Review: The M&M GM’s Kit

The GM’s Kit is an odd fish, mainly because it isn’t a fish at all. It is basically two otherwise unrelated products bundled together in a way that is either inexplicable, or very clever indeed. I can’t decide which. Thankfully though, both parts of the GM Kit are very good, and at $10 for the PDF or $19.95 for the Dead Tree version, it’s well worth the money whether you are a GM or Player of Mutants & Masterminds Third Edition (or DC Adventures).

What you get is a GM’s screen, which is pretty much like every GM’s screen you have ever seen. One side is pretty art, the other side is a bunch of tables. The first panel gives you the Measurement, Size Rank Modifiers and Material Toughness tables as well as a Making Checks sidebar which reminds you how to make Attack Checks, Team Checks and the like. Panel two gives Difficulty Class Examples, Degrees of Success and Failure, Opposed Check Examples, and a whole chunk of other stuff. Panel Three shows Actions & Modifiers, Extra Effort and Conditions.

As I said – it’s just like any other GM Screen, ever. Gorgeous on the outside, butt ugly on the inside. One of these days someone will create a GM screen that is both functional and doesn’t look like a railway timetable designed by a Crayola salesman, but this ain’t it. Orange and Green tables, Green Ronin? Seriously?

Normally I would say it doesn’t make sense to buy a PDF of a GM Screen and get the stiff cardstock version instead. This time though, grab the PDF version, print it in greyscale and tape it to some card. Save yourself some cash, and save your eyesight too.

I would have liked to see the stats for standard Mooks, Thugs, Crooks and the like on the GM Screen as well, but that’s easy enough to cobble together and print out myself anyhow, so it’s no loss. All of the key M&M/DCA tables are present and (as far as I can tell) correct, so that’s good.

It’s the second half of the GM’s Kit which is most interesting. Usually, GM Screens come with neat little bundled adventures – usually enough to while away a session or two and get lost underneath the couch when it’s all over. This doesn’t have one of those, I’m happy to say. Instead we get a booklet dedicated to Quickstart Random Character Generation, and it’s brilliant.

I’ve complained before that the only thing M&M lacks is decent random character generation. Much as I love the point-buy engine (and I do, in spades), I yearn for the good old days of Classic Marvel and Golden Heroes random chargen where the best characters came from batshit crazy rolls of the dice. ICONS (Steve Kenson’s lighter beer and pretzels superhero RPG, and currently just $1.49 at RPGNOW) proves that random superhero character generation is alive and well, so adding a touch of randomness to the crunchier (but no less tasty!) Mutants & Masterminds should be an inspired move. After all, new players won’t necessarily want to dive into the depths of M&M’s rules just to build their first character, and even tweaking the Archetypes involves some level of handholding by a more experienced gamer.

What the Quickstart guide provides is a way to generate a character for M&M or DC Adventures using nothing more than a bunch of rolls of a d20. The points cost engine is well and truly hidden from view (but still there, whirring in the background) meaning this is a darned sneaky way to get new players hooks on the game without blinding them with the underlying maths.

The first d20 roll (or choice, if you so wish) selects one Archetype out of 20. These are somewhat like Character Classes in that each one has its own section of the booklet and all further rolls are made to provide a pre-built piece of the sheet. For example, a roll of 16 gives Supernatural Creature, and from there your hero could end up being a Demon, Vampire or Werewolf. Further rolls generate your Advantages (Heartthrob, Aristocrat, Savage or Wilder), Skills Package (Bestial, Mysterious, Teen, Tempter, etc), Offensive Powers (Brutish Strength, Devilish Speed or Supernatural Might) and any other random abilities from your Demonic, Lycanthropic or Vampiric origin. Add in your own Complications, and you’re ready to play.

There’s more than enough fine detail in each Archetype to generate a multitude of characters for each, and every one feel unique. It’s a step up from using one of the pre-built pre-stated Archetypes from the Core Book, and great fun to see where the rolls lead you.

Here’s a quick example.

A roll of 3 gives me a Crime Fighter superhero – one who is highly trained but otherwise lacking in true Superpowers. The next roll is a 12 so he’s a Detective who uses brains rather than pure brawn to solve crimes. That gives me his stats.; he’s a skilled fighter with a sharp mind. Next his Advantage – a roll of 7 gives him an Incredible Presence. For his Mental Advantages he automatically gets Sleuth and a roll of 8 gives him Criminologist. For his Physical Advantage an 8 makes him an Acrobat. For his Skills, being a Detective automativally provides him with Investigator, and a 20 gives him Sneak. I’m liking my sneaky acrobatic detective so far!

