Thursday, December 4, 2008

M&M - First Impression

Our first Mutants & Masterminds session was kind of disappointing. I blame a number of factors, some having to do with the game itself and some not, but I think the biggest factor is simply that the first scene in the introductory adventure makes a lousy introduction to the game. Spoilers for the intro adventure follow.

I'll start with my overall impression: The author could not have created a more frustrating villain to put on the scene if he'd tried. For an (even slightly) experienced group that was already a team this would probably have been a reasonable adventure scene. For heroes who haven't met before (a circumstance considered by the author and mentioned several times) it was a disaster.

The scene is a bank, the heroes are in civilian garb and/or patrolling (we had both). A bunch of thugs and two supervillains enter, and one of the supervillains lays down a selective visual and auditory obscure effect that covers the entire bank and part of the street outside but doesn't affect the bad guys. So we've got heroes who haven't been played before and might not even know each other. Any in the bank are immediately rendered effectively blind and deaf. Any outside patrolling have no way to find out what's going on, even after they get inside.

So we wound up with, out of four heroes, one on the outside unable to look in (Vulkyrion), one in the bank entryway unable to see or hear what's going on after the initial entrance of the bad guys (Enigma), and two inside the bank who lost initiative to the second villain and immediately got blasted, staggered and stunned (ALICE and Hwacha!). Enigma dropped an area confuse that caught about half the thugs before the bad guys moved around so much that he/she didn't know where they were any more. ALICE and Hwacha! each burned their sole hero point to stop being stunned. Hwacha! threw out his own obscure so at least the bad guys would be blind as well. ALICE with its tremorsense was the only hero that could see, but it has no effective attacks and couldn't direct the others because we couldn't hear, either.

In the end, Hwacha! blundered into a group of thugs while trying to back away from the one covering him. Having noted that all damage in M&M is non-lethal unless specifically stated otherwise, he dropped a non-lethal suspension-of-disbelief-breaking fireball at his own feet that filled the entire bank and dropped all the bad guys, most of the bank patrons, and ALICE in one blast. This at least killed the blinding/deafening effect and allowed Vulkyrion to swoop in and have his host of summoned vikings quickly tie up all the bad guys.

Even as the player whose character "saved the day", I must say I found the whole thing highly unsatisfying.


greywulf said...

Hmmmm. Rave is a tough cookie to take down indeed, but the encounter shouldn't have been that frustrating. The goal behind the scenario is to create a situation that can only be solved by using teamwork - just flying in and trying to fight out a solution, as you discovered, won't work well......

Obscure gives a 50% miss chance so some attacks should get through anyhow, and Rave's is described as a hall-of-mirrors like distortion effect - it's not totally impenetrable. Hwacha!'s Obscure or a Confuse could possibly be used to Counter the Obscure effect too, which would have helped.

ALICE has quite a lot of options, not least using Inventor & Improvised Tools to cobble together a radio to co-ordinate the attacks. Add her Master Plan and she could target all of the attacks onto Rave for 3 rounds, taking her out of action first. That's the key to success, of course. With her out of action Rant and the Thugs are simple to mop-up.

Another alternative would be for one of the other characters to disguise themselves as a Thug. That's what one of my players did one time we ran through the scenario. Rave excluded him from the distorting Obscure, then she was taken out pretty quickly.

Remember that non-lethal doesn't mean non-injuring. A fireball is still a fireball, and will result in serious injuries, burns, etc!

Hope that helps!

Gregor LeBlaque said...

Paragraph by paragraph...

Teamwork may be the goal behind the scenario, but when the whole area is blanketed in visual and auditory concealment, it's awfully tricky to attain that goal. It didn't help that the GM described the effect (or let me get away with describing it without correction) as a giant ball of blackness rather than a distortion.

Countering the effect with a completely different power isn't the kind of thing I'd expect new players to come up with. We certainly didn't. I think I've seen the Counter rules in the book, but I have no idea off the top of my head how they work.

ALICE was stunned and staggered before even getting to act, and spent the rest of the fight trying to get out of the way while it looked like Rant was hunting for her with his ultrahearing blindsight. He was probably just heading for the vault, but we didn't know that.

Another thing I didn't like about the scenario was that the author talks about doing stuff before Rant and Rave enter (like disguising as a thug), but the read aloud text two paragraphs earlier jumps straight to "super baddies walk in and blast a guard."

That's why I'm replacing Hwacha! with a completely nonlethal blaster of some kind who can get away with catching civilians in his blasts and not care. The fire is just fluff anyway. We're replacing at least half the party before the next meeting. Only Enigma is definitely staying at this point.

NukeHavoc said...

Before we ran our M&M campaign, we ran two or three playtests before diving into our first session. I think that helped us tremendously, because M&M is deceptively similar to D&D. And what I mean by that is that it's got familiar skills and feats, as well as powers that resolve their attacks much like attacks in D&D.

But at the same time, it's very different, and I think those differences tend to come out in play. The single biggest thing? The ability to spend hero points to temporarily gain a feat (such as alternate power) which in turn allows players to negate almost any ability a villain has. It's a huge change to realize "Hey, I'm not confined by what's on my character sheet!"

But at the same time, I think teamwork plays a much bigger role in the game than in D&D 3.x (probably on par with D&D 4.x) There are some villains that can only be taken down by working together, either by figuring out creative ways to use your powers, or by using aid another or similar teamwork actions to overcome an enemy's defenses.

That said, I agree that the sample adventure is problematic. I considered using it for my campaign, but decided not to because I was concerned about how the concealment/confusion powers would play out. At the time we were going through a bad stretch of D&D 3x where people would spend half a combat on the sidelines because of those kinds of spells, and I didn't want to recreate the problem in M&M.

I did use Rant and Rave eventually, but the guys had been doing the superhero things for a few sessions at that point, and they knew how to handle the villains.

Gregor LeBlaque said...

NukeHavoc, thanks for the detailed insight.

When we get together for a followup session, the GM is talking about doing some kind of Danger Room thing that sounds like your playtests. I think it will give us a better chance to work out how the system works.

My main gripe is definitely not with the system - we didn't get enough of a feel for the system to even have an opinion. I read over the 2-3 page intro adventure with the GMs permission to write this post, and my gripe is that as an introductory adventure, it's just awful.