Friday, March 30, 2012

Heroic Adventuring

I ran a game last night on relatively little prep. I was using Dave Chalker's Marvel Heroic RPG-D&D 4e hack, and I threw together some notes to create the adventure as quickly as I could and threw them up on google plus, just because they're a nice showcase of how I think (NARCISSIST). However, fate conspired - the children would not go to sleep, and we went to bed much later than planned, which meant I needed to abbreviate things. At which point I then discovered that while we were waiting, one of my players had read the notes anyway. So much for that.

So, I used two guys with swords. Strapped to the altar of something best unnamed, brought there by the gods' demand, wheedling and pushes, and the assassins have found them. As ever, it worked like a charm, and I'm being asked to run more of it tonight, so that' nice.

It was also very informative to me as I ran the hack, both for Cortex+ hacks in general and the 4e hack in specific. For reference, we had a human ranger, human rogue and half-orc cleric. A lot of the system went really well, but there were definitely some bumps. Breaking it down:

  • First off, in general, the heart of the MHRPG system is basically bucket based. You get a set of buckets (affiliation, powers etc) and you get to build your pool by taking a die from each bucket (assuming it applies). On some level, creating a hack is as simple as coming up with your own set of 3-5 buckets and filling them in. Buckets may have their own rules (the distinction bucket works differently than the powers bucket), so when you add a pool, it's also the place to hang more or fewer rules.

  • Physically, I represented each bucket with an index card, so players picked a card for race, a card for class, and so on. This worked well for chargen, but also had a neat effect in play - the players started using them to physically build their pools, putting the die on the card as they used it. If there was no die on a card, it was a cue to check that card for a contribution to the pool. Once there was a die on every card, they could pick them up and roll them. Ended up working with assets too, since they just grabbed them physically and put the die on them.

  • The cards worked so well, that I may design a game based solely on that hook sometime.

  • I added an extra bucket for Gear. It had weapons, armor and focus items. The base die value for weapons and armor was based off the weapon and durability ratings of the character. Thus, the rogue (weapons d8, no durability) had Daggers d8 and Leather Armor d6. The Cleric (Weapons d8, Durability d8, divinity d8) had Spear d8, Chainmail d8 and Holy Symbol d8. I was prepared to make things magical by effectively adding powers or extra dice (fiery d6, etc) to them but I ended up skimming over that in play. Curiously, I'd really put this in to help the fighter classes have an area to stand out (fighter gets a step up in weapon or armor, and Paladin's get an armor bump) but ended up with fewer of them on the table.

  • I did not bring enough d8s. I need to buy a TON more.

  • Part of the reason I needed so many is that the pools really gravitated that way. The game was colorful and novel enough that I don't think it really got in the way, but there was a lot of sameness to the final dice pools.

  • I changed up the area attack rules to curtail them a little bit. Basically, to make an area attack (assuming you can - powers, PP and stuff play in), you remove a die from your attack pool, and ad a number of targets based on the step-size of the die (so d6 gets you +2, d8 +3 and so on). Any hit that you don't have a damage die for is a d6. Classes with area attack abilities got a bonus die that they could spend without reducing their pool (so, the ranger could add a d4 to his pool for multi attack purposes, meaning he could attack 2 targets all the time). It worked ok, but the interaction with d4 is a little weird, so I'd probably change it so it starts at d6 (d6 for +1, d8 for +2 and so on) and not allow d4s to be spent in this fashion.

  • I also ended up taking a more conservative approach to Plot Points that made them much more tightly tied to opportunities. This was a genre shift, and while I'm not sure I'm 100% happy with it, it had some very nice properties in play that I think I need to explore a bit further. Distinctions still paid out as normal, but the trick was in the rolls. Basically, Opportunities were the central point of everything - an opportunity was a chance to spend a PP *or* to earn one. If you did not use an opportunity (that is, spend a PP or use an ability) then it earned you a PP. Net result was fewer PPs, but when PP's were spent, they were more concretely tied to the action. One mixed result is that the results of the dice ended up standing a lot more often than the do in Marvel - not sure that's good or bad, just different.

  • One thing I'd tweak with this is probably end up going a little bit closer to Leverage and it's use of d4s for a variety of effects. More opportunities is probably desirable, and may be a better way to address the fact that limits end up working a lot less well outside of the super-hero context.

  • But that said, making opportunities a little more front and center provided a really nice area to hook in mechanics. The Rogue, for example, got tweaked, so it could use an opportunity for a damage step up (no PP Cost). Didn't come up all the time, but the one time an assassin handed the rogue two opportunities and turned that d8 hit into a d12 hit went very badly indeed.

  • Initiative system is still solid gold.

  • Doom Pool ends up being an interesting balancing mechanism. If you find you've slightly over-powered the opposition (as I did) you can offset it by not spending from the pool. Handy.

  • [EDIT] Just remembered. We had two fights - I did nto make much use of scene elements int he first one, but did in the second, and the players (not experienced Cortex players) absolutely gravitated towards them with no real urging on my part. One more argument to maybe dip a little more into the Leverage bag.

Still some room for fiddling, but I feel like I've got a lot of good data to work with here. There will be more heroic swordplay in the future.


  1. I started writing a comment to respond to this and the previous post but it got so long I made it a blog post.

  2. How would shrinking the average dice size impact the game? In my mind, first level D&D characters probably peak their power sets with d8, with SFX and opportunities to push higher. Would that break anything? Or make the pool to uniform?


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