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

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!

FATE and the Marvel Fate Deck

Anyone familiar with my work and online presence in prior years knows that I’m a big fan of the Marvel Super-Heroes Adventure Game (aka “Marvel Saga”) from TSR/Wizards of the Coast. I think it was the best iteration of the ill-fated SAGA game engine and a pretty awesome superhero RPG to boot. Elements of it were certainly inspirational in my later work, particularly ICONS.

Which brings me to the idea of FATE and the Marvel “Fate Deck”. Before I started using Plaintext and Dropbox on my iPhone, I jotted the following down in one the various beat-up notebooks I carried around:

FATE Aspects & the Fate Deck

Discard the standard trump rules from Marvel. In their place, characters have aspects, from “The Strongest One there Is!” to “Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger” or whatnot. This can include relationships, origins, nicknames, and all of the usual range of different aspects in FATE.

Tagging an aspect allows a player to flip an additional card from the top of the Fate Deck and add it to any played cards for an action. The player can also choose a trump suit; if the flipped card is of that suit, flip the next card, and so forth until a card not of that suit comes up. All flipped cards are added together for the action.

The Narrator can choose to play a card from the Doom Pool at any time to compel one of the player’s aspects. A player can choose to ignore this by discarding a card from his hand, but the discard also goes into the Doom Pool (along with the original Doom Card). Players can also choose to impose temporary compels or setbacks on their own characters in order to empty out the Doom Pool; each setback removes one card from the pool.

Players tagging their characters’ aspects requires only a suitable description of how the aspect applies to the given situation. Tagging other characters’ aspects may also require an action to learn of the aspect, or an action to apply a temporary aspect—like “Blinded” or “Angered”—to that character.

Dire Invasion

A Marvel Super Heroes Adventure

The heroes end up in a small town imperiled by Dire Wraiths. They are aided by Rom, Spaceknight. Unfortunately “Rom” is not entirely what he appears to be.

The heroes end up on the outskirts of Fremont, a small town upstate (either in New York or whatever state the heroes are based in). They are greeted by Sheriff John Tucker and his dog Rex. Apparently, according to the Sheriff, the town’s had some trouble recently with animal mutiliations and people reporting strange happenings. He’s at a loss to explain them beyond the possibility of some kids playing pranks. He invites the heroes back to town if they want to help.

Trouble in Town

Back in town, the heroes get a chance to speak with some of the local residents. A distraught woman comes rushing into the room, saying that aliens are mutilating her farm animals. When the heroes rush out to see what’s going on, they find a small group of cultists, wearing robes and carrying knives, standing over the bodies of some slain livestock. The cultists (Dire Wraiths in disguise), lash out using blaster weapons concealed beneath their robes and command the two hellhounds with them to attack. The Wraiths reveal their true nature if pressed, assuming various horrible forms to attack the heroes.

The Spaceknight

In the midst of the fight, Rom arrives to help out. The spaceknight swoops down over the battle, eliciting a cry of fear and anger from the Dire Wraiths. He says “I thought this world cleansed of your foul kind, Wraiths. It is my duty to see it remains so!” With a blast of his neutralizer, Rom banishes the Dire Wraiths to Limbo, leaving only some ashes and discarded cloaks behind. The hellhounds are likewise neutralized, leaving the bodies of dead Earth dogs behind.

Rom greets the heroes and tells them how he has returned to Earth because of information of a new Dire Wraith invasion. He offers to help the heroes deal with the Wraiths as he did before, by constructing a larger neutralizer device to banish them to Limbo. He suggests returning to the heroes’ base to work on the device. If the heroes lack the necessary technological equipment, they may be able to borrow it from SHIELD. Otherwise, Rom reveals he has a base in a cavern not far from the town, and offers to take the heroes there.

Back Home

The heroes go back to their base to help Rom impliment his plan. He intends to design a device to applify the beam of his neutralizer, banishing any remaining Wraiths still hiding on Earth. In truth, Rom is a dire wraith warlock in disguise, faking Rom’s abilities using technological trickery. The device is a dimensional portal into Limbo, intended to free the imprisoned Wraiths. When the device is activated, a portal appears in the air and from it steps the horror that is… Hybrid!

The wraiths free their brethren from Limbo, including Hybrid, who uses his tremendous psionic powers to paralyze the heroes. Hybrid banishes the heroes to Limbo through the portal and traps them there. The Wraiths assume the forms of the heroes and head off for New York (or the heroes’ home city) to begin winning over the local populace. Soon the Earth will be theirs!

Escape From Limbo

Floating helplessly in Limbo, the heroes are attacked by a Deathwing, a Dire Wraith monster that once nearly destroyed Galador. During the fight a voice drives the Deathwing back away from the heroes. They see a heavily robed Dire Wraith figure, carrying a golden sceptre. She is the Witchqueen of the Wraiths, banished to Limbo by Rom along with the other female wraiths. She knows something of Hybrid’s plan and does not wish to see it succeed. She believes she can return the heroes to Earth, but in return, she wants her own freedom. She will help the heroes against the other Wraiths, if they agree to help her escape from Limbo. If the heroes refuse, they’ll have to come up with their own way out, although they might be able to trick the Wraithqueen in some way.

Worms in the Big Apple

The “heroes” have met with an enthusiastic welcome in New York City, aided by Hybrid’s tremendous mental powers. The heroes need to overcome the Wraiths and put an end to Hybrid’s mind control. The Wraith leader will flee if his defeat appears imminent, to plan for another day.

The Dire Wraiths

Dire Wraiths (sciwraith): Strength 12X, Agility 3X, Intellect 8D, Willpower 4X, Edge 0, Health 10. Resistance to Heat +3, Shapeshifting 10. One science skill.(warlock): Strength 12X, Agility 3X, Intellect 4D, Willpower 10X, Edge 0, Health 10. Magic 10, Resistance to Heat +3, Shapeshifting 10. Occult. Calling: World Domination.

Hybrid (Jimmy Marks): Strength 8X, Agility 6X, Intellect 6X, Willpower 15D, Edge 2, Health 25. Body Armor +4, Flight 4, Illusion 16, Mind Control 16, Shapeshifting 16, Telekinesis 18, Telepathy 14. Calling: World Domination.

Hellhounds: Strength 8X, Agility 6X, Intellect 1X, Willpower 2X, Health 10. Animal Form 8 (Limit: hound form only), Claws +2, Enhanced Senses 10 (tracking), Phasing 12, Teeth +2. Calling: Animal Nature.

Deathwing: Strength 16X, Agility 4X, Intellect 2X, Willpower 4X, Health 30. Body Armor +3, Claws +4, Teeth +2, Wings 8. Calling: Demolisher.

Building a Better Deathtrap

Diabolical Dilemmas for the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game

A super-villain has defeated our heroes, leaving them at his or her mercy. What is the villain going to do? Certainly not kill the heroes in cold blood. Not only would that end the game in a hurry and leave the Narrator with a lot of unhappy players, it wouldn’t be in keeping with the modus operandi of most super-villains. Killing the heroes outright denies the villain the opportunity to use one of the favorite villainous devices: the deathtrap.

This article looks at ways to include some fiendish deathtraps in your own Marvel games, along with some game rules to make escaping from those traps a little more exciting.

Why Deathtraps?

Why doesn’t the villain just do away with the heroes when they are helpless? Why put them in a deathtrap? Well, villains have many different reasons. Some want to demonstrate their own cleverness by creating the perfect deathtrap, although they always seem to fall just a bit short. Other villains prefer for their enemies to suffer. Rather than kill them quickly and cleanly, they want to make the heroes squirm. For some a deathtrap is a means of doing away with the heroes without the villain having to dirty his own hands at the task. In some cases, the deathtrap happens by accident rather than design; the heroes end up in a perilous situation-trapped in a burning building, for example-and the villain simply leaves them there to die.

Whatever reasons the villain might have, the real reason behind deathtraps is simple: super heroes just don’t die in such undramatic ways as being shot by a villain after a knock on the head. Super heroes only die in dramatic life-of-death struggles, and rarely even then. The consequence of defeat in most RPG settings is death, combats are often lethal. In the non-lethal setting of the comics, deathtraps provide a way to put some drama into a super heroic adventure. Defeated heroes, and their players, know that they face, not death, but “a fate worse than death! Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!” (Sorry, got carried away there.)

Being Defeated

A key part of many deathtraps is that the villain first defeats the heroes. The villain puts them into a deathtrap, reveals his or her evil plan, then leaves the heroes to face their fate. The trick in translating this into the Marvel game is defeating the heroes in the first place.

As a general rule, players don’t like to lose. Although roleplaying games like Marvel don’t have any real “winners” or “losers,” players often equate “defeated in combat” with “losing.” If a Narrator plans to defeat a group of heroes before putting them in a deathtrap, expect the players to fight to the very last to avoid being defeated, even if defeat seems inevitable. And, if you give them the opportunity, don’t be surprised if the players somehow managed to snatch victory from the jaws of certain defeat. Trump cards and Edge can do that.

