We are pleased to have three books nominated for Origins Awards. Atlas of Earth-Prime, Blue Rose Narrator’s Kit, and Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy are all in the running this year. To celebrate, we’ve put all three books, along with the Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, on sale at 20% off, in both print and PDF formats, in our Green Ronin Online Store. These prices will also be in effect at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio later this week. If you’re there, stop by and see us in booth #649.
As we put the finishing touches on the Rogue’s Gallery, the Mutants & Masterminds Basic Hero’s Handbook was slowly percolating in the background. Now that it is nearly ready to ship to the printers as well, I’m happy to show the results of several months of work and writing!
Mutants & Masterminds is a great game with a robust ruleset built over 16 years and three different editions. It’s flexible enough to handle almost any genre of comic book adventure, from traditional tights-and-fights books to street-level vigilantes to cosmic weirdness to mundane human agents facing off against the unknowable. But that flexibility brings a certain amount of jargon and a learning curve that can be off-putting for new players. Among the first challenges we decided to tackle to make a newbie-friendly rulebook was character creation. The Deluxe Hero’s Handbook offers a wealth of choices for fine-tuning your character to build exactly what you want to play, but for brand new players that freedom can be intimidating. Option paralysis is one of the most commonly cited problems players new to M&M report, followed closely by the amount of number crunching character generation required. The Quickstart Character generator is a perfectly solution for intermediary players, but we wanted a solution for those picking up Mutants & Masterminds for the first time.
Our solution is the Basic Archetype, which boils character generation down to a handful of choices about your character’s theme, personality, and history. With one of the book’s eight basic archetypes and a character sheet, even brand new players can be game-ready in ten minutes!
Each Basic Archetype starts with a brief overview of the concept. Each Archetype has a base suite of Ability ranks and Defense ranks, which you can tweak by selecting a character type. Most come with a few basic skills, but ask you to decide who your character is to determine the rest. Likewise, selecting Advantages is rolled into deciding a few personality traits that help define your hero. Finally, each Basic Archetype lets you select one of three Power Suites that define what exactly puts the “super” in your super hero.
Let’s take a look at one of my favorite hero concepts: the Energy Controller:
This is Solar Ray, or just Ray to his teammates. He appears—alongside his friends Anansi, Ultra, and Pinnacle—in the Basic Hero Handbook’s tutorial comics. The Energy Controller’s Ability ranks focus mostly on being tough and fast, with the cocksure attitude and powerful presence that usually accompanies the ability to throw fireballs. Their skills options give you some classic comic book staples for energy-wielders, letting you help personalize you hero as say, a lothario test-pilot or a watchful commander. Because Energy Controllers are more defined by their powers, they don’t receive as many Advantages as most heroes, but you still get some flexibility in deciding if your hero is a wisecracking brawler, a cool-as-a-cucumber tactician, or a terrifying force of nature. Finally, their Power Suite choices give you choice of what kind of comic book exploits you want to embody: The Avatar is your classic Human Torch, able to transform into a living incarnation of your element; the Blaster, on the other hand, is a classic one-trick pony who can only do one thing, but does it very, very well (and gets some extra Skills and Advantages, since they’re not out there hotshotting all the time); the Elementalist splits the difference as a master of energy, able to control and wield their element with extraordinary skill, but not transforming into it.
The Basic Archetypes are fast, easy, and flexible enough to make each hero feel personal, obfuscating the math and overwhelming choices while still giving players a standard 150 power point, Power Level 10 starting character they can bring to the table alongside veteran players who create their characters using the rules found in the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook!
The full basic Hero’s Handbook will be available in print later this summer at GenCon. Hope to see you all there!
Villains, can any superhero game or setting ever really have enough of them? Villains are one of the driving forces in a superhero series, since it is their schemes and plans the heroes are looking to foil, and therefore their motives and activities to call the good guys to take action.
The newly released Rogues Gallery for Mutants & Masterminds (still in pre-order) is a collection of numerous supervillains for your series, ranging from powerful world-beaters to petty crooks and everywhere in between: aliens, mystics, mutants, and more. The book features the the Amalgam (with all of the powers of two of the world’s greatest heroes), the Alchemistress, and the sinister Bres the Beautiful—all foes capable of challenging an entire team of heroes. On the other end, foes like the Sportsman and Princess Poison or the House of Usher are well-suited for street-level games challenging themed crooks and criminal syndicates.
Those of you who picked up individually published villains from the Rogues Gallery PDF series will already be familiar with some of them, but the print edition offers even more, with new villains not released individually added to the book, including some updates to previously seen M&M foes, such as:
Alien-Gator was first mentioned in early notes on the history of Freedom City as a 1950s foe of the Centurion, later detailed in Freedom’s Most Wanted and now updated for the modern era in Rogues Gallery. The new Alien-Gator recognizes that the female of the species is often far deadlier than the male.
Bres the Beautiful, the powerful prince of the other-dimensional Fomorians, first appeared back in the Freedom’s Most Wanted sourcebook, and ties in with Great Britain and Europe as described in Atlas of Earth-Prime as well as Earth-Prime’s mystic history.
The Maestro, malevolent master of music, is conspicuously absent from the Crime League in the third edition of Freedom City, and Rogues Gallery explains what becomes of a Golden Age villain who makes a literal deal with the Devil.
