Tag Archive for: supervillain

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!

Rogues Gallery: The Mesmerist (PDF)

The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist

The Mesmerist

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

Rogues Gallery: Hocus & Pocus (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Hocus & Pocus (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Hocus & Pocus (PDF)

Ashley Rahner and Matthew Dickerson found themselves on hard times, and circumstances conspired to lead them to a life of crime. Thanks to their talents as stage magicians, illusionists, and liars, they are particularly well-suited to their new criminal careers.

Get Hocus & Pocus today, for just $1.95!

Rogues Gallery … villains galore! Each Rogues Gallery entry includes a complete super-villain profile and character sheet with Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition game information. It also includes the villain’s background and various adventure hooks to use the character in your own game. Each entry is illustrated and, as a bonus, includes the villain’s game information in Hero Lab format, so you can import it right into the character management software and use it in your game (or modify it as needed) right away. Where else can you get a super-villain for less than the price of a cup of coffee? It’s positively criminal!

Rogues Gallery: Shatter (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Shatter (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Shatter (PDF)

Michael Schepkin gained fame and fortune as a glass artist, but grew tired of his aging human body. Merging old-world superstition and his own spark of creation, he forged himself a new body of glass and fire. His mind damaged and his identity and celebrity lost, Shatter uses his strange new powers to steal the form and fame of others.

Download Shatter today!

Rogues Gallery … villains galore! Each Rogues Gallery entry includes a complete super-villain profile and character sheet with Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition game information. It also includes the villain’s background and various adventure hooks to use the character in your own game. Each entry is illustrated and, as a bonus, includes the villain’s game information in Hero Lab format, so you can import it right into the character management software and use it in your game (or modify it as needed) right away. Where else can you get a super-villain for less than the price of a cup of coffee? It’s positively criminal!

Rogues Gallery: Skyjacker (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Skyjacker (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Skyjacker (PDF)

The Skyjacker is a thrill seeker and professional risk taker. He wasn’t built for everyday life and at the first opportunity, he stole an experimental aircraft, kidnapped its inventor, and began his career as a buccaneer for hire along with his crew of Sky Pirates! Now, as aerial pirates, he and his crew make their living stealing from others or selling their very specialized services.

Hire Skyjacker and his Sky Pirates today!

Rogues Gallery: Esquire (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Esquire (PDF)

Rogues Gallery: Esquire (PDF)

It seems as if we got distracted by Gen Con and forgot to let you know that we released a new Rogues Gallery PDF for Mutants & Masterminds back on August 1. (Thank you to everybody who rolled a critical perception check and found Esquire already—we appreciate your support!)

Esquire is one of the world’s richest men. He was raised to be exceptional and he has embraced his high status wholeheartedly, even going so far as to hunt people for sport on their turf or, more likely, on his private island. His deadly skill with his specially-designed rifle makes him dangerous, but his money and lawyers make him almost impossible to stop.

Get Esquire today—just $1.95!