Of Dice and (Super) Men
Being both a Dungeons and Dragons nerd and a comic book guy, I never really understood the lack of crossover between the two genres. Both have many commonalities: Fantastic set pieces, incredible stories, and amazing people are abound in both genres. The problem has always been, as many experienced gamers will tell you, there never really has been a RPG game that has become the standard-bearer for the superhero genre. For me I don’t think there ever has been a gaming system that brought the richness and diversity of a comic book universe to life the way the original Marvel Superheroes game was able to. The basic system was introduced by the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, TSR, in 1984. After a successful run, the expanded edition was sent to print in 1986 and the system would start a long publication run. Additional supplements were published until 1999, closing with the release of “Reed Richards’ Guide to Everything“.
The Marvel Superheroes RPG game really was a complete system for its days. Using the basic 4 core books you could create an adventure or hero in almost any of the many realms of the Marvel Universe. But that wasn’t the true beauty of the game. It was the supplements. The system was ripe with new material and sourcebooks that could fill any void you wanted to flesh out. Since the system was released in the mid-1980s, many of the campaign books were directly ripped from the comics of the era. Want to be The Incredible Hulk and be whisked away to fight in Battleworld by the Beyond? Off to fight in the “Secret War” we go. Want to hammer up as Beta Ray Bill and fight alongside Thor and other Asgardians in the final battle? Pull out the module “Ragnarok and Roll”. How about a time traveling Mutant attempting to save the future by recovering the past? “Nightmares of Future Past” is just waiting. There are also a plethora of sourcebooks covering magic, teams source books, expanded villains and villainous organizations. There are even a few sourcebooks that Marvelized cities such as “MA6 – New York, New York” to create help create an authentic Marvel cityscape.
If you have never played a pen-and-paper RPG game before, the rules can seem daunting, but this process proves simple for even the novice gamer. The game systems attached to Marvel Superheroes is often referred to as the “FASERIP” system. Each letter of the FASERIP acronym represents a different character attribute, Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, & Psyche. Additionally each character has a Health, Karma, Resources, and Popularity rating along with each’s own unique set of Powers, Talents, and Backgrounds. What made the FASERIP system unique was how it applied it rankings to these attributes. Unlike other game systems of the time who just used a numeric scale, FASERIP uses a scale system that applied descriptors like Feeble, Good, Excellent or Remarkable to describe and separate power levels. All the game play was quick and efficient using simple 2d10(10 sided) dice rolls and the FASERIP chart to allow the game master to keep the story rolling while providing proper scale to heroes and villains with various power levels. This combination of easy to navigate characters and game mechanics made the system very playable for new and experienced players alike.
The legacy of Marvel Superheroes RPG has been long reaching but never quite as successful. Shortly after the line was ended in 1999, TSR released a new game called Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game before the rights reverted to Marvel but it got a poor reception. This was followed in 2003 by the Marvel Universe Role Playing Game published by Marvel Comics itself and then again in 2011 with Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game published by Margaret Weis Productions. None of these efforts ever regained the level of fan support obtained by the original game. There are some other superhero systems that do have a level of fan support. My other personal favorite is Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds. A great system that also is extremely rich with material, but for me nothing has ever regained the same magic felt back in the 1980s for the original Marvel game.
One of the best parts of the game I have been holding back till the end. Although long out of print, the license for the game actually has lapsed and the material has fallen into the public arena. This means you can get most of the material for free. If you go to the website Classic Marvel Heroes, http://www.classicmarvelforever.com/cms/, you can find many of the sourcebooks as well as a massive library of support material for you to create and run your own Marvel Superhero’s campaign. And not just Marvel characters btw, but the folks at Classic Marvel Forever even have a nice rundown of your favorite DC Characters in case you want to give them a whirl (DC RPGs are a topic for another time) using the FASERIP game system. These guys deserve a massive Marvel “No-Prize”!! If you are a long time gamer, you remember the system and how it hit on all cylinders. If you are a fellow comic fan, give it a check..trust me its worth it. The right friends and right gamemaster can create a unique and unforgettable experience in the Marvel universe. Heck, play enough and your favorite version of ‘Earth’ could be your own!