Tag Archive for: Superheroes

Interview with author Aaron Rosenberg

Earlier this week we shared the interview with Richard Lee Byers who wrote part one of the Arcane Secrets Duology, and now we’re back with Aaron Rosenberg, author of part two, Lost and Never Found!

Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza: The Arcane Secrets Duology

Lost and Never Found: From arcane talismans scattered across the country to lost heroes scattered across the multiverse, Thomas Rhymer and his erstwhile allies have their work cut out for them if they are to stop the magical menace threatening Earth-Prime. This unlikely alliance of heroes must travel through magical doors into strange worlds, unlike anything they’ve experienced before, and make it back in time to save their own.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work prior to this novel.

Hm, okay, the short version, then. Born in New Jersey, raised in New Orleans, educated in Kansas, long-time resident of New York City. Worked as a college professor, an animation studio director, a graphic designer, a book layout artist, and a website manager. Began writing as a kid, started professionally during college in RPGs, wrote 70-some-odd books and supplements there, segued into RPG fiction, then tie-in fiction in general, then original fiction. I mostly do novels and short stories these days, and I write everything from SF comedy to epic fantasy to superheroes to action-adventure to mystery to thrillers. Lost & Never Found is on track to be my 50th published novel, which will also be my 260th publication overall.

 

Lost & Never Found is the second book, following on the events of The Doom That Came to San Francisco. Was it a challenge picking up from where that novel ended? How much did you collaborate with Richard Lee Byers on where your book started and where it was going?

Actually, it was surprisingly easy. Richard and I have known each other for years, though this is our first chance to work together, and we had a long conversation beforehand about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go with both books and how to dovetail them together. We read each other’s outlines, so we both knew exactly where his book ended and mine began, and I read his draft before starting mine to make sure I was also consistent on the characterizations.

 

Your novel explores the Dimension of Doors, first introduced in the Mutants & Masterminds sourcebook Book of Magic. How much did you need to develop details about the dimension and how did you decide to use it as a storytelling device?

Since Richard had set things in motion with Gatekeeper, it made sense to continue his involvement, and that gave me the perfect opportunity to really play with the Dimension of Doors. I had the basic description, of course, but it was so open I had a lot of space to maneuver, and of course you can go anywhere with it , which just gives you endless possibilities. That was really at the crux of this book, too, flinging these heroes to strange new worlds—it’s a classic comic book trope, and I had a lot of fun playing that up. Plus it gives that great dichotomy between the group still in our world and the others in these new worlds and then the few in the Dimension itself.

 

While your novel works with characters from the previous book, you also get to introduce new characters, who don’t appear in Doom. Did you choose which ones from the Earth-Prime setting you wanted to use and why those particular characters?

We discussed it beforehand, which characters Richard wanted to use and which I wanted, and the good thing is, there was a lot of overlap! But yeah, his focusing on certain members of the Sentinels meant I got to continue using them but was also able to bring in their remaining teammates. Also, I really wanted to write the Shadow Knights, Richard basically used them in his specifically so I’d get to have them available for mine. They’re just too cool for words! Rhymer is also such an interesting character, and I hope my take on him is new and exciting.

 

The arcane and magical themes in the duology make it somewhat different from the usual four-color superhero fare. Your book, in particular, shows this contrast between the shadowy arcane world and the, let’s say simpler, world that superheroes live in. Which side do you think has a harder time of it in Lost & Never Found?

Oh, the superheroes, easily. Arcane types tend to be “in the know” as far as how the world really works, the forces underlying our own, etc. Superheroes tend to be more surface-oriented, particularly in a four-color setting—they deal with immediate problems but are often clueless about the shadows pulling everyone’s strings, the cosmic-scale objectives and conflicts, things like that. And that’s especially true because folks like Rhymer seem to delight in being vague and confusing in their explanations! There’s a lot of “mere mortals were never meant to know” when you’re dealing with arcane types, so the heroes are at a real disadvantage. An arcane character is far more likely to adjust quickly to a completely new world than a superhero, if only because the arcane know about other worlds and have probably studied them, even if they’ve never been to one themselves.

Of course, on the flip side, it’s a lot more common for arcane types to get paralyzed by indecision, weighing all the possible outcomes and all the ramifications. Superheroes tend to be a lot more immediate, a lot more direct, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Author Aaron RosenbergAaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Areyat Islands fantasy pirate mystery series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and, with David Niall Wilson, the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. His tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, Mutants & Masterminds, and Eureka and short stories for The X-Files, World of Darkness, Crusader Kings II, Deadlands, Master of Orion, and Europa Universalis IV. He has written children’s books (including the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books, and roleplaying games (including the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets). Aaron lives in New York. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.


