Why I should hate DC Adventures, but I don’t
My rpg time has suddenly become a barren wasteland, and that’s a Bad Thing especially given we’re only three sessions away from the end of the world in our Endday Campaign. Here’s hoping that things pick up when normality returns after the school holidays. The Good Thing though is it gives me time to think more about the next campaigns; I’ve got a 4e D&D adventure in the making with Shadowlands, wherein Our Heroes battle gnolls and cross over to one particular corner of the Shadowfell. Then there’s Icon City for our lightweight superhero enjoyment. More on those though, another time.
I’m also slowly digesting the DC Adventures Hero’s Handbook (free Quick Start preview here), the stunning new superhero rpg which serves double duty by being both a new release of Mutants & Masterminds and a full system for gaming in the DC Universe, all at the same time.
And I’ve got to say. It’s a tricky one.
A part of me, I’ll confess, doesn’t like it. I suspect that I don’t like it for the same reason all the people ("girls, mainly", he snorts with derision) who loved David Tennant as Doctor Who don’t like Matt Smith. Or why gamers who loved 3.5e D&D don’t like 4e D&D on principle.
It boils down to this: "OMG WHY DID YOU NEED TO CHANGE?"
Y’see. I love Second Edition Mutants & Masterminds. I’ve said before that it’s as close to a perfect system, imho, as there can ever be. A Third Edition is…. well, unthinkable. How, after all, can you improve perfection? To even try such a thing is folly. That’s a whole lot of resentment, right there. I just know I’m going to nitpick, to find fault. I’m going to question every single change to the system because, as far as I’m concerned, the system didn’t need to change.
But (and it’s a big but) I can’t help but feel that Third Edition IS a better edition of Mutants & Masterminds. Despite my hang-ups and preferences, I’ve got to admit that Steve Kenson has, indeed, done the impossible. He’s improved perfection.
Y’see, what Steve has done is very, very clever indeed. He’s managed to take 2e Mutants & Masterminds and somehow combine that with the epic feel and style of the original DC Heroes RPG from Mayfair Game. 2e M&M’s Time & Value Progression Chart has turned into a much more slimline exponential system. Where previously M&M could quite happily run the whole range from realistic cop drama (CSI:Metropolis, anyone?) to universe spanning ring-wielding superheroics, DC Adventures (and 3e M&M when it’s released as a standalone system, by extension) does it…. well, better.
This is a system explicitly designed for gaming in the world of DC comics, and that covers the entire spectra of power levels. This is a game where The Question can rub shoulders with Batman, and Bats himself can look Superman in the eye (probably while thinking "I can take you, and you know it."). All the things we know and love about M&M are still there – Power Levels, the superpowers, the awesome combat system, but it has been given a fresh lick of paint and a fresh coat of varnish. Some of the points costs for powers have changed, either to better reflect their commonality in the DCU, or to correct those few powers in 2e that were too costly or too cheap, and some effects have changed in (as it seems in my first readthru’) significant ways. I need to playtest it before commenting further about that though.
Much as I hate to admit it, I approve.
As with the previous edition of M&M, this isn’t a system for the beer and pretzels brigade. Steve’s own ICONS system does that, wonderfully well. I’d argue that with ICONS, Steve has re-invented the classic TSR Marvel RPG, and with DC Adventures he’s brought Mayfair’s classic DC Heroes into the modern age. By doing that he’s covered both sides of the market (light’n’fluffy and solidly crunchy) in one fell swoop. Not bad going, I’d say.
Then there’s the artwork. Quite simply, superhero rpgs have never looked as good as this. Heck, it’s one of the best looking RPGs, ever. Seeing Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman stare out the page at you from a frickin’ rpg is something else. What I like especially is that this system doesn’t just stop with the Big Three or the more well known heroes from the DC canon. Steve Kenson really knows his stuff when it comes to comics, and it shows. I’m particularly jazzed to see so many references to my own favourites from the Justice Society. Oh yes!
I’m impressed by just how many Hero (and Villain) write-ups there are in this one book, but we’ve still left wanting more. For heroes, we get Aquaman, Batman, Black Canary, The Flash (Barry Allen sadly, not Jay Garrick), Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Nightwing, Plastic Man, Robin, Superman, Wonderman and Zatanna. Facing against them there’s Black Adam, Black Manta, Braniac, Catwoman, Cheetah, Circe, Darkseid, Gorilla Grodd (yay!), The Joker, Lex Luthor, Prometheus, Sinestro and Solomon Grundy. Phew! Add to that the supporting characters including innocent bystanders, cops, thugs, crime lords, soldiers, gang leaders, robots, zombies and animals. Because you need to be ready when Superman wants to throw a shark, right?
Make no mistake: this is a complete one book system. In 276 pages DC Adventures packs in character generation, archetypes, combat, vehicles, headquarters, the history of the entire DC Universe, gorgeous artwork, gamesmastery and campaign advice, and much more – and all without feeling cramped, forced or overburdened. That’s no mean feat.
In short, if 2e Mutants & Masterminds is David Tennant, this is a very worthy regeneration indeed. The big question is whether it will displace 2e M&M in our long-running superhero campaign, and the answer is: probably. That campaign has already travelled through many systems including Golden Heroes, Marvel, DC Heroes (a short lived attempt) and Champions/HERO before settling on 2e M&M. We’re old hands at picking up our characters, re-creating them and carrying on so moving from 2e M&M to 3e M&M is no biggie.
Expect a full playtest report sometime soon.
In the meantime, don’t wait. Go get it!