The Untimely Death of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

CIVIL WAR EpilogueIn one day, the license for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying expires with such force that official outlets for the game and supplements will cease to offer it. I know this is definitely the case for PDFs; DriveThruRPG has to stop selling them by the end of 4/30. I think Margaret Weiss Productions has to stop selling its physical stock by that point as well, but I base that on implications and inferences. Since the last three printed books (the Civil War supplements) never made it into normal distribution, that severely limits access to physical copies of over half the published material for the game. The first Annihilation book won’t see print and pre-orders will be refunded. The advance PDF is the only way to get it. Whatever final changes would have been made to the material will never be implemented.

What exactly happened can only be speculated upon by those of us not directly involved. Here’s my basic understanding: MWP had acquired the license from Marvel. It published the rulebook and a first round of supplements and had an ambitious schedule of future releases announced. Lots of work had already been done on these (and, apparently, work had begun on at least one that hadn’t been announced). Marvel and MWP were negotiating the renewal of the license. At some point, MWP decided they couldn’t continue with the license. They then had a week before operations shut down completely. (The official announcement is here, at the end.)

I don’t have any insider’s knowledge here. But without engaging in baseless theorizing, it does seem odd that there is such a short window of time to finish selling these products. I have to assume this was Marvel’s choice, and it doesn’t seem like a fair one. In any case, the situation is sad. It’s sad for the creators who put so much work into material that will never be seen. I don’t know what MWP’s payment terms are, but there’s a very good chance those hours of work will never be compensated. And if they were, then it’s MWP that will never see compensation. It’s sad for MWP, the company that worked to bring out a great game based on a beloved license and now has to deal with the effect this has on its operations and reputation. It’s sad for me personally, because this game did something I would have thought unlikely at best, and I was looking forward to more.

The unlikely thing that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying did was make me interested in a comic-book roleplaying game for the first time in twenty years. That it was for a licensed property, and that the way the license was implemented factored in, only makes it more surprising to me. The second roleplaying game I ever ran or played was TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set. (Before that came out, I used AD&D to run games set in the Marvel universe, just as I did Star Wars). I cajoled my parents into buying me the Advanced Set the day I saw it in a store. But I moved on a few years later. I began to feel that superhero roleplaying games just didn’t quite feel like they represented the comic books I loved. The rules focused on straightforward combat and benchmarking abilities. They didn’t have the fluidity and scope I wanted. Since I left those games behind, I’ve found some great games that have super-powered characters, such as the Wild Talents line of settings and Mutant City Blues. But I believed a game that really felt like playing a character in a comic-book story wasn’t going to come along.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying appeared to do that. I say “appeared,” because I still haven’t run a game. But reading online discussions got me to pick up the first book and the Civil War event book. When I read the recent announcement, I scrambled to get everything I’d been waiting for. I still hope to play the game sometime soon, but it’s unfortunate that, as far as official material goes, the end has come.

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