[System Shock] Customizing Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

Our final installment of our introduction to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying focuses on customization! The system is very flexible and allows players to play the hero they want to play. This piece will focus mostly on character creation and show you some examples of custom heroes with some design notes on choices I made while making them.

As a disclaimer before I begin, I’d like to thank the fine folks over at Plot Points. The datafile template used below for my custom characters were modified from those they use. They’ve been a source of inspiration to myself and a great resource to the community, and I can’t thank them enough.

Having said that, let’s jump into customization!

Customization:

The Basic Game comes with 22 Hero datafiles (player character sheets), most of whom are very popular heroes in their own right in the Marvel universe. The Civil War Event, just recently released, offers a further 32, some of whom are updated versions of prior heroes for use specifically in Civil War. However, there were some notable omissions, like Thor and Hawkeye (who have both since been released for free by MWP) and Hulk, who has yet to be officially released but has had many fan treatments from the community. Even though the selections included with the game are popular, comic fans usually have their own favourites, many of whom had not been included.

Into this void stepped the fan community.

Even before Marvel Heroic Roleplaying was officially released, prospective players were using what they knew of the rules to create custom datafiles of their favorite Marvel heroes. The system itself has also been “hacked” for use in a more standard sword-and-sorcery setting, a Star Wars setting, the fan-favorite Torg setting, and more.

The interesting part of character creation in this system is that the Basic Game does not provide strict guidelines for how powerful a character can be. This is intentional.

Characters in comic books often vary greatly in power from one another, but that never stops them from working together or against one another. The game doesn’t try to fight this by making all characters the same in terms of power, instead trying to make characters unique enough that not everyone demands to play the most powerful character. This means that in the case of a custom character, you and your Watcher must agree on all aspects of that character. A character that has a power set full of d12 traits with no downsides will likely be turned down by your Watcher. In other words, character customization cannot truly be “optimized” like in other games, because there are no power limitations besides what your Watcher will allow.

I like this system, because of how true it is to the source material. Some of the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe tend to have crippling personality flaws that offset their powers. Hulk might be one of the strongest beings in the Marvel universe, but he has serious anger problems and can cause a lot of collateral damage when he loses control.

Finally, the character building system is specific enough to make each character unique, but has enough commonalities that creating a hero from scratch or depict a character from a completely different intellectual property, making crossovers a very distinct possibility!

Speaking of crossovers, let’s take a look at a custom datafile I’ve created to give you an example of what you can do with the system and how you might go about designing your own character.

Custom Character Example: Akuma/Gouki (Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike)

Click the Image to Download the Akuma/Gouki Datafile in PDF

This custom datafile represents Akuma (known as Gouki in Japan) during the events of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. If you’re unfamiliar with the Street Fighter series, this game is currently the furthest chronologically in the series (Street Fighter 4 actually takes place before SFIII:3S). Here’s a brief description blurb for you, if you’re unfamiliar with the character:

Akuma (literally demon) is a cold and extremely powerful warrior whose sole purpose of existence is to hone his fighting skills by battling and destroying strong foes. He rarely displays any sign of emotions (aside from occasional bursts of anger) and almost never smiles. He takes his training very seriously (and deals brutally with those who dare interrupt him, as seen in his SF3: 3rd Strike ending) and likes to occasionally test himself against worthy rivals (Gen, Oro…) (Source: http://streetfighter.wikia.com/wiki/Akuma)

When it came to creating an iconic character like Akuma, my design goals were as follows:

  • Capture the darkness and obsession of the character
  • Honor the fighting game heritage of the character
  • Give the character reasons to enter into conflict with “allies” due to his methods

Affiliations / Distinctions:

These basically speak for themselves, I think. The previous blurb probably makes these clear to you, even if you don’t know the character.

As always, when designing distinctions, try to make sure there is a potential negative use for them. Obsessed Challenge Seeker gives the player good reasons to chase down opponents, act rashly, or stray from an objective. No Longer Mortal is not strictly true, but he refers to himself this way on numerous occasions and it captures some of the character’s arrogance. Supreme Master of the Fist can refer negatively to Akuma’s inability to negotiate or use diplomacy.

Power Set:

In building Satsui No Hadou, my intention was to capture the essence of Akuma’s fighting game heritage and emphasize the rising stakes as Akuma taps into the Dark Hadou.

Though technically Akuma is extremely powerful and has not yet found his match, he never fights at full strength due to his desire to find worthy opponents. For this reason, I kept his powers a mix of D8 and D10 strengths. Strength, Reflexes and Energy Blast were set at D10 while Durability, Stamina and Teleport were set at D8. My reasoning was that Akuma is normally a low-health, high damage character in fighting games where he is tournament-legal, so it made sense to emphasize his offensive talents.