You can back the Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza RIGHT NOW over on Kickstarter!Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza

Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza!

The Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza is now funding on Kickstarter!

You can help us get long-demanded M&M 3E books back in print and pick up two brand new Earth-Prime novels while you’re at it!

Mutants & Masterminds fans, it’s time to get many of our Third Edition titles back in print and to do that we need heroes like you. We know you’d love to get print copies of books like Power Profiles and Gadget Guides, and we want to put them in your hands. We’ve also just run out of the fifth printing of the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook and with any RPG, you’ve got to keep your core rulebook in print.

Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza

So, here’s the plan. The initial offerings of the Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza are the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, Gadget Guides, and Power Profiles, and our basic funding goal is $30,000. As we unlock stretch goals beyond that, we will add more books to the campaign, and you can get them as add-ons to your pledge. The Cosmic Handbook, for example, becomes available as an add-on at $42,000. It’s that simple!

Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza

Still not sure? Check out these Ronin Round Table articles by Steve Kenson:

Back the Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza today!

New Earth-Prime Fiction!Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza: The Arcane Secrets Duology

Two new Mutants & Masterminds novels are available in several reward tiers and as add-ons:

  • The Doom That Came to San Francisco, by Richard Lee Byers: In three alternate worlds, three arch-villains are about to meet their final dooms. Before the final strikes fall, they are snatched away and drawn into a conspiracy to conquer Earth-Prime. Quickly overcoming Gatekeeper, the guardian of the nexus between worlds, they begin a full-out offensive in San Francisco. Arcane hero Thomas Rhymer, drawn to the battle by his dark premonitions, must quickly gather allies to defend the city and Earth-Prime!
  • Lost and Never Found, by Aaron Rosenberg: From arcane talismans scattered across the country to lost heroes scattered across the multiverse, Thomas Rhymer and his erstwhile allies have their work cut out for them if they are to stop the magical menace threatening Earth-Prime. This unlikely alliance of heroes must travel through magical doors into strange worlds, unlike anything they’ve experienced before, and make it back in time to save their own.

You’ll find even more information on the Reprint Extravaganza Kickstarter page.

Gadget Guides: The Right Tool for the Job

Mutants & Masterminds Gadget GuidesYou can tell that Power Profiles was written and produced serially, because we included “Armor Powers” pretty early on: powered armor is a common type of super-power in the comics, and it starts with “A” so it was right up-front on the list of power themes. However, it quickly became apparent that if we were going to do additional power profiles on all of the various power effects involving devices and equipment that the series (and the final book) was going to be almost twice as long!

So we decided early on to set aside all of the other power themes involving devices and equipment, other than things like “Tech Powers” and things that were innate super-powers interacting with technology or the like. That list was expanded upon with other themes specific to equipment, building an outline for a new series of serially-released PDFs we called Gadget Guides.

Gadget Guides is “Power Profiles, but for equipment” so it’s no surprise that it, too, quickly sold through its print run, with copies of the out-of-print book going for sky-high prices on resale sites. Even more than Power Profiles, Gadget Guides spans styles, genres, and power levels, with chapters ranging from Archaic Weapons and Steamtech (19th century steampunk) to Alien Technology, Cybertech, and Mecha! Robots get into the act as well; we ended up writing stats and a background for the giant robot on the cover, in fact. (It’s a Terminus probot.) It’s not even all technology: Gadget Guides includes chapters on magic items and magical rituals and on psychic technology and devices.

That makes Gadget Guides a kind of “stealth” genre book for Mutants & Masterminds as well. If you want to use M&M to run adventures or campaigns for cyberpunk, far-future science fiction, the steampunk 19th century, modern super-spies, battling giant mecha, super-vehicles, or an archaic setting with magic and psychic powers, the book has all kinds of tools to help you do any or all of that. That’s in addition to its usefulness for a general superheroic setting, which has to account for all of those various sub-genres and more. Gadget Guides pairs well with the newer Time Traveler’s Codex as well as Power Profiles, covering the technology available in different time periods and settings characters might visit (or come from).