There are several ways you can deal with this problem in your games. The first is to tell the players up front that, in playing a Marvel game, a certain amount of defeats may happen to their heroes. These defeats shouldn’t be looked at as failures on the part of the players or their heroes, simply as part of the game. As you play and the players see that defeat does not mean certain death for their favorite hero, they’ll begin to loosen up about getting defeated now and again. They might even look forward to the deathtrap that’s coming next!

You can also set up “you never had a chance” situations; traps so fiendishly designed that the heroes simply have no way to avoid being defeated. For example, the heroes break into Arcade’s control room and confront the crazed assassin, who’s sitting in his chair, smugly confident and taunting them. One of the heroes decides to punch or blast Arcade. When he does, the android duplicate of the carnival hitman explodes, releasing a cloud of knockout gas. The gas quickly incapacitates the heroes, allowing Arcade to drop them into his latest Murderworld. In this case, the heroes don’t get a chance to resist the gas; if they trigger the trap, they’re caught.

Or you can simply start an adventure with the heroes already defeated by a villain, who has them in a deathtrap. For example, if your players are running the Uncanny X-Men, you tell them they were out for a night at the opera when Arcade’s loyal assistants, Ms. Locke and Mr. Chambers, sprang a stun gas trap on them. When the adventure begins, they wake up in their costumes inside Murderworld and the game begins!

Use this method sparingly. If the heroes are confronted with too many situations out of their control, the players can become frustrated and lose interest in the game. Oftentimes it is better to allow the players to come up with some way to avoid the trap, then hit them with another one, rather than making a particular defeat inevitable.

Lastly, you can surprise heroes with deathtraps that do not require the villain to defeat the heroes first. In the first example above, the booby-trapped android duplicate of Arcade might be the deathtrap rather than a means of getting the heroes into one. Heroes can walk right into a deathtrap if a villain prepares the proper “bait,” like a crime in progress or a helpless loved one.

The Doom Clock

Deathtraps require a certain dramatic timing in order to remain tense and exciting for the players. One way the Narrator can accomplish this is through the use of a “Doom Clock,” which counts down how long the hero has to successfully escape the deathtrap before disaster.

The Narrator chooses a number of actions required to escape from the deathtrap. This should generally be between two and five actions. One action is too quick for anything except the simplest traps, while more than five actions tends to bog things down and get boring. The Narrator then decides what the various actions should be, for example, finding the access panel to the computer, bypassing the security lockouts and reprogramming the system. If the player offers a plan of his or her own, the Narrator should break it down into actions accordingly.

The Narrator then chooses the number of actions before the deathtrap activates: how long before the walls close in, before the hero is dropped into the pit of boiling acid, and so forth. For tough deathtraps, this interval should be the same as the number of actions required to escape. For easier challenges, the interval can be from 25% to 100% longer.

The Narrator then begins to turn over cards on the Fate Deck. Each card represents an exchange. On a positive draw, the hero may attempt an action to escape the trap. On a negative draw, the trap’s “clock” advances forward by one exchange. On a neutral draw, nothing happens: the hero is struggling to figure out what comes next while the clock is ticking.

Last Ditch Effort

It may be that the trap springs before the hero has time enough to escape, especially when the positive and negative counters are close. In this case, when the final negative card comes up that would trigger the trap, the hero has the option of making a last ditch attempt to escape. This is a single action, chosen by the Narrator. It should have a difficulty at least three levels higher than that of the other actions for getting out of the trap. So a deathtrap that required three challenging actions to overcome normally would require a superhuman last ditch effort to escape. Heroes can use Pushing the Limit to help with a list ditch effort. If the hero is successful, he or she escapes just in the nick of time.

Dramatic Events

While the Doom Clock is ticking, the Narrator can use any Dramatic Events that come up on the card draws the enhance the excitement of the deathtrap, if appropriate. For example, Emergency or Endangered Innocents might indicate a new threat from the deathtrap, like a runaway laser beam setting the room on fire. On the other hand, events like No Restrictions or Never Say Die, might actually help the heroes, giving them additional insight or a second-chance. This is very useful if the heroes are having too easy or too difficult a time with the deathtrap, keeping things in balance and keeping the players on the edge of their seats.

Types of Deathtraps

Here are some of the classic deathtraps from the comics for use in your games. You can use these basic ideas to create an almost endless array of lethal traps. Consider spicing things up by combining two or more deathtraps into one, or by taking an existing “classic” and adding a new spin to it, like a Closing Walls trap where the room the heroes are trapped in is slowly filling with an alien bio-sludge that causes the heroes to mutate or lose control of their powers.

  • Closing Walls: The heroes are trapped in a room where the walls are closing in or which is slowly filling with sand, water, poison gas or something equally unbreathable, or perhaps both: the walls are closing in and the room is filling up at the same time. The walls may also be backed up by more than crushing force, they may be lined with spikes or heated red hot. The heroes have to figure a way out of the room before they are crushed or suffocate. Needless to say, this trap is considerably less threatening to heroes who are either invulnerable or don’t have to breathe. However, their teammates, friends and loved ones still do.
  • Controlled Teammate: The villain brainwashes one of the heroes into thinking his or her teammates are enemies who must be destroyed. The team has to convince the brainwashed hero not to attack. The Narrator can control any brainwashed hero(es) for this trap, but it can be a lot of fun to give control of the mind-controlled heroes to the players and let them loose! Encourage the players to roleplay helping their comrade break free of the evil mind-control, rather than reducing it to just a series of Willpower actions. You can use the Doom Clock in conjunction with the heroes’ attempts, especially if there is a time-limit, such as the mind-controlled hero about to trigger a far more lethal deathtrap.
  • Countdown: The heroes are sitting on top of a bomb (or similar deadly device) which is counting down to go off. Of course, the heroes are restrained or in some way prevented from easily defusing the bomb. The Doom Clock represents the trap’s countdown.
  • Decoy Villain: A decoy that looks like the villain (a robot duplicate or simply a dummy) triggers another trap when it is attacked. The decoy might explode or release a toxic gas when struck, or it might trigger things like trapdoors or cages containing dangerous creatures.
  • Gauntlet: The heroes have to make their way through a corridor or maze filled with deadly traps of all kinds. The traps can be anything the Narrator thinks up: automated weapons, fighting robots, creatures, pit traps, swinging blades and so forth. There may also be a time-limit for the heroes to make it through the gauntlet before something else happens, like the whole place blowing up, being flooded or something similar. Heroes often use gauntlets for training purposes on their own, like the “Danger Room” scenarios of the X-Men.
  • Psychodrama: The heroes are trapped inside a mindscape or illusion that involves something drawn from their own memories or worst fears. They may all see the same thing, or each hero might experience something different-the claustrophobic hero feels the walls closing in, the hero afraid of drowning sees the room filling with water, and so forth. The heroes have to overcome their fears in order to defeat the trap.
  • Sawmill: The heroes are strapped down, helpless, while a deadly attack draws closer and closer. It might be a laser, molten metal in a steel mill, a buzz-saw in a lumber mill, a rampaging monster, or some attack or substance a hero is especially vulnerable to. The heroes must escape before the attack gets to them. Alternately, a friend or loved one of a hero may be placed in a similar situation, forcing the hero to come to the rescue.
  • Tiger Pit: The heroes are placed in a trap where dangerous animals can attack them. It might be hungry lions, sharks, piranha, poisonous snakes or even more exotic creatures like alien monsters, mutates or cyborgs. Usually, there is something keeping both the creatures and the heroes trapped together, like a pit or force field. The creatures also have the home-field advantage, such as having to fight sharks or giant squid underwater (while holding your breath) or dealing with invisible mutants that can see in the dark while in pitch blackness.

Marvel: The Hidden Races

Humanity in the Marvel Universe is by no means alone; numerous alien and extradimensional races have visited Earth in the past. In some cases, those visits have altered the evolutionary destiny of the human race, creating sub-races, offshoots of the human genetic tree, that share the planet with humanity. Most of these races are few in number compared to humans and choose to conceal their existence from humanity. They are the hidden races.


Atlanteans

The Atlanteans (homo mermanus) is an offshoot of the human race adapted for life underwater. They take thier name from the sunken continent of Atlantis, after they colonized its underwater ruins. The origin of the Atlantean race is unknown; they may be descendants of the original Atlanteans, altered by advanced technology or magic to exist underwater, which allowed them to survive the sinking of their island continent.

