Tabletop Tuesday — Character Generation with Mutants & Masterminds

It might be obvious to anyone who ever read, well, anything I’ve written, but I’m a bit of a nerd. Okay, I’m a lot of a nerd, and specifically, I’m very much a gaming nerd. Tabletop board games and role-playing games have been a staple of my entertainment and social circles since I was a wee thing gifted that first red box of Dungeons and Dragons (and colouring in the dice with a white crayon so the numbers were easier to read).

These days, I don’t just play D&D, and my board game collection has grown to a near-embarrassing proportion (except I’m not embarrassed, I love board games, and frankly refuse to feel bad about enjoying them), and it occurred to me I could take a day here and there to talk about said games.

So: Tabletop Tuesdays.

Maybe it’s a review of a gaming product, a game, or game-adjacent thingamajig, maybe it’s just a discussion of a new game on the horizon I’m looking forward to, maybe it’s a dive into any of the role playing game campaigns I’m playing in at any given time, but I’m going to attempt to pop in on Tuesdays here in the blog to specifically chat about my nerdy joy, and hopefully maybe pass some of that joy along to any of you who might be interested.

One of the most difficult things about starting a new RPG is knowing where to begin with making a character. There are often so many rules to try and digest, often things like ability scores, skills, and other numerical stand-ins for “how good is my character at this thing?” to learn about. When you’ve got time to make a deep dive, that’s fine. I truly, truly adore RPGs that offer up a system so open to variation it basically says, “Tell me what you’d like to be, and we’ll make that happen.”

On the flip side of the coin, though, I also love a system that says, “Here, let me walk you through this in a way that lets you make choices, gives you ownership of your character, and you’ll have a character in about five minutes that’s fun to play.” Those games let you figure things out as you go, without losing hours to character creation in the first place.

You know which game does both of those character creation approaches brilliantly? Mutants & Masterminds.

Random-ish

The Cover of Mutants & Masterminds Deluxe Hero's Handbook (3rd Edition).

Mutants & Masterminds is a superhero role playing game that I bumped into more-or-less at the start of the COVID pandemic and was frankly one of the ways I kept my sanity throughout. I am lucky enough, through Can-Con and other writing conferences, to know a lot of authors, and as such, I was able to ask a quartet of my fellow authors if they’d be interested in playing a superhero game set in Ottawa, and in no time at all, they sent me their character concepts, and I did a deep dive into the various books to figure out how to make all their powers work.

Now, I did that because I was playing with Marie Bilodeau, Brandon Crilly, Kevin Hearne, and Evan May—all of whom are super-creative authors who came up with really cool and unique powers and superhero characters—but what’s important for today’s discussion of making characters in a new TTRPG is that when it came to Mutants & Masterminds?

I didn’t have to do that. I mean, I did it because I totally wanted to make the characters they came up with. Kevin Hearne’s wizard who tosses bombs of impossible-to-resist-delicious-gravy, for example, wasn’t exactly listed as an example power, but once I understood the flexibility behind the “Affliction” power, I realized I had everything I needed for his “Gravygasm” potion, and the game mechanics worked perfectly as imagined. I have yet to bump into an ability for a superhero I can’t figure out how to build with the various powers in Mutants & Masterminds, and honestly that is so freeing.

But what if you want to throw together a quick game and don’t have time to do a deep-dive into gravy-based power creation? No problem. The Deluxe Hero’s Handbook has you covered. There’s a fifty-page section of the book, the “Quickstart Character Generator” which is, hands down, one of the best “get a character and get playing” systems I’ve ever bumped into. It’s entirely done with d20 rolls—so is the whole Mutants & Masterminds gaming experience, for the record—but at any point it’s perfectly acceptable to simply say “I’m going to choose this one” instead of rolling. The twenty different types of archetype heroes make sense to anyone with a toe dipped into any superhero knowledge (with basic categories like “Speedster,” “Gadgeteer,” “Battlesuit,” “Weather Controller” and the like), and then the rolls you make on each individual archetype specialize your character even further, until, a few rolls later, you’ve got a character completely ready to go, complete with a few seeds from which to build your characterization of the character for role-playing moments. Even if two people choose the same archetype, they’ll easily end up with two different characters, and be ready to go in a short amount of time. The more difficult to grasp archetypes are also clearly marked, so beginners don’t end up with a character that’s very complicated to play right out of the gate.

