A Look Inside The Marvel Multiverse RPG Playtest Edition


It’s hard to believe nearly ten years since the last official Marvel RPG was released. In that time. Marvel has gone from a comic book company to a cultural behemoth. It’s brought home its favorite neighborhood webslinger, made a star out of a talking space raccoon and keeps the water cooler bubbling with weekly streaming shows. This time the company is releasing Marvel Multiverse Roleplaying on its own rather than licensing it out to a dedicated company. But it’s still stacked the deck by bringing in industry veteran Matt Forbeck to design the game. A shortened playtest edition comes out on April 20th but the company sent along a press copy for me to review. How does it stack up to the other ways to make yours Marvel? Let’s play to find out.

The game centers around the d616 system, which features three six sided dice. One of these three dice is the Marvel die, which triggers a special effect when it rolls the Marvel logo that’s in place of the one. For those folks playtesting at home, that means you should have a D6 designated as the Marvel die, preferably one that stands out from the other two. To accomplish goals in the game, players roll these dice and add them to one of their stats, which, of course, spell the word MARVEL: Might, Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, Logic. In play, it feels a little like Green Ronin’s AGE System mixed with WEG’s Star Wars d6. There’s a little bit of math to see if the roll passes or fails along with a chance of a narrative twist based on if the Marvel die pops off. Critical fails happen if all three dice come up 1, critical successes are if the regular dice roll 6s and the Marvel die rolls a 1 aka 616. On successes, a Marvel roll offers a “yes and” element and on a fail it’s a “no but” consolation.

Combat works on a similar basic principle with gridded distances, to hit rolls and hit points. There is some discussion of theater of the mind combat but the way distances work make this section feel a lot like it was written for people familiar with Fifth Edition combat without being a direct lift. In this draft, the Marvel die only activates knockback but it seems like there would be a lot of room for narrative flexibility.like disarms or add on effects triggered by that 1 out of 6 chance.

The character system is class and level based, though the latter is in-line with how Mutants & Masterminds handles levels. They are a general guide to power, one that can be modified within the stories told within the game. Level 10 seems the default power level here, with 5 being street level or young heroes, 15 being big team names from the X-Men or Avengers and 20 and higher being big cosmic type beings. The assumption here is that heroes remain static, though a discussion on level caps gives folks who want to watch their hero grow provide that option through milestone level ups.

The level system sets how many powers and traits a character has. Many of the traits come from how a character’s class and their origin plug together. Most traits are short, narrative permissions with simple mechanics attached. Usually the trait or the power inflicts a condition, offers a reroll or allows an attack or defense with an unexpected attribute. There’s not a lot of benchmarking here with certain heroes having better versions of powers. That seems all baked into the levels, with the Marvel die showing as the one in a million shot allowing a street level hero to get in an unexpected hit on Thanos, or at least creating an opening for a heavy hitter. It’s clear Marvel is going to sell at least one set of speciality dice for this but I would also like to see cards featuring the various powers and traits that could be dealt out to new players. The single page write-ups look impressive, but keeping in mind what options a character has might be overwhelming for new players.

Powers work like feat trees with options unlocked via previous choices and new levels. This document comes with a dozen power sets plus a general utility pool. These power sets match the characters released as part of the playtest: Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Black Panther, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Groot, Rocket Racoon, Iron Man, Thor, Storm and Wolverine. Characters build powers out of a few groups plus the general utility pool. It may not seem like much, but the relative simplicity of the powers make it pretty easy to hack new ones in the wait for the full book. The Spider Powers web slinging power tree, for example, could just as easily be repurposed as an Ice power tree for an Iceman write up with a minimum of fuss.

The write-ups are for the original 616 universe, but the text discusses how different versions could exist in other worlds. There’s a sense that most groups are going to be some mix of established characters and original creations. It seems easy to build and rebuild characters based on their power levels during specific comic runs or even MCU counterparts.

Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game comes down closer to the traditional RPG of its TSR predecessor than the narrative focus of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. It has a straightforward pass/fail resolution with a small tip of the hat to narrative mechanics. It seems aimed at the larger Marvel or D&D audience rather than previously experienced gamers. How much of this will remain true has yet to be seen. This is a playtest, after all, and the people who plunk down their hard earned time and money can shape the direction of the game for its full release in 2023.

log in or register to remove this ad

Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland


The crunch here at first blush seems so grounded in an D&D/Pathfinder vibe...it was almost like system shock to read it. Was getting Champions vibes (though it IS NOT that).
I will say that on reading it a bit I think they're going for a D&D vibe intentionally. Both in presentation and in system. It looks like they looked at more narrative approaches to supers games and said "nope, we want something more D&D-like" and intentionally went down that path tho, rather than just doing it blindly.

