Marvel Plot Points

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

Damage Control: New Powers and SFX (Part 1)

I want to start this series off  with a discussion about Power Sets. Some of the things I have found outline powers and abilities that are missing from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying from an apparent first swipe. If you notice that a power appears to be missing, and you convince yourself that the power was simply forgotten in the game’s design, you might not come to realize it’s been sitting there all along, albeit in a for that is unfamiliar. The powers I have found as house rules fit this model.

As we delve deeper, there are  a number of SFX that have also turned up. In these cases, it is a definite issue of not being able to fully comprehend the depth of the SFX present in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game. In these cases, and I want to be absolutely clear, it’s not a case of mental deficiency. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s a matter of people being hyper-analytical to the point where they are trying to fit apparently similar concepts into similar categories. The problem is that the concepts involved are not always all that similar. The result is an overly complicated way to express an idea that can be handled quite simply by following what has already been established.

In this post, I will use Heroes that already exist as examples where these ideas already exist and just need to be viewed through the proper lens. All Power Traits and SFX used in this post come from the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Wiki. I will provide links in the descriptions.

Power Traits

Intelligence/Intellect (or, for that matter, any attribute not in the Basic Game)


This power is listed as the intellectual equivalent of Strength. It’s quite astute to note that Intellect, Wisdom, Charisma, and other mental and social traits do not appear as powers in their own right in the book. This does not, however, mean that there’s no way to represent your genius-level characters in play. In the description on the MHR Wiki, the writer even goes so far as to mention Mister Fantastic as an example of the sort of character you could create with this power. There’s a problem, though. Mister Fantastic is in the Basic Game. How could they have gone ahead and published the game with no way to show how smart Reed Richards is?

Well, they did.

Let’s look at Mister Fantastic’s Intellect as represented in the Basic Game:

Example: Mister Fantastic

Mister Fantastic doesn’t have a power trait that shows his genius at work. So, what does he have?

Let’s first look at his Distinctions. He has two that speak to his innate brilliance: Absent-Minded Professor, and Boundless Curiosity. Either of those can be used in his dice pool when performing feats of smarts.

Now, let’s look at his Specialties. He has five Specialties (Cosmic, Medical, Science, Tech, and Vehicles), which gives him the most non-combat based Specialties. The Beast, another genius-level hero, has four non-combat Specialties (Cosmic, Medical, Science, and Tech). The average rank for Fantastic’s Specialties is d9.2. I know that’s not a real dice size, but this is purely theoretical. If you want a more complete statistical analysis, the most popular rank is d10, Master level. Meanwhile, the Beast has an average rank of d9, with an even split between rank d8 and rank d10. Specialties alone show a clear advantage for Mister Fantastic.

Thirdly, let’s look at his Milestones. Mister Fantastic has one that gives his player XP every time he cracks open the old brain box to come up with a stunt based on his Specialties. It also gives him a boost when he uses his Specialties to defeat an enemy. Not only is he the smartest guy in the room, but he also gets bonuses for showing off that superior intellect. Other heroes don’t necessarily have that edge.

A lot of more traditional RPG people are accustomed to having hard numbers that illustrate every aspect of a person, including intelligence, wisdom, charisma, and a myriad of other arbitrary measures. It’s created this mentality that any measurable effect must have a defined cause. While that may be true, the MHR line of reasoning suggests that the cause isn’t always as important as the effects, which can be seen and, in many cases, replicated.

