Dice. They are generally one of the central components of any roleplaying game, and there are as many different dice mechanics out there as there are roleplaying games. Sure, some don’t use dice. They may use cards. They may use coins. Some use a game of rock, paper, scissors. A small handful of them might use a combination of interpretive dance and Pig Latin. (I’m trademarking that particular mechanic. Get back. Those millions are all mine.)
But every game out there has some method of adjudicating conflict. And with a game like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying there is going to be a lot of conflict. So, how does this game adjudicate?
Well, the game functions with dice pools, a concept that is familiar to a lot of gamers out there. You roll a number of dice and look for certain things, be they dice that come up certain numbers or matches. However, Marvel Heroic does things a little bit… differently. Each character has a number of things on their sheet, or “datafile” that are rated at various levels of power, from a d6 to a d12. These correspond to the type of dice you roll together when you perform an action. But the first things first, you have to clearly state your intent. This is what helps you to determine what powers and traits you can tap for that particular action. You then set about building a dice pool out of the various listings on your data ile out of your Affiliations, Distinctions, Power Sets and Specialties.
The first thing you need to look at is their Affiliation dice. This is based on the group situation that your hero is in: Solo, Buddy, or Team. Each of them is either rated a d10, a d8, or a d6 based on how well the hero operates in a given situation. Heroes are strong in certain situations, but weaker in others. Captain America works best in a team setting, but isn’t so hot when he’s by himself. Wolverine prefers to play by himself but struggles when it’s just him and one other person. Spider-Man really shines with one other hero to play off of, but his style is kind of cramped in a team situation.
Then you get to look at your character’s distinctions. These are the quotes or traits that really define your hero’s strengths and weaknesses. These are things such as “Man out of Time” for Captain America, “Blind Justice” for Daredevil, “Billionaire Playboy” for Iron Man, or “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” for Spider-Man. If one of these distinctions applies to the character’s situation, they can choose to add it to their dice pool at either a d8, or at a d4 and gain a Plot Point (more on these later).
Finally it’s time to look at your power sets and your specialties. Find a power that fits the situation and a specialty that fits the situation and all of the dice together. This is your dice pool.
This may sound a little difficult to grasp, and granted, it’s a little bit hard to get your head around at first, so let me give you an example. I’m playing Colossus and I’m with several of the other X-Men, including Kitty Pryde, my on again, off again girlfriend, and we’re attacking several members of the Brotherhood. She’s getting the snot beaten out of her and I want to go and help by smashing one of her attackers. I look at my sheet. I’m in a team situation, so I start with the base d10. I see two of my distinctions that could be useful – Ironclad Loyalty and Quick to Anger. I decide to add Quick to Anger at a d4 and take the Plot Point from the Watcher. I add my Godlike Strength at d12 and my Combat Expert at d8 to finish out my dice pool. I end up with a d12, a d10, a d8, and a d4.
You roll your dice and immediately set aside any 1s that you roll. These are what are known as opportunities and are the currency the Watcher uses to grow the Doom Pool (more on that later). Then you add any two dice together to get your total and then assign one of the remaining dice as the effect die.
Your opponent assembles his dice pool the same way, picking and choosing from his data file to build his dice pool and sets his total and effect die, using the same rules as the hero pertaining to any 1s rolled.. If the hero’s total is higher, then his action succeeds and he applies the effect die to the opponent or uses it to create an asset or complication. If the opponent’s total is higher, then the action fails.
There are many, many more things pertaining to dice pools and effect dice and what they can do, much more than I am able to spend talking about here. Assets, Complications, Scene Distinctions and more can all affect your dice pool or dice pools that are rolled against you. For more, I would encourage you to pick up the book and give it a read through. Hopefully I’ve more than piqued your interest a little bit. Stay tuned. Next time I talk about my favorite part of the system – The Doom Pool and speak more on Plot Points.