Monthly Archives: June 2012

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying House Rules

I’ve been running an MHR game over on RPGnet for about a month now and, while I really like the system, it’s quite wonkily unbalanced in places.

That said, here is my list of house rules for MHR – this is at least partially for my own reference and partially for anyone else who’s looking into running the game.

Activate All Opportunities

This is a PbP concession rather than a problem with the game design – to keep things moving quickly, when a player rolls the dice they can automatically assume all opportunities are activated by the Watcher. The Watcher then gets to pile the Doom Pool high. So far I’ve been sticking strictly to the rules for adding dice to the Doom Pool – each PP lets you add a d6 or step up the lowest existing die in the pool – but I don’t think the game will be harmed if you take 3 opportunities and jump straight to a d10 every so often. If you do that constantly then the doom pool will be much smaller than the players’ PP stores but will have higher-value dice in it; which might be good or bad depending on the situation and the SFX of players and bad guys alike.


The problem with counterattacks is that the defender has all the knowledge they need to make sure the counter hits, and the attacker has no recourse to prevent it. It makes counters far and away the best way to inflict stress, and lots of it thanks to stepping up on exceptional successes. I’ve seen two approaches to fixing this: either require that a reaction be an exceptional success before allowing for a counterattack (and that exceptional success not counting towards stepping up the effect) or spend the PP for a counter before rolling the dice, adding an element of risk. Or you could flat ban counterattacks, but I like having them around. My PbP is using the bolded solution, even though tracking precisely when people spend PP/doom in PbP is impossible – I’m happy to let it ride on the honour system.


When I first read the Area SFX in the MHR rulebook I thought “this seems a bit much”. And, under certain circumstances, it is. Start with the assumption that one PP and one Doom die are of equivalent effectiveness. When someone spends 2 PP on a roll it requires 2 Doom to counteract that – but when they spend 2 PP on an Area attack against four enemies it takes 8 Doom to counteract it. (At least – since it costs a Doom die to roll an extra die and it costs another Doom die to keep that die for something.) To keep the PP/Doom economy on track I’ve just instituted the house rule that when a Doom die is spent on a reaction to an Area attack, it applies to all the reactions to that attack. So if I roll an extra die, I roll that die for all reactions. If I purchase an extra die for my total, all the totals get an extra die. I’m not sure how well it’ll work… but we’ll see.

Use Doom Dice to Shift Stress

A bit of symmetry here: PCs can spend PP to shift incoming stress from one track to another, but it’s unclear whether NPCs can or not. I’m specifically allowing them to do so, since when characters are throwing around d10 and d12 level powers you need a way to make the NPCs a little more survivable. This costs a Doom die at least as large as the stress being ‘deflected’.

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Rick Grimes: Player Character

Contains minor spoilers for The Walking Dead. You have been warned.

Recently I’ve been watching The Walking Dead with my girlfriend – who isn’t a roleplayer, although she listens with some enthusiasm to the wackier stories that I tell – and I have come to the conclusion that Rick Grimes, the series’ main protagonist, is a player character:

  • He benefits from statistically improbable events to ‘get the plot started’.
  • He’s really good in a fight. Guns, knives, fists, whatever.
  • His arrival in a situation turns everything straight to shit, while leaving him untouched.
  • Five minutes after his arrival, previously independent people defer to his leadership. Within a week “he holds this group together” in direct contradiction of the chaos he brings in his wake.
  • NPCs let him and his group hang around despite the fact that he causes nothing but trouble, eats their limited supplies, and contravenes every value they hold dear.
  • He’s heroic right up to the point where it becomes a problem for him, whereupon he switches to pragmatism of the most brutal kind.
  • Surrounded by implacable enemies, he sets fire to the building he’s in.

Does this remind you of anyone? I mean, he also loots the corpses of his enemies and steals everything in sight, but that’s just natural in a zombie apocalypse.

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Busy Busy

As usual, when I haven’t posted in a while I’ve got a lot of roleplaying-related stuff to talk about which I will now reduce to bullet-points because I still don’t really have time to go into detail.

  • I got absolutely battered as Austria (see previous post). Out of the game by the end of ’02. I made a lot of mistakes, but the definitive one was trusting Italy – which kind of annoys me, because it feels a lot like luck. I could have trusted Italy or Turkey and I chose wrong, but I’m not sure how the hell I was supposed to know that in advance.
  • I did manage to win a different game as France, but that was more because the guy playing the English was a steaming idiot and I rolled him up without even trying. It felt a little like cheating, to be honest. =/
  • Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has superseded Mutants and Masterminds as my superhero RPG of choice. It’s flawed, make no mistake, and the core book is a tangled mess of bad terminology and confusing cross-references, but it’s fast-moving and handles superheroics well. It’s also spectacularly easy to overcome most of its flaws because of the semi-freeform nature of character generation.
  • I’ve gained a new appreciation for D&D 4e, having read The Slaying Stone – which is the ‘level 1 module’ that should have been released with the game, rather than the fairly shitty Keep on the Shadowfell – and found the perfect genre for it: Xcrawl. Loosely speaking, Xcrawl is what would happen if D&D was repurposed into a spectator bloodsport in approximately modern times. Part Running Man, part X Factor. It was originally written for 3.5, but 4e is just a brilliant fit for it. It’s also suitable for a drop-in game, which has its advantages in this complex modern world of adulthood and shifting commitments.
  • Tomorrow is the very last session of Corporation, the LARP I’ve been joint running for the last eight weeks. It’s been fun at times, but by God I’m glad it’s almost over. I want my free time back.
  • I intend to fill at least a little of my newly vacant free time by staging another run of Fatescape. This time I plan to convert The Shackled City, which upon my recent re-reading is chock full of interesting NPCs for the characters to interact with. It’s got a lot of fighting in, but not quite so much as Rise of the Runelords (which was my original plan for a test run) and it wins out in terms of ‘other things to do’.
  • I recently bought and played through Diablo 3, meaning I spent the Jubilee weekend doing something that rhymes with Jubilee, at least. My girlfriend – who is not a gamer beyond the occasional venture into PopCap games – saw me playing, asked some questions, and has now logged more hours on it than I have. Just as planned… =3
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