Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law

Mind Control and Psychic Combat!

With last week’s release of Bound by Gold, Malador the Mystic once again seizes a mortal body with which to threaten the world. But this newest Astonishing Adventure adds a rub: The heroes are brought into the investigation to help rescue the young man Malador is currently inhabiting. Bodily possession and mind control are common elements in superhero media; they make for emotionally wrenching resolutions as the hero overcomes the domination or tearful reunions as the hero draws out the original host’s spirit to help fight the possessing villain through heartfelt pleas.

Mutants & Masterminds, 3rd Edition uses the same rules for mind control and possession, revolving mostly around the Compelled and Controlled conditions applied via the Affliction power. A Compelled character’s Standard Action and Free Actions each round are determined by someone else, with their Move Action lost to the struggle for dominance. A Gamemaster might allow them to shout out warnings to those around them, but otherwise their only role in the action is to slow the force controlling them. Controlled overrides a character’s free will entirely, leaving all their actions each round up to the controlling force with the original mind a helpless passenger. Because Compelled is a 2nd degree condition, a hero overcome by it can attempt a new resistance check at the end of each round to shake the effect and regain full control of themselves, but Controlled—being a 3rd degree condition—can only be resisted once every minute.

While mechanically appropriate, the Compelled and Controlled conditions sidestep the narrative drama that mind control and possession can offer, so let’s look at some other ways to handle these effects in ways at the table to get everything you want from this classic trope.

Narrative Mind Control

Not all mind control needs to be equal. As an alternative to short-term “combat” mind control, narrative mind control make influence over a character as total and long-lasting as you need, particularly with villains like Malador or Knightfire who take mortal bodies as hosts. In these cases, it’s assumed the host’s mind is overwhelmed either by one of the most powerful wills in the cosmos or by an evil they invited in willingly. But beyond even these exceptional cases, narrative mind control means that villains with a focus on mental domination can keep a cadre of loyally brainwashed agents around without re-applying their Affliction power every ten rounds.

While the example of Malador is very overt, narrative mind control may be subtle instead, barely changing a character’s behavior or only causing them to act strangely when no one might notice. In this situation, a controlled character may only act in the middle of the night—sleepwalking for all they or anyone else knows—or they might think they’re going through their daily work tasks while unwittingly funneling information, security codes, or resources to the villain. The controlled character doesn’t fight the unnatural control because they aren’t aware of any unnatural control; everything seems perfectly normal from their point of view.

Narrative mind control is effectively permanent until deliberately ended by an outside force: a mystic dispels the control spell, the heroes defeat the psychic villain, or a hacker purges the corrupted software from the android’s brain. In some cases, a character under subtle narrative mind control might be able to fight the effects once they’re aware of it, transitioning from this model to the traditional Compelled and Controlled conditions once a character is presented with obvious proof or the villain makes their control overt and clearly opposed to the character’s morals. Especially subtle mind control may even linger after the obvious “fix” as psychics leave post-hypnotic suggestions that won’t trigger for weeks or a possessing spirit leaves just enough of their essence behind to reach out to the victim in their dreams.

Narrative mind control works best when applied to NPCs because it takes agency away from a character indefinitely, sometimes overwriting them entirely with a new character in the case of possessing entities. Some players might find the role of double-agent fun, however, so be willing to ask if a perfect story opportunity arises. In this case, the control becomes a temporary Complication, allowing the GM to occasionally dictate or forbid a course of action for the hero in exchange for a Hero Point.

Fighting Mind Control from the Outside

Mind-controlling afflictions come with a built-in mechanical solution: the target gets a new resistance check regularly to throw off the effect. But that solution isn’t necessarily satisfying in an emotional confrontation between a hero and a friend forced to do evil. Here are a few suggestions for ways the heroes can help an ally compelled against their will:

Aid

Heroes’ words of encouragement and love can help the target find their inner strength and throw off outside control. This functions like most Aid actions, with any heroes who help making appropriate PRE-based skill checks against a DC 10. A successful check grants the target a +2 bonus on their next resistance check against the control, while three or more degrees of Success bumps the bonus up to +5. Heroes will generally make Presence checks, but Deception, Expertise, or even Intimidate checks might be appropriate in different situations.

The Psychic Beatdown

Most mind controlling or possessing villains maintain a strong mental link to their target, so a hero with attack effects resisted by Will, such as a Mental Blast, might be able to target the controlling mind rather than the target themselves. At the Gamemaster’s discretion, this might require enough psychic sensitivity to tell the two minds apart (with a Sense like Psychic Awareness or Acute Detect Minds), count of a use of Extra Effort, or be a default ability of a Will-based attack.

An Incapacitated result immediately ends the villain’s mind control. A Dazed or Stunned result doesn’t, but allows the target a resistance check against the control if they haven’t already made one this round (making this tactic more useful against fully-controlled victims).

Challenge Sequence

For groups without a psychic warrior, appealing to the target’s human decency and compassion might help break them free as part of an optional challenge sequence. This option can be satisfying for roleplay-focused players who want evocative or dramatic resolutions to fights rather than just throwing bolts of energy. As with the Aid action, heroes can opt to make a skill check or appropriate power check as a Standard Action toward a challenge sequence to help the victim shake free of their unwanted control. The target DC is either the control effect rank +10 (more appropriate for mind control) or the villain’s Will rank +10 (more appropriate for villains possessing a physical host). The total successes needed varies, with a base of 1, plus 1 for every 5 ranks of the controlling power; shaking the mind control effect imposed by Affliction 10, for example, requires a total of 3 Degrees of Success. Increase the necessary successes by +1 or +2 if mind control is the villain’s primary power or somehow core to their existence (such as Malador’s psychic bonus to a host body), so ejecting Malador the Mystic (Will +14, possessing targets is key to his existence) from a host via a challenge sequence would require 5 Degrees of Success on DC 24 checks.

