Mutants & Masterminds (abbreviated "M&M" or "MnM") is a top-selling multiple ENnie award  and Pen & Paper Fan Award winning superhero role-playing game written by Steve Kenson and published by Green Ronin Publishing based on a variant of the d20 System by Wizards of the Coast. The game system is designed to allow players to create virtually any type of hero or villain desired.
In the late 1990s, Steve Kenson had an idea for a superhero setting that he had been contracted to produce. Through a series of misfortunes, the project fell through and he was left with a partially completed manuscript. Shopping it around to various publishers, none were interested (superhero games had lost their popularity) until he talked to Chris Pramas (President of Green Ronin Publishing) about the setting.
Chris made the offer to publish the setting if Steve would also create a superhero game system based on the d20 System. Steve agreed and got to work. Over time, it became clear to him that the game would need to be released under the Open Game License. Releasing the game under the d20 Standard Trademark License, as originally planned, would have prohibited the inclusion of ability generation and character advancement rules. Presenting a complete game was seen as taking precedence over having a d20 logo on the product, so the decision was made to use the OGL.
Mutants & Masterminds was published in 2002 and the setting, which was once known as Century City, became Freedom City and was published in 2003. The first edition M&M books featured artwork by the design studio Super Unicorn, but other firms provide the artwork on all subsequent releases.
A second edition of the Mutants & Masterminds system debuted at GenCon in 2005, and saw wide release in October of that year.
Mutants & Masterminds' game mechanics are based on the OGL d20 System, designed by Wizards of the Coast, and is played in much the same way. There are however, a few differences pertaining to character creation, injury and damage, and hit points. Character classes and attacks of opportunity have been removed from the game.
M&M characters are not class-based nor do they technically have class levels. Instead, they have a Power Level (or "PL"), and typically a character begins at Power Level 10 instead of Level 1. This allows a character to begin as an already established superhero with incredible abilities. The power level represents the maximum rank of any combat abilities a character can purchase. Each power level grants a character an allotment of points to purchase attribute levels, base attack and defense bonuses, saving throws, feats, skill ranks and super powers.
The M&M power level does not exactly reflect the typical abilities of another character of equal level in another d20 game, meaning a level 10 M&M character could be much more powerful than a 10th level character in Dungeons and Dragons or d20 Modern for example; it merely restricts the maximum bonus held by skill ranks, ability scores, and most feats and powers. The maximum skill rank is Power Level+5, two points higher than in standard d20 games. With Game Master approval, characters can "trade in" maximum attack in return for maximum save DC/damage bonus, or maximum defense bonus in return for maximum Toughness save. (For example, a PL10 character could have a maximum attack bonus of +12, but could only have a maximum damage bonus of +8.) Beyond limiting bonuses, Power Level does nothing to restrict a character's power; a power level 10 character can have a maximum Strength of 40, whereas normal d20 characters would be lucky to have a single 20-rated score at 10th level.
M&M has optional rules of eliminating the Power Level entirely, where characters have no limit caps to things such as Skill Ranks or Attack Bonuses. They are essentially limited only to the number of Power Points the Game Master gives them, although this may make characters unbalanced. Some d20 System players who believe classes and levels are too restrictive, have looked to the structure of M&M for making their own classless and level-less d20 games.
Damage in M&M is handled differently as well. M&M does not use Hit Points. Instead, a character has a fourth Saving Throw called the Toughness Save ("Damage Save" in the previous edition) which is based on their Constitution score (just like Fortitude). Weapons and powers that do lethal and subdual damage do not roll any dice to determine damage. Instead, damaging attacks are ranked based upon their overall power. For example, a fairly fit but normal human may throw a punch that inflicts +1N (non-lethal) damage, while the irradiated simian mastermind with enhanced strength and razor-sharp claws throws out +12L (lethal) damage. When a character is struck by an attack, they roll a Toughness Save against a target number equal to the rank of the attack plus 15. Success allows the character to shrug off the attack with minimal effect, while failure results in injury according to the degree of failure and the type of damage. Accumulated damage applies a penalty to further saves, increasing the chances of any given attack taking the character down.
