Like the comics, this game is about action, so this section looks at the flow of the game and how heroes accomplish their amazing feats, ranging from last-minute rescues and brilliant investigations to thrilling battles against the forces of evil.
The section starts out with a look at action rounds, used to measure time when seconds count, then moves on to the different challenges heroes face, followed by handling conflicts like super-powered battles. The section concludes with information on the potential consequences, including various conditions imposed on heroes and the hazards of the environment around them. This is followed by handling conflicts like super-powered battles, including special actions, consequences of damage, and recovery from it.
The action round (or simply round) is how this game breaks down time when things like who goes first and how much each character can accomplish are important. A round represents about six seconds of time in the game world.
During a round, each character involved takes a turn, which is that character’s opportunity to do something. A character has an allotment of actions, used during that character’s turn. Players decide what their characters do on their turns, while the GM handles everyone else’s turn.
The order in which characters take their turns is determined by initiative. Base initiative bonus is equal to the character’s Agility rank. Many characters have advantages or powers that modify their initiative, such as Improved Initiative. At the start of a conflict, roll an initiative check for each character:
d20 + initiative modifier
The initiative check determines what order characters act in, counting down from highest check result to lowest. Usually, the GM writes the names of the characters down in initiative order to move quickly from one character to the next each round. You can also have all of the characters’ names listed on index cards you can reshuffle to fit the initiative order. If two characters have the same initiative result, they act in order of highest Dodge bonus first, then highest Agility and highest Awareness. If there is still a tie, each tied player should roll a die, with the highest roll going first. The GM may roll just once for an entire group of minions, giving them all the same initiative.
If characters enter a conflict after it’s begun, they roll initiative when they join-in and act when their turn comes up in the existing order.
Some conflicts begin with one or more characters caught unaware or surprised. This is typically because the character did not succeed on a Perception or other check and was therefore caught off-guard. Some characters on a side can be surprised while others are not.
If any characters in the conflict are surprised, then the action begins with a surprise round. Everyone involved in the conflict makes initiative checks as usual. Surprised characters do not act on the surprise round. They are stunned and vulnerable until the next round (see Conditions in The Basics). Other characters may act, but are limited to a standard action and free actions, although they may exchange their standard action for a move action, as usual.
The four types of actions characters can take are standard, move, free, and reaction. In a normal round, you can perform a standard action and a move action, or two move actions. You can also perform as many free and reactions actions as your GM allows.
Some situations (like the surprise round) and conditions (like being dazed) limit the actions you can take during your turn.
A standard action allows you to do something. You can make an attack, use a skill, advantage, or power, or perform other similar actions. During a combat round, you can take a standard action and a move action.
A move action allows you to move your speed or perform an action taking a similar amount of time, such as draw or stow a weapon or other object, stand up, pick up an object, or perform some equivalent action (see the Actions in Combat Table).
You can take a move action in place of a standard action. For example, rather than moving your speed and attacking you can stand up and move your speed (two move actions), draw a weapon and climb (two move actions), or pick up an object and stow it (two move actions). You can also make a DC 15 Athletics check as a free action to run faster: one or more degree of success increases your ground speed rank by +1 for one round.
Free actions consume very little time and, over the span of the round, their impact is so minor they are considered to take no real time at all. You can perform one or more free actions while taking another action. For instance, dropping an object, dropping to a prone position, speaking a sentence or two, and ceasing to concentrate on maintaining a power are all free actions.
A reaction is something that happens in response to something else, like a reflex. Like free actions, reactions take so little time they’re considered free. The difference between the two is a free action is a conscious choice made on the character’s turn to act. A reaction can occur even when it’s not your turn to act. Some powers and other traits are usable as reactions.
Finally, some things players are called upon to do—certain die rolls like resistance checks, for example—are not considered actions at all, as they involve no action on the part of the characters.
When it is your turn in the initiative order, you declare what actions your character will perform, and they are resolved in order.
The Gamemaster informs you when it is your turn. When you start your turn, you should:
End effects that last “until the start of your next turn”.
You get a standard and a move action each turn. You can exchange your standard action for an additional move action, allowing you to perform two move actions. You can also perform as many free actions on your turn as you wish.
You perform your actions in any order that you wish, but you cannot normally “split” your actions. So, for example, although you can move (move action) and then attack (standard action) or attack and then move, you cannot move half your distance, attack, and then move the other half unless you have some special trait that allows you to do so.
You can use extra effort in order to take an additional standard or move action on your turn (see Extra Effort).
At the end of your turn, you should:
End any effects that last “until the end of your turn”.
Make any necessary resistance checks to recover from ongoing effects.
Inform the Gamemaster and other players that your turn is finished, allowing the next character in the initiative order to go.
In game terms, a challenge is an action or series of actions where players are called upon to make checks of their characters’ traits, but which do not involve direct conflict, such as fighting. Some challenges are quick and involve only a single character, such as a hero making a daring leap or acrobatic maneuver, while others are more involved and require the efforts of a whole team, such as clearing all of the people out of a burning building or searching the entire city (or world!) for an escaped criminal.
The challenges given in this section are by no means the only possible ones. They simply cover the major “building blocks” Gamemasters can use to create challenges in their own games and offer examples. Feel free to come up with your own challenges to test the heroes’ abilities and give the players an opportunity to come up with clever plans of their own.
Challenges may or may not involve initiative checks, depending on the nature of the challenge.
If all of the characters get a turn and it does not particularly matter who goes first, then the Gamemaster can dispense with initiative for the challenge. For example, if the heroes all have to leap across a chasm, then it is a challenge they must all complete, and it does not particularly matter which of them goes first or last in doing so (since their actions are all virtually simultaneous).
With other challenges, it does matter who goes first, particular when the challenge is timed in some fashion. So, for example, if the GM determines that part of a burning building will collapse after the first round, initiative may be checked to see which heroes go before the collapse and who does not quite act fast enough. The same may be true of other traps or hazards, which can have initiative ranks of their own.
A challenge sequence is made up of a series of checks rather than a simple set of one or two. It represents a more involved or detailed challenge for the heroes. So, whereas a simple challenge might involve breaking down a door or figuring out a lock, a challenge sequence could be a lengthy investigation, searching for someone who has gone missing, or convincing a non-player character of the heroes’ good intentions. It can involve several checks of the same trait, or multiple traits, such as a Persuasion check to get the heroes on good terms with the King of Atlantis, an Expertise check to explain the particular danger the kingdom faces, and an Insight check to realize the king’s advisor has something other than the best interests of the kingdom and royal family at heart. Similarly, heroes might make Perception checks to pick up on particular clues, Investigate checks to gather and analyze them, and Expertise checks to figure out the villain’s riddle behind them before it is too late.
Challenges typically have some reward for success (usually moving on to the next part of the adventure) and some consequence for failure. The latter might be missing a vital clue or otherwise being unable to stop a villain’s scheme. This may make later parts of the adventure more difficult for your heroes. Other consequences might include particular conditions (see Conditions in The Basics); for example, failing a wilderness survival challenge may result in the heroes suffering from fatigue or exhaustion. Failing a challenge to cross a chasm could mean the hero falls and suffers damage. Failing a challenge to overcome a trap could mean the heroes are even incapacitated, falling into the villain’s clutches! The GM decides the consequences of failing a particular challenge based on the challenge and the needs of the story.
