Game: C
From 447 reviews

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

First Edition

A Story-Focused RPG Where You Play as Marvel Heroes

Publisher Description

The Avengers have been disassembled, the Fantastic Four are somewhere in space, and the X-Men aren’t answering their phone. When dozens of dangerous villains are sprung from the maximum-maximum security prison known as the Raft, who’s going to stop them? You are.

The MARVEL HEROIC ROLEPLAYING Basic Game uses the acclaimed “Breakout” story arc from Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers to launch the MARVEL HEROIC ROLEPLAYING product line. The Operations Manual gives you all the rules you need to play, from gathering your heroes to taking on the likes of Carnage and Mister Hyde in a desperate free-for-all!

Hero Files for Captain America, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Wolverine, and more!
Easy to learn game rules make this a perfect entry point to super hero roleplaying games!
All the action and drama that gamers have come to expect from Margaret Weis Productions and the Cortex Plus System!

Operations Manual Written & Designed by Cam Banks

Breakout Written & Designed by Cam Banks with Rob Donoghue, Jack Norris, Jesse Scoble, Aaron Sullivan, and Chad Underkoffler

Based on New Avengers #1-6 by Brian Michael Bendis, David Finch, and Danny Miki

Based on Heroic Roleplaying rules concepts from Cam Banks, Rob Donoghue, Matt Forbeck, Will Hindmarch, Philippe-Antoine Ménard, and Jesse Scoble.


A Cortex Plus-Based System From Margaret Weis [ edit ]

First released in 2012, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is the fourth and most recent Marvel RPG ... or at least the most recent that's fully released (and not just in playtesting).  However, it's not exactly recent itself, as the last products for the game were released in 2013.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying comes from Margaret Weis Productions, and long time gamers may recognize that name as one of the two game designers responsible for the Dragonlance novel/Dungeons and Dragons adventure series.

MHR doesn't use any mechanics from Dungeons and Dragons though, and instead is based on the Cortex Plus system, which was also used for the Firefly and Smallville television series-based RPGs.  Cortex Plus is a refinement of the earlier Cortes System (used for the Serenity, Supernatural, and Battlestar Galactica RPGs) , but it's since been further refined into the Cortex Prime system (used in the Dragon Prince and Masters of the Universe RPGs).

In short, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying uses a well-established system that's been used to port many media properties into role-playing games, but because of its age it doesn't have all the "bells and whistles" of Cortex's latest edition.  And how exactly does that system work?

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, First Edition - Rules SummaryCollapse

Character Creation [ edit ]

Almost No Actual Creation Rules

Character creation rules in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying are almost an afterthought: the game spends just four pages on character creation, and those pages amount to "assign three dice based on whether your hero works best alone or not ... then pick whatever you and your Watcher (ie. GM) thinks is best for everything else."

On the one hand, this system does allow for the creation of almost any Marvel hero, from Hawkeye to Thor,  and the games super power rules are generic enough to accommodate such variety.  On the other hand though, just as there's no "balance" between the powers of Thor and Hawkeye, similarly in MHR there's not much mechanical balance in the rules.

Characters ("Datasheets")

Character sheets in MHR are known as "datasheets", and those are broken down into five sections: Affiliations, Distinctions, Power Sets, Specialties, and Milestones.


Some heroes (eg. Wolverine) work better solo, while others (eg. Captain America) work better in groups.  To reflect this, each character has a d6, d8, and d10 assigned to either solo, buddy, or team.  When the player builds a "dice pool" for that character, they stat with the appropriate die based on whether or not the character has teammates with them.


Each character gets three distinctions, which are catchphrases or other short phrases that describe the player.  For instance, The Thing has his favorite catchphrase, "It's clobberin' time", as well as "I'm a monster" and "Wotta revoltin' development".

Whenever a character's distinction is applicable to what they're doing (eg. whenever its clobberin' time for the Thing) they get to add an extra d8 to their dice pool.

Power Sets

Power Sets are the character's super powers, with each set of related powers grouped into a single "set".

Power Traits

Each set provides several power traits, each of which has a die associated.  Whenever that trait applies to a character's action, they get to add that die to their dice pool.

For instance, Wolverine has two power sets: his "feral mutant" powers and his Weapon X adamantium skeleton.  The mutant powers include a trait of "Godlike stamina", which gives him an extra d12 on rolls related to his stamina.

Special Effects (SFX)

Each set also provides "special effects" (SFX), which are unique ways that hero uses their power.  For example, Wolverine's Weapon X background gives him an SFX of Immunity, which lets him spend a PP  (plot point) to ignore telepathy or mind control.


