Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Preview Reaction

Last week, Green Ronin published a series of art previews for the forthcoming edition of Mutants & Masterminds, starting with a new team of signature characters called the Sentinels, then going on to the stages of developing the cover piece. The Sentinel team roster includes thumbnail descriptions of its ten members.

At first, I was deeply underwhelmed by the character portraits of the Sentinels. My first thoughts were along the lines of “These all sound very painfully like standard issue player characters. They all fit that archetype of awkwardly ‘cool’ name and ‘best powers.’ They aren’t a patch on the Freedom League, which is a much more classical superhero team.” And by “classical,” I of course mean fond homage.

I bit my tongue, though, and thought about it for a bit before writing anything down. After a while, I realized why the Sentinels smelled so strongly of player characters: that’s who they stand in for. The line developer for Mutants & Masterminds, Jon Leithusser, wrote in his post:

But one of the other considerations that loomed large in the creation of the Sentinels is that we wanted them to be disposable. Yep, you heard me, disposable. If you don’t want the Sentinels in your universe, you can remove them and replace them with your own heroes. Our goal was to make it easy for you and your players to jump into playing, but we also wanted to make sure you had an even better chance to make your PCs the central heroes of your series, without other heroes around to take all the glory . . .

The Sentinels are PL10, which is the standard starting point for player characters in a typical four-color campaign. You can play them as written, use some or all or replace them outright. That works pretty well.

Granted, you could do the same thing with the Freedom League, ousting them or any number of Freedom City’s super-teams to make room for the players’ group. Even though the League’s average power level hovers around 12 or 13, PL10 player characters tend to have the advantage on tougher non-player characters because it’s multiple cooperating minds against the GM’s segmented ingenuity.

I’m curious to find out if the Sentinels replace the character archetypes in the front of the corebook completely or appear only in art and system examples, in addition to their role as stand-ins in Emerald City. Those archetypes tend to be straightforward in their mechanical construction, unlike the byzantine contortions some people feel it’s necessary to put the rules through to achieve a character of their liking.

So yeah, now I think I get where they’re coming from with the Sentinels. I’m still not a fan, but I am interested by the mention of Emerald City as a place where the super-villain set has had time to put down roots. I had mentally checked out of the third edition because hey, I’m perfectly happy with the second, but I’ll certainly keep an eye on Emerald City. At the very least it could be a good source for tone and flavor with which to repaint Freedom City. Call it my East Coast bias, but I like this end of the country for my role-playing exploits.

Back to the Future Card Game Cover Art Peek

Not long after letting the news slip that Looney Labs signed the agreement to publish a Back to the Future card game based on Chrononauts, Andy Looney tweeted a link to the cover art, available here.

What interests me most about the cover is the art is so different from Looney Labs’ other products, which are usually characterized by friendly, cartoonish art. Chrononauts is the odd duck out here, because of the design of the timeline cards, but still, the Back to the Future cover suggests a more photograph-oriented design to the cards — which is right and proper, since the game capitalizes on a popular film franchise. It makes me wonder if the card faces will use photograph-like illustrations or something more like in Monty Python Fluxx, hand drawn from real life references.

And this thought just popped up as well: in Chrononauts, all the players are from different, equally valid — or invalid, depending on your point of view — futures competing to get home. In Back to the Future, there’s only one correct future. I wonder how that will affect game play. Will it be a race to fix the timeline first? Will players draw identities originating from alternate Hill Valleys? Are the identities characters from the films? Can I still zip back and acquire my very own dinosaur?

“Time will tell. It always does.”

The Aluminum Skull

The brazen head of Roger Bacon — among others — is one of those recurring widgets in supernatural fiction. It’s a source of prophecy, arcane wisdom and all that fun stuff. Whether or not such a thing existed or had any of the capabilities ascribed to it, the idea of such a thing is enough to inspire any number of mystics to attempt to craft their own.

The particular example pictured to the right is certainly a more modern expression of the concept. With a name like Egocentric Armillary, it puts me in mind of Unknown Armies‘ human-centric universe. Everything in the game world is the product, consequence or fault of humanity. There are no beings from beyond or aliens. It’s all humans and the things they do to each other. In that world, I can see the aluminum skull working as a sort of avatar detector, since avatars and the Invisible Clergy members they emulate are the underpinnings of the current universe. This armillary swivels to stare in the direction of the nearest avatar utilizing one of their channels within a range of three miles, three feet and three inches, while constantly shrieking “You did it! You did it!”

