I originally wrote this up over at RPG.net and it seemed to get some positive feedback. I hope this helps you. Please let me know if there's anything more I can add, or any tweaks I can make.
Also, June is totally right. Spend those Doom Dice!
I've run MHRP about... fifteen times now? Twenty? I don't know. I've run it a lot. I've run it at conventions, I've run demos, I've run it at home. And in every single session I've run, I've run it for new players. In total, I've taught somewhere in the neighborhood of forty different people how to play MHRP. And, dude, honestly, I'm pretty good at it. I've seen gaming stores increase their orders on Marvel Heroic after I've run the game for their owners. Now, a large part of that is because the game is just that good, but I will take a little credit for knowing how to present the game well.
That's my C.V. Now, here are the things that I've learned to do while running Marvel Heroic for first time players.
1. The first time you run Marvel Heroic, use the Marvel Universe, run Breakout, and use the datafiles from the back of the book. Even if your players aren't comic book readers with their own pull lists I can guarantee that they will have seen Iron Man, at least one X-Men movie, and the trailer for The Avengers. That's enough setting knowledge for them to play this game. Tell players that this is "Our Marvel Universe", or for those that read the comics, a "What If?". We're allowed to break the toys, to rip apart the G.I. Joes and recombine them into new, even cooler versions of themselves.
1a. Tell your players what the story will be about. "A prison break at facility known as the Raft unleashes an army of supervillains on an unsuspecting New York City. You are all superheroes present and ready to stop the carnage." Think of this as you and the players looking at the cover of the issue that you'll be making together.
2. When you're handing out datafiles tell players to pick characters that they recognize, not ones that "look cool" or "balance the party". Recognition is identification. Players will have more fun playing characters they recognize and will find it much easier to get those Milestone "hits". A player that just acts like Wolverine will get all of the XPs. A player that thinks "Hmmm, this Ms. Marvel, how does she act?" will not get many.
3. Like I said above, don't worry about balance. The comics that inspired this game don't worry about balance because it isn't a concern. Creators just want to see their favourite heroes all in the same book. MHRP works on the same level. It will balance out the heroes for you. Pick your favourites, let the system do its job.
4. After everyone has picked their heroes, have each player select one Milestone on their datafile that they will use this session. Then have your players read their Milestone "hits" aloud to everyone. If any of the players select a Milestone that encourages other PCs to interact with them (FREX: Collosus' "Heroic Self Sacrifice" or Daredevil's "Devil in the Dark"), have the players all write down a note of that on their own datafiles. Tell the players to help each other earn XP. Tell them to speak up if they're close to getting an XP hit during play but they just need one small thing to happen. We're all working together to get you the XP you need.
Some Milestones require there to be certain kinds of characters present, like Beast's "Mutants Sans Frontieres" or Human Torch's "Dangerous Love". Take note of that yourself and start coming up with ideas on who those characters can be and how you can introduce them. Get those NPCs into the action within the first two scenes so your players can earn their XPs.
5. Introduce the Event Milestones. Tell your players how these will tie their characters directly into the action of the evening. Explain each of them in a little depth. Each player must pick one to play with, though duplicates between players are fine. Tell them to pick ones that they will want to do, and not because "nobody picked this one". If no one selects a certain Event Milestone, awesome. Your job just became easier. You won't have to include details from that Milestone in the session.
6. This is my favourite hint. Write down every PC's 3XP Milestones on a piece of paper and leave it right in front of you. Those are your targets. Every moment in the game that feels a little slow, that needs a little spice, look at those Milestone hits and set them up. Bring in a little detail from them. Introduce an opportunity for a player to hit them. Don't be shy or subtle about it, either. Say "Hey, Beast, there's this mutant kid trapped underneath the rubble, a deep cut along his forehead. He's reaching out to you and crying for help. That sounds like you could save a life over there, and earn a couple of XP for your troubles, man."
By aiming at those 3 XP guys you will naturally lead play through opportunities for the players to collect their 1XP hits, and things will organically evolve toward a possible 10XP hit for one or two players as well.
7. The Datafile is your best friend. When a player needs to put together their rolls, tell him to look right at the datafile. I always say "Start at the top...".
8. When a player is putting together their first roll, take it step by step. Explain Affiliations. Ask the player "What mindset is Cyclops (or whomever) in right now? Is he feeling like a team player?" Once he decides, tell the player to grab the corresponding die and put it on the Datafile in the Affiliations box.
Then go to Distinctions. "These are qualities about Cyclops that make him stand out from other heroes. These can be helpful, or they can mess you up. Often times you'll be in a situation where your Distinctions can do both, and that's cool. Pick one Distinction and tell me if it's helping you right now, OR one that you think might be messing you up. If you go with a helpful Distinction, you get a nice d8. If you go for one that trips you up you'll only get a d4, but I'll also give you one of these shiny Plot Points." Put whatever dice (and PP) into the Distinctions box.
Explain Powers next, how some of them help you act against others, some of them help you defend yourself. DO NOT EXPLAIN SFX. Tell your curious players that you'll go over SFX after a round or two. Have your player pick his helpful powers, give him dice.
Finally, describe Specialties. "These are the skills and training that Cyclops has. These are cool because they're really flexible. I'll show you more about the advantages they give you later. Right now, just pick a Specialty that helps you, and grab a die."
When your player has all of his dice, tell him to scoop them all up and give 'em a toss. Walk through how to put together an Action Total and what the Effect Die does. Do not go into multiple Effect Dice and stuff like that just yet.
The magic of this, and I've seen it time and again, is that a player that doesn't know exactly what he wants his character to do will not only have a strong idea of an action by the time he's done putting together a dice pool, he'll have described something that sounds like an awesome comic book panel.
An action that starts out like this "I wanna shoot that guy that just hit Shadowcat,' turns into "Cyclops sees his teammates under attack and jumps into the fray for them (Team die)! He studies the formation of the bad guys before him and works out which target he should blast first (Tactical Genius, Positive). His hand rises to his visor and he unleashes a torrent of crimson energy (Force Blast), his years of combat training in the Danger Room guiding his aim (Combat Expert)."
9. After two or three rolls have been put together, then introduce SFX and Plot Point stuff.
10. Encourage the superheroic. Get excited about the crazy superhero action that players bring to the table. When a player comes at you with a superheroic idea, applaud them. When it isn't quite there yet, help them get it there. I've had Wolverine climb his way down a 13 story chasm by sliding down on his claws, or simply by knee-dropping on a villain from that high up and letting the adamantium skeleton take care of the rest. I've seen Iron Man face down Carnage, remember that Carnage is vulnerable to sonic attack, and say "J.A.R.V.I.S., load playlist labeled "Dubstep". I've seen Daredevil to bounce his billy club off of bullets hanging in mid-air to punish a villains face. I've seem Iron Fist punch someone in their Chi. Some of that was pure player ingenuity, some of it came with some encouragement from me, all of it got applause from the entire table.
The best moment I've had in running this game is when I, as Count Nefaria, hurled a boulder the size of a car at Ms. Marvel with my kinetic energy control. I asked the twelve-year old girl playing Ms. Marvel, "What do you do?" She only smiled back at me, in that way that a triumphant hero smiles back at a soon-to-be-defeated villain.
"I punch it right back at him."
Damn right you do, Ms. Marvel. Damn right you do.
(Edited for comically bad spelling error replacement.)
Last edited by MPOSullivan
on Fri May 11, 2012 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.