Thursday, March 27, 2014

Campaign Frames for Marvel Super Heroes RPG

Although I spend most of my time here talking about Dungeons & Dragons and the Savage World of Krül, the game I got my start with was the Marvel Super-Heroes Role-Playing Game (otherwise known as MSHRPG), and my love for that game has never diminished. However, anyone who has played that game knows that the game definitely lacks a specific structure on how to run it without resorting to scene-based play.

The closest we get to this is in the supplement New York, New York which features a wide variety of short encounters and associated tables, but these lack the substance of larger criminal conspiracies. For that, we need to turn to supplements from the later, "boxed set" reboot of the line from the '90s, and specifically the supplements Webs and Avengers Archives. These present a different format for adventures: a timeline where scheduled events happen at different days and times. 

Now, Webs and Avengers Archives hint that players may miss some of these encounters and that they might be followed up on later. However, there is no clear method for determining whether the players will participate in any given encounter. In both of these cases we see tentative steps towards an overarching structure with no ultimate commitment by TSR towards either.


To solve this problem, I would suggest a basic framework that marries the two together, letting players alternate between patrolling and investigation. Before play begins the Judge divides the home city into different districts that function as 'police beats' for PCs to patrol. Each week the players fill out a worksheet that divides their time into 8-hour turns (or 'shifts') that they can use for one of five basic actions:

1. Work: Characters that have day jobs fill in their hours, noting what district their workplace is.

2. Rest: The character stays at home and catches up on their Zs (a character that misses more than 24 hrs of rest suffers from a -1 CS to all rolls, increasing by an additional -1 CS per additional shift without rest). Again, the players notes which district their home is in.

3. Patrol: The character wanders through one of the city's districts, looking for trouble.

4. Investigate: The character follows up on leads gathered from the news, patrolling, or their contacts.

5. Socialize: This includes the preexisting rules for appearances at charities and other photo-ops (noting the district that the event takes place), as well as spending time with their Contacts (see the contacts section below).

I never did figure out what this one was about.


Meanwhile, the Judge has filled out a schedule with two different types of events: Conspiracies and Global Events. Conspiracies are ongoing, multi-part schemes by criminal masterminds which can be as small as 'Shocker's Big Score' to as complex as the 'X-Cutioner's Saga'. The key point is that these are plots which require multiple steps to be completed and can therefore be interrupted before they come to fruition. Global events, on the other hand, are either consequences from the culmination of a Conspiracy (such as 'Inferno', where Hell comes to New York) or (rarely) a singular event that affects everyone in the city.

As the PCs go about their business, they have a chance of running into various crimes based on their activity and location:

Conspiracy: 20% chance of a Conspiracy encounter while at work (when one occurs in the same district; otherwise, no encounter).
Global: 100% chance of a Global encounter while at work.
Random: 10% chance of a random encounter (if no other encounters).

Conspiracy: 10% chance of a Conspiracy encounter.
Global: 100% chance of a Global encounter.
Random: 10% chance of a random encounter (if no other encounters).

Conspiracy: 100% chance of a Conspiracy encounter (when one occurs in the same district; otherwise, no encounter).
Global: 100% chance of a Global encounter.
Random: 50% chance of a random encounter (if no other encounters).

Conspiracy: 30% chance of a Conspiracy encounter during an investigation, unless it is related to the Conspiracy being investigated; if so, 100% chance.
Global: 100% chance of a Global encounter while investigating.
Random: 20% chance of a random encounter (if no other encounters).

Conspiracy: 30% chance of a Conspiracy encounter while socializing.
Global: 100% chance of a Global encounter while socializing.
Random: 30% chance of a random encounter (if no other encounters).

There will be, of course, be special circumstances, such as if a character's job is as a beat cop or if the conspiracy encounter is scheduled to take place where a PC is socializing; Judge's discretion should apply. 

Random Encounters

If a random encounter occurs, roll to determine the specific encounter. The chart from New York, New York should be helpful here, which divides encounters into different types based on the nature of the crime:

01-30: Daily Life: Small interactions that usually will not involve any fighting (i.e. cat in tree, traffic snarl, etc.)
31-50: Miscellaneous Crimes: Petty crime, street crime, and youth gangs. These crimes are small stuff in the nature of the universe, but important to the people involved.
51-70: Burglaries: Theft of property in which threatening lives is not a prime factor. Break-ins, thefts, and arson all fall into this general category.
71-90: Robberies: Thefts from people, in which lives may be threatened. Muggings and hostage situations for profit are included in this category.
91-110: Rampage: Widespread destruction without the motivation of profit. Rampages are often (but not always) the province of powerful villains.
111-130: Vendetta: A grudge match, the superpowered slugfest at its most basic. 
131+: Organized Crime: Can involve any of the lower crimes, with a twist; someone higher up is doing the planning.

Roll d100 and add the following modifiers:
+10 if the character has an ability of Incredible rank.
+20 if the character has an ability of Amazing rank or greater.
+10 if the character has 200+ Karma on hand.
-10 if the character has less than 20 Karma on hand.
+10 if the character lost Karma in their last encounter.
-10 if the character gained Karma in their last encounter.
+10 if more than one Hero is involved.
+20 if more than three Heroes are involved.

The Judge should build sub-charts that fit into each of these categories and roll on the appropriate one when a random encounter occurs, repopulating the tables as they are used up.


Players may decide to pursue a crime beyond simple patrols. There are three common circumstances in which this can come up:

1. News: Each week the Judge will post the news from the following week, including major crimes. If a phase of a conspiracy happens in public, this will likely be reported. Curious players may decide to see if there are any clues to be found.

2. Encounters: Villains escape, loose threads are left dangling - whatever the circumstance, players will want to make sure everything is resolved following an encounter.

3. Contacts: When a Conspiracy encounter happens involving the interests of a player's contact, there is a 25% chance that they will get wind of it, and a 50% / 50% chance they will hear of it either before or after the actual encounter occurs. These provide opportunities for players to 'get the jump' on brewing situations before they occur or to catch on to problems they may have missed.


It is suggested that a number of potential contacts are developed by the Judge before the game begins, with only a handful falling into each broad category. When players roll for contacts, they are assigned these pre-existing supporting characters as friends that they can call upon. Unlike in the regular game, however, the Contacts expect some reciprocity: the players' time. Each time a contact is called upon for a favor, they expect the PC to socialize with them in the near future. Until a shift is spent socializing with the contact in question, all future favors are at a -1 CS to the Popularity roll, with an additional -1 CS each time a favor is asked (whether granted or not). These penalties disappear once the PC and the contact socialize again (unless they are interrupted). These 'social encounters' don't have to be played out to any great extent.

If the PC asks the Contact for a major favor (Judge's discretion), it may take more to get back in their 'good graces'. The Judge secretly rolls percentile dice, with a 25% chance that the Contact will have a problem of their own that they need help with (Judges should prepare a table with such problems). If the PC ignores their request, the Contact will be lost to the player unless they make extraordinary reparations (Judge's discretion).

Okay, that's enough for today. In future posts I'll discuss some additional rules tweaks to fit this frame as well as additional frames for higher-level play.

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