Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Marvel Super Heroes

1984 was a big year for TSR, with several big RPG products premiering, one of which was advertised in issue #84 (April 1984):
I've written of my fondness for Marvel Super Heroes before, but that post does little to convey just how excited I was upon seeing this ad. Back then -- heck, even now -- I wouldn't have considered myself a huge fan of superheroes in a broad sense, but I was a fan of several specific superheroes, like Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Having a game that let me play these characters was, at the time, something I looked forward to with great anticipation. That I never needed a licensed game to do that was beside the point at the time and ads like this one ensured I was going to buy this RPG as soon as I saw (which I, in fact, did).


  1. Oh man, FASERIP is still my go to Suoerhero game. A very underrated system.

  2. At the time the DC Heroes RPG had recently come out and there were serious debates as to which was better.

    MSH was so clever at the time. too bad TSR decided the column shift table was the ultimate solution for all rpg's from then on.

    How much better if TSR had just continued to develop D&D into multiple genres?

    Still, I do recall some serious good times playing MSH over that summer break!

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  4. Hands down my favoured superheroes RPG!
    When the Conan RPG was published later, I converted it to the previous MSH system, since it played much faster and character stats were much easier to handle (and then, Conan WAS a Marvel character, too.)

  5. I got that game, too, right after it came out. Good system coupled with a totally useless character generation system. :)

    And I'm the same - not a bit super hero fan, and not a big supers RPG GM, either, but MSH made me want to be.

  6. I was always more of a DC fan, both the comics and the game. I remember seeing this ad, being interested and than being very disappointed when I purchased it.

    FASERIP, especially the basic game, was too limited in range and silly to me at the age of 15. We still make jokes about the naming conventions of the stats.

    "Dan, you look a little under the weather. How are you feeling?"

    "Feeble. I'd buy some tums but my resources are Poor."

    "That's ok. I'll buy them for you. My resources a Monsterous! (Pronounced in an exaggerated, ogre voice). I just got a raise."


  7. I was a huge comics fan but by 1984 I had really felt burned and burned out by anything Marvel (I wasn't a big fan of Jim Shooter's EIC style and Secret Wars was the straw that broke this camel's back).

    That, plus the fact that I had been playing V&V, Superworld, and had finally settled into Champions as my default Supers system, is probably why I never gave MSH a chance.

    I'd like to play it now with a fresh attitude and see if I like it or not. Same with the DC game.

  8. MSH was the game I learned first and my introduction to RPGs. Still one of my favorites. What strikes me as bittersweet about this ad is that it uses art from the comics and for some weird reason TSR began using their own artists for subsequent product covers. I think I remember reading why a while back, but it always annoyed me that the game was being distanced from the comic book aesthetic.

  9. The original game set was also one of the most fun books to read. I was really sorry that the later edition dropped all the character humor you got from having Spider-Man or the Thing addressing the reader. It was a quirky, fun game.

  10. Agreed. 1984 was a great year.

  11. This game had its problems, but it excelled in the area of making GM prep *fun*. Statting-out NPCs by setting their attributes relative to famous Marvel characters was an enjoyable process, imagine that! The lack of concrete character generation rules gave me carte blanch to set stats however I pleased, without worrying about creating an "impossible" build. Since there were very few interdependencies between stats, it was possible to improvise NPCs, defining their stats only on an as-needed basis, and writing up a complete character involved very little of the paperwork and accounting that can make creating NPCs a chore.

  12. I got into my real long term gaming group via my local comic book store. I read a mix of Marvel and DC so I didn't have a major bias. I had played various RPGs like (of course) D&D, Toon, TMNT, Paranoia, Champions and some other random stuff. I bought the Marvel game eventually but didn't care for it. I thought the system was clunky and the character generation was really poorly devised.

    Then I got invited to join the back room group of gamers at my local comic shop. They were really into DC Heroes. I showed up to the game with all my dice and they said that all I needed were two D10s. Once I learned the system it was really something I could get into as a fairly young gamer. It totally seemed to me like the best way to do superhero gaming without going overboard with too much stat and power complications (Yes, I mean Champions). Plus they kept coming out with sourcebooks all the time that were really good to read and provided lots and lots of details about the DC Universe.

    To me, DC Heroes was more about and easy system to learn and an easy system to run. The TSR Marvel game seemed like something designed for rules lawyers.