But definitely not Champions - in fact I'd say it's the opposite of Champions in philosophy. Especially in character creation where it feels like they're going for a D&D-style race/class/background combo of "picks" that give you a framework for your character rather than a point-buy system. One good lesson that he may have learned from BNW is that having a single template for a character is kind of boring - having multiple "templates" to apply at character creation gives you some choice without the overwhelming choices of a pure point-buy system. D&D 5e does this really well for new players IMO, and the character creation in the Marvel game is looking like it's trying to do something similar.

That said - anyone looking for a game that is more like Cortex or Masks or even Icons than D&D is I think not going to find this all that interesting except maybe as a curiosity. This might be the most D&D-inspired superhero RPG I've seen that isn't explicitly one of those 3e OGL attempts at turning out a D&D superhero game. I think it was designed to be easy for 5e groups to pick up and use (especially with some changes to presentation) so other than the dice mechanic there's not really anything terribly novel in it.

log in or register to remove this ad

Greg K

Personally, I think the issues go far beyond presentation based on the interview, the few preview pages that I have seen, and mechanics discussions at rpgnet. On my ratings of various supers games, it is not going to be Superhero 2044, Enforcers, or Foundation bad, but so far it doesnt' look like it will be more than a step above (which is where I place Heroes Unlimited, Heroes & Heroines, Marvel Universe, and V&V 1e).

aramis erak

I'm kind of torn on this product. On one hand, I love new superhero rpgs...but, this is so...I don't know... 3.5ish. There have been so many fascinating innovations in the super rpg genre over the past 10 years it seems odd to get essentially a version of Mutants & Masterminds with 3d6 instead of a d20.

I'm guessing this D&Dish take is intentional though. I'll give it a chance.
I'm not making final judgements until I get my preordered copy; Amazon says I should get it friday...

but I'm not encouraged by the previews.

Reading the Forbeck interview, I'm even less encouraged. FASERIP is dead simple in play.
Last edited:


Deluxe Unhuman
I've looked through the first few chapters, and it looks like a perfectly serviceable supers game. The per-attack math is a little more than 5E, but that's not saying much. Otherwise everything seems pretty solid.

Dr. Bull

I received my copy in the mail today. It looks pretty good and I like the d616 engine, but I am confused by the fact that only some powers have "ranks" or scale. In this way, it differs a great deal from M&M (in which ALL powers are quantified). In this new game, there is a bipolar mix of powers that have absolute, measurable effects and other powers that are frustratingly vague.

Also, there are a LOT of powers that are missing. The 1980's FASERIP system listed many more powers (during the infancy of role playing games). Clearly, the playtest is designed to test playability, based upon the cast of iconic characters provided in the book. This playtest book is not intended to be an end-all, beat-all, comprehensive superhero rpg...

I suggest that we all view this publication as a small sample of what is to come?

Dr. Bull

So... I'm a nerd. I've played FASERIP, Champions, V&V, M&M, Icons, and other superhero role playing games over the past 40 years.
I am very disappointed that the superhero genre has (once again) failed to advance. This game system is less useful than material from the 1980's.

In my opinion, Steve Kenson should be hired to overhaul this game system... If it were converted into an ICONS clone, at least it would have some logical sense?


I received my copy in the mail today. It looks pretty good and I like the d616 engine, but I am confused by the fact that only some powers have "ranks" or scale. In this way, it differs a great deal from M&M (in which ALL powers are quantified). In this new game, there is a bipolar mix of powers that have absolute, measurable effects and other powers that are frustratingly vague.
Despite the game having 25 power levels, the playtest powers seem to be written for "tiers" of power levels rather than individual levels. The power ranks of 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 seem to be the different tiers that the powers are geared towards. I'm not sure why they think they need the granularity of different ranks between those levels except to make it look more like D&D to folks who pick it up.

Also, there are a LOT of powers that are missing. The 1980's FASERIP system listed many more powers (during the infancy of role playing games). Clearly, the playtest is designed to test playability, based upon the cast of iconic characters provided in the book. This playtest book is not intended to be an end-all, beat-all, comprehensive superhero rpg...
yeah - the power sets in the playtest are pretty much the power sets needed to create the included sample characters. According to the interview with Matt Forbeck linked elsewhere the plan is to include a lot more powers in the final game.

