Tabletop Game: Mutants & Masterminds
A tabletop RPG from Green Ronin
Publishing, Mutants & Masterminds
, also known as M&M
, describes itself as "The World's Greatest Superhero Role-Playing Game
." DC Comics
sure seemed to think so. The game uses a heavily modified versionnote
of the d20 System
from Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition
, and its point-buy character creation system
is designed to allow players to create just about any character they can think of. In fact, the "Roll Call" section of the Atomic Think Tank
, the official Mutants & Masterminds
forum, contains fan-submitted stats for pretty much every fictional character that's ever existed
, from Superman
to Sailor Moon
to Shaggy Rogersnote
has recently published DC Adventures
, a licensed RPG
based on The DCU
and using the 3rd edition of the M&M
The Freedom City 'verse
is the default setting for M&M
(and the place for FC-specific tropes).
This game provides examples of:
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The core book even points out how many things like realistic consequences of certain powers or logistical concerns like keeping track of ammo, vehicle fuel, or monetary cost of equipment are often HandWaved in favor of having fun in a setting that runs on Superhero Tropes and Rule of Cool.
- The Ages Of Super Hero Comics: The core book actually has a historical summary of every major age, encouraging GMs to use them as a guide for the tone of a campaign.
- As Lethal as It Needs to Be / Almost Lethal Weapons: Sometimes the lethal weapon is lethal, sometimes not depending on drama. The former covers the minion rule in that whether you get killed depends on who you are.
- Alternate Company Equivalent / Captain Ersatz / Expy: The default setting, Freedom City, is filled to overflowing with these. Players would be hard-pressed to create a character who isn't very similar to one or more existing comic book superheroes. And that isn't a bad thing.
- Badass Normal: The system is designed to ensure that these can compete. It comes from making the game mechanics generic. So your ranged damage +10 ability could be described as heat vision or an electrified batarang. The system doesn't care.
- The Bad Guy Wins: The book "Crooks" has rules for if this happens, which basically allows the villain to spend "villain points" to make the world Darker and Edgier
- Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: If you have the right feat or power.
- Character Level: "Power Level" (not to be confused with Power Levels), though they don't mean quite the same thing as in other d20-derived games. "Power Points" are what actually increase your character's abilities — Power Level only restrict how you can spend your points (e.g., the total amount of damage you do per attack cannot exceed your power level without trading off from your attack bonus).
- Charm Person: Essentially the effect of using the Love aspect of Emotion Control.
- Class and Level System: Averted. Both the core rulebook and most of the supplements include templates for popular character archetypes, but they are only suggestions.
- Comic Book Tropes: Most of these are assumed to be in effect by default.
- Competitive Balance: The tradeoff mechanic allows for characters of the same Power Level to perform differently, sacrificing, for example, accuracy for damage, or vice versa.
- Fragile Speedster: A character who sacrifices toughness for defense, and/or damage for accuracy.
- Glass Cannon / Squishy Wizard / Stone Wall: Mostly averted. The overwhelming majority of M&M character builds have equivalent offensive and defensive ability, or at least have relatively small tradeoffs compared to Power Level.
- Lightning Bruiser: Speed is not considered to be part of the tradeoff system, so it's not difficult to have a very fast hero who also hits hard.
- Jack of All Stats: A default character, with no tradeoffs between accuracy and damage or defense and resistance.
- Mighty Glacier: A character who sacrifices defense for resistance, and/or accuracy for damage.
- Powerful But Inaccurate: Swapping accuracy for damage.
- Critical Hit: M&M has them, as one of the holdovers from its D20 roots.
- Darker and Edgier / Lighter and Softer: The 2nd edition core rulebook includes variant rules for both of these variant playstyles.
- Damage Typing: "Lethal" and "Nonlethal." Under the default rules, all damage is assumed to be the latter unless specifically stated otherwise, but all attacks can inflict either type.
- Dump Stat: Every Ability score except Constitution (see One Stat to Rule Them All below) can fall into this trap, depending on the character concept. Most of the Abilities exist only to fuel Skills, and maybe Saving Throws, so if there aren't enough of either that your character cares about investing in, then they're not an efficient purchase. And Strength only matters if you care about heavy lifting or melee damage.
- Charisma in 1E/2E, and its 3E successor, Presence, are the best examples by far.
- Constitution can be a dump stat. Constitution is mostly good for raising Toughness & Fortitudenote , and it costs exactly the same to buy them both up directly. In fact, robot or undead heroes dump their Constitution all the way down to zero and buy immunities and protectionnote to compensate.
