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Tabletop Game / Marvel Super Heroes

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Marvel Super Heroes is a tabletop role-playing game designed by Jeff Grubb, written by Steve Winter, and set in the Marvel Universe. Its first edition was published by TSR in 1984,and followed by an expanded edition, the Marvel Superheroes Advanced Game, in 1986. A new game was released in 1998 called the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game, utilizing the same card-based SAGA system as Dragonlance: Fifth Age.

The basic game is designed to allow players assume the roles of Marvel superheroes, whose origins fall into one of five categories: Altered Humans (normal people who acquired superpowers), High-Tech Wonders (normal people whose powers come from devices), Mutants (people born with superpowers), Robots (created beings), and Aliens (non-humans, including extra-dimensional beings). These origins determine the upper limits of a character's superpowers, which otherwise function on an ad hoc basis. In addition to playing as established Marvel characters, players are also given the opportunity to create original characters.

Most game situations are resolved by rolling percentile dice and comparing the results against a column of the "Universal Results Table", with the column used determined by the Attribute used. Each character has seven Attributes—Fighting, Agility, Strength, Endurance, Reason, Intuition, and Psyche—which give the game system its nickname of FASERIP.

The system was also spun off into a Gamebook line that ran for 8 installments, each featuring the player controlling a prominent Marvel hero using a version of the same attribute system with simplified number values.

