Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tommy's Take on Annihilation Essentials Event Book

The best story I've ever read involving Ronan, the Super Skrull OR Annihilus, easy.


The Civil War publishing cycle for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is done, and now it’s on to Annihilation. Annihilation sparked the new wave of Marvel Cosmic comics, beginning with Nova, and singlehandedly turned Richard Rider into one of my favorite characters in comic books (my #2 hero behind only Captain America). This first volume brings the Event structure to Annihilation, and all that entails.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The book is available in Premium (rules included) and Essentials (requiring the Marvel Heroic core rules) versions. This review covers the Essentials Edition, which is available in PDF right now, with print coming down the pipe later. For those not familiar with Annihilation, it was a big cosmic crossover that took place around the same time as Civil War, involving Fantastic Four villain Annihilus joining forces with Thanos and unleashing the Annihilation Wave across the cosmos, destroying everything in its wake. Ultimately, Kree, Skrulls, humans and more had to join forces in order to stop it…even Galactus got involved, on the side of the angels. It was pretty epic and I recommend the comics heartily.

The authors seem to think the campaign will take about six months to play, and one of the group creation methods encourage the players to form their group by picking characters from different areas of the universe as their “spotlight” characters, and then everyone else making secondary characters related to each spotlight character…until you build the climax of the Event and the spotlight characters join forces. Other options include making a thematic group (all Kree, all Skrull, all Shi’ar, etc), or just a standard “Everyone pick your hero and we’ll work it out” group. A list of Event-ready datafiles are provided, though you can use others (including heroes of your own creation), if you give them ample reason to be in space and involved with the event. I could see, say, Hulk getting involved as he tries to leave Sakaar early or something. Though the Fantastic Four were active in Civil War at the time, they are included in the book as a “What If…?” type option.

The Annihilation Sourcebook provides stats for spaceships as well as rules for Timed Actions (via the Timer complication), and even a new Specialty level (Grandmaster, which is a d12 that can be broken down into 2d10 or 3d8). A slew of new power sets are provided, from Marvel classics like Nova Centurion, the Power Cosmic and the Unipower (Captain Universe!), to more generic cosmic-appropriate power sets like Soldier, Android or Privateer.

As the other Event books have done, Annihilation zeroes in on various groups involved in the event and focuses on how to play from their perspective if you so choose.

The Kree includes a Kree powerset, some generic datafiles, a handful of NPCs (like Captain At-Lass and Dr. Minn-erva), a pair of Milestones (like Genetic Kickstart, which has your Kree obsessed with jumpstarting Kree genetics, a mindset that helped breed the Inhumans), and Unlockables (like Activate Sentry, which gives you a big, giant Kree robot and not the horrible Avengers character).

Skrulls are included, with powers, datafiles (like Infiltrators and Warskrulls), NPCs, Milestones (Hidden Threat focuses on being a Skrull infiltrator, for instance), and Unlockables (need a squad of Warskrulls?).

The Nova Corps comes with a series of generic corpsman datafiles, a basic power set, a Milestone related to their code and reference to an unusual Unlockable that hinges on the Worldmind boosting a Nova, making them go Supernova and possibly out of control.

The Shi’ar includes the Imperial Guard, as well as datafiles like Deathbird, Deathcry and Lilandra.

The Eternals section covers playing Annihilation from the perspective of the Titans, but more importantly, it includes the Thanos villain datafile. An absolutely terrifying and awesome datafile, Thanos has built in plans for most things you can think of…but his Invulnerability has a gaping hole in it that applies only to Drax the Destroyer.

Even residents of the Negative Zone can get in on the act, standing up against Annihilus and the Annihilation Wave, if only for their own reasons. There’s a sidebar included about the Negative Zone prison being used in Civil War, which could cause the two wars to collide.

Annihilus and his minions are included next, seemingly out of place, as there are no Unlockables or Milestones here: Just one scary Negative Zone ruler hell-bent on destroying the universe.

The Galactus section has stats for Galactus (a Cosmic-scale threat…his solo affiliation is FOUR d12), as well as a Power Cosmic power set and unlockables that one can use to gain Galactus’ favor…including being turned into a herald!

The Kyln is a maximum security space prison, and includes datafiles on two ancient gods whose fellows were slain by Galactus, as well as Galactus’ forgotten first herald, now mentally enslaved by Thanos! The Kyln can also be a great starting point for a hero (or heroes), with a pair of Milestones, one of which focuses on clearing your name and escaping the prison and the other focusing on breaking in!

