Ronin Roundtable: Back to Basics

I love to cook. I find the process of preparing a meal relaxing and love feeding family and friends wholesome and satisfying food. Still, there are plenty of times when I find I don’t have the time to cook something from scratch, and I’m happy to accept a little help from a meal-kit or some other prepared items. I also understand some people don’t care for cooking all that much, or have even less time to devote to it. It’s just a fact of modern life. Likewise, I love to tinker and build things in many of my roleplaying games, but the demands of day-to-day life are such that spending a lot of time learning and preparing a game isn’t realistic, or just isn’t a particular gamer’s style.

So, when discussing new products at Green Ronin’s annual planning summit, one of the ideas we talked about was what has become The Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook: A simpler approach to the popular, long-running superhero RPG that looks to take some of the preparation out, while keeping all of the fun and the essence of the game rules in.

At its heart, M&M is not an overly complex game to play: Most everything is a d20 + ability or modifier check vs. a Difficulty, including dealing damage and other conditions. Where a fair amount of the complexity comes in is during the character design phase: M&M has a system of point-spending and power effects and modifiers that allows you to build almost anything, but that building process takes time and some knowledge of the system and how it works. Even with software tools like Hero Lab, it can be involved, and not everyone looking to play a superhero wants to put in that kind of work.

So, for M&M Basic, we offer a “meal kit” approach, where a lot of the prep work is done for you and you get an easy-to-follow “recipe.” Hero archetypes based on the Quickstart Character Generator from the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook offer you an easy series of descriptive choices: Is your Crimefighter brooding, cunning, or observant? Apply these ability modifiers. Are they confident, indomitable, relentless, tricky…? Apply these Advantages, and so forth. With just a few decisions, you can quickly put together dozens of different starter heroes based on classic types and be ready to play.

The book offers a few similar tools for the Gamemaster. There’s a sample adventure, and a “training wheels area” in the Doom Room, but also several “encounter archetypes” including different heists and crimes, rescues, and disasters, with all the game info to run them, which the GM can mix-and-match to create adventures with a minimum of prep, or use to supplement other adventure ideas. Likewise, while there are some sample villains (and plenty of minions), GMs can use the same tools for creating heroes to build opposing villains quickly and easily.

Best of all, the actual game play of M&M Basic is exactly the same as in the third edition Deluxe Hero’s Handbook. We simplify and explain things in a more step-by-step approach, and play down some of the more complex options, but players who learn from Basic can easily “step up” to the full-featured game whenever they want without having to re-learn how anything is done. We hope that M&M Basic offers long-time fans of the game a way to introduce eager new players as well as a means of making their own game prep a little easier from time to time, and an avenue for those who have always wanted to try Mutants & Masterminds, but who might have been scared off by the character building, a new opportunity.

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.