Initial thoughts on Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition

The Second Edition of Mutants & Masterminds is, without a doubt, my all time favourite RPG. As I’m concerned it is as near as you can get to being the perfect role-playing game. It is mechanically flawless, fantastic to play and, despite being unashamedly all about superheroes, a wonderfully generic system that can handle anything you throw at it.

And now they’ve made a new edition? How very dare they??!!! (cue nerd rage)

They dare, it’s here, and these are my first impressions.

M&M3e itself comes in two entirely compatible flavours. If you want just the rules (with a light dusting of generic setting to get you started) there’s the newly released Mutants & Masterminds Hero’s Handbook (available as PDF now for $17.50, or Softcover real soon for £32.95). Alternatively, you can get the whole rules all wrapped up in extra special DC Universe sauce as either PDF ($20) or Hardcover ($39.95). Considering it is exactly the same rules set that means if you buy DC Adventures PDF you’re getting the DC Universe for just $2.50! Bargain!

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That does immediately beg the question of why you’d be interested in the Hero’s Handbook PDF at all. Just go for the DCA PDF or grab the Softcover when it’s out, right?

Wrong. While DCA is full to the gills with information, characters and villains (not to mention awesome artwork) from the world of the DC Comics, the Hero’s Handbook uses that space to talk (just as the Second Edition M&M core rules did) about the genre as a whole. There’s food for thought about setting the tone, the tropes of the various sub-genres, frameworks and how to set Power Levels accordingly. The Hero’s Handbook feels much less crowded than DC Adventures, and that, imho, is a Good Thing. I do think that the M&M Hero’s Handbook PDF should be a tad cheaper though. At $10 (or even $12.50) it would fly off the virtual shelf. You can get it for just $5 right now if you pre-order the Softcover though, and that’s a step in the right direction.

When it comes to the rules themselves, I’m happy to report that M&M3e is still very much the Mutants & Masterminds we know and love. There are numerous tweaks to the engine itself (several Powers in particular have been reworked and recosted) but two or three significant changes stand out.

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There are no longer 6 stats , but 8. We have Strength, Stamina (ie, CON), Agility, Dexterity, Fighting, Intelligence, Awareness (ie, WIS) and Presence (ie, CHA). I initially didn’t like this change – it essentially splits DEX into three stats for little or no reason – but now it is starting to make sense. Agility is overall body control. It is your speed, grace and physical co-ordination and affects things such as Initiative and Acrobatics checks. Dexterity is manual dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination – required for Ranged attacks and Sleight of Hand, etc. Fighting is your raw natural ability to land or avoid a blow.

Splitting the DEX stat into three means it is possible to create a character who is extremely agile (high AGL) but entirely lacks combat talent (low FGT) such as a gymnast. Or how about a Magician who has excellent manual dexterity (high DEX) but no great acrobat (average AGL). Or a typical fantasy Fighter type – strong as an ox and a natural brawler (high FGT) but lacking in balance and grace (average or low AGL and DEX).

Previously (as with Third and Fourth Edition D&D), any of these (and countless other) concepts you’d either need to give the character high DEX to start with, or use Skills and Feats to buff what should have been natural talent from the start.

This ‘wulf approves this change.

While we’re on stats, gone is the 3-18 range. Stats in M&M3e are just the modifier meaning someone with a STR 1 equates to a hero with STR 12 (a +1), and STR 5 equals STR 20 (+5) in old money. I shed a small tear as this loss but it makes sense when we’re dealing with a system that deals with characters who can lift whole planets without breaking into a sweat.

Skills are also more expensive to buy compared to Second Edition. 1 point now buys you 2 skill ranks rather than 2e’s 4 ranks. That’s double the cost! I know some players who will grumble about that one. I expect a subtle shift from skill focused to attribute focused characters, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are other changes, of course. Feats are renamed Advantages, but cover the same territory, and all heroes must take at least two Complications. That’s good news for we GMs – Complications are plotline gold – but I suspect some players will complain at the thought of their “perfect” Superheroes having such things as flaws! Suck it up, gamer.

So, is Third Edition a better system than Second Edition Mutants & Masterminds? Only time will tell, though I’ll give it a cautious yes. Having the entire DC Universe under your belt is a HUGE win, and the Powers as a whole feel much more tightly put together. I’ll certainly be interested to see how it works outside the superhero comfort zone. The acid test for me is seeing how it runs as the lower Power Levels for such things as modern cop dramas and low-fantasy.

Expect session reports Real Soon!

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10 Responses

  1. I’ve loved every edition og M&M and it remains one of my top favorite games of all time. I actually think I like third edition best of all. It has the simple ease of 1st, the detail and customization of 2nd and a few new nifty, near indie, bells and whistles and lights thrown in for good measure. Just an all around awesome game.

    From a Green Dog to a GreyWulf – Happy New Year!

  2. DarkTouch says:

    I’ve only played one game of 3rd edition but I feel like the change was very similar to the change from 1st to 2nd. A whole lot changed in the character creation side of things but very little actually changed in play.

  3. pdunwin says:

    That’s not what “begs the question” means.

    Never played, but it sounds ok so far. How does it handle putting, say, Batman next to Superman (or anyone next to Superman) without Batman being left behind, or wiped out by a force designed to handle Superman?

