Marvel RPG Week Day One: Innovation

If you had to come up with a list of “Top 100 years of all time”, 1984 wouldn’t exactly make the top 20. Granted, it had some things going for it; the first Apple Mac was released, Torvill & Dean score 12 perfect 6.0s in the Winter Olympics and – most important of all – the original Marvel RPG was released.

This first edition of the rules was targeted firmly at the comic loving Fighting Fantasy reading school kids – perfect fodder for introducing to the role-playing hobby. The expectation was that the game would revolve around players using existing Marvel characters; after all, who could resist being able to actually play as Spiderman, Iron Man or The Punisher – I know I couldn’t. Simple character generation rules were slotted at the back of the Campaign Book as a good, but strictly optional, extra. The game was also very well supported with regular boxed supplements (remember those?) released covering everything from the Avengers to Spiderman and Marvel’s street-level heroes.

Fast forward a few years, and TSR followed this up with the Advanced Set, and that’s the one I’m going to focus on this week. Perhaps bolstered by the surprise success of the Basic Set, this Edition was put together with a flair and attention to detail that put it leagues ahead of anything else out at the time.

For a system to succeed, it needs to either be fun, or have great rules. Most systems from the 1980s fell into the first category with systems such as the Palladium RPG and AD&D itself having very ropey rules systems but being an absolute blast to play. The Marvel RPG had it all – a superbly simple and consistent engine that’s pure, unadulterated FUN to play. It was one of the first systems I saw which had a single Universal mechanic; for a player used to different rules for save effects, combat, skill use, etc this was a total revelation. That, plus the use of Real Words as a measure of comparative Rank (something only really popularised in FUDGE/FATE) meant that this was a game that could be learned and understood in minutes, but hold up to a lifetime of play.

In the Marvel RPG, everything is given a Rank, ranging from Feeble to Unearthly and beyond with Typical being… well, typical, or the human norm. Your completely average Joe Public would have Typical Rank in Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition and Psyche. I can hear old-timers weeping now at the memory of the FASERIP acronym right now. There, there.

A Rank of Typical roughly equates to a D&D stat of 10-11. Ranks also have a number ranking from 1-2 (the Feeble range) to 5000 for Class 5000 Rank. They ran out of comparatives after Unearthly, it seems. This meant that two characters with Remarkable Rank Fighting could be differentiated by their rank number – one might be Remarkable(26), and the other Remarkable(35). There’s little difference in-game, but it’s this degree of fine-tuning that marks the game throughout.

Over the next few days we’re going to be looking at everything from Random Character Generation to the super-powers, combat and the utterly wonderful Gamer’s Handbooks of the Marvel Universe.

If you want to try the Marvel RPG yourself head over to Classic Marvel where the entire system and supplements can be downloaded for free. Go to Other Stuff->Downloads->Advanced Game and Modules for the Marvel RPG Advanced Set. Spend some time surfing the site – it’s a terrific resource full of more role-playing goodness than you can possibly imagine.

Special Day One Bonus: To geek you out even further, check out this awesome end-to-end infinite display of all the covers of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

Make Mine Marvel!

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12 Responses

  1. I recall playing the original game while in Sixth grade (i.e. 1985) as a games Day activity. IIRC we only did a fight between heroes and Wolverin kept getting back up and returning to the fight time and time again.

    Thanks for the memories man. That post was featured on RPG bloggers! :)

    The Chatty DMs last blog post..Bedtime Adventure: Enter Cartain!

  2. Bonemaster says:

    I somewhat remember both sets. I think I still have mine somewhere. I actually don’t think I’ve ever played a proper session of it though. I know I’ve used the character creation rules a few times for fun, but I don’t think I’ve actually played a session. Wierd how that works.

    Bonemasters last blog post..Utility Spells Part 2 (Library Spells)

  3. Greywulf says:

    @CDM I’m only just warming up – it’s going to be a great week of posts :D

    @Bonemaster I saw, but never played, the original set. The Advanced Books kept our group campaigning for many years though. Great stuff!

  4. Scott says:

    I still have my advanced set on my game shelf, along with a couple of the supplements. I absolutely loved this game in the late 80s, though I never did play in or run an ongoing campaign — just a couple of one-shots.

    This was the game that got me into HERO, too. I’m not sure whether I should be grateful. ^_-

  5. Lord, how I love me some MSH. Way back here, I mentioned that I bought the game as a TSR junkie, then got into the comics because of the game.

    For all the money Marvel is making on their movies these days, the word is that hardly anybody is picking up the comics because of them.

    Something to think about…

  6. Greywulf says:

    @Darth Hail and well met! If it wasn’t for the Marvel RPG I wouldn’t be quite the fan I am now, that’s for sure.

    Now, I reckon both Marvel and DC (to a lesser extent) are making more money from the franchises than they’ve ever made from direct comic sales. It’s as if they’re using the comics to test the water for future movie plots.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Batman RIP on the bigscreen after the latest round of supers movies is done.

  7. Chgowiz says:

    Seems like Classic Marvel is down today.

    Chgowizs last blog post..Gaming original editions all weekend long…

  8. Greywulf says:

    Yep looks like it’s down and out for the duration :(

  9. Check out, for those looking to download the game books. Their forums are also good to go. Several of the Marvel fan websites seemed to have died within the last few months. Sad…
    .-= Samuel Van Der Wall´s last blog ..Marvel Superheroes RPG – The Return =-.

  1. December 3, 2008

    […] really enjoying Greywulf’s Marvel Super Heroes series of posts, and it made me nostalgic for the old game. I had already gone over to the Classic Marvel page and […]

  2. December 7, 2008

    […] day of Marvel RPG week here at Greywulf Towers. We’ve looked at what made this system so innovative, and it’s awesome random (or not so random, should you so choose) character generation, at […]

  3. February 23, 2009

    […] Marvel Day 1 – Innovation Marvel Day 2 – Generation Marvel Day 3 – Revelation Marvel Day 4 – Resolution Marvel Day 5 – Expansion Marvel Day 6 – Exploration Marvel Day 7 – Collation […]

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