Besides Berserk and Multipower (which are both flavorful for Akuma and useful for a hero with only one power set), the SFX are all based on Akuma’s moves or Super Arts from the Street Fighter series. The idea I had when looking at Akuma’s powerset was that most of his Super Arts were combinations of his individual powers, so his SFX sometimes allow powers to be used together without having to spend a plot point or step down the dice due to Multipower.

Kongou Kokuretsu Zan was added to give the Akuma player a good way to inflict complications and to isolate opponents at the Watcher’s discretion, while Messatsu Gou Hadou is just Area Attack with an option to bump up the dice at the cost of shutting down Energy Blast.

In particular though, Akuma’s signature Super Art, the Raging Demon (Shun Goku Satsu in Japanese) is well-known and flashy, and I wanted to make it powerful but have a drawback. In most games where Akuma is tournament-legal, Shun Goku Satsu is usually not very easy to land properly–I wanted to get that flavour in the SFX. The SFX has some strong benefits, but in addition to it being usable only once per action scene, it actually causes emotional stress to Akuma if it does not succeed. It also prevents you from getting plot points from opportunities activated by the Watcher for that action and activates one of your limits.

As for limits, Exhausted was an obvious one since Akuma’s powers are based on his physical well-being. Killing Intent was added to reflect Akuma’s inherent darkness, and his style of combat and disregard for life naturally increases the danger around him. Having Akuma around is dangerous for his “allies”, as well. Using Shun Goku Satsu means a serious escalation of the conflict, so after embracing the Raging Demon, things become a lot more hectic.

Specialties:

These are also pretty straightforward, besides maybe Mystic Expert. Since Akuma is able to control vast amounts of ki energy (and do things with it like destroy islands) I felt he warranted the Mystic Expert specialization.

Milestones:

“Weakness is a disease. I am the cure!” is actually an Akuma quote from Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike. I felt it was indicative of Akuma’s hunt for worthy opponents, and so that is the focus of the milestone. It encourages Akuma to be chaotic, to seek worthy opponents, and to engage in banter with opponents. For your appreciation and inspiration, here is a sample of some of Akuma’s SFIII win dialogue:

  • “A weak shell for a weak soul. It was an easy task to separate the two…”
  • “You’ve fulfilled your purpose in life by allowing me to end it!”

This was the flavor I was going for in this milestone.

“You have the power within you. Unleash it!” represents Akuma’s constant attempts to make Ryu embrace the Dark Hadou. I extrapolated that somewhat to have Akuma attempting to have other allies embrace their darker natures or the darker side of their inherent powers. The final milestone rewards Akuma for defeating someone who is resisting the Dark Hadou or being defeated by someone who embraces it, either of which could mean a serious change of focus for him.

Tips for using Akuma in your game:

Akuma may choose to ally with heroes if he sees enough potential to eventually get to take on serious heavyweights. However, it may take an initial conflict with heroes for Akuma to determine if they are truly gifted enough to get to that point with him. Akuma may be naturally drawn to heroes that have conflicted natures like The Hulk, Moon Knight or Cloak; and he may get along well with aggressive hardliners like The Punisher as long as their goals align.

If you’re playing Akuma, don’t be afraid to cause havoc as you fight enemies. Separate the most powerful-looking foe on the opposing force and go toe-to-toe with him. Using your Shun Goku Satsu early may help you get an early edge, but you’ll be rolling more opportunities due to your Killing Intent limit. If a one-on-one fight is not an option, blast multiple foes with the Messatsu Gou Hadou: collateral damage isn’t your problem.

For common stunts, consider describing them as Tatsumaki Zanku Kyaku (Hurricane Kick) and Gou Shoryuken (Dragon Punch), some of Akuma’s special moves.

Don’t compromise with weakness – destroy it.

Conclusion:

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has vast opportunities for customization, and hopefully you’ve seen some of those possibilities now that we’ve walked through a custom character design and you’ve seen how vast and supportive the customization community already is. This may be the final installment of our introduction to Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but don’t worry: I have more thoughts, ideas, datafiles and eventually Events to share in the future.

And don’t forget to download the Akuma/Gouki Datafile PDF for use in your own MHRP games!

Did you like the design for Akuma? Have you adapted a character from another IP to the MHRP system? Have any questions about design decisions I made, or do you have custom content you want me to look at?

I’d love to hear from you–let me know in the comments!

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