#RPGaDay2015 19: Favorite Supers RPG

RPG-a-day-2015Mutants & Masterminds, done! It’s my favorite mix of ability to customize and ease to run. It’s adaptable, too. Silver Age supers, street level crimefighters, Heroes-like modern marvels: let’s do ’em all.

One of my dream campaigns is to use the Paragons toolbox supplement to create a modern, non-goofy, Heroes-like campaign where marvels find themselves afflicted with unimaginable powers — erupting, if you will — in a world that is far more complex and bizarre than CNN would have you suspect.

The Initiative: Superhero RPG Appendix N Blog Challenge

Theron of My Dice Are Older Than You turned me on to Barking Alien‘s Superhero RPG Appendix N Challenge:

I challenge you, the Superhero RPG GM, and/or player, to list between 5 and 10 Superhero comic books, and 5 to 10 Superhero live action or animated shows or films, that typify your style of Superhero RPG campaign.


Minimum is 5. Maximum is 10. This means you have to really think about the ones that best embody the type of Supers gaming you prefer. Who’s up for the challenge?

I feel like this could devolve into listing my favorite comics, rather than highlighting titles that convey the superhero ethos I want in the campaign I run, but let’s give it a try.

Comic Books

  • Starman: The Robinson and Harris series, in which Jack Knight is reluctant heir to his father’s legacy as Starman. One of the recurring motifs was a loving embrace of the goofiness of the Silver Age, and treating it straight-facedly. The straight face is key. The idea may be ludicrous, but the characters treat it as a credible threat all the same, not unlike a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
  • New Mutants: A school is always a useful campaign frame for superheroes. The player characters may not necessarily be students, but a school or training facility setting offers so many options for supporting characters, interwoven story lines and a home base to contrast the familiar with new locales.
  • Excalibur: The early days of the comic felt more like investigating weirdness with a sense of whimsy than the soap opera of the other X-Men books at the time. And whatever happened to W.H.O., the Weird Happenings Organization, led by Brigadier Alysande Stuart, speaking of useful frameworks that give the right mix of structure and leeway to player character groups?

TV Shows and Films

  • Heroes: It was riddled with plot holes and idiot balls, but the basic concept of every day people “breaking out” with astonishing powers is a solid hook, and puts the players on the ground floor of a new era in history.
  • X2: This was the X-Men film that had the right mix of the sensibility of heroes in the contemporary world and the sweet point in their development, beyond having just broken out, but still developing and making new allies

Other Resources

  • Paragons: Green Ronin’s toolkit setting book for Mutants & Masterminds needs a shout-out here. It includes so many different approaches to modern heroes, from the explorers of weirdness that early Excalibur exemplified to the classic superpowers appearing — or reappearing after an absence — in the everyday population. And it heavily influenced my Paragons of Freedom campaign.
  • Suppressed Transmission: Once weirdness is on the table, you have to deal in Suppressed Transmission. It’s a trove of McGuffins and sources of superpowers.

#RPGaDAY 15: Favorite Convention Game Played

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

I am utterly perplexed by this one. There are plenty of convention games I’ve enjoyed a lot. One session in particular I’m holding onto for day 17. I cannot, regretfully, pull one particular game as my favorite. I’ve run plenty of games at conventions, and never been especially happy with any of them, though the players certainly had fun, such as Band on the Run, in which the Pratchettian tooth fairy took to his appointed task with a glee and reckless abandon that took me totally by surprise, because obviously I did not think “a player is given a character whose motivation is to steal teeth” through to a full conclusion.

There’s the Vampire: the Masquerade game that Gaylord ran at Carnage that I totally did not expect to enjoy, having an instinct bias against Vampire and yet enjoyed immensely, in part because I was playing with some friends and in part because we banded together instinctively and righteously against a player who’d decided to turn the session into a player-vs-player massacre. It was also my first effort at doing some physical mannerisms and a voice for my Nosferatu Jakob. It will not surprise anyone that maintaining an Orlok-like hunch for four hours is more than your typical squeaky, round-shouldered nerd can pull off.

