Marvelous Initiative

So there’s this new superhero RPG on the block called Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. You may have heard of it, created by the licensing mavens at Margaret Weis Productions, led by Cam “Mr. Fantastic” Banks, using the oh-so-hackable Cortex+ (that’s “Cortex-Plus”) system.

Amongst its various game systems twists and turns, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MHR for short) features a novel new initiative system: in essence, one of the players gets to go first, based on consensus and description of what’s happening in the scene. The Watcher (that’s the Game Master in MHR) can spend some Doom Pool dice (a GM resource) to have a non-player character go first.

The interesting part is whomever goes first decides who goes next, with the caveat that every character in the scene has to get one turn before the next turn starts, and whoever goes last in the turn gets to decide who goes first in the next turn. So, you can definitely play things so all your friends (and fellow heroes) go first, then all of the GM’s bad guys, but if the bad guys go last, the GM can choose one of them to go first on the next turn and give them all of their actions before the heroes get to go at all. Plus the GM can still spend Doom Pool dice to interrupt the action order any time. So some degree of back-and-forth seems sensible.

One nice thing about this approach to initiative and turn-taking is that it’s eminently easy to borrow to use in other games! So, a few thoughts on Marvel-style initiative in…

Mutants & Masterminds

The standard M&M initiative system is cyclical: at the start of a conflict, roll an initiative check (d20 + initiative modifier) for each character (or group of minions) involved in the conflict. Characters then act in order from highest to lowest each round before starting back at the top of the order. Certain actions, like delaying, may change a character’s place in the initiative order but, otherwise, it’s fairly static.

Applying the MHR approach to initiative essentially removes the need for advantages like Improved Initiative and Seize Initiative, except possibly as fire-breaks against the GM using a complication (the M&M equivalent of spending Doom Pool dice) to interrupt the initiative order or allow the villains to go first. This might cost the GM an additional hero point (awarded to the player of the character with the appropriate advantage).

The MHR approach likely means actions in M&M conflicts would vary more, as each player (and the GM) chooses who goes next in the action order, rather than staying with the same order from round to round. This can be good for variety, difficult if the GM has character sheets or stats arranged in a particular order to keep track of them during the conflict.


Icons has an even simpler initiative system: the heroes go, then the villain(s), and back and forth until the conflict is over.

The MHR approach mixes things up a bit more, allowing for villain actions to be potentially interspersed amongst the heroes’ actions, depending on who is chosen to go after the initial player. All of the “action” (in terms of die rolling) falls to the players, since villain actions are framed more in terms of the heroes reacting to what the villains do: the players roll counter-actions rather than the GM rolling villain actions.

Much like spending Doom Dice in MHR, the Icons GM would award Determination to the players in order to interrupt the action order or to have a villain go first as a challenge in the scene.

Whether you’re looking to play Marvel Heroic Roleplaying or just rifle through its pages for clever ideas you can lift for your own game (or hack its game system into something suitable for, say, Dungeons & Dragons…) check out the latest member of the superheroic RPG team; there’s a lot of power there!