Just like Power Profiles, Gadget Guides is a catalog of inspiration when it comes to particular character types. Just flip through its pages and you’ll have all kinds of ideas for heroes and villains using particular types of technology. It’s also a handy resource for inventors (covered in Appendix I of the book, by the way) and gadgeteers: Rather than having to build-out different devices on-the-fly at the game table, you can just reference the catalog of devices already built in Gadget Guides to see if they fit your character’s point “budget”!

In short, Gadget Guides does for equipment what Power Profiles did for innate powers, and then some, giving you a complete “toybox” for arming and equipping your Mutants & Masterminds characters.


You can back the Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza RIGHT NOW over on Kickstarter!

Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza!

Power Profiles: Giving You the Power

Mutants & Masterminds Power ProfilesUsed copies of Power Profiles have been selling for hundreds of dollars on auction sites. On the one hand, that’s flattering; it’s nice to have a book you wrote be in that kind of demand. On the other hand, it’s frustrating, because Power Profiles was meant to be the kind of useful resource every Mutants & Masterminds group would want to have, and obviously that’s true … if only we had it to sell to them.

Power Profiles developed as a twofold idea. First, a regular series of short-subject PDFs we could develop and release electronically, then collect into a book when we had enough of them, if they proved popular. Second, we discovered that one of the things gamers liked about the DC Adventures Heroes & Villains volumes were the huge number of worked examples of powers in Mutants & Masterminds. Players could say, “I want to play a character like X” from the DC Universe, and just look in the books for that character to see how they were put together. Since we knew the DC Adventures license was limited and the books had a limited lifespan, we decided a fun PDF series would be to look at various archetypal powers (and power-sets) in M&M. Thus, Power Profiles came into being.

It breaks things down into powers by theme: Air Powers, Animal Powers, Armor Powers, and so on, as opposed to the core M&M rules, which focus on the effects of various powers. With more than thirty power categories, each with two dozen or more powers, the book has over seven hundred ready-made powers for use in building M&M characters! So you can come up with a character theme (like “Ice Powers” or “Magic” for examples) and just flip through Power Profiles for ideas. What’s more, even the powers you don’t choose can be useful, serving as a catalog of potential power stunts a character with that theme might be able to do. The book is a treasure trove of character ideas and ways to customize or expand an existing character.

Power Profiles also offers some worked examples of “How do I…?” power creation questions, how to use the existing power effects for different types of powers, perfect for both players who don’t want to do all of that work, and just want to pick from a ready-made set of powers, and for power designers who want examples of some of the things the system can do. I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has asked me at a convention event about a particular character or power type in M&M and all I had to do was pick up a copy of Power Profiles and show them how those powers were set up. With the book out of print, I sorely missed that option at recent events!

Demand for Power Profiles was the initial motivator behind the Reprint Extravaganza. Circumstances haven’t aligned for Green Ronin to send the sourcebook back to the printer but now, with the core rulebook also out-of-print, this Kickstarter is your opportunity to claim all of that power for yourself.


You can back the Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza RIGHT NOW over on Kickstarter, and if you back the campaign in the first 48 hours, you’ll get the full PDF of our upcoming book Astonishing Adventures Assembled FOR FREE!

Mutants & Masterminds Reprint Extravaganza!

Bite-Sized Siege of Starhaven

The Guide to Starhaven for Mutants & Masterminds

Editor’s Note: This Ronin Roundtable is intended as advice for GM’s of Mutants & Masterminds, and it contains a few spoilers for would-be heroes in the Siege of Starhaven adventure.

 

Hello heroes! It’s great to be chatting with you all again after the spectacular extravaganza that was Gen Con. It was my first time attending and I am happy to confirm that the legends of its grandness were not overstated. I had such a great time being amongst so many gamers and just seeing everyone truly happy to be immersed in this grand hobby of ours. There just isn’t anything quite like a con to help reignite the passion for gaming. Thank you to all of the players who participated in my events and to everyone who stopped by the Green Ronin booth.

It was great getting to run Siege of Starhaven from the new Guide to Starhaven sourcebook for players, but one thing I learned quickly in my con prep was that this adventure is definitely not a four-hour experience. This probably isn’t shocking as it was written by the person who is often accused of running 1.5 shots so often that we’ve started calling my 1 shots  “special limited series” over at the Untold Stories Project. I have a habit of overwriting, which can be useful for GMs at home, but not so much for a convention experience. Not to worry though I embarrassed myself running out of time so you don’t have to.

