In Part One of this hack for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, we covered replacing Affiliations with Means, adjusting the meaning of die ratings and power sets for allowing you to embrace the Sword & Sorcery genre with Cortex Plus.
Here in Part Two of the series, we continue hacking Marvel Heroic Roleplaying into a Sword & Sorcery game. This time we tackle Specialties (Careers), Milestones, Experience, and tone.
Character Creation (Continued)
Specialties in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying are very broad and very modern in their scope. We will need something both narrower and more in line with the quasi-historical setting of most Sword & Sorcery fiction.
Replace Specialties with Careers
The following list of Careers should cover just about anything that a Sword & Sorcery or Sword & Planet hero might need. (These have been shamelessly adapted from the excellent rpg Barbarians of Lemuria.)
Alchemist – Assassin – Blacksmith – Dancer – Barbarian – Beggar – Farmer – Gladiator – Hunter – Mariner – Merchant – Mercenary – Minstrel – Noble – Physician – Pirate – Priest – Servant – Scholar – Sky Pilot – Slave – Soldier – Sorcerer – Thief – Torturer
In some settings, not all Careers will apply or be available. Sky Pilot is not appropriate for Robert E. Howard’s Hyborean Age, but it’s perfect for Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom – where Mariner, for obvious reasons, would not be available.
Treat Careers as Specialties in all respects (other than when acting beyond the scope of your careers: See below). Just like Specialties in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, each Career represents expertise and skill as well as access to connections, knowledge, relationships, and objects associated with that career. Resources based on d6 Careers are only d4s – players should draw upon them with caution! In this hack, you can also step up or tear down Resources during play in the same way you can affect Assets or Complications.
Rating your Careers
Finally, you have four steps of dice to spend on Careers. Each new Career begins as a d6, and costs 1 ‘step’. (Thus starting possibilities are d6, d6, d6, d6 // d6, d6, d8 // d8, d8 // d6, d10 // or d12) On your character sheet, you might write “Barbarian d6, Thief d6, Expert Mercenary d8”; or “Priest d6, Master Sorcerer d10.”
List your Hero’s Careers on your character sheet in chronological order as your hero experienced them (reminiscent of Burning Wheel‘s Lifepaths).
Acting Beyond the Scope of your Careers
Players often want to attempt actions suitable for a Career not on their character’s sheet. Being a hero means pushing your limits, after all. When that happens, roll a d4 for the Career. Unlike using a Distinction, this does not earn the player a Plot Point. Any ‘1’s on the roll – especially if rolled on that d4 – should represent the unfortunate side-effects of lacking actual experience in the Career.
Careers for the GM’s Characters
Non-humanoid monsters and other hell-spawned entities don’t have Careers, as such. Instead, give them Roles like Predator, Lurker, Guardian, or Fiend. These can variously stand in for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying’s Combat, Stealth, and Menace Specialties. (Or stick with the originals; either way works just fine.)
Finally, we come to Milestones. Treat these normally, according to the Heroic Roleplaying rules. Milestones are perhaps even more important for shaping a character’s identity in this hack than in the original game, since characters often have fewer and less distinctive Power Set abilities.
GMs should create Milestones relating to the plotline of each adventure or adventure hook they create, allowing PCs to entangled themselves within the plots and subplots of the campaign as well as their own personal subplots. If there is a princess that needs rescuing, a Milestone concerning her rescuer’s relationship to her is great option. If the villain of the tale is a corrupter, offering power to those who would take it, build a Milestone around that temptation. If the adventure hook involves a journey to a lost city or abandoned temple, include a Milestone that pays off for exploration – and for triggering hazards!
Milestones generate experience, which means that we need ways to spend that experience.
In addition to all the normal ways of spending Experience listed in the Operations Manual (except those related to Affiliations and Specialties of course), we will need a couple of new uses.
You can spend 10 XP to …
… add a new Career at d6, or step up an existing Career (to a limit of d12).
You can spend 15 XP to …
… step up a Means die (to a limit of d12).
GMs may wish to impose tighter limits or higher costs on stepping up Means to fit certain campaign settings.
That’s all we need to hack character creation for Sword & Sorcery.
Hacking the Tone
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying has a default tone that matches the four-color comics upon which it is based. That’s a good fit for most Sword & Planet stories, but much of Sword & Sorcery fiction veers darker. Some of it, like Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon, is both cynical and satirical. Other tales are sensual and bloody.
Remember that the rules mechanics are to a great extent tone-agnostic: Complications or Assets are mechanically just names for bonus dice; your game’s tone comes through in how you describe those elements.
In this hack, a floor isn’t just ‘slippery’; it’s ‘drenched in clotting gore’ or ‘marble, polished to a mirror gleam’. The beautiful and devious villainess doesn’t just have you ‘entangled’; you are ‘snared with silken cords’ or perhaps ‘enraptured by her mesmeric gaze’. Genre emulation demands the use of purple prose in descriptions!
Part three includes some worked-out examples, using famous characters from Sword & Sorcery literature.
Part four now provides sample threats, villains, monsters, and active adventure locations for your Sword & Sorcery adventures.