This tabletop RPG contains the following tropes:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: In the Deluxe City Campaign Set, the sewer tunnels of New York are described as being up to 30 feet across.
  • Attack Reflector: Supplement Gamer's Handbook of the Marvel Universe Volume 7
    • The villain Tachyon can not only reflect any energy attack back at its source, but increase the damage done.
    • The villainess Big Bertha's skin is so tough that when she is hit by bullets, she can expel the bullets back at the attacker.
    • Any psionic attacks against the supervillain Cameron Hodge are automatically reflected back against the source at full force.
  • Black Magic: Mind Control is considered a villain's power, and if a hero ever used it he would lose Karma not only for the act itself, but for any negative actions committed by the controlled character.
  • Brought Down to Normal: A hindrance called "Triggered Powerless" in the 90's version, where the hero loses his or her powers under certain conditions.
  • But Thou Must!:In the supplement Uncanny X-Men boxed set "Adventure Book" in the chapter titled "Nightmare in New Guinea". The PCs have an audience with the Mandrill, who makes a We Can Rule Together offer. If the players refuse or even hesitate, Mendrill orders his henchwomen to attack and take them prisoner. If the heroes actually accept his offer, Mandrill says "You agree too quickly. You therefore can't be trusted," and then orders his henchwomen to attack and take them prisoner.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The five card suits in the 90's version. Green=Strength, Red=Agility, Blue=Intellect, Purple=Willpower, and Black=Doom.
  • Combat Tentacles: In the Uncanny X-Men boxed set, the PCs are attacked with a Spider Tank with six 12-foot-long tentacles while eating lunch with the Beast. Fortunately, it's a Secret Test to determine if the PCs are worthy to be superheroes.
  • Compelling Voice: The Ultimate Powers book had "Hypnotic Voice", which could theoretically be on all the time.
  • Dash Attack: The adventure Mutating Mutants had a supervillain named Ramhorn who had horns like a bighorn sheep and could charge headfirst into enemies.
  • Evolution Power-Up: The "Evolution" superpower allows a hero to shift up and down along their evolutionary path, from an unintelligent but brutish cave-man to a frail but hyper-intelligent "future" form.
  • Experience Points
    • Experience points are called Karma, which players receive at the end of every adventure chapter if they accomplished the mission objective. They can spend it to raise attributes or abilities or to modify dice rolls, or even to contribute to a community pool to help the group. Conversely, heroic characters lose karma by failing objectives or doing heinous things like killing (even villains, even by accident), thereby preventing players from creating a usable '90s Anti-Hero-type character.
    • An interesting exception to this is Wolverine in the Secret Wars adventure who "has no bad feelings about killing in combat. In this adventure, Wolverine suffers no Karma penalty for slaying an "Evil" opponent. Inform the player running Wolverine of this in his first fight. Wolverine will still lose Karma for killing heroes (including Magneto), or for letting innocents die." This exception effectively makes Wolverine a Game-Breaker character in this game as he doesn't need to follow its most important rule of it. Compare this with more conscientious heroes like Colossus, Reed Richards and Cyclops, who in the same adventure automatically lose 10 Karma points a day simply because they miss the people they love back on Earth. By making this exception, the authors of the game unintentionally rewarded Wolverine's Heroic Sociopathy and punished other heroes for having empathy!
  • Flamethrower Backfire: Polyhedron magazine #27 adventure "She Rampage". If the backpack containing a flamethrower's fuel is damaged, it may create an Amazing strength explosion that affects everyone in the same area.
  • From Bad to Worse: The 90's version had the Doom card suit. When a player used a Doom card for an action, the GM collected it and kept it in a "Doom bank." At any time after, the GM can add any (or all) of those banked Doom cards to aid characters he controls, just to make things harder on the heroes.
  • Game Master: In this game, the game master is called a Judge.
  • A God Is You: When using stock characters, you could theoretically play as Hercules or Thor.
  • Hologram: In Mutating Mutants, one of the rooms in the secret laboratory has holographic projectors that create illusions of Doctor Doom and two Sentinels.
  • Hit Points: A character's Health points determined how much damage they can take before they start dying. Health was determined by taking all the physical traits (Fighting, Agility, Strength and Endurance) and totaling them. This mean that Spiderman had a lot more health than Mighty Glacier Colossus because Spidey had far better Agility and Fighting.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Naturally, given that the game system allow the players to weaponize anything a superhero can... including other PCs.
  • Improvised Golem: Certain superpowers would allow players to create constructs out of solid matter or machines (though the two were mutually exclusive).
  • Jet Pack
    • In the adventure Fantastic Four: Fantastic Voyages, three jetpacks are stored aboard the Skrull scout ship Kell'rr Anelle, and Jon-Larr has one.
    • In the Uncanny X-Men boxed set Adventure Book, Chapter 9 pits the heroes against Arcade. If they don't find him within 15 minutes after the end of the basketball game, he will put on a jetpack and try to escape.
  • Just Between You and Me: Villains actually get Karma points for telling the heroes their plans.
  • Karma Houdini: Literal case for Wolverine in the Secret Wars adventure. Every and any other hero in the entire game will lose all their Karma if they kill, no matter how understandable or reasonable the circumstances were. Wolverine is the only 'hero' that does not lose any Karma for killing a villain as he does not feel guilt.
  • Karma Meter
    • The Karma system was rather unforgiving, rewarding Honor Before Reason rather obsessively and penalizing heroes for everything from killing people (even villains, even in self-defense, even accidentally, even to save lives, even if the dying character is a willing sacrifice for some greater good) to missing a press conference. Villains had their own karma system that rewarded them for being stereotypical villains.
    • The only exception to this is Wolverine who in the Secret Wars adventure "has no bad feelings about killing in combat. In this adventure, Wolverine suffers no Karma penalty for slaying an "Evil" opponent." Wolverine's so special that he breaks the most cardinal rule of the system, while more conscientious heroes like Colossus and Cyclops are actually penalized 10 Karma points every single day of the adventure simply because they have loved ones that they miss. This wouldn't be the first or the last time that Wolverine has outdone Cyclops.