This avenue is strictly optional and not always appropriate, so check with your Gamemaster if its appropriate to an encounter before you begin investing time into the attempt. Some villains might simply need to be defeated before they can be excised from an someone’s mind. As a compromise, heroes might need to know intimate details about a character to try appealing to them, and may need to reveal personal information about themselves such as their secret identity.

Talking Points

Similar to the challenge sequence, a talking points solution to mind control of possession can be very satisfying and emotional, but turns the encounter into a roleplay scene rather than a challenge sequence. In this case a hero doesn’t need to roll dice at all; they must simply recall enough important details about the character to reach their mind and force out the unnatural control. Make a list of 5–10 important details abut the character and decide how many of them a hero must bring (generally half as many) up before finally breaking through the control to reach the target. This might include their name, their family, beloved pets, ambitions, favorite music, career, or fears—whatever feels relevant to a character and their life. Especially important talking points may even count as two points, creating a few vital elements to a character or a “power of love” moment. This solution obviously works best for freeing NPCs who are already close to the hero rather than strangers or random victims, but it can still work as the climax at the end of a long investigation where the heroes have to learn many details about the victim’s life. Heroes are limited to bringing up one talking point each per turn, but once they bring up enough, the target can automatically shake off the mind control.

Rather than a solution, talking points might instead buy the heroes some breathing room. In this case, each talking point isn’t a step toward freedom, but bringing one up imposes the Dazed condition on the victim for one round. Talking points that would count double instead leave the victim Stunned for one round.

Like the challenge sequence, talking points are strictly options, so consult your Gamemaster if you like the idea.

Fighting Mind Control from the Inside

the Mindscape where psychic battle becomes physical

One of the biggest criticisms against mind control at the game table is that it essentially takes on player out of the game until their character can shake the effect. Many players feel like they might as well run and grab a pizza or boot up a video game because they know it will be a while before they need to pay attention again. Much of the advantage of a mind control power is that it limits the heroes’ action economy—how often they are allowed to act in a round—while usually adding to the villain’s

Giving a mind-controlled player something active to do can help salvage their night and make the encounter more memorable for everyone.

Play Along

Some players relish an excuse to go toe-to-toe with their fellow gamers, pitting their build against their friends’. Others love the dramatic tension of their hero turning on their allies and unleashing both physical and psychological punishment. For these players, simply being told “You’re mind-controlled now. You have to attack you allies, but you can decide how,” is the start of a great scene. Let the player decide how they unleash their abilities against their friends and don’t underestimate the pathos of a player choosing story-based conflicts in this occasion, saying hurtful things or exposing their friends’ secrets rather than attacking physically.

As with all player-versus-player approaches, be careful pitting a mind-controlled hero directly against their friends, as it can lead to hurt feelings away from the table. It might be a better idea to turn a mind-controlled player character loose against the police or military or a rival villain, while the remaining heroes battle the villain while shorthanded.

Ghosted

In some cases, overt mind control or possession may force a character’s mind or soul out of their body while the villain maintains control, leaving the hero a bodiless ghost floating over the battle. The character gains Permanent Insubstantial 4 and Permanent Concealment 10 (All Senses), but may still be able to interact with the physical world using mental effects, abilities with the Affects Substantial extra, or by using Extra Effort. A hero in the midst of an “out of body” experience like this might instead explore nearby rooms to gather information or be ejected close to someone close to them, like a kidnapped lover whom they can comfort or try to learn the whereabouts of.

Mindscape Battle

Many superhero stories handle a psychic battle of wills as literal combat inside a mindscape or the Astral Plane, with the hero’s psyche donning idealized armor and battling the invader’s mind or hallucinations. In this case, a hero being mind controlled doesn’t remove their player from the action, it only relocates the action to the psychic plane. The hero must fight alone against a psychic copy of the villain (replacing their mental powers with more overt Damage or Affliction effects) or face off against hordes of minions that reflect the villain’s psychic control, such as the Tulpa (Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide, page 149). Alternatively, the villain’s psychic avatar might translate their mental mastery in the real world to be martial mastery in the mental worlds—use the same personality and description, but select a physically-oriented statblock like the Powerhouse or Weapon Master hero archetypes. If the hero succeeds in their struggle, they knock the villain’s control over them down by one stage—Controlled becomes Compelled, Compelled becomes Dazed, and Dazed becomes unaffected.

If you want to add more details to the mindscape battle, check out the War of the Minds sample scene from Chapter 6 of the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide.

 

However you choose to apply mind control and possession to your superhero games, the key is to provide fun and options to your players, not take options away. Be creative and willing to adapt, and encourage new ideas or unorthodox strategies. The end result might be different, but it’s likely to be an experience everyone remembers.

Bound By Gold: NetherWar part 4, Available Now!

Bound By GoldIn the latest installment of the NetherWar, Bound By Gold, the heroes efforts to stop Toy Boy’s rampage have inadvertently released the former Master Mage: Malador the Mystic, and now the dread Atlantean intends to bind the spirit of his dead rival, Adrian Eldritch, into an undead servant to aid his conquest of the world! With so much at stake, the heroes find an unlikely ally who has an agenda all her own. But the mysterious Dark Lady still works behind the scenes. It’s a three-way magic free-for-all of diabolical villains, with the heroes—and all of Freedom City—caught in the middle!

He’s Baaaaaaack…

Written by Kate Baker, Bound by Gold is a mystical adventure series for a team of four heroes of PL 10. The adventure continues the NetherWar campaign arc for Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition.

Astonishing Adventures bring exciting new adventures for Mutants & Masterminds, Third Edition to you every single month, complete with all the action and villains you need to bring the story to life!

Get Astonishing Adventures, NetherWar part 4: Bound by Gold at theGreen Ronin Online Store or DriveThruRPG 

Be sure to check out the rest of the NetherWar series, including the free Series Guide!

