Ronin Roundtable: Gamemastering Basics

As Mutants & Masterminds developer Crystal Frasier is demonstrating in previews leading up to pre-orders, The Basic Hero’s Handbook has a lot to offer both old and new players interested in the World’s Greatest Superhero RPG.

 

“But what about Gamemasters?” you ask. Fear not! As it happens, The Basic Hero’s Handbook (or M&M Basic for short) has a lot of offer M&M GM’s as well, including those of you who may want to start running your own games. What sorts of things will long-time and new Gamemasters find in the book?

Encounter Archetypes

M&M Basic provides several “encounter archetypes,” looking at a particular encounter or situation in some detail, including how to stage it, what the game mechanics look like, and different variations you can play out with it. The book includes encounter archetypes such as:

The Doom Room: How to run all of those “training exercise” scenes where the heroes cooperate against a fiendish simulation, or compete against each other. The material in this encounter also does double-duty in supplying game mechanics you can use for various villainous traps!

The Heist: The classic robbery scenario, including what the crooks are stealing, the potential for innocent bystanders in harm’s way, and ways the thieves may use to cover their escape when the heroes try to thwart their heist. Variations include how to mix-and-match some supervillains and different kinds of heists.

The Rescue: A falling jetliner, a runaway train, people in danger and heroes to the rescue! How to handle rescuing people endangered by these and similar problems, along with many variations that can turn them into even more complex encounters, such as rescuing a falling passenger jet while also dealing with the villains who damaged it!

Disaster! Looks at a different sort of rescue encounter, heroes saving people in danger from a catastrophe. This can range from a building on fire or damaged in a quake, to a storm or some other disaster, and sets up how to stage rescues and give the heroes challenges that are not necessarily things they can punch their way through.

You can use these encounter archetypes as building blocks for your own superheroic adventures or time-savers in your own adventure design, since the essential work has been laid out for you.

Ready to Use Villains

M&M Basic offers a set of ready-to-run villains with a variety of different power levels, from 8 to 15, complete with easy-to-read character sheets detailing just what the villain’s powers do in clear terms. For example, take a look at the new Luna Moth, a daring, flying thief with gossamer wings and chemical cocoons to challenge your heroes.

 

Other foes described in Basic terms for Gamemasters include the Power Corps, the Battle Brothers, the mentalist Mindfire, the space bounty hunter Loma Slife, Malador the Mystic, and the sinister Overshadow! Plus GMs get a variety of ready-made monsters and minions to round out the villains and to put between them and the heroes.

Shadows of the Past

Plus the Basic Hero’s Handbook includes a complete M&M adventure, Shadows of the Past, making use of the villains and encounter building blocks provided in the book. You can play through this adventure to introduce a group to the game or kick off a new M&M campaign, and use it as an example for building your own exciting adventures.

Combine this with GM advice and reference material and The Basic Hero’s Handbook has everything a group needs to get started playing the World’s Greatest Superhero RPG!

Ronin Roundtable: MUTANTS & MASTERFUL STUNTS

 

I’ve used the past few Ronin Roundtables to preview products and plug some of our talented and ingenious third-party publishers, but this week I want to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: Making the system work for you. I’m a great lover of homebrew—systems are there to work for you; you’re not there to work for them. If a rule doesn’t do what you want, then change it or toss it. No mercy.

But what if you find another rule you really like, and want to roll it into your Mutants & Masterminds experience? Or you want to add some of your favorite elements of Mutants & Masterminds to another system? For these tasks you need the hands of a surgeon, not the axe of an executioner (an axecutioner, if you will).

Let’s look at one of my favorite elements of Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system: Stunts. Stunts add a lot of cinematic fun to a game, with players able to show off and get creative in the moment. I like running a cinematic table for my superhero games, so I’m interesting in borrowing from AGE for my own M&M games.

I’m going to use the stunt lists from pages 36 and 79 of the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook, but each book for the AGE system (Fantasy Age, Dragon AGE, Blue Rose, and the upcoming Modern AGE) have their own slightly-modified stunt lists to best suit their related genres.

What and Why?