Not all of the hazards heroes face come from supervillains. Sometimes the environment itself can be a danger, particularly when villains try to use it to their advantage. Heroes end up in a lot of dangerous places and deal with less than ideal conditions. This section details some of the hazards heroes may face.
Criminals often lurk in the darkness, and many crimes take place at night. Most cities are lit well enough, but sometimes heroes run into areas where it’s difficult to see. Poorly lit areas provide concealment. Characters with Counters Concealment (Darkness) Senses or other appropriate Senses effects can ignore concealment penalties for poor lighting.
Intense heat and cold wear down characters, while prolonged exposure to the elements can be extremely dangerous.
Characters in hot or cold conditions must make Fortitude checks (DC 10, +1 per previous check) to avoid becoming fatigued. Fatigued characters who fail a check become exhausted, then incapacitated, at which point the character’s condition becomes dying after another failed Fortitude check.
How often characters have to make Fortitude checks depends on the conditions. Once an hour for uncomfortable heat or cold (a hot summer day or cold winter day), once per 10 minutes for intense heat or cold (a blazing desert or arctic conditions), once a minute for extreme heat or cold like the edge of a volcano or an arctic winter storm. Checks are made at the end of each period of exposure. Truly intense heat or cold—such as a blast furnace or touching liquid nitrogen—inflicts direct damage like an attack.
Characters with the appropriate Immunity do not need to make Fortitude checks for extreme temperatures.
Heroes can go without water for a day. After this, they need to make a Fortitude check (DC 10, +1 per previous check) each hour to avoid a level of fatigue. Heroes can go without food for three days. After this, they must make a Fortitude check (DC 10, +1 per previous check) each day to avoid fatigue. The character cannot recover until he gets water or food. Heroes with Immunity to Starvation can go an unlimited time without food or water.
Characters can hold their breath for ten rounds (one minute) plus a number of rounds equal to twice their Stamina. After that time they must make a Fortitude check (DC 10) each round to continue holding their breath. The DC increases by +1 for each previous success. Failure on the Fortitude check means the character becomes incapacitated . On the following round the character is dying. A dying character cannot stabilize until able to breathe again. Heroes with Immunity to Suffocation can go an unlimited time without air.
A fall inflicts damage rank 4 plus twice the distance rank fallen, to a maximum of rank 16 damage. Characters with the Acrobatics skill can fall greater distances without risk of damage. Falling into or onto a dangerous surface may cause additional damage, at the GM’s discretion.
Catching a falling person or object requires a Dexterity check (DC 5). If you successfully catch a falling object, subtract your Strength rank from the falling damage rank. Both you and the object suffer any remaining damage. So if a character with Strength 6 catches someone falling for 12 damage, subtract 6 from 12, and both characters resist damage 6. If the catcher is using a power—such as Flight or Move Object—to catch the falling object, the power’s rank can be substituted for Strength at the GM’s discretion.
|8||Burning jet fuel, napalm|
|10+||Chemical accelerants and fire powers|
A deadly toxin introduced through a scratch, or even in the air, may be able to fell the strongest hero. Poisons generally have one of several effects particularly Affliction, Damage, or Weaken. Some poisons may even have multiple Linked effects. Heroes generally resist poisons with Fortitude.
|1||Food poisoning: Affliction conditions typically include impaired and disabled, perhaps also dazed and stunned for especially severe nausea.|
|2||Alcohol: Impaired and disabled are the most common conditions, perhaps dazed and stunned for severe drunkenness, as for food poisoning.|
|3||Pesticides: Common Affliction conditions include impaired and disabled, although a large enough dose or repeated exposure can also Weaken Stamina, even leading to death.|
|4||Chloroform: Affliction with dazed, stunned, and incapacitated effects.|
|7||Cobra venom: Typically a Weaken effect against Strength, Agility, or Stamina (sometimes more than one), with Weaken Stamina potentially lethal, if the victim’s Stamina drops below –5.|
|8||Mustard gas: Affliction with impaired, disabled, and incapacitated effects, linked with a Damage effect resisted by Fortitude.|
|9||Poisonous mushrooms: Typically a Fortitude Damage effect. Side-effects might include conditions like dazed, impaired, or hindered.|
|11||Chlorine gas: Affliction with dazed, stunned, and incapacitated effects, linked with a Damage effect resisted by Fortitude.|
|13||Curare: Affliction with dazed and hindered, stunned and immobilized, and incapacitated effects, linked with Weaken Stamina, as the poison can potentially stop the target’s heart.|
|14||Cyanide: Fortitude Damage effect.|
|15||Nerve gas: Affliction with dazed and impaired, stunned and disabled, and incapacitated effects, linked with Fortitude Damage.|
|16+||Alien, supernatural, or super-science toxins|
When heroes come into contact with a disease they must make a Fortitude check (DC 10 + the disease’s rank) to avoid becoming infected. The method of infection depends on the disease: some are airborne while others require physical contact. Diseases are generally Affliction or Weaken effects. Some diseases may have multiple linked effects. Potentially fatal diseases usually Weaken Stamina, in addition to their other effects. If the disease goes untreated for long enough, the subject’s Stamina may drop below –5, in which case death occurs.
|1-2||Common colds: Usually nothing more than an impaired condition.|
|3-5||Influenza (including bird flu, swine flu, etc.): Affliction with impaired, disabled, and incapacitated.|
|4||Malaria: Affliction with impaired, disabled, and incapacitated.|
|6||Typhoid: Affliction with dazed, stunned, and incapacitated.|
|7||Rabies: Affliction with impaired, compelled (paranoid and violent behavior), and incapacitated.|
|8||Leprosy: Affliction with impaired, disabled, and incapacitated.|
|10||AIDS: Weaken Fortitude, leading to other opportunistic infections.|
|11||Smallpox: Affliction with hindered and impaired, disabled, and incapacitated linked with Weaken Stamina.|
|12-14||Bubonic plague: Affliction with dazed and hindered, stunned and immobilized, linked with Weaken Stamina.|
|15||Ebola virus: Affliction with dazed, hindered, and impaired; stunned, immobilized, and disabled; and incapacitated, linked with Weaken Strength and Stamina.|
Radiation in the comic books often causes mutations or triggers latent powers in those exposed to it rather than simply causing radiation sickness. Exposure to radiation (especially exotic or alien radiation) may be an excellent opportunity for a complication.
Otherwise the Gamemaster can treat radiation exposure like a disease: The victim makes an initial Fortitude check against (DC 10 + radiation’s rank) and an additional check each day. Radiation sickness is typically a Weaken Stamina effect, but may include other effects, including Damage resisted by Fortitude. At the GM’s discretion, radiation exposure can lead to other effects, such as damage to a hero’s power ranks (causing a temporary decrease in powers).
|4||Exposure to radioactive materials|
|6||Stellar radiation (deep space)|
The primary hazards of the vacuum of space are lack of air and exposure to unfiltered ionizing radiation.
On the third round of exposure to vacuum, a character must succeed on a Fortitude check (DC 20) each round or suffer from aeroembolism (“the bends”). A failed check means excruciating pain as small air bubbles form in the creature’s bloodstream; the creature is stunned and remains so until returned to normal atmospheric pressure. Two or more degrees of failure impose the incapacitated condition.