And finally, tune in to our Facebook Page each week for Mutants & Masterminds Monday! LIVE. Videos will also be made available after they air on our Youtube channel.

(Not So) Secret Identities

I don’t know exactly when or how I became an introvert—we don’t have the kind of space in this column necessary to go into that—but, sufficient to say, I am what many might refer to as “a private person.” I often feel like I missed the era of the “reclusive writer” who nobody ever saw and who interacted with the world through their agent. What do they even look like? Do they even really exist? In this interconnected age of social media streaming, where everyone carries a camera, that kind of anonymity is increasingly no longer an option.

That’s especially true for those of us who: 1) Have some sort of marginalized identity and feel it is important that we be visible for the benefit of those who might see us, and; 2) Are creatives who need to promote our work by connecting with our audience as directly as possible (which is the say, most of us who don’t have a corporate marketing department behind us). All of which is a long lead-up to the moment that I kind of knew was coming, but dreaded anyway, that moment when Green Ronin’s Community Manager Troy Hewitt said “We’re all stuck in isolation! We’re going to start streaming on Monday!”Crystal and Steve streaming on Facebook live

Extraordinary times, right? You see, Green Ronin is a great company for many reasons, but one of them (for me) is that there are a lot of reclusive introverts on-staff. Many of us are perfectly happy working in our own corners of the world, communicating via text, and making the experience of seeing each other in person special by only doing it a few times a year. Fortunately, the (roughly two-thirds introverted) ownership recognized that was not the best way for us to work with our wonderful community of players of our games, however. So they made sure to include some ambiverts and extroverts, who have done things like drag the rest of us into the digital streaming world. Here’s what I have learned thus far from the experience:

Perfect is the enemy of ever doing anything. “We’ll figure it out as we go! We start in three days!” Three days! But…but, the research! The preparation! Nope. We had been stalling doing videos and streams for a long time and were getting no closer to starting. What we really needed to do was start. So we did. Waiting around until you’re “ready” can often mean you never will be.

Creativity is spontaneous. I like to plan and outline with the best of ‘em, but some of the best parts of the Mutants & Masterminds Monday streams have been spontaneous, off-the-cuff things from just interacting, which remind me of the best parts of my tabletop game-play experiences; not written into the adventure per se, but appearing out of the interaction.

It’s okay to be seen. By that I mean it’s not necessarily self-indulgent to want to be in front of the camera, and it’s all right to promote, not just your work, but yourself as a creator and as a person. It’s okay to be seen for you and not just as a representative of something else. I’m still working on this one, to be honest, as I’ve never been a particularly good self-promoter, but I think I’m learning.

Striking sparks ignites flames. I often feel social situations are draining, but at the same time, it’s a helpful reminder that certain social interactions, especially with my peers and co-workers, can really help to get us all excited about the things we’re doing and working on. Our interaction creates “good energy.” I find I really enjoy that handful of aforementioned yearly in-person get-togethers, and our online meet-ups—whether streaming or just having a company-wide meeting—can do the same. I feel more recharged and ready to do more work for the rest of the week.

It’s okay to fail. Mind you, it’s not fun, but messing up, having things go wrong, technical difficulties and all of that is a part of life and how we learn. Doing live video streams offers plenty of “learning opportunities.” Good friends and colleagues help us get back up and get back in the game, and we do better the next time. This reminds me a lot of my reckless courage as a young Game Master: I was so excited by the prospect of running each new game I got that I rushed right in. I definitely had some Game Master-disasters (again, we don’t have that kind of space) but I survived, learned from them, and kept on going.M&M Monday streaming every week!So, if you feel you’re too shy, too introverted, not enough (or too much), or just not ready to do something like streaming, online gaming, Game Mastering, or the like, take a risk in the company of friends, and you can start by joining us. We’re learning in real time, and the people who watch are active participants in what we’re creating. Joining in means you get to have some low-risk fun while seeing how we do it, and figuring out how you might when the time comes for you to step into the spotlight.

I hope you’ll join us for an episode of Mutants & Masterminds Monday sometime!

Green Ronin Publishing’s videos can also be found on our YouTube channel.

I’LL TAKE YOU RIGHT INTO THE DANGER ZONES

If you’ve been following Mutants & Masterminds news the last few months, you’ve probably heard me talk way too much about Danger Zones. I refuse to apologize for my weird love of maps, but this time around, as the products finally take their first steps into the world, I’m not just going to blather on yet again about how much fun it can be to add set piece elements to your superhero fights based on where they happen and how they can really mix up and add interest to your adventures.

Instead, let’s talk about how you can mine cool maps for adventure ideas.

Danger Zones: Bank Map!

So here’s our Danger Zones: Bank map, a pretty standard savings & loan based loosely on a few real locations. Like any good comic book bank, you’ve got a large lobby full of pillars for a superhero fight, some safety deposit boxes for secret documents, and a comedically oversized vault in the basement, no doubt leftover from a bygone era when banks were required to keep more cash and valuables on-hand. Villains could be after valuables, but we also have elements like a large bookkeeping office, so maybe your villain isn’t attacking the bank itself but some hapless accountant. Like a lot of sturdily built old buildings, it also has a forgotten fallout shelter in the basement, which could serve as a villains lair or the hiding place or some clue lost in 1952. I, like most people, hear “supervillains attacking a bank” and immediately think “oh, they’re after the cash,” but with something physical to work with, you can start thinking about what else goes on at a bank and how to subvert people’s expectations.