Before we figure out how to import a rule, let’s take a look at what stunts do and why, and see if anything in Mutants & Masterminds is already doing the same thing. The stunt system fleshes out interaction and exploration scenes with new tactics, giving some heft and direction to what is otherwise just a mechanical skill check. It lets the player character do impressive or unexpected things, even with relatively low die rolls. Mutants & Masterminds largely relies on player creativity for that (which is fine) and freeform rulings from the GM. You get a little definition in success by measuring how many degrees of success you score on a check, but even that is largely abstract. So the exploration and roleplaying stunts could shift a little of the power and the burden of creativity from the gamemaster to the players for skill checks. Sounds good.

But the stunts also let PCs try out innovative attacks and strategies in combat, and Mutants & Masterminds already has a fairly robust combat system. Stunts are how the AGE system handles the actions—taunt, disarm, power attack—that M&M handles via actions and maneuvers and Advantages. The stunt lists from Fantasy AGE provide a few additional attack options, like punching through armor and attacking a second time, that aren’t generally options in M&M for balance reasons. Still, they could work if we wanted to drop the maneuvers as options for our heroes, or turn any remaining maneuvers into new stunt options.

So if we import the stunt rules, our easiest option would be to only adopt the roleplaying and exploration stunts. We can import the combat stunts, too, but that means tinkering with the core system a little more under the hood.

The Hookup: Dice

If we want the stunt system to work, then our PCs need to be able to generate stunt points. Obviously we don’t want them to generate stunt points on every roll—that would slow the game down and take away the semi-random element that makes stunts feel like cool stunts and not just a part of your character’s abilities. The AGE system handles this by rolling doubles on 3d6, and the Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster’s Guide gives us some suggestions for using 3d6 for your games instead of a d20 and the benefits and drawbacks involved, so that could work. We could also use a page from the existing Mutants & Masterminds rules and say that PCs generate stunt points when they score an additional degree of success than they need; they could either roll a d6 to determine how many, or keep it a straight conversion: trade in one degree of success on a skill check for 3 stunt points, or two degrees for 6. This second option means PCs need to roll well to use stunts, losing that feel of doing cool things even with an average roll, but is more in line with how the Mutants & Masterminds rules already reward players.

There’s no one right answer, so weigh the pros and cons of both against your table’s play style.

The Overhaul: Rewriting

If you want to use new rules to replace what Mutants & Masterminds already does, that’s a little trickier. In the case of maneuvers, PCs can plan ahead and accept a penalty to their action to get a different effect. The AGE system reverses the order, letting players look at their dice results before narrating what the exact effects are. Using both AGE-style combat stunts and keeping the existing list of actions and maneuvers is probably the easiest, but then what happens when a PC scores stunt points on their disarm roll? Ignore it? Let them add a stunt? This method will slow combat down a bit, as if gives PCs more choices, but if your table is pretty quick with the rules already it might be the easiest.

If you want to replace certain rules in favor of stunts, you can drop the following actions and maneuvers: Defend, Disarm, Trip, Demoralize, Feint, and Power Attack. You might also want to turn the Grab, Recover, and Smash actions into stunts of their own (costing maybe 4, 3, and 2 stunt points, respectively). Once we do that, how do we handle Advantages like Improved Trip? Do they let you simply use the stunt without spending stunt points? Or is it more balanced to have them reduce the cost of their related stunt by 1 SP? Is that too weak for an Advantage? Should we just eliminate those Advantages? Or it might be cool if they let a player “bank” unused stunt points for that specific maneuver to use when they wanted to—sort of like “charging up” a special maneuver or leading their opponent to give them an opening—but what happens if the PC charges up several feats and unleashes all their special maneuvers in one big disarm-trip-power-attack?

That last option sounds pretty cool and in-theme for a superhero game, so let’s try that.

The Tweak: Rules Check

Finally, we take our vague idea and read through what exactly we’re doing, and tweak the specific rules where we need to. For the exploration stunts, The Object of Your Attention, The Upper Hand, and With a Flourish all provide a mechanical bonus to other checks, and Mutants & Masterminds using a different difficulty scale than the AGE system. A +3 initiative bonus seems fine, but let’s increase it to +4 to line it up with the Improved Initiative Advantage. But Object of Your Attention and With a Flourish bth seem like they’re adding a circumstance bonus, so let’s say they grant a +2 bonus, or increase a +2 bonus to +5.