The Atlanteans have blue-tinged skin and gill slits at their clavicals that allow them to breathe water. They are approximately ten times stronger than normal humans, adepted to survive the rigors of the ocean depths. Their circulation is more efficient, protecting them against the cold, and their vision is more sensitive to the blue-green portion of the spectrum, allowing them to see greater distances underwater. Atlanteans have pointed ears, enlarged to allow them to hear great distances underwater. Normal Atlanteans cannot breathe air and suffocate out of the water, although there is an Atlantean bio-chemical that allows them to take on the paler skin and air breathing qualities of a normal human for a few hours at a time. Most Atlanteans wear water-filled helmets when visiting the surface world.

Atlantean society has been primitive and tribal for most of its history. Unable to light fires, mix chemicals, or perform many of the most basic technological feats underwater, Atlantean science and technology remained at a stone-age level. In the past century or so the Atlanteans have aquired advanced technology from contact with the Deviants and from looting the ruins of Atlantis. This gives them a combination of primitive weapons and armor like tridents and swords along with powerful submarine ships and biotechnology.

Atlantean society is tribal for the most part, organized in small bands of hunter-gatherers who subsist on fish and seaweed, living in ocean caves and coral reefs. A few thousand Atlanteans live in the ruins of the city of Atlantis and have a more advanced society, similar to the Roman Empire in many respects. They are ruled by a king and a Council of Elders, with specialized castes for hunting, farming, the arts, sciences, and so forth. Although the monarchy claims authority over all Atlanteans, technically it only holds sway over the city and the surrounding area. The barbaric Atlanteans outside of it have their own chieftans and warlords. Atlantean religion tends toward pantheistic nature worship, while the official religion of the city of Atlantis is based around worship of the sea-god Neptune.

Atlantis has attempted to invade the surface world on several occasions, but has always been forced back. Surface world relations with Atlantis are shaky at best, and the Atlanteans tend toward isolationism.

Typical Atlantean: Strength 9D, Agility 3X, Intellect 3C, Willpower 2X, Edge 0, Health 10. Knives, Lore (Atlantean), Oceanography. Resistance +4 (Cold and Pressure), Waterbreathing 3 (Swimming). Equipment: Knife +2, Net 8 (Ensnarment), Trident +4. Hindrance: Fatally Vulnerable to Air. Calling: Outcast.

Typical Atlantean Warrior: Strength 10C, Agility 4D, Intellect 3C, Willpower 3X, Health 17. Knives, Spears, Underwater Combat, Lore (Atlantean), Oceanography. Resistance +6 (Cold and Pressure), Waterbreathing 4 (Swimming). Equipment: Knife +2, Net 8 (Ensnarment), Power Trident +3 (Stun Blast 8), Blaster 10 (Energy Blast). Hindrance: Fatally Vulnerable to Air. Calling: Soldier.


Deviants

A million years ago, the powerful alien Celestials visited Earth and performed experiments on primitive humans. They created two new offshoots of humanity, the highly evolved Eternals (see Eternals) and the Deviants. The Celestials engineered the Deviants to test the plasticity of human DNA by ensuring that their physical and genetic characteristics would vary greatly with each generation. Deviant children bear no resemblance to their parents and, apart from generally maintaining bilateral symmetry, Deviants bear little resemblance to each other.

The Deviants were the first natives of Earth to develop technology and they quickly became very advanced in a number of areas, notably genetics. They engineered the Subterraneans as a slave race (see Subterraneans) and Deviant technology may have been used to transform the Atlanteans into water-breathers (see Atlanteans). The Deviants built great cities and established an empire centered on the continent of Lemuria. They conquered the entire world except for the continent of Atlantis, which fought off a Deviant army. To fend off the Deviants, Atlantis’ King Kamuu opened the magma pits that heated the capitol city. This led to seismological uphevals in Atlantis.

Not long thereafter, the Second Host of the Celestials visited Earth, appearing above Lemuria. The Deviants launched an immediate attack on the Space Gods and the Celestials responded by destroying Lemuria, unleashing the cataclysm that sank Lemuria and Atlantis beneath the ocean. The Deviant population was decimated and retreated to hidden cities deep underground. They built a new underground capitol city in the ruins of Lemuria, the so-called “City of Toads.”

The Deviants are ruled by a noble class but much of the power in their society is held by the priesthood, which works to stabilize the Deviant gene-pool. The priests cull the Deviant population, sending the most mutated Deviants to their deaths in the fire pits during the “Purity Time.” The priesthood also has the greatest understanding of Deviant genetic science and engineering. Such harsh measures do not seem to have significantly affected the Deviants’ random genetics.

Nearly all Deviants are born with non-human appearances (indeed, the Deviant Ransak is considered a “freak” because of his completely human appearance). Many Deviants also have super-human abilities, the most common being super-strength, although they display a wide range of powers and abilities. Deviants with powerful abilities tend to rise to the top of their society as warriors or priest-lords.

Because Deviant children differ so greatly from their parents, Deviants find the idea of reproduction somewhat repugnant, and take no pleasure in it. The sexes are segregated in Deviant society and only mate in order to propigate the race (often at the direction of the priesthood, which determines the best genetic matches). The Deviant birth-rate is unsurprisingly low; there are only a few thousand Deviants in the entire world, making even the great City of Toads seem vast and empty. Many other subterranean Deviant cities are entirely abandoned.

The Deviants have been at war with the Eternals for nearly all of their history, generally motivated by the Deviants’ jealousy of those they see as the Celestials’ “favored” children and their desire to gain the secret of the Eternals’ immortality.

Typical Deviant: Strength 7X, Agility 3X, Intellect 3X, Willpower 2X, Edge 0, Hand Size 2 (10). A “typical” Deviant is almost a contradiction in terms, but most of them have abilities close to these. Deviants often have super-powers. Draw a card from the Fate Deck and assign a power of that suit with an intensity equal to the card’s face value, or add the card’s value to its associated attribute. Deviant warriors often have Strength 10+ and various Strength skills. Priests have Intellect and Willpower of at least 4 (often higher). Hindrance: Monstrous.


Eternals

The Eternals are one of two races (the other being the Deviants) created by Celestial intervention on Earth a million years ago. The Celestials evolved a group of primitive humans and granted them the ability to tap and control small amounts of cosmic energy, creating the first Eternals.

Eventually a civil war broke out between two factions of Eternals over the course of their race’s future. The more war-like faction, led by Uranos, lost and was banished into space. The winning faction, led by Uranos’ brother Kronos, built the city of Titanos. Uranos’ band of Eternals discovered a supply depot on the planet Uranus, left by the alien Kree. Overcoming the sentry robot left to guard it, the Eternals used the supplies from the depot to construct a warship to return and conquer their brethren on Earth. Four Eternals remained behind and became the founders of a small Eternal colony on Uranus. The returning Eternals never reached Earth, however, because they were intercepted by a Kree armada entering Earth’s solar system. One Eternal, Arlok, was captured and vivisected by the Kree. Discovering that he was from Earth, the Kree resolved to conduct their own genetic experiments on humanity. Their experiments resulted in the Inhumans (see Inhumans). The survivors of Uranos’ followers settled on Saturn’s moon, Titan.

On Earth, Kronos performed an experiment in cosmic energy engineering in Titanos, resulting in an explosion that destroyed the city and exposed Earth’s Eternals to cosmic energy bombardment, activating their latent potential. Kronos was disintegrated in the explosion, although his astral form still exists in Earth’s dimension. After Kronos’ death his sons, Zuras and Alars, initiated the Uni-Mind for the first time in Eternal history, to decide which of them should lead their people. The Uni-Mind chose Zuras, and Alars departed for space to avoid conflict. He discovered the Eternal colony on Titan, devastated by a civil war. He mated with Sui-San, the last survivor of the Titanian Eternals, and together they began the process of repopulating Titan. Alars changed his name to Mentor and he remains the leader of the Titanian Eternals.

Zuras directed the construction of three new cities for the Eternals of Earth: Olympia in Greece, Polaria in Siberia, and Oceana in the Pacific. For thousands of years the Eternals co-existed with the other branches of humanity. Their occasional interventions gave rise to human myths, and they were sometimes confused with extradimensional races of gods like the Olympians and the Asgardians. The Eternals also conflicted with their ancient enemies, the Deviants, from time to time. In recent years, the Celestial Fourth Host arrived on Earth to judge the fitness of their work. The Eternals banded together with the Asgardians to repel the Celestials, but were unsuccessful. Zuras died in the attempt, but the Celestials ruled in Earth’s favor, thanks to intervention by the Earth-goddess Gaia, and departed.

Following Zuras’ death, the majority of Eternals chose to join the Uni-Mind and leave Earth to explore the universe. A small number of Eternals particularly involved in human affairs chose to remain behind. They were first ruled by Thena, Zuras’ daughter, as Prime Eternal, but Thena was later deposed by Ikaris because of her involvement with the Deviant Warlord, Kro. Ikaris is the current Prime Eternal of Earth. For the most part, the Eternals maintain the secret of their race’s existence, and interfere only rarely in human affairs.

