We’ve talked a lot on this site about adapting D&D 4th Edition to a more “Classic” feel, but if you’re burned out on D&D’s method of, “kill monsters, take/sell their stuff, and then go shopping,” re-skinning the game isn’t your only option. If you’re not particularly attached to a particular set of rulebooks, it may be more viable to look for something that was designed with your idea of “Classic Fantasy” in mind.
So let’s take another look at Mutants & Masterminds.
Clearly, He’s Lost It
No, really, I’m not joking. Follow my train of logic, here. If, A) Mutants and Masterminds is designed to do anything that is done in a comic book, then B) Anything that has appeared in a comic book is fair game. Anyone else familiar with the comics featuring Red Sonja and Conan the Barbarian, respectively?
Now, it’s true that DC Adventures/M&M 3E has yet to publish a single splatbook (though I’ve no doubt that they’re coming) and the core super’s setting is the only one provided by default. But let’s take a look at the game’s history and see what we find. . .
Oh, that’s right. Warriors and Warlocks. An M&M 2E supplement designed to adapt the game to a Swords and Sorcery setting. . . which is basically half a step from Classic Fantasy. Convenient.
I could just point you in that direction, but unless you’re playing M&M 2E (which really is a perfectly letigimate option) that would be irresponsible. What I’ll do instead is talk a bit about what’s applicable to using Mutants and Masterminds for a fantasy game.
Heroic, Paragon, and Epic: Tiers in M&M
Rather than having levels in classes, or dividing things into tiers the way D&D 4th Edition does, M&M is a point-buy system that uses something called Power Level (PL) to determine the focal point of the campaign – this sets a cap on pretty much all the important numbers in the game. Power level ranges from 0 (okay, 1, normally) for the incredibly weak, and upward to a soft limit of 20 for your omnipotent deities. Here are some rough ideas and benchmarks to give you an idea of how the system works – I’m going to try to use as many recognizable examples as possible to help establish the range I discuss.
PL 0-1: Mostly non-combat characters. May be highly skilled in certain areas – the skill caps are high enough that professionalism and skill mastery is perfectly possible, even at this low level of power. Aunt May, your housecat, and the vast majority of innocent bystanders and villagers fall under this category. Civilians.
PL 2-3: Gangsters, thugs, rogues, thieves, brutes with guns and a little of that dangerous knowledge. Goblins, perhaps. Maybe some orcs, even.
PL 3-5: Town guards, Police officers, SWAT Officers on the high end; by this point we’re looking at some serious combat training.
PL 5-7: Soldiers, mercenaries, and “street level” super-heroes. Think middle Heroic Tier and you’re not too far off. PL 5 is the minimum level assigned to “Trained Combatants,” which most police forces technically aren’t. Think the 1st few levels of D&D and you’ll have a fair idea.
PL 7-9: “Pulp” heroes, more experienced “street level,” superheroic side-kicks, the vast majority of characters from action movies, and most of the characters from Watchmen (with the probable exception of Dr. Manhattan) would probably fall in here. Robin is a good comic-book example at PL 8. Most of the characters from Lord of the Rings probably fit in here, too. Think somewhere between Heroic Tier and the first half of Paragon – that’s about where the focus of the game is going to be. Funny how that much range fits into so small a space, isn’t it? I’d also fit Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja right in the middle of this range, along with (probably) Drizz’t. Oh, and most characters from Star Wars. Indiana Jones.
PL 10-12: One character of this level is likely responsible for the safety of a city, and may occasionally get into teamups for “the fate of the world.” In a fantasy game, you’re determining the course of the world on a regular basis, even when you don’t realize it. Catwoman, Green Arrow and Black Canary fall in PL 10 (and probably, so does Robin Hood). So does Nightwing. Batman, Aquaman and The Flash, are all officially rated at PL 12; I’d estimate Spider-man at around the same point. Zatanna is an 11 (though only offensively). Hercules and similar mythological figures (before they became comicbook characters) probably would fall in this range, too. I’d also estimate this range for the X-men and the Fantastic Four… Er, I mean, Future Foundation. (Blast you, Marvel, and your current continuity.)
PL 13-15: The heavy hitters of the Justice League and the Avengers, demigods, dragons, and Kryptonians: by this point, you’re occasionally dealing with the fate of the world without backup. Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Captain Marvel, Thor, Loki, Green Lantern, The Silver Surfer, Hercules (post-comicbook incarnation), full-grown dragons, mad wizards, Elminster, the most powerful demons… And of course, D&D characters who are nearing (or have reached) their Epic Destiny.
PL 16: Black Adam, Darkseid, Thanos. Mad “gods” or beings powerful enough that they might as well be gods. Asmodeus, maybe.
PL 18: The Tarrasque, Galactus.