The real danger of vacuum comes from suffocation, though holding one’s breath in vacuum damages the lungs. A character who attempts to hold his breath must make a Fortitude check (DC 15) every round; the DC increases by 1 each round, and on a successful check the character loses a rank of Stamina (from the pressure on the linings of his lungs). If the check fails, or when the character simply stops holding his breath, he begins to suffocate: the next round, he becomes incapacitated . The following round, he’s dying and cannot stabilize until returned to a normal atmosphere.
Unfiltered radiation bombards any character trapped in the vacuum of space without protective gear, see Radiation, previously.
Heroes able to ignore the effects of deep space must have Immunity to suffocation, vacuum, and radiation, at a minimum. See the Immunity effect in Powers for details.
A conflict is when two or more characters go up against each other, typically in a fight of some sort. Conflict between heroes and villains is a prime part of the game and a big element of the fun, just like the colorful and spectacular fights in the superhero comic books.
An attack check represents an attempt to hit a target with an attack. When you make an attack check, roll the die and add your bonus with that attack. If your result equals or exceeds the target’s defense, your attack hits and may have some effect.
Attack Check = d20 + attack bonus vs. defense class
When you make an attack check and get a natural 20 (the d20 actually shows 20), you automatically hit, regardless of your target’s defense, and you score a threat. The hit might also be a critical hit (sometimes called a “crit”). To find out if it’s a critical hit, determine if the attack check total is equal to or greater than the target’s defense. If so, it is a critical hit. If not, the attack still hits, but as a normal attack, not a critical.
Characters with the Improved Critical advantage can score a threat on a natural result less than 20, although they still automatically hit only on a natural 20. Any attack check that doesn’t result in a hit is not a threat.
A critical hit can have one of the following three effects, chosen by the player when the critical hit is determined:
Increased Effect: The critical hit increases the difficulty to resist the attack’s effect by +5. Against a minion, this bypasses the resistance check entirely; the minion automatically receives the highest degree of the attack’s effect.
Added Effect: The critical hit adds another effect onto the attack, but its effective rank is 0, so the resistance DC is just the base value (10, or 15 for damage). The added effect can be anything the player can reasonably describe and justify as adjunct to the original effect: an Affliction (useful for all sorts of “gut checks,” blows to the head or vitals, etc.), Dazzle (blood in the eyes, boxing the ears, etc.), or Weaken, to name a few. The GM decides if the effect suits the circumstances of the attack. The target makes resistance checks against the attack’s initial and added effects separately.
Alternate Effect: The critical hit results in an alternate effect for the attack, like a use of extra effort for a power stunt (see Extra Effort in The Basics), except the character suffers no fatigue as a result. This option can represent a “lucky” attack that does something completely different, like blinding a target, or imposing a condition such as those found under the Affliction effect.
Conversely, a natural 1 (the d20 comes up 1) on an attack check is always a miss, regardless of your total result.
Success : The damage has no effect.
Failure (one degree): The target has a –1 circumstance penalty to further resistance checks against damage.
Failure (two degrees): The target is dazed until the end of their next turn and has a –1 circumstance penalty to further checks against damage.
Failure (three degrees): The target is staggered and has a -1 circumstance penalty to further checks against damage. If the target is staggered again (three degrees of failure on a Damage resistance check), apply the fourth degree of effect. The staggered condition remains until the target recovers (see Recovery, following).
Failure (four degrees): The target is incapacitated .
Strength provides a “built-in” Damage effect: the ability to hit things! You can apply effect modifiers to the damage your Strength inflicts, making it Penetrating or even an Area effect! You can also have Alternate Effects for your Strength Damage; see the Alternate Effect modifier for details. Like other Damage effects, a character’s Strength Damage is close range and instant duration by default.
If you choose, a Damage effect can be Strength-based—something like a melee weapon—allowing your Strength Damage to add to it. You add your Strength and Damage ranks together when determining the rank of the attack. Any modifiers applied to your Damage must also apply to your Strength rank if its bonus damage is to benefit from them. However, any decrease in your Strength reduces the amount you can add to your Damage, and negative Strength subtracts from your Damage! Likewise, anything that prevents you from exerting your Strength also stops you from using a Strength-based Damage effect. If you can’t swing your fist, you can’t swing a sword, either. On the other hand, a laser blade does the same damage whether you can exert your Strength with it or not.
Objects (targets lacking a Stamina rank) take damage similar to other targets. Dazed and staggered results have no real effect on inanimate targets, since they do not take actions. Constructs, capable of action, are dazed and staggered normally (see Constructs in Gadgets & Gear).
Inanimate objects are defenseless by definition and therefore subject to finishing attacks (see the Finishing Attack maneuver): essentially, you can choose between making your attack on the object as a routine check or, if you make the attack check normally, gaining an automatic critical hit if your attack hits, for a +5 bonus to effect.
Attacking an object held or worn by another character is a smash action (see the Smash maneuver).
If an attacker’s intention is to bend, break or destroy an object, then two degrees of failure on the Toughness check results in a break (such as a hole punched through the object) while three or more degrees of failure means the object is destroyed (shattered, smashed to pieces, etc.).
The Toughness ranks of some common materials are shown on TABLE: MATERIAL TOUGHNESS. The listed ranks are for about an inch (distance rank –7) thickness of the material: apply a +1 per doubling of thickness or a –1 per halving of it. So a foot of stone is Toughness 8. Equipment has Toughness based on its material. Devices have a base Toughness equal to the total points in the device divided by 5 (rounded down, minimum of 1).
Living targets remove one damage condition per minute of rest, starting from their worst condition and working back. So a damaged character recovers from being incapacitated, then staggered, dazed, and finally removes a –1 Toughness check penalty per minute until fully recovered. The Healing and Regeneration effects can speed this process. Lasting or more serious injuries are handled as complications (see Lasting Injuries).
Objects, having no Stamina, do not recover from damage unless they have an effect like Regeneration. Instead, they must be repaired. See the guidelines under the Technology skill when repairing damaged objects.
An attack has one of three ranges: close, ranged, and perception. A close attack can only affect a target you can physically reach, by touch or wielding a melee weapon, for example. A ranged attack can affect a target at a distance, while a Perception attack can hit a target you are able to accurately perceive automatically without need for an attack check.
A ranged attack has a short range up to its rank x 25 feet, at which it has no penalties. At medium range (up to rank x 50 feet), the attack check has a –2 circumstance modifier. At long range (up to rank x 100 feet), the attack check has a –5 circumstance modifier. Ranged attacks cannot go beyond long range; a target further away is out of range and cannot be attacked.
These are generally the only significant distinctions in distance. At the basic level, the game system does not focus on tracking exact distances between combatants, apart from determining if they are adjacent (and therefore within close range) and whether or not they can perceive each other (and are therefore within perception range). The rest is left for the GM to describe and adjudicate as desired.
Perception and Area effects do not require attack checks, they automatically affect a given target or area (see the Area extra in Powers). Because of this, these attacks cannot score critical hits or misses, nor do modifiers affecting the attack check—including various maneuvers—affect them.
To attack a target, you first have to have some idea of where to aim your attack. If you can perceive something with an accurate sense (such as sight) then you can target it with an attack. If you cannot clearly perceive the target, then it has concealment from you.
Partial Concealment applies a –2 circumstance penalty to your attack check for not being able to clearly perceive your target. It includes conditions like dim lighting, foli-age, heavy precipitation, fog, smoke, and the like.
Total Concealment applies a –5 circumstance penalty to your attack check for not being able to perceive the target at all, presuming the attacker even knows (or guesses) the right area to target. It includes conditions like total darkness, heavy smoke or fog, and so forth.
