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A Little Different

Friday I changed up my typical RPG experience in two ways.  First, I ran Mutants & Masterminds for the first time ever. (I've never even played the game before.)  Second, there were only two players from the group, so I decided to invite one of the couples that I am hoping my compose a second group.  I then added to that mix my daughter, who has been desperate to game with a group like her older brother, and my wife (aka "The Real Irene").  So out of a group of six, only two had really gamed before.

M&M is definitely different from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  It didn't take long for people to figure out the rules, especially since I used the archtypes from the main rulebook which includes the quick "Offense" and "Defense" notations.  I can not figure out for the life of me why the Defense sections just don't add the 10 which is added in pretty much every combat action for which they are used.  Actually, constantly adding 15 to Damage attacks and 10 to Affliction attacks was really annoying.

Since most people were pretty new to the game, I thought we'd keep the plot simple.  After a simple bank heist to bring the group together and walk through the rules, an alien saucer shows up and a giant robot appears demanding to talk to Earth's leaders.  Apparently an object called a "Star Heart" has crashed somewhere in the area, and the robot demands it be turned over to him or he will launch a war against Earth.

At this point, my ten-year-old daughter kicks into hyperdrive.  "I check eBay for the Star Heart!" she shouts.  After I tell her that really won't work, she says "I check Google for recent reports of meteorite activity in the area!"
I pause for a second, realizing that her idea actually will work.  And since part of being a good GM involves not sabotaging good ideas that your players conceive, I give it to her.

The PC's find the pod, but of course it is empty.  A quick sweep finds an abandoned car, and the PC's head for the address of the car's owner.  There they find a middle-aged couple seriously hurt and the house torn apart.  Their teenage son, Kyle, has apparently found the Star Heart and is settling a few scores, starting with an abusive step-father.  The PC's follow the trail of destruction to the local high school, where Kyle is smashing up the place.  The heroes battle some creatures that Kyle has summoned, and then manage to remove the Star Heart from Kyle's chest (ouch).

The robot (called The Harbinger) shows up and demands the heroes give him the Star Heart, but they have realized it probably doesn't belong to him either.  Plus the robot is kind of a jerk.  So after a few rounds of fairly ineffectual combat against mechanical alien, the Mystic uses his Illusion power to simulate sending the Star Heart into space.  Again not wanting to sabotage a good idea, I have the robot pursue the illusory Star Heart off planet, and call it a night.

Some quick thoughts on my first sojourn into Mutants & Masterminds:

  • high skill, low damage heroes are at a disadvantage.  Maybe it was battling a lot of high-Toughness villains, but it seems to me that it doesn't matter if you can hit every time if you can never, ever manage to damage someone.  One of the newcomers picked the Martial Artist archtype, and the poor guy struggled to do anything the entire game.  I could see, in certain situations, that PC really working (like against hordes of low-point minions) but most heavy-weights just shrug him off.
  • my group is good with low-crunch, maybe even more than they think.  Maybe it is just doing MHR for six months as the only supers game they know, or because there were four players who had never tried to shoehorn their imagination into a set of rules before, but there was a lot of "I'd like to do this" and my having to say, "well, that's going to be tricky..."  M&M doesn't have a lot of rules for "stunts," but instead relies on "Advantages" which end up looking a lot like OGL "Feats."  Case in point: one of the new players (playing "The Warrior") tells me she'd like to clothesline two minions standing next to each other.  I dinged her two points on the attack roll and gave it to her, but I'm sure it's actually an Advantage somewhere, and she didn't have it.  In MHR, I'd have just taken a Plot Point from her and allowed her to use two effect die.
  • there's a part of me that is starting to chaff at d20 die conventions.  By this I mean that essentially everything happens on a single die with the general notion being "roll better than ten, succeed.  Roll worse, fail."  While there is a "critical hit" rule that gives the attack a +5 bonus to damage on a roll of 20 (or 19-20 with Improved Critical), I'm getting more of a liking to games where there is some sense of how well things go based on how well or badly you roll.  Maybe it is because I'm reading Edge of Empire right now, but fluke positives or negatives seem to work for me more than a basic "hit them or don't" system.
  • I miss team coherency.  Bad mouth Fourth Edition D&D all you want, but everybody on the team felt like they had something unique to contribute to the game.  I only saw inklings of that in M&M.  That may, in the game's defense, have something to do with the plot.  I'm not sure.
As always, comments welcome.

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