Danger Zones: BankEach Danger Zone entry comes with a few suggested Capers set in that location (in this case, provided by the creative Katherine Schuttler), but here are some of my own ideas that come just from checking out the map:

Assault on the Credit Union

The heroes are caught inside the bank just as a major criminal organization begins an all-out assault. One of the bank employees has been feeding the FBI information on a major player’s white collar crime, and now all the syndicates resources—including several villains—are coming down hard hoping to wipe out the witness, the evidence, and maybe the entire building in one bloody night. The heroes can use the map and a list of the personnel and equipment in the building to come up with defense strategies and fallback locations and keep patrolling the building to make sure no one’s coming in through the windows or the loading ramp in the basement (if one of the hired villains is has stretchy powers, shrinking, or can turn into fluid, they might also have to deal with a nightmarish night deposit to kick things off). How do a band of superheroes keep a small army at bay and keep everyone trapped inside alive long enough for help to arrive?

With a map, I can track where the heroes are, where the NPCs are, and where the crooks are and decide how well each entryway is holding up to the siege, and the players can decide where they fall back to as the enemies progress.

Banking and Entry

A legendary mystical archaeologist has passed away after an improbably long life, leaving many of his greatest discoveries concealed in forgotten safe deposit boxes across the United States. The heroes need one to solve a crisis, or need to keep one out of the hands of a diabolical cult, who have already begun infiltrating the bank’s management. The heroes might stage the bank robbery themselves under temporary “villain” identities and have a confrontation with the local police or local heroes, or they might stage a quiet break-in after hours. Either way, with a detailed map, I can play up their B&E more strategically and add some drama, like a regular guard patrol or figure out where the lines of sight for police snipers might be. This could be the start to, or culmination of, a “hunted by the authorities” plotline!

A solo break-in might be better for a one-on-one session with the team’s sneakiest member, but also lets you break out all the rules for security systems in the Danger Zones text itself.

Gilded Cage

The fallout shelter in the basement looks like a great place for a villain’s lair, especially if some trash-tier bad guys move in and retreat here every time the cops or heroes start to get involved, lying low until the authorities get bored. Pack Rat and Junkpile from Threat Report are the obvious candidates, but it would be a lot more fun if there was a second layer of villainy obfuscating them. Maybe Dollface (again, see Threat Report) has an identity working in the bank and is deliberately hiding the villains’ trail and keeping them safe in exchange for retrieving parts she needs, or the Grandmaster (see Emerald City) has been manipulating the duo as unwitting knights in one of his obtuse schemes, placing obsessions into the impressionable villains then hiding them behind a respectable facade. Once the heroes discover WHO is performing these robberies, they must still track them back to their lair and decide how to approach the bank—a business unwilling to simply grant free access to strange people in masks.

There are several Danger Zones releasing this week. You can find them all in our Green Ronin Online Store RIGHT HERE, as well as on DrivethruRPG. Check back later this week and in the coming weeks, for additional Zones!

DUNGEONS & DISINTEGRATORS: Netherwar part 3 – Broken Strings

Netherwar part 3: Broken Strings

The newest installment of the Astonishing Adventures NetherWar series, Broken Strings, releases this week, taking your heroes across Freedom City to battle transforming robots and investigate a string of bizarre, toy-themed robberies. But what’s a magic-oriented series of adventures without a crawl through a traditional, fantasy-style dungeon? So Broken Strings eventually takes the heroes into a network of tunnels and prisons filled with traps, puzzles, and supernatural opponents itching for a fight!

If you’ve been following along with the NetherWar story, your heroes are in for a few revelations and some deeper mysteries, but even if you haven’t played the previous installments of the storyline, Broken Strings includes ideas for running it as a standalone adventure!

Delving Dungeons Deep

Mutants & Masterminds has a very different approach to character resources and scarcity—particularly health—than traditional fantasy roleplaying games. Heroes generally shrug off their injuries and conditions after every scene. Just like in comics, a superhero can take a thorough beating but be fine in time for their next encounter with a villain, and when an injury persists, that’s a temporary complication for which the hero earns a Hero Point. Meanwhile many fantasy RPGs limit characters’ access to health, class abilities, and equipment to add an element of resource management and risk assessment to each encounter. Fantasy RPG encounters like those in Fantasy AGE run a gamut of difficulties from trivial to deadly to slowly whittle away characters’ resources until they must rest, turn back, or perish. Superheroes on a dungeon crawl don’t capture the same mood as fantasy adventurers because they never need to track hit points, count arrows, or manage spells per day.

If you’d like to capture the spirit of dungeon-crawling fantasy adventure for Broken Strings or your own M&M adventures, consider to following optional adjustments:

  1. More Encounters

Mutants & Masterminds generally only tracks the big, bombastic battles much like a comic book storyline might, with small, quick encounters relegated to background flavor and montages. But fantasy adventures rely on low-difficulty encounters to build tension and tax resources—a swarm of giant spiders might not present any genuine risk of death, but they still deplete your limited pool of health and possibly spells. To emulate this in M&M, sprinkle in an extra 4-5 encounters with less powerful opponents like Animals, Monsters, and Zombies from the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide and 1-2 encounters with less-potent villains like the Jobber or the Psycho. You can also borrow all sorts of classic fantasy monsters from the Super Powered Bestiary, available from Rogue Genius games. Consider interesting terrain for each encounter and how the villains or the heroes might use it to their advantage. Don’t forget about challenge sequences that you can use as traps, such as those presented in The Pentagram Peril.

  1. Maps

Maps add an element of choice and exploration to a dungeon crawl, while Mutants & Masterminds focuses on dramatic scenes. The difference is showmanship vs. simulation. There’s no wrong answer for which you prefer, but each captures a different mood. If you want your players to struggle, suffer consequences for making wrong choices, and feel triumph for correct guesses, consider mapping the dungeon out and putting encounters at the ends of some dead ends. In this case, the heroes should have a few chances to learn some basic elements of the dungeon’s layout, such as the option of taking a dangerous shortcut or a longer path with more encounters, but less-challenging ones.

