I recently made what was probably my last purchase from my local bookseller, the soon-to-be defunct Waldenbooks, which was the “Mutants and Masterminds Third Edition Hero’s Handbook.”
I figured now was as good a time as any to look under the hood at M&M.
(Yes, you are allowed to pause and wonder why I’ve never picked up M&M before. We’re talking about its third edition here, after all. What can I say? I never got around to it.)
In particular, I was interested in reading how M&M utilizes super villains. In the Defining the Threat section, the book says, “Supervillains’ schemes are the forces that drive a M&M series, since the main job of superheroes is stopping the villains from getting their way. … So choosing a scheme is typically one of the first steps in creating a successful game.”
I guess this surprised me a little, in that the focus isn’t on what constitutes villain is in game terms (what cool and sinister powers he commands), but rather on what plot you can generate using him.
Hmmmm, should I insert a shameless plug for “Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters”? I mean, on page 297, there looks to be well over 100 listed plots in the index that could be adapted to the supers genre. (I’m just sayin’ you know.)
As I think on it, the entry from the M&M book is really good advice for a supers game (my plug for Eureka not withstanding). When I think about one of the best rogues’ galleries in comics, Batman’s list of villains immediately comes to mind. And with the exception of that homicidal lunatic Joker, the James Bond-inspired global mastermind Ras al Ghul or most recent adversary Hush, most of Batman’s bad guys are basically costumed bank robbers. And what sets them apart isn’t really their “powers,” which are trivial at best, but their various schemes and plots. When Riddler, Penguin and Killer Croc are at their best, they’ve got Batman chasing false trails and other feints while they angle for the big score.
Now, I’ll be honest, plots are a tough thing for me. My GMing style is much more sandboxy: Here’s a city, go explore it. But not every adventure can begin with Batman and Robin on patrol. Even then, for the adventure to have some meat on it, the goons they initially encounter have to be connected to something deeper and nefarious. Mapping out plots is essential.
The M&M book also suggests reaching for the source most readily available to a comic book fan, you know, the stacks and stacks of titles they pick up every Wednesday. And just because most supers games are really about super teams, I’d lean on pulling plots from the team books. They usually feature encounters that multiple heroes can face at the same time.
For my part, that means tearing into some Justice League and Birds of Prey issues for ideas. But your mileage may vary.
But really, I’d like to hear from those of you who game regularly in the M&M sphere. What plots have worked best for you, and why? Please share them in the comments section below.
I always work out a scheme for the villain first and then give some thought as to what sort of person would do that and why. You’re absolutely right that it’s an ideal technique for Superhero games, and I tend to think of non-Superhero games as Superhero stories in space or with elves or what have you – like The Avengers, the average party is a rag-tag bunch of exceptional people who face great adversity and punch monsters. Therefore, reskinning Superhero story techniques and tropes works like a charm.
Unlike supers games, though, the typical fantasy adventuring party doesn’t have a cool headquarters with gizmos, monitors and machines that go real fast.
They do have a tavern, though, … with lots and lots of ale. 🙂