Looking Back: Marvel Super-Heroes RPG
In 1984, Marvel licensed their characters to TSR to create a tabletop role-playing game that lasted for nearly ten years. It used an amazingly easy to learn system referred to as FASRIP for the seven characteristics used for gameplay, Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, and Psyche. Recently I came across my old stash of role-playing game stuff and in posting it for sale on eBay, I realized how popular it still is.
As I mentioned, the system was amazingly easy to learn, but relied heavily upon maps for most of its adventures. Towards the end of my time using it, our group crafted our adventures to avoid the use of maps and found our playing went much more smoothly and broadened to locales much more unique. That being said, even with maps, the rules were staged so that gameplay wasn’t limited to just those modules published by TSR. Some of the best resources were the ones that gave comprehensive resources for staging campaigns within the Marvel Universe.
So, you’re thinking about getting a group of friends together for some good old-fashioned tabletop gaming and you want to go hunting for these things. First off, you’ll need the Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Set. TSR revamped the rules to improve the gameplay of the system. The basic set tended to not work very well with very powerful characters, and character generation tended to create very generic heroes instead of the well-rounded and flawed characters that Marvel was famous for.
Maps are included for most adventures, and for anyone wanting to play a tabletop game, it’s probably the easiest to pick up as a player than anything else. It was a 2D10 style format, making for very familiar game play.Judges need to be well-versed in the rules but even then, everything is kept very simple and the main table that is needed to consult for dice rolls is on a very handy table on the back of the books. The Base Game is necessary to get started, but if you advance into regular game play, then you need to get some extra stuff.
The Ultimate Powers Book expanded the character generation process to allow for a broader range of powers and abilities. Once this edition came out, I remember that the characters my friends and I created became so much broader that our games became so much more fun because the characters became so much more unique.There are very few powers depicted in comics that could not be created using this new advanced system.
This expansion also allowed for characters from outside the Marvel Universe to be adapted into the FASERIP system and adventures could be created that crossed over universes, including characters from Marvel, DC, and various Independent publishers, not to mention outside the comics medium altogether. It’s so useful that if you find a copy of it, it’s probably going to show that it was used heavily.
Children of the Atom was a comprehensive compendium of all things in the X-Men family of comics translated into a manner in which they could be incorporated into the Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Since it is published in 1986, don’t expect to find anything published after that, so unfortunately, no Deadpool, but there is enough here that by the time you are done, you could have an Xavier’s School completely filled with mutants.
Given that at the time that this was published, the X-Men family of books was almost completely under the creative control of Chris Claremont, it is a very cohesive guide to that little section of the Marvel Universe. I remember mining it for villains for players to fight, and given the level of mistrust Mutants had in the Marvel Universe of the time, almost any character in this book could be used to give players a challenge.
Realms of Magic redefined the way Magic worked for the Marvel Super Heroes RPG. It detailed the various magical dimensions in the Marvel Universe and told about the various mystical items floating around. There was a forty-page rulebook for magic, a forty-page sourcebook that went into further detail about magic in the Marvel Universe and a 16 page roster book featuring Marvel Comics magicians.
The neat detail to this module is the cover doubling as an accessory screen for the judge to smooth out the use of the new magic rules. It is definitely for fans of the magic-based titles in the Marvel Universe, especially Doctor Strange. Published just as DC was expanding the group of magic-themed titles that formed the basis for the Vertigo imprint, It could be used to make for a much darker super-hero campaign for players, but definitely in the spirit of Marvel Comics.
Avengers Coast-to-Coast was another of the big compendiums to cover multiple characters and the rich history of the Marvel Universe. It covers the vast history of the Avengers and every hero that was a member.
It also puts forth a scenario adventure where a branch of the Avengers is formed locally for player characters. With all of the stats here, players might want to add a veteran member to the team. After the Avengers Initiative storyline, it actually would be quite appropriate for a night of game-playing with friends. Given the stats, a period bit of roleplaying might be in the cards with Avengers from anytime before Avengers #100. If your friends are more familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then you can even play with those characters for a fun night of Avengering.
The Fantastic Four Compendium is the last of the sourcebooks to cover a large swath of Marvel Characters, namely every character, hero, villain, and supporting character associated with Marvel’s First Family. This practically fills out the list of characters that TSR could put in the game. Any location that had not been covered in the previous three sourcebooks got covered here, making for a rich Marvel Universe.
Due to the cosmic nature of the Fantastic Four, this branches your game’s potential into the cosmic reaches of the Marvel Universe. Many of these characters put the FASERIP system to the test, and sadly expose the weakness it has when dealing with extremely powerful characters. With the Advanced rules, it’s better handled, but still lacks a little when trying to create Superman-level characters, which the DC Heroes RPG handled better, but more on that in a later article.
So what if you want to get a group of friends together and play an adventure using characters that they will all understand and recognize? That’s where the best of the modules, Secret Wars comes in. It adapts the limited series giving stats for all of the characters involved.
It also comes with a general purpose map that while designed for this adventure, can be adapted for other campaigns. One side is an outdoor map and the other is a vast headquarters that has rooms labeled with letters so it can be used for a variety of bases, like it was used here, but also for other vast interiors like shopping malls.
While you can search shops and conventions for the various materials, I would recommend eBay for buying them. Some of them have been scanned and turned into PDF’s but it’s very hard to flip through a 100 page PDF when you want to look something up. A good use of the Internet for this game is for character stats, and the best resource I’ve found is on Classic Marvel Forever which has a vast database of characters from Marvel and DC, all in FASERIP format for gameplay and easily printable.
If you’re looking to reprise the days of tabletop gaming with friends, then you could do worse than the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG. Given the online resources available, you can even transform it into something it might have developed into if it had been allowed to develop naturally.