The trouble with using any published adventure is that they’re usually written with an idea of what the beginning, middle, and end are going to be, and trying to find smaller story arcs within the plot can lead to a hollow story. Finding the right places to trim is a GM skill that doesn’t usually get enough practice, as, if you’re anything like me, the big worry at the table is “do I have enough content for the next four hours?” Siege of Starhaven has a set number of beats in its original outline that give the story pace and momentum. It has an “in media res” intro scene, an investigation that can go basically three directions, a first encounter with the villain that ends in defeat for the heroes, an escape, a rallying of resources, and then a triumphant final combat with the forces of the Stellar Imperium. It’s all very exciting and I intended for it to be the first two or three sessions of a brand new Starhaven campaign.

I used to be pretty good at estimating how much adventure fits into four hours of play, but I’ve been spoiled running an ongoing series for the last few years. I haven’t HAD to shorten things so I’ve let that part of my GM brain atrophy. I ran Siege of Starhaven at Origins this year, and admittedly I didn’t find the right place to make the end of the adventure feel like a satisfying payoff. I wasn’t prepared for how abruptly I was going to run out of time. The players all still had a great time and left with a smile on their face, but it didn’t feel like my best work to myself. I promised I would take the time to better condense the story before Gen Con.

I did not keep that promise.

Between work and my stream games, I didn’t do as much Gen Con prep as I would have liked, so I was worried that once again the adventure wouldn’t be as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As I was flipping through the sourcebook in the thirty minutes before the event was scheduled to run, I had an epiphany about the plot. I wrote down a few notes, which I’m going to share here. This is how I shortened the adventure to fit in one four hour slot:

I started by cutting the adventure down to four scenes. The new story outline was thus: introductory scene to establish stakes/teach people how the rules works, investigation with multiple paths

Prime Consul Tamira-Van of Starhaven

Prime Consul Tamira-Van

to reward player agency, big fight with the villain at the end.

Scene One: Instead of beginning in media res, I added a roleplaying scene to provide more context as to what the heroes were looking for in the warehouse and who they were working for. They met with Prime Consul Tamira-Van who explained that the Children of Chrysalis were stealing artifacts from the Draffsnarl and that she had a tip about where they would strike next. She explained that this was a tryout for Starhaven’s new defenders and if they prove themselves she would be willing to appoint them as the Guardians of Starhaven. From there the fight with Pupil and the Imperium troopers went as scripted in the adventure.

Scene 2: This works pretty much as written. The heroes search the warehouse and find leads that point them towards Tamira-Van and MamaKaiger. The person they choose to follow up with then determines next steps, either towards the missing Daedalus and the Robot Forge or the elusive hacker Bran Cardon. The only slight modification needed is to eliminate any mentions of Cardon’s interest in Daedalus/the Facetwild.

I had time for a ten minute intermission here.

Scene 3: Again pretty much as scripted, either the conflict in the Robot Forge or the skill challenge to break into Cardon’s warehouse. The only modification to Cardon’s warehouse is that the body is actually his body and not a decoy. The building still explodes and leads to…

Scene 4: The various challenges in the Fait Accompli scene. Helping the burning building, rescuing the pilots at the starport, etc. The only difference is that instead of providing the minor bonuses for other scenes in the adventure, any successes in these challenges reduces the amount of enemies in the final fight with Ko-Nan (similar to the resistance assets in the current adventure.) Pull a benefit from that table and assign it to the Fait Accompli challenges: rescuing the pilots removes one of the Hounds for example. The other small modification is that Ko-Nan doesn’t mention that she has control of the Propylaea so the heroes are able to confidently confront her.

Scene 5: Big fight with Ko-Nan and her crew!

There you have it, a beginning, middle, and end that offers a wide variety of scenes and a pretty well-paced story for four hours. And there’s even time for a bathroom break if you want it. I’ll be going over the topic of shortening adventures (and lengthening them if you’re long-winded like me) more generally in some of the material I’m working up for Astonishing Adventures Assembled but this is how I would modify Siege of Starhaven for a nice one and done. Thank you for taking the time to read today and happy gaming!

And if you’d like a print copy of the Guide to Starhaven, a Print On Demand option is now available at DrivethruRPG!

A Haven in the Stars

The Guide to Starhaven for Mutants & MastermindsIt’s all Alex Thomas’s fault. We said so on Mutants & Masterminds Monday. Alex wanted to run a streaming game for Team M&M and asked “so what else do we know about this Starhaven place mentioned in The Cosmic Handbook?” To which Crystal Fraiser and I said, “Nothing.” The paragraph or so of info about the alien settlement on Jupiter’s moon Europa was just that, a kind of throwaway description intended to inspire Gamemasters.