Needless to say, most members of the occult underground tend to pass this one off in trade sooner rather than later, or at least invest in some sturdy foam earplugs.

Thanks to Propnomicon for the link to Egocentric Armillary.

The Art of Board Game Storage

Lifehacker put me on to this: craft blog Infarrantly Creative came up with a novel game storage solution. Use it as wall art. The post walks you through the steps of designing and constructing frames to not only enclose the board, but create a space behind the board to store bits. It’s more than kind of phenomenally clever.

The only drawback I can think of is it kills the game’s portability. If you’re the usual host, that’s no problem. Otherwise, it can put a crimp in heading out to game night or the local convention. You could always subscribe to the action figure collector’s mantra of “one to show, one to go,” which would make game publishers inordinately happy, I’m sure.

The article focuses on games for children or the family; the example projects framed the boards from Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and Cranium. Still, boards for games like Ticket to Ride or Arkham Horror would make for some phenomenal game room art. You might need to make the hollow space behind the board a bit deeper to hold the inevitable Plano boxes, but that’s fine, right?

Judging the Cover

Image copyright Steve Jackson Games.

Image copyright Steve Jackson Games.

Arguably, the cover of GURPS Basic Set, Third Edition Revised, published by Steve Jackson Games in the 1990s, is plain and undramatic, without a strong central element upon which for the eye to focus and then travel around the scene. (For an example of that, check out the cover of Mutants & Masterminds, Second Edition.)

I first ran into this piece of work during one of my many near-hits with roleplaying. Someone on a Doctor Who mailing list — probably the now-gone House on Allen Road, maybe Jade_Pagoda — posted a link to the basement of Steve Jackson Games’ Warehouse 23, where one can roam around, opening crates in the archetypal repository of the bizarre and impossible. Eventually, I went from the warehouse to the company’s GURPS pages. The concept of modular design, where you buy books with the rule and setting elements you need to facilitate a particular concept, really appealed to me, to the point I spent a lot of time mulling over which books I would like, even though at the time I had no way to utilize roleplaying game books or even a strong conception of what roleplaying entailed.

The things I like about this cover, enough that I remembered the image from that fleeting contact years later when I really got into RPGs in mid-2002, are the combination of diverse elements, the questions they ask and overall austerity of the design.

There’s a castle, what look like mysterious ruins in the foreground, a rider on the horizon and jets taking off, all while a neighboring moon or planet hangs large in the sky. That covers a wide swathe of genres in a way that, for me, provokes questions: why is the rider going to the castle? Are the jets attacking or on patrol? Is there supposed to be a galaxy naked to the visible eye, or is that what provoked the rider and the pilots to action?

Plus, it’s a nice landscape. I wouldn’t mind a print of that to hang somewhere.

Toe Tags, Diplomas and Other Pieces of Evidence

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is a group dedicated to the Cthulhu Lives live action roleplaying game — LARP for short — which itself is a thematic, if not direct, cousin of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, wherein investigators brush up against great and terrible beings with a frightening regularity. Their motto, Ludo Fore Putavimus, translates as “we thought it would be fun.”

Among the various resources the HPLHS offers to people interested in putting on LARPs are a number of PDFs of printable props. When outfitting oneself to take the role of an adjunct faculty member of Miskatonic University, you can go forth with Massachusetts driver’s license, Miskatonic Library card and the telegram from your reclusive Uncle Boris all in your hip pocket.

My particular favorite is the Miskatonic Library Conversion Kit. You can turn any book into a tome from the restricted collection. Snag some spine band-aids from your local public library for hardcore verisimilitude.

Even if you’re not a LARPer, a few well-placed props to pull out at the game table can do wonders. When the players come across the bloated corpse in the well, the first thing they’ll do, after choking down the bile, will be to check the poor soul’s wallet. Now you can throw one down on the table.

And this stuff isn’t good just for period Cthulhu games. Typewritten driver’s licenses and library cards will fit in anywhere from the late nineteenth century up to well into the 1980s, at least, depending on locale. (Until 2002, my own license was typewritten with no photo, albeit on a flexible piece of plastic.)