The “rest” of the universe is handled in a handy tour guide, including datafiles for generic Badoon and Dire Wraiths, as well a datafile for Rocket Racoon (sans Milestones, so just use Event milestones if you want to play him). There’s even a Symbiote power set (you did remember that the Carnage and Venom symbiotes were alien in origin, right?)

A full dozen Event Milestones are included above and beyond the group-specific ones (my favorite being “I Hate This Cosmic Stuff”, perfect for Jack Flagg in his time with the Guardians of the Galaxy).

The Event itself is set up into three Acts. Act One has four set-up scenes, one starting at the Kyln (and, like Breakout! in the main book, it provides ample excuse for multiple characters to be involved), one involving the Annihilation Wave attacking the Nova Corp homeworld, one being an attack on a Skrull world and one being set on a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

While the Event largely assumes that the narrative will largely resemble that of the comics, sidebars do allow for variations (like the Nova Corps successfully fighting off the Annihilation Wave and not losing the homeworld). Of course, it also allows for things to get worse: Instead of the Worldmind downloading into Richard Rider (or someone else) and making them Nova Prime, what if Annihilus’ troops are able to take it back to their master? Act one culminates in a battle with Annihilus himself, which the PCs are likely to lose, but again, it’s all up to them. If they DO win…then it may be a bad thing, as Thanos steps in and assumes control of the Annihilation Wave, rather than just acting as an advisor/lieutenant.

Act Two picks up business nicely, with any Cosmically-powered heroes being stalked by Annihilus’ lackey Ravenous, as well as the involvement of Galactus, the battle for the Kree homeworld Hala, and Thanos himself making a play involving one of the heroes. By the end of Act Two, the heroes should be formally forming the United Front, and if you’re using the various groups spread around the galaxy method of running the campaign, this is where they join up. Additionally, there an optional scene provided here for someone to make a trip to Earth…where they may wind up sidelined by the Civil War.

Act Three is pretty much do or die, as the heroes have to stand against the Wave. This involves taking out Annihilus’ lieutenants (which includes friggin’ THANOS), undoing damage likely done during Act Two, throwing down with those two ancient gods and, oh yeah, stopping Annihilus himself. Of course, if the heroes fail, you can always have the Annihilation Wave reach Earth and then hand over a list of the two sides in the Civil War and have one more last ditch throwdown. There was actually a great What If…? story about this, with Nova, Captain America and Iron Man joining forces at the climax of Civil War, sacrificing their lives to stop Annihilus.

Of course, the main hero Datafiles are also present, with the Fantastic Four included as noted above, as well as Nova, Star-Lord, Ronan the Accuser, the Super Skrull, Paibok the Power Skrull, Lyja, Devos the Devastator, Beta Ray Bill, Silver Surfer, Drax, Gamora, Blastaar, Gladiator and many more.

A very nice bibliography of the Marvel Cosmic run from Annihilation through Thanos Imperative is included, for those who want to read these stories for themselves (and I cannot recommend this stuff enough).

WHAT WORKS: This is maybe my favorite release for Marvel Heroic. Period. Soooo many options jammed into the book, capturing the epic scale of the Annihilation Event, and all in one book. As with Civil War, there is a roadmap, but no railroad tracks. You can blaze your own trail through Annihilation if you like. Also, Nova.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: No Adam Warlock. We get the Fantastic Four, but no Adam Warlock. Sorry, I like Adam Warlock. And yeah, he wasn’t involved in Annihilation, but neither was Reed Richards. Also, we get a great picture of Nova and Annihilus fighting, but there’s an almost iconic Nova-Annihilus scene from the end of the series that wasn’t used. Yes, I’m nitpicking at this point. And yes, I will have a Baron Zemo-like reaction when Warlock shows up in a book.

CONCLUSION: Like I said, this may be my favorite release for Marvel Heroic. Heck, I bet I could buy the Premium version so I have the rules bundled in with this and be happy. If you hate Marvel Heroic, this isn’t going to sway you. If you thought it sounded alright, but wouldn’t touch Civil War with a ten-foot pole, might be time to jump in. If you’re already a fan…then you’ve probably purchased this already. I cannot wait to see the remaining books in the Cosmic line.

DISCLAIMER: I did receive an electronic comp copy of this book via DriveThruRPG's Featured Reviewer program, and my link to the product in question is an affiliate link. I may receive a portion of any purchases made via those links as store credit.