The roleplaying stunts have a few more rules elements. For Sway the Crowd, we might say the extra influence in limited to anyone with an Awareness lower than your Presence. Jest seems like a ripe target for a Will resistance check, say with a DC equal to your Presence + 10. Flirt sounds like it would call for an opposed check of your Presence skill against someone’s Will defense or Insight skill. And finally, Tower of Will seems like it’s adding a circumstance bonus, so again we’ll bump that up to +2.

The list of combat stunts are where things start to get a little more challenging. We’ve already talked about replacing the rules for stunts like Knock prone and Disarm with their related action rules. The Rapid Reload stunt doesn’t really apply to Mutants & Masterminds, which doesn’t track ammunition. Stay Aware seems like an easy fix, giving a PC a free Perception check as a stunt. Mighty Blow and Lethal Blow seem like they’d raise the resistance check DC of your attack by +2 and +5, respectively. Pierce Armor could be trouble, as M&M doesn’t have specific armor rules; we could say it lowers the target’s toughness save by –2, but then it becomes mechanically identical to Might Blow, so maybe we can go with ignoring a target’s Impervious rank on the related defense—this will let smaller heroes still have some chance of affecting bricks from time to time and make their efforts feel less futile. Lightning Attack lets PCs unbalance the action economy, so my first instinct is to limit it to a single standard action rather than a full action, and increase the cost to 5 SP (this also lets us figure out about how many SP a Hero Point is worth, if we later want to let PCs trade a Hero Point to generate SP). For Mutants & Masterminds, Dual Strike actually seems less prone to abuse than Lightning Attack, so let’s reduce the SP cost to 3. The Seize Initiative stunt seems good as-is. That finishes out the basic combat stunts, but maybe we want to add stunts for the Grab, Recover, and Smash actions as well, more or less using the rules for the existing actions as-in, but assigning them an SP cost.

Make your own updated list of your stunts and their costs and print out a few spare copies for players so they have quick and easy access during play.

Test Run

Any time you want to test out new rules additions or changes, it’s best to test them out first with a few friends and quickstart characters. Rules that seem innocuous during the design phase might end up very unbalanced in actual play, and ideas that seemed fun might be confusing or drag things out. For example, in test play, giving PCs with the appropriate Advantages the ability to bank stunt points for later didn’t really see any use; my players felt like they weren’t getting any benefit for the Advantages, because when they generated stunt points, they wanted to use them now, not save them up for a later attack they may never even get.

So back to the drawing board for a tweak, and now let’s say the various combat Advantages give you a 1 SP reduction in a cost of their specific maneuvers. This might means a little tweaking on character sheets (for example, you might break up Power Attack into Improved Mighty Blow and Improved Lethal Blow), but it kept things buzzing along at the table, and even though the Advantage seems minor in its stock description, it let the players have a lot more fun slinging their stunt points around. One PC unleashing a Knock Prone, Mighty Blow, and Taunt for just 3SP sure felt a lot like reading a certain spider-themed masculine hero in my childhood comics.

Over all, they roleplaying and exploration stunts brought a lot to the game and I’d use them again.The combat stunts felt a little less necessary, but were still fun once we got used to them. We ultimately settled on trading in one degree of success for 2 SP, trading two degrees of success for 4 SP, three degrees for 6 SP, or trading in a Hero Point for 4 SP (5 SP let PCs stack a little too much into a single attack, and it meant PCs could spend a Hero Point to “buy up” the DC of their first attack by +5 with lethal Blow, which tended to shut down fights fast).I personally preferred adopting the 3d6 dice pool mechanic for all our M&M rolls, but my players like the swingy-ness of the d20 more, and ultimately it’s about what makes the game more fun for everyone.

House rules aren’t really any different than official rules; the intention either way is to have the best tools to tell the stories you want to tell. So go nuts; pick and choose what you like and makes things more fun for you and your players. Always be ready to adapt, though, and be consistent with changes you make—carrying them forward for the rest of the session and beyond until they prove to not be working or stop being fun.

GM for Green Ronin at Gen Con!

Happy 50th Anniversary to Gen Con!

