Marvel Heroic RPG, RIP

Published on April 26th, 2013

I come not to bury the Marvel Heroic RPG, but to praise it.

This week, Margaret Weis Productions, the company that has been producing the thoroughly excellent Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, a tabletop RPG based on the Marvel Comics universe, made the sad announcement that the game was no more.

An excerpt from their press release follows:

“… the economics of licensing a tie-in product is always something we have to weigh carefully. We brokered an admittedly ambitious license with Marvel. Our first event, CIVIL WAR, was successful and well received, but it didn’t garner the level of sales necessary to sustain the rest of the line. We’ve learned from this and are taking a very different approach with the other licensed properties we’re bringing out to you in the next three years. We believe we created a great game. Those of you that have supported us have been terrific, and we appreciate you. But, unfortunately, we will not be bringing any new product out under the Marvel line.”

I have refrained from talking about the MHRPG in this column because, in my mind, it could have been perceived as a conflict of interest. Last year I was brought on board the MHRPG team to create character datafiles for two of the planned event books, War of Kings and Thanos Imperative. It was, without a doubt, one of the most fun gigs I have ever had in my life. The team working on these books was, without exception, smart, fun, funny, and completely dedicated to the product. Which is why seeing the game go the way of so many other critically beloved, but low-selling RPGs was such a bummer.

Well, the hell with it. Let me take a minute and tell you why, if you are a fan of RPGS in general, and a fan of Marvel in particular, you should make every effort to grab copies of this game while they still exist.


The game itself is an elegantly simple system. Character actions are based on a “story first” mode, where the player describes the action to the Watcher (Which is what the GM is called in MHRPG, and can we all note how cool THAT is?), and then builds a pool of dice from their character sheet attributes to support the action. So if the Avengers are fighting Count Nefaria, and Iron Man wants to blast the Count with his Repulsors, he gets a die for being a part of a team. He gets a die for using his cutting-edge tech. He gets a die for his armor’s enhancement of his reflexes. He gets a die for the repulsors themselves. And the player then rolls all of those dice. Two of them get added together to form the result of his action – i.e. how well he did – one of the remaining die is set aside for the effect of the action – i.e. how hard did he hit. Boom.

The system is so elegant and flexible that it allows for just about any action at any time. And since its release, it’s been hacked by fans to support everything from a DC Comics version to a Metal Gear Solid homebrew to a Resident Evil game. And if you’re as big a fan of comics as I am, it’s probably the first superhero RPG I have ever seen that gets it RIGHT. It’s the only superhero system I have ever played (and believe me, I have played a LOT of them) where you can realistically have Black Widow standing next to Thor, and they’re BOTH useful, and they BOTH have something to contribute to every situation. That’s a conceit that works really well in comics, but before MHRPG, I don’t think has ever been successfully captured by an RPG’s rule system.

You can still get the PDFs of the game manuals until April 30th through DriveThruRPG  I cannot encourage you enough to go and pick up the files, and get cracking on your own home game. I have every reason to think that although we won’t be seeing any more “official” product, the fan community will keep this game alive for years to come.

Thanks to everyone at Margaret Weis Productions, especially the amazing Cam Banks, for the opportunity to work on these projects. It was a tremendous experience, and you are all tremendous people. Can’t wait to see what you all do next.

Follow me on twitter @travisholyfield. My ongoing Tuesday night MHRPG home game was just rebooted (damned Cosmic Cubes), and is starting fresh the beginning of May. Look for the hashtag #TuesdayMarvelRPG, and follow the fun.

Next week I’ll be back, discussing Bioshock Infinite, and all the different ways it rocked my world.

Travis M. Holyfield