Targets may also hide behind obstructions to gain cover against your attacks. Obstructions that do not physically block attacks but simply make the target harder to perceive—such as lighting, fog, or foliage—provide concealment rather than cover.
Partial Cover applies a –2 circumstance penalty to your attack check. It generally means about half of the target is behind cover, such as around a corner, behind a tree or pillar, or a low wall.
Total Cover applies a –5 circumstance penalty to your attack check, with three-quarters or more of the target behind cover, like a narrow window, or crouched behind a wall. If a target is completely behind cover, then you cannot attack that target (although you can attack the cover itself).
Cover also grants a circumstance bonus to Dodge resistance checks against area effects equal to its penalty to attack checks, so long as the target has cover with respect to the origin point of the effect. So someone behind total cover also gains a +5 to Dodge checks against area effects.
Minions are minor characters subject to special rules in combat, and generally easier to defeat than normal characters. Villains often employ hordes of minions against heroes. The following rules apply to minions:
Minions cannot score critical hits against non-minions.
Non-minions can make attack checks against minions as routine checks.
If a minion fails a resistance check, the minion suffers the worst degree of the effect. So a minion failing a Damage resistance check, for example, is incapacitated, regardless of the degree of failure.
Certain traits (like the Takedown advantage) are more effective against or specifically target minions.
You add your defense rank to a base value of 10 (like a routine check) to determine your Defense class against an attack, which is the DC of the attack check:
Defense Class = defense + 10
Two conditions strongly affect your defenses. When you are vulnerable, your active defense ranks are halved (round up fractions). So the aforementioned hero with Parry 11 and Dodge 9 would have ranks of Parry 6 and Dodge 5 while vulnerable.
When you are defenseless, your active defense ranks are reduced to zero, meaning the base difficulty class to hit you is just 10! What’s more, attackers can make attack checks against defenseless targets as routine checks (see Routine Checks in The Basics), meaning a hit is guaranteed with an attack bonus of 0 or more, unless there are other modifiers affecting the check.
A successful attack has some effect on the target. Typically this is an effect from the Powers, such as damage or Affliction. The effect has a rank, used to determine a difficulty class for the target’s resistance check.
Resistance Difficulty = effect rank + 10
The target of the attack makes a resistance check against the effect to determine what, if anything, happens.
Some effects are not resisted just once, but multiples times. The later resistance checks represent how fast the target is able to “shake off” the effect. Make a resistance check for the target of an ongoing effect at the end of each of the target’s turns. A successful check ends the effect and removes conditions imposed by it. A failure means the effect’s conditions persist, as given in the effect’s description.
Example: Your hero was hit by a Affliction effect, leaving him blinded. At the end of his turn, he makes a Fortitude resistance check against the effect’s DC to try and shake it off, but missed the check by 2. His next turn, still blind, he stumbles and tries to strike the foe taunting him. At the end of his turn, he makes another resistance check. success! He ends the Affliction effect and removes the blinded condition. Next turn, the villain had better watch out!
A failed resistance check against an attack imposes one or more conditions on the target, depending on the type of effect and the degree of failure. See the effect description and the Conditions section of The Basics for more on the various conditions.
The most common actions characters take during conflicts are listed and described here. The GM should use these as guidelines for dealing with unusual actions players may choose for their characters, basing them on the existing action descriptions.
If you are in position to attack an opponent, you can attempt to aid an ally engaged in melee with that opponent as a standard action. This is like a team check (see Team Checks in The Basics): You make an attack check against DC 10. If you succeed, you don’t actually hit or affect the opponent, but success grants your ally gains a +2 circumstance bonus on an attack check against that opponent or a +2 circumstance bonus to Defense against that opponent (your choice) until the end of your ally’s next turn. Three or more degrees of success grant a +5 bonus.
By taking a standard action to aim and line up an attack, you get a bonus to hit when you make the attack. If you’re making a close attack, or a ranged attack at close range, you get a +5 circumstance bonus on your attack check. If you’re making a ranged attack from a greater distance, you get a +2 circumstance bonus.
However, you are vulnerable while aiming and it requires a free action to maintain your aim before you make your attack. If you are unable to maintain it, you lose its benefit.
Once you aim, your next action must be to make the attack. Taking a different action spoils your aim and you lose the bonus.
With a standard action, you can make an attack check against any opponent within the attack’s range. If the attack is an area effect or perception range, no attack check is needed. It affects the area or target automatically.
You rush forward to attack. You move your speed rank in a mode of movement available to you in a relatively straight line towards your target. At the end of your movement, you perform a close attack against your opponent with a –2 circumstance penalty to the attack check.
You can combine a charge action with a move action, allowing you to move up to twice your speed (your speed rank as a move action, then your speed rank again when you charge).
Issuing a command to a character under your control—a minion or a thrall—requires a move action. If you want to issue different commands to different characters or groups, each one requires a move action (so you can issue two commands per round as two move actions).
While prone, you can only move by crawling. You crawl at your normal ground speed –1 rank (or half your normal speed).
Characters with the Slither effect of Movement crawl at their normal ground speed. See Movement in Powers for details.
Rather than attacking, you focus on defense. Make an opposed check of your appropriate active defense versus any attack made on you until the start of your next turn. Add 10 to any roll of 10 or less that you make on these checks, just as if you spent a victory point (thus ensuring a minimum roll of 11). The attacker must equal or exceed your opposed check result in order to hit you.
When you delay, you choose to take your turn later in the initiative order. You must delay your entire turn. You cannot delay if you have already taken an action on your turn, or if you are unable to take actions.
At any point after any other character in the conflict has acted, you can choose to take your turn. Your initiative moves into the new place in the order where you act, and you take your normal allocation of actions. If you do not act before your initiative comes up in the next round, your turn ends, you lose your delayed turn, and your initiative remains where it is.
Beneficial effects lasting until the end of your turn end when you choose to delay, but harmful effects that last until the end of your turn last until after you act. Like-wise, you do not make resistance checks until after you have taken your turn, so delaying can draw out some effects.
You attempt to knock an item—such as a weapon or device—out of an opponent’s grasp. Make an attack check against the defender with a –2 penalty. If you attempt to disarm with a ranged attack, you are at –5 penalty. If your attack succeeds, make an opposed check of your attack’s damage against the defender’s Strength. If you win, the defender dropped the held object. If you made the disarm unarmed, you can grab the dropped object as a free action. If you make a disarm attempt with a melee weapon and lose the opposed check, the defender may immediately make an attempt to disarm you as a reaction; make another opposed damage vs. Strength check. If this disarm attempt fails, you do not, however, get an additional attempt to disarm the defender.
Dropping a held item is a free action (although dropping or throwing an item with the intention of hitting something with it is a standard attack action).
Dropping to a prone position is a free action, although getting up requires a move action (see Stand).
You attempt to escape from a successful grab (see Grab). Make a check of your Athletics or Acrobatics against the routine check result of your opponent’s Strength or grab effect rank. If you succeed, you end the grab and can move away from your opponent, up to your normal ground speed minus one rank, if you choose. If you fail, you are still grabbed.
You attempt to grab a target. Make an attack check against the target. If successful, the target makes a resistance check against your Strength (or the rank of a grabbing effect) using the better of Strength or Dodge. If you win with one degree of success, the target is restrained (immobile and vulnerable). Two or more degrees leave your opponent bound (defenseless, immobile, and impaired). You can attempt to improve an existing hold with another grab action on a following turn. Any resulting degrees of success are cumulative, but if you lose, the target escapes.
