I'm a little confused about how character advancement is supposed to work in Marvel Heroic. The core philosophy is that heroes are meant to start powerful and stay about the same power level throughout their careers. Instead of getting harder, better, faster, stronger, they're just supposed to change (e.g. when Spidey gets the Venom symbiote). How do we do this?

What Watcher resources are there to make sure this "Sideways Advancement" occurs?

The book suggests that players are meant to pick up a new Datafile each Event, and plenty of Unlockables are provided to divert XP expenditures away from Power Upgrades so that "Wolverine can't eventually go toe-to-toe with Galactus". And yet, players can spend 10XP (the same amount as a Major Unlockable, which I feel most players would forego in favor of a permanent Upgrade) to Upgrade a Power one die step.

Given the granularity of this change, and the likelihood of hitting at least one 10XP Milestone each event (not to mention the various other sources of XP), unless there is some trimming back of character abilities, the "Wolverine Vs. Galactus mano y mano" situation is bound to occur.

What am I missing? Are Upgrades only temporary, like Unlockables? Does the game only work if we rewrite Wolverine each Event with a new Datafile, from scratch? To my thinking, it doesn't even make sense that a character like Black Widow would ever even be able to advance her Reflexes or Strength past Enhanced (d8). It just isn't in her wheelhouse.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to Roleplaying-games Stack Exchange! Good first question. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2017 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ The comment section, and indeed this site in its entirety, is not a place to debate which games are "better" than other games based on personal preference. The argument-starter about that has been deleted. If you can't answer this question, move along from this question. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Feb 3, 2017 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wait, wolverine hasn't gone toe to toe with Galactis yet? Comic idea here, Marvel! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 5, 2017 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


The way I read it, there aren't any "anti-munchkin" controls in the MHR XP system. You could certainly construct some, making upgrades temporary or resetting character datafiles periodically as you noted. However, you'd likely find yourself in rules-lawyer battles with your players as you try to restrict their advancement to something you deem appropriate or at least manageable, and that's not the path I'd choose.

Here's my take on it: Much like the equipment lists in the old D&D books, the standard upgrades in the Spending XP section (OM109) are not a shopping list, but a reference to help you determine the XP cost for character changes in a consistent manner. So just because there's a "Step up a d10 power trait..." item in the 15 XP list doesn't mean that a player should expect step up any power trait they want as soon as they have 15 XP to spend, any more than the fact that there's a price for thieves tools on the D&D shopping list means you can walk into the tavern gift shop and buy a set of lock picks.

Your players shouldn't shop with their XP. They should map out what changes they want to make to their character, then work with their Watcher(s) on how and when to fit those changes into the narrative, both from a story line perspective, but also from a cost vs available XP's perspective. Decisions like whether a new power or power set should be permanent will depend on the overall direction of the campaign. If you're planning to escalate from a street-level to a cosmic venue, then maybe such changes persist. If you're just looking for an epic "save-the-world" event, then maybe you power back down afterwards.

"Sideways Advancement" is a campaign management concept, and IMO the machinery required to control that in the rules would limit the flexibility that makes this kind of character development fun. To quote the OP:

"...it doesn't even make sense that a character like Black Widow would ever even be able to advance her Reflexes or Strength past Enhanced (d8)..."

...unless Stark sets her up with an Extremis Enhancile boost, or shacking up with Banner has produced a long-term exposure to some odd radiations, or any one of a hundred other comic book rationales that are perfectly legit in the genre. As to her "wheelhouse", that's part of the character evolution picture, and is as subject to change as the player and the Watcher want it to be. MHR advancement needs to take the genre and the campaign goals/direction into account, and there are just too many individual group-preference specific variables in that to handle in a strict rules sense.


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