Post Mortem: DC Adventures (Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition Game Engine)
If you have been following my blog, you might have noticed that:
A. I have been running a DC Adventures campaign for a while now, and
B. it recently ended.
After running my Star Wars Saga campaign and my Pathfinder campaigns, I wrote post-mortem posts for those games, detailing how well the game system worked over time. Its only fair to apply that same treatment to DC Adventures.
DC Adventures is a separate game that uses the same engine (but is completely compatible with) as Mutants and Masterminds 3e. Some of what I’m saying has to do with DC Adventures as a stand-alone game, and some of it focuses on the official builds of the characters in the game. Other commentary relates to the core mechanics, common to both DC Adventures and Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition.
First off, I really enjoyed the game. Unlike my Star Wars and Pathfinder games, this game actually pretty much ran a natural “beginning, middle, and end” arc that told a story. Great players, interesting characters.
The d20 resolution mechanic for the game is familiar to d20 RPG players, but is much more flexible. More of the game’s resolution is defined by the core d20 mechanic than in other d20 games. For example, you don’t track hit points separately, you track a penalty to your toughness check, which determines if you are still up and kicking.
Hero points are fun to hand out. They give the players some control over their own fate, especially when using options like editing scenes and the stunting powers to do things not on their character sheet. It is also nice for the GM to have an official “rule breaker” meta-rule that lets him hand out a hero point to those affected when he breaks the rules to move the story forward.
Power Stunts, Artiface, Invention, and Rituals allow for a lot of effects and powers to be used in the game that doesn’t require the player to buy powers they hardly ever use, and allow for the characters to do those “once in million” tricks that superheroes often pull out of their hats.
Challenges are a quickly resolved version of what other games try to do with complex skill checks or Skill Challenges, but with the degrees of success and failure rules, it’s much easier and more logical to determine how these play out.
The effects-based powers are very flexible building blocks that can be used to assemble more complex rules that might otherwise be difficult to model. Afflictions, in particular, a great way to model powers that hinder opponents without directly harming them, in several ways.
The range of the d20 means that you can have a tough, heavy hitter go down fairly quickly if you roll really low right off the bat.
Without more detailed guidelines on how to use the “hero point payoff” to let the GM bend the rules, it can feel very arbitrary when you decide to invoke your “right” to do this as a GM. If you have players that are very trusting of their GM, it works okay, but even if they trust the GM, players that are used to game systems with more detailed rules for GM “rule-breaking” might not feel as if the hero point payout is a satisfying mechanic.
While the “building block” approach to building powers from effects is great, it means that people trying to take advantage of Power Stunts, Inventions, etc. might be reluctant to do so, or even slow down the game trying to build “on the fly powers.” There aren’t many example “pre-built” powers, outside of the hero and villain builds (and more about that later).
Challenges are mentioned very briefly and without much in the way of examples. If you blink, you probably might miss them, and if you only have the DCA books, you may never end up using Challenges in your game.
For a game that is moving towards a “trust your GM” and “tell a good story over mechanics” approach, several rules are needlessly complicated, like a throwback to the more “nitpicky” d20 rules that the game was based on. Environmental adaptions, immunities, and senses are all examples of rules that have finicky minutia involved.
It really seems like if you want to play a speedster that isn’t immune to friction, or an aquatic character that isn’t immune to deep-sea pressure, you would take that as a complication, rather than buying those adaptions for your character. There are so many tacked on extras for senses that I continually forgot what they meant, and I don’t think once in a year of playing any of them ever came up.
Abilities scores are a little superfluous. You can buy most of what they do separately, and they don’t evenly effect game stats, yet all cost the same to advance. Another pass on the rules and the will to do so could have eliminated ability scores from the game altogether.
The Official Problem
I’m creating a separate section to talk about the official builds because, while some are great, some aren’t, but I don’t want to bounce around and give the impression that my complaints about the official builds have anything to do with “X has ranks of this obscure power he hasn’t used in 10 years.”
Most of the builds in the Heroes and Villains books are great. Some of them are not. However, what is most jarring is that there is a lack of editorial discipline on the project. Not about typos or game rules mistakes, but in the overall feel of the book.
I know that there are a lot of freelancers working on the book. I also know that there are a lot of ways to express the same powers with the tools provided. That having been said, the format for different characters and teams are all over the place.
I don’t care if one character that can blast people and create objects doesn’t have his powers built like another character, but if you are going to put the stats for an item that defines a lantern corp in one entry, you should probably do the same for all of the lantern corps.
If you have a character that has had multiple incarnations, and one entry has a sidebar about their Bronze, Silver, or Golden Age versions, you should probably have something similar for any character that has other versions. I know some versions are really obscure, but in some cases, the omission is glaring.
For example, from the DCA books you would never know there was ever another Tattooed Man, but you have details on everyone that has ever been called Starman. You have sidebars on the silver age versions of Pied Piper and the Top, but Mongul’s entry doesn’t even touch on his bronze age appearances, and handwaves “Mongul” as more or less a family of aliens that have been a pain to Superman and the lantern corps.
There isn’t a uniformity of style or format, and this creates a disconnect when viewing similar characters that may have been written by different creators.
I don’t want to point fingers, but this game is a nightmare from a publishing standpoint. Originally a product line that was going to support DC Comics 75th Anniversary in 2010, the line was still not complete as of 2012.
DC Comics, before this line was even finished, rebooted the entire universe.
I don’t know who is responsible for what, though I have my theories. What is in evidence is that this line of books seems to be taking much longer to publish than originally planned. This seems to have the effect of not only dragging out how long it takes of DC Adventures to be completed, as a line of products, but seems to be causing issues for the main Mutants and Masterminds line as well.
I think, the lack of an editorial template is at least partially related to the fact that this project has taken so much extra time, so that even more delays to create a better feel of uniformity would have seriously hurt sales.
Whatever the case, it’s a problem. No matter how big a fan you are of DC Comics, taking this long to put out four books, missing the 75th Anniversary by two years, and publishing this material after the entire universe has been rebooted has to take some of the wind out of the sails (and sales).
I really do like the core system that powers DC Adventures. However, DCA by itself is not as robust as I would like to run a campaign. If it weren’t for the additional M&M releases such as the Gamemaster’s Guide and some of the examples given in the Power Profiles and Threat Reports, I would have been more frustrated as a GM.
I really wish that the Heroes and Villains books had been supplements to Mutants and Masterminds instead of a separate line, and that more of the M&M products would have gotten out the door at this point. I wish there was more uniformity in the builds and presentation.
Like the DC Universe itself, I love so many of the elements that I can’t help but buy this stuff, and give it a whirl for a campaign, but there is so much potential that wasn’t realized that it’s frustrating. Great elements, great material, not tied together as well as it could have been.