Power Sets also have limits, which (as you'd imagine) limit the use of that power set.

For example, Wolverine's Weapon X power set has two limits.  First, if he suffers a magnetic attack, or he is swimming, his power becomes a complication instead. Also, if his "Godlike Stamina" is shut down, he takes a d10 of physical stress at the end of every action scene.


Specialties reflect the character's training, are would typically be called "skills" in most other RPGs.  There are thirteen total, and each specialty can either be at "expert" or "master" level.  When that expertise is applicable Expert level adds a d8 or 2d6 (player's choice) to the dice pool, while "master" adds a d10, 2d8, or 3d6.

For example, Wolverine has five Specialties, including "Combat Master", "Covert Master", and "Vehicle Expert".


Marvel Heroic Roleplaying characters don't "level up" by killing bad guys.  Instead, each hero has their own unique "milestones", with each milestone having three levels: 1xp, 3xp, and 10xp.

The 1xp level is an action the character can take multiple times per scene, while the 3xp level can only be performed once per scene, and the 10xp action is a one-time, major character arc event.

For example, one of Wolverine's Milestones is "... And What I Do Isn't Very Nice".  He can gain 1xp by inflicting physical stress, or 3xp when another hero rebukes you for violence, or when you threaten another hero with violence.  Finally, if Wolverine kills someone in front of innocents, without inflicting trauma on anyone, he gains 10xp ... and has to choose a new Milestone to replace that one.

Core Mechanics [ edit ]

Dice Pools

To accomplish a task in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying you first assemble a pool of dice, based on your character (their affiliations, distinction, SFX, etc.), as well as other factors.

You then roll all of those dice and set aside any 1's.  Out of the remaining dice you can keep two dice as your "total", and one as your "effect".  The total determines whether or not the action succeeds, while the effect indicates the degree by which it succeeds.

To determine success the player's total is compared to their opponent's total, either another player's die pool or the Watcher's doom pool.


Any 1's rolled are "opportunities" for the Watcher to add to their "Doom Pool" (a bad thing for the players).  However, the Watcher has to give the player a Plot Point to use an opportunity.

Plot Points

Plot Points (PP) are the game's meta-currency.  You can gain them in several ways: by having the Watcher activate an opportunity, by trading the d8 you normally get from a Distinction for a d4, or by activating a Limit on your Power Set.

You can spend PP to improve a roll in different ways.  Before a roll a PP adds an d6 to the pool, or a higher die if you can use a second Power Set or Speciality, or perform a special stunt (using a Power Set or Specialty) to help you succeed.

After the roll you can spend a PP to add a rolled die to the total, or you can instead add it to the effect, making the action have two effects (eg. shooting a bullet so that it ricochets and hits two targets).

There are several other ways to spend PP also: you can change the type of stress taken, add a resource die in a Transition scene, or activate an opportunity from a Watcher roll (to gain further benefits).  Also, some powers require a PP to activate.

Doom Pool

The Watcher starts with 2d6 in his doom pool and every time they activates a player's opportunity (ie. roll of a 1) they can add another d6 to the roll.  They can also use multiple opportunities to instead add higher dice (eg. 2 opportunities for a d8).

The Watcher can spend dice from his Doom Pool similarly to how players spend PP.  For instance, he can spend a die from the pool to add it to the roll, or to keep an extra die for a roll's total or effect.  He can also activate certain villain powers, split up the heroes, create a new scene distinction (eg. burning hallway), or interrupt the normal action order to let a villain go out of turn.


Marvel Heroic Roleplaying organizes time first into an "Event" (ie. an adventure), then into "Acts" (at least two per Event), and the finally into "Scenes" (what would be called encounters in other RPGs).

There are two types of scenes, Action and Transition.  Actions scenes are (obviously) for action: fights, chases, etc.  Transition scenes instead represent the downtime between action scenes, and allow for the recovery of any Stress incurred.

Finally (especially in action scenes) time is further broken up into panels, which are similar to turns or rounds in other RPGs.

Combat [ edit ]

Combat Order

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying doesn't have any traditional "initiative rules": the first character to get to act could be the fastest, or the group leader, or the first player to say they act: it's up to the Watcher to decide.

After a character (or Watcher) finishes their panel, they get to choose which character goes next.  The last character to go then chooses which character goes first in the next round of actions, and the cycle repeats.


When a character successfully attacks another character, they can inflict two forms of damage: Stress (shorter-term) and Trauma (longer-term).