Earth Eternals have cosmic energy-based powers, making them virtually immortal and invulnerable. Titanian Eternals have more limited (but still substanial) life-spans and powers, from the genes of Mentor. The Eternal colony on Uranus died out in the 20th century, not long after sending Robert Grayson (alias Marvel Boy) back to Earth. Quasar explored the ruins of the Uranus colony shortly before becoming Protector of the Universe.

Typical Earth Eternal: Strength 15, Agility 4, Intellect 4, Willpower 5, Edge 2, Hand Size 4 (20). Skills based on areas of interest. Cosmic Energy Control 10 (Flight, Telekinesis), Immortality, Invulnerability (Cold, Disease, Electricity, Heat, Poison, and Radiation), Telepathy 4 (Illusion), Teleportation 3. Many Eternals have trained themselves to higher (sometimes much higher) levels of powers and abilities, and mastered particular power stunts (such as Sersi’s Transmutation).

Typical Titanian Eternal: Strength 12, Agility 4, Intellect 4, Willpower 4, Edge 1, Hand Size 3 (17). Skills based on areas of interest, although science and Willpower skills are common. Flight 10, Resistance (Aging, Cold, Disease, Electricity, Heat, Poison, and Radiation) +5. Various “sport” psionic abilities are common among the Eternals of Titan, including Telepathy and Telekinesis.


Inhumans

The Inhumans are an offshoot of humanity created by the alien Kree, who visited Earth some twenty-five thousand years ago. After encountering an Earth Eternal in the outer solar system (see Eternals), the Kree decided to perform their own genetic experiments on primitive humans, possibly to create super-soldiers for their ongoing war against the Skrulls. Kree scientists succeeded in engineering a tribe of genetically advanced human beings, but abandoned their plans for them for unknown reasons. After the Kree left them, the Inhumans wandered across the Eurasian continent, eventually settling on a small island in the Northern Atlantic they called Attilan.

Sometime within the first millennium of Inhuman existence, the Inhuman geneticist Randac isolated a chemical catalyst for human mutation, which he called Terrigen. Randac exposed himself to Terrigen and gained tremendous mental powers, rivaling those of the Eternals. He was chosen as the leader of Attilan for his genetic fitness and instituted a program to expose others to the Terrigen. Unfortunately, half of the subjects developed non-human physical mutations, so the experimentation was stopped. The ruling Genetic Council decided that subjects would only undergo exposure to the Terrigen Mist after careful genetic screening and testing.

Centuries later, an Inhuman leader named Gral, tired of discrimination against the non-human portion of the population, instituted a reign of terror where the entire population of Attilan was exposed to the Terrigen Mists. Three-quarters of the population were transformed into non-human types. For years, the Inhumans were segregated into Mutation Camps, allowed to interact and breed only with their own phenotype. Eventually Gral was deposed, and an Inhuman named Auran taught his people to embrace their diversity and live together in peace and understanding. This era came to an end some 2,500 years ago, when winged Inhumans built a city suspended in the sky above Attilan, leading to conflict between the sky- and ground-dwellers. The small colony of winged Inhumans has existed in relative peace over the years. It became the adopted home of the costumed hero Red Raven.

About four thousand years ago, the Inhuman scientist Avadar convinced the Genetic Council to lift their ban on cloning, allowing him to engineer a clone servitor race called the Alpha Primitives to perform all menial labor in Attilan. Only in recent times has the ban on cloning been re-instituted and the creation of new Alpha Primitives outlawed. The Inhumans freed the Alpha Primitives and gave them a home in the caverns beneath Attilan. Designed as sub-human workers, its unclear whether or not the Alphas are even aware of their chage in status, although some Inhuman missionaries work to try and educate them.

Some 110 years ago, the Inhuman Agon was elected to leadership of the Genetic Council. Agon was a skilled geneticist and popular leader, who made many advances in stabilizing the Inhuman genome. He and his wife Rynda exposed their unborn child to the Terrigen Mist, causing Blackagar to be born as the most powerful Inhuman in history, exceeding even Randac’s abilities. They persuaded their brothers and sisters to do likewise, causing Blackagar’s cousins to be born with powerful superhuman abilities as well.

Ninety years into Agon’s rule, the Kree renewed their interest in using the Inhumans as soldiers in their ongoing war with the Skrulls. Agon’s younger son, Maximus, betrayed his people and began secret negotiations with the Kree. When Maximus’ brother Black Bolt discovered this, he used his sonic powers to blast the Kree ship out of the sky. It crashed into the laboratory where Agon and Rynda worked, killing them along with a number of other Inhumans. Given Agon’s popularity, the Genetic Council elected a reluctant Black Bolt the new king of the Inhumans.

During Black Bolt’s reign, Attilan was moved from the Atlantic to a hidden valley in the Himalayan Mountains, to hide it from the outside world. Shortly thereafter, Maximus overthrew his brother and seized power in Attilan with the aid of mutated Alpha Primitives known as the Trikon. For nearly a decade, Black Bolt and his cousins wandered the world. When they finally returned to Attilan, Black Bolt won the crown back from Maximus. He made several later attempts to oust his brother, but none were as successful.

When the Inhumans proved allergic to the pollutants in Earth’s atmosphere, they were forced to relocate Attilan once more, this time to the Blue Area of the Moon, where the Kree had once built a city outpost. The city remained hidden on the Moon for some time, until the Inhumans moved it to an island near Attilan’s original location, a portion of the Atlantean continent raised above the ocean during an Atlantean invasion of the surface world (see Atlanteans). Magnetic field generators and distortion projectors protect Attilan from outside discovery and interference.

The Inhumans are ruled by a genocracy, rule by the genetically fittest. The ruling body is the tweleve member Genetic Council, the members of which are elected for life. They choose from among their number one to be the ruler (or “king”) of Attilan, who also serves for life. Rulership is not hereditary, although popular kings are sometimes succeeded by their genetic offspring (as in the case of Agon and Black Bolt). The Genetic Council passes laws, while the king acts as Attilan’s sole judge in legal matters. Presently, the Council restricts the science of cloning, and citizens are required to undergo genetic screening before marriage and mating, to ensure the best genetic matches. Exposure to the Terrigen Mist is permitted only after extensive genetic screening. Children may be exposed in utero or at a young age at the discretion of their parents. Adults not exposed as childen may choose to be at the age of 31. Presently, of the some 1,200 Inhumans in Attilan, roughly half have some non-human mutation.

The Inhumans speak their own language, Tilan, but many have also learned to speak human languages like English, Russian, and Chinese. The primary occupation of most Inhumans is science, but they also have various trade and artist guilds. Menial labor is mostly handled by machines since the use of genetic slaves like the Alpha Primitive was banned. The technology of Attilan is highly advanced, sufficient to make the city entirely self-sustaining.

Typical Inhuman: Strength 8X, Agility 4X, Intellect 3D, Willpower 3X, Edge 1, Hand Size 3 (17). Powers: Every Inhuman has at least one power. To determine randomly, draw a card from the Fate Deck and assign a power of that suit with an intensity equal to the card’s face value. If the card also has a neutral aura, the Inhuman has some sort of physical mutation, often linked to his or her power. Hindrance: Fatally Vulnerable to pollution of intensity 15 or greater. Certain medications can offset this Hindrance for a short time.

Alpha Primitive: Strength 9X, Agility 5X, Intellect 1X, Willpower 1X, Edge 0, Health 10. Calling: Soldier. Hindrance: Uncreative.


Lemurians

The Lemurians are a subspecies of the water-breathing Atlanteans (see Atlanteans) who settled the northern regions of the continent of Lemuria after the Celestial Second Host sank it (and Atlantis) beneath the ocean. The Lemurians worshiped the elder god Set and their King Naga wore the mystical Serpent Crown, a channel for Set’s magical power and his touchstone with Earth’s reality. This caused the Lemurians to develop green-tinted skin, often scaled in the case of Set worshipers like Naga and his closest followers.

Other than their differently colored skin and a propensity for learning magic, the Lemurians have the same abilities as the Atlanteans.


Subterraneans

The Subterraneans are actually three related races living deep beneath the Earth’s surface. When the Celestials sank Deviant Lemuria (see Deviants), the Deviant race was driven deep underground. They needed a slave race to replace the human slaves they had lost in the catastrophe, so they used their mastery of genetics to engineer such a race. The original Subterraneans looked identical to humans except for their pale yellow skin. They had approximately three times ordinary human strength, making them well suited for hard labor, and their eyes were adapted to see in the infrared, allowing them to operate in very dim light. The Subterraneans carved out tunnels and expanded the underground Deviant cities.

Eventually, the Subterraneans rebelled against their Deviant masters, led by the revolutionary Gor-Tok. They captured several underground cities and expelled the Deviants from them. The Deviants later sued for peace and ceeded those cities to the Subterraneans, who became known as the Gortokians, after their leader.