You are hindered and vulnerable while grabbing and holding an opponent. You can maintain a successful grab as a free action each turn, but cannot perform other actions requiring the use of your grabbing limb(s) while doing so. Since maintaining a grab is a free action, you can take a standard action to inflict your Strength damage to a grabbed target on subsequent turns after the grab is established.
You can drag a restrained or bound target along with you when you move. The target gets a Strength resistance check against your Strength. If it fails, you move and the target moves along with you. If the target resists, you are immobilized that turn unless you release your hold on the target.
You can end a grab (releasing your target) as a free action. If you are unable to take the free action maintain the hold, the target is automatically released. A target can attempt to escape from a grab as a move action (see Escape).
You can move up to your normal speed rank in any movement mode available to you as a move action. Normally this is rank 0 ground speed for most people (up to 30 feet). If you choose to move twice on your turn (taking two move actions) then you move your speed rank each time. You can make a DC 15 Athletics check as a free action to run faster: one or more degree of success increases your ground speed rank by +1 for one round.
Readying lets you prepare to take an action later, after you would normally act on your initiative, but before your initiative on your next turn. Readying is a standard action, so you can move as well.
You can ready a single standard, move, or free action. To do so, specify the action you will take and the circumstances under which you will take it. Then, any time before your next turn, you may take the readied action as a reaction to those circumstances. Your place in the initiative order then becomes the point where you took your readied action.
If you come to your next turn and have not yet performed your readied action, you don’t get to take the readied action, you just lose your previous turn. You can ready the same action again on your next turn, if you wish, continuing to wait for the right circumstances.
You take your entire turn to try and catch your breath and bounce back a bit. When you recover, you can remove your highest level of damage or fatigue. Alternately, rather than removing a level of damage or fatigue, you can choose to make a resistance check against an ongoing effect, in addition to the normal resistance check at the end of your turn.
You can only recover once per conflict. Once you have done so, you must recover from any remaining damage, fatigue, or effects normally (or with outside assistance).
When you recover, you gain +2 to your active defenses until the start of your next turn.
You attempt to damage or break an object held or worn by an opponent. Make an attack check against the defense of the character with the object, with a –5 circumstance penalty if you are attacking a held object. If your attack check succeeds, you inflict damage on the object rather than the character. See Damaging Objects for details on breaking things.
You stand up from a prone position. You can go from prone to standing as a free action by making a DC 20 Acrobatics check. Characters with the Instant Up advantage can stand as a free action without a skill check.
You try to trip or throw your opponent to the ground. Make a close attack check against your opponent’s Parry with a –2 circumstance penalty on the check. If the attack succeeds, make an opposed check of your Acrobatics or Athletics against your opponent’s Acrobatics or Athletics. Use whichever has the better bonus in each case.
If you win, the defender is prone in an area adjacent to you of your choice. If you lose, the defender immediately gets another opposed check to try and trip you. If it fails, the trip attempt ends.
A maneuver is a different way of performing a particular action. For example, a defensive attack is an attack action that improves your defenses at the cost of accuracy. maneuvers are optional, you choose which, if any, apply to your action(s) when you declare them. The GM decides if a particular maneuver is appropriate or prohibited by circumstances.
Certain advantages and effects may enhance or work in conjunction with certain maneuvers. See their descriptions for details.
When you make an attack, you can take a penalty of up to –2 on the effect modifier of the attack and add the same number (up to +2) to your attack bonus. Your effect modifier cannot be reduced below +0 and your attack bonus cannot more than double in this way. The changes are declared before you make the attack check and last until the start of your next turn.
When you make an attack you can take a penalty of up to –2 on your active defenses (Dodge and Parry) and add the same number (up to +2) to your attack bonus. Your defense bonuses cannot be reduced below +0 and your attack bonus cannot more than double. The changes to attack and defense bonus are declared before you make the attack check and last until the start of your next turn.
When you make an attack you can take a penalty of up to –2 on your attack bonus and add the same number (up to +2) to your active defenses (Dodge and Parry). Your attack bonus cannot be reduced below +0 and your defense bonuses cannot more than double. The changes to attack and defense bonus last until the start of your next turn. This maneuver does not apply to effects requiring no attack check or allowing no resistance check.
You can use Intimidation in combat as a standard action to undermine an opponent’s confidence. Make an Intimidation check as a standard action opposed by the better of your target’s Insight or Will defense. If your Intimidation check succeeds, your target is impaired (a –2 circumstance penalty on checks) until the end of your next round. With four or more degrees of success, the target is disabled (a –5 penalty) until the end of your next round.
You can use Deception as a standard action to mislead an opponent in combat. Make a Deception check as a standard action opposed by the better of your target’s Deception or Insight. If your Deception check succeeds, the target is vulnerable against your next attack, until the end of your next round (see Vulnerable in the Conditions section of The Basics).
When you attack a defenseless target at close range, you can choose to make the attack as a routine check (see Routine Checks in The Basics). This generally means your attack hits automatically, since the target has no defense bonus, and the routine check overcomes the normal difficulty.
If you choose to make your attack check normally (against DC 10), then a successful hit is treated as a critical hit, with a +5 circumstance bonus to the attack’s resistance DC. Additionally, if you hit with a damaging attack with intent to kill, and the target’s resistance check has three or more degrees of failure, the target dies immediately.
When you make an attack you can take a penalty of up to –2 on your attack bonus and add the same number (up to +2) to the effect bonus of your attack. Your attack bonus cannot be reduced below +0 and the effect bonus cannot more than double. The changes to attack and effect are decided before you make your attack check and last until the start of your next turn. This maneuver does not apply to effects requiring no attack check or allowing no resistance check.
When you charge, you can charge right into your target, using your momentum to strengthen your attack, but potentially receiving some damage from the impact yourself. The damage rank for your attack equals your movement speed rank, or your normal damage rank, with a +1 circumstance bonus, whichever is higher. If you move your full speed before you charge, increase your damage by either means by an additional +1 circumstance bonus. The Gamemaster may limit your base slam attack damage (before applying circumstance modifiers) by the series power level.
Example: Your hero flies into a foe, moving at speed rank 10. His unarmed damage (Strength) rank is only 2, so he uses his speed rank of 10 for the damage. Since he also moved his full speed to build up momentum, he increases his damage by +1 for a total damage rank of 11. If a base damage rank of 10 is too high for the series, the GM may impose a lower limit on his slam attack damage, applying the +1 modifier for the full speed move to the lowered rank.
You suffer some of the impact of slamming into a target; make a Toughness resistance check against half the damage rank of your attack (rounded down).
Example: Your hero hits his target, and must make his own Toughness resistance check against damage rank 5: his slam attack damage of 11, divided by 2, which equals 5.5, rounded down to 5. Fortunately, his helmet provides him with an invisible electromagnetic field for protection and the hero manages to avoid the damage, hoping his opponent won’t be so lucky!
Bonuses to Toughness protect against slam attack damage normally. Immunity to slam damage you inflict is a rank 2 Immunity effect, while Immunity to all slam damage is rank 5 (see Immunity in the Powers).