I’m also reminded of that Mutants & Masterminds game run by designer Steve Kenson which gave rise to the adage, “I don’t have any of your flash super powers, like super speed or super strength. I turn into bees, okay?”

The highlight of OGC for me was always John Terra’s games. His Call of Cthulhu games are always a great mix of humor, horror, storytelling and a good play experience. He does a damn fine Paranoia, too.

Having spent days dwelling on this question, I feel no closer to answering it effectively than when I began. I’m going to have to call this good, so we can all move on to the next big thing, whether that’s an #RPGaDAY prompt or convention game.

#RPGaDAY 14: Best Convention Purchase

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

My best convention purchase is still one of the first I ever made. My first time at Bakuretsucon, they were still a combination anime and gaming convention. Anime was bigger by far, but there was a tabletop element to the weekend. In the dealer’s room, I met Lisa from the Wizard’s Tower in New Hampshire, and her many blue tubs of books. I pawed through those tubs half a dozen or more times that weekend, trying to figure out what I wanted to buy. What I walked away with in the end, possibly after a trip to RPG.net to compare pros and cons to another game in the same genre, was the first edition of Mutants & Masterminds.

Mutants & Masterminds 1e cover

Mutants & Masterminds first edition cover.

It’s easily the best convention purchase I ever made in that it may hold the title for the single game I’ve run the most in my role-playing days. I’ve run a store campaign at Quarterstaff Games, campaigns with regular friends and newly met strangers. I got to play in a convention adventure run by Steve Kenson, the designer himself — and his presence at Lore Con was because I invited him, so that was pretty cool in and of itself.

It will always be my go-to for the superhero genre, in part because it’s got the right mix of crunch and simplicity for me, but mostly because Mutants & Masterminds is what got me to really understand effects-based powers. The idea that the end result was what mattered, rather than the method that got you there, wasn’t a new idea to me at the time — Feng Shui had basically said the same thing when encouraging players to devise crazy cinematic actions to describe how they fought and moved around a set — but the powers chapter laid the basic idea of building customized powers out of various effects like harm, ranged, movement, and so on. The fan conversation on the Atomic Think Tank forums was a huge help as well. People came up with all sorts of analyses of how certain power write-ups were arrived at, or how to construct the sort of very particular, super-specific powers that superhero role-players love to devise.

Time and Mutants & Masterminds have gone on since then. The game is in a third edition that I haven’t done more than glance at, primarily because the books I hung on to from the second edition line are both so complete and so expansive, I don’t need any more. The Paragons toolkit book will be my go-to resource for building worlds of powered people “breaking out” and Freedom City is always where I’ll start to populate a metropolis with characters for a modern Silver Age game.

Honorable Mention

Dark Ages: Mage cover.The honorable mention for Best Convention Purchase is the complete opposite of Mutants & Masterminds. I’ve never run a game of it, gotten to play or even found someone in real life who’s heard of or appreciates it. Picking it up was a complete fluke. I was browsing Lisa’s wares at a later Bakuretsucon and came across Dark Ages: Mage and its companion volume. I still don’t remember why I bought it, because I remember having decided not to be interested in Dark Ages: Mage, because it was really a Dark Ages: Vampire supplement in disguise. It might have been an itch to get some new books, because I wanted to support the convention’s sole role-playing game vendor, or because it was a pretty good deal for books that were reputedly scarce, but I bought the books, read them and was blown away.

Dark Ages: Mage kept the flexibility Mage‘s magic system is known for, fused it with five different magical worldviews and made each one seem cool and unique. The time period, despite the name, is 1230 CE, with an understandable focus on western Europe. But even within that milieu, the covenants of mages come from such diverse backgrounds that I’m still astonished they could work together. Some, like the rune-casting Valdaermen, as descending into history while the Messianic Voices and the Order of Hermes are on the rise — and Mistridge is still in the future of the medieval World of Darkness, so there’s no thought that any opposition to the mystic worldview might appear.

