Sometimes life works in interesting ways. Just earlier today, I was talking with a friend and fellow GM about running a game of Mutants & Masterminds, 3rd Edition. This evening, I check my email, and lo and behold, a review copy of the new M&M Gamemaster’s Guide!
So, rather than let this interesting turn of events just end there. I figured I might as well put up a review of the book as soon as I could.
The Gamemaster’s guide is a book clearly marketed to assist GMs in running M&M. Given that it runs on the same ruleset, I’m pretty sure that the guide is also of value to those who are playing the DC Adventures RPG as well.
After a brief introduction, the guide goes straight to the meat, going into a discussion of settings in Chapter 1.
This chapter goes into a comprehensive look at each of the popular (and even obscure) sub-genres of each of the major comic book genres. Broken down from Age (as in Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages of comic book history), to Genre to sub-genre.
Each age is detailed in terms of the emotional tone of the age, the various important events in real-world history that shaped the stories that took age in these ages, and even the weapons that are likely to show up in a given age.
Origins are also discussed in this chapter, which is always helpful when trying to brainstorm a group of characters. I’m not sure about everyone else, but whenever I pitch a supers campaign, there’s always that dead moment when people are stumped as to what they’ll play. Hopefully this should help.
At this point the chapter begins to start laying down the real bits and pieces of a superhero campaign setting. Metaphysics, History, how common or rare superheroic people are, how does society react to the presence of superhumans? These are all given a look at, with options laid out in the open. As a GM, I’m very glad to see all of these presented. I’ve run a supers game before, but it really helps to have a reference of this nature.
Chapter 2 talks about the Antagonists, breaking them down along power levels, their roles in a campaign, their motivations and tactics.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a section dedicated to making In-Depth villains, the ones that are supposed to matter in a campaign. These tend to happen organically in most campaigns, but the fact that there’s advice here for creating villains that matter to the campaign and the heroes in a manner that isn’t just for a one-shot.
Villain teams are also discussed in thorough detail, with very nice examples of why and how villains end up teaming up, as well as the different “flavors” of villain teams.
The last part of the chapter touches on villian organizations, which go beyond the usual 5-6 members of a villain team to ones with footsoldiers, bases and submarines. Definitely part of the Superhero mythology and genre, and definitely deserving of an entry.
Chapter 3 presents a staple of M&M books: Archetypes. Specifically Archetypes for villains to help save time for the GM. There’s also a bunch of minions statted out to save time as well. Given that I’m already that kind of GM that doesn’t always have the kind of time to spend statting out every little thing… this is a godsend
Chapter 4 goes on to talk about plots, essentially the story of the campaign (or the session) as well as the plans developed by the villains. Supers campaigns are usually very reactive, the Villain does X so the heroes respond thusly. As such it’s important for GMs to come up with interesting and imaginative hooks that get the players eager to get to the action.
This chapter is excellent reading for any Supers GM in my opinion. It goes over everything with a fine toothed comb, and one section, talking about “Meaningful Challenges” is one that really struck a chord in me. I’ve always struggled to make sure that my games incorporate such meaningful challenges that are more than just being “bigger guns” so the incorporation of social taboos and normals being influential and powerful in their own right is a good thing.
Chapter 5 makes good with the discussion for meaningful challenges by discussing and entire gamut of challenges that GMs can conceivably throw at their heroes. Everything from a volcanic eruption to various traps are discussed here.
Chapter 6 talks about options. Of all the chapters, this is the most heavy when it comes to crunch, and offers options for Character creation, Mass combat, fighting styles, wealth, reputation and some resolution systems. One thing I noted here was that the card-based resolution system from 2nd edition didn’t seem to make it to the 3rd edition. While I don’t think it was a severe failing, I do kind of miss it.
Finally, the Appendix tackles Villainous Lairs, something that actually brought a smile to my face, especially since it also features maps for all sorts of lairs, from the abandoned Amusement Park, to the Insane Asylum and the Island Base. Great stuff!
While not very crunch-heavy, the Mutants & Masterminds Gamemaster’s guide is a remarkably comprehensive book that touches all of the facets of GMing superhero games in detail. It’s clear from the writing that the author, loves superhero stories and tries to give every single advantage to his readers in hopes that it will improve their game.
The book goes into remarkable detail about the genre and how to run it, and I can say that even novice GMs will feel much more confident about pitching and running a superhero campaign after reading this book.
I have to say that the book’s usefulness transcends the system, and I would easily recommend this book as additional reading for anyone interested in running a Superhero campaign of their own.