Team Ronin is super excited about Gen Con this year, especially with the success of our updated Freebooter GM Program. We decided to focus on our one big event, as we’re kinda small to support events all over the country and beyond. Make with the clicking to read about the program here.

Many folks think Green Ronin is a huge company, but we’re actually very small. The upside to this is that we can work closely with our GMs to grow this program; it wouldn’t be as successful without their spectacular feedback. And since it was our first big push, with setting up GM Badges and hotel reimbursement, it helped us make the 2017 Gen Con program even better.

Last year, we fielded 24 GMs running over 90 games. Some folks ran one or two games, and some ran more. Some folks ran 2-hour games, and some ran 6-hour games. Really, it was great to have so many folks concentrating on Green Ronin games. We were even in our own room in the Convention Center itself, which was WONDERFUL.

For the folks who signed up early, who communicated well with us about their needs and desires, it was super easy to accommodate folks, like subbing out GMs when we had scheduling issues. For folks to get hotel reimbursements, it was super easy! You just had to email me your receipt and we sent you the reimbursement! Almost everyone followed directions well so we were able to take care of just about everyone by the time Gen Con was all finished!

We had a lot of folks GMing for us who had never been to Gen Con before, or GM’d at a convention ever, which meant so much to us. And our experienced Veteran GMs were on hand to help out the new folks. The Freebooters are a small team, but a wonderful team! Heck, a bunch of new folks to our program even got together and split a room together! They held each other together while I was off doing Geek & Sundry and Gen Con Industry Insider stuff!

Many GMs kept things simple, and many of them printed out great color sheets, special hand outs, and whatnot. Some GMs used our published Quick Start adventures, some used their own home brew. Some used adventures which we haven’t yet published, to be the first to run said adventures.

Why am I tell you all this? Because we want you to run our games! Everyone is welcome, no matter your experience, or lack thereof. If you have GM’d a home game, you can GM for us! You can run what you want, when you want. 

And if you want to, we’ll arrange a GM badge for you, so you can get reimbursed by the Gen Con system, and we’ll reimburse you for part of your hotel.

  • For 12-hours of games submitted, we’ll arrange the GM badge.
  • For 16+ hours of games scheduled, we will reimburse your hotel based on ¼ of a regular rate.  As an example, if a room is $200 per night we’ll pick up your part, so $50 per night!
  • Green Ronin must submit your games to count towards the GM Badge reimbursement and hotel room reimbursement.
  • You are still welcome to submit games via your favorite game group or other game companies, but we will only pick up badges/hotel reimburse for our submitted games.

AND! Based on feedback from the 2016 GM Team, we’ll have ribbons and dice for you to give your players, plus a variety of other hand outs. And maybe something cool for YOU, too! We’re still hammering out those details.

If you’re interested in signing up, click here to fill out this quick contact form. Early submissions have started this week, and will run until Feb 19th. Regular Event submissions are due by March 26th, so we want to get your games in the system as soon as possible. I can help!

If you have general questions, you can email me directly! donna@greenronin.com

Ronin Round Table: Not Another RetCon

Last week’s Ronin Round Table brought tears to a lot of eyes, and not without good reason. Jon Leitheusser has been the developer for Mutants & Masterminds even longer than Steve Kenson. He was the motivating force behind the DC Adventure Roleplaying Game (now available at a great savings as part of our holiday sale!) and the creator of Emerald City, not to mention some of my personal favorites like the Cosmic Handbook and the upcoming Atlas of Earth Prime. And just to finish out his legacy, he brought the iconic Freedom City into 3rd edition. No one would want to follow that tenure, so where could Green Ronin find someone asinine enough to follow that performance?

Hello, I’m Crystal Frasier. Read more

Green Ronin 2016 Holiday Sale

In an effort to inject some good cheer into the tail end of what’s been a difficult year for most of us at Green Ronin, we have placed a nice selection of terrific gaming products on sale until next year.

Whether you like Pathfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, casual games, sword & sorcery movies, or DC superheroes, we hopefully have something to interest you in the sale.

Shop the Holiday Sale today!