On occasions when your attack catches a target by surprise, the target is vulnerable to your attacks. Surprise attacks occur during the surprise round of a conflict (see Surprise) and may also occur as a result of stealth or concealment, allowing you to sneak up on a target. The GM can also grant you a surprise attack for an unusual maneuver that catches the target off-guard, such as an Indirect attack (see the Indirect modifier for more).
Multiple attackers can attempt to combine their attacks in order to overwhelm an opponent’s resistance. The attacks to be combined must have the same effect and resistance and be within 5 ranks of each other. So attacks all doing Damage against Toughness can combine, but not with a Mental Blast, for example, which is a Damage effect, but resisted by Will rather than Toughness.
The attackers must all delay to the same point in the initiative order (that of the slowest attacker). Each attacker makes an attack check against the target’s defense. Effects not requiring an attack check may be used in a team attack; count the effect as having one degree of success, if it is not the main attack.
Take the largest effect rank of the attacks that hit and count the combined degrees of success for the other attacks: one degree provides a +2 circumstance bonus to the rank of the main attack, three or more provides a +5 circumstance bonus. Unlike a normal team check, degrees of failure do not reduce success; those attacks simply miss and have no effect. See Team Checks in The Basics for more.
As a result of conflict, characters often suffer adverse conditions (see Conditions in The Basics) from being knocked around and hit with different powers. The specific conditions are discussed in the effects defined in Powers, particularly Affliction and Damage, the most common effects of conflicts.
Living targets remove one damage condition per minute of rest, starting from their most severe condition and working back. So a damaged character recovers from being incapacitated, then staggered, dazed, and finally removes a –1 Toughness check penalty per minute until fully recovered. The Healing and Regeneration effects can speed this process.
Objects, having no Stamina, do not recover from damage unless they have an effect like Regeneration. Instead, they must be repaired. See the guidelines under the Technology skill when repairing damaged object.
Character death is a relatively rare happenstance in the comic books. Technically, it’s not so much rare as it is temporary. The tendency of comic book characters to return from the dead has become so commonplace it is cliché, with various stories and characters poking fun at it.
The rules make character death a similarly rare occurrence. Characters generally only acquire the dying condition after being incapacitated and suffering further harm, which usually means someone is actively trying to kill them. Even then, dying characters have opportunities to stabilize and stave off death. It takes a second active effort to kill a dying character outright, so accidental death due to a single bad die roll is all but impossible for the major characters in a series.
Note that none of this applies to minions, who can be killed simply with a successful attack and a declaration of intent to do so. While heroes in a four-color or mainstream style game generally refrain from killing, minions can get mowed down by the dozens in gritty Iron Age style games. The Gamemaster can also kill off supporting characters as desired to suit the story. The greater “resilience” of main characters is not because they are physically any different or tougher, just that they are literally more important to the story of the game.
This game is designed to emulate the superhero comic books, so characters generally bounce back pretty fast from taking serious beatings, and there is little differentiation between getting punched through a brick wall and shot-up with a .45 caliber (or, for that matter, set on fire or electrocuted). Realistically, any or all of these things should result in severe injuries that take a considerable amount of time to heal; in the comics, most characters just shake it off and are all better by the next scene.
If you want to include lasting or more serious injuries in your game, or just in a particular story, they are better handled as complications (see the Complications section in The Basics for details). This is largely how the comics handle them; most of the time, heroes bounce back from the effects of combat but, occasionally, a character suffers a serious and significant injury—such as a broken arm or head trauma—that plays a role in the story later on. Handle this like any other GM-imposed complication: award the player a victory point when it comes into play, and apply the effects of the complication to the story. Use the conditions defined in The Basics as an idea of the complications facing an injured character.
This game can be broken down into a series of tasks the heroes must perform, from piecing together clues about a villain’s latest scheme to blasting said villain through a wall and disarming his doomsday device in the nick of time. It’s up to the Gamemaster to assign the difficulty of these and numerous other tasks in the game and to determine the outcome of the heroes’ efforts. This section offers some general guidelines on assigning the difficulty of a task.
A good guideline to keep in mind is the chance of an average character (with a modifier of 0) succeeding at an average task (DC 10) is just over 50% (55% to be exact). So any time you have to have an average character do something, or want to set a difficulty you feel is average for a particular character, aim for around that chance of success. If you want to know what bonus is required to have a 55% chance of succeeding at a particular task, just subtract 10 from the DC. So a DC 25 action (a formidable task) requires a bonus of +15 in order to have a 55% chance of success (on a roll of 10 or higher).
Keep in mind that this chance of success on a task allows a character to automatically succeed at that task as a routine check. This is intentional; the average character only really fails at an average task when hurried or under stress. A 55% chance also allows a player to spend a hero point to automatically succeed, since a hero point ensures a die roll of at least 11. (See Hero Points.)
Circumstance modifiers (see their description in The Basics chapter) are one of the GM’s best tools. Rather than having to memorize a lengthy list of special-case modifiers, just keep this guideline in mind: if the situation is in the character’s favor, that’s good for a +2 bonus on a check. If it’s against the character, that’s a –2 penalty. If things are particularly good or bad, up the circumstance modifier to +/–5.
It’s that simple. Note that, practically speaking, a major circumstance modifier effectively shifts a check up or down a degree of difficulty, as shown on the Difficulty Class Examples table. Likewise, a major modifier effectively changes the degree of a graded check by one (see Graded Checks in Chapter 1).
Routine checks reflect that some tasks and situations are so trivial it is not worth having a player roll a check. It would be illogical for the character to have a real chance of failing at the task, since failure should be rare enough to constitute a complication in that situation. Examples include things like a competent driver handling a car under ordinary conditions or a trained professional performing the routine tasks of a job.
Routine checks save time, because you do not need to ask players for a check for every single thing their characters do, but they also provide valuable guidelines for when you should ask the players for a check while running the game.
They set a threshold for the Difficulty of certain actions. When coming up with Difficulty Classes for your adventure, keep the routine check rule in mind. If the DC is low enough that anyone can succeed as a routine check, then it may be too low, or the action may not be worth assigning a check.
Take Perception, for example. If you decide it is a DC 10 Perception check to pick up on some clue or bit of information in the adventure, that Difficulty is low enough that anyone with an unimpaired (0 or higher) Awareness can succeed at the task as a routine check. Assuming the information is also important to the plot, you might be better off to simply tell the players their characters notice it without calling for a check. If there needs to be a chance of failure, then set a higher Difficulty for the check. Of course, If the situation is stressful—such as the midst of combat—then a routine check is not an option, and a lower DC can provide heroes with a reasonably high chance of success with just a small chance of failure for dramatic purposes.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to make checks secretly, so the players don’t necessarily know the result. This is usually the case for any sort of check where the characters don’t immediately know whether they’ve succeeded or failed. For example, Perception checks usually should be made secretly. If the check succeeds, the character notices something. If it fails, then the player doesn’t know whether it’s because the character failed to notice something or there wasn’t anything there to notice in the first place. The same is true for checks involving powers like Mind Reading or Precognition, and certain interaction checks, since the player doesn’t necessarily know the target’s initial attitude or exactly how much it has improved.
One easy way of making secret checks is to make a list of random d20 rolls in advance. When there’s a need for a secret check during the game, mark off one of the rolls from your list and use that for the check result.
Altering The Outcome Of Die Rolls
On occasion the outcome of a particular die roll may seriously impact the game. For example, the heroes are walking into a trap and none of them make the necessary check to notice the danger in time. Or a hero gets in a lucky shot and the villain rolls a 1 on his Toughness check, resulting in a quick defeat. What do you do? In some cases, you can just go with the outcome the dice give you. If none of the heroes spot the trap, have it go off.
