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With Great Power

[originally printed in Polyhedron #72.]

Campaign Construction, Part 1: Origin
by Dale A. Donovan

Since I began writing this column in issue 163, I've discussed new directions for your MARVEL SUPER HEROES campaigns.

Now it's time to address building a super hero campaign from scratch Starting with this column, I'll cover the elements needed for a successful campaign.

The most important aspect of any role playing campaign is the player character in the MARVEL SUPER HEROES game, you can play either pregenerated Marvel Heroes or you can create your own using the character generation systems in the rules.

Detailed below is a "purchasing" system inspired by the other two major super hero role-playing games on the market, DC Heroes by Mayfair Games and Champions by Hero Games.

Using my system, the Character Point (CP) System, players can built their ideal heroes within limits set by the Game Master. This system is flexible, so GMs should be wary of canny players who seek to take advantage of that flexibility.

Character Point System

The MARVEL SUPER HEROES Advanced Set Players' Book, page 5, details the steps players should follow to create their own heroes. It is reproduced with minor modifications below:
  • Create an origin
  • Determine primary abilities (FASERIP)
  • Determine secondary abilities (Health, Karma, etc.)
  • Ascertain special abilities (powers, talents, and contacts)
  • Fill in the blanks (hero and character names, background, etc.)

The Players' Book suggests you start with an origin for your hero. However, I recommend you decide which type of hero your PC will be (altered human, mutant, etc.), then create the origin. Be sure to note all the special aspects of each type of character except which column of the "Generating Primary Abilities" table the hero's abilities will be rolled on. You will not be using dice to determine your hero's abilities.

Do not feel compelled to fully detail your hero at this point. Save that for the "Fill in the Blanks" stage.

Determine Primary Abilities

Each player will now be given a number of Character Points (CPs). This number is determined by the Game Master and can range from 200 to 600 CPs or more. Let's say your GM gives you 300 CPs to build your hero. You would now "buy" your primary abilities (FASERIP) by spending CPs.

Purchase primary ability scores on a point-for-point basis. So if you want your character to possess Amazing (50) Strength, subtract 50 CPs from your point total. Do this for all seven primary abilities.

You can purchase ability scores other than the normal rank number in each rank (For example, you could buy Amazing (46) Strength instead of Amazing (50) and save four CPs to use later.) Just remember any skimping like this will be reflected in your final Health and Karma scores.

Don't be too extravagant with your spending here, as your CPs will also be used to purchase your Resources level, powers, talents, and contacts. I don't recommend spending more than about half of your CPs at this stage. 2

Determine Secondary Abilities

Total up your Health and Karma points. Add those two figures together and they should equal the number of CPs you've spent so far. This is a good way to check your math

Now buy your hero's Resources rank by spending two CPs for every point of Resources. (If you want Excellent (20) Resources, it would cost you 40 CPs.)

A player does not buy and cannot modify his hero's Popularity score, as it is a function of the hero's origin and the public's perception of the hero. 3

Determine Special Abilities

Since each special ability (powers, talents, and contacts) is purchased slightly differently, each is discussed separately.

Powers: Each hero now buys powers and their ranks. All powers, except those with stars, cost 10 CPs each, and starred powers cost 20 CPs. Purchasing powers gives the hero the ability to buy ranks in those powers. Ranks for powers without stars are purchased on a point-for-point basis, as with the primary abilities. (If you wanted to buy the Flight power, it would cost 10 CPs. You can now buy a power rank for that power. Let's say you wanted to fly at Excellent (20) speed, it would cost you 20 more CPs. So buying the Flight power and an Excellent (20) rank cost you a total of 30 CPs.) Starred powers, because they are more powerful or more rare, each cost 20 CPs, as noted above, and their ranks are bought at a rate of two CPs for each rank number. 4

You purchase both powers and ranks so that five powers, each at Good (10) ranks will be more expensive than one power at Amazing (50) rank. The hero with five powers is much more versatile, and he should pay for that.

