Mutants and Masterminds
Mutants and Masterminds Capsule Review by Jack Kimball on 12/12/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
The latest entry into the d20 superhero market proves to be the must have RPG of the year. If you enjoy superhero RPGs at all, buy this book!
Product: Mutants and Masterminds
Author: Steve Kenson, Super Unicorn
Company/Publisher: Green Ronin Publishing
Page count: 192
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Jack Kimball on 12/12/02
Genre tags: Superhero
Let's be honest, there has been a seemingly unending series of superhero RPGs over the years. In recent years, we've seen the two big comic companies, DC and Marvel, license out their properties to WEG and WOTC. Both resulted in short lived product lines that folded shortly after their debut, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of publishers and fans. Rumors are circulating now that Marvel is considering publishing a new RPG in house, and DC seems to be in a limbo of sorts. Yet, now, when the publishers of the comics we love can't quite seem to get an enduring game together, we are given a genuine superhero RPG renaissance. Remember the first time you flipped through a really exciting RPG? Maybe the first time you got your hands on 3E D&D, the very first version of White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade, or Paranoia? Well, someone has finally captured lightning in a bottle for the superhero RPG and it's called Mutants and Masterminds. Mutants and Masterminds is quite simply the best superhero RPG I've ever gotten my greedy little hands on. To say that M&M reinvents the wheel might sound trite, but it's true. Let's take a look at why...
Style: This is a beautiful book. Period. The art is done by actual comic book professionals, something I've missed in third party (non DC/Marvel) games since the old George Perez Champions cover oh so many years ago. The character designs are, for the most part, fantastic. Characters like the Pugilist (think of the JSA's Wildcat by way of Garth Ennis), Cyclone (who seems to be a cross between Iron Man and a less psychotic version of the Punisher), and the enigmatic Mister Mystery inspire the imagination. Too often in superhero games the iconic characters presented by the publisher tend to be clunky revisions of iconic comic standards, wearing costumes that even Rob Liefield would think are a tad lame. I've never browsed through an RPG and been so inspired for story and character ideas simply by looking at the pictures and mock comic book panels.
Substance: I was sure that the actually game mechanics and ideas of the game couldn't match the art of the book. I was wrong. The innovations found in the rulebook, especially regarding combat, put other RPGs to shame. The combat system is bound to be the most controversial aspect of the game. Rather than simply transcribe the D&D combat system, M&M does away with hit points. Instead the game relies on a damage saving throw. As a fan of comics for over twenty years and an RPG addict for ten, I have to say this refreshing change is a much more accurate reflection of the type of combat seen in a comic book. As far as the more traditional superhero RPG aspects go, the game continues to hit home runs. The power system is fantastic, including a specific and useful section on how to create a power not listed in the books own sizable power section. M&M also incorporates a Hero Point system, similar to Karma in the old 'FASERIP' system, or Force Points in d20 Star Wars. These are used for last ditch efforts, catching a second wind, or (optionally) for the type of dramatic editing seen in White Wolf's fantastic Adventure! pulp fiction RPG.
Overall: This is the big one, the best, most exciting superhero RPG I've seen in years. It avoids overly complex calculations while still allowing players to make detailed characters using d20's six stats and feats. It's a shame that the people in charge of marketing/licensing DC and Marvel's RPGs in the future couldn't get their hands on this book and make a go of it. As it is, Green Ronin's world books are on their way. If the quality, energy, and sense of wonder found in future supplements are as strong as those found in the core book, then we might not even need Marvel and DC to try again.