Odds are the heroes only end up captured and will have the opportunity to escape and thwart the villain later in the adventure anyway. Even if the results of the die roll are unexpected, so long as they don’t spoil the fun of the adventure, feel free to go with them. Unexpected twists and turns are part of the fun of an RPG, not only for the players, but also for you when you run the game.
On the other hand, some die rolls result in anticlimactic or just plain dumb outcomes. In these cases, feel free to change things to make the outcome more interesting or more in line with how the game should go. In the above example, you might decide the villain is only dazed or stunned rather than being knocked out, momentarily giving the heroes the upper hand, but not ending the climatic encounter prematurely.
Isn’t this cheating? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking it is, but it’s “cheating” in order to make the game more interesting and fun for everyone involved. So long as you don’t alter the outcome of die rolls unfairly or maliciously and you do it to help ensure the game is fun, interesting, and challenging, you shouldn’t have a problem.
Besides, the complication system provides you with the perfect excuse to “cheat” to help out the heroes’ adversaries from time to time, and to compensate the players in the process by awarding them hero points, which they, in turn, can use to “cheat” the fickle die from time to time and ensure their heroes succeed.
Sometimes you’ll run into a situation the game rules don’t cover, or that you’re not sure how to handle. In these cases, feel free to just fake it. Come up with a check you feel suits the situation and go with it, so you can keep the game moving rather than getting bogged down in page flipping and rules arguments. One of the great things about the system is pretty much everything can be resolved with a simple check. So when all else fails, just have a player make a check with the most appropriate trait (ability, skill, or power). If the check beats your estimation of the Difficulty Class, it’s a success. Otherwise, it’s a failure.
You also can fake it when dealing with certain trivial situations in the game. If there’s an important piece of information you want the players to know, don’t bother seeing if they succeed at a Perception check. You can pretend to make the checks, then ignore the results and tell the players what their heroes find. Likewise, if a power level 10 hero is going to take out a PL 3 thug, you don’t have to make all the rolls. Just ask the player to describe how the hero defeats the hapless thug. It’s pretty much going to happen anyway, and there’s no reason why the hero shouldn’t look cool doing it.
The Essentials Of Mutants &Amp; Masterminds
The essence of the system is actually quite simple. The vast majority of the rules expand upon the core mechanics of the system, providing special-case rules or situational modifiers. So long as you understand the essentials of the game, you can handle just about any situation that comes up.
Those interested in playing in a looser and more casual style should focus on these fundamentals and not worry about the special-case rules or more detailed guidelines. If you come up with an unexpected situation, just choose an appropriate type of check, a Difficulty Class, and make a roll to see if the character succeeds or not! It’s that simple.
Every trait—abilities, skills, powers, and so forth—has an associated rank, a value telling you how strong (or weak) that trait is. Ranks run from –5 (very weak) all the way up to 20 (incredibly strong) or more. You can rate virtually any trait by its rank. With the correspondence of rank and measure, you can rate virtually anything—distance, weight, time, and so forth—by rank.
Every task—from making an attack to avoiding harm to figuring out a gadget—has a Difficulty Class or DC, a value that tells you how hard that task is to perform. DCs range from 0 (automatic, so easy it’s not worth rolling) to 40 (nearly impossible).
Actions are all resolved through checks, a roll of a 20-sided die, plus a modifier. If the total of the check equals or exceeds the Difficulty Class, the action is a success. If it doesn’t, then it’s a failure.
Beneficial conditions apply a +2 bonus on the check (+5 for very highly beneficial), adverse conditions impose a –2 penalty (–5 for highly adverse). This is true whether you’re trying to use a skill, make an attack, use a power, or what have you.
Avoiding an effect is a resistance check, with a Difficulty Class of 10 + the effect’s modifier or rank. A successful resistance means you avoid the effect, a failed check means you suffer some (or all) of the effect.
That’s the core: roll d20 + rank and modifiers vs. a Difficulty Class. If you understand that, you can do pretty much anything in the game. The rest is just detail. When in doubt, or whenever you want to speed the game along, just have a player make a check of the appropriate trait rank against a DC based on how difficult the task is and you can’t really go wrong.
Maintaining Game Balance
Part of the Gamemaster’s job is to make sure the game is fair and balanced, so everyone can have a good time and all the heroes have an equal chance of doing some fun and exciting things in the course of the adventure. It can be tricky sometimes, but this game gives you tools for balancing the traits of the heroes against different challenges and handling problems that may come up.
Rules Issues &Amp; House Rules
While this game presents a fairly complete and balanced game system for superhero roleplaying, no one game system is perfectly suited to every gaming group’s needs and tastes, and this one is no exception. Sooner or later, issues may arise over particular rules and how they are applied in your game. In some cases, it may be an unexpected situation not covered by the existing rules, requiring you to extrapolate and come up with a ruling. In other situations, a particular rule may be problematic, making the game less fun because it doesn’t suit your personal tastes or style of play.
In all situations, remember: If a rule doesn’t suit your gaming group, then by all means, change it! A corollary of this is: The Gamemaster overrules the rules. That is, if you decide to make up a particular “house rule” about how something works in your game, or to interpret something from the Hero’s Handbook in a particular way, then that’s the way it works in your game. Players should be respectful of the Gamemaster’s job to set up and regulate the rules of the game for everyone’s enjoyment. Any disputes should be discussed with an eye toward finding a solution everyone finds satisfactory, rather than trying to stick to the exact letter of the “rules as written.” The spirit is to have fun. As long as you focus on that, you can’t be far off.
The power level guidelines built into the rules help ensure characters of the same power level are at least in the same ballpark in terms of overall effectiveness. Still, there may be times when a particular combination of abilities and effects makes a character too powerful compared to the other heroes or to the villains in your series.
When this happens, talk to the player and ask him or her to change the character’s traits to something more balanced and better suited to the series. If necessary, explain that the character makes things less fun for everyone asis and changing the character will make the game better for everyone. Suggest some possible changes to make the character balance out better.
Saying No To Your Players
A big part of maintaining game balance is the ability to say “no” to your players, setting guidelines for characters and sticking to them. Some of those guidelines are already in place: the limits imposed by power level. They help ensure players can’t just put all their power points into a single overwhelming combat trait (like a +50 attack bonus, or something similar).
Even with those limits in place, however, there may be times when a player comes up with a character concept or trait that just isn’t suited for the game and can be unbalancing. For example, it can be hard to run mysteries around a hero with a lot of ranks of Mind Reading. If you plan to have mystery stories, you may want to consider limiting Mind Reading, Postcognition, and similar effects, or finding innovative ways for villains to get around them. If you’re running a four-color game where going for the kill is rare and a player wants to run a bloodthirsty vigilante hero, you may just have to say no and ask the player to come up with another idea.
Note that the GM has the authority to say “no” to a particular power effect or other trait, even if it is perfectly “legal” in terms of the game rules and the power level of the series. It’s virtually impossible to present a “one-size-fits-all” system of game balancing characters as diverse as comic book heroes without heavily limiting potential concepts, so goes the route of presenting a wide range of available power effects (omitting some real game-breakers). The GM can—and should—choose to limit others on a case-by-case basis, as best suits the needs of the game.
Having standards for your series and sticking to them can save you a lot of trouble in the long run by heading off problems before they happen.