  1. Limited Recovery

Mutants & Masterminds hand-waves most healing. Heroes recover one damage condition per minute of rest, meaning they effectively heal entirely between encounters and face each new opponent fresh as a daisy. If you want health and healing to be a more scarce resource, consider replacing the normal recovery rules with Vigor. Vigor provides heroes with a limited pool of recovery they must spend to heal in-between encounters.

Each hero gains a poor of Vigor equal to their Stamina plus their Presence, representing their physical toughness and their force of will. When not actively engaged in combat, a hero can rest for one minute and spend one point of Vigor to reduce the severity of a condition by one step (from Paralyzed to Immobile, for example) or to reduce their accumulated Toughness check penalty by 1. Heroes can still recover from obviously simply conditions (such as standing up from prone) without spending Vigor, with the pool more intended to reflect recovering from damage, resisting poison, and shaking off diseases; the Gamemaster is the final arbiter of what conditions do and don’t require spending a Vigor.

Heroes can only regain spent Vigor by resting for 8-10 hours somewhere safe. The Treatment skill can be used to diagnose illnesses, stabilize dying characters, can revive Dazed or Stunned characters, and provide a bonus against diseases and toxins, but doesn’t provide any direct healing. Powers like Healing and Regeneration provide one additional Vigor per rank and dictate how often a hero can spend Vigor. For example, a hero with Regeneration 5 has 5 additional Vigor and can spend a point of Vigor every other round to heal. Under these rules, Healing allows the healing character to spend their Vigor to heal another character.

  1. Limit Resources

Part of the risk in a dungeon crawl is that heroes don’t have the immediate ability to replace lost or broken gear or reach out to allies. Devices, and especially equipment, are vulnerabilities that the environment can exploit. Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of minor antagonists destroying a hero’s weapons or armor in an encounter with the Smash action, as collateral damage from a trap, or randomly as a complication (awarding the character a Hero Point). A hero should be able to repair a Device as part of an 8-10 hour rest. Equipment can’t be repaired or replaced, but a hero should be able to scavenge temporary replacements with effort and/or skill use, though it might not be as good as what they have been using—a hero who loses their armor, for example, can still benefit from borrowing a defeated foe’s leather jacket.

You can temporarily impose these rules to simulate the harsher nature of a magical “dungeon dimension,” or to reflect the time pressure and stress of a supervillain’s gauntlet-style “carnival of calamity,” but make sure to keep in touch with your players about any changes—even temporary ones—you want to make to the rules. Whatever the scenario, the goal is for everyone to have a good time and tell a fun story.

Tune in next month as the NetherWar heats up and serpent people step in to make things really complicated!

A Series of Tubes (Green Ronin on YouTube)

“Or we can just dive-in, do it, and see what happens.”

That was Green Ronin Community Director Troy Hewitt, one of our resident extroverts, encouraging us to pivot in the time of covid-19 toward our community, using the means at-hand, including video streaming. Troy has a great way of getting those of us who would want to study the situation for, well, ever out of our heads and into action. That next week, the first “Mutants & Masterminds Monday” live-streamed with me and M&M Developer Crystal Frasier, with Troy acting as host, moderator, and on-the-fly tech guru.

It’s now almost three months later and we have eleven (soon to be twelve) M&M Mondays under our belts. It’s still very much a “see what happens” learning process, but we’ve had guests on the stream, fielded questions from our audience, and Troy has come up with a few fun activities for us to do. We’ve even developed in-jokes (as gamers interacting are wont to do) from Crystal’s “journal of dreams” to our tendency to come up with new projects for ourselves while on the stream.

Green Ronin on Youtube!

All of which is a long introduction to announcing that, as things are progressing, some of our “M&M Mondays” episodes are available on Green Ronin Publishing’s YouTube channel. We’re putting more up as we go and the eventual plan is for us to start streaming live on YouTube and Twitch as well as on Facebook, so there will be even more places where you can see and hear from us and we can tell you everything that’s going on with Mutants & Masterminds and Green Ronin Publishing.

 

Not going to lie, for an introvert like myself, being on-camera isn’t easy, and I have been on-camera more in these past three months than I think I have been in the past three years, and then some. But at the same time, it has been wonderful getting to talk on a weekly basis with Crystal and Troy and our guests and to hear the questions and feedback from our community, many of you from week to week. It hasn’t been easy for Green Ronin (or many small businesses) with the initial loss of distribution and with many game stores still closed or doing only limited business. So every purchase of Green Ronin’s games helps, whether it is from the GR Online Store or supporting your favorite local game retailer.

We’re about two weeks from experiencing Gen Con Online for the first time (another “dive-in and see what happens” experience) and Green Ronin Publishing will be there with our games, our staff of wonderful and creative people, and with you, our community, and I’ll be there, in front of my camera, just as I plan to be next Monday. I don’t know for how many Mondays, to be honest, because things are changing fast and often these days but, I can tell you this: We’ll see what happens.

Hope you can join us sometime.

MAKE MINE MINIONS

One of the fun but oft-overlooked elements of Mutants & Masterminds is the minions that some villains bring to the table. What’s the point of fighting a Malador the Mystic without plowing through a horde of zombies to reach him? Who even is Grandmaster if he’s not backed up by a fleet of chess-themed cyborgs? Minions can help develop the character of a villain, increase the threat they pose to heroes, or let the heroes unload and feel unbeatable, depending on how you choose to use them.

As a basic refresher, minions are opponents that are quick and easy to take down, and pose very little individual threat to superheroes:

  • Minions cannot score critical hits on non-minions.
  • Non-minions can make attack checks against minions as routine checks.
  • If a minion fails a resistance check, the minion suffers the worst degree of effect, regardless of the actual degree.
  • Some traits, like the Takedown advantage, work specifically against minions.

Punching... minions... is very satisfying

Minion or Not a Minion?