Limitations: Page 9 of the Players' Book gives a list of possible limitations for powers. Players can buy one limitation per hero to gain more CPs. Use the maximums listed at the top of each list of limitations on page 9. This determines the number of CPs gained from taking a limitation. For example, taking the limitation "Power can only be used three times/day" from the list "Maximum of Excellent" for your Flight power would gain you an additional 20 CPs, as it is an Excellent rank limitation.

Points gained through limitations are the normal rank numbers for that rank only. All normal rules regarding limitations apply. Subtract all CPs spent on powers and ranks, and add any CPs from limitations to figure your hero's new point total.

Talents: All skills listed under the Weapon, Fighting, and Mystical or Mental Skills tables, and all starred talents cost 10 CPs each. All other skills cost 5 CPs each (buying Chemist costs 5 CPs, while the Medicine or the Guns skill would cost 10 CPs each). Subtract all CPs spent here to get your hero's new CP total.

Contacts: Unless the GM specifies otherwise, each contact costs 5 CPs. Don't detail each contact now, as contacts often work best when chosen during an adventure with the GM's O.K.

Fill in the Blanks

There, you're done. If you have any CPs left over, it's up to the GM what you can do with them. I suggest simply adding them to your hero's Karma points. Beginning heroes often don't have much Karma to spend on their first adventures. Don't forget to modify your hero as per the origin you picked for him earlier, and round out your hero with his heroic and character names, background, job, costume, how he gained his powers, why he risks his life as a hero, etc.

Character Advancement

All normal game rules on character advancement apply. Character Points are used only during a hero's creation and do not apply to the character's future advancement. For example, you cannot pay 10 CPs for a power and not buy a rank for it during the hero's creation.

GM-Imposed Limits

Test this system by creating several characters. You'll realize then, if you haven't already, that the system is flexible and can be abused unless the GM lays down some guidelines. The GM could impose spending limits on primary abilities (no FASERIP scores above Amazing (50), for example), powers (such as no more than four total), power ranks (no power ranks above Incredible (45)), power limitations (one limitation only, no limitation ranks above Incredible), and even the number of talents and contacts.

Breaking down Marvel characters by using this system can give GMs a good idea on what limits to place on character generation for their campaigns. Using the characters listed in the Advanced Set Judge's Book, for example, Invisible Woman, Marvel Girl, and Wasp each add up to about 300 CPs. Spider-Man, Thing, and Vindicator (Heather Hudson) each add up to between 450 and 500 CPs. Magneto adds up to almost 700 CPs.

Discuss with your players the kind of campaign you want to have and then experiment with different point totals before deciding how many CPs to give your players. For Avengers style campaigns, I'd suggest 300-350 CPs per hero. For low-powered, gritty, "realistic," or pulp campaigns, I'd give out about 200 CPs. If you want to play a high-powered or cosmic campaign, I recommend handing out at least 500 CPs.

This system also allows GMs to built customized villains. By tailoring the number of CPs each villain is built with, a GM can gain a good handle on how well the villain should perform against the heroes. (For example, three 500-CP miscreants, 1500 CPs total, should do pretty well against five 300 CP heroes, despite being outnumbered.)

Nest time, I'll continue to discuss PC heroes, including examples of building heroes with this system. Try this system, then write me and give me your impressions. TSR trademarks and copyrights TSR, Inc. All rights reserved.


Now for the most complicated part. Equipment. Where would mighty marvel be without Silver Surfboards, Star Spangled Shields, Thunder Cracking Hammers, and Batmobiles ... well maybe not Batmobiles, but you get the idea. Equipment can be a neat hook for a character but is sorely ignored in the original marvel game. Initially I had written some humorous examples of what I would and would not charge, but then my computer crashed, and now I'm in poor humor and don't want to write everything over again. So, without further adieu, I give you the guidelines, and remember, these guidelines are only for starting equipment.