    • greywulf says:

      That’s something M&M handles very well, both in Second and now in Third Edition. It uses Power Levels which sets limits on pretty much anything that requires a roll or saving throw. It acts as a balancing agent, but there are trade-offs that characters can use to fine-tune their concept within the limits.

      For example, Power Level 10 is your typical Superhero Power Level, roughly equal to Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Supergirl, etc. More experienced heroes (such at the Justice League) would be PL 12 or more.

      At Power Level 10, a hero could have at most +10 to hit for 10 ranks of damage, or they could trade-off hitting potential for damage potential, or vice versa meaning you could have heroes who are +15 to hit for 5 ranks of damage (a Batman type, for example) alongside someone who is +5 to hit for 15 ranks of Damage (a Superman type), and it’s all still Power Level 10.

      Likewise when it comes to defense and the ability to take the damage. Batman’s ability to dodge the hits would be far higher than Superman’s, but he can soak up far more damage.

      In the DC Adventures Hero’s Handbook it puts Batman at PL 12 and Superman at PL 15, which feels about right to me.

      Hope that helps!

  4. The Bane says:

    Ok, GreyWulf, now that you have gotten me hooked on both M&M 2nd Ed and Minecraft, a question. What do you make out as far as this edition goes with errata? I mean, is it safe now, or do you think there will be an expansive errata (meaning I should wait a few months to get the PDFs)?

    Any input along these lines would be great!

    TB

    • greywulf says:

      I guess the best way to answer that is to look at Green Ronin’s track record with Second Edition M&M, which was first published in 2005.

      The errata for that is available on this page. For the First Edition printing, it runs to just 6 pages of typos and clarifications – and it was last updated way back in 2007. For the Third Printing, the errata is barely half a page in length. Again, it’s unchanged since 2007.

      Unlike a certain other company (*cough* Wizards of the Coast *cough*), Green Ronin don’t see fit to dick around with their books once they’re out the door. Beyond catching the odd slip or typo, once a book is printed, the editing process is closed.

      That, imho, is exactly as it should be.

      As a result of this attitude, they set themselves high standards *before* it goes to print. Errata tends to be few in a Green Ronin book, and quickly fixed and updated in PDFs as a matter of course. In comparison WoTC looks (indeed, is) downright slipshod in their treatment of customers.

      Ahem. Sorry about that mini-rant there.

      I’d have no qualms about recommending 3e M&M for purchase right now at First Printing – something I’d hesistate to do ever again with a WoTC publication.

      • The Bane says:

        Thanks. I was really impressed with 2nd Edition and appreciate the fast response. Good to know they retained the same quality in 3rd edition.

        Now I just have to recover from Christmas fundage shortages and figure out which PDF I want. I would like to have the DC background, but if it is like 2nd edition, I will most likely use 3rd for Low (Apocalyptic) Dark Fantasy and Gritty Level Hero games. I am leaning towards the Hero’s Handbook, as I plan on only getting the PDF and have found, though well organized (2nd Edition), crunching characters from a PDF is difficult to say the least. If I decide to print it, the smaller page count will help too.

        In regards to PDF format, which I am assuming you are writing about, how is the navigation?

        Have you heard of a W&W addition coming out for it? I just got the 2nd edition W&W right before I found out about 3rd edition M&M, go figure. As it sounds however, W&W should be easily interchangeable with 3rd edition, with some minor tweaking already…

        Best,
        TB

        • greywulf says:

          My vote would be to go with the DC Adventures PDF. The artworks is (unsurprisingly) much better and the layout is pretty much identical right up to Chapter 10 which talks about the DC Universe itself. As it’s only $2.50 more, it’s worth every cent.

          The core M&M Hero’s Handbook PDF really should be cheaper. At the current price point there’s little real reason not to go straight to DC Adventures, especially if you’ve played superhero RPGs before.

          I would like to see a print-friendly (ie, no art) version of the PDF some time (Green Ronin, you listening?)

          I wouldn’t be surprised if new edition of W&W (excellent supplement, btw) doesn’t make an appearance, but I wouldn’t expect it to be out this side of 2012.

          Using your existing W&W (or any 2e supplement, for that matter) would really just be a matter of recosting and lightly reworking the Feats, Spells, etc as you want to use them. Most will convert over directly, but you will need to watch out for some of the Powers that have changed in price and way of working.

          • greywulf says:

            Oh, I almost forgot. Layout and navigation is pretty identical to that in M&M Second Edition. If you’re used to that, you’ll find using 3e is like slipping into an old pair of slippers :)

            The Chapter headings in order are (using DCA as that’s the one I have open right now):

            Introduction
            The Basics
            Secret Origins
            Abilities
            Skills (skills are, incidentally, renamed and reduced in number)
            Advantages (the new name for Feats)
            Powers (which are arranged alphabetically)
            Gadgets & Gear (covers Devices, Equipment, Weapons, Armour, Vehicles, HQs and Constructs)
            Action & Adventure
            Gamemastering
            The DC Universe
            Heroes & Villains
            Glossary
            Reference Tables
            Index
            Character Sheet

            Checking the M&M 3e Table of Contents, it’s exactly the same but without The DC Universe and Heroes & Villains sections. Instead Supporting Characters and Animals subsections are folded into the Gamemastery chapter.

  5. The Bane says:

    Thanks again. I will go with the DC PDF. Now I just have to overcome the funding shortage….

    Best,
    TB

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