Marvel Plot Points

A fan site for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game by Margaret Weis Productions

The Doom Pool Economics – How The Marvel RPG Balances Itself According to Party Size

Every RPG, even ones able to support large or small groups, is designed for an “ideal” party size. For example: Dungeons and Dragons need at least one player covering each of the four major archetypes (thief, mage, fighter and cleric) and the Mouse Guard RPG works best with a patrol (party) having just three mice.

When I was getting ready to run my Marvel game with just two players, I went back to the Operations Manual and found no reference about the “ideal party size” or how to handle the game with very small or very large groups of players. The only indication I got was a footnote on the back cover of the book saying: “For two to eight players”. Considering that one of the players would be the Watcher, the MHR could support groups as large as 7 members, and also the lone-wolf kind of adventure.

Running the game for a party of two had me worried in the beginning. Would the players struggle on the simplest tasks? Would an encounter with the lowest of crooks mean an imminent TPK? Since it was the very first time we were playing, I decided to run the game “by the book” and take conclusions later.

Challenge-wise the game ran just fine for my Dynamic Duo of friends. Does that mean that a party of five or six would breeze through the adventure? Apparently not. Most of the game reports I saw and read were from larger groups playing on launch events at comics shops or FLGS, and those games reported the same level of challenges (and fun) as in my game.

The solution that Cam Banks and the game designers came up for MHR being playable and challenging despite the size of the party was simple and subtle, yet genius. It all comes down to what I end up calling the Doom Pool Economics.

The Doom Pool is the main resource that the Watcher has to draw upon and scale things up to keep the heat of the action going. But to make it grow, you depend on the players having some degree of failure (rolling 1’s) on their actions. As in real economics, the Doom Pool flow is highly affected by the laws of supply and demand. To “pay” for those doom dice, the Watcher must use a very valuable currency: Plot Points.

In game terms that means that the more players you have, the more doom dice the Watcher may add to his pool, and he will be more selective when trading PP’s for doom dice. And this alone is responsible for shifting things around and “auto-balancing” the game.

Let’s see two scenarios:

Very few players (1 or 2)

– The Doom Pool will probably stay very small, since there won’t be a lot of opportunities.

– The Watcher will more likely activate every opportunity to add dice for his doom pool, rendering the players with quite a few PP’s.

– To get some extra dice the Watcher will probably activate more often the villains’ power set limits and negative distinctions.

– Having some PP’s, the players won’t necessarily use the negative side of their distinctions or activate the power set limits.

– The chance of success against the Doom Pool will be fairly high.

Larger Groups (5 or more players)

– The Watcher will have more opportunities to grow his Doom Pool, and will be able to choose which opportunities to take.

– The Doom Pool will stay big and full of large dice (d10 and d12). It will not be uncommon when the Watcher decides to end a scene by spending 2d12.

– The Watcher won’t need to activate limits, and bad distinctions to improve the doom pool.

– Villains and actions against the doom pool will be more difficult.

– Players will need to use distinctions and limits the create their own PP’s.

– Players may try to using resources, assets and assists more often.

What we can see on those scenarios is that the power and control over the game switches slightly for either side, according to how many players are at the table. The changes are very subtle, but they function well, and help provide the correct level of challenge and fun.


10 comments on “The Doom Pool Economics – How The Marvel RPG Balances Itself According to Party Size

  1. Pingback: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Collected Miscellanies | Exploring Infinity

  2. Arcane Springboard
    April 4, 2012

    How do you figure that the Doom Pool would stay large _and_ with big dice? Seems to me that’s a bit mutually exclusive.

    Unless you’re banking on more frequent circumstances where there are multiple opportunities rolled.

  3. felipenerdcore
    April 4, 2012

    A Game being played with a larger group will generate a significant ammount of opportunities for the Watcher to take advantage. Compared with a game with a smaller group, his pool could be bigger (more dice) and larger (d10’s, d12’s).

    I understand that it will also depend on how the Watcher decides to spend his Doom Pool.

  4. Arcane Springboard
    April 4, 2012

    The problem is that you don’t get to step up any die in the doom pool, only the smallest one.

    So if you have lots of dice in the pool, you have lots of d8s. Not d10s and d12s.

  5. felipenerdcore
    April 4, 2012

    If a player rolls 3 1’s you can add a d10 or 3d6 (ammong other combinations).

    If you are running a small party game you probably would go 3d6, but if the party was larger you would almost certaly take the d10.

    On another situation the Watcher could, take the 3d6 and bump his pool for d8’s, If he gets more oportunities, he can add the d6’s, spend those, and later bump the pool from d8’s to d10’s. That can only be done if you have lot’s of oportunities, and a big party.

  6. matt
    April 5, 2012

    this game sounds really neat and possibly ideal for me but i get confused reading about the dice you use and how to use them. is there any kind of video of an actual game i can watch to get a better understanding of what the various terms mean in context?

  7. gebeji
    April 7, 2012

    There are also sometimes when those “projected economics” simply do not happen 😉

    In our 1st game try, we were 2 players alternating being Watcher for each other’s character in the Breakout scenario. I went solo with some escapee mob and Carnage, getting help from Spider Woman, while my friend took on Count Nefaria, Living Laser and Grey Gargoyle 😉

    My solo stint ended with Sentry finishing off Carnage, who had previously downed Spider Woman, after i unsuccessfully tried to bring him down (got him to d10 physical stress though, but not without pain – d8 stress too).

    On my friend side, he was having a hard time doing anything to Living Laser and Count Nefaria, while scoring some success with the Grey Gargoyle, but everything went south when they both succeeded in getting him embroiled in d10 complications (holo duplicates from Laser and almost-stoned from Gargoyle).

    That ended with my arrival for a good old marvel team-up, just after Nefaria decided to depart and let Laser and Gargoyle finish my friend off. We managed to deal with the already stressed Gargoyle with a complication of our own, but the Laser proved more difficult, and he ended up fleeing the scene after being emotionally assaulted near his breaking point (d12).

    The whole game saw the Doom Pool pretty well ladden with d8s and d10s, courtesy of a slew of 1s on our parts, which made it difficult to score decisive successes against the villains, while they had no such problems on their side.

    On the PP front, we never got more than 2-3 at a time, mostly using them to add dice to our pools, which didn’t help much when they rolled low, which was sadly, most of the time ;(

    It was nonetheless a very interesting tryout, because we would never have been able to withstand such enemies in another rpg.

    We are both eager to give it another go 😉

  8. Pingback: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Collected Miscellanies

  9. Pingback: Shout-Out – Marvel Heroic Roleplaying | FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD GAMER

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This entry was posted on April 4, 2012 by in Tips & Tricks.

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