Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mutants and Masterminds foe and friend design.

A little late for me but it seems Wednesday is the weekly bug friends day. Project combat test is in debug and low level code work right now. With that said there isn't much that may be interesting so I think I'll talk about something else. As I've mentioned before I play and run Mutants and Masterminds second edition. So today I'll talk a bit about making characters from the DM side of the table.

There are three things to consider when making NPCs in Mutants and Master minds 2nd (and 3rd) edition. What it can do, how does it stay alive with pesky players attacking it, and what makes it interesting. The first two are relatively easy as there mechanic based so I'll start there.

What can your being of pure evil do?
The question we ask ourselves in the morning, it's less about what it does and more about what it can do to your Players. This is is more or less the characters "Attack". This does not necessarily mean it's brute force abilities to cause players pain but more often does. In some games it could be the NPC social connection or even it's ability to enable others to be the big problem with them staying the background. Those social ones can be covered in a few skills and feats or if you get fancy emotion control and some sort of boost system if you don't just hand wave it for the sanity I seem to lack. After that we have the "main" power that work wonderful for refluffing what it can do.

The offensive powers in question are Damage, Fatigue, Nauseate, Paralyze, Snare, and Stun. While this isn't all the attack flagged powers it's the ones I see most useful as apposed to trip and dazzle which have a more limited use. First thing I would like to say which is odd is that third edition had a real good idea which I will explain in a second. first every attack in mutants and masterminds is resisted by a "save" on the targets side, how much you fail by chooses the effect. In Second edition the effects listed above had two or three stages of failure of varying degrees of severity but were set based on the type chosen. In 3rd edition they combined everything but damage and let you choose the effects beyond the powers name. This allows for a lot more customization and more fitting effects. Though either way it should be aimed at some how taking someone out of combat. Which isn't too hard for damage, the non damage abilities have a harder time of sticking though they have the benefit of "stacking" and increasing the severity of their effects if a player has failed a save earlier. Either way these should be kept near the "Power level cap" or how much the game allows you have them at though this is to taste for a Game master and their musings.

While this list isn't impressive it is all based on your execution and proper extra use. For example Paralyze is slated in game as some sort of debilitating attack on a persons ability to react be it having to work through the confusion of some sort of poison or some monsters attack that saps the strength away from them. I have taken it's frame work and used it for an ice based attack from a foe that tries to encase in a layer of ice. I could have also used snare for the effect or even stun for this idea but paralyze was an interesting choice as it could slow players down. The only change was making it a "fortitude" save. I could get into a lot more on this but the bread and butter of any person making something in mutants and masterminds is using the same thing in different manner or even just a different weakness.

What can't your being of pure evil do?
The flip side of what we just discussed. It being inconvenienced, its defense and possibly an Achilles heel in the design. There are less things to consider here but they are very important. The first is do you want this to be a boss or a group of enemy encounter.

There is a big difference, the mutant and masterminds system runs on saves against everything, and a low roll means you fail and possibly takes you out of the fight. For players this is mitigated by hero points which can reroll the save around a "safe" zone or even higher for most attacks they would take. If you make a solo NPC to take the players on it is going to be thrashed by each one of them. Taking the group route hopefully means a division of attention as his buddies will be taking up the slack even if he goes down. Before I can go into the intricate parts I have to talk about saves in Mutants and Masterminds, if you played 3rd or later D&D they should look familar.

Saves in Mutants and Masterminds are Toughness, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. From a mechanical standpoint they have more to do with the offensive powers above than what they mean in game but I'll go through the general explanation of each one. Toughness is effectively your HP in Mutants and masterminds, it allows you to shrug off attacks like nothing and take a lot of hits. For the most part only straight up damage. This one should always be near "Power level cap" for a villain because damage saves are rigged to have a higher chance to fail and plainly mess up a character than anything else. Other saves have roughly a 55% chance of succeeding if you are matched with it, damage saves have a 30% chance of passing so it is key that these are up to limits or the character in mind will go down far more easily than would be imagined. For this reason I tend to call everything that isn't Toughness a secondary save as they aren't the primary means of ending combat in a mechanical sense. Fortitude is the "strength of body" save, things like poison or shocks to the system go here. Reflex is actually one of the more import of the secondary saves, some powers may target it directly but it covers area of effect avoiding. Willpower is the flip side of Fortitude as it is the "strength of the mind" save that generally allows overcoming illusions and pain among other generic slated things.

Unlike Toughness these secondary saves are probably not the best thing to cap. In mutants and masterminds second edition there was an odd design decision to allow these to go up to PL+5 which when completely maxed out allows for a 70% chance of passing the save in question, I believe this is more from 3.X D&D than anything and actually makes things a bit difficult in designing solo encounters or boss battles where the villains are a higher PL. There is also the fact that it is kind of cheap to just cap these, as unlike toughness there are only a few powers that can take a character out of combat like toughness and last like an unconscious condition. So in general I follow the Mastermind Manuals "level based progression" of the D&D good and bad saves. One of the secondary saves is chosen to be "good" which means it's roughly double the bad saves values. There is a formula to this equation of good and bad save but it would probably be too long and pointless so I'll post up a small mock up chart here which is effectively what I use anyways. A thing to be mentioned is M&M is assumed to be played around Power level 10, it can be played higher or lower but it's assumed to stick around 10. The result is a character that isn't a brick wall for non damaging powers to get through. These aren't quite up to cap and will have a little variance when attributes are figured out due to save calculation. It also adds a bit of flavor when the big huge monster has a higher fortitude save, the small nibble melee fighter has a higher reflex, and the psionic powerhouse has a higher will save though it may not always be the case.

Why is your being of pure evil interesting?
Hardest question to answer. At the end of the day you will have a pile of numbers to throw at the players but why about this one over the last one is always a challenge. I commonly refer to this as the gimmick portion of the character and it can either be in the power set or its flaws. This one I can't really answer but it should be a theme to the character and how it's powers work, it doesn't even have to be blatant just something to tie the numbers together. I have made bosses that have abilities that drain down and on depletion give them a nasty complication (players never saw this happen) and ones that had reactive effects to show their prowess in ability. Though I will admit over the year or so in this game I've gotten a lot better and faster at this. Early bosses and such were a horrible situation that were often far too easy which was fine in learning a system. There is a lot of mechanical potential just in the books for interesting situations with a bit of thought into what the NPCs.

Well this was far too long and possibly convoluted for people that don't know much about D&D. So as a question for those that have stayed through all of this have you played any table top games?


  1. There's a lot of solid advice here. Though there's other tricks too. Designing enemies is a hard task, though. You need to give it a lot of thought.

  2. Not big on table top games, no.

  3. wow, that's a lot of info. I don't do table top (anymore) so best of luck with that.

  4. @convictus
    I expected this to be really short, but the realization of people not being familiar with the system was what bloated it.