Megastar is another character from earlier editions of Freedom City, originally a young hero and member of the teenaged Next-Gen. His story in Rogues Gallery—following the events of the Silver Storm and the Emerald City Knights series and the creation of the Argents detailed in The Cosmic Handbook—shows that not all heroes manage to stay heroes forever.
… and that just scratches the surface of the characters Rogues Gallery has to offer! Like any good villain book, it is more than just a collection of bad guys and stat blocks, but also a source of adventure and story ideas driven by these various villains, enough to fuel your M&M series for quite some time to come. So whether you are a long-time player or Gamemaster interested in the latest dubious double-dealings of the Earth-Prime setting, or someone new to Mutants & Masterminds looking for some ready-made villains for your heroes to fight, Rogues Gallery has something new for you!
We have activated our latest Mutants & Masterminds book, Rogues Gallery, for pre-order through our Green Ronin Online Store!
Rogues Gallery collects supervillains from Green Ronin’s popular PDF series of the same name, with the addition of new material and never-before-seen characters. It has dozens of fearsome foes for your Mutants & Masterminds series, enough to keep your heroes busy stopping schemes and saving the world for quite some time! In its pages you will find solo and loner villains, teams and alliances, organizations and outliers, and bad guys of many different power levels, backgrounds, and styles, suited for different M&M series, all with complete game information. Plus each villain comes with ready-made adventure hooks, making the book a collection of more than a hundred possible adventures as well!
Pre-order the print version of Rogues Gallery and you can download the PDF for just $5.
Pre-order here and you’ll be offered the discounted PDF at checkout.
Pre-order at your favorite store* and get a coupon code to redeem here.
*If your brick-and-mortar store is signed up with our (free) GR Pre-Order Plus program, you can pre-order directly from them and they’ll hook you up with a code.
A whole year of Nisaba? It’s hard to believe, but it has indeed been a year since we announced Nisaba Press, Green Ronin Publishing’s fiction imprint. We’ve published some great fiction in that time, although we’re just now getting started.
If you’ve missed our previous offerings, don’t worry! They’re still available on our site: Brandon O’Brien’s witty, sweet Blue Rose tale of two thieves in an endless cycle of vendettas; Kid Robot’s first day of school, by Eytan Bernstein; and Clio Yun-Su Davis’s Blue Rose caper. You can even read Crystal Frasier’s Mutants & Masterminds story about Centuria, Lady Liberty, and robot dinosaurs…for free!
And while we’ve gotten off to a good start, Nisaba has a big year ahead, too.
Dylan Birtolo returns with a new Freeport adventure featuring Red Alice and a sinister amulet. Featuring fights through the Freeport sewers, chases over the high seas, and plenty of cult conspiracy, this series of three stories will release over the summer.
Rhiannon Louve continues her beautiful Blue Rose story of a grieving Rose Knight who finds a new lease on life and a new purpose in her courageous partner, a new Rose Knight with unusual talents.
Michael Matheson joins the Nisaba roster with a pair of tales, one for Blue Rose, and one for Mutants and Masterminds.
Richard Lee Byers tells another Mutants & Masterminds story about a woman fighting a terrible internal battle and the clairvoyant hero hunting her.
We’ll be debuting some new settings for our stories, too. Some will be stand-alone adventures to offer campaign ideas for our settings, while others will tease new settings we’re working on.
And if novels are more your thing, we have two novels coming this year! Joe Carriker’s Shadowtide is a sleek and sinister adventure through the political and cultural battlegrounds of the world of Blue Rose. Aaron Rosenberg brings in the first Mutants & Masterminds novel, featuring a disabled woman taking over her grandfather’s superhero cape while a bitter villain seeks vengeance.
Stay tuned for big news from the Nisaba world as we wrap up our first year and head into what we hope is a long and bright future, because we’ve just started on our plans.
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.
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.
Today Nisaba Press presents some new Earth-Prime fiction: “The Bears,” a short story by Susan Jane Bigelow.
Marley and Shanae lead a peaceful life in the Elysian Forest, staying clear of the hubbub of Emerald City, until an unnatural visit by natural creatures stirs up trouble from the past.
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.
This week’s new short story from Nisaba Press is “Before They Knew Him” by Richard Lee Byers, set in our Mutants & Masterminds setting Earth-Prime. It can be yours for just $1.99.
Freedom City’s strength is Dr. Metropolis’s strength. But that’s about to become his Achilles heel.
Our previous sale, benefiting the Trevor Project, ran a while longer than we intended, but generated a nice amount to donate to them. Our new sale in our Charitable Giving Initiative benefits the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
While the sale runs, both the print and PDF versions of three Mutants & Masterminds books, Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, Atlas of Earth-Prime, and Freedom City, are on sale for $5 off, and for each sale item sold we will donate $10 to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
About the Thurgood Marshall College Fund: Established in 1987, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) is the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. TMCF member-schools include the publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). Publicly-supported HBCUs enroll over 80% of all students attending HBCUs. Through scholarships, capacity building and research initiatives, innovative programs, and strategic partnerships, TMCF is a vital resource in the K-12 and higher education space. The organization is also a source for top employers seeking top talent for competitive internships and good jobs.