I’m not going to sit here and suggest that there aren’t heroes that have Intelligence above and beyond the ability of normal humans. It’s just handled differently. Unlike Strength, which show itself when a hero lifts a car over his or her head, intelligence is shown by the depth and breadth of knowledge (rank and number of Specialties), and what that knowledge produces. Iron Man is a genius. He used his genius to create amazing devices that make him the hero he is. Without his baffling mental capability, he wouldn’t be able to build mind-blowing tech and gadgets. While we’re on the subject of Iron Man…



This as a power is sort of useless when you consider what it’s actually trying to do. It reminds me of things like the infamous Bat-Shark Repellent that appears at the same moment that a shark attacks. If you have a genius-level hero (see above), and he or she is a gadget-based genius-level hero (also see above), then you don’t need a power trait like this. The best gadget hero stories involve a hero taking the time to build a new gadget after having his posterior handed to him by a rival. When a hero pulls something out of his pocket just because a situation calls for it, that’s lazy writing and irresponsible fiction. Why should accept a lazy excuse when the potential exists for a more prepared hero to go into a fight after cobbling together the very thing that will spell victory? The difference between technology and magic is that technology wants us to know how it works, while magic is more mysterious.

Put simply, a gadget based hero will use a Transition Scene to create an asset, resource, or stunt that will be brought to the next Action Scene. It’s true that a wizardly character will often do similar things with Sorcery and the Mystic Specialty, but the Sorcery power trait encompasses more than that, and to make Technology do the same thing is sort of redundant if the character in question already has a host of other power traits from gadgets.

Example: Iron Man

Iron Man is the perfect example of the type of hero who might need this power trait, but already has it in the Power Sets pertaining to his armor. If he is beaten, he tinkers until he has the very thing he needs to triumph. If you need a good example of this idea at work, remember the first Iron Man movie. Tony Stark is taken hostage, and uses his tech knowledge to build the weapon he ultimately uses to escape.

End of Part 1

As I’m moving forward with this, I realize it’s starting to run long. I will have to continue this in another post, where I can talk about proposed SFX. What I’d like now is feedback. If you have something to say about my explanations of how to handle these power traits, feel free to let us know. I (or another of our brilliant writing staff) will be more than happy to respond.

When Part 2 goes live, you can find it here.

6 comments on “Damage Control: New Powers and SFX (Part 1)

  1. skalchemist
    February 24, 2014

    Good comments! You all have the best info on MHP available on the internet. I appreciate your work.
    Should you be interested…feel free to demolish my thoughts here.
    I think I can take the pain…I think I can…

    • icuseamus
      February 24, 2014

      I will. And I promise I’ll be gentle.

  2. Nomad79
    June 10, 2014

    ‘Like the article, although I don’t share your opinion. Using the Intellect/Tools powers presented on MHRP Wikia certainly makes play (and creating new characters) a little easier for players and watchers not sure how to represent the appropriate capabilities of such a character in a combination of SFX and/or Milestones. I used both powers in my campaign and the applications of both were quite creative and fun. I’ve taken the liberty to put up a link to this article in a comment below the powers, so everyone may form his or her own opinion towards them.

    • icuseamus
      June 10, 2014

      Another problem with using these new Power ideas is that using them complicates interactions with existing characters who may have these or similar abilities. This means that you may find yourself re-designing existing characters just to make them function properly with the heroes you’ve put together yourself. If you use the rules system as it lives in the book, this doesn’t happen. It also prevents strains of credulity that occur when someone magically produces a bullet-proof vest just as someone else magically produces armor-piercing bullets.

      • Nomad79
        June 12, 2014

        You don’t need to redesign characters in and off themselves, just to put things in order. Just give Mr. Fantastic or Iron Man, etc. an additional trait (if they come up in your campaign at all and you need to display more than their physical capabilities). From my perspective, this is one of the most simple kinds of rules hack possible. On the topic of Tools: We didnt’ come up with Bat-Shark-Repellant kinds of things when we played, we just used the power as it reads on first glance; to represent a characters heightened ability at repairing/modifying things. I see the possibility of abuse here, surely, but I like the power when it comes to such characters as S.H.I.E.L.D. Techies or Damage Control [;-)] Foremen. It clearly represents their advanced equipment and they can make good use of such things to level the field when getting together with high-end heroes.

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This entry was posted on February 24, 2014 by in Damage Control and tagged , , , , .

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