- Experience Points: "Power Points." In a refreshing change of pace from most RPGs, they function identically to the points characters receive at character generation.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: The superhero universes this game is based off of tend to be this way, so the rules support the necessary flexibility to build anything from vampires to dinosaurs to ninjas to ringwraiths.
- The default Mecha and Manga setting is explicitly intended as an anime-genre kitchen sink: there's martial artists, mech pilots, sorcerers, Mons trainers and Magical Girls.
- Game System: A derivative of the d20 mechanic from D&D3E, though with a completely different character creation system (a Point Build System instead of a Class and Level System).
- The GM Is A Cheating Bastard: Some uses of "GM fiat", where things happen to the PCs with them getting a chance to respond, are allowed, but give the affected players a Hero Point in compensation.
- Grappling with Grappling Rules:
- In 2E, about as bad as any other d20 game with the caveat that particular powersets have grapple bonuses that can guarantee success.
- The system was changed for 3E/DCA to reduce the ridiculous levels of grapple bonuses at the expense of making it very difficult for even an optimized grappling build to secure a hold.
- Guns Are Worthless: May or may not be in play, depending on the characters' power level. At low levels, they're a legit threat; by mid level it would take a really terrible roll (or a really fragile character) to even cause a bruise, and at high level it's almost impossible to hurt someone with a normal gun.
- Heroic Spirit: Represented by the Extra Effort and Hero Point rules, which allow PCs to, for example, get a Heroic Second Wind or temporarily gain New Powers as the Plot Demands.
- Hit Points: Averted completely and replaced by damage saving throws. Characters are knocked out/killed by failing the save by a large enough margin, and narrower failures penalize subsequent saves until the character is healed, making this gradually more likely.
- Homing Projectile: A power feat called Homing can allow many powers to work like this.
- Immortality: All the various subtropes can be purchased even as a starting character though some of them are pretty expensive.
- Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Averted, since there are no character classes. True Badass Normals, lacking any powers or devices which give them powers, are at something of a disadvantage in combat and raw power. But they can make up for it in other ways.
- Min Maxers Delight: Since the system favors Character Customization, in order to best reflect the source material, character creation requires more Game Master oversight than most RPGs.
- Attacks with Perception as their range can hit anyone the character can perceive with an accurate sense (sight, touch, or some super-sense alternative), at any range, without requiring an attack roll. There are only minor disadvantages such as the modest cost increase, the inability to aim blind, and no ability to boost damage through critical hits or combat maneuvers. Some groups use House Rules to ban or mitigate it by forcing such attacks to allow an additional saving throw instead or by stipulating that Perception range attacks be at a rank below PL.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: This ability is built into the core mechanics of the system, for all characters. A mechanic called Extra Effort allows a PC to temporarily gain a new power at the cost of becoming fatigued (though a Hero Point can negate that penalty).
- Variable Powers, such as "Nemesis" and "Shapeshift," allow characters to gain new traits as the situation demands without the need for Extra Effort or Hero Points. But they are very expensive, so the character pays a high premium for the flexibility. Further, when using "Nemesis" the GM picks what powers you get.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: You can make just about any character you like with this system. Examples can be found in Roll Call, the character thread area of the Atomic Think Tank.
- Non-Lethal K.O.: Even with super-strength, no matter how high the damage, the worst that can happen to a target is being KOed when using non-lethal damage.
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Made the rule in 3E where there's one skill, Technology, for all inventors and one skill, Expertise: Science, for all scientists. Even in 1E and 2E, since most skills dealing with science and technology are based on the Intelligence stat, building one of these is both easy and cost-effective.
- Omniglot: Achievable with 6PP of the Comprehend power (for reference, a default starting superhero gets allotted 150PP).
- One-Hit Kill: The system separates all characters into two types, "Heroes/Villains" and "Minions." When "Heroic" characters fail a saving throw against an attack, the degree of harm they suffer is directly proportional to the margin by which they failed the roll. If a Minion fails a save, they automatically suffer the worst possible result of the attack.
- One Stat to Rule Them All: Mostly averted from 2E up, though it's been noted that high-Strength/Toughness builds are statistically more likely to win a fight than high-Defense/Accuracy builds, even if they're at the same Power Level. Constitution/Stamina is as close as it comes. Every 2PP you spend on it gives you +1 to 3 different values, which would each cost 1PP per +1 to purchase independently. It's the only Ability that's cost-effective no matter what.
- Play-by-Post Games: There are several on the Internet, hosted on both the official M&M forums and third-party sites. Freedom City Play By Post is the largest, most active, and longest-running.
