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