Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

You know what I miss? The Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game. SERIOUSLY! It was a fantastic game!

Published by TSR in the mid-eighties (the makers of Dungeons & Dragons), I have never seen a more thoroughly researched and published re-creation of the Marvel Universe in game form. No video game or tabletop miniature battle can really compare.

The beauty of the Marvel RPG was that- how do I explain this? It was set to SCALE sort of.

Somehow, the attributes of the characters and their abilities really reflected what they COULD do in the comics. The attributes the characters were assigned were tracked on this chart that had incrementally greater intervals between them as you proceeded up the line. So it was sort of like characters had greater or lesser ‘magnitudes’ of an ability. Long story short Spider-man really COULDN’T just punch a hole in Magneto’s force-field in this game. He just couldn't DO it and no crazy die roll could make it happen. If you were playing a game where the Punisher was fighting the Silver Surfer it wasn’t just unlikely that the Punisher would shoot Silver Surfer in the head; it was IMPOSSIBLE.

The layout of the characters -when put into game mechanics- really, thoroughly, reflected the characters' abilities from the comics. Not only did the Silver Surfer’s ‘Power Cosmic’ give him an intuitive awareness of his surroundings, but I mean his skin wasn’t even skin. So the game creators were thorough in making the environment of the Marvel Universe come alive in all its complexity, in this game. And that meant there were limits to who could do what, or how what power DID what. Spider-man could lift a bus, maybe, if he pushed himself to the limit and rolled high, but lifting an airplane was the kind of thing the Hulk did on a good day. For Spidey that feat (game term) would have been impossible.

Of course ‘Karma’ was the other thing in the game that kind of made it memorable. Karma was something you could use to give your hero (or hey, villain, if you were so inclined) that little extra ‘umph’ when they did something heroic and rolled the dice. And how did you get Karma? Well, mostly by doing the things that your character should do. And that’s the thing: Karma was character specific. For Spider-man finding time in the middle of some skyscraper caper to drive his aunt May to the grocery store meant Karma. But not taking her- even if he was in the middle of some insane fight- drained Karma. Of COURSE letting the Green Goblin pumpkin Bomb the hell out of some building while he drove Aunt May around wasn’t going to look great on the resume, or the Karma total, either, was it?

So you get the idea- choices we make influence your character’s Karma. For Cap killing somebody- ANYBODY- meant instantly losing all of his Karma. For the Punisher not so much. In fact, the Punisher was likely to gain Karma for every murderer on the street he wasted. So the game had this complexity that seemed to really recreate every Marvel comic you could think of. And I really MEAN that. There are sourcebooks and adventures published for every major Marvel character and comic book published between 1985 and 1995.

Some of that material doesn’t just have game stats; it’s got maps and blueprints of important Marvel sites and locations (like Latveria, the X-mansion, the Blue Area of the moon, etc.) and synopses of entire runs of Marvel books (there are complete histories of the Avengers, Spider-man, the X-Men and Dr. Doom tucked away in there). Now this is for the hardcore Marvel gamer…

This set of old games contains four adventures set in the ‘Nightmares of Future Past’ Marvel universe. Bear in mind, this was a time when X-Men and Christ Claremont were just starting to break out and become Marvel’s premiere flagship title. And I know everyone remembers the Dark Phoenix Saga, but see the thing is, I still feel like Nightmares of Future Past was kind of the story that hooked X-Men readers in. Terminator was a big move franchise those days and everyone anticipated a sequel (which delivered, we’re happy to say. Too bad it’s gone into a deep dark hole since).

Nightmares was easily an homage to this but it placed the events of the X-Men into this greater context. People didn’t just misunderstand the X-Men; they didn’t realize that the X-Men were trying to stop the future enslavement and genocide of the entire human RACE. These four modules don’t feature the X-Men or any other heroes. Instead, the players roll up mutants or human characters who work together to spring enslaved humans from Sentinel internment camps and other prison facilities. Of course lots of little Marvel cameos fit in to make the adventure that much more epic. Wolverine and Fury head up the underground resistance movement that are hopelessly outgunned in the wake of Sentinal ‘Master Molds’ cranking out new and improved shock troops every day. Meanwhile other characters track down a previously undiscovered Stark Industries power armor: Tony Stark’s legacy. This is his last ‘trump card’ that could hold up against even the most advanced Sentinel models needed in an attempt to turn the tide of a brutal guerilla war with the fate of all of humanity at stake.

This stuff is high fantasy and absolutely holds up even today. While it's way, way, WAY out of print, I highly recommend any of the material if you ever get your hands on it. Please accept no substitutes. No other follow-up edition has ever compared.