Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set (1991)

This is the 1991 revision of the Marvel Super Heroes RPG, now called the Basic Set (hmm…I wonder why…). It is, with the exception of some rules tweaks, better production values and new art, essentially the same game (though it is not as well organized), so I am going to use this space to talk about some broad truths about the game.

The Marvel RPG happened to come out as I was starting to get into comics, so I have a fondness for it because of that quirk of timing. Years later, though, I find all the books for the line to be a fascinating time capsule of not just 1980s Marvel comics continuity – the facts of the storylines and character histories – but also the rapidly shifting vibes those comics were going through as they chased audiences. I feel like, because the game was produced by comic industry outsiders, it functions as a kind of historical text, which is something pretty cool and unique. You can see this right on the covers – isn’t the Captain America/Thing/Spider-man/Monica Rambeau Captain Marvel grouping of characters on the 1984 box interesting? Then seven years later, Hulk, She-Hulk and Wolverine get the spotlight. That says a lot about both the comics and the audiences of the time. You’ll find similar things throughout the line.

A lot of this comes through in the art, much of which is done by Marvel artists or lifted from actual comic panels (all credited to the Marvel Bullpen). The rest was done by Jeff Butler, a comic artist who was working as a TSR staff artist at the time. He’s got a super clean style that gives the characters he draws a timeless quality that I think adds to my perception of this stuff as a kind of 80s Marvel museum.

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