Rogues Gallery: The Mesmerist (PDF)

The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist

Restless academic James Desmond spent a semester abroad, and stumbled across the long-discredited teachings of Franz Mesmer. Desmond experimented with Mesmer’s techniques, and found that in his hands, they were effective! Using his uncanny power of illusion, he reinvented himself as “The Mesmerist,” a showman capable of seemingly impossible feats and thrills, delivered with Vegas spectacle and glamour. Flush with fame and wealth, and quite capable of rewriting memories and supernaturally concealing his actions, the Mesmerist now steals what he cannot buy, leaving behind mysteries without any clues.
Rogues Gallery … villains galore! Each Rogues Gallery entry includes a complete super-villain profile and character sheet with Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition game information. It also includes the villain’s background and various adventure hooks to use the character in your own game. Each entry is illustrated and, as a bonus, includes the villain’s game information in Hero Lab format, so you can import it right into the character management software and use it in your game (or modify it as needed) right away. Where else can you get a super-villain for less than the price of a cup of coffee? It’s positively criminal!

Ronin Roundtable: M&M Style

grr5510e_mutantsandmastermindsthirdeditiondeluxeheroeshandbook_1_1024x1024Our recent yearly Green Ronin summit covers a lot of ground, including plans for all of the company’s current game-lines moving forward into the coming year. The remainder of 2016 and the start of 2017 are a bit of a turning point for Mutants & Masterminds, reflecting the maturity of the third edition line. In particular, by early to mid-2017, we’ll have covered the essential rules and game materials for M&M with the Hero’s Handbook, Power Profiles, Gadget Guides, and the Gamemaster’s Guide, the essential setting material for Earth-Prime with Emerald City, the Cosmic Handbook, the Atlas of Earth-Prime, and the new edition of Freedom City, plus plenty of foes in Threat Report, Rogues Gallery, and the Supernatural Handbook. Add to that a complete and compatible summary of the DC Universe in our four DC Adventures books, and that’s quite a collection!

So, we want to revisit how we present Mutants & Masterminds products in addition to what types of products we’re offering. There’s a lot of material out there for the game (and will be even more in the months to come) so the big question on our agenda is: How do we make M&M easier to use and friendlier to new readers going forward while retaining the great library of material we already have? A lot of the answer to that question is not just what products we do, but how we do them, the style and presentation of the game.

In particular, I’m looking at the stat blocks for M&M and finding ways they can be more user-friendly, informative, and attractive while still conveying everything you need to know about the character in game terms. This goes for our full-size and detailed stat blocks as well as our smaller formats, presented in-line with text. Everything is on the table here: the way things are arranged, the order in which traits are presented, use of color or icons, and so forth. The key limit is that it has to convey essentially the same information and remain compatible with our other third-edition material. Ideally, we also want the presentation to require only the Hero’s Handbook—while we could certainly save space by pulling powers and gadgets wholesale out of supplements, we don’t want you to have to have Power Profiles or Gadget Guides to understand and play the game!

You’ll likely be hearing more about this process as time goes on and ideas percolate but, for now, we’d also like to hear from you. Visit our forums and tell us ways in which M&M products can be more useful, user-friendly, and easy to reference during game-play in your own games, keeping in mind the guidelines that we’re sticking with the current edition and we want the new products we publish in the coming year to be compatible with what we’ve done thus far. You can also drop us an email at custserve@greenronin.com or send us a message via our Facebook page.

I’m looking forward to showing everyone all of the plans we’ve made for Mutants & Masterminds and to giving it the look and style that will last it for years more to come!

M&M Bundles of Holding!

M&M Bundles of Holding!

M&M Bundles of Holding!

We have not one but two Mutants & Masterminds Bundles of Holding on sale right now! The links below will take you to the core bundle and the Power Boost bundle, which includes many M&M supplements from the last couple of years.

Mutants & Masterminds 3E Bundle

M&M 3E Power Boost Bundle

Ronin Round Table: GenCon 2016 Roleplaying Games!

 

GClogo-header-2016-91a751cab7b3dc33dd0ac3b3b95595ac9c4e1b4bc5f42b6388531396cb8729beAs I’m sure most folks know, the events registration for GenCon 2016 went live on Sunday. As an aid to everyone who is interested in playing some of their favorite Green Ronin Publishing roleplaying games at GenCon—or trying out one they’ve never played before—we thought we’d compile a handy list of links to those games, by game.

