Mutants and Masterminds
Mutants and Masterminds Capsule Review by Mark Rouleau on 15/12/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)
Excellent design marred by bad editing.
Product: Mutants and Masterminds
Author: Steve Kenson, et al.
Company/Publisher: Green Ronin
Line: Mutants and Masterminds
Page count: 192
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Mark Rouleau on 15/12/02
Genre tags: Superhero
If you play and enjoy Champions then there is probably no point in reading further. The Hero System is probably one of the most playtested, stress-tested, solid, and mechanistic system ever built.
The problem is I don’t really like it very much. It’s not really the math—I can handle long division and fractions, thank you very much. And I have a love-hate relationship with effects-based powers. Love, because it is an elegant design solution to a thorny problem in superhero games: how do you recreate all the myriad combinations of superpowers exhibited in the past 50 years of comic books? And hate, because a strictly effect-based system sometimes gets extraordinarily convoluted. I’ve seen Wonder Woman’s magic lasso written up as “stretching” with a bunch of advantages and limitations tacked on. Variable power pools (or Dynamic powers if you are playing Silver Age Sentinels) are used to hack characters like Metamorpho and Green Lantern, and it all leads to the question: why not just build the power you want, instead of hacking your way through effects?
I hereby submit to you Mutants and Masterminds as a great example of power design philosophy. Yes, the list of powers is fairly short, but each power is very customizable in and of itself. For example, want to build a speedster? The Super Speed power not only includes the usual effects (increased running speed, added initiative, etc.) but also allows for effects, such as vibrating your molecules to become Incorporeal or creating a Sonic Boom, as well as suggested power stunts, such as running on water or creating a whirlwind by running in circles. Furthermore, clear no-nonsense advice allows you to build new superpowers relatively painlessly, by combining general effects into a cohesive whole. The examples in power creation show a character creating a new power called “Machine Control” by combining effects from the Animation, Shape Matter, and Transmutation powers.
Combat is similarly well designed. Using the Open Gaming License, Green Ronin has tweaked and modified the system to handle super-heroics. The most innovative design is the Damage Save. Rather than track hit points, characters roll a d20 against the damage done. A successful save results in no damage, while an unsuccessful save can result in a bruise, stun, or unconsciousness, depending on the degree of failure. Minions (think thugs or mooks) are simply knocked unconscious following a failed Damage save. This mechanic nicely bypasses two of the downfalls of many superhero games: the “gobs-o-dice” syndrome and tedious recordkeeping. Other OGL concepts such as Attacks of Opportunity have likewise been stripped from the game. Combat moves fast and furiously in Mutants and Masterminds, with rules for bending, breaking, and throwing items, resulting in comic-book style slugfests.
What else is there to like about Mutants and Masterminds? A lot, actually. In addition to the power creation guidelines, character creation is fairly straightforward. Power points are allotted to attributes (Strength, Dexterity, etc.), skills, feats, and superpowers. A character’s Power Level—most heroes start at PL 10—caps how much the player can put into individual super powers. This cap is a simple but effective way of discouraging one-trick pony characters. The villains listed in the back are all intriguing, from the Atomic Brain to the puppetmaster-like Gepetto, to the power-stealing Damocles and the doomed Hyena. These aren’t paint-by-numbers villains as found in those other books; these are interesting, well fleshed out characters that can be dropped into a variety of campaigns.
Bad parts? Well, yeah. The sample character templates in the front of the book were apparently built on the wrong number of points, and many of them have their saves and bonuses figured incorrectly as well. There are errors on the character sheet in the back. Some aspects of building your own powers aren’t explained very well. These shortcomings are annoying, and most could have been fixed with a little attention to details.
All in all, Mutants and Masterminds is a fun little game that captures the rock-em, sock-em world of comic book heroics, and handles exotic powers easily and well. A few tweaks and some good editing are all it needs to be a major player in the superhero gaming realm.