I guess it worked, because Alex took it upon himself to spin out a whole adventure which he ran on-stream for us. It certainly got Mutants & Masterminds fans wondering, too, and asking “So when do we get to find out more about Starhaven?” If you are a part of the Mutants & Masterminds Patreon you already know the answer to that (and, if you’re not, honestly, you’re missing out). Last summer, we launched a “Summer of Starhaven!” series to design more material about the setting and how to use it in an M&M game.

Now, this summer, we can announce that The Guide to Starhaven is now available for purchase! The 76-page, full-color product goes into detail about the alien settlement of Starhaven, repurposing an ancient, ruined city located on the Jovian moon Europa. Built by the mysterious and powerful Preservers, the domed city has lain abandoned for millennia. Now, a mix of alien refugees fleeing the fall of the Lor Republic and the rise of the Stellar Imperium have been resettled there by Earth’s superheroes.

The Guide to Starhaven looks at the city and all of its various districts, the Green Zone “nature preserve” surrounding it (including all manner of prehistoric Earth animals brought here as specimens) and the unexplored areas of the ruins and what they contain. It also details the inhabitants of Starhaven, their newly established government (voted on by our patrons!), political and social factions, and three main antagonists Starhaven heroes might face.

It goes beyond the bounds of Starhaven to look at survival on the icy surface of Europa and other locations on the frozen moon such as the fascinating Facetwild, with its random energy storms and crystalline creatures. It even dives beneath the surface, into the endless dark ocean under Europa’s ice, and the mysterious life dwelling there, which even the people of Starhaven aren’t aware of … yet.

The Guide also looks at creating your own Starhaven heroes, adventures, and campaigns, including four campaign concepts and nearly a dozen different adventure ideas. All of this, plus a developed, full-length version of “Seige of Starhaven,” Alex’s exciting adventure, where a team of power level 10 heroes take on smugglers, alien cultists, a murder mystery, the dangers of the Facetwild, and an all-out invasion of the city! It’s a great inspiration for a Starhaven series of your own. (As the Untold Stories Project demonstrates with Guardians of Haven.)

The Guide to Starhaven is available now on the Green Ronin Store and DriveThruRPG as a downloadable PDF, and now print-on-demand via DriveThruRPG. For those who will be at Gen Con this August, we hope to have a limited number of print copies there for sale!

If you do decide to reach for the stars and visit the alien frontier of Starhaven, remember to thank Alex. After all, he started it!

Location, Location, Location

Danger Zones: Tons of locations for M&M adventures!

Available to Pre-Order now!

Add at least two dozen “locations” to that and you start to get the concept and usefulness of Danger Zones for the Mutants & Masterminds Superhero RPG. The sourcebook, a compilation and expansion of our long-running series of PDF products, takes a look at an oft-neglected element of superhero adventure creation. You guessed it: location.

Superhero adventures are often about the “who” (villains and their schemes) and the “what” (whatever the villains are after) and even the “how” (mainly various super-powers, gadgets, or magical weirdness) and not that often about the “where.” Danger Zones addresses that by offering a whole series of locales both common and not-so-common as backdrops and settings for your adventures. Each Danger Zone comes with an overview map, descriptions of the locations’ common features in game terms (including things to break, lift, and throw), sample characters you might encounter there, and adventure hooks featuring that location.

You can use Danger Zones for quick sources of what we might refer to as “backdrops,” locations that aren’t especially essential to the adventure but add color and detail. Does your adventure start out at a nightclub (like Green Thumb, Black Heart for Astonishing Adventures)? Grab the Nightclub write-up and map from the book and make use of them to detail that location without any extra work on your part. Are high school heroes hanging out at a local coffee shop or fast food place when villains attack? Take and use those locations from Danger Zones and you have ready-made maps to show your players and details on what happens when, say, a hero throws an espresso machine or somebody gets knocked into a fryalator.

You can also use Danger Zones to inspire and create adventures focusing on particular locations. Each one comes with 2–3 adventure hooks, multiplied by over 30 locations, making Danger Zones a sourcebook for a hundred or more different adventure ideas for your Mutants & Masterminds games! They may, for example, inspire you to throw a parade for the heroes (or have them participate in an event like your city’s long-standing Pride parade. In fact Danger Zones: Parade Route is free as a fantastic sample PDF download!), run into trouble at City Hall, get involved in politics, stage a daring high-speed chase scene on the local highways, or delve into the city’s history, possibly complete with literal ghosts from the past!