Finally, his Equipment. A roll of 5 gives him Gadgets – a Headquarters (woot!) and (another roll, of 5) a Combat Suit. Lovin’ this!

All that’s left to do is give him a name and a couple of Complications. Let’s call him The Solution, a crime-fighting mix of The Question and Dare-Devil who solves the crimes others cannot. For his Complications, I give him Motivation:Justice and (as a twist) Amnesiac. The one thing he cannot solve is who he really is.

The Solution
STR 3, STA 4, AGL 4, DEX 4, FGT 8, INT 5, AWE 4, PRE 2
Dodge +7, Parry +5, Fort +4, Tough +0, Will +8

Daze (Intimidation), Skill Mastery (Intimidation), Startle, Leadership
Skill Mastery (Investigation), Tracking
Assessment, Skill Mastery (Expertise:Psychology)
Evasion, Instant Up

Close Combat:Unarmed 6
Expertise:Streetwise 6, Insight 5, Investigation 6, Perception 5
Deception 6, Sleight of Hand 6, Stealth 8

Combat Suit: Enhanced Strength 1, Leaping 1, Movement 2 (Wall-crawling 2), Protection 1, Senses 1 (Infravision), Removable

Headquarters (Large): Communications, Computer, Concealed, Fire Prevention System, Gym, Infirmary, Laboratory, Living Space, Power System, Security System, Workshop

The GM’s Kit is a product of two halves; the boring-but-necessary GM Screen and the wonderful Quickstart Character Booklet. Despite this being pitched for GMs, it’s Players who will really benefit from grabbing this as the character booklet deserves pride of place in any M&M/DCA gamer’s hands.

And that, I suspect, is the genius of Green Ronin. By pitching this to GMs, they will buy it for the screen then each player at the table will want a copy of the Quickstart Booklet of their own. That’s sneaky marketing, that is.

So I guess it’s not such an odd fish after all.

This wulf approves.

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6 Responses

  1. Ron says:

    I like my crunchy bits, but when it comes to character creation as a player and GM, I despise point-based systems. I’ve played and run M&M 1e & 2e in short stints because that’s all I could stand. I had decided that I was going to only play rules-lite supers games (ICONS!), but this GM’s Kit has swayed my opinion greatly. I bought it last week and LOVE it!

  2. Ekkaia says:

    You sir -when it comes to M&M- never cease to amaze me. I mean… I love the system, but your <> is out of this world… and that’s good, it’s a good system.

    I can say I like my toast crunchy and I do detailed writeups for my chars (the ones with some sort of future at least). For “villains of occasion” I don’t go full throttle, I usually just sketch stats based on the Party’s PL +/- a threat factor (something REALLY hard to grasp but comes with experience and almost total party kills)… but this new RCG looks fun, you just sold me the GM kit.

  3. Darktouch says:

    Pinnacle (The Savage Worlds guys) used to have a very nice customizable GM screen. I used it with M&M 2E to just slide in. Not sure if they still have it though.

    I’m really liking everything I’ve heard about the ‘random’ roller for 3e. Not that I feel there needs to be a random version but I’ve been asking for a while for a little bit of column a, b, and c version of character creation as an alternative to point buy. Looks like a good point for expansion too. Archetype 21 and its associated die rolls could make for a great product.

  4. EverKang says:

    As to their rationale for including a character generator with the screen, I’ve gathered from podcast interviews with GR staff that 1) customers were showing a lot of interest in a random chargen tool on the Atomic Think Tank and 2) they were interested in including something with the GM screen beyond the standard adventure insert that people might typically not even play, i.e., they wanted to include something of lasting value. The results have been rather more positive than they expected. :)

    • greywulf says:

      I missed that podcast, and that explains a lot. I’m certainly pleased that they didn’t go down the yet-another-adventure route and included this little gem instead.

      I rather suspect that the next edition of M&M will include something like this right in the core book as one of the chargen options. Hope so, anyway.

  5. Cool, thanks so much for blogging on this. Sounds really fun and useful!

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