A demon-worshipping cult later developed among the Gortokians. The demon magically transformed its worshippers into Lava Men, who broke off from Gortokian society and established their own civilization deep beneath the Earth. The Lava Men have rocky reddish skin and radiate great heat, which they are virtually immune to. They are ruled by their shamans, who have mystical powers over lava, ash, and rock.

The Deviants, meanwhile, engineered a new slave race. This time, they made sure to engineer their new slaves to be completely obedient to authority and virtually incapable of rebellion. They created one breed as short and stocky, with rounded heads that later became known as the Tyrranoids. The other was small and thin, later known as the Moloids.

They proved the ideal slaves for the Deviants but they were no match for the Gortokians, who attacked and drove the Deviants out of their cities, forcing them back to the City of Toads in Lemuria. The Deviants abandoned their new slaves, leaving most of them to fend for themselves. The Tyrranoids and the Moloids degenerated, becoming weaker (about the strength of a normal human) and incapable of speech, although they continued to maintain the old Deviant machines, as they were instructed. The Tyrranoids were eventually discovered by the exiled Roman Tyrranus while the Moloids were discovered by the Mole Man. Desperately in need of leadership, the Subterraneans latched onto these men as their new masters.

In recent years the Gortokians prepared to conquer the surface world, but their capitol city was destroyed a nuclear weapon test by humans ignorant of their existence. Radiation sickness and plague wiped out all of the Gortokians except for the heir to the throne, Prince Gor-Tok, named for his legendary ancestor. Radiation mutated Gor-Tok and he attempted to avenge his race by destroying the surface world, calling himself Grotesk. His efforts were thwarted by the X-Men.

Subterranean: Strength 4X, Agility 3D, Intellect 1X, Willpower 1X, Edge 0, Hand Size 2 (10). Repair (Deviant technology). Hindrances: Monstrous, Physically Disabled (blind in bright light), Uncreative. These abilities are the same for the Moloids and the Tyrranoids.

Lava Man: Strength 9X, Agility 3X, Intellect 3X, Willpower 3X, Edge 0, Hand Size 2 (10). Body Transformation (Rock) 9, Energy Sheath (Heat) 8 (Resistance to Heat). Hindrances: Monstrous, Susceptible (Cold).

Power of the Mind

Originally published in Dragon magazine #255

Psionics in the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game

Whether it’s the matchless mind of Professor Charles Xavier or the tremendous telepathy and telekinesis of Nate Grey in X-Man, fantastic mental powers or “psionics” are a staple of the Marvel Universe. Psionic heroes and villains offer unique opportunities and challenges to MARVEL players and Narrators. This article looks at psi powers in the Marvel Universe and how to use them to add some interesting new twists to your MARVEL adventures.

Psi Powers

The first question is: what are “psionic powers” exactly? Psionics (“psi” for short) are extraordinary powers of the mind, like telepathy and telekinesis, the two most classic psi powers. Generally speaking, psi powers have Willpower as their trump suit, and psionic heroes rely on having a strong Willpower to help back them up in mental combat. Some psi powers have Intellect as their trump suit, particularly powers that affect the physical world, like Telekinesis.

A psionic hero should have a strong Willpower and a selection of mental powers. The hero might have only a single mental power (like Justice’s telekinesis), several powers (like Phoenix’s telepathy/telekinesis combo) or many powers, like Nate Grey’s collection of psi abilities. The Mental Control skill is very valuable for psionic heroes, since it lowers the difficulty of all powers based on Willpower (not just Mind Control). Don’t overlook the value of a Psi-Screen for protecting a psionic hero from mental attacks and powers; most psionics have some kind of mental defense to protect themselves from the powers of other psionics.

Psi powers (particularly telepathy) are very versatile, and can be used for many different stunts by the heroes and villains who possess them. In addition to all of the various stunts described in the MARVEL Game Book, here are some other applications and stunts psionics might try.

Astral Projection

Astral projectors can use Willpower powers while in astral form, allowing them to use powers like Telepathy and Mind Control on other people while they are out of their body. This is a powerful ability, since an astral projector cannot be affected or even detected by anyone without the appropriate mental powers. Narrators should beware of heroes who try to go into action solely in astral form, making them immune to counterattack.

Heroes and villains capable of astral projection may fight battles entirely on the astral plane (like Professor X against the Shadow King, or Dr. Strange and many of his opponents). In astral form, physical abilities like Strength and Agility are irrelevant. Willpower serves the same function as Strength and Intellect the same function as Agility on the astral plane. Physical powers have no effect, only Willpower-based powers work. Two opponents with astral projection can fight a battle without anyone in the physical world even noticing.

Illusion

As mentioned in the MARVEL Game Book, illusion can be a very potent power when its true nature is concealed from others. A skilled illusionist can appear to have any number of powers, even Reality Warping, if the subjects of the illusion don’t know it’s an illusion. Moonglow (from the Squadron Supreme) concealed the true nature of her illusion powers and pretended to have powers of Flight, Phasing, Light and Gravity Control using an illusory image of herself. The super-villain Mastermind was an expert at using illusions to confuse his opponents and turn them against each other by twisting reality, such as when he turned Phoenix against the X-Men or the X-Men against Cyclops by convincing them Cyclops was actually Dark Phoenix reborn.

A skilled illusionist often mixes illusion and reality, using an illusion to conceal a real danger like a trap or an enemy.

Mind Control

If an illusionist can make you doubt your senses, a mind controller can make you doubt your own thoughts and memories. Can you ever really be sure you did something of your own will, or was there some outside influence? A subtle opponent with Mind Control can plant thoughts, alter memories and arrange things so it’s almost impossible to be sure.

Generally speaking, only villains use powers like Emotion Control, Hypnosis and Mind Control casually. Psionic heroes have a special burden on them to use their powers wisely. They are reluctant to usurp control of another person’s mind against their will. A hero who does so on a regular basis may need to consider a change of Calling. Even powerful psionics like Professor X and Phoenix are loathe to interfere with the minds of others casually, and there are often consequences for such actions. When Professor X used his powers to shut down Magneto’s mind, a portion of Magneto’s consciousness was trapped in Xavier’s mind. It loosed the professor’s own dark side and created the entity known as Onslaught, which nearly killed many of the world’s greatest heroes.

Of course, villains have no compunctions about using their powers to control the minds of others and super-villains like Mesmero and the Shadow King treat other people as little more than puppets.

Brainwashing: A mind controller can attempt to brainwash someone rather than control them short-term. This stunt requires a daunting Mind Control (Willpower) action. If it succeeds, the controller can implant certain commands that the subject must carry out at a later time. A hero can make a daunting Willpower (Mind Control) action to resist the effects of brainwashing.

Memory Alteration: Similar to Mindwipe, except the hero alters the subject’s memories instead of erasing them by making a daunting Mind Control (Willpower) action. The subject can be made to recall things differently from how they actually happened. The subject believes the memories are real and acts accordingly until the effects are reversed using this power.

Telekinesis

In addition to simply using Telekinesis to lift and move things, a hero can use it to manipulate things at a distance: pushing buttons, moving levers, pulling (or jamming) the triggers of weapons or even pulling the pin from a grenade. A hero can telekinetically wield objects as weapons, either actual weapons (like swords or knives) or anything the hero can mentally lift.

Telekinesis can grab objects (like weapons) out of an opponent’s grasp with an average Telekinesis (Strength) action. Telekinetics are also fond of grabbing opponents and lifting them off the ground, an easy Telekinesis (Strength) action, requiring an easy Strength (Telekinesis) action for the target to break out.

A telekinetic can manipulate machines with moving parts; releasing the brakes on a car, hitting keys on a computer keyboard, and so forth. The difficulty of the action depends on how complex the machine is.

Clothing Change: A telekinetic hero wearing clothing made of unstable molecules can change the color, style or fit of the clothing with a challenging Telekinesis action. This does not alter the clothing’s protective value, only its appearance. Telekinetic heroes may use this stunt to quickly change into their costumes.

Internal Attack: The hero can telekinetically attack a target internally, squeezing the trachea, a blood vessel or something similar. The attack requires a daunting Telekinesis (Strength) action and ignores the target’s defense, doing Intensity damage directly. A telekinetic might also use this stunt to damage machines by affecting their internal parts.

Manipulation: The hero can perform very fine manipulation with his or her telekinesis. This stunt is useful for doing things like typing, operating controls or even picking locks telekinetically.

Reflection: The hero can catch and reflect physical weapons (even bullets) back at an attacker with an average Telekinesis action.

Telepathy

Telepathy is perhaps the most versatile psionic power. A telepath is an invaluable teammate, able to keep everyone in contact using the Team Link stunt, which allows for instant and silent communication. A telepath can link the minds of others to share knowledge quickly, and allow someone with Teleportation to see through another person’s eyes to teleport safely to an unseen location.