Because the locations in Danger Zones are sufficiently “generic” you can use them with any modern urban or suburban setting, real or imagined, and re-use them over and over. You’ll quickly find Danger Zones an indispensable Gamemaster resource you’ll turn to again and again. The sourcebook pairs especially well with the Emerald City and Freedom City setting sourcebooks, providing the street- and building-level detail to go with the sourcebooks’ broader overview of those cities, helping to bring them to life in your game.


Danger Zones is available to Pre-Order now in the Green Ronin Online Store, with the $5 PDF add-on (which is also available at your friendly local participating retail game store!) as well as on DrivethruRPG!

If you haven’t checked out Danger Zones before, be sure to take a look at the brand new Historic District for free! And if you’ve already purchased a few of the individual Danger Zones locations, you’re sure to find even more new surprises if you choose to pick up this collected version in print or PDF.

Join us for the Green Ronin Livestream, Mutants & Masterminds Monday #MuMaMo on Monday, July 11th on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook Live for the Developer’s review of Dangers Zones, 2p Pacific/5p Eastern (The #MuMaMo team is off on July 4th!)

Running a Shared Universe: Road Maps and Sandboxes

The Atlas of Earth-Prime is a great sandbox to play games in!Hello heroes! I hope the multiverse is treating you well today. As some of you may know, in addition to working on Mutants & Masterminds here at Green Ronin, I run my own streaming network The Untold Stories Project. USP is something I started a couple of years ago with some friends of mine who were interested in showcasing games and voices that don’t get as much attention as something like Fire Lizards and Renovated Caves. Since 2020 we have played a ton of interesting games but one of our main stays is M&M. Shocking, I know.

In February of 2021 we began our playthrough of the Netherwar story arc which is coming to an exciting conclusion in the next few weeks. (I know it only has six modules but somehow, I overwrote that into a year’s worth of mayhem and mischief.) This was meant to be a stand-alone foray into the Earth-Prime universe, but we decided to try something bold. One of our other games wrapped up and one of our GMs said he wanted to run Emerald City Knights on the channel. We decided it would be interesting to pull a MCU and run Emerald City Knights in the same continuity as our Netherwar game. Hence the USP Earth-Prime Tabletop Universe—USPEPTTU for not as short as it should be— was born. We have had one mega crossover event with 10 PCs and 1 GM and are gearing up to release a Starhaven game in the same continuity later this year.

It’s been an interesting experiment to say the least, and not unique to USP. The Freedom City Discord server has another Earth-Prime shared experience. It makes sense that this happens in superhero gaming groups. The superhero genre is rife with team ups and shared consequences, so it’s natural that it should reflect in the gaming sphere. This got me thinking about some advice that I can give to anyone else looking to collaborate with another GM. I call this technique the Road Maps and Sandboxes method.

the Netherwar campaign is a great opportunity for a shared universe

Road Maps

I am firm believer that the MCU works as well as it does because they had a strong central vision guiding where the story was going to go. They built a timeline of events and for the most part have stuck to that timeline. If you want to work with other creators in a shared space, you need to outline heavily. This came up in our USPEPTTU planning when I decided to do Starhaven after Netherwar, because there is a crucial plot point in Emerald City Knights that leads to the reason Starhaven is needed at all. The other GM and I sat down and worked out the plot points that needed to be modified to make Starhaven’s creation make sense. We also use our interconnected stories to help one another. A new player is joining our Emerald City Knights campaign and that character’s backstory is tied into what is happening right now in the climax of Netherwar. It’s pretty cool!

We have a couple of resources in play that help us build our stories and decide when those stories are going to intersect. We have a shared Google Sheet with all of the canon Earth-Prime villains. This Sheet lists if they’ve appeared in other games, their current status—at large, incarcerated, dead—and their home base. Our GMs update it as needed. I also try to keep the other GMs apprised of the story arcs I have planned. Finally, we write up synopses of our various story arcs for easy reference, rather than forcing anyone to rewatch 300 hours of video for precious context. Those documents are available to the public (www.untoldstoriesproject.com) on our website for similar reasons.

