Matt Forbeck talks life, and the Marvel RPGDecember 10, 2022
Matt Forbeck, co-designer of the new Marvel RPG, sunk his teeth into roleplaying games early. He recalled that his friend’s mother bought the Dungeons & Dragons basic edition at Kmart on a blue light special. Terms that some gamers might not recognize. Suffice it to say his passion for RPGs outlasted the discount chain.
Forbeck grew up in Wisconsin, where Gary Gygax (the co-creator of D&D) founded TSR, so he’s familiar with the game’s epic, and sometimes sordid, history. When he was a kid, game design didn’t exist as a career. At best, it might be a hobby. One summer after his junior year, his dad told him he needed to find a job or start a business.
So, he did what any ordinary teenager would do: he started a gaming magazine. He was 17, and was the publisher, lead designer, errand boy – you name it, he did it. Forbeck even had a booth at Gen Con that summer. Contemporaries like Troy Denning (novelist) and Will Niebling (game designer) started similarly.
After college Forbeck did freelance work for Will Niebling (who was with TSR,) Iron Crown, Mayfair and others. He’d go to conventions, run demos, and not so subtly mention that he could do more. Like, write.
Eventually, he flew to the UK and knocked on the door of Games Workshop (Warhammer) and begged for a job – they gave him one. Good thing too, as he only had two duffel bags and $600 to his name.
Things have been going pretty well since then.
Forbeck has done a lot. More than would fit in a reasonably spaced article (such as this one.) He is a New York Times best-selling author, he’s written more than thirty novels, and has produced dozens of games.
He likes doing it all.
“I like doing everything. There’s a trade-off [though.] I love writing novels; novels are my thing; nobody gets in my way. That’s a blast. However, I know that if you want to do something big and exciting [like] video games or movies, the larger the budget, the more people involved, but less and less control. TTRPGs are a nice, sweet spot. There are some things I couldn’t do on my own [like art] but I still have a lot of control…with TTRPGs most of my words get on the page.”
The pandemic offered Forbeck a series of opportunities, including a few video games and the Marvel Multiverse RPG, one of the most anticipated RPGs to hit shelves in a very long time.
With the hype from the Marvel Cinematic Universe reaching near-feverish levels, there’s a lot of pressure for the game to perform – and the team isn’t taking any chances.
In the early 2000s, Marvel launched the Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game – but it wasn’t the hit they were hoping for, and it only lasted a few years.
With the resurgence of Dungeons & Dragons over the last half-decade it felt like the right time for Marvel to publish a new RPG…but this time, it was the Marvel Multiverse RPG. Forbeck wasn’t super-familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and its foray into the multiverse with its recent films and shows,) but Marvel HQ loved the idea.
“They thought it made a lot of sense. We weaved it back into the fact that every game is like an individual universe, and every campaign is its own branch of the multiverse. [It’s something] we talked about in the playtest rules and allows [players to fully take ownership of their characters] whether they are playing a unique hero of their own creation, or a pre-existing one like Thor, Captain Marvel, or Spider-man. “
In the Spring Marvel released a 108-page playtest ruleset, which allowed fans to get a glimpse of what Forbeck was working on.
There are of course advantages and disadvantages to releasing a rulebook that isn’t fully polished. The main disadvantage is that people yell because everything is screwed up – the characters are unbalanced, the rules don’t make sense – there’s a typo on page 75, paragraph two, sentence four.
He joked that releasing a playtest book is like walking around in your underwear: you aren’t ready, but you’re going to be.
(If you’re curious about the game and how the playtest rules are laid out, we’ve done an exhaustive review, click here to read it)
Gods, yes, sacred characters no
When you’re dealing with 60 years of Marvel history, and millions of pages of lore, the team found identifying character power levels sometimes tricky. It’s the arguments kids had in their basements (now they might have them over a drink at a bar) that I imagine went something like: well, nobody could beat cosmic Thor, so he’s rank 25 – well how do you rank Spider-man? He’s changed a lot over time – but Wolverine is like the most popular character how can he only be rank ten?
There are only about ten pre-built characters in the playtest rules, but fans can expect dozens more when the rulebook (expected to be close to 400 pages when finished) drops in the summer of 2023.
You are Marvel
The playtest rules also include an extensive character generation system, with roughly a third of the book dedicated to making your own hero.
Right now, that process is limited, because you can only use powers and archetypes from the ten included Marvel heroes, but once the full book is launched players should have an extensive list of powers and abilities to choose from.
It hasn’t been a huge focus in previous editions of Marvel RPGs, but this time an unnamed player character is right there on the cover, so you know that’s something they’re thinking about that’s core to this game.
Have your say
If you’re a fan of TTRPGs and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seems like the Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game is for you – in the playtest rules at least, it seems thoughtful, and well laid out. Perhaps the best part? It feels unique.
They created their own system from the ground up (for details on the system read here) so it won’t be like anything you’ve played before. They’ve combined a series of innovative mechanics that will breathe life into the action-adventure stories many players will want to tell.
“Once you understand the basics…you can just sit down and play. All you need is one person who understands the rules. Sure, there will be attention to the mechanics [but at its heart] it’s creating an epic story with your friends.”
The playtest is still ongoing…and Marvel needs your help – will you choose to assemble?
Thanks to Matt Forbeck for chatting with us