Marvel Universe Changes

Running an RPG campaign in an established setting is fraught with peril. You can trip over canon, run into disputes over characters, or even accidentally rewrite the history of a cherished character. If not handled well these issues can ruin the campaign.

As previously posted here on the blog, I just started a campaign of the Marvel Heroic RPG. One of my biggest goals is avoiding the pitfalls outlined above. To that end, I set up a few guidelines out of the gate.

This is not the Marvel you know

The main Marvel Universe (Earth-616) has more than fifty years of continuity. It is incredibly rich with literally thousands of characters. It’s a veritable playground for anyone wanting to tell stories about superheroes. Our game is inspired by that universe but is not that universe. I set that out explicitly for the group when we started making characters. We can take elements from Earth-61, the Ultimates universe, and even the recent film continuity but we will be playing in our own universe. Any changes people want to make are fair game.

The first portion of the universe that we established was our own roster of heroes. My players, as a group, created their own supers. The idea is that those four heroes will function as this universe’s Avengers equivalent. The first story we are telling is where they come together as a team and realize that together they can face foes none of them could match alone.

I took it a bit further in establishing our universe. At our first play session, I had everyone at the table take turns saying definitively who is and is not in the universe. Anyone not mentioned may come up or may just never be mentioned. The lists below are definitive, though. This gives us a good place to begin for knowing what is going on in the universe as well as a quick excise of our most disliked characters.

We started with superheroes who are in:

  • The Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and Thing)
  • The X-Men (Prof. X, Cyclops, Ms. Marvel, Beast, Iceman, and Angel)
  • Wolverine
  • Silver Surfer

From there we moved to heroes who are not:

  • Iron Man
  • Cable
  • Gambit
  • Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch

Villains who are in:

  • Magneto
  • Galactus
  • Sabretooth
  • Doc Ock


Villains who are not:

  • The Symbiote (Venom/Carnage)
  • Apocalypse
  • Mephisto
  • Sandman
  • Rob Liefeld

What do you think? Who would be in your Marvel universe? Who would you cut out? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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7 Responses to Marvel Universe Changes

  1. Samwsie says:

    I understand why you’d leave out the first three villains — from over-exposure; ill-defined powers, goals, and personality; etc. But Sandman seems an odd one out. Why did he make the list?

    • PK says:

      Sam, I’m not entirely sure why he was on the list. My best guess is that whoever chose Sandman just doesn’t like the character. I’ll ask on Friday when we play next.

  2. Samwise says:

    I remember liking Sandman when I was a kid, so that’s a reason I wondered.

    I’m hoping to start up a Marvel mini-campaign myself. I’m planning on setting it relatively early in Marvel history (when the X-men were first formed) to avoid some of the continuity complexities…

  3. edgar says:

    Haha, I would actually like to hear why these specific choices were made… Like in the “in” groups, is there a desire to interact with these characters? Definitely why the out groups were chosen!

    • PK says:

      Yeah, for the most part the “in” groups were put in because players want to interact with those individuals. The Fantastic Four and Galactus are part of Max Ace’s background so they were kind of a gimme. Since Max’s powers are an extension of the Power Cosmic, it makes sens to have Silver Surfer in the world. The X-Men and Wolverine are just group favorites. The villains were either personal favorites of the group or, in the case of Doc Ock, the only villain the player could think of on the spot. (Zapnor isn’t familiar with comics at all.)

      The out groups are a little more complex. Commander Turing is based on and too close to Iron Man – we didn’t want to steal his thunder by introducing Tony Stark. Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch was because no one really likes them and it heads off a lot of issues in later continuity by getting rid of the Maximoffs. Cable was vetoed for the same reason that the symbiote was – too much of a symbol of the ridiculousness of the ’90s. Much how Doc Ock was the only villain that Zapnor remembered, Gambit was the only hero that made him go, “Oh, I hate that guy!” Apocalypse and Mephisto were nixed because nobody actively liked them. Zapnor axed Sandman because he thought the idea of the character sounded stupid when we described him.

  4. Chris Woods says:

    When I saw Gambit on the ‘out’ list, my first thought was “Someone wants to introduce him as a new character later!” Apparently not so. I think when we re-start our marvel campaign in a few weeks with civil war, I’ll work with the group to determine who’s in and who’s out. Thanks for the idea!

    • PK says:

      You’re quite welcome! Setting limits on the universe was necessary for our campaign because we wanted to drift pretty far from Earth-616. I just don’t like to trip over the canon of the universe. Gambit was axed by the guy who doesn’t know much of anything about comics. He asked us, “Isn’t there a guy who throws playing cards that explode? He sounds dumb. Can I get rid of him?” So he was gone.

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