Welcome back, dice fondlers! Last week, we talked about the early days of Mutants and Masterminds, as well as some of the highs and lows of the books from respective editions. This week, we’re going to start breaking down character creation and talking about how you, yes you, can learn how to create a character in Mutants and Masterminds.
Don’t take this lightly. If you can create a character in Mutants and Masterminds, you’re 2/3 of the way to creating a character in several other systems like Big Eyes, Small Mouth, or Champions. After all, Mutants and Masterminds is part of a proud family of RPGs that are all effect-driven and operate in very similar ways.
When approaching character creation in Mutants and Masterminds, there are definite considerations to be taken into account.
First and foremost, your group needs to set a Power Level and establish a setting/thematic era for the game. While Power Level may seem more important for both game mechanics and for flavoring your character, figuring out the setting/thematic era is equally critical. Mutants and Masterminds can actually handle anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer monster of the week or James Bond style superspy shenanigans, as well as the madness that is cosmic tier superhero comics, like The Spectre, The Living Tribunal, and all of Thanos’ shenanigans with the Infinity Gauntlet.
Once you have these concepts nailed down for your game, you can select exactly where your game will fall on the 1-20 Power Level scale that Mutants and Masterminds uses. Heroic Fantasy falls around Power Level 8, while Power Level 12 puts you on the tier of the Justice League. Power Level 14 and up starts reaching into minor Deity status and the capacity to control cosmic forces.
Power Levels (not as high as 9,000)
Now, you might be asking, how does Power Level function? Am
I leveling up like in Dungeons and Dragons? Is this a hard cap on my powers?
Well, no, that’s not really accurate for either of those. Power Level primarily
gives us the amount of points we get to use to build our character. It does put temporary limits on our characters,
but Mutants and Mastermind’s built-in suggestion to give players one Power
Point per session slowly raises the Power Level by one level per 15 games. The other
thing that Power Level limits is just how high skilled players can make their characters.
This is referred to as “The Trade-Offs.” These are basic limiters placed so
that players don’t overload a character with a single overwhelming power at the
expense of all other abilities. Without the trade-offs, a person could make a
character that simply never gets hit or whose accuracy to hit and damage rating
would let them blow up the moon, even at Power Level 8. However, with the
trade-offs, there’s an upper ceiling forcing your character to diversify at
least a little.
Yes, quiet down, I know I’m still talking about the relatively boring stuff where we figure our how many points you get to spend on your super awesome character, and you still don’t know what you even GET to buy with these, am I right? Don’t answer that, I know I am. So, let’s fix that.
A character in Mutants and Masterminds is broken down into, essentially, five parts. These are Abilities, Advantages, Defenses, Skills, and Powers. Arguably, Equipment counts as a sixth part, but I think that clouds the issue, so let me explain. I said last week that this system is based off the D20 license that came about during the release of 3rd Edition D&D, correct? Well, Abilities are basically Abilities from D&D (the names changed for 3rd Edition Mutants and Masterminds, but before then, they were largely the same). Skills are the same as D&D skills. Advantages are essentially Feats. However, there has been a huge change going from D&D to this system – Abilities don’t generate a modifier and Skills don’t provide a generic proficiency bonus like in 5E. Instead, Abilities and Skills are rated from -5 to 20 and their numbers are used without any modification. Advantages function almost exactly like Feats though, essentially let you break the game’s rules on a case by case basis, in order to make some aspect of the game work differently for you.
With the familiar out of the way, we can look to Defenses. Even some of these are recognizable as traits you might’ve seen in other fantasy games. The difference is that each one is derived from a specific Ability and then can be modified by Advantages OR they can be raised independently of your Abilities. This is a big deal, as they can help characters with relatively weak Abilities lean on their special Powers, while cutting the Point cost in half.
Also, Defenses are subject to the Trade-Off system like Skills and Abilities, so a character doesn’t make themselves the fastest Dodge master on Earth, while also having a Toughness that renders them immune to physical damage.
As you’ve started to see, there’s a lot to consider when putting together a Mutants and Masterminds character from scratch. Next week, we’ll talk Powers and start to break down exactly how to tackle the beautiful puzzle that is creating your perfect Mutants and Masterminds character. Until then my friends, remember to…