A Beginners Guide to Superhero Gaming, Part Two

Let’s talk about character generation.

Once upon a time, superheroes only existed in comics. Now they’re in movies, on TV shows, everywhere. They have moved from the closet geek’s bedroom into the mainstream. Superman is no longer the only superhero that everyone knows; he’s been joined by Batman, Hancock, Green Lantern, Rorschach, Spider-Man, Green Arrow, Thor, Iron Man and all the rest. There’s an ever growing list of Übermensch who have crossed over from the funny papers into mainstream culture.

And that, for we superhero gamers, is a Very Good Thing. Our genre of choice is Out There, right now. Gone are the days when you have to explain who Wolverine is, the origins of Batman or how Green Lantern got his shiny ring. What this means is that there’s a whole wealth of inspiration out there, right now, whether you read comics or not.

What’s more this isn’t a genre like Star Wars where there’s always some know-better-than-you geek at the table who will point and laugh just because your knowledge of fictional history is wrong. Trust me. We’ve all there and felt the urge to punch his smug little Jedi Encyclopaedia face.

Ahem.

If you want to play a blue furry Spider-Man, go for it. If you want a cyborg dog Superman, he’s yours. No one will cough and say “but all the blue furry Spider-Men were killed in Penultimate Spider-Man #151. Everyone knows that!1. The superhero genre is your virtual playground where anything goes.

Yet at the same time, it can be surprisingly tricky to come up with an original character. Thankfully though, there’s a tried and tested solution for that.

Don’t.

I’ll let you into a not-so-secret secret. Comic writers have been churning out same characters for years. For every Superman there’s a Power Girl, Supergirl, Superboy, Krypto the Superdog and many, many more. For every Batman, there’s Nightwing, Batgirl, Batwoman, Moon Knight and all the rest. For every Green Lantern, there’s another Green Lantern, and another one, and another…. you get the idea.

These characters all have broadly identical power sets (give or take Superboy’s tactile telekinesis), but where they differ widely is in personality and outlook. Superman’s boy scout nature (which looks like it’s changed hugely in DC’s New 52) is totally unlike Power Girl’s hung-ho personality or Supergirl’s quaint naivety. Nightwing ain’t Batman (not even when he’s wearing the cowl), and each of the many Green Lanterns bring something different to the role.

This means you can create a Superman, and make him your own. Create a character with Flight, Super-Strength, Invulnerability and Laser Eyes – but make him a grizzled war vet who suffers from flashbacks (Colonel Napalm!). Or a 10 year old manga loving Japanese schoolkid (Otakuboy!). Or a cat headed version of Power Girl (Power Kitty!).  Or Krypton’s version of Batman (Snagriffman!). Or anything else you want. Each character might be the same, but they’re different, and that comes out of how you role-play them.

Which leads us to Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition/DC Adventures. The two systems are an identical ruleset which differ only in their campaign setting and artwork. M&M3e provides a generic setting where you’re free to create your own superhero world, and DC Adventures comes with the frickin’ DC Universe! Either way, you’re getting the same rules at the core. This is the latest version of a game that has been around since 2002. This edition takes a step away from its Third Edition D&D/OGL roots and evolves into a game in its own right. Second Edition was (and still is) a terrific game, especially if your gamer group is accustomed to the D&D Way Of Doing Things. The stats (STR, CON, DEX, etc) are the same and Skills and Feats work just as you’d expect. It’s a perfect game if your group wants to take a first step into the superhero genre and ICONS is a little too light for your tastes.

In contrast, Third Edition isn’t so much a step into the superhero genre, as a leap over a tall building right into a swimming pool made of spandex.  Now there’s a mental image to conjure with. I’ll be looking at the differences between 2nd and 3rd Edition M&M another time. Back to character generation.

As with M&M2e, there are three ways to generate a character using the M&M3e/DC Adventures Hero’s Handbooks (four, if you count “steal from Atomic Think Tank”).

1. Use an Archetype
Both the M&M3e Hero’s Handbook and DC Adventures include Archetypal superheroes that are ready to play right out the book. All you have to do is add a name, come up with a personality and costume design, and you’re ready to play. This is a great way to get gaming straight away, especially while you’re learning the rules.