Stress is a (negative) die that a character gains, and it comes in three types: physical, mental, and emotional.  Physical stress represents bodily injuries, while mental stress is confusion, mental fatigue, or psychic attacks, and emotional stress is fear, anger, and other negative emotions.

Stress dice hinder a character: any stress dice a hero has can be added to their opponent's die pool.  However, in some rare cases (eg. if a character has emotional stress from being angry) the player can instead use stress to help themselves, adding the die to their own pool.

Stress From Attacks

When a character is successfully attacked by another character, they take stress equal to the effect die of the attack.  Further attacks increase the die, with how much depending on the effect die.

For instance, if a character takes a punch from a d6 effect die, they gain d6 physical stress.  If they took another punch with a d10 effect, their stress would become d10.  If they instead took another d6 punch (or a d4 punch), their stress would go up one step, to d8.

Stress Recovery

Whenever an action scene ends and a transition scene begins players can lower their stress die by one step (eg. d6 to d4), and if that lowers it below d4 then the character has completely recovered from that stress.  Players can recover even faster by seeing a doctor, meditating in a peaceful place, etc.


Instead of inflicting stress, a hero can opt to give their opponent a complication instead.  In this case instead of stress the character gains a complication die, of the same type as the roll's effect (just as with stress).  This die can also be used for rolls against the character, and complications last until removed (usually the end of the next action scene).

For instance, instead of punching a bad guy Colossus might choose to wrap an iron girder around his opponent, making it difficult for him to fight.  If Colossus chose a d10 as his effect die, that opponent would gain a d10 complication.


If a character's stress ever exceeds d12 they become "stressed out" and can take no further actions until they get help from another hero, or the scene ends.  They also suffer longer-term damage in the form of trauma (another negative die).

Trauma starts at d6, and if the hero take further stress that stresses increases their trauma (similar to how further attacks raise stress).  If a character takes trauma beyond d12 their are either dead, comatose, or otherwise out of the story (... for now; this is the Marvel world after all).

Like stress trauma can be physical, mental,  or emotional, but it takes much longer to recover from.  Each trauma goes down by one step after each act is completed, unless the character takes an action to recover (eg. visits the hospital), in which case they can make a roll to recover more (like stress).

But is it Any Good? [ edit ]

Aggregated Review Scores

SourceAverage Score# of ReviewsAs Of
Amazon4.2 / 5816/28/2022
Good Reads3.7 / 52406/28/2022
RPG Geek7.61 / 101266/28/2022

At the time of writing Marvel Heroic Roleplaying had an average score of 7.64 / 10 from over four hundred reviews.  That translates into a solid C grade ... but MHR can't be simplified so easily.


On the one hand, the game definitely has its cons.  Perhaps the biggest was that the book assumes you want to play as one of the Marvel heroes they provide: you can be Iron Man or Iron Fist, but not Thor or the Incredible Hulk.  The rules to create other heroes, or ones of your own imagining, are extremely sparse.

And sparse rules were a general complaint about the book as well: one reviewer estimated that it contained only 40 pages of actual rules.  Many critics also found the book to be poorly written and/or organized.  Finally. some felt the game's dice pools slowed down play, and added unnecessary "crunch" to a largely narrative system ... or they just weren't fans of that narrative focus at all.


Despite all those negatives, many reviewers still gave the game very high scores, with several declaring it as their favorite Marvel/Super Hero RPG.  Perhaps this quote best explains the seeming contradiction:

Edit: Having played this a few times now, I'm raising my rating. My earlier comments on the game's weaknesses remain, but have been rendered unimportant in actual play, while the game's strengths shine through.


Overall, I recommend this to anyone seeking a system that captures the feel of comic book stories.

Ultimately, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is not the game you're looking for if you want a "crunchy", tactical type of RPG, as it has a strong narrative focus.  It's also probably not the best game to create a brand new super hero ... although if you and your GM are willing to "wing it" a bit more than normal it is possible.

But where the game really shines is if you want a story-focused RPG (that still has dice as an integral part) which lets you play as (many of) the heroes of the Marvel comic books.  Several different reviewers reported the game's narrative focus truly shines in such a setting, saying that the game felt like reading a comic book. A few even reported replaying the provided modules over and over again, because they enjoyed them so much.


If you're looking for a game where you play as the heroes of the Marvel universe, but you and your group get to tell your own comic book stories ... and the games various weaknesses aren't enough to scare you off ... Marvel Heroic Roleplaying may in fact be perfect for you.