Mutants & Masterminds
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    Mutants & Masterminds

    I havenít reviewed Mutants & Masterminds before for a very good reason. I hadnít played it. On the other hand, Iím an old fan of the Hero system and have played Champions for years. Itís a little hard on some people and can be pretty complex. Sometimes it doesnít handle Ďrealí or low powered campaigns as well as it should have. On the opposite end of that scale is GURPS with its IST campaign. I never liked it. I enjoyed the background and some of the options but always felt that Hero did it better. Lastly, I think that the Tri-Stat version of Silver Age Sentinels kicks all sorts of butt. Itís not as detailed as Hero but handles things very well.

    Well Iíve played Mutants & Masterminds and have to say itís a little above the Tri-Stat version of Silver Age Sentinels and in some aspects, above Hero itself. For me, itís a simple game that builds on the d20 system while remaining apart even as itís one of the best looking super hero games out there. No offense to Hero fans but I own the 5th edition book and while itís big, itís ugly with a lot of old recycled art that didnít look good in the first place. The books have gotten better but that first one is a dog. Do you know how hard it is to get someone to play a book that big with that huge price tag as opposed to picking up Mutants & Masterminds? Especially when the person realizes that the Hero system is pretty much just the rule book and that further genre books are needed to fully realize the Champions dream?

    For my part, Iím not a master of the rules. Several of us went with the pregenerated characters. I picked the Original, a Super Man style character that can fly and has super strength in addition to augmented senses. One of my friends picked the battlesuit for an Iron Man type character. We found that was one of the problems with the book. It didnít do the hand holding thing. Doesnít walk you through every step. Fortunately, itís simple. We did appreciate the variety of archetypes to pick from, at least until we discovered that the point totals didnít look right. Thankfully, there are errata and revised templates for easy use.

    The game is based on a point buy system that relies on power levels to set your caps or maximums. Very similar to how Champions had a chart that showed how many active points you could have on a power in addition to suggested limits for combat values.

    Having played Hero for a long time, one thing I can tell you about the characters and character sheets in general is that I donít like how everything isnít accounted for in points. Unlike Hero where you have several secondary stats, like your Combat Value (CV), in Mutants & Masterminds, you buy your offensive and defensive ability and then apply your modifications from stats and powers to the. This can make reverse engineering a playerís character a pain. While feats have a set point cost, they should still be accounted for somewhere. Iím the type of reader who wants to be able to look at a character and see all of the point totals with a glance and have them be correct.

    The points that you use to build your character cover everything from stats, feats, powers and skills. Like many point buy systems, you can handicap yourself for more points. The stats work well in that despite how inexpensive they are, they donít have a huge impact on the game, instead relying on super versions of your abilities to do things. Now the super abilities are often a multiplier to the base so you still want some good scores here and there but theyíre not as essential as they are in a standard d20 game.

    The powers have some interesting tricks built into them. Most game systems have a way to combine abilities to save on points as long as itís build into a concept. For Hero, we have elemental controls, where you have a base cost that subtracts from each power in the pool and you have a multi-power where you have a maximum amount of power that you can allocate between abilities.

    Here they do something similar but different than both of those options. You add powers and extras to your main power. For example, if I buy Super Strength, I may want to add Protection, a form of damage absorbing armor. So I get a reduction on the protectionís cost, which is added to the Super Strength cost. Thatís good news but the bad news is if Iím hit with something that reduces my Super Strength, the protection goes as well. In addition, itís bad news because like an elemental pool in Champions, it requires a little math to do things beyond buy up all the powers in the pool at once. For example, say you donít want as many levels of protection as you have super strength. It can be done, but requires a little more effort. The cost would be equal to X for the ranks where you shared the power, then Y for the remainder.

    The power list is generous and covers almost everything you need. I say almost because I havenít seen a game system yet where players havenít demanded something extra. Thatís okay though because there is a separate license that publishers can use to craft their own books and several have already done so including Power Corrupts, a compendium of super abilities. This doesnítí include the books own sage like advice on making new powers and slotting them into an appropriate point cost level.

    I know, how about some power examples? Letís say that you want a loner who goes berserk and slashes people to death with his claws. You buy up your attack a bit, make sure that youíve got some appropriate feats like Rapid Strike where you get a bonus attack as well as regeneration and natural weapon, say claws, and youíre pretty much all set. I know, add a boost power where you gain extra Strength, but you can only use it when in a berserk rage.

    Itís important for readers to not assume that anything here is the same as a standard d20 campaign though. Even the feats have changed. For example, good old power attack has a cap of 5 points now. I mention this because some may want to import other feats into the system and Iíd recommend any GM think twice about it and make sure that such a feat fits into the system. Base attack does not go up in levels but must be purchased. There are dozens of little things like that but for the most part, itís all good. One thing that really stood out for us was that there were no hit points in this system.

    Instead of hit points, you get to make saving throws against damage. Now in any standard super hero game where the players are trying to be heroes, most of them are going to be using non-leathal force. In Champions, thatís covered with standard attacks and killing attacks. In this case, itís standard and lethal attacks. Depending on how much damage your enemy inflicts, it affects your saving throw. If you make your saving throw, you take no damage. If you miss it, depending by how much you miss it, you suffer penalties up to and including death. No actual damage recoding though. In some ways, it reminds me of SLA where every injury you take, regardless of the damage, inflicts a wound to you. For those who have Unearthed Arcana, itís one of the variants in that book too, borrowed from this game.

    So what else is there to know? You get points to build your character. You buy your stats, skills, feats and powers. You use a slightly different d20 engine to do the standard things. Itís pretty simple really. No classes but the archetypes themselves act as excellent guidelines for making different styles of characters.

    Now I havenít been playing long, but in my opinion, a game, even the core rulebook, is more than just itself. It relies on a certain amount of support and feedback. Green Ronin has been great about this not only with updated errata and tools for the GM, but with forums where the players can talk with the designers and several excellent releases including Crooks and Freedom City.

    Now what about the book itself? Well, itís almost like reading a game thatís a comic. The art is fantastic. The paper is solid and sturdy. No rips or tears in the four weeks Iíve been actively using it. The pregenerated characters cover a wide variety of archetypes ranging from a Superman Style called the Original, to martial artist like Iron Fist. The book includes a starting adventure that is open ended and gives the GM a lot of freedom. These are all good things, especially when coupled with the excellent advice spread throughout the book. My personal favorite bits are the Under the Mask sections where the writer explains what he was thinking or what you may want to do in different situations. It really helps the reader get into the genre.

    Mutants & Masterminds is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to play a super hero game. Itís well supported and has professional art and layout. Even better, itís simple to start and play. Anyone familiar with d20 will be shouting ďItís Clobbering TimeĒ within a half hour. While I love Hero and enjoy its complexities, Iím afraid that for a quick good-looking game, Iím going with Mutants & Masterminds.
    Last edited by Morrus; Saturday, 30th August, 2008 at 12:30 PM.

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