This week we’re building a campaign setting for Mutants & Masterminds, showcasing the rules along the way. Yesterday I gave a whistle-stop overview of the game; today we’re going to get our hands dirty by answering a few questions.
“Who are the heroes?” and “Who are the villains?”. If you can answer those two questions, everything else is just eye candy. The entire campaign (regardless of setting, genre or system) should revolve around our heroes; they’re the lead roles in the imaginary movie you’re making. Just as (unless you’re Woody Allen) you wouldn’t pick a location first then just drop actors like an afterthought into the scenes, our heroes are the centre of the story. Who your heroes are sets the tone, style and pace of the game. They’re the ones our imaginary camera is focused on most of the time, after all. We’re not looking at fully stated characters at this stage – these are broad sweeps of a brush. “The heroes are soldiers in war-torn Paris”, “The heroes are refugees from the planet Ba’arth” and “The heroes are wanderers through time trying to find a way home.” are all great answers to this question.
The villain’s role is to try to steal the limelight; they’re the ones who’s main purpose in life is to take the attention away from the heroes and get hurt as a result. Metaphorically, the heroes are the egg and villains are the sperm. Ok, bad comparison. Moving on.
I’ve been reading and growing to love the Exiles and New Exiles comics, so I’m going to shamelessly draw inspiration from there to create our setting, adding in a dash of Booster Gold and Legion of Superheroes to the mix.
The heroes are superpowered individuals drawn from all across the multiverse dedicated to preventing threats that could destabilize the delicate balance of the Weave. They battle against a wide range of foes and act to stop events before they reach a cosmic scale. The heroes hearken from a range of races and alternate dimensions and bring their own unique outlook to the team. Membership is flexible and the players are encouraged to create and play new team members as they wish.
There is no central or defined campaign-spanning villain (yet!). The heroes confront isolated incidents that threaten to spill out of control if not kept in check. These may range in scale from preventing (or solving) a crime that could have multiversal implications to taking sides in a galaxy-spanning war that is risking the safety of neighbouring alternate universes. The battles are local in scale, though potentially dimension-spanning in effect.
This is going to be a carte blanche sandbox game where the players have free reign to create pretty much anything they can imagine. If they want to play a cat-headed Power Girl (and who doesn’t?) or a lump of morphic protoplasm that’s cool by me. The multiverse is a big place and I’m happy for the players to create a new alternate universe as origin for their hero, or use an existing one of mine (or another player’s) devising. I’m also encouraging the players to generate multiple characters so that the hero team is larger than the number of players. This gives them freedom to choose who they want to play each session and means it’s ok if they can’t make the game; the unused heroes are busy saving other multiverses, on monitor duty, on vacation or whatever. There’s also a mechanical incentive for the players to generate multiple characters, but I’ll save that until Day 4 when we build the heroes a Base of Operations.
In Mutants & Masterminds, the single most important rules decision the GM has to make is setting the Power Level. This is a number that represents how powerful the heroes are in comparison to the human “norm”. Most ordinary joes are PL 0 or 1, cops are PL 3 and soldiers around PL 5. “Average” superheroes (a contradiction, surely) are Power Level 10. This approximates the power level of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and the like. More street-level heroes hover between PL 6 and PL 8, and the Justice League around PL 12 and PL 14.
I’m going to set this one at PL 10 with an aim to get them to PL 12 as soon as possible. I want the players to feel out of their depth at the start and need each other to handle the challenges they face, but as they come to understand each other and operate as a team they’ll find inner reserves that make them up to the task. Ideally, we’re looking at increasing the Powel Level by one every 5 sessions to get it to 12, then levelling off at increasing it by 1 every 10 sessions or so.
The Power Level sets the limits for things like Attack Bonus, Damage, Saves and Skill Ranks. It’s designed so that, for example, a PL 3 crook’s best attack and defense would be a kevlar vest and a shotgun whereas your PL 10 hero’s blast can cut through a tank’s armour with a single blast. Power level also sets the default starting Power Points for the characters though the GM is free to set them differently if he wants. At PL 10, the heroes will usually have 150pp to spend. I’m going to increase that a touch to 160pp for reasons that will become clear another time.
Power Level and the number of Power Points have much more important impact than first appears. At the lowest levels, the majority of a character’s points are likely to be spent on abilities and skills making it a grittier, more hardcore game. As the Power Level rises the players are more likely to be spending most of their points in Superpowers and the game shifts in tone. At the very highest level the players are truly cosmic in ability. This is a wide generalization, of course – it’s possible (fun, in fact) to create a Superpowered PL 3 or a highly-skilled PL 16 but these are the exception rather than the norm.
Tomorrow, it’s the turn of WHAT.
Till next time!