Each Archetype includes a handful of pre-set Options where you can choose from a list of Skills, Advantages, Equipment or Powers to tweak the build. You can build a hundred characters using just the Archetypes alone, and each one will be different.

Both M&M3e and DC Adventures include the following Character Archetypes:

  • Battlesuit
  • Construct
  • Crime Fighter
  • Energy Controller
  • Gadgeteer
  • Martial Artist
  • Mimic
  • Mystic
  • Paragon
  • Powerhouse
  • Psychic
  • Shapeshifter
  • Speedster
  • Warrior
  • Weapon Master

For example, we could create a superhero who can travel at super-speed called Doc Quantum simply by copying the Speedster Archetype  and give him Expertise in Quantum Science. We’re done. Let’s play!

2. Use the Archetype as a base
The second option is to use an Archetype as a starting point, then tailor to suit. As M&M3e is a points-based system you’re free to juggle the points around as you wish. For example, I might not need Doc Quantum to be able to run on water or up walls, but I would like him to have Flight as an Alternate Power to his Super-Speed (A Flash who can Fly!!), or some kind of quantum luck-based power (A Flash who can Fly and win at dice!!!). By starting with the Archetype, most of the heavy lifting is done already and I only need to tweak the details.

3. Begin with a blank sheet
The third option is to start from scratch. In some ways this is the most liberating choice, but it’s also the most intimidating.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about – next time.

  1. Ok, there’s bound to be one gamer who does this. They’re the same dork who memorized all of the Forgotten Realms novels and killed your D&D campaign last summer. Best just gang up and dump the body now.

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9 Responses

  1. Lair: A Beginners Guide to Superhero Gaming, Part Two http://t.co/WJ8UqXQm #rpg

  2. Guia para iniciantes de jogos com Super Heróis, parte 2 (in english, via @greywulf) http://t.co/Ilb4v1KD

  3. Sean says:

    “Yeah, they did, but they brought him back in Tales to Impress #9. The version with the gold foil cover and the extra 19 page story in the back. Boy, was that hard to get a copy of!”

  4. I’ve been eyeing the new Mutants and Masterminds and this only intrigues me furhter… just wish they did with Marvel what they did with DC (yes, I’m an unabased Marvel zombie).

    One question though. You mentioned problems of scale in your last article and it didn’t come up again in character creation so I thought I’d mention it. One of my only other experiences with supers was Paladium’s Heroes Unlimited, which had its charms at the time, but we wound up with teams full of heroes of wildly different power levels. Are the archetypes a little more balanced in M&M?

    Also, I have a metric ton of Heroclix miniatures that would be awesome to use in a supers game – does the new M&M support that kind of play?

    • greywulf says:

      Mutants & Masterminds fully supports using figures and battlemats in play. We find that using them does impose some constraints when you’ve got heroes who can move from one continent to another in a single round, but they do work well for more street-level heroes.

      A large part of that depends on your preferred style of play, of course. If you love Heroclix and your group is used to using battlemats, you’ll be fine :)

      I suggest you take a look at the free DC Adventures Quick Start Guide. It includes a full combat setup to try out.

      I’ll be talking more about combat and scale, another time too.

      M&M uses the concept of Power Levels, where PL10 is roughly equal to superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, etc. The Justice League would be around PL12-PL14 and more street-level heroes (Daredevil, Catwoman, etc) between PL6 and PL8.

      The Power Level puts a cap on such things as combat abilities, defenses and powers that affect others. The best attack for a PL3 thug might be a shotgun, while a PL10 superhero can blast a hole in a tank. All of the heroes are the same Power Level (and built on the same number of points) so this keeps them on a par with each other.

      For example, a Fantastic Four style team could have one hero that has Super-Strength to rank 10 (The Thing) while another has Blast 10 (Human Torch). They’ve both at the limit for Power Level 10 in their respective abilities, and are comparable in terms of relative power.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Attractive demonstration of the gaming experience.Good work!!

  6. Darktouch says:

    Don’t forget that the GM Screen comes with rules for random character generation by archetype.

    • greywulf says:

      Thanks for mentioning it. :)

      I’ve already reviewed the GM’s Kit and raved about how awesome the random character generator is, and will rave some more when I writing up part three of this series later this week. After that, we’re on to action scenes, and what makes a superhero game feel super!

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