Telepathic heroes can use their power for several stunts other than those listed in the MARVEL Game Book, including the following:

Gestalt: The hero can function as the coordinator for a telepathic gestalt, the mental combination of multiple psionic individuals. This works just like the Gestalt power from the Game Book. The mental gestalt’s combined Telepathy power intensity equals that of the most powerful hero in the gestalt, plus that of the coordinator (or the next highest character, if the coordinator is the most powerful). A telepathic gestalt often has tremendous mental power.

Mind Meld: The combination of the telepath’s mind with another mind. This is a total sharing of information and a considerable intimacy, so it is not entered into lightly. It requires a daunting Telepathy (Willpower) action. The telepath and the subject know everything the other knows, and it is impossible to lie to each other while melded.

Mindscape: The telepath can enter the “world” inside a another person’s mind and interact with the things and people there. This is most common as a means of mental combat, similar to astral projection. It can also be used to “go inside” the mind of an unconscious or comatose person to attempt to bring them out of it, or to enter the dreams of a sleeping person and interact with them. You can have an entire game based around a trip into someone’s mindscape, like the time Professor X and the New Mutants traveled into the shattered mindscape of the Professor’s son David.

Personal Rapport: This is a permanent telepathic link between the hero and another person. It requires a daunting Telepathy action to establish and the other party must be willing. From then on, each individual can always sense what the other is feeling and knows immediately if the other person is in danger or hurt.

Mental Problems

Of course, being psionic isn’t all cool powers and stunts. Psionics, especially telepaths, have some drawbacks. These are not Hindrances exactly, more unique problems encountered by psis. Psionic heroes can also have Hindrances based around the unique nature of their powers.

Feedback: A psionic hero whose power is resisted or fought against may suffer some kind of feedback, like a telepath attempting to control someone’s mind while they fight back furiously, or a telekinetic whose mental grip is broken by an opponent. The hero suffers damage points equal to the Willpower, Strength or other Ability of the target, reduced by the hero’s own Willpower.

Overload: A telepath’s senses can be overloaded by the presence of too many minds or very powerful emotions or thoughts if the telepath is unprepared, or scans a more powerful subject than expected (like a telepath who encounters a cosmically powerful alien mind or who tries to probe one person just as a New York subway lets out dozens of people out onto the platform). This causes damage equal to the subject’s Willpower or an intensity chosen by the Narrator against the telepath’s Willpower. A Psi-Screen helps protect against this damage and many Telepaths develop Psi-Screens simply to screen out mental “noise.”

Prejudice: Psionics are often mistrusted because of the nature of their powers. A psionic who uses his or her powers responsibly won’t have a lot of problems, but a psionic who doesn’t will be mistrusted and hounded by the public and the authorities.

Narrating Psionics

Narrating adventures for heroes with psionic powers like Telepathy, Precognition and ESP can be difficult. With one successful action, the hero can know everything about your carefully-prepared plot and jump right to the end, spoiling the fun for the other players. It’s your job as Narrator to make sure that doesn’t happen, without frustrating the player with the psionic hero all the time.

The first thing to keep in mind is that psionics don’t make a hero omniscient. Even if he or she can read minds, that doesn’t have to give things away. Telepathic heroes should be wary about invading other people’s privacy casually, and some people may refuse to have their minds read even if they’re innocent. A strong Willpower can sometimes make it too difficult for a telepath to read someone’s mind.

Powerful emotions triggered by certain situations (especially violent crimes) may cause a psionic to suffer from overload (above) if he or she tries to scan the crime scene or someone involved in it. These feelings may also conceal or obscure any information associated with the crime.

Psionic information is also highly subjective. There’s no guarantee that the future seen by a precognitive hero is the only future, merely a possible one. The information gained with telepathy is only as reliable as the subject’s thoughts and memories. What if they don’t remember something correctly, or what if their memory has already been tampered with by another telepath?

A rival psionic can use his or her powers to hide things from the hero; use the rival’s power intensity as additional opposition to the hero’s actions. You don’t necessarily have to tell the hero who the attempt failed unless the hero is specifically checking for opposing psionic interference.

Psi Equipment

The scientists of the Marvel Universe have developed different gadgets and equipment that affect psionic powers and psionics. Some of these devices are used by the authorities while others are used by villains or secret government organizations (like “Project: Wideawake”).

Psionic Detector: A device (usually hand-held) that picks up psions (energy particles that psionic powers use). It provides Psychic Detection 8 (higher for more sophisticated and sensitive detectors).

Psi Amplifier: This is a device like Cerebro or the PAM (Psionic Amplification Machine) used by the ESPer division of S.H.I.E.L.D. It provides Ability Boost for all Willpower powers while a user is hooked into it. A psi amplifier can (at the Narrator’s discretion) make certain mental powers suffer from the limits Masochistic, Uncontrolled or Unpredictable while they are amplified.

Psi Nullifier: This device blocks the use of all Willpower and Intellect powers with an intensity less than the Nullification power of the device. A psi nullifier is a collar or headband the subject wears or a device that projects a ray or field that affects the subject for an aura duration (or as long as he or she remains in the field).

Psi Screamer: A terrorist weapon intended specifically to harm telepaths, a kind of telepathic “grenade”. It creates a powerful (intensity 15+) mental shock, affecting any telepath within firing distance. A Psi-Screen helps protect against the damage of a screamer. Physical defenses have no effect.

Psionic Hooks

Here are some adventure ideas involving psionic powers for your game.

  • A telepathic hero or character catches a stray thought from someone planning to commit a serious crime. The trouble is, the thought came from someone in a large crowd and the hero can’t be sure who it was. What if someone in the crowd is not what he or she appears to be?
  • A hero “hears” a telepathic cry for help. It comes from a boy who is a telepathic mutant whose powers surfaced early. He ran away from home and is afraid of being attacked by mutant-haters. Unfortunately, the boy has no training in controlling his power, so he can’t shut out the “noise” of other people’s thought. He also randomly broadcasts his own fear onto other people, causing a rash of random “panic attacks” throughout the city. The heroes have to find him before a group of disguised mutant-hunting Sentinels do.
  • A friend or ally of the heroes is left in a coma by an illness or the attack of a villain. The heroes (perhaps with the help of a telepathic character like Professor X or Dr. Strange) must travel into the mindscape of their friend to help bring him or her back to consciousness.
  • A villain is kidnapping psionics to hook them up to a powerful psi-amplifier that will channel all their power into the villain, giving him or her tremendous psionic power. Perhaps the villain is building a mind-control machine, powered by telepaths, to take over the world.
  • A telepathic or astral projecting villain is committing crimes by possessing other people, then releasing them once the crime is done. The victims have no memory of what happened and no alibi to prove their innocence. When the villain uses one or more of the heroes as pawns, they have to figure out a way to prove their innocence. How do they find and capture a villain who’s never seen, and can change bodies at will?

Mastering the Mystic Arts

Originally published in Dragon magazine annual #4

Magic and Mysticism in the Marvel Universe

Hoggoth, Oshtur and dark Valtorr,
Faltine, Agamotto and Raggadorr,
Seraphim, Watoomb and Cyttorak,
Satannish, Ikonn and cold Denak,
By the Vishanti’s eternal light,
Powers of magic, protect us tonight!

— Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme

The mystic arts, powers of magic far beyond the ken of ordinary mortals. It is in the shadowy world of mysticism that magicians like Dr. Strange, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, maintain eternal vigilance against hordes of demons, evil wizards and cosmic beings from other dimensions, protecting an unsuspecting populace from their dire plots.

The Game Book for the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game provides basic information on the power of magic and those who wield it. This article offers an expanded look at the mystic arts in the Marvel Universe, with additional information and options usable by players and Narrators alike.

Magic

What is magic? According to the Sorcerer Supreme himself, magic is the study of forces and how to use them to cause things to happen. A magician who learns how to manipulate the right energies can do almost anything. Magicians are limited only by the extent of their knowledge and will. Magic is not like other powers because it is not granted by cosmic rays, mutation, strange machines, or chemicals. Magic is learned through years of intense study and practice. While everyone may have some potential to wield magic, only a select few have the drive, dedication and willpower needed to develop that talent into true skill in the mystic arts.

The great majority of magicians are “novices” who have learned a few spells here and there, but do not have the skill of a true Master of the Mystic Arts. The MARVEL Game Book refers to them as “dabblers.” The Scarlet Witch is one such individual, Dr. Doom is another. Although she knows some true magic, the Scarlet Witch relies for the most part on her mutant hex power. Likewise, the Lord of Latveria prefers the tools of science to those of sorcery.

