the structure and flexibility you need. Want to find out how to handle a certain type of scene? Odds are there’s an example in here ((There’s an action scene that is all about debating a Congressional committee, for God’s sake!)). Want to see how to put together a certain type of character or power set or milestones or unlockables or…
It’s all here. And the way it’s set out is accessible and instructive. Just reading this book, even if you never use any of the scenes or story, will make you a better Watcher. It is a stunning example of what to do with the game, and it is filled with smart ideas and interesting twists that show how the rules work in neat ways. In creative ways. Infunways.
If you plan to run MHR, I’m going to go so far as to say you owe it to yourself to read this book. It’ll make it all much easier and much better, both for you and your players. The adventure is good – very good – but the value of the book goes way beyond that.