One of the first questions you should ask yourself when building an encounter is whether or not the villain’s henchpeople are minions or full characters. Some minion statblocks—such as the Robot Jockey, Elite Soldier, and Mystic Ninja—are powerful enough they can pose some risk to superheroes, especially with a critical hit! Others—the Colossal Robot, Tyrannosaurus, and Dragon—are as powerful as PL 10 superheroes. You can easily use these statblocks for lieutenants and treat them as normal characters. While not as powerful as a PL 10 superhero, a PL 7 lieutenant can take more than one solid blow from a hero, might get a lucky critical, and can take 10 on attack checks against any minions supporting the heroes.

On the other side of that coin, you may want to apply the minion rules to a villain archetype to represent extremely dangerous opponents that the heroes can confront quickly, but not without some risk. Applying the minion rules to any of the sample PL 10 hero archetypes from the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, for example, can provide a small army of deadly alien invaders, potent robots, or ninja assassins whose threat comes from their skill rather than their staying power. You might also apply the minion rules to “C-list” supervillains who might have potent abilities, but largely serve as easily-defeated comic relief in your campaign.

Finally, the minion rules are something you can apply gradually to help reflect the heroes’ growth. If your adventure focuses around a secret government program producing robots to police and victimize people with powers, you might treat the robots themselves as normal characters for the first few encounters, presenting a formidable threat the heroes must push themselves to confront, and eventually begin treating the robots as minions to reflect the heroes learning more about their tactics and weaknesses, allowing them to tackle much larger groups.

Remember, the minion rules exist to speed up combat and to reduce the swingy-ness that critical hits can cause. If you want an encounter to run faster—often as a lead-up to a bigger encounter—the minion rules are your friend. But if you want to slow an encounter down to emphasize tension or increase the risk, then toss them out and use standard character rules.

Customizing Your Minions

The minion archetypes presented across various Mutants & Masterminds supplements are generic ideals. Like the hero archetypes in the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, they’re blank canvasses you can paint any sort of costume or personality on. Your ninjas may be standard silent warriors in black outfits, or with a fresh coat of paint you can use the same statblock for a music-focused street gang who fight with capoeira or criminal circus acrobats. How you describe your villain’s minions helps define the villain as well. Your Brute villain might be backed up by a team of Goon minions, but those minions wearing black suits and sunglasses sends a different message about who their boss is than if they dress like wrestlers or who are spliced with bear DNA.

If you want to put in a few extra minutes, consider the villain and what abilities they might provide their henchpeople, particularly in the form of equipment (though a criminal geneticist or cyberneticist might grant other, more permanent boons). A villain like Chakram from Rogues Gallery is a cool-headed professional who probably hires Soldiers as her team, but provides them with scaled-down versions of her own trick throwing rings rather than the rifles described in their statblocks. You can use the exact same ability description—Ranged Multiattack Damage 5—but describe it as throwing disks rather than a hail of bullets. You might also provide a few other trick rings like her crash-foam ring or knockout ring, lowering the effect rank to 5 but using the same Affliction effects. Other villains may provide entire suites of abilities; Madam Zero from Freedom City might provide “Ice Chests” to the generic Goons she hires. These technological breastplates grant the minions immunity to cold and the ice ramp power like Madame Zero’s, and replaces their Pistol attack with an Ice Blast with the same bonus and damage rank—it may even provide other powers like those in Madame Zero’s Cold Control array as alternate effects, likewise limited to rank 3 or 4. You don’t need to track the Power Point costs for these changes, just make sure you keep any new effects within the minion’s existing Power Level.

More Ways to Use Minions

Chapter 3 of the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide includes a sidebar with recommendations to get the most out of your minions. Ideas include using them as ablative villain armor by granting them the Interpose advantage or pooling them for Aid action and team Attacks. Here are a few more ideas that don’t quite use the Mutants & Masterminds rules as written, but can still add fun variety to your game table.

Minions! How Do You Defeat Them?

With their low Power Levels and the heroes’ ability to take 10 on attack checks, minion encounters can just be fun opportunities for the heroes to describe how cool or powerful their abilities are. Rather than rolling dice, you can simply turn to each player and say “There are 12 minions left. How do you defeat three of them?” Let players be creative in how they use and describe their abilities or skills; this may even be a chance for rarely-used powers or features to come up. This approach allows players to define more of their character than just rolling dice until everyone stops moving; they can be as skilled, powerful, sneaky, clever, or merciful as they want.

If you don’t want a minion encounter to serve solely as a Roleplaying scene, or there are some consequences to not taking down the minions quickly—perhaps taking more than one round means any surviving minion trips the alarm, for example—you can split the difference. Have each player roll an attack check or effect check of their choice, instantly taking down one minion with a successful check and one additional minion for every additional Degree of Success. The Takedown advantage plays a slightly different role here, automatically granting a hero one additional minion subdued per rank. This arrangement still lets heroes describe how exactly they take down multiple foes while still leaving room for consequences.

Boss Boosters

While trifling on their own, minions can augment a villain’s abilities, making them a far greater challenge to the heroes. Rather than attack the heroes directly with the minions, describe them as coordinating with their boss, using attacks to distract and herd heroes or coordinate the villain’s defenses. Mechanically, the minions make Routine Checks each round to perform Aid actions. A single minion can boost their villain’s attack check or active defenses by +2 each round. Two minions working together can boost both attacks and defenses. Three minions can work together to provide three degrees of success, increasing the bonus to +5 and six minions coordinating with their boss can increase both their attack and defenses bonuses by +5 each round. This approach takes some liberties with the Routine Check rules (which normally can’t be used in combat, except against minions) and the Aid rules (normally, the Defense bonus only applies against attacks from a single opponent), but greatly simplifies the math involved in minion-heavy fights. It also creates a scenario where villains surrounded by their henchpeople start out very dangerous and gradually become more vulnerable as heroes peel away their allies. Heroes must decide if they want to focus on the more vulnerable minions, gradually reducing the villain’s threat, or strike directly at the mastermind who can more readily avoid their attacks and more reliably strike back. It’s an effective tactic for villains specializing in cunning, like Conundrum or Killshot, or villains who rely on armies of loyal soldiers like Overshadow.

