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Advice for In-Play

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  • Advice for In-Play

    I'm starting my 1st M&M campaign in a month or so and I have been dutifully planning campaign elements and working on chargen with the players for about 4 months now.

    I have read lots of stuff of pitfalls in chargen, things to watch out for re: points and PL, etc. My players and I are also "genre-fluent," so I'm not worried about that.

    Are there any rules/rules situations that come out in play/at the table that you have noticed that need special attention? Any advice at all would be welcome.

    The only one I can remember reading more than once dealt with the Hero Point economy: 1) to make sure you have one that everyone is happy with and 2) to beware players' tendency to hoard HP and then only use them on Toughness saves so they never lose a fight.

    If this topic or topics like it already exist, please feel free to show me the way.

    I have one other specific question, but I think that will eventually need a separate thread.


  • #2
    Re: Advice for In-Play

    Last weekend I ran my second session for my very first M&M 3e game. Here are some things I didn't even think about until the campaign started, just to give you some thoughts of things to watch out for:
    • Some powers seem straightforward on paper, but are very difficult to adjudicate. The Hero's Handbook sometimes conflicts with Power Profiles on important details. For example: I love telekinesis, and Jean Grey was one of my favorite X-Men characters. However, Move Object is really confusing because key details (e.g., how fast you can move someone, whether you can grab and throw in the same turn) are not explained well in the Hero's Handbook. Movement-based Attack powers (e.g., Teleport Attack, Flight Attack) are also really weird, because they're arguably unfair against targets that have no movement powers of their own. I recommend reviewing all of the power effects your players are interested in using, and playtest their characters with them before the campaign starts. Create fair house rules to set clear expectations with your players so no one feels hurt or cheated.

    • Review the rules for Perception skills, especially if any of your characters have Sense powers. Three of my five PCs have Sense powers and I didn't understand fair DCs or limits to their senses in the first session, and that didn't go well in our first session.

    • M&M games give players incredible flexibility in chargen and allow for incredibly creative gameplay and roleplay, which is awesome. As such, you probably won't be able to predict everything your players will choose to do, even if you think the solution is fairly obvious. I know there is a temptation in a superhero game to focus more on what villains are capable of doing, but I think it's even more important to consider why they are doing something and what they would be willing to do in order to reach those goals. A really good antagonist will breathe life into your campaign. With months focused on learning the game and chargen, your players (and you) are probably going to be itching to play. Make sure to introduce a compelling villain early on in the game, and they'll be hooked.

    • Some GMs allow players to combine maneuvers. For example: Power Attack (+Effect, -Attack) + All-Out Attack (+Attack, -Defense) = net +Effect, normal Attack, -Defense. That can break standard offensive PL caps by a few 2-3 PL. Decide whether you are comfortable with that. I personally do not allow combining maneuvers in my game, but you might think that's awesome.

    • Building a balanced and fair encounter isn't easy, because none of the source books seem to really discuss how to build a good encounter. There are rough guidelines, but that's it. You might want to playtest a few encounters with your PCs, or on your own, to see what they can handle and to get a feel for combat. Even easy enemies can create a significant challenge if there is conflict built into the environment, though. Trying to take out a guy when his friend is threatening to kill a hostage makes it much harder for a hero to choose how to act (and you can give them a HP for their trouble!). Add in cool terrain or environments to make the fight more interesting.

    • Make a list of each PC's strengths and weaknesses, and try to make sure everyone's strengths and weaknesses come up at some point. I'm playing an X-Men focused game. One character is a psychic, so he's basically useless against Sentinels -- but another PC is an electric controller and excels against robots. The psychic is better at crowd control than the electric controller, because he has Area Selective powers, whereas the electric guy only has Area blasts. Try to switch things up so each of your players feels advantaged and disadvantaged; that way, they will have to work as a team.

    I'll add more if I think of it.
    Elliot McGuire/Levitron - Super Framily Apprenticeship Plan (IC)
    John Olson/Spark - Superhuman Defense Organization - America (IC)


    • #3
      Re: Advice for In-Play

      Thanks for all this; this is exactly what I was looking for.

      I had done some reading on combining maneuvers. My plan was to allow it, but I never crunched the numbers enough to see that it could equal 2-3 PL difference in shift. I can see standard gamer approach is that, once they realize, they can afford to have some number drop down significantly (whether that's accuracy, damage, or defense), that's all they'll do for the whole fight. Hmm. Something to think on.

      Your other advice is all sound as well. My fear is not that my characters will be more flexible than I anticipate; my fear is that, in my desire to allow things to be flexible, I will inadvertently make things too easy. My group is made up of former Hero System players who played the rules pretty conservatively. I'm trying to give them a more "flowing" experience with M&M.

      I had bookmarked this thread on encounter balance; have you fooled around with this at all? It seems pretty sound.


      • #4
        Re: Advice for In-Play

        Originally posted by drkrash View Post
        Thanks for all this; this is exactly what I was looking for.