This system of damage is meant to model the nature of super-hero comics, in which many characters can ignore most damage outright, while still being susceptible to a lucky punch or super-mega-cosmic blast. For those more comfortable with the traditional hit point system, the Mastermind's Manual rulebook includes notes for conversion to that mechanic.
In M&M, characters are awarded Power Points (similar to experience points) that can do many beneficial things for the character. As described above, Power Points (abbreviated pp.) are used to purchase powers, feats, skills, abilities, and devices. The specific nature of Power Points was changed drastically with the 2nd edition (2e) of Mutants and Masterminds. In the first edition, when a character accrues 15 pp, they advance a Power Level, thus raising the caps on power and skill ranks, as well as on power bonus stacking. There were options to keep the Power Level the same while increasing total number of points (and many sample antagonists in the Game Master setting have more points than their Power Level would suggest), but these have been incorporated into the 2nd edition rules.
Under the second edition, Power Points and Power Levels are independent, the latter being set by the Game Master as a function of the campaign. The 2e concept of Power Level determines only the maximum bonus that any power can give, and does not imply that a character does or does not have the points required to purchase enough levels in any power to reach this limit. Though the two are described as being entirely independent, the Mutants and Masterminds manual recommends that the Power Level be increased by one with each 15 Power Points awarded.
Like many other super-hero role-playing games, M&M uses "Hero Points". Hero Points allow an unlucky player to be able to hold their own in a battle, thus reducing the amount that luck plays into the gameplay. A Hero Point can do several things, like allow the reroll of a failed check at a crucial moment, or change a tremendous hit of lethal damage into stun damage. What could have killed a character can temporarily knock him out of the picture instead. Some powers and super-feats allow players to do additional things with Hero Points, such as use powers they ordinarily wouldn't have (the Versatile power, debuted in the sourcebook Crooks!; in the 2nd edition, this is a default ability, and any character can spend a Hero point to gain a temporary power).
Neither edition of the core M&M book comes with a default setting, but both include an adventure that takes place in the Freedom City setting. Strangely, though the 1st edition book has pregenerated characters which players can use in the adventure, those characters are generally associated with another M&M setting, META-4. Despite this, the two settings are officially separate and their worlds and characters do not intersect.
Settings published for the game include:
- Autumn Arbor
- This setting, from Arbor Productions through the Superlink license, details a world where super-beings (called "Neos") have existed publicly since World War II. Taking place in a world where the laws and legal systems have evolved to handle the often ignored nuances of the comic book genre, the setting is also supported by upcoming novels and graphic novels.
- Freedom City
- A four-color, city-based setting by Steve Kenson that is filled with elements that are similar to the great icons and concepts of classic comic books.
- This setting, by Erik Mona, Kyle Hunter, and Sean Glenn, is detailed in the Crooks! sourcebook. It has been compared to edgier 1990s comic books.
- Based on Dan Brereton's Nocturnals comic book series, the setting book was written by Mr. Brereton, with the assistance of Chris Pramas. It is a horror/pulp-based setting.
- Written by Christopher McGlothlin, Noir is based on classic film noir. The setting of Noir is a dark world where heroes are flawed and the friend you trust may be your greatest enemy.
- Golden Age
- A setting for adventures in the Golden Age of Comic Books published from 1938-55. It also details the Freedom City setting during that era.
- Iron Age
- Very similar to Golden Age except that it deals with the Iron Age of Comic Books which is considered to roughly encompass the mid-1980s through early 1990s.
- A prison-based setting.
- A generic and modular "real-world" setting that takes the recent trends in comic book movies, the Ultimate Marvel line of comic books, and the show Heroes as inspiration.
Green Ronin licences the use of M&M through the M&M Superlink program. Under this program, other publishers may request permission from Green Ronin to publish their own material (such as adventure modules, character books, and new power books) incorporating "product identity" text from Green Ronin's published works. (Text which is not "product identity" is already covered by the Open Game License; its use requires no further permission from Green Ronin.)
Over a dozen publishers have produced more than fifty products using the Superlink program. A few have released their products as hard-back or soft-back books through retail outlets, but most have produced products as Portable Document Format books intended to be obtained on-line through electronic distribution systems.
- Official site
- Atomic Think Tank the official discussion boards
- Mutants and Masterminds at RPGnetWiki
- Game Geeks #4 video review of Mutants & Masterminds
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