Sandboxes

There’s an unspoken statement in the USPEPTTU that we try to stay in our lanes. As the Netherwar and Starhaven GM, I do my level best to keep my action out of Emerald City. The Other GM as such sticks to the City of Destiny and the surrounding environs. We started doing this after our first crossover episode when I had the following Netherwar story take place in Emerald City. I felt like I was walking on eggshells trying to ensure nothing too devastating happened in town while our Freedom League Dark was there. I still wound up blowing up a penthouse, but you know what they say about eggs and omelets. After that episode I made sure not to set a story in that GM’s sandbox if I could avoid it. Partitioning out the setting goes a long way to establishing freedom for the GMs involved in your project, and ensures people aren’t scrambling to patch things up in each game from week to week. If one person is telling a story of the Furion resistance to Omega in the Terminus, try not to set adventures in the Terminus for the other groups of heroes.

Sit down with the other GMs you’re working with and share your ideas with one another. You can divide the universe in whatever way makes sense. This can be as large as whole alternate dimension down to a neighborhood of Freedom City. Say one GM wants to do a street-level vigilante game in Freedom City’s Southside, another GM working with the Freedom League should make sure the Freedom League is dealing with other parts of the city—or even other parts of the galaxy. Anytime you want to cross the partition, speak with the other GMs, and see if you can work together to do a crossover or find a way to spread the action between the two games.

I’ll leave you to chew on that for now. I’m going to share some more insights of running a shared universe in the coming months. As it stands, I’m still learning as I go, but I do believe it is a worthwhile experience for you and your friends. If you want to see the USPEPTTU in action, you can catch us live On Twitch Mondays and Tuesdays from 7pm EST-10pm EST. Thank you for reading and talk to you soon!

Synopsis Based One Shot Design

A great resource for an adventure synopsisHello heroes! Hope you’re having a great day out there in gamer land. As you may know, event submission is open for a few major conventions happening later this year, so I imagine quite a few of you are starting to put together the wonderful games you’re going to run this summer. I got my start in this business running games at Origins Game Fair in Columbus, so this time of year is near and dear to my heart. All year long I compile a list of characters or topics I want to write an adventure about. I love the excitement of narrowing down those ideas to create the perfect playlist. I enjoy coming up with a punchy title, deciding how many players I want to run for, and coming up with that sweet 1-2 sentence synopsis about the game. This synopsis is required at most conventions. It’s the snippet they’ll use to describe the scenario to the public in the hopes of getting people to buy tickets to your game. What you might not know, is that it is also a valuable tool you can use in adventure design.

I might be weird in this instance—as opposed to all the other times I’ve been weird—but I usually create my synopsis long before I put together the adventure. Sometimes, it’s all the adventure creation I manage to get to before the convention arrives, but we’re not here to talk about my procrastination habits. This synopsis is my favorite place to begin because it forces me to ignore any extra information and cut to the heart of the story I want to present. I tend to think of it as starting small and building out. Sort of like designing a village in your game world before moving on to building the epic history of your cosmos.

Knowing the core action of the story gives you as the writer a perfect place to begin your planning. You should have an idea of who the major players are going to be, what the driving action is going to be, and what research you’ll have to do to plan your scenes. The synopsis doesn’t have to give away the whole story, in fact I find less is more when it comes to pulling inspiration from it. I try to limit myself to 30 words or less.

Hades can be found in Freedom City 3rd edition

I’ll give you an example of what this process looks like to me. My most recent actual play for Green Ronin—link here in case you missed it— was titled Freedom League: All in the Family. I knew before I wrote the synopsis that I wanted to tell an unconventional story with the Greek gods set in Earth-Prime, so I started thinking of who the main NPCs were going to be. I decided to go sort of stereotypical. The synopsis for this wound up being: “All isn’t as it seems when Zeus requests the Freedom League’s assistance in foiling his brother’s latest scheme to take over Earth-Prime.” I kept it short and sweet, knowing that it would be the springboard to a larger outline process.

Hades is a known villain in Earth-Prime, and this pantheon is known for their family melodrama so I figured it would be a knockout story. I kept the synopsis simple, sharing to the players that Hades was going to be the villain and Zeus was going to be their insertion point to the story. With the synopsis in hand, I set about researching various Greek myths. They were going to be the “antagonists” for the story, not necessarily villains but the thing standing between the heroes and a saved Freedom City. I looked at Zeus and Hades’ immediate circles and started brainstorming where some of them would be lurking in the modern world. I built a through line from Zeus to Hera to Hephaestus to Hera to Charon to Hades, and then built scenes around those characters.