  • Magic or Psychic?: Just like the comics, the game has psionics and magic. Besides needing different powers to withstand magic or psionic attacks, spellcasting superheroes have unique rules applied to them - including a massive x2 penalty to the Karma Meter when they do a crime like murder (the reasoning is that magic users are more in tuned with the universe and have better understanding of karma, so they are more penalized when they break karma). Meanwhile Psionic superheroes are treated no differently than other more standard superheroes.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: An interesting case, whether it was editor error or whatnot, both the Wasp and Dazzler (in comic these two superheroes aren't known for their strength - these two work out as much as the average jogger) have Good strength in the game. Cyclops, who's art design at the time, is bulked out with muscle and often has to punch out mooks in the comics - he's only got the unimpressive Typical strength rank.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: There's a rule where superheroes are not allowed to have any power or stat beyond the Shift Z ranking, except with Invulnerability powers which get ranked at Class 1000 for superheroes (Cosmic Beings could go higher). Jean Grey as the Phoenix had powers and some stats that were in the Class 1000 and Class 3000 ranks, making her largely unique in the game. Justified in that she's considered a much a Cosmic Entity as she is a superhero. Another superhero who breaks this rule is Black Bolt, who has Sonic Generation at Class 1000. Then there's Wolverine and his unique features...
  • One-Hit Kill: Getting hit with an edged weapon and certain other attacks, was far more dangerous than getting hit by blunt attack with same or slightly greater power ranking. If an attack of this type successfully hit, the target has a chance of having to roll against their Endurance to see if they don't go down in a single hit and start dying. So if you somehow removed Thor or the Silver Surfer's resistance to physical attacks, you could potentially kill them outright with a single hit from a penknife despite their massive pool of Health.
  • Powered Armor: Mandrill's mooks frequently use suits of powered armor based on SHIELD's Mandroid armor.
  • Power Levels: The basic game ranked powers (and everything else in fact) in a scale from 1 to 100, broken into the following tiers: Feeble (1-2), Poor (3-4), Typical (5-6), Good (up to 10), Excellent (20), Remarkable (30), Incredible (40), Amazing (50), Monstrous (75) and Unearthly (100). Most Marvel characters had abilities between Excellent and Remarkable ranks, while the most powerful ones had some between Monstrous and Unearthly. A later expansion also added Shift Zero (0) for abilities ever lower than a 1, and Shift X (150), Shift Y (200), and Shift Z (500) for ones beyond Unearthly. Class 1000, Class 3000 and Class 5000 were added for the truly Cosmic Beings. The absolutely highest level was Beyond-Rank, that had no number (it was infinite.) Only one character had abilities of this caliber: the Beyonder from Secret Wars (1984). A huge drawback of this system is that it lumped beings that were far different in might as being equal (Jocasta is a robot that could lift 5 tons, while Nova is a Herald of Galactus who could lift 40 tons. To the game, they're both ranked as having Incredible strength and so they're equals. Meanwhile Rogue or original Ms. Marvel can lift 50 tons and so they end up in the superior Amazing strength).
  • Quicksand Sucks: In the Uncanny X-Men boxed set, the PCs can accidentally fall into quicksand while trying to rescue a woman, whereupon they will sink at one foot per minute.
  • Railroading: Several encounters in the Uncanny X-Men boxed set specifically state that the PCs have no way to win or otherwise avoid being incapacitated and captured.
  • Rapid Aging: In the "Judge's Book", Hela can fire Aging Rays that instantly age the target by 100 years.
  • Rewriting Reality: In the module The Revenge of Kang, the villain plans to travel to a parallel dimension where the Marvel Universe exists only in comic books, rewrite the ending of Time and Space #3 so he wins, and then use Science! to cause his home reality to synchronize with the comics only one, making him victorious by fiat.
  • Secret Test: In the Uncanny X-Men boxed set, the PCs are attacked by a Spider Tank while eating lunch with the Beast. The Beast arranged the attack to determine if the PCs are worthy to be superheroes.
  • Slave Collar: In "Nightmares of Futures Past", captured mutants are forced to wear inhibitor collars that prevent them from using their mutant powers.
  • Spider Tank: In the Uncanny X-Men boxed set, a tank shaped like a spider attacks the PCs during lunch in a Secret Test to see if they're worthy to become superheroes.
  • Super-Strength: This is represented with a good roll for your Strength stat, if you're playing a character type with access to the upper echelons.
  • Time Crash: In the modules centered around the time-traveling Kang the Conqueror, a creature called a "chronovore" causes a time crash by devouring time itself.
  • Time to Unlock More True Potential: The game allows you to improve your character's powers or stats by using Karma points. It also allowed you to buy completely new powers or develop "power stunts" - techniques with your existing power to mimic other powers (for example if you had plasma generation, since plasma is a mix of various energy types - you could develop a weak form of electricity generation). One reason this game requires you to regularly build up your abilities is that your superheroes often can't harm enemies at their current power level (for example if Colossus who has Monstrous strength punches a rampaging Hulk, he won't hurt the Hulk. That's because the Hulk has Monstrous resistance to physical attacks and it's just enough to completely cancel out Colossus's attacks. But if Colossus improves his strength by even a single rank, he'll be at least at Unearthly strength (Thor or Hercules's class) and be able to hurt the Hulk).
  • Unreliable Illustrator: In the Gamebook Night of the Wolverine, the mastermind of everything going on is Mystique (the blue-skinned shapeshifter lady), but somehow the artist seemed to have her confused with Mysterio, the Fishbowl Helmet-sporting illusionist. Who's completely absent from the text.
  • Wolverine Publicity
    • The game came out near the height of his popularity, so besides appearing a lot, he gets some unique abilities like his Karma Houdini status and his claws get a unique benefit. Normally the Claws power gives damage equal to a character's strength (improving it just increased how tough your claws are to damage and their ability to damage non-living things). Under these rules, Wolverine should only do Good damage (Wolverine is as strong as the Wasp and Dazzler in this game). Instead he does Monstrous damage to living things with his claws (hitting them as hard as Colossus) and he does even more damage to non-living things, and he can damage anything with less than Class 1000 resistance to physical attacks.
    • Similarly, Wolverine was the only hero besides Spider-man to be playable in more than one of the Gamebook adaptations of the system, although the second one did have him sharing the spotlight with Storm, Rogue and Nightcrawler.