Mutants and Masterminds gets a lot of airplay on the internet forums: any time someone asks about superhero games, a raft of people come out of the woodwork to impose it upon you. I bought M&M 1st Edition a few years ago and was less than enthralled. It was D&D…with superpowers. Considering the general miasma of dislike I had for d20-based systems, it wasn’t surprising that I dismissed it after the first reading as being a bit of a dirty dog. M&M1e was therefore exiled to the boxes rather than the shelves of RPG books I own.
Scroll forward on the time machine to 2008 and I’ve decided to have another look at M&M, this time in the second edition. Everyone keeps going on about how it’s not like d20 any more and how it’s a great a and flexible system.
At First Glance.
I tend to flick about a RPG book rather than starting from the beginning. I found myself in the NPC section and then moved backwards to the character generation section. M&M2e is certainly colourful and they have a raft of superhero archetypes to choose from. As I’m looking to model one of my favourite characters ‘Lionheart’, I have a flick through them and find that none of them seem to model the ‘superhuman soldier’ that I hold dear to my heart. The closest seems to be the Paragon (Superman clone) so I keep his power levels in mind. Lionheart was never a ‘lifter’ and 90 tons is an awful lot so some things will need dialed down a peg.
There are a lot of rules.
We’re treated to a checklist of what to work through and the first stumbling block I find is Power Level (which is the first game-related jargon I’ve hit so far). This seems to be some sort of measure to allow you to compare superheroes. It would be wick to start as a “First Level Brick” but Power Level usually starts at 10 (in other words, you’re a 10th level character) but you can dial it down to 1 and up to 20 in these rules. Power Level has multiple effects. It tells you how may points you get in character generation (which is sadly not just a multiple of the Power Level) but also defines the maximum levels of “attack bonus”, “defense bonus”, “save difficulty”, “toughness save”, “fortitude, reflex and will saves”, “skill rank” and “ability scores”. Character generation is therefore quite table heavy (which I dislike) but I think that once this cumbersome process is over, you probably have a very complete character.
Power Level 10 allows you to have 150 power points (max attk/def 10, max save DC +10, max toughness +10, max save/ability +15, max ability score 40, max skill rank 15). M&M2e recommends that a Paragon have 20 ranks in Attributes and Skills, 0 Feats, 86 points in Powers, 32 points in Combat and 12 points in Saves. Right.
Creating the Character
I’m going to go with that division, but swap the points about. Figuring I can buy a “Power” to increase Strength and Constitution to desired superhuman levels, I just add points to the others as desired. Lionheart was never a brainy guy but he was athletic – just not superhumanly so.
|STR: 10 (+0)||Notice:8|
|DEX: 18 (+4)||Intimidate: 8|
|CON: 10 (+0)||Climb: 8|
|INT: 12 (+1)|
|WIS: 12 (+1)|
|CHA: 12 (+1)|
|14 points||6 points|
From here we have to get out basic abilities, skills, feats, powers, complications and drawbacks. I buy up my DEX only to find out that Strength and Dexterity don’t directly influence your ability in combat. Okay. Now I have to read a bit to see where to go from here. Character generation skips around a little.
Attack, Defense and Save, 5, 5 and 10, giving a 10 for each of these modifiers.
Skipping to Feats. Ones that look interesting are:
- Improved Critical,
- Improved Initiative
They’re only 1 point each so it seems foolish not to. I nab four points from Powers and put them into these feats.
So, now, Powers. Lionheart is super-strong, super-fit, super-tough, highly resistant to disease and poisons and is almost impossible to kill due to a fast regeneration power. Powers in the big list on pages 72-73 I should look at include…
- Enhanced Ability adding 30 points to Strength, 20 points to Constitution
- Immunity: 2 points (poison, disease)
- Regeneration: Recovery Rate: heals every action without rest from any damage condition: 17 points
So far we’ve spent 69 points on Powers out of an allocated 82 points, leaving 11 points left over.
I figure I’ll jigger some points about, add a few more points in feats, maybe make him more charismatic or something.
Looking at the powers and abilities, it seems more sensible to put those Enhanced Ability points straight into base Strength and Constitution. Sure, I lose the ability to push them but they also can’t be nullified (a thoroughly annoying effect of many superhero campaigns). That really means the only power he has is Regeneration. That’s a little depressing but not dissimilar to Marvel in this respect. The temptation, if your only power is Regeneration, is for you to put your character in harms way and worse, for the GM to send the first attack of every battle in your direction. In the ‘character assassination’ game Lionheart was always the first to get a bullet in the head – the argument being that his enemies knew it would put him out of action for a few minutes. It was a bullshit argument, of course, a bullet to the head of any other character would have put them down for good. Wouldn’t that have been a much more sensible tactic?
So now what?
I have to start reading the system? And the combat system. And I dread it. This game is one of modifiers. There are modifiers for everything and more meta-stats than you can shake a stick at. And abbreviations as well. I’m slightly confused at what I bought earlier. I’m looking for the definitions of MAx Save DC modifier, Max Toughness, Max Save/Ability Bonus (from the table on page 25). I bought three values in the combat section: Attack Bonus, Defense Bonus, Save Bonus. But I see from page 24, I have to consider an entire checklist of saves (see above) which need to be bought separately. Argh. There’s something to be said for an integrated character generation workflow. At least I know what to do with those extra points!
I do not like this game. Let’s get that out of the way. I also don’t hate it but it’s not a book I’ll likely keep on the shelves when shelf space is so precious.
There are a lot of positive points. Concepts core to d20/D&D will be familiar (no matter what anyone says) to D&D players so it’s an easy jump. It may be missing core D&Disms like levels and hit points but it’s more qualitative than that – it’s written for the core audience and I think it does it very well.
It’s flexible and modern. It’s got a shedload of supplements as well which is often an important factor for a GM (not for me though).
There are a few negatives. I haven’t changed my opinion of the system and the main book is very dry (though the art pieces are lovely). I think it’s really poorly explained and I am willing to bet that there are some min-maxed exploitations of the system out there. The system is flexible but in a market which contains other ‘flexible’ systems such as Wild Talents, PowerGame, Marvel Classic and even Champions, this flexibility is a mere bullet point.
To me it’s mid-complexity (marred by poor explanation and layout but it’s not Champions!), mid-flexibility (it’s no Golden Heroes yet not also Wild Talents) and just not what I’m looking for. I do want to pick up one of the supplements and see how good the setting details are.