The Second Edition of Mutants & Masterminds is, without a doubt, my all time favourite RPG. As I’m concerned it is as near as you can get to being the perfect role-playing game. It is mechanically flawless, fantastic to play and, despite being unashamedly all about superheroes, a wonderfully generic system that can handle anything you throw at it.
And now they’ve made a new edition? How very dare they??!!! (cue nerd rage)
They dare, it’s here, and these are my first impressions.
M&M3e itself comes in two entirely compatible flavours. If you want just the rules (with a light dusting of generic setting to get you started) there’s the newly released Mutants & Masterminds Hero’s Handbook (available as PDF now for $17.50, or Softcover real soon for £32.95). Alternatively, you can get the whole rules all wrapped up in extra special DC Universe sauce as either PDF ($20) or Hardcover ($39.95). Considering it is exactly the same rules set that means if you buy DC Adventures PDF you’re getting the DC Universe for just $2.50! Bargain!
That does immediately beg the question of why you’d be interested in the Hero’s Handbook PDF at all. Just go for the DCA PDF or grab the Softcover when it’s out, right?
Wrong. While DCA is full to the gills with information, characters and villains (not to mention awesome artwork) from the world of the DC Comics, the Hero’s Handbook uses that space to talk (just as the Second Edition M&M core rules did) about the genre as a whole. There’s food for thought about setting the tone, the tropes of the various sub-genres, frameworks and how to set Power Levels accordingly. The Hero’s Handbook feels much less crowded than DC Adventures, and that, imho, is a Good Thing. I do think that the M&M Hero’s Handbook PDF should be a tad cheaper though. At $10 (or even $12.50) it would fly off the virtual shelf. You can get it for just $5 right now if you pre-order the Softcover though, and that’s a step in the right direction.
When it comes to the rules themselves, I’m happy to report that M&M3e is still very much the Mutants & Masterminds we know and love. There are numerous tweaks to the engine itself (several Powers in particular have been reworked and recosted) but two or three significant changes stand out.
There are no longer 6 stats , but 8. We have Strength, Stamina (ie, CON), Agility, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Awareness (ie, WIS) and Presence (ie, CHA). I initially didn’t like this change – it essentially splits DEX into three stats for little or no reason – but now it is starting to make sense. Agility is overall body control. It is your speed, grace and physical co-ordination and affects things such as Initiative and Acrobatics checks. Dexterity is manual dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination – required for Ranged attacks and Sleight of Hand, etc. Fighting is your raw natural ability to land or avoid a blow.
Splitting the DEX stat into three means it is possible to create a character who is extremely agile (high AGL) but entirely lacks combat talent (low FGT) such as a gymnast. Or how about a Magician who has excellent manual dexterity (high DEX) but no great acrobat (average AGL). Or a typical fantasy Fighter type – strong as an ox and a natural brawler (high FGT) but lacking in balance and grace (average or low AGL and DEX).
Previously (as with Third and Fourth Edition D&D), any of these (and countless other) concepts you’d either need to give the character high DEX to start with, or use Skills and Feats to buff what should have been natural talent from the start.
This ‘wulf approves this change.
While we’re on stats, gone is the 3-18 range. Stats in M&M3e are just the modifier meaning someone with a STR 1 equates to a hero with STR 12 (a +1), and STR 5 equals STR 20 (+5) in old money. I shed a small tear as this loss but it makes sense when we’re dealing with a system that deals with characters who can lift whole planets without breaking into a sweat.
Skills are also more expensive to buy compared to Second Edition. 1 point now buys you 2 skill ranks rather than 2e’s 4 ranks. That’s double the cost! I know some players who will grumble about that one. I expect a subtle shift from skill focused to attribute focused characters, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
There are other changes, of course. Feats are renamed Advantages, but cover the same territory, and all heroes must take at least two Complications. That’s good news for we GMs – Complications are plotline gold – but I suspect some players will complain at the thought of their “perfect” Superheroes having such things as flaws! Suck it up, gamer.
So, is Third Edition a better system than Second Edition Mutants & Masterminds? Only time will tell, though I’ll give it a cautious yes. Having the entire DC Universe under your belt is a HUGE win, and the Powers as a whole feel much more tightly put together. I’ll certainly be interested to see how it works outside the superhero comfort zone. The acid test for me is seeing how it runs as the lower Power Levels for such things as modern cop dramas and low-fantasy.
Expect session reports Real Soon!