Novices have a Magic intensity of 9 or less. They choose spells (stunts) from a limited list of powers, as follows: Astral Projection, Detection (Magic), Dimensional Travel, Energy Blast, Ensnarement, ESP, Force Field, Illusion, Life Support, Telekinesis, Telepathy and Teleportation (Self, Summoning). Novices also have to draw a card whenever casting a spell. If the card’s value is greater than the novice’s Magic the spell fails, and if the aura of the card is negative, a mishap occurs, left up the Narrator.

Magicians with a Magic intensity of 10 or greater are masters of the mystic arts, able to duplicate virtually any Power with a trump suit of Intellect or Willpower as a spell. Magic does not normally allow a mage (even a master) to affect his or her own body, ability scores or skills. For this reason, mages often make use of various helpers and henchmen to handle physical matters. Even heroic sorcerers like Dr. Strange regularly call upon the help of other heroes.

The following Intellect- and Willpower-based powers cannot be duplicated using Magic: Chi, Cosmic Energy Control, Luck Control, Power Amplification, Power Duplication and Reality Warping. Many other powers are rarely, if ever, duplicated by magicians, including: Computer Link, Darkforce Control, Gravity Control, Kinetic Control, Pheromones, Radar, Radiation Control and Sonar. The Narrator should consider carefully before allowing a mage to duplicate these powers.

Schools of Magic

Magic-wielders in the Marvel Universe fall into one of three broad categories or “schools.”

Order magic, also known as “white” or “good” magic, is based around protection, truth and the maintenance of order in the universe. It is the school of magic followed by such powerful sorcerers as Dr. Strange and his mentor, the Ancient One.

Neutral magic, often known as “nature” magic or “gray” magic, focuses on principles beyond good and evil, such as the forces of the natural world or the rules of the scientific method. Mystics like Shaman from Alpha Flight practice neutral magic, as do alchemists like Diablo, showing that neutral magic can be used for either good or evil.

Chaos magic, also known as “black” or “evil” magic, is based around destruction, deception, and the creation of chaos and disorder. Magical villains like Baron Mordo and Dormammu are masters of such magic.

Spells

Spells shape magical energy to create an infinite variety of effects. Spells draw energy from two basic sources: personal and external.

Personal energy spells draw on the magician’s inner reserves of strength. Powers that use personal energies are: Astral Projection, Detection (Magic), ESP, Illusion andTelepathy.

These spells do not require any special incantations or gestures, only a modicum of concentration on the part of the magician. A magician can cast these spells even while bound and gagged, or otherwise restrained. Personal spells still take place as Contingent Actions, as described on page 164 of the Marvel Game Book.

A magician can cast personal spells without being noticed by making a difficult Magic action. The difficulty is only average against opponents with the Overconfident hindrance (see page 109 of the Game Book). Dr. Strange uses this tactic against Overconfident foes like Mordo or the dread Dormammu quite often, loosing his astral form or creating an illusion to distract his foe and give Strange time to overcome him.

All other spells require the magician to tap into external sources of energy, either from the Earth or other dimensions, using names of power, incantations, and gestures to summon and direct the energy. The magician must be free to speak and move in order to cast these spells. A mage who is gagged, silenced or bound can only use personal energies. Some of the more common magical powers are described here, along with the names used to invoke them.

Dimensional Travel: Magicians travel between dimensions and often deal with beings from other dimensions. Magic makes use of two new stunts of Dimensional Travel.Gate creates a “door” between two dimensions, allowing travelers to simply step through. Keeping the gate open requires an average Magic action for each exchange beyond the first. Banishment sends a target to another dimension chosen by the caster, requiring an average Magic (Willpower) action. Dimensional Travel spells include theMists of Hoggoth, the Shades of the Seraphim and the Winds of Watoomb. The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth , the Fires of Satannish and the dreaded Spell of Eternal Vanishment are banishment spells.

Elemental Control: The powers of Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Weather Control are common for magicians, especially followers of a neutral “nature magic” school. Power over the elements is granted by Gaia, the Earth Mother, as well as many elemental spirits.

Energy Blast: The standard magical Energy Blast is called a Bolt of Bedevilment , which is taught to every novice. Additionally there are the Baleful Bolts of Balthakk(black lightning), Crystals of Cyndriarr (dozens of flat, razor-sharp squares), the Crimson Crystals of Cyttorak (sharp, reddish crystals), the Daggers of Daveroth (flat red triangles), the Disks of Denak (flat purple circles), the Flames of the Faltine (green flames), the Light of Agamotto (bright light, usable only against evil creatures), the Seven Suns of Cinnibus (blazing light), the Storms of Satannish (lightning bolts), and many others.

Ensnarement: Magicians often use spells to entrap foes. The most famous is the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, but there are many others, including the Chains of Krakkan, the Dark Vapors of Valtorr , Icy Tendrils of Ikthalon and the Roving Rings of Raggadorr. Some spells provide the Multiple Targets stunt of Ensnarement, trapping all opponents within firing distance, such as the Ribbons of Raggadorr and the Seven Bands of Cyttorak.

Force Field: The most common magical force field is the Shield of the Seraphim. There are many other sorts of defense, including the Conjured Crystal of Cyttorak (a reddish crystal), a Nirvalonic Sphere (which gains +2 intensity, but is immobile once created) and the Seraphim’s Grim Shield (which provides Detection (Evil) in addition to protection). Magicians also use force fields to trap opponents with spells like Dyzakk’s Cage, the Scarlet Sphere of Cyttorak, the Shining Circle of the Seraphim and one of the Spells of the Omnipotent Oshtur.

Nullification: Magic is used to nullify many things, particularly other magic. Some common nullification spells include the Flames of the Faltine (vs. animation, ensnarement, or mental control), In the Name of the All-Freeing (vs. bonds and mental control), the Hosts of Hoggoth (vs. magic), the Illusions of Ikonn (vs. illusions), theLight of Agamotto (vs. bonds and mental control), the Light of Nirvalon (vs. emotion control), the Mystic Moons of Munnopor (vs. energy fields), Oshtur’s Mighty Hands (vs. magic), the Shades of the Seraphim (vs. ensnarement) and the Stumbling Vapors of Valtorr (vs. Agility).

Teleport: Mages can move across the face of the world in an instant using spells like the Winds of Watoomb or the Shades of the Seraphim. They also use Summoning spells to bring objects and creatures to them, such as the Demons of Denak, which summons a group of demons to serve the caster, or the Flames of Falroth, which can summon any item or being known to the caster.

Transmutation: Magic can transform virtually anything. The Weirdling Planes of Pholdak is a complex spell that requires three exchanges to cast (any interruption spoils the spell). It requires an average Magic (Willpower) action and turns the target two-dimensional, like a pane of glass. If the target is shattered (an average Strength action) it is destroyed. This spell is quite rare, found only in a few obscure books and scrolls. More mundanely, magicians use Transmutation to repair broken objects, transform their clothes and waterproof their spooky old mansions and towers.

Miscellaneous Spells: There are far too many other spells to describe them all, but here are a few of the classics. The Light of Agamotto and the glow of the Mystic Moons of Munnopor can have a Blinding effect on evildoers. Daranthon’s Lost Lore provides Detection spells. The Sign of the Seraphim permits a mage to reflect a spell back at its caster (Energy Reflection). The Illusions of Ikonn can create any type of Illusions. The Images of Ikonn induce specific feelings (Emotion Control). The Munnopor’s Mystic Maze, the power of Amtor the Unspeakable and the Wheel of Bromagdon induce Paralysis. The Mists of Morpheus provide the Sedation stunt of Psychic Blast. The Mists of Munnopor and the Vapors of Valtorr cover an area out to firing distance with a dense mist that acts like Shadow Control. The Spell of Silence provides the Silence stunt of Sonic Control.

The mystic trinity of the Vishanti (Agamotto, Hoggoth and Oshtur) is the greatest magical force for good known, capable of granting virtually any spell, and often invoked by good sorcerers.

Playing a Mage

A student of the mystic arts, whether a mere novice or an experienced master, has considerable responsibilities compared to the average hero. Mages have a sacred trust to use their powers responsibly, for the good of all. Those who violate this trust are drawn to evil, and may suffer a change in Calling. Magicians must be vigilant against various magical threats: cults, evil mages, magical creatures and dimensional conquerors seeking to use the power of magic for their own ends.

Mages operate in a world that’s weird even by the flexible standards of the Marvel Universe. I mean, heroes tackle alien invasions, megalomaniac scientists and mutant terrorists without batting an eye, but mages have to handle sanity-bending dimensions, creatures out of myth and legend and cosmic beings that rule entire universes. On the other hand, magicians have the power to do it. It’s not an easy job, and outsiders often don’t understand what it takes.

Magician heroes can often be occupied dealing with magical threats, while other heroes handle the physical stuff. For example, while Dr. Strange goes spell-to-spell with Baron Mordo or Dormammu, other heroes can take on hordes of demons, cultists or Mindless Ones. Mages often need a little help with the physical side of things, and even the Sorcerer Supreme can be taken out with a well-placed shot, or just a grappling attack that keeps him from casting spells.

