Marvel Plot Points

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

Dynamic Initiative

The turn order system implemented by the Marvel Heroic RPG is a whole new kind of beast.

Where once the DM (or GM in some systems) would call out, “Roll for initiative,” the Watcher announces who will be acting first. Where once you knew you could duck out to make a phone call mid-combat because “It’s not my turn for a while,” you now have to stay on your toes, because it could be your turn at any moment.

There have been some complaints swirling around the Internet about the way turns work in MHR, usually complaining that heroes will always take all their turns first, followed by the villains.

Let’s talk about this.

Fred Hicks wrote an article recently explaining about how he accidentally created the initiative system for the MHR. I won’t recap what he says there, but instead emphasize what I think about it.

The turn order is like a delicate game of chess, one which requires heroes to work together to decide how best to proceed. In the same vein, it’s the Watcher’s job to actively throw off the heroes plans by spending doom dice to interrupt the turn order.

If the players all choose to go at once, they’ll give the Watcher two full turns of brutal attacks upon their heroes before their heroes get to go a second time. At the same time, handing the turn order over to the Watcher too early allows him to smash up the heroes to weaken them before they get to make their attacks.

The system works best if there is roughly an equal number of villains as heroes, due to the relative equality of power in the datafiles of the heroes and villains. Let’s look at some examples.

You have three heroes and three villains. It’s in the best interest of the heroes to hand over turn order to one of the villains after one of their heroes has acted. This allows the Watcher to use his villains as he wants, but he can’t risk running through all three villains, as now the heroes will get to have two heroes act before the end of the turn, followed by all three heroes acting. That’s likely to cause some serious damage to the Watcher’ s characters.

Instead, it behooves the Watcher to hand turn order back to the players after one or two of his villains have reacted. In this way, the turn order flows evenly back and forth.

In a second scenario, three heroes face off against one villain. The heroes can easily let the villain act early in the turn, as now all three can get multiple attacks against him before he can act. This isn’t in the Watcher’s favor. You should always have at least two villains against multiple heroes; even if this is a villain and a mob.

Now, what about one-on-one combat? This is interesting, because in the end, most likely, you’ll have the hero attack, then the villain. Then the villain selects himself at the top of the turn order, then hands the turn over to the hero, who selects themselves during the start of the next turn. It goes back and forth, with both Player and Watcher getting two attacks in a row. That can be kind of boring.

As Watcher, you should be spending those doom dice to interrupt the other player’s turn order to mix up the back-and-forth nature of one-on-one combat.

How have you seen combat play out in the game? Let us know of any unusual circumstances you’ve faced.

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About Mark

Mark is a military veteran, game designer, a believer in the oxford comma, and an all-around nerd.

5 comments on “Dynamic Initiative

  1. David
    April 18, 2012

    I have run a couple of solo one-on-one combats, trying to get familiar with the rules. Even one-on-one combat is an initiative challenge since the defender can inflict stress! Plus being the defender means you get to see the other guys total first, allowing you to know how much effort (PP or Doom Die) you will need to use to win the roll and cause some damage/create complication or asset, etc.

    Just a thought…

    • Marcos Bolton
      April 18, 2012

      That is interesting if you consider that there are two options for the Watcher, either interrupt turn order or inflict a counterattack effect. But if he does both in the same turn it can be devastating. Considering the fact that the heroes don’t have a mechanic to interrupt the turn order themselves. Of course, if you don’t have an evil Watcher then it’s ok. It can get ugly if you’ve got a power-hungry player-killer Watcher running the game for you.

      • felipenerdcore
        April 19, 2012

        The best (or worst) is when players learn not to act all frist and let the Watcher have 2 full rounds for himself.

  2. JDCorley
    April 20, 2012

    Hey gang, what are some of the strategies you’ve seen for allied Watcher characters? Should the Watcher go from (say) the cops helping Spiderman against Doc Ock to Doc Ock (playing a role against the players no matter what character they are acting on behalf of) or should they pick another hero (picking “who the cops would pick” if they were played by a player?

    Or should allies actually be played by one of the players at the table? (Outre!)

  3. Thomas A Hardy
    May 13, 2013

    @JD Corley:

    I haven’t played much MHR but if I were running a game I’d let the Watcher control NPC allies of the heroes. Since the Players can’t interrupt turn order, this opens up a whole new world of dynamically changing encounters:

    Say a bunch of cops get caught in the crossfire between the Avengers and H.Y.D.R.A. A “merciful” Watcher might use these allies to interrupt a villian’s action (say the cops open up on Baron Strucker and distract him just long enough to let Yellowjacket get some distance from Strucker’s sword) only now the Heroes (being well, HEROES) are forced to scramble to defend the cops from a bunch of Hydra goons Strucker orders to “Destroy zem!”

    On the other hand, if the “allies” were Stark Security or Army or something else connected to a specific hero, then it stands to reason the player with that specific hero would probably be the one to give control of the allies to. (Of course they’d lose the “nick of time” aspect in the process). That way it provides an in-game reason for players ordering their potential “backup” (aka. “employees”) to safety. It also sets the hero up to be saved by an “insubordinate subordinate”.

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This entry was posted on April 18, 2012 by in Tips & Tricks.

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