The way the powers are constructed is some of what reminds me of FASERIP - instead of being like Champions or M&M or Icons where you build powers yourself based on effects, the powers in the playtest are just lists of possible powers. Feels very "Ultimate Powers Book" in form. However the lack of ranks for the powers makes it very different (and is another thing that reminds me more of D&D than most other supers games tend to work).


Deluxe Unhuman
The more I look at this playtest book, the more I think it would take a lot of leg-work but not a lot of imagination to convert it to 5E.

Eric V

Just got mine.

Iron Man has a greater Agility than Black Panther, Captain America, and Spider-Man. Maybe there's a reason for it in the rules, but if I ask 100 marvel fans who has the best agility amongst them, I figure none of them are going to say Tony.

How many heroes have shields? Cap, and...USAgent? Battlestar? There's a whole section on "Shield Powers." Maybe there will be more, and it's just a selection of power groups to coincide with the heroes presented? Probably.


How many heroes have shields? Cap, and...USAgent? Battlestar? There's a whole section on "Shield Powers." Maybe there will be more, and it's just a selection of power groups to coincide with the heroes presented? Probably.
Yes, that's the plan. Forbeck said in the interview that was posted in one of these threads that the actual game would have 300+ powers.

I just realized today a major problem with this as a playtest- no villains. Even the included adventure only has Hydra chumps. That seems poorly planned for a playtest - you'd really like to see how the game plays out with some supervillains I'd think.


A buddy of mine made a pretty serviceable Doc Ock.

Doctor Octopus(Rank 15)
Origin: High Tech
Profession: Scientist

Lab Access
Scientific Expertise
Black Market Access
Battle Ready
Debate Champ
Signature Weapon: Tentacles
Extreme Appearance

Anti-Dazzle Optics, Armour 3, Extended Reach 2, Stilt Steps, Lock-On, Mighty 4

Cybernetics: Augmented Reflexes

Utility Powers
Additional Limb 2

2 (+11) (22)
Agility: 2 (+11) (24)
Resilience: 2 (+11) (19)
Vigilance: 8 (+21) (28)
Ego: 4 (+10) (24)
Logic: 8 (+21) (32)

Derived Attributes
Fight Damage:
Ranged Damage: 3D6+28+8
Health: 90
Focus: 175
Karma: 8
Initiative: 2
Speed: 58
Size: Average

Doctor Octopus

Real Name: Otto Gunther Octavius
Gender: Male
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 245 lbs.
Eyes: Brown
Skin: White
Hair: Brown
Distinguishing Features: Myopia (necessitates the use of prescription eyeglasses); four cybernetic tentacles
Occupation: Criminal mastermind & terrorist; formerly atomic research consultant & professor
Teams: Sinister Six(Founding member & leader), Masters of Evil V(leader), Thunderbolts, Legion Accursed, partner of the Green Goblin, frequently headed his own gang of hired thugs.
Base: Mobile (generally in New York City)

Dr. Otto Octavius was once a brilliant and respected nuclear physicist, atomic research consultant, inventor and lecturer. He designed a set of highly advanced mechanical arms controlled via a brain–computer interface to assist him with his research into atomic physics. The tentacle-like arms were resistant to radiation and were capable of great strength and highly precise movement, attached to a harness that fit around his body.

During an accidental radiation leak that ended in an explosion, the apparatus became fused to Octavius's body. It was later revealed that the radiation had mutated his brain so that he could control the movement of the arms using his thoughts alone. The accident also seemingly damaged his brain (although some have suggested that what was interpreted as brain damage was, in fact, his mind rewiring itself to accommodate four extra limbs), and the scientist turned to a life of crime, first taking the hospital hostage and calling himself "Doctor Octopus" from the derogatory name that his co-workers had given him. He clashed with Spider-Man and would go one to become one of his greatest enemies.

A highly intelligent and prideful scientist, Doctor Octopus has all the classic traits of a narcissist: delusions of grandeur, an unhealthy obsession with success, and an inability to take any form of criticism. Like any narcissist, he refused to come to terms with his own mistakes and shifts all his problems onto others (especially Spider-Man), and possess a stubborn temper that often makes him difficult to reason with. Vengeful against the world and those who stand in his way, he displays little care towards the lives he endangers. He is, however, very charismatic and calculating, rarely actually losing his temper and remaining perpetually suave and sophisticated, even in the face of his opponents.