        I had done some reading on combining maneuvers. My plan was to allow it, but I never crunched the numbers enough to see that it could equal 2-3 PL difference in shift. I can see standard gamer approach is that, once they realize, they can afford to have some number drop down significantly (whether that's accuracy, damage, or defense), that's all they'll do for the whole fight. Hmm. Something to think on.
        Yeah, it can be a small thing that adds up if it happens a lot. A balanced PL 10 character who meets PL caps might have a power with Attack +10, Damage 10, and defenses at +10 across the board.

        So, if someone does All-Out Attack +5 and Power Attack +5, suddenly they are Attack +10, Damage 15, Parry/Dodge +5. That's a total of 25 for offenses, which is PL 12.5, and 15 total for Defenses, more like PL 7.5.

        If you allow combining maneuvers and your players take advantage of that combo in particular, you can counter it by using enemies who have Multiattack -- that can give them bonus +2/+5 to power effect ranks if they exceed the target's Parry/Dodge by 2-3 degrees of success. However, any Perception Ranged powers against them will be unaffected by the offensive/defensive PL tradeoff, which is where some of the balance is thrown out of whack.
        Elliot McGuire/Levitron - Super Framily Apprenticeship Plan (IC)
        John Olson/Spark - Superhuman Defense Organization - America (IC)


        • #5
          Re: Advice for In-Play

          Since Rwknoll has you covered for rules based stuff, i'll cover you for the "I wish I'd known that when I first started" operational stuff. Below is a x-posted version of an article I wrote for beginning GM's, covering things that make your life easier as a new GM, things to think about before starting, I hope they help in your specific instance.


          When I first started GMing M&M, the year 1st ed. came out I made a whole heap of mistakes: The biggest of which was thinking that everyone was on the same page when I said “super hero game.”

          Super-heroes as a genre as so diverse that as a GM you have to make sure everyone is on the same page & the only way to do that is to set your paradigm early. Set your tone of your campaign: I like to consider this to be the “Moore Scale”, ranging from silver age sillyness with Supreme, through Grimdark Watchmen, hitting every point in between the two extremes.

          Set the expectations for you campaign at this point to, including the range of your game (city based, continent based, intergalactic based), the

          One can even go so far as to supply players with a potential “suggested reading list” of comics.

          So you’ve sat up nights, straining your eyes under the flickering candles as you read through the rule book… You are using candles because they cut off your power, because you stopped going to work, so you could master this systems completely.

          Chances are good, that at some point, even having mastered every nuance of the rules, you are eventually going to run up against something that doesn’t work as well in game as it does in a comic book.

          I like to refer to these as “lost in translation” moments.

          Fight the urge to try and make them work. The issue invariably isn’t that it doesn’t work mechanically; the issue is usually that it doesn’t work in practice. Something that seems really cool in a comic book just becomes a drag when you try to use it in an actual game.

          This happens a lot when players break rule 1, usually with the excuse of “well I saw it in a comic book.”

          Say for example that one of your players creates “Fred: Slayer of Chipmunks”. Freds powers work only on chipmunks. Mechanically this works, in terms of game play, it does not… Unless your game is about killing chipmunks (an having heard them sing, I wouldn’t blame you if it was).

          Be strong, learn to say no. This task is made easier if you’ve followed “Rule 7”.

          This is one of the biggest stressors with Super Hero games in general. GM’s freak out over the idea of having to build a huge amount of canon, but luckily I’m here to tell you “it aint so, Joe.”

          Early on I tried to detail every nuance of my campaign world, but quickly became overwhelmed by its size & had huge continuity errors. But I’m here to tell you, that there is a better way. After my first campaign fizzled, I took it as a learning experience and decided to pitch something new.

          This something new was eventually called “Tower City.” The idea was to take everything I learnt from the previous game & to build a new campaign setting for future games. An so I did: An I did it by NOT building.

          I knew exactly what kind of universe I wanted & as it turned out, that was enough. I wanted a universe that had an age of secret masked mystery men in the age of pulp, heroes coming out of hiding in the golden age to fight the Nazis, those heroes retiring after the war & before Mac Carthisism (who really did become the Judas of his generation, even though historically it turns out he was right), started to come back in the 1970’s for the bronze age, were less common during the iron age as things got more serious & then bounced back in a new era a handful of years ago.

          My world has a Justice League of America, it has a Global Guardians, it has an Alpha Flight & during World War 2 it had a Justice Society: Yet none of it has been detailed. My players know all of this & they have been encouraged to fill in some of the blanks with permission in my shared universe.

          So if a player is a legacy of a golden age character, that golden age character may well have been in my version of the Justice Society & if I ever run a game in the golden age, someone may decide to play that character, or I may make him an NPC contact. The fact that my Justice Society has no name & none of my players knows anything about it outside of its existence turns out to not be an issue. So far generalisations & the hand waving of player knowledge versus character knowledge has been sufficient & haven’t affected plot.