1/4 power duplicated power rank = Sub Base Score
Sub base + 1/4 any additional duplicated power ranks = base score

(Example: Let's say you want Hawkeye's Hover Cycle. I would give that the powers of Flight and Body Armor. Flight at Excellent 20 rank and Body Armor at Good 10 Rank. So, to figure out the base score we will divide both by 4 and add them. The answer is 7.5, always rounding up we get 8. So the base score is 8 but we're not done. The following is a run down of Equipment specific powers that will add to this base score. Each plus is for every power rank unless otherwise noted. So if the intensity of "Anti-Theft" is Excellent you would add 10 points. (Excellent is the fifth rank times 2 points per rank)

  1. Alarm: Alerts the owner when someone else is using item: +1
  2. Anti-Theft: Causes it's intensity in damage when tampered with: +2
  3. Automatic Return: Will automatically return to the user: +3 (No Rank)
  4. Backup Power: Auxilliary power sources when primary ones fail: +1
  5. Basic Movement: Can move on it's own: +2
  6. Coded: Can be used only by those with the code: +1
  7. Comm-link: Can communicate by radio waves or other method: +1
  8. CPU: Has a computers central processing unit for direction: +1
  9. ECM: Has electronic counter measures for detection and targeting: +2
  10. EMP Protection: Has full protection from electromagnetic pulses: +3
  11. Fire Fighting: Quenches fires that occur in or outside the item: +3
  12. Firing Weapon: Fires a bullet, arrow, missile, or other projectile: +1
  13. Homing System: Can locate objects by tracers or tracer beams: +2 (+1 to agility when firing)
  14. Lights: Can project lights: Not used for something like headlights: +1
  15. Passenger Compartments: Can hold more than the user: +1 per occupant
  16. Randomizer: Fires at targets randomly negating the effects of Danger Sense: +1 (No Rank)
  17. Sensor: Can track beyond field of Vision: +2
  18. Sentience: Can think for itself with an intellect score equal to its intensity: +4 (Per rank of Reason)
  19. Striking Weapons: Has a club, knife, shocker, or any other strike attack: +1
  20. Tractor Beam: Can drag items: +3 (Per Rank of Strength)
  21. Unbreakable: Can't be damaged, but damage can still pass through it: +4 (No Rank)
  22. Unremoveable: Can't be taken away-- not even by the hero who uses it: +3 (No Rank)
  23. Unstable Molecules: Adapts to a hero's superpowers: +2 (No Rank)
  24. Voice Modulator: Can speak on its own: +1 to 4 based on level of speech (No Rank)
  25. Worthiness: Requires a test before anyone can use it: +3 (No Rank)

So, continuing with our example of Hawkeye's Hover cycle, I decide to modify the existing version for new Hero, "Pinkeye". Pinkeye wants a Search light of Remarkable Intensity. Ok, lights are +1 per rank so that's 6 points. Also a homing system so 2 more points. Total = 8 + 6 + 2 = 16 points and your character has one Pink Hover Cycle, almost...

We now take the 16 points and apply one of the final multipliers..

Does the technology exist in the real world without modification? Yes x1
Does the technology exist in the real world with slight modification? Yes x2
Does the technology exist in the real world with great modification? Yes x3
Does the technology not exist in the real world but does in comics? Yes x4
Does the technology not exist in the real world or in comics? Yes x5

So, this is where the arguing ensues and you the character true to convince me that Sony did just come out with portable fusion reactors, nevertheless I will make a decision. Here's how it might go for the Pink Mobile. Current Technology certainly allows for Jet powered flight, however the item in question is more like a motorcycle. The tech is here, but needs to be greatly miniturized... so we multiply by 3. Hence our Hover Cycle has a final cost of 48 points.


1 Equipment and Addendum rules by J.D. Cutcher
2 No one primary statistic can be greater than 80. (Primary stats are Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, Psyche) No more than one Primary Statistic can have a rank of Monstrous
3 Popularity is purchased on a point by point basis. Popularity cannot be greater than 20, but can go to negative 20 (ie, adding 20 points to your 300) Beware point mongers, negative popularity can have serious consequences on karma.
4 No one power can be greater than 50. Stunts not given by a power in its listing can be bought for one half the power rank.