Starting with the synopsis narrowed the range of possibilities to make selection easier. It helps you find the beginning of a story, especially in a genre of infinite possibilities like superhero stories. I hope the next time you sit down to design a new adventure that you consider starting with a synopsis or a title. Happy writing!

Device vs Equipment

Devising the Difference Between Devices and Equipment

Hello heroes! Thank you for popping by the Round Table for one of my posts, grab a snack and settle in. I wanted to take a crack at answering one of the questions I see most often from the M&M community. That question being, “How do you differentiate between Devices and Equipment?” It’s a fair question, especially with the difference in Power Point cost between the two, and one that I feel every GM has a different answer for. This isn’t a bad thing, because more often than not if someone asks me is this a Device or is it Equipment my answer is, “It depends.” In the following post, I’m going to share some of my rules of thumb for telling the difference and offer some advice for when it inevitably crops up at your table.
Device or Equipment?

Basic Rule of Thumb

When trying to decide if a player can purchase a certain gadget with Power Points or Equipment Points, I start by asking myself if that item is able to be bought in an appropriate store almost anywhere in the setting. If this item is something that everyday people use in their profession (from laptops to 9mm handguns) then it should be Equipment in terms of the rules. Equipment is often mass produced and lacking in unique characteristics. The setting of your game can have an impact on this basic rule of thumb. If your M&M campaign is set in deep space 3,000 years from now it’s going to have different items that can be considered equipment. A laser rifle is probably a Device if your game is set in 1986 but that same weapon with the same stats could be standard issue for soldiers in 3576 making it Equipment in my opinion. One thing you have to do as Gamemaster is sit down and world-build some of the standard technology in your setting. Usually, if I’m setting a game in a place or time wildly different from present day, I’ll create a uniform list of different weapons, items, and armor that I consider to be Equipment which I share with my players. It also bears noting if the heroes’ mundane tools of the trade—for example swingline launchers, motif-inspired boomerangs, smoke bombs, body armor, and fancy wrist mounted computers—are provided by the same benefactor, consider making it Equipment instead of a Device. We’ll go over this idea a little more in depth later.

This is my Rifle, There are Many Like it, but This One is Mine

Once you’ve determined the availability of a given item, the next thing to ask the player is, “How unique is your version of the item?” If their hero has an assault rifle with a laser sight and a recoil stock, it’s probably still in the realm of Equipment. However, if that gun is only usable by someone who is worthy and has tendon-seeking buzzsaw bullets it’s more likely to be a Device. Keep an eye out for the unique features the player hopes to bring to the object and let that guide your decision between Equipment and Devices.

Disposable?

Another thing I advise GMs to look out for is how easy it is to destroy a specific item. Equipment is meant to be disposable. You can smash Equipment with impunity and not even give the player a Hero Point for the inconvenience! This cavalier attitude is due in part to the points they saved during character creation and in part due to how easily Equipment can be replaced. Devices, however, should be treated with more care as it’s possible the destruction or removal of that Device can rob a player of a large percentage of what makes their character viable. Always give a player a Hero Point if you decide their battlesuit has run out of power or they have used the last of their awesome trick arrows. This leads into my last point.

How Integral is this Tool to the Character Concept?

This is the highest-level question I ask myself and the player when deciding if something is Equipment or a Device. Heroes need tools at different levels depending on concept and archetype. A Green Lantern ring, for example, is an object that is uniform and handed out by the same benefactor as a mentioned earlier, but it is 90% of what makes that character a superhero in pure mechanics terms. As such I would consider it to be a Device and charge the full Power Point cost it incurs. I would do the same thing to a gadgeteer or a character flying around in a mech suit. Characters who use their tools as peripherals to their core concept, such as a Crime Fighter, are at the other end of this spectrum. They will have a lot more Equipment than Devices, because most of what they do, mechanically speaking, doesn’t rely on their gear. There will be some gray areas, such as Archer characters, and there’s no reason you can’t declare some of their tech to be Equipment and some to be Devices. An Archer might have standard broadhead arrows, swing line arrows, and explosive arrows as Equipment while statting up their acid arrows, disintegration arrows, and the good old boxing glove arrow as Devices.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the answer to what is Equipment versus what is a Device, depends. That is the most succinct way to explain the difference. Now that you know to look for that basic rule of thumb, the features of the object, it’s disposability, and its importance to the character you’ll be able to trust your gut the next time this question comes up. And if there’s anything I know about M&M Gamemasters, it’s that you have a lot of guts. Thank you for reading and have a great day!