Okay, so by PL 18 I’m just guessing. It’s fun to think about, though.
A Question of Scale
Most superheroic-type games have movement speeds in the 1000′s of miles per hour. Fantasy tends to be a bit lower key with respect to movement rates, because traveling is part of the genre. Speed, Flight, and Teleport should be limited in their use – anything over 1 rank should have a flaw attached of some kind.
Speed may actually be an exception for some characters – it has been pointed out that about 2-4 ranks of speed can represent Olympic level running prowess. So consider that a legitimate option for Monks and the like.
Basically, though, the idea is to limit things down to the point where you could conceivably use a battle mat if you really wanted to. Not that you need one. If you’re looking for superheroes with swords, feel free to toss this out the window, but you’re losing out on the chance for “random encounters,” right?
I’d also highly recommend the optional rule from Warriors and Warlocks about not charging power-points for equipment that’s native to the setting, unless it’s really integral to the character concept.
What about magic items?
Powers with the Removable flaw – they cost you less points that way. Otherwise, they’re exactly the same as any other element of your character. You want them, you pay points for them – but in no way are they mandatory.
Where does class fit into all this?
Well, it doesn’t. Unless you want it to.
See, M&M doesn’t have classes. Warriors and Warlocks offered templates for fantasy archetypes, which worked beautifully – just pay the point cost for the template and you’re gold, with points left over for customization. Add some templates for fantasy races and you’ve got your D&D equivalent all set.
Here’s a sample template for M&M 3rd edition, assuming a PL 8 game – took me about 30 seconds:
Wizard: 30 points total.
- Magic: Base effect, Magic Missile: Bolt of arcane force, Ranged Damage 8: 16 points
- Choice of 5 other spells: 5 points
- Skills: 8 points
- Expertise (Magic) 8, Choice of one other
- Advantages: 1 point
- Extraordinary Effort
- Complications: Power Loss (Magic: must be able to speak and gesture in order to cast spells.)
It gets pretty easy with practice. And in a PL 8 game, you’d still have 90 points left to finish defining the character. Take care of his attack skills in whatever way you want, boost magic’s rank if your trade-offs allow it, whatever.
“But wait,” you say, “what about my favorite prestige class?”
Well, in terms of flavor, here’s mine:
- Arcane Bowmanship: Base effect, Mystic Arrow: Bolt of arcane force, Ranged Damage 8, Removable (requires bow): 16 points – 6 points = 10 points
- Choice of 5 other spells: 5 points
- Skills: 8 points
- Expertise (Magic) 8, Acrobatics 8,
- Advantages: 3 points
- Extraordinary Effort, Equipment 2 (Longbow)
Yep. It’s that simple. Though in the archer’s case, I might drop the rank of Magic by 2 and increase his accuracy instead – it all depends on what combat style I think he’d favor.
Which reminds me.
How does advancement work?
1-3 Power Points earned in a session, spent on whatever the player wants. It’s a little slower than D&D in the sense that you don’t have big, sweeping changes happening every few sessions, but the gradual flow of Power Points is generally nicer – want a new “Feat/Advantage”? Pick it up after the session. Need another magic item? Save your points, or get it as an alternate effect of one you already have. Feel like you’ve exercised a particular skill? Boost it a little with the points you earned from the session and become even better at it. Used a particular power stunt a lot and you really liked it? Get it as an alternate effect so you can use it even more often (Power Stunts often wind up being a way of trying out new things before you spend points on them).
What about combat?
Fast and brutal. Especially if you run out of Hero Points – all the more reason to let those complications trigger! But on the plus side, healing is usually pretty fast between combats (like a comicbook) (unless it’s a lasting injury complication) – so you can play without a cleric if you want to.
Okay, so the mechanics are good, but why should I switch?
Here’s my top 11 reasons. Why top 11? Ask the Nostalgia Critic.
- You want something that melds the benefits of rules-lite gaming with the best elements of d20.
- You’ve ever forgotten what character you created and started playing the same guy you always play at the table.
- You want a game that features fast-paced, somewhat brutal combat over the slow dungeon crawls you’ve been doing.
- You hate the rigid nature of classes and multiclassing; you came to build a character, not a collection of stats.
- You want something flexible enough that when you decide next month that you’d really rather play Cyberpunk, you don’t have to learn an entire new system in order to do it.
- You don’t like spending your time between sessions “shopping” and trying to guess which spells will be useful next time.
- You like a game that emphasizes the genre you’re playing in and the world around you over the rules they’ve devised to simulate it.
- You like a game that has a strong community of helpful people, like the one at Atomic Think Tank.
- You like the idea of a game that simulates a genre, not reality.
- You’re sick of “Spells per day.”
- You want a game that puts the role back in role-playing.
Welcome to Warriors & Warlocks
Arcane Archer image from pulyx