    Back to the character creation. Marvel had a randomly based system which makes no sense at all in that type of genre. DC had a point based system that allowed you to craft your own specific hero and express you creativity. Then there were the hero points that you gained through adventures which you could save to develop your character or spend to get bonuses during combat and whatnot.

    Yeah, DC Heroes over the Marvel game for me all the way.

  13. When I first saw how they handled strength levels and how they were described, I shut the book and never opened it again. With Champions at my disposal, why would I need anything like this anyway?

    The very terrible character the "new Ms. Marvel," whom ruined many an Avengers comic for me, being featured on the cover was a turnoff too. Of all the characters they could put there...

    If they were going to go with a third rate Marvel character (and she was third rate, despite Marvel's apparant huge push for her - I'm guessing Marvel got some mandate to hammer in another African American character), I'd have rather seen Man-Thing or Brother Voodoo.

    As far as running existing characters from various properties such as Marvel characters, that never had any appeal to me. Half the fun of gaming is crafting a character of your own design. "Here, run Spider-Man today!" Uh, no thanks.

  14. The female Captain Marvel was all about maintaining the copyright for the character's name. DC had bought out Fawcett Comics and so had the rights to the original Captain Marvel character. Marvel had created a Captain Marvel character during the late 60's when Fawcett was defunct and established it just to have a lock on the copyright. That is why from that point on any use of the original character is titled Shazam! but in the comics they can still call him Captain Marvel.

    The original Marvel character of Captain Marvel was killed off. To maintain the copyright on the character Marvel had to create an new character with the same name. So yeah, they went with a really weak character. I think Roger Stern was railroaded into creating that character.

  15. MSH is still one of my favorite systems and one of the first RPGs I ever played. I'm actually starting a new campaign using it. It's easy to learn, easy to prep, and has just the right level of looseness to the rules that comic games need when you have such vastly different characters with wildly different powers and talents all on the field of battle.

  16. Gavin said: "The female Captain Marvel was all about maintaining the copyright for the character's name..."

    Trademark (not copyright).

  17. This was the game other than D&D that we played most in high school (which is actually less usual than you think - this was in the late '90s and we were playing with original copies). The GM for it was kind of a goof in every other system but he knew how to make MSH run like a well tuned car. He eventually scrapped the standard chargen and we would make up our characters based on the NPC creation rules.

    I think that the Karma system was the most interesting part of the game - it made the rewards based on how good of a Marvel superhero your character was. It really helped to bring a lot of authentic little elements into the session.

  18. "I'd have rather seen Man-Thing or Brother Voodoo."

    @Brunomac - I would've been more interested in the game if they had marketed it as the 70s weird Marvel RPG - Man-Thing, Brother Voodoo, Killraven, Deathlok, Werewolf By Night, THAT would have made me buy another TSR game!

    I know... I'm so far in the minority here that the white-coats with straight-jackets are on their way. ;-)

    I didn't realize that the game was geared more to playing an existing Marvel character... that doesn't make me so inclined to try it out.

  19. I wouldn't say that the rules were geared to playing Marvel characters. The published adventures were, but the rules themselves not so much.

    It's that there wasn't much in the way of character creation rules. The best way we found was for the GM to say what kind of game it was and for the players to just pick what they wanted, subject to GM approval. Later books added more rules for randomly generating characters, but my group usually stuck to the, "does this character look okay?" rule.

    We found that the game wasn't very good for the high and low ends of the power spectrum. Try to do the non-powered "mystery men" pulp heroes, or the cosmic powered Silver Surfer style heroes, and it didn't work out very well. But if you played in the middle, with your X-Men and Avengers level heroes, and it was a lot of fun.

  20. As far as running existing characters from various properties such as Marvel characters, that never had any appeal to me. Half the fun of gaming is crafting a character of your own design. "Here, run Spider-Man today!" Uh, no thanks.

    I have to agree with Tom (sort of) the game was all about creating your hero, but it's a given the audience is going to be people who love Marvel comics, so they threw in quite a few heroes and villians with stats--even in the basic set. I can't see how that's a weakness.

    When it came to chargen you could go random or you could pick up the Ultimate Powers book. Basic set was a good start, but the ol' U.P. had a GREAT powers list and some wonderful write-ups explaining the different types (energy body!). That book is one that I think is among the best for creating a powered character in any universe.