Playing a mage is a great opportunity to ham things up. Mages-even the heroic ones-tend to be pompous and long-winded. They’re prone to speeches and dramatic dialog, to say nothing of the spells. Ah, yes, the spells. Mages turn out rhyming tongue-twisters about the Many Moons of Munnopor and the Roving Rings of Raggadorr at the drop of a hat. Narrators should encourage players of mage heroes to make up their own spells, using the names from this article and the Marvel comics. It’s lots more fun to say “Evil now be held back, by the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak!” than to tell the Narrator “I use Ensnarement on the villain.” A player who comes up with a cool incantation that wows the group should definitely get a bonus on that spell!

Magical Items

Many different magical items are spoken of in the annals of the Marvel Universe. The most powerful items are in the keeping of Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange. Other items are unearthed from time to time and fall into the hands of sorcerers seeking to abuse their powers or, worse yet, people who have no idea of their powers and dangers. It’s up to the heroes to keep that from happening.

There are spellbooks containing magical lore. The Book of the Vishanti contains nearly every good magic spell gathered by Earth’s Sorcerers Supreme, while theDarkhold is the ultimate tome of evil magic. Other books may contain scraps of lore useful to magicians.

Items like the legendary Wand of Watoomb increase a magician’s powers. The wand grants its wielder ESP 20 and the Rangless stunt for Magic. It can also absorb magical energy directed at the wielder and convert it into power for spells (Absorption 20 with the stunts of Absorption Conversion and Healing). Dr. Strange’s Orb of Agamottoprovides ESP 20 across space and dimensions.

Magician heroes can also make magical items on their own, using the Equipment rules from the Marvel Game Book, or the expanded inventing rules from Mike Selinker’s article “Super Science in the Marvel Universe” in Dragon Annual #3. The mage must have the Occult skill and Magic intensity is substituted for Intellect in the inventing process. The Narrator should take care not to allow magician heroes to create items that will spoil the fun of the game. Magical inventions also provide lots of opportunities for backfires, thefts by cultists or evil sorcerers, or quests of exotic or rare materials, some of which may only be available in other dimensions.

Magical Dimensions

Masters of the mystic arts explore a myriad of different dimensions. Some dimensions are fairly safe, while others are filled with dangerous creatures.

AsgardOlympusHeliopolis and several related dimensions are home to the gods of myth, as well as many creatures like trolls, giants, hydras and the like.

The Astral Plane is an abstract place of floating shapes. Heroic sorcerers often try to shift their battles here, to protect innocent people on Earth whole might get caught in a magical “crossfire.”

The Dark Dimension is the domain of the Dread Dormammu, a Lord of Chaos and powerful sorcerer. It is a magical world of floating islands, abstract shapes and mystical energy. It is bordered by the Domain of the Mindless Ones and ruled from the grand palace, where Dormammu schemes to take control of Earth’s dimension. Although he has been deposed several times, first by his sister Umar and later his niece Clea, Dormammu always regains control of the Dark Dimension to plot anew.

The Dream Dimension is the realm of Nightmare. It is the place where humans go when they dream. Nightmare sometimes takes the opportunity to torment a helpless mortal, but he has been thwarted many times by Dr. Strange and other mystic heroes.

Magical Creatures

There are many different magical creatures on Earth and in other dimensions. Some are the servants of powerful sorcerers, while others are villains in their own right.

Cultists worship extra-dimensional beings who seek dominion over Earth. Individually, cultists have little power, but as a group they can be quite dangerous. They have names like the Cult of Sligguth, the Dark Cabal, the Darkholders, the Sons of Satannish and many others.

Demons come in many different shapes, all of them nasty. Some have more powers than those listed, including Body Armor, Cold Control, Fire Control, Horns and various Resistances. They are summoned to serve sorcerers or sent by their infernal masters to serve their cults on Earth.

Elementals are spirits of the primal elements: air, earth, fire and water. They can be conjured by magicians to serve them. The statistics provided are for a fairly typical elemental. Those summoned by more powerful magicians have higher Strength, Agility and Element Control. See the Alchemy power on page 129 of the MARVEL Game Book for more information.

Eye-Killers are Native American spirits with the head of an owl, the forepaws and upper body of a lion and the lower body of a snake. They are able to assume human form and may serve evil sorcerers.

Gargoyles are animated creatures of stone. They can turn other people into gargoyles by touch, and are found in the service of evil sorcerers.

The G’uranthic Guardian watches over the gateway to the Dark Dimension. It is a giant multi-armed statue of stone with a single eye that projects a will-sapping beam.

The Mindless Ones are also inhabitants of the Dark Dimension. They are walled off by a powerful spell cast by Dormammu, since they are beings of endless violence. They exist only to fight and destroy.

Vampires are corpses reanimated by magic that live off human blood. They have many powers, but also a number of weaknesses.

Zombies are also reanimated corpses, but mindless. They serve necromancers who call them back from the grave. They’re not too tough, but they keep on coming back for more until they are completely destroyed by fire or something similar.

Name Str Agl Int Wil Health Powers/Skills Hindrances Calling
Cultists 3X 3X 2D 4X 10 Some have Magic1-5; Occult Obsessive (Cult) World-Domination
Demons 6X 3X 1X 3X 10 Claws and Teeth +2, Poison 10, Wings 6 Susceptible (Silver) Demolisher
Elementals 8X 8X 1X 1X 10 Body Armor +4, Invulnerability to Element, Nature Control (element) Susceptible (opposite element) Guardian (of element)
Eye-Killers 9X 6X 6X 6X 17 Claws +2, Energy Blast 12, Enhanced Vision 9, Imitation 9 Fatally Vulnerable (sunlight) Vengeance
Gargoyles 12X 6X 2X 1X 10 Additional Limb (tail) 6, Body Armor +4, Claws and Horns +2, Transformation (into gargoyle) 9, Wings 6 None Demolisher
G’uranthic Guardian 16X 4X 2X 12X 10 Body Armor +4, Life Drain (Willpower) 16 Physically Disabled (cannot move) Guardian
Mindless Ones 8X 3X 1X 1X 10 Body Armor +4, Energy Blast 8, Invulnerable to Mental Control, Regeneration 20 Bruiser Demolisher
Zombie 8X 2X 0X 1X 10 Invulnerability to Mental Control, Life Support 15 (Reformation), Regeneration 8 Physically Disabled (0 Intellect) Demolisher

Magical Adventures

Players don’t necessarily need magical heroes to embark on magical adventures. Magic is everywhere in the Marvel Universe. Players can run magical heroes like Dr. Strange, Shaman or Brother Voodoo, or heroes like the Avengers or the X-Men can mix it up with demons and evil sorcerers for a change of pace. Dr. Strange is a great way of getting a group of disparate heroes together, like he did with the Defenders, to help the Sorcerer Supreme deal with a magical threat to Earth. There’s also the possibility of a group of players all running novice magicians, possibly students of Dr. Strange like the X-Men were students of Professor X.

Here are some ideas for magical adventures:

  • A two-bit sorcerer gets his hands on a magic item that grants him power to rival that of the Sorcerer Supreme. The mage uses his newfound magic to banish all good magicians from the Earth into another dimension, perhaps the Domain of the Mindless Ones. The magical heroes have to figure out how to survive and get back to Earth, while other heroes fight the evil mage without the aid of magic.
  • Dr. Strange’s mansion is full of twisting corridors, hidden rooms and various powerful magical items. When the good doctor disappears into the depths of the mansion and doesn’t return for weeks, his friend Wong becomes worried and contacts the heroes. They have to make their way through the bizarre rooms and halls of the mansion to find Dr. Strange and figure out what happened to him.
  • A cult has plans to bring their demonic patron to Earth, using a complex magical ritual that requires a human sacrifice. Unfortunately for them, the sacrifice they’ve chosen is a friend or loved one of one of the heroes. They have to track down the cult before it’s too late, and probably end up confronting the cult’s demon master.
  • The heroes are “spellnapped” from Earth to another dimension. Sorcerers in that dimension are fighting an invasion of magical creatures like demons or Mindless Ones and cast a spell to summon aid. It brought the heroes. Now they have to use their powers to help stem the tide of the invasion and find some way to turn it back. Things get more interesting if there is a powerful mage, like Baron Mordo or the Dread Dormammu himself, behind the invasion.
  • The heroes are plagued by terrible nightmares that make it impossible for them to get any rest. They become tired, listless and cranky during the day. It turns out that Nightmare is responsible for the bad dreams. He is using the psychic energy gathered from the nightmares to extend the power of his domain, causing more bad dreams, until everyone is trapped in a permanent nightmare they can’t wake up from. Mystic heroes may sense that the nightmares are more than they seem. The heroes need to go into the dream dimension to confront Nightmare, and their own worst fears.