Monday, February 13, 2017

Running Mutants and Masterminds - Some Notes

I've run a few sessions of both second and third edition over the last 15 months or so now and thought I would share some of my experiences, both good and bad, as far as actually running the game.

  • 3E has a really great core mechanic. Your character typically has a ranged attack bonus and a melee attack bonus.  Each power has an effect rank, effectively a "damage" rating. Even if I don't know all of the details of a power I can be sure that it will have a type - melee, ranged, area, or perception - that will tell me how it "hits", and that the rank and defense will tell me how to resist it. This is all easily done without cracking open a book (assuming it's part of the character sheet) and keeps things moving. 
  • M&M also has a nice damage system: I roll to hit against your fixed defense (dodge, parry, etc) then you roll to resist my fixed "damage". It's nicely balanced and sets up a certain rhythm to the game. Shadowrun had a system  like this and I always liked the way that it flowed. It feels somewhat similar here. 
  • 3E's modifiers are generally +/- 2 or +/- 5. Not a chart, not a list, but basically "minor" or "major" and the same numeric modifier every time. It's one of the things I liked about D&D 4E and I'm glad it was carried over here. 
  •  The unified conditions of 3E are also a huge win. Instead of having separate and slightly different rules for every little thing like sleep, entangle, paralysis every place it appears (like a lot of older games) there is a set list of conditions for the game. Different attacks or events can inflict those conditions and once your players know what "Hindered" means they can roll with it whether it comes from fatigue, terrain, or that net wrapped around their legs.

  • The downside of those unified conditions is that all of those separate old powers like Flash, Stun, Entangle etc are now rolled up into one giant power called "Affliction". Players do not immediately grasp this, that this power is the gateway for almost anything they want to do to a hostile target that isn't "damage". There's been a complaint from fairly early on that this takes some of the flavor out of the game. To me though, it really only takes some of the flavor out of the rulebook - it takes nothing away from your players or your game. If your "Insta-Hardening Foam" blast is mechanically an affliction that inflicts Hindered and Bound conditions progressively that doesn't seem like it's reduced in flavor. Maybe it's the old Champions player in me that started playing with effects-based power design a long time ago, but I do not mind. 
  •  One on one combats between evenly matched opponents can take a little while. Nothing like a higher level Pathfinder game, but not instantaneous either. The most common outcome of an attack is a -1 to future toughness rolls. The next one adds a "Dazed" to that, then the next one adds a "Staggered" (dazed and hindered) and failing the roll by a lot means "Incapacitated" which means the fight is over for you. It can take a while, or a few lucky rolls, for an attacker to put enough -1's on an opponent to get to that last level. Now if multiple attackers jump on one similarly-leveled opponent they can rack those up pretty quickly and overwhelm their enemy and that seems to be the key to faster combat. 
  • Related to that and speaking strictly as a GM it's tricky to run a full team of super-enemies against a full team of super-player-characters. Some of that will improve with time I hope but considering that each super-character is a unique set of stats and skills and powers it can be some real work to keep up with what each bad guy wants to do in any given round. Let's see I have a battlesuit guy, a speedster, a mentalist, a stretchy guy, and a gadget genius. That's five different sets of powers and tactics and personalities I have to juggle, far more than the typical D&D encounter of say 5 orc barbarians, a shaman, and a chief! It is easier when you build them yourself, and it's a good idea to include minions and sets of similar bad guys, but it's not always possible. 
In search of ways to make the game run even easier I've been using HeroLab and its combat console and that does have the benefit of keeping all of the characters and their numbers and power descriptions right there at hand. The downside is that I have to make sure everyone is in HeroLab before I start. There is a pretty big batch of pre-made villains and minions and animals and robots and ninjas all in there which makes it even easier to bring new things in on the fly. 

The only real problem is that I don't really like running it from the computer. 

I mean, I've run Pathfinder this way for years and it works, but for M&M I feel like I'm spending more time looking at the screen than I am at the table and the players. I ran D&D 4E and all of its conditions and powers from paper, surely I could run this the same way?

It's very much a "feel" thing. I might even keep the laptop handy for reference purposes, but I'd like the default to be paper, not screen.

I think the key is something like condition cards, one of which is up higher on this page. Combat and powers tend to stick conditions on people and that's where some decent ways to track that you're at half movement, can only take a standard action, and are at a -2 for everything would help. I saw one idea for using color-coded poker chips for this and while I like it they would not tell you the mechanics of the condition directly.  I'm leaning towards some kind of tent cards with the condition name on one side and the details on the back as I think that covers everything in one go.

Anyway, more to come on this. I'll post pictures if I get something together that looks halfway decent.

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