Oh wow posts two days in a row… is it a trend, likely not.
So my last post about Points vs Levels is going to get a bit of play here. And for those who are going, “Why do you keep looking at older games? 3rd edition is out for Mutants and Masterminds.” Well that is because this game runs a bit closer to D&D 3.0/3.5 than to Green Ronin’s True 20 game set up, but just a bit.
Personally for me this game is a great bridge between purely level based game engines and point based game engines. Also it adapts d20 for superheroes in a way that no other game engine has been able to meet up with. While engines like the d20 adaptation of Aberrant work and work well, I think this version captures the older Silver Age comics better, while still giving players and game runners the edge they need to get more modern comic simulations into play.
Originally published in 2002, with second edition coming out in 2005 (current version in 2013) Mutants and Masterminds is one of the staples of the Green Ronin library of games. With only three years between first and second edition people had to wonder if anything was really new in second ed, and in reality, there was not much of a change save to streamline a few things, clarify a couple of rules and to get an editorial team to look over the book and get rid of a lot of grammar and spelling and type setting errors. I have to say that in my experience that editing has been Green Ronin’s biggest weak spot.
So for folks that are familiar with D&D 3.0 if you crack this book open you will see a lot of familiar things, the same stats, the same saves, feats, skills, and a combat/skill system that is governed by a d20. What is missing is all the classes that you have to level up in. Instead the engine is point based with every 15 points spent equaling a level. Why are levels important to a point based game engine? Well that is because they also kept in the level based limits for skills and abilities. So even though your character will start at Power Level (not class level) 10 you have a way to compare against level 10 characters in other d20 based RPG’s.
Sadly though with the system of combat being changed the way it has been for Mutants and Masterminds it is a bit of a pain to get your tenth level Ranger to fight a Power Level 10 super. A little bit of conversion work later and… hmmm, this does not seem right… well then, how about, hmmm… ok so in my trials I ended up finding out that only the magic using classes in D&D 3.0 fall short on the supers in M&M. Everything else its up for grabs depending on how things are built in M&M. Build a good brick and very little will touch it from D&D, build a martial artist and they will go toe to toe with any fighting class. Energy projectors are hard to counter unless you have an immunity, and stealth characters are usually hideously over matched. Psionics jump back and forth. Skill heavy actions well that seams dead on matched. The big differences here are in regards to special abilities based on class, rolling for stats, and spending points.
So in d20 you level up and get set special abilities. In M&M you spend your experience points directly to add to your character. In d20 you roll for your stats and that can have a major impact on your skills and how things like magic work for you. In M&M you buy your stats with points and can sacrifice having some powers for the sake of having over the top stat bonus’. Additionally in M&M there are no stat limits save the points you want to spend. None. In 3.0 you are limited by the combination of dice you are allowed to roll, or the point spread or whatever other method you want to use, but every method limits the upper value of the stats your character can have, and the game engine limits the ways you can bump those scores up. Some of the special abilities are hard to replicate in M&M unless you have sat with the math and know how to bend things to your will. Then it is still not easy, but it is no where near as hard.
So while M&M does not have classes, they do have templates. Each template listed is a generic version of one of the classic comic book archetypes. The Powerhouse (brick), the Elementalist, the Pugilist (yeah its a martial artist, by any other name), The Armor, and several others. These templates are all set up with options so you can modify them to your taste, but still make it really easy to start play. None of them take complete advantage of the game engine though and all can be tweaked in ways that boggle the mind if you are willing to put the time in. Plus, as I said these are based on the archetypes, so they do not replicate every kind of hero you can imagine. That is up to the players.
One of the features that I really love in M&M is something that most D20 games consider to be optional if included at all. Weaknesses. You can take a weakness to add more points to your pool for building your character. To me this gives characters more flavor and helps distinguish you from other characters of similar builds. Now then I can say that WOTC did add weaknesses as an option for 3.0/3.5 in the Players Handbook 2, and the Pathfinder version of d20 added them into the Advanced Players Guide. But to me that feels like an after thought.
Overall I have to say that if someone is experienced with D&D 3.0/3.5, d20 Modern, or Pathfinder then learning M&M 2nd edition is not going to be hard at all. And for someone looking for a Super Hero RPG, while there are easier systems to get up and running (like say Stuper Heroes, yes thats real, no dont ask for a review… at least not yet) once you muddle through character creation the first time you really have the whole system down pat.
So here come all those little numbers I have set myself up for in a review…
Ok so this can be a bit of a challenge for me in regards to Green Ronin products. They move back and forth from having either tons of fluff, or next to nothing. This being a basic rule book I am reviewing, and not a setting book or a licensed product, well… the fluff is weak in this product. Likely it was done to save on production costs, but the bare bones here hurts. Only a few villains, very little write up, and after Unicorn quit doing the art, well, it fell a little short too. Sorry guys but there is not a lot here.
Overall Fluff Score 1/5
Rules, rules, and more rules. Samples on how to use the rules. Demos on how the use the rules. Variants on how you can use rules within rules. All handled very quickly, cleanly, and in an easy to read manner. This is where Green Ronin’s genius shines through. These guys know rules and how to write them so that every day people, not just hard core gamers can read them. As long as they have a good editor for grammar and a great spell checker, and a copy editor that makes sure things flow smoothly, you are going to see great work. And for me this is really really good work.
Overall Crunch Score 4/5
Kind of cheating here since this is a point based game engine. That means of COURSE you can mod it. Since it is tied into a series of publications like the d20 materials that means you can also grab from other sources with only a few challenges, and you can drag things out of the game and drop them in other places as well. It is not that hard, but it still requires work. The real challenge is in Feats. They can get a little ambiguous and since they do not have a way to point build and put feats on an even keel, they can get a little messy when you do mod them.
Overall Mod Score 4/5
So this is a superhero game based off of one of the best game engines ever designed for level based work. It allows me relatively easy ways to pit fantasy setting characters against super heroes, and gives ways to play with everything (except for feats really) you could think about tinkering with in a d20 game. Yeah it is fun 🙂
Overall Fun Score 4/5
Total Score 13/20
Conclusion – A very good game. A great way to teach players about level based or point based systems depending on their starting point. Not hard to learn, and if you know something about d20 it has a very very short start up time.
All righty, time to do something else for a bit and then start thinking up my next post or two.
So, gimme the dice, I need to make a reflex save to avoid responsibility today.