I'm pretty sure it is - I suspect that they specifically wanted something that would be able to piggy back off of D&D as much as possible to be familiar to players who only vaguely know about rpgs from D&D. I picked up the digital version via Comixology/Amazon and ... it definitely reminds me a lot of D&D in a number of ways, at least in a preliminary filpthrough. I'll need to dig into it after work to see just how much like D&D it is.
Which strikes me as an odd decision if that really was Marvel’s direction. After all, being “similar” to D&D is not of much value unless you can advertise as being similar to D&D.

The intention is this new system was easy to be learnt by people used to the most popular TTRPG, and also easy to be adapted to this system. Then the players of d20 system will be willing to buy books of other system for the lore.

Marvel Multiverse RPG Releases Major Update​

The full list of updates includes the following:

  • Might is now Melee. The new name reflects the ability's purpose better.
  • The number of ability points a character gets per rank has changed. These are mostly much lower.
  • We're getting rid of Action Modifiers, which were the ability score plus Rank. Now we're just using the ability score.
  • Defense scores are now 10+ the ability score.
  • Health and Focus are now 25x Resilience/Vigilance.
  • The initiative modifier is now the character's Vigilance score.
  • Running Speed is now 5 + 1 for every 5 points of Agility, modified by Size.
  • Effects from powers, traits, weapons, or any other item that add to or subtract from damage multipliers do not stack.
  • Add the character's ability modifier to damage rolls.
  • Damage Reduction now affects the attacker's damage multiplier rather than being a flat number.
  • Characters can heal their Health or Focus at any time by spending a Karma point.
  • Weapons now add to the damage multiplier. We also added rules for grenades.
  • We updated the falling damage rules.
  • We added a number of reaction maneuvers.
  • Characters who are not heroic can gain and spend Karma but do not start with any.
  • We altered the number of power sets and powers a character can have per rank. This mostly went up.
  • We clarified how concentration works with powers.
  • We clarified a bunch of powers and added a few new ones too.
  • We changed the number of extra traits a character gets per rank.
  • We changed a number of traits to tags and made the number of tags you can have unlimited.
  • We removed a couple traits and turned Combat Trickery into a power.

Von Ether

Weirdly, both this Marvel game and Renegade Studios' Essense20 system did exactly that.

My purely speculative theory on that. WotC has access to the top 5e freelancers in the biz, so it makes sense they use them to make a product. But if they tell said developers to adapt the system they increase the odds the game will reflect new genres and themes. In this way, it's not much different than what Modiphius and Free League have successfully been doing with their house systems of 2d20 and Year Zero.

But like every ttRPG company that's not WotC or Piazo, they have to fight to keep their customers "on the ranch" so to speak, so cross marketing that all their games share a core rule set/ethos helps them.

WotC doesn't need to sweat that. More people are coming to D&D than ever and retention is high.

Beyond not feeling the need to cross market:
  • Plenty of fans of the Hasbro action figures fans could care less what engine runs their game.
  • Cross marketing adds validity to critiques comparing the compatibility to the two systems
  • Invites demands for more compatibility (which is not a WotC goal and a headache)
  • Keeps these IP heavy products further away from the OGL?
  • Also keeps a potential generic 5e engine further away from the OGL.
  • Creates a strong fan base that has a wide age range separate from D&D they can sell/count twice
  • Most of the fans that would care if the engines are similar are savvy enough to figure it out without marketing
  • As the younger fans get older, they may make Essence the "D&D" killer app. (Hasbro is going to follow the money and it never hurts to diversify.)
And honestly, if everything is experiential, it's easier to say nothing about it first and cross promo later than try to put the genie in the bottle later.

Does the Marvel game have the OGL in the back? If not, then Matt is basically doing a 5e love letter to not only Marvel but Mutants and Masterminds as well and they've been standing tall from d20 for a long time.

But like I said, this all speculation. But as a side note, I've noticed a lot of new gamers to the scene in the last 6 years or so see "5e" everywhere there is a d20 and a skill check, not realizing they may have it backwards. Like the KS for the recent Dragonbane game based on the 30 year old Swedish game of "Dragons and Demons," which is based on a d20 version of BRP (like Pendragon is.)

That's more BRP with advantage/disadvantage and less "5e but roll under."

D&D/d20 has got a special "house mark", the leveling up with XPs. This means monsters and crunch need more time working in the design for a right power balance. This is the reason because players buy sourcebooks about crunch instead recycling ideas from fandom wikis for their housemade system.

And lot of players only want to learn one or two system. I love my Eclipse Phase RPG but I can't understand yet the list of abilities scores.

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

Visit Our Sponsor

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

An Advertisement