Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 Games of X-Mas 8: "Eight Mutants Masterminding"

Today I through down the gauntlet of Super Heroes in gaming.  Personally I'm awful at trying to write stories for let alone run games for supers, but when I do or those rare chances I get to play in one my go to is Mutants & Masterminds.  As far as the premise I would say it's pretty straight forward.  You play as super heroes fighting against villains it's about as simple as it gets.


  • Precariously  Balanced
    • One of the brilliant ways the writers of M&M designed their game by their design of power levels.  The basic run down of how it all works is characters are built through a massive pool of points that can be used in all sorts of ways from core stats to super powers.  Right away someone who has dealt with their share of "min/max"ers would worry what would happen if a player picked one gimmick and dumped all their points into it making them near godlike.  The designers seems to see this coming as well as added caps into the over all power level the GM may want to run the game at.  Now caps aren't anything new, but in M&M they went one better and made most all of their stats that can have a cap dynamically interact with one or two others stats making the true cap whatever the final combined number of those stats are.  This opens up much more possibilities to players as they can choose to have power well above the standard level while sacrificing accuracy or vice-versa.  The same goes with a characters defenses as they might be incredibly apt at dodging out of the way of explosions, but a single poison dart might take them down.  This all adds up to make heroes feel super powerful while still forcing weaknesses into the characters to keep things interesting.
  • Know how to roll 'em.
    • Another point of sublime simplicity is how the designers built a system that only uses a single D20.  I know this isn't the only system to boil everything down to a single dice, but after the explosion of SRD with D&D and Pathfinder as well as the popularity of the many dice pool based games it's nice to see a game where you will always know what dice to pick up and roll.  It also makes teaching the game much faster as new players can already be over whelmed with all the rules and mechanics going on around them this leaves one less thing to worry about.
  • Building Fun
    • The area where M&M shines brightest is easily in character creation.  As I said above the mechanics or balancing different stats within a players limits give gamers loads of option as what to what kind of heroe they will be, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Between building completely original super powers from the tool kits provided (powers are described mechanically leaving the actual flavor of a power to your imagination) and the different vehicles, tools, and even headquarters that can be made all from the same pool of points the options are endless.  It is a rare game that I see a system that can let one players make a martial arts crime fighters step toe to toe with an alien super being and (if at roughly the same power level) be just as playable.  I have several friends that are constantly picking up their M&M books just to make new and interesting characters even if no one is running a game.
The Bad:

  • Where's the Challenge
    • Now as I said in the introduction, I'm not that great at running supers game and honestly this may just per a personal problem and not one of the system.  My issue is any point after street level (the lowest level in the game) heroes I start finding problems chalanging my heroes.  Now in a perfect world character are supposed to have friends and loved one that aren't supers that can be put in the line of danger, but even a single selfish loner type character can ruin that.  The other answer is to make villains specifically designed to take out a heroes and while a nemesis can be fun when dealing with an entire party of heroes usually one heroes threat is a cake walk for another hero in the team.  Then their is the biggest problem I face, with there only being basically two types of true threats for the heroes to face things start to get boring fast.  Now like I said, this is more a weakness on my part, but it's one I can see lots of GMs having when transitioning from more standard adventuring party type games.
  • Expensive Reprint
    • This one is also not exactly a flaw within the system, but more on the part of the publishers and licensing deals.  If you are already a fan of super hero based games there's a very good chance you already have the DC Adventures RPG and that will be a problem.  You see this was basically the trial run of the newest edition of Mutants & Mastermind using their system but adding the characters and world of DC.  I don;t know if the publishers were lazy or they thought the system was perfect but there have been no improvements between the two and when I mean "no improvements" I mean a word for word reprint.  I've read through both books and they are identical with the exception of the art work.  I'm sorry but calling a book "new" when the formatting hasn't ever changed sours me a bit.  Especially when the older edition has the far superior artwork.  That said it does leave the option of letting you pick up which ever is cheaper or on sale.
Final Thoughts:
Super Heroes aren't really my cup of tea when it comes to running a game. I've tried and I'm just not very good at it, but of the games I have run with heroes this is so far my favorite (there are a couple in the 12 Games in 12 Months series coming up).  The system has plenty of meat to chew on for veteran gamers with fairly streamlined mechanics while keeping the the heroic feel of its theme.

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