          So my advice would be don’t create more then is necessary, otherwise you’ll just trip your self up on continuity, without any of your players caring for it, as it wasn’t “shared continuity,” like actually having gamed through it is.

          Don’t write yourself into a corner before you even start.

          Nothing kills players interest in villains as much as “narrative jobbers”. But what is a narrative jobber? A narrative jobber is a term that cropped up at my table via some media savvy players, when they noticed that many superhero adventures possessed villains whose only reason to exist in story was to fight the heroes and lose: A trend that extends to officially published works for every super hero game system, without fail.

          A narrative jobber gets nothing out of this except an arse-kicking. An frankly it has a tendency to weaken your games internal verisimilitude.

          As a GM one of your greatest responsibilities is to make your villains interesting: Create a solid villain & the plot will follow. In fact the plots of many adventures should be derived from the motivations of ones villain/s.

          This was something I did poorly when I first started, but over time I developed a litmus test that has held strong through three editions. When you are writing your plot & you get to your villain, ask two questions

          a. What is this villain getting out of this?
          b. If I replaced this villain with another villain, would it impact my plot in any way?

          If your villain is getting nothing out of this course of action, or if you can replace the villain with another villain & not change the plot in any way, chances are good that you need to potentially scrap what you’ve got & go back to the drawing board.

          Sometimes your encounter is recoverable, but it usually includes a pretty extensive villain or encounter overhaul & sometimes sadly the plot is just not recoverable.

          Now this one is disputed between two separate parties the pro tac-map crowd & the anti-tac maps crowd: Personally I hold that tactical maps while not essential for Mutants and Masterminds are certainly helpful.

          Now some people state that due to the huge speed variables, tactical maps are not useful: Where as I hold that this argument is moot, as the GM controls the speed of battle. If the villain is standing beside a death trap, with a couple of civilians as hostages, it doesn’t matter that you can break the speed barrier in sneakers, you still have to end up back near the villain to be at all effective.

          The use of a tactical map in MnM isn’t to determine speed, its to determine where you end up in relation to other battlefield features; civilians, villains, walls, buildings, minions, etc.

          Personally I’ve found that map-less games I’ve been in have a tendency to degenerate into Dragonball Z fights, where all the terrain is absent of recognisable features & you fly over the same island, over and over again.

          On reflection, I’ve found including a tactical map encourages players to use terrain in interesting ways & reminds the GM that he can also use the terrain to there advantage.

          Now as can be expected many of us are comic book fans & many of us even though we are loathe to admit it, love the soap opera drama of comics. For you people I have bad news: Mutants and Masterminds is not made for out the box character based story-telling (it cannot be done in a satisfying way).

          You can do it eventually, but it does require laying the ground work early, by getting your players on board. Get them to develop there background identities beyond “Secret ID: Clark Kent. Has like friends, a family & a job an stuff.”

          As a GM encourage the use of these backgrounds, by adding them to the set up of plot & giving generously with Hero Points when you do. Eventually players will start doing it themselves, at which point continue to give hero points to encourage them.

          Communicate with your players at the character creation level & determine a potential motivation, or drive outside of being a hero & try to integrate it into your plot, dangling like a carrot & potentially allowing some great character moments, when your hero must decide between getting the thing he really wants & saving the day.

          Eventually you’ll end up with a level of character based story telling, but even then the lions share will likely still be plot based.

          To make sure that everyone is on the same page & there can be no lapses in memory, everything we’ve discussed should be typed up & made available to players before you even start.

          As time goes on, you may develop all sorts of things specific to your players or experiences that make it to your list, that I would never think of. Heck you may eventually have a player section in your manifesto like I did… For a while I had a section marked “THINGS MY PLAYERS ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED TO DO,” as I noticed common design patterns. I’m sure we’ve all seen this in other games: There is always that one guy in D&D that always players fighters, or elven maidens.

          For a while there, my manifesto had “[Female player name redacted]: You can’t play anymore buxom alien princess, with no understanding of human nudity taboo’s.”

          I know what you are thinking; “Oh Matthew, why would you ban such a thing. Said buxom alien princess are obviously well rounded characters, whose unique view on life brings a breath of fresh air to our stagnate puritanical culture… Also: boobies.”

          However after the third such character, I needed to knock players out of there rut.

          Of course your Manifesto will be different. Add what you personally find necessary. The only things to keep in mind are “what do I as the GM want out of this game & what information do I need to give to my players to achieve it.

          8. HAVE FUN
          Most of all have fun. It’s a game, once all the serious design work is done, its time to get down and have fun playing the game. Ham it up a little, laugh manically, let your villains monologue, speak in the third person, or even speak in rhyming Iambic Pentameter.
          “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views...which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”

          -Doctor Who


          • #6
            Re: Advice for In-Play

            Thanks, Saint Matthew; I had read this before, but it was worth it to re-read it again in an actual context of upcoming play. As to be expected, I disagree with some of these (after 3 years of 4th ed. D&D, I am quite ready to ditch tactical maps), and other ones were especially worth thinking about.