What follows is not a complete list of Green Ronin Publishing games ato be had at GenCon. It’s just a collection of the games we’ve helped put together and coordinate for this year’s convention. See you there!

Reminder: While some of these games are already sold out (a big thanks to all of that enthusiasm!), remember that lots of folks over-buy, and then drop events as they figure out their schedule. Moreover, things happen and sometimes people aren’t able to show for a game, so make sure to pick up some generic tickets and if there’s a game you’re really interested in, show up to it and see if there are any slots unfilled when game time rolls around. Our GMs are only too happy to help.

Read more

Ronin Round Table: The Art of Art Direction

beastfolk

By Hal Mangold

Today’s Ronin Round Table draws back the curtain on some of the behind-the-scenes parts of creating our products. Art is an essential part of the look and feel of most games, and it’s the role of the art director (that’s me) to make sure all that art gets created. To give you all a little insight into the job, we’re going to answer a few common questions about what being an art director is all about.  

What does the art director do?

As the art director, my responsibility is to make sure that all of the art that goes into Green Ronin’s games and publications is up to the standard we’ve tried to set over the years. I select the artists, assign and approve the art, and herd cats to make sure it all comes into our hands by the deadline necessary for publication.  

How does the art direction process work?

It all starts for me with scouting out the artists who have the right style to fit the project. Games like Mutants & Masterminds have a radically different art style than Dragon Age or A Song of Ice & Fire. I contact the artists I want on the project, see if they are available during the timeframe I need them, and get them contracted if they’re interested in working on the project. Ideally, this is done about 4-5 months ahead of time, but circumstances often compress this a bit.  

The art order or brief comes next. This is a description or set of descriptions for the piece of art needed for the product. These can be written either by me or, more often, by the developer of the product, with my role being more to tweak or jazz up those basic descriptions. Sometimes the descriptions are general, sometimes really specific, and different artists work well with each type. In general, I try to art direct with a light touch when I can. I’m hiring the artist for their talents and inspiration, after all. I try to give them as much room to improvise as I can.   

The next step is to take that art order transfer it to the artist or artists. For a cover piece, this part is simple. For interior work with multiple artists, it’s a bit more involved of a process. The art assignments get broken up between the artists, taking into consideration both spreading the artists throughout the book for a unified look, and assigning the right pieces to the right artists based on their relative strengths.

Next the artists submit their sketches for the assignments. I review them to make sure the composition is as strong as it should be, that the basic look is right, that any characters depicted have the correct look, and so on. If revised sketches are needed, the artist submits them, and once everyone is happy with where the piece are going, the artist takes the piece to its final state.

If the project is for a licensed property, there’s one extra step: approval by the licensor. Most licensors require us to submit all of the original art we commission to them so they can make sure it depicts their world and characters properly. Some licensors want to see sketches, and some just care about the final result.

There was a time when there was another step: the artists physically shipping their work to us for scanning. Fortunately almost all artists today (even those working in non-digital mediums) submit digital files. Considering the international nature of the artists we work with, that’s especially fortunate today, with international shipping costs being what they are.  

Once all the art is approved, the art director gives it a look to ensure it’s in the proper color and file format, and that it will reproduce properly when actually printed. After that, the image file is handed off to layout for insertion into the product. The art director’s work is done.

Where do you find artists?

Anywhere and everywhere! The Internet is a fantastic source, of course. Sites like DeviantArt, Artstation and DrawCrowd give artists a place to put their portfolios, and I browse around on them quite often. Sites like Tumblr and Pinterest are also fantastic art resources, both for finding new artists, and building “mood boards” for how I want a particular project to look. It sometimes takes a little internet detective work to find out who created an image found that way, however. Not everyone is great about tagging sources for what they post.

Conventions are another great source for artists. Whether it’s a comic, gaming, anime or just overall sci-fi show, I always keep an eye out for creators whose style might work with one of our games. If we’re actually displaying at a show (like GenCon, for instance), portfolio reviews are another great source for me.

And finally, email submissions come in all the time, and have provided me with some great people I might not have noticed before.

Can I submit my art to Green Ronin?

Absolutely! Anyone is welcome to submit their work (or a link to an online portfolio, preferably), to art@greenronin.com.