Really, Dark Ages: Mage is just cool and slick and I wish it didn’t require a pantload of backstory to get people on board with why these wildly disparate wizards would spare each other the time of day.

Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition System Reference Document

One mighty-thewed soul, John Reyst, has assembled the open content from the third edition of Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds role-playing game into a hyper-linked web site.

And it’s attractively marked up, to boot. Seriously, this is a slick-looking  rendition, all cool colors and rounded corners. I had no idea one could do that with a Google Site.

When the third edition of Mutants & Masterminds hit the market in the wake of the licensed implementation as DC Adventures, I opted to give it a pass because of three things:

  1. I didn’t see myself returning to the superhero genre in the immediate future.
  2. My gaming purchases have dwindled and I wasn’t prepared to lay out for a book I didn’t know I wanted to own.
  3. The changes and new material being discussed by early adopters didn’t appeal, as I was honestly happy with the relative complexity of second edition Mutants & Masterminds — occasionally overwhelmed, I admit, but generally happy to have a system on which to fall back.

Now with the SRD, I can click around, browse the material and evaluate the touted changes on my own time at a very appealing time and money cost.1

1 I’m much happier reading rules content for free on a computer than I am paying to read the same. Go figure.

Role-Playing and Board Game Garage Sale

The time has come to weed the game library. Behind the jump you will find role-playing games, board games and card games I would like very much for someone else to own. Generally speaking, it’s all older stuff, so if you’re looking for titles from the 90s and early 00s, this might be the sale for you.

Continue reading

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.

New Edition Frenzy

It’s a big day for new editions. First I discover Green Ronin’s announcement of Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition, then I find Smirk and Dagger plans a mahoosive new edition of Hex Hex.

I can’t say the impending arrival of a new edition of Mutants & Masterminds is exceptionally surprising. Ever since Green Ronin revealed their plan to publish a DC Adventures RPG using a version of the Mutants & Masterminds system, it seemed a reasonable supposition that a third edition of the game using the same ruleset would follow along at some point. The opportunity of allowing two way movement between the core Mutants & Masterminds crowd, meaning those who will gleefully adopt the new edition, and people who are interested primarily in the prospect of a new DC Universe RPG is just too good to pass up.

My first reaction to the news was “Isn’t it awfully soon for a third edition?” Then I checked the dates: first edition hit in 2002 and second in 2005. It’s actually been longer between second and third than between first and second. Now, I think second edition’s sufficiently robust and featureful that there isn’t a particular need to improve it so soon, but again it goes back to Green Ronin not fracturing their market with “true” Mutants & Masterminds and a variant powering DC Adventures.

Now, Smirk and Dagger’s news surprises me a little more, believe it or not. First, I didn’t realize Hex Hex‘s been out of print for almost a year. Second, it’s a really interesting choice to combine the best of Hex Hex and Hex Hex Next into Hex Hex XL. It makes sense, certainly, since each set has cards that people love to play and hate to have played on them, but it’s not something one sees too often in the board game world. Carcassonne did it a couple times with its big box editions, compiling all the little expansions, and I guess some classics like Cosmic Encounter and Illuminati have as well. In addition to the “best of” elements from the prior two versions, Curt Covert’s post on Boardgamegeek.com also mentions two variants that will become available. It’s unclear at the moment whether it’s all being packaged together, or sold individually.

I’ll be interested to see what this does to the image of Hex Hex on the marketplace. I’ve always thought of it as a light game with an equally light investment. The original version and the sequel sold for a price about on par with a Munchkin set, with as much, if not rather more, replay value. It’s a light, repetitive game best suited for drinking with the buddies, but that’s okay at $25, particularly since it’s completely self-contained. If the primary Hex Hex product becomes bigger, and therefore costlier, but the game itself doesn’t significantly change, I can see consumers finding that purchase harder to justify, dollar to entertainment-wise.

Curt’s thrown his announcement thread of Boardgamegeek.com open to questions, so I’ll be interested to see the general reaction. I feel a little funny being more interested in this than the third edition of Mutants & Masterminds, but frankly, we all knew that was coming, some day or other. This was much more unexpected.