To increase the danger of this tactic, combine it with the Ablative Minions recommendation from the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide to prevent the heroes from defeating the mastermind until all their assistants have been dispatched. This combination transforms minions into a “health bar” for the villain, creating extremely challenging encounters with villains who might normally pose little threat to an entire team of heroes.

Unit Tactics

Villains aren’t the only ones who can benefit from assistance. Teams of minions can coordinate to great effect. The simplest way to track multiple minions working as a group is to group them into batches of four, then increase the attack check, defenses, and damage by +2—the assumption being that one minion acts as the leader, with one augmenting their defenses, another aiding their attack, and a third using a Team attack to improve their damage. The unit fights as a single opponent, and every failed Toughness check by the unit eliminates one of the upgrades—attack, defense, or damage—while a failed save against any area effect wipes out the unit. You can push the limits and use a group of ten minions to augment the same statistics by +5; in this case, two failed Toughness checks reduce a single bonus to +2 before the bonus is lost entirely with another failed check; an area attack wipes out half the minions from a large unit rather than all of them. For this use of minions, the Takedown advantage lets you knock out one additional minion per rank rather than its normal function.

Like the Boss Boosters technique mentioned above, this plays a little loose with the rules for Routine Checks and Aid, but greatly simplifies the math in running large groups of minions, effectively transforming a large group of minions into a single supervillain whose abilities gradually weaken over time. Heroes face a deadly opponent up front, but things get gradually easier as they wade into the fight and start knocking out goons. For tactically-minded villains, you might even combine this tactic with the Boss Booster, with one squad of minions intended to protect and augment their leader and remaining minions broken out into smaller units. The villain can use a Move Action on their turn to issue commands, reorganizing any minions left into full units once again so long as enough of them remain.

 

However you decide to use minions in your game, have fun tinkering with what the system can do and the new ways to threaten—or bolster—your heroes.

Ronin Report, July 10th, 2020

It’s been a couple of months since our last Ronin Ronin Report: new serialized adventures!Report so I thought I’d update you all on how the company is faring during the ongoing COVID crisis. In March and April things were dicey. When our warehouse shut down and we could not ship physical books anymore, that put us a bad situation and severely impacted our ability to bring in revenue. Team Ronin really pulled together though, and we were able to roll with the punches and make some contingency plans that helped us weather the roughest patch.

Thankfully, Alliance—the game distributor who warehouses our books—re-opened with new safety procedures in place in May. This meant we could begin shipping books again, both to customers of our online store and the distributors who serve game retailers. This was a big help. A couple of print jobs that had been put on pause were also able to get going again. Lairs for Fantasy AGE and the reprint of the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide for Mutants & Masterminds both arrived and are available now. We also ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for the Book of Fiends on Game On Tabletop.

All of this means that things are more stable now than they were a couple of months ago. Does it mean everything is back to normal? Well, no, unfortunately not. Pretty much every convention in 2020 has been cancelled at this point, game stores are still struggling, and orders did not magically go back to their pre-COVID levels. We had to make some big adjustments to our schedule and have to be much more strategic about what gets printed and in what quantities. And yes, M&M fans, we will print the Time Traveler’s Codex! We just need to find the right time for it.

The hardest decisions we had to make regarding our schedule were pushing the Fantasy AGE Core Rulebook and Fifth Season RPG into next year. 2020 just Ronin Report: new serialized adventures!isn’t the right time for big launches like that, so we reluctantly made that call. On the upside, it does give us more development time on both projects and we are putting that to good use.

Overall, we are getting by but it’s not an easy time. If you’d like to support us, pick up some Green Ronin books from your local store or our online store. We also have some exciting stuff being serialized in electronic format: Five and Infinity for Modern AGE, the NetherWar adventure series for Mutants & Masterminds, and new Blue Rose Adventures. Nisaba Press, our fiction imprint, has released two new short story collections (For Hart and Queen for Blue Rose and Powered Up for M&M), and the superhero novel Sacred Band is also up for pre-order.

And there’s more fun stuff coming up. In August we’ll be launching Sword Chronicle, a full fantasy RPG built on the rules from our Song of Ice and Fire RPG. Ships of The Expanse will bring all the sexy spaceships to your Expanse games. Danger Zones will provide lots of interesting adventure locales for Mutants & Masterminds. And we’ve got a 20th anniversary surprise to boot!

We hope you are all staying safe out there. Remember to wear a mask when you go out and maintain social distancing. We know it’s hard for gamers used to sitting around the table together, but we want to see all your faces when this is all over.

Ronin Report: new releases from Nisaba Press!

 

 

Green Ronin Publishing Streaming!

Over the course of the last few months, Team Ronin has been quietly engaging in some experimentation with livestreaming. I say quietly, because even though we’re broadcasting live to the world at large, we purposely chose to keep mum in the run-up to the events in order to give us some room to experiment with format and presentation, and to become familiar with the various technical and logistical aspects of planning, promotion, and of course, going live with the broadcast itself.

It’s been a few months now, and while we will continue to improve our streaming prowess and expand our efforts, it is safe to say that the experiment has been a great success! Though more importantly, we are truly enjoying the experience. So it’s time to level up our streaming game, and like any good endeavor meant to build stronger relationships and connect with people, it’s time to make a little more noise and most importantly, solicit feedback from you directly.

