Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game Playtest Impressions

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game isn't the first (or second, etc.) Marvel universe RPG or even the first one designed in-house. Yet reading the playtest rulebook I can't help feeling like the expectations for this version is higher.

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Marvel's household name quality has always been a draw and thanks to the MCU, that name recognition doesn't just involve Spider-man or the X-Men but also deeper cuts Moonknight, Echo, Jessica Jones, etc. At the same time, Dungeons & Dragons is bigger than ever thanks to 5E's popularity, actual play videos like Critical Role, celebrities admitting that they still play D&D, etc. So Marvel (Disney) announcing that they hired Matt Forbeck to write and Forbeck, Mike Capps, and John Nee to design a new RPG was both a surprise and perfectly logical.

The new game, available as both an e-book and physical book ($9.99 MSRP), is actually a playtest version, but it's a substantial one – 120 pages. Considering the things the book references going into greater detail for in the final version, expect the actual core book coming in 2023 to be hefty.

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Rolling the Dice​

The new rules are called the D616 System, a reference to the multiverse designation for the Marvel we know and to signify how the dice work. Players roll 3d6, one of which is physically different from the other two. When taking an action, roll the dice, add them together, apply modifiers and compare the result to the target number (TN) to determine success.

However, a 1 on that different third die affects the results. If you roll three 1's it's a botch, meaning an automatic failure, plus something bad happens. Roll a one on the different die and don't have a pair of 1's on the other two, it's a fantastic roll, meaning that the one on the different die counts as a 6 when totaling the dice result. If you roll a one on the different die and 6's on both of the other two dice, a.k.a. 616, it's an ultimate fantastic roll (18). If the roll meets or beats the TN it's a fantastic success and a fantastic failure if less.

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Creating Your Hero​

Character attributes spell out “MARVEL” for easy remembrance: Might, Agility, Resilience, Vigilance, Ego, and Logic. Each attribute gets a score, a modifier, and a defense. Characters also have a rank to represent their power level and experience. Ranks can improve over time, but generally have a cap because characters in the Marvel universe are of various power levels. Daredevil is cited as a rank 5, Black Panther a rank 15, Thor 20, and Captain Marvel 25.

The playtest allows you to make new characters, as well as providing some characters. Each character is one of six archetypes: blaster, bruiser, genius, polymath, protector, and striker. These describe the character's focus and manner of behaving. So Peter Parker's Spider-man is a polymath, meaning he's a well-rounded character who is more flexible than a specialist like strikers Wolverine or Elektra. Protectors defend, support, and assist their team, like Invisible Woman or Professor X.

Powers are broken into power sets such as battlesuit, blades, cybernetics, firearms, energy control, martial arts, plasticity, shield bearer, spider powers, super strength, tactical mastery, weather control, and utility powers. Some powers are part of power trees, so you have to take, for example, Energy Beam to a rank of 5 before you can take Energy Wave.

I was able to play the enclosed adventure, “Enter: Hydra” before writing this review. It's straightforward and gives a good sense of the MMRPG. It's a solid game that plays well.

I did scratch my head at a few things, though. Thor has the powers Blow Away, Blow Back, and Blow Down, all of which seem to be single-target attacks. In fact, I only found a few powers with descriptions indicating group attacks. I don't think that's just a phrasing oversight because if it could affect multiple opponents there should be some sort of range or indicator for how many people can be affected or an area of effect. But it's a playtest so that could be adjusted in the future.

The basic layout is good and clear. The artwork is excellent and effective, of course, but who thought making yellow the background for white lettering was a good idea? I get that they're trying to be colorful and “four color” like comic books, but readability should always be a factor.

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Quibbles & Concerns​

While I enjoyed playing the demo and think that the MMRPG is a well-crafted game, I have a few quibbles and concerns: I'm not fond of power trees or ranks. They work here but will never be my design preference.

However, designing for the range of abilities in a superhero game is a tricky endeavor in general, and doubly so for existing properties like Marvel because you have to account for characters as apart in power as The Punisher and Phoenix. More lightweight superhero RPGs often omit galactic-powered characters or lean more on the narrative than mechanics.