Saying Yes To Your Players
Many roleplaying games (even this one) spend a lot of space telling you how to say “no” to your players: how to tell them a power they want is unbalanced, how to tell them the character they have in mind doesn’t fit into the group, and so forth. Some might get the idea that it’s the Gamemaster’s job just to say “no” and frustrate the players. Nothing could be further from the truth! True, sometimes you must be firm and say “no” to something for the betterment of the game and to safeguard everyone’s enjoyment, but a Gamemaster who also learns to say “yes” to the players can ensure everyone has fun. Players are a cunning lot, so it’s a virtual certainty that, sooner or later, they will come up with something for their heroes to do that’s not covered in the rules. It may be a particularly innovative maneuver, a new use for a skill or power, using the environment to their advantage in some way, or something you never would have considered before. When this happens, take a moment and ask yourself: “Would it be fun if what the player is proposing happened?” A good way to think about it is, if you saw something similar in a comic book or a superhero cartoon or movie, would it be good? If the answer is “yes” then you probably should let the player at least try it. Gamemasters have three major tools to help them say “yes” to their players:
- Modifiers: Remember the GM’s rule of thumb: if something generally aids or makes a task easier for a character, it’s worth a +2 bonus. If it makes the task harder or hinders the character, it’s worth a –2 penalty, +/–5 for major benefits or penalties. This allows you to assign modifiers for almost any situation on the fly, without having to look things up and slow down the game while puzzling out all the pluses and minuses.
- Extra Effort: When players want their characters to pull off something outlandish, rather than saying “no” let them try but make them pay for it by counting it as extra effort (see Extra Effort). Extra effort already allows players to pull off all kinds of stunts, so there’s no reason you can’t expand the list. This works particularly well with innovative uses of powers. Since extra effort allows a character to perform power stunts, it can cover a lot of ground.
- Hero Points: Like extra effort, hero points allow characters to pull off amazing stunts. If a player wants to do something that isn’t normally a part of the character’s abilities, require a hero point to make the attempt. The hero point doesn’t do anything but let the character try something outlandish, and players won’t be able to pull off such stunts all the time because they have a limited number of hero points to spend. Still, it allows for those amazing, one-of-a-kind stunts that happen in the comic books.
Even gamemasters are only human. Sooner or later, you’ll make a mistake, whether it’s forgetting a particular rule or overlooking something about a character or an element of the story. Don’t worry, it happens, and it doesn’t mean your game is ruined!
The best way to handle a mistake is to own up to it. Tell your players you screwed up and need to make a change in order to keep the game fair, and fun. For example, if you allow a new power into the game and it turns out it’s way more powerful and useful than you thought, and it’s ruining everyone else’s fun, that’s a problem. Tell your players you made a mistake letting that power into the game in the first place and you have to change the way it works in order to make the game fun and fair for everyone. Be reasonable and straightforward in handling your mistakes and your players are much more likely to be cooperative and understanding about them when they (inevitably) happen.
Lost In Translation
Some staples of the comic books, while enjoyable in the stories themselves, don’t always translate well to the medium of roleplaying games. You might want to take these “translation issues” into account when planning your adventures.
Defeat And Capture
Heroes in the comics are frequently defeated early on in a story. The typical structure is: the heroes encounter the villain, suffer a defeat or reversal, and then come back from defeat to overcome the villain. In longer stories there may be several reversals: the villain beats the heroes and escapes, then beats the heroes and puts them in a deathtrap, which they must escape to make their final confrontation with the bad guy.
Mutants & Masterminds encourages this kind of narrative structure by awarding hero points for defeats, capture, and similar complications suffered by the heroes. Essentially, the more the heroes struggle early on in the game, the more resources (in this case, hero points) they have to overcome the villain later .
Defeat in the comics isn’t a serious problem, since it usually just results in the heroes facing another obstacle, like a deathtrap, rather than ending the story. Some players, however, don’t care for the idea of defeat, even when there is some kind of reward for it. This may come from other RPGs, where defeat has much more serious consequences, up to and including the death of the heroes! It can also come from associating any kind of defeat or setback with “losing the game.” These players may overreact to potential defeats in the game.
The best way of handling this is to discuss it with your players. Point out that an early defeat by the villain is not necessarily a “loss,” but a complication, and that they earn hero points for complications, leading up to the point where they can use their earned points against the villain. If this doesn’t address the issue, you may need to give the heroes complications other than defeats, at least at first. When you do have the heroes defeated as a complication, make sure the players all know that there is no chance for their heroes to avoid this once you spring it on them, to minimize the opportunity for them to struggle and rail hopelessly against it.
Often, in the comics, the villain gets away. Usually it is during the initial encounters of a story: the heroes run into the villain, who escapes for the next encounter. In the comic books, it’s easy for a writer to engineer the villain’s escape. In a game, you may have to contend with players unwilling to let the villain go, so long as there’s any chance of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. These players will try anything and everything before they give up, which can cause problems for the story and spoil the game for others. The main ways of dealing with this issue are: providing the villain with an effective escape plan, and proper application of hero point awards, when those plans go into effect.
Comic books sometimes have “guest stars” in them and some guest heroes are more popular than the main characters! In an RPG, however, the “guest stars” means “nonplayer characters run by the GM,” so it’s not a good idea to let them dominate the action. This just makes the players feel upstaged and superfluous.
That’s not to say you can’t have guest heroes show up in your adventures. The trick is to make sure they don’t upstage the heroes. The only exception is when you want the players to dislike the “guests” as much as possible! For example, if you have a story wherein mind-controlled heroes try to upstage the player characters, then go right ahead and have the NPCs steal their thunder. You can be sure the players won’t like them one bit! The rest of the time, it’s best if guest heroes play supporting roles. Have them be the ones defeated and captured by the villains, for example, and allow the player characters to rescue them (also dealing with the issue of captures, previously). Have NPCs come to the heroes for aid or advice. Retiring heroes can pass the torch to a younger generation, while younger, less experienced heroes can look to the player characters for inspiration and guidance. Another option is to allow the players to run the guest stars instead of, or in addition to, their regular characters. As long as you’re not upstaging the players, it’s okay to allow them to upstage their own characters! For example, you can allow the players to run members of another hero team, meeting their regular characters as NPCs, or you can have two teams band together, mixing and matching characters from each and having each player run a regular hero and a guest hero. This can be a great way to include various heroes as guest characters in your games.
Comics have different levels of lethality and character death. It’s important to make the expectations of your series clear to the players, just so there’s no misunderstanding. A hero who refuses to kill under any circumstances might be an interesting oddity in a dark and gritty series full of militaristic super-agents, but a cold-blooded vigilante in a four-color world of merciful, law-abiding heroes can quickly become a problem (especially when the heroes feel honor-bound to see their “teammate” answer for his crimes). So it’s best to be sure everyone is on the same page to avoid unnecessary disagreements.
Another common element in the comics is the loner character: dressed in black, often trained in stealth, and preferring to work alone. That’s all well and good in a solo story, but difficult to include in a team of superheroes. You can get away with a loner who is a reluctant team member in-character with players who understand and play along with the bit. Far worse is a team of loners, none of whom get along! You can accommodate some loner characters by giving them opportunities to show off their skills and requiring a minimum level of cooperation and willingness to work within the team. You’re better off discouraging entire groups of loners right from the beginning, since odds are they won’t work together for very long.