Thursday, April 12, 2012

Marvel & DC: RPGs

Battle of Champions
I've recently taken the time to  do a cursory reading of both the DC Adventures RPG from Green Ronin Publishing and the new Marvel Heroic RPG from Margaret Weis. Since the companies have always been the subject of debates comparing their take on characters and story, I thought it would be interesting to compare these two games. Keep in mind, this is not a review. I have yet to play either (I'll be playing Marvel this weekend, so expect an actual review next week) so this is based solely on my first impressions of the games.

Main Mechanic
Marvel: The Marvel uses the Cortex Plus system which Margaret Weis uses a variation of for all of their games, such as Leverage, Smallville and Supernatural. The basis of the system is a dice pool mechanic. On each character's datafile there are number of traits, distinctions and power sets with corresponding value that relate to sizes of dice, from d4 to d12. When performing an action or reaction, the players chooses one entry from each set of distinctions to form his dice pool. That pool is rolled, and two dice are chosen to make up a total with a third used as an effect. This is then compared to the opposing roll and the proper effect is carried out. There's a little more detail than that, but that's the basics of how the game is played. One of the great things about this book is that there are a lot of well-written examples of how the game is played in each section, which makes the rules very easy to pick up.

DC: DC uses the Mutants & Masterminds game as its base, which is a d20 system. I was able to grasp the basics of this game a little faster, because I'm already familiar with the basics of it from playing Dungeons & Dragons. This game also uses character sheets, but they list out more detailed descriptions of powers (from super strength to laser beams to teleportation) and skills (such as acrobatics, endurance and stealth) with positive or negative modifiers. When performing an action, the players rolls a d20 and adds the appropriate modifier. This result is then compared to a target number, weather is be the defensive value of the villain or an abstract number that represents the difficulty of the task being performed. If the total value equals or beats the target number, then the action is a success.

Marvel: The Marvel Basic Rules is a paperback book that retails at $20, which in my opinion is a fantastic deal. Everything you need to get started playing is in the one book. It starts with the Operations Manual (core rules), a two-part event (based on the Breakout story of New Avengers #1-6) and data files for 23 heroes (including stars such as Iron Man, Wolverine and Spider-Man). This is definitely one of the better values I've seen. A lot of games sell just the the player's book for $30, in addition to whatever the game master needs and a starting adventure.

DC: The DC Adventures book is a hardcover book retails for $30. This also a pretty good deal as it includes almost everything that a player needs to play. It does have all of the rules as a well as a wide variety  of characters to choose from; 28 full character sheets of super heroes and villains. It does not however, have any introductory adventure included. It doesn't seem that complicated to make your own, just think of a story, throw in appropriate super villains and supporting cast and go. There are some good chapters on the history of the DC universe and some key locations. If you're new to role-playing though, and need a little more support starting up a game, you'll need to find something elsewhere.

Character Creation
Marvel: The character creation is Marvel is one of the most abstact takes that I've seen. It doesn't really focus on character balance, but instead focuses more on just building a character that is representative of who you want to play. There is no point budget or even set statistics.

The first thing to be determined is decided the character's affiliations, or how well they work solo, in a buddy environment or on a team. These are given values of d6, d8 or d10. Then there are distinction, which are three guiding phrases for the character. They can be catch phrases or ideal that guide the character and either be a help or a burden. Then there's powersets and specialties. These make up all the cool things that heroes can do. These are given values between dd6 and d12. There's really no limit to how many powers your hero can have, beyond what your fellow players will put up with. The manual even states to just do what feels right and you can always tweak it later. The final thing is creating milestone. These are the key way that characters earn xp. They are story points that the character will eventually have to deal with one way or another. For example, one of Captain America's milestones is that he puts the Avengers back together.

DC: DC takes a more traditional stance on character creation. The first thing you do is set a power level for your hero, whether it be more a more street level hero like Batman or a demi-god like Superman. This  choice will give you a certain number of points to spend. These points are used to add and upgrade powers, skills and other special features. This ensures a more balanced party and help the game master know how tough to make the adventure.

Additional Content
Marvel: The Marvel game is brand new and as of now, there is only the basic book available. There are already three supplements planned to come out later this year based on the Civil War, Annihilation and Age of Apocalypse story lines. These books are described as including full event adventures and more hero datafiles. I am looking forward to these, but I will say that Margaret Weis hasn't had the best track record of releasing books on time (if at all).

DC: Green Ronin currently has two supplements for the DC Adventures game, both of which are full of additional character sheets for heroes and villains. Additional content in the book is information on teams, side characters, animals and more guidance on creating your own characters based on existing creations. Again, there are no adventures available.

Final Thoughts
Marvel: I've been reading through a lot of RPG rules lately, just to see what else is out there, and Marvel just struck me as being very different. I was very intrigued by its focus on story and keeping the game moving as opposed to getting bogged down with loads of rules and exceptions. The couple paragraphs I wrote above cover just about 75% of everything you need to know, and the other 25% can easily be explained as you get to it at the table. Even the character creation is very abstracted and focus driven. I like the idea of just making what feels right. It may take a little more time to fully grasp but it really forces you to know who the character your playing is.

DC: On the opposite end is DC. Not that there's anything wrong with the system. It looks like it would be fun and I would enjoy playing it, it just didn't excite me. It may just be that I've mainly played D&D, but moving to another d20 game isn't that appealing.

I think its fantastic that the two games are so different. If you're a comic book fan and want to try out an RPG, one of these will be up your alley. If you just to tell stories, don't want to get lost in pages of rules and are ok with abstraction, then Marvel is where you should go. If you need more structure and want to ensure character balance then check out DC. Either way, I'm sure you'll have a good time. Even if you're more intrigued by the Marvel game but really want to play Green Lantern, or want to play a d20 game with Hawkeye, there's no reason that you can't create the appropriate character sheet and get your game going. That's the great thing about role-playing games. You can play who want to wherever you want.


  1. Thanks for the compare and contrast review!

  2. Much appreciated! I also love that the hobby is broad enough that games are available for all play styles and interests. Game on!

  3. I love this kind of review. :) Fun for all, all for fun. Thanks!

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  5. Of course, any adventure for Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition (and there are some excellent ones in their Emerald City Knights adventure series) can easily be a DC Adventures scenario with only slight tweaks. Somewhere in the two Heroes and Villains books you can undoubtably find a good substitute bad guy...or just use the ones already in there :)