That said, I don't consider the MMRPG to be incredibly crunchy, but rather midweight. However, Champions was the second RPG I ever played so your mileage may vary. Regardless of where you'd put MMRPG the on the scale of crunchy rule sets, anyone with basic RPG experience should be able to play the MMRPG fairly easily because Forbeck does a good job of laying everything out clearly and logically.

But one of my concerns is for people without any RPG experience. Reading the book, that's clearly part of the target audience for the final game, and with patience and good marketing the MCU could bring new players into TTRPGs that would never try D&D. Personally, I'm for expanding the base of gamers so MMRPG's potential excites me.

Yet I'm a little concerned that it could be daunting to newcomers. For that matter, I'm also concerned that people not currently playing RPGs won't even try the playtest, thereby skewing results in favor of established players so its newbie friendliness isn't addressed at all. Once the actual game is out marketing such as actual play videos with celebrities could help draw in interest and demonstrate play, but by then the core rules will be set.

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is well-crafted for experienced players with a lot of potential to broaden the player base. At the same time, I hope the development team specifically seeks out newcomers for playtesting, too, to ensure that the MMRPG can live up to its fullest potential.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
So how does the game handle mixed power levels (ie the Avengers) what is the balance mechanism? Ie how do Rank 5 and Rank 25 play together?

The power flowcharts give it a too crunchy look to me, and I agree that could dissuade newbies who like the MCU but don’t play RPGs.

And for movement how are they handling speedsters?
 

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Lord Shark

Explorer
So how does the game handle mixed power levels (ie the Avengers) what is the balance mechanism? Ie how do Rank 5 and Rank 25 play together?

They don't. An opponent who can challenge a Rank 25 character is completely untouchable by a Rank 5 character, and will turn the Rank 5 character into paste with a single attack.

As for noncombat challenges, the game uses difficulties that scale by Rank. I know some people hate this approach, but the problem is, higher Rank characters have bigger ability bonuses across the board. If you use static difficulties, then Thor is smarter than T'Challa and more agile than Spider-Man.

And for movement how are they handling speedsters?

There are no speedsters in the playtest book, so we'll have to wait and see. Although Captain Marvel has a flight speed of 175 spaces, which seems difficult to handle on a map...

The book doesn't include the sorts of powers that supers games frequently have trouble handling -- stuff like superspeed, reality control, precognition, power mimicry, and the like.
 

MarkB

Legend
They don't. An opponent who can challenge a Rank 25 character is completely untouchable by a Rank 5 character, and will turn the Rank 5 character into paste with a single attack.

As for noncombat challenges, the game uses difficulties that scale by Rank. I know some people hate this approach, but the problem is, higher Rank characters have bigger ability bonuses across the board. If you use static difficulties, then Thor is smarter than T'Challa and more agile than Spider-Man.
Sounds like they could do with some bounded accuracy in there.
There are no speedsters in the playtest book, so we'll have to wait and see. Although Captain Marvel has a flight speed of 175 spaces, which seems difficult to handle on a map...

The book doesn't include the sorts of powers that supers games frequently have trouble handling -- stuff like superspeed, reality control, precognition, power mimicry, and the like.
Mind control?
 

Anand

2nd Level DM
They don't. An opponent who can challenge a Rank 25 character is completely untouchable by a Rank 5 character, and will turn the Rank 5 character into paste with a single attack.
Oof. I guess MEGS 3rd (or Blood of Heroes) is still the best hero system out there to have Black Widow and Thor on the same party.
 

MarkB

Legend
Oof. I guess MEGS 3rd (or Blood of Heroes) is still the best hero system out there to have Black Widow and Thor on the same party.
I liked the way the Dresden Files system handled power levels. Basically, Fate points are how you exert narrative control in the game, and the more and stronger powers your character has, the smaller your pool of Fate points.
 

Eric V

Hero
Oof. I guess MEGS 3rd (or Blood of Heroes) is still the best hero system out there to have Black Widow and Thor on the same party.
I am having a lot of fun making Marvel heroes for the Sentinel Comics RPG, but it's definitely more narrative in style...

...and maybe that's the only way to have Natasha and Bruce on the same team.
 


