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In Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, players construct their dice pools for an action by claiming any and all dice off their character sheet they can justify, one from each category. One of such categories is called Specialties, and it represents very broad skillsets the characters might have. Two examples of Specialties of particular interest to me right now are Combat and Tech. Iron Man has the latter, but not the former.

Superheroes do many fantastic things, but chief among them is undoubtedly fighting. Which means that when it comes to fighting, characters without Combat Specialty are at a disadvantage, as they can't add that extra die to their pool. Or can they? It is trivial for a player to spout technobabble, describing various useful gadgets with which Tony Stark's armour is brimming, to try and justify adding Tech Specialty to the dice pool. Targeting systems, smart bombs, nanobots (ooooh), EMP blasts, etc. He built them, they are technology, shouldn't he get to use the die?

On the one hand, this enhances the description of Iron Man's actions, which seems to be the primary goal of the mechanic. On the other, none of the examples in the description of Tech Specialty mention anything like this, and it is somewhat stepping into Combat's territory. Plus, not letting players use Tech in combat would encourage them to seek different kinds of solutions where Tech is useful.

Should I, as a GM, allow players to stretch the definition of their Specialties as long as they can provide some descriptive justification, or should I be strict in defining their boundaries?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

An official "word of god" as it was from Cam Banks on the Margaret Weis Forums, specifically states that the intention behind giving Iron Man Tech Specialty was that he would use it instead of Combat in general. The text from the book states (emphasis mine):

You can use, repair, and invent electronic, digital, or mechanical gear.

As it states, anytime that Iron Man uses his armor (which is pretty much every time in combat), he can add his Tech Specialty. He can additionally use it as an excuse for any additional stunts he wants as well as obviously creating resources for any additional gadgets or insights he has but just using his armor is enough excuse for using the specialty in the roll.

Additional quote from Cam:

That's the way I designed him on purpose, so it's not so much a ruling as it is "this is how I meant for it to work."

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Good quotes, but could you add a link to the original posts? –  Alex P May 31 '13 at 22:12
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Ironman's Tech Speciality allows him to create stunts to jury-rig equpiment, reroute tech systems etc. Invoking this in combat could mean turning an enemy's technology against them

A huge part of Ironman's character is the techno-babble, he often solves problems using it (for instance in the recent cartoon series he remembers a random port number that Stark Industries uses for backdoor access and hacks Kang's chair which is tech ages in the future). So I think if properly justified against the proper enemy, Tech Specialty is a more than useful addition to the dice pool.

Ironman often fights villains who use tech that is at his level or superior (Crimson Dynamo, Mandarin, Whiplash), and his tech skills are incredibly useful against the kinds of villains his character tends to encounter.

Last note: Combat Expert seems reserved for folks who have actual physical combat skills. It's notably absent from Tony's sheet as well as the Fantastic four except for Thing. I wonder if it just doesn't properly model the fact that Tony is a bit of a combat weakling without the suit.

The characters who don't have it in the initial book are Sue Storm (Invisible woman), Human Torch, Emma Frost and Mr. Fantastic (in addition to Ironman). These characters will have to be significantly more clever about how they approach combat and situations in combat (Ironman better have a suit nearby if he's going to get into combat, Human torch will want to flame up, Emma Frost will want to make sure she goes Diamond, Sue Storm will likely hide and attack from positions of stealth, Mr. Fantastic will rely on his stretchiness and durability in a fight).

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Yeah, Tech doesn't model having nanobots or EMP blasts; Tech models being able to do Tech on-the-fly to exploit technological objects in the vicinity for dramatic effect. The chair hack is exactly the sort of thing that Tech is for! –  SevenSidedDie May 22 '13 at 3:28
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@SevenSidedDie those concepts could be used in the resource creation aspect of the specialty though, just not on the fly in combat. –  wax eagle May 22 '13 at 13:28
    
Maybe I misunderstand, but you make it sound like Iron Man cannot use Tech to do direct combat, like flying and throwing a punch at an enemy, or launching missiles at a target –  Scrollmaster May 22 '13 at 14:14
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@Scrollmaster it's a bit more complicated than that. He already has a powerset that models the basic functionality of his suit (repulsors, missiles, fast flight). He gets whichever of those he is currently using. This is about how to add a specialty die when engaged in combat. The Tech Specialty is intended for clever thinking/hacking/jury rigging, not the use of his armor in combat. –  wax eagle May 22 '13 at 14:28
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@Scrollmaster If the Tech die was renamed "Tinkerer", would this all make more sense? The problem is that it's easy to think of the English word's breadth of meaning, when the game-word's meaning is actually much more specific. If you consider that "Tinkerer" is a synonym of the meaning the game gives it, that might be clearer. –  SevenSidedDie May 22 '13 at 15:12
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