Let me 100% roll up a character right now and give you an example.

I got an 11 for rolling my archetype, which gives me “Powerhouse.” This is your strong guy superhero, like, uh, well, Strong Guy. The archetype breaks down into three paths, and I roll an 8, which says “Innate Power.” However I got my powers, they’re not a fluke or an accident or anything like that. Maybe I’m an alien from a race of beings who are all like me, or I’m from some hidden offshoot of humanity with incredible powers, like the Amazons or Yeti or something. This roll also gives me my basic ability scores—unsurprisingly most of my points go to Strength, Stamina, and Fighting.

Next up I roll twice to gain some advantages, and get a 2 and 14, which translates to “Driven” and “Tough” and grants me two talents that dovetail together well (mechanically, I’ve got the option of pushing myself past the usual limits via a talent called “Extraordinary Effort”, and also “Ultimate Effort (Toughness Checks)” which basically allows me to force a natural 20 when it comes to withstanding something rough). Whoever this hero is, he can take a punch, that’s for sure.

Skills are up next, and I get 9 and 12—”Charmer” and “Rough Upbringing.” The skills make me not only good at persuading, reading, or misleading people, but also intimidating them if all else fails, as well as knowing my way around rough parts of town. Right at this moment, I decide my character has no idea why he’s got superpowers or where they came from. He’s just always had them. And his childhood was full of people on the wrong side of the law happy to use him for their own advantage. Not knowing where my powers come from—Am I an alien? A descendent of a god?—also gives me and the game’s narrator something to maybe weave into an ongoing story as I try to figure it out.

Now we get to powers. Under Offensive Powers, I roll a 12, which is “Super-Strength.” My Strength ability score goes from 4 (which is already somewhere around olympian level strength, to be clear) to 12, with the added bonus of 4 more points when I’m lifting something, which means my character can now lift 1,600 tons. He be strong. Under “Offensive Powers II” I roll a 18, which is “Thunderclap” and is totally that thing where a super-strong character claps their hands together and creates this cone of blammo, and I love it. During his wayward youth, you just know he blew out all the windows on the block, at least once. Defensive powers come next, and I get to roll twice. First I roll a 19, which is “Thick Skin,” which grants me an Impervious ability that leaves me untouchable by a lot of types of damage. This fella doesn’t have to worry about most bullets even, but this is a game of superheroes, and there’s always someone out there with a bigger blast. Then I roll a 4, which is “Life Support” which means I don’t have to breathe, or eat or drink, weather or environment exposures of any kind, and poison and diseases just don’t bother me. This feels like it lines up well with that rough childhood again—no one could physically hurt this guy, and the people who were using him for their own ends didn’t even have to take care of him in any real way. I get to roll again for a movement power—a 9, “Super Leaping,” which translates to jumping 4 miles at a time—and one last roll for a Utility Power gives me “Like Hitting a Brick Wall,” which is an amusing little ability to have people hurt themselves when try to punch me, and, I decide, his go-to nickname/superhero name: Brick. I also decide that his youth is by no means long gone. This guy is in his late teen years or early twenties at most, and whatever the first adventure brings, it will be his first time truly trying to be a hero.

I get some bonuses to my basic defense scores, and then it’s time to choose “Complications” (which are the Mutants & Masterminds way of giving the narrator a bit of bargaining power over your character in the form of in-game things that stymy your character during adventures). These are a la carte, and I decide on “Motivation—Responsibility” (taking care of the little guys who can’t look out for themselves, especially street kids like Brick once was himself) and “Relationship—Chosen Family” (a very small group of friends from that rough neighbourhood where we all grew up who this character looks out for beyond all else), and barring a little bit of math, the character is done. Brick, protector of his fellow street-kids, enemy of those who’d use and abuse them, and likely still running from the people who used to control him—a crime family, maybe—who may or may not have the answers as to where his powers come from in the first place, but would definitely like to have him under their control again.

All from random rolls.

Do you have any games you’ve played with awesome character generator tools? Let me know! Also, tell me what games you’re playing. I’m always interested in learning about new-to-me games.

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