The original idea came as a result of an emergency meeting of the entire team. The spread of COVID-19 was creating a world-wide disruption in every aspect of our business, from printing to conventions- and though at the time there was uncertainty as to how long key infrastructures (like shipping services)  would be incapacitated, we felt certain of one thing: business as usual wasn’t going to work. But as important as finding ways to shift our overall approach to sustaining  a business, there was another, equally important issue to address: in the most trying of times, the connections you make with other humans plays a huge role in your outlook on the world. The more positive, constructive, and authentic human connections you have, your chances of success are increased exponentially. But more than that, we go a long way towards increasing that oft-fleeting feeling of well-being when we can be together in the struggle, even in the face of unprecedented global catastrophe,

So, with a pinch of teamwork, a dash of business necessity, and a heaping helping of blind enthusiasm, the Green Ronin livestreams will continue (until moral improves)! Consider this your invitation to stop by and join the conversation! We laugh a bit, tease a bit, and talk a lot about ideas and motivations behind your favorite Green Ronin projects, inviting your favorite freelancers and contributors from across our catalogue of products to join in the fun.

But be warned! We plan to continue experimenting with the concept, expanding the great ideas and regrouping around those ideas that don’t quite hit the mark. Some of it you’ll no doubt enjoy, other parts might not resonate as much (and that’s ok!). Just be sure to manage your expectations: these live streams are casual conversations and opportunities to connect. While we require time to perfect the presentation, we show up ready to connect and share with you directly.

So, if you’d like to check out a Green Ronin broadcast live and in person, you have two opportunities currently:

Mutants & Masterminds Mondays! Streaming with Crystal and Steve

Mutants & Masterminds Monday with Crystal Frasier and Steve Kenson, streaming live on Facebook at 2p Pacific, every Monday*

 

Fiction Fridays! Streaming with Jaym and Nicole

Fiction Friday with Jaym Gates and Nicole Lindroos, streaming live on Facebook at 2p Pacific every Friday*

Oh yeah, and I’m there too, your disembodied voice cracking wise and trying not to act like too much of an idiot in front of company.

Finally, if you’ve got some thoughts around the kinds of livestreams you would like to see, streaming venues you would like us to explore, or perhaps some thoughts on making the stream more accessible, feel free to send a note to letsplay@GreenRonin.com! I can’t guarantee that every idea can be incorporated, or that we can respond to every single email we receive on the subject of creative improvement, but I do promise we will read them!

Many thanks to those that stumbled across our little experiment and still somehow manage to stick with the program! We look forward to our conversations with you every single week, and hope you do too.

See you on the internet!

*A host of things can impact a livestream, from unplanned internet outages to illness, from to technical fumbles, to… well, just about anything. We reserve the right to shift and change hours, to reschedule, and to expand or contract our broadcast schedule as required by mood or law. Please adjust your expectations accordingly—and don’t forget to bring the fun!

Mastering Time Travel (Part 2)

Gamemastering Time TravelIn the second part of my Ronin Roundtable guest-spot on the Time Traveler’s Codex (part 1 is here, in case you missed it!), let’s look at how the sourcebook talks about Gamemastering time travel, the nature and use of time travel in the Earth-Prime omniverse, and a peek at the Silver Age time period and some familiar faces found there.

As Chapter 3 of the Time Traveler’s Codex points out, Gamemastering time travel stories can be a challenge. The chapter looks at a number of considerations, building on the intro material from Chapter 1, including deciding how changeable the timeline may be, what methods of time travel exist, the various hazards of time travel, and the important question…

Who Controls the Time Machine?

A major element of a time travel story or series is: Who is in control of the means of time travel? If it is the Gamemaster, then time travel can be largely a plot device for getting the player characters to a new era for the start of a new adventure. They might need to figure out exactly why they are there, but how they get there is taken care of. The same is largely true of time travel is under control of a non-player character, particularly some powerful patron who sends the heroes back and forth through time. The characters might occasionally be able to request some “bending” of the rules but, otherwise, the mechanics are out of their hands.

On the other hand, if the heroes are in control of their means of time travel, the Gamemaster will want clear rules as to how time travel works in the setting and the limits of the heroes’ means of travel are, if any. Be prepared for players to come up with unexpected uses of time travel and to test the limits of that ability. Having some type of limit in place, such as only being able to make so many “jumps” before having to recharge or refuel, or a need to avoid excessive stress on the space-time continuum by spacing out the use of time travel, can provide some boundaries.

The Omniverse

The Earth-Prime setting for M&M is not just one world or even one universe but a vast omniverse of parallel realities and alternate dimensions, of which your own series is a part. Whether it diverges only a little from what’s seen in sourcebook like Atlas of Earth-Prime and Emerald City, or diverges a lot, there’s room in the omniverse for everything! The Time Traveler’s Codex looks at time travel as a phenomenon in the context of the Earth-Prime setting, from cosmic beings like the Time Keepers and their Cosmic Clock, to characters like Doctor Tomorrow, Zeitgeist, and the notorious Tick-Tock Doc and his Counter-Clock Culture.

A Silver Age Retrospective

Since a guidebook to time travel requires times to visit, the Time Traveler’s Codex also looks at a wide range of historical eras, including the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Iron Age of the Earth-Prime setting, focusing on Emerald City, Freedom City, and New York City, respectively. Even if the only “time travel” that interests you is setting your M&M game in an earlier era, this part of the Codex has a wealth of material for you!

The Silver Age section looks at the heyday of the original Freedom League, from their founding after Hades’ attempts to invade Freedom City with an undead army in 1960 up through their first meeting with Pseudo during a secret invasion of the Grue in 1969. It also looks at the original Atom Family and their eventual “discovery” of Farside City, and important Silver Age villains like August Roman, Queen Khana, and Set the Destroyer (along with the slightly less important but still notable Red Death and Bee-Keeper).

And don’t forget, alongside the Time Traveler’s Codex, we also have the amazing bonus content PDF “All Time, No Space!” available FREE for download.