- Player Mooks: sidekicks and minions.
- Point Build System: Necessary in order to accurately reflect the source material — you can mix-n-match powers, abilities, and skills to make anything from a Flying Brick to a Badass Normal.
- Polyglot: Notoriously expensive to build. It's generally cheaper to simply pay to become an Omniglot then roleplay it as limited to whatever languages you would have taken.
- Power Creep, Power Seep: When converting existing characters to the game, interpretations of their level of power vary widely. A common pastime on the official forums is to try and stat godlike characters such as Galactus as playable, rules-legal starting characters.
- Of course, now that DC Adventures is here, characters are receiving official stats.
- In addition, canonically, heroes receive 1-2PP per arc of the adventure and every 10-20PP, gain a new Power Level. Each Power Level essentially doubles your power.
- Random Number God: The game uses the roll of a single 20-sided die and the application of static bonuses to resolve everything.
- Rule of Cool: Assumed to be the law of the universe by default.
- Rule Zero: Notably, this game some specific mechanics for it. The gamemaster sets the "power level" of the game which caps many key bonuses. Gamemaster fiat allows the gamemaster to arbitrarily create obstacles to prevent players from ruining the adventure in exchange for which the hero earns a hero point they can use later thereby awarding players for initiative and creative thinking.
- Set Swords to Stun: By default, damage is non-lethal in 2E. 3E makes all damage non-lethal.
- The Six Stats: As a game using the d20 System, M&M 1E and 2E had them. 3E changed the names on everything, and added "melee attack bonus" and "ranged attack bonus" as abilities (with attendant skills) instead of being handled by a separate value.
- Solar-Powered Magnifying Glass: In "High Noon", part of the Lame Mage Evil Genius adventures, Dr. Null posthumously launches a doomsday device that deploys a cloud of small nanotechnology crystals that float around and focus beams of indiscriminate destruction from the sun's rays to destroy major cities.
- Standard Status Effects: M&M has several of them. Pretty much every non-Damage attack power qualifies — Confuse, Dazzle, Fatigue, Mind Control, Nauseate, Paralyze, Stun, etc. 3E condenses them all into a single customizable power, Affliction.
- Stealth Expert: Quite possible to build, although the way in which skills are capped means that it's just as easy for someone on the other side to have enough Notice bonus to counteract your Stealth bonus, bringing it back to approximately a 50/50 chance. Also, the use of various super-senses like the ability to sniff out enemies or X-Ray Vision means that you may auto-fail according to some GMs.
- Stock Superpowers: And quite a few non-stock ones too. You'd be hard-pressed to find a character or ability from Super Hero comics that you can't build, in several different ways.
- Super Hero: Although the system can be used to simulate any genre of fiction, this is the assumed default for M&M games.
- Super Reflexes: As with everything else, there are several ways to build this power. Improved Initiative will help your PC go first in combat. Quickness will let her complete routine tasks quickly. Defensive Roll will help her avoid attacks, as will buying up her Defense bonus and/or Reflex saving throw.
- The Anime-inspired 2E supplement, "Mecha and Manga", added the "Bullet Time" feat which allows for additional standard actions (but only one attack) when combining Extra Effort and a Hero Point.
- The Masterminds Manual came out with optional rules for extra attacks per round years previously. But in both cases, most GMs avoid both rules like the plague, for two reasons: First, in an effects-based system like M&M, any "single" attack can be described as a flurry of multiple blows in rapid succession - which the "Mecha and Manga" system even supports as a melee version of Autofire. Second, being able to force a second consecutive saving throw in a game where every save might be your character's last if she fails it badly enough means something a lot different than a chance to chip away a few more hit points from a big pile.
- Swiss Army Hero: One of the easy ways to pile more abilities into a character is to play one of these by buying Alternate Powers for Alternate Form.
- Talking Is a Free Action: Par for the course in a game that has roots in d20 and comic books. The game even alludes to how much chatter happens between characters in the source material, with heroes making witty quips and villains monologuing about their master plans.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: A possible complication is a code of honor that prevents a hero from killing his opponents.
- Universal System
- The Verse: Freedom City is the default setting and "Superheroes" is the default genre, but the system works for just about anything.
- You All Meet in an Inn: The two stock adventures from the rule book are "You all meet when supervillains rob a bank while you're in line in your secret identity" and "You all meet when a benefactor invites you to form a super team".
- You Can't Thwart Stage One: If the players look like they'll thwart stage one, the GM is encouraged to cheat, put the plot back on the rails, and give the PCs some Hero Points in compensation.