MGibster

Legend
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel from Eden Studios were games explicitly designed for PCs of different power levels to belong to the same group. It worked fairly well, the Slayer level characters fought Slayer level opponents while the Scooby gang fought Scooby level threats and situations. Plus the Scooby characters got extra fate points or something.
 


Ghal Maraz

Explorer
The dice mechanic sounds more and more awful every time I read about it. Inserting narrative ideas in the rules can be really good, but it must applied wisely. And this one isn't even a narrative mechanic, it's just a geek nod that actually makes the system more cumbersome and less intuitive.
 

Drake2000

Explorer
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, the game I designed at Margaret Weis Productions, didn’t require a lot of narrative to handle both Thor and Black Widow on the same team. The game directly supported that and it worked really well based on the positive feedback we kept getting about it.

Cheers,
Cam
Can confirm.

MHR is sometimes (perhaps often) described as a narrative game, but it's really not. The narration is in the Why you're doing something, and slightly bleeds into the How in terms of which dice you're using to build your pool. But that pool is the meat of the How. I've found it to be more of a unique dice pool game than a narrative one.
 


aramis erak

Legend
Yet I'm a little concerned that it could be daunting to newcomers. For that matter, I'm also concerned that people not currently playing RPGs won't even try the playtest, thereby skewing results in favor of established players so its newbie friendliness isn't addressed at all. Once the actual game is out marketing such as actual play videos with celebrities could help draw in interest and demonstrate play, but by then the core rules will be set.

The Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is well-crafted for experienced players with a lot of potential to broaden the player base. At the same time, I hope the development team specifically seeks out newcomers for playtesting, too, to ensure that the MMRPG can live up to its fullest potential.
My players, who handle D&D, MHR, Sentinel Comics, FFG Star Wars, FFG L5E, 2d20 Dune and STA, several YZE games...
... they all saw the character sheet (page 116) and went, "Nope!"
I could make it palatable, but the initial reaction is generally, "Pregens only." And the unspoken, "if you can make it simple in play."

It's at a crunchiness above the current supers games of best rep: MHRP & Cortex Prime, Sentinel Comics, 4C System (FASERIP clone)...
And well below the old staples Champions, GURPS Heroes.

Also below my favorite little-known universals, EABA and CORPS (both by BTRC)

The others in the best repute I have no experience with: Mutants & Masterminds, Masks, a couple Lucha Libre focused games.

I can see why they'd try this design space, but it's not a great choice IMO. This genre×crunch space sat empty for decades... with reason.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, the game I designed at Margaret Weis Productions, didn’t require a lot of narrative to handle both Thor and Black Widow on the same team. The game directly supported that and it worked really well based on the positive feedback we kept getting about it.

Cheers,
Cam
Indeed it does. And Hulk and Squirrel Girl, as well. It's a little weak on the Galactus level... unless one has d14 and d16 lying about... ;)

Both MHRP and Sentinel Comics suffer from the limits on 'standard poly sets'... a wider design space with d14, d16, d18, and the standard set could do better for Cortex Plus/Prime and for Sentinel Comics... and Savage Worlds, and a dozen other dice-step games.
 

Staffan

Legend
Hey I would have loved to see a movie involving the beyonder !
I actually wonder if that's where we're heading in phase 5 or 6 or so.

There's a lot of multiverse shenanigans going on at the moment. Loki opened the door, and then we got What If showing a sampling of the various realities out there. And on the big screen, we've had Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Antman & The Wasp: Quantumania sounds like it could be dealing with that stuff too.

And in Doctor Strange, a big deal is made about Incursions, where two universes collide and annihilate. One of the universes Strange travels to is in the throes of one, and in another his local variant had caused one when seeking the means to deal with Thanos. In the main universe, Incursions were a central plot point leading up to the newer Secret Wars crossover. These were caused by the Beyonders seeking to destroy the multiverse because of reasons, and they were stopped by Doctor Doom, Doctor Strange, and the Molecule Man but in the process the multiverse was reduced to a single planet built from scraps from the other Earths in the multiverse.
 




le Redoutable

I mean you no harm
I mean, at one point Spider-Man handily kicked the butt of Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Storm, AND Wolverine. He was only stopped by Professor X putting the mind-whammy on him.
For those who care, this reminds me of the secret wars ( where Spidey got his black costume, and Galactus called for his " house " )
 

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