First time I did read Mutants & Masterminds I did like it. I already had played Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 so I knew the basics how D20 system works and before that played simplified True20 system of Blue Rose. M&M is kind of between those two in complexity and above in character possibilities and customization. Still there are things I don't like about this D20 rules set.
Characters Without Class Nor Alignment
Classes I am ok with. But in this kind of game where heroes are all unique classes wouldn't work that well. But if you don't want to make a character from a scratch there are hero archtypes you can slightly custom to your own taste.
They aren't equal to classes which are base you create your character on but almost ready-to-play. Still, for those who don't want to use whole toolbox or are short of ideas there archtypes are welcome.
There is no alignment but somehow I feel that it (good, evil, lawful) could determine where character stands. BUT what else alignment does except being a part of game mechanics? You can write in your character description lawful evil superhero. Isn't that the same without mechanical use in game? Yes it is. I think D&D alignment system - even though somehow confusing - describes easily both character's moral and order.
True D20 Game With Only 20-Sided Die
This game only uses D20. Well, Dd20 system basically only uses D20 when determining successes but effects are simulated with different dies for example damage.
Which is more simple? In D&D roll to hit then roll damage what is exactly what die shows plus/minus something. In M&M:
"Characters in Mutants&Masterminds do not have hit points based on their level and Constitution bonus, and damage is not rolled using other dice. Instead, each attack has a damage modifier used to calculate a Difficulty Class. The character makes a Damage saving throw against that Difficulty Class and the result of the..." blah blah blah. Roll, calculate, roll against. How does that differ from actually rolling damage and settling for that? Or if you don't like hit points make damage steps. Light, moderate and heavy wounds. Damage dealt between 1-4 points is light, 5-9 moderate etc based on constitution. Character can take more lights but when those are used/marked they convert to next step. Well, check out Kult 1st edition.
Point is that this system in my opinion is too complicated. I didn't like it in Blue Rose either. But more about damage later and when you think about it, is it that bad?
Attacks of opportunity I didn't use in my D&D3.0 game (no minis extra complication) so I am pleased it isn't used here.
I did create a test character some time ago. It was ok. But there is a problem when I think harder. The problem is same I dislike GURPS character creation. You get a punch of points you must use for EVERYTHING. Its really hard to allocate points to abilities when you are not sure how many points your concepts powers will take. And then you try to balance your character so he can fly - well. Or he has this cool megacannon he is shit shooting with. So, you carefully allocate points here to get basics, move to powers to get core and continue jumping back and forward to balance with your points. And don't forget restrictions on max attack bonus etc. I do like point buy system for customization purpose but I prefer different areas of character having different point pools. Makes things less accounting and less mathematics.
The Abilities are same from other D20 games. I think those six cover really well characteristics although I always had a problem making difference between Intelligence and Wisdom. Skills I think work well in this genre.
Feats I am not so sure do I like them or not. They do give this little extra touch for character but they are way too mechanical in nature. I'd like more descriptional use-your-common-sense types and probably when I play I treat them that way. Less I have to open rulebook during the course of the game the better.
Then what makes superhero game a superhero game; the super-powers. This would take ages to review. Let's say. You have tons of powers you can custom. And by custom I mean Xzibit Pimp my powers custom. You take energy say. Decide do you shoot it from your eyes, fingertips or mechanical cannon. Does it explode etc. Point is that you have basic power listed which you can custom for your character from it's origin to flaws. This is the super-power toolbox and it will take most of the time of the character creation. I have to admit this is the first and only supers game I've got to know so I am not sure how big the power section in this game is compared to others.
Back To Character Creation
Earlier I used therm "characteristics" when I actually meant abilities (dexterity, charisma and those). But actual characteristics chapter reads "filling in the details". It contains both writing fiction for your character. About his appearance, origin, motivation and so on. But also gives mechanical details for character sheet for example saving throw values, carrying capacity, hero points and so on. Hero points you can use to re-roll dice, improve defense, eliminate stun hits and other short-term advances for a certain situation. According to book hero points character has are meant roughly to last four hour session. If sessions are shorter GM may consider to award them back slowly or if sessions are longer than six hours more often. Basically hero points are replenished after a certain time mainly determined by GM.
In this chapter you can also choose weaknesses. For every weakness player is awarded 10 extra points for his character to spend in character creation. Weaknesses are common what you find in other games labeled "disadvantages" or "flaws". Those also contain rules how they work and what penalty they give in which situation. Yet again I like to use them when I see appropriate instead of reading when to use those. You know, yet less rules to remember. Particularly when you have several players who might not know or remember to use them right.
Devices are basically part two to super-powers. Super-powers are within character when devices are gadgets and mechanical items giving those super-(like)-powers. Devices can be anything from weapons to headquarters. You can also make super-powers devices just applying device flaw on them. That way you don't fly on your own, but fly with a device; rocket backback for example. Nice additional touch is random powerful device name generator. Roll D20 for first word and D20 for second word to combine with. And you might get a device called "The Kinetic Repulsor" or "The Anti-Matter Nullifier". Deal with those!
For those familiar with D&D 3.X combat rules are easy to learn. To attack roll D20 and add base attack bonus + strength modifier + size modifier. Ranged is similar but with dexterity modifier instead of strength modifier and subtract range penalty. Easy as it is.
Defense is 10 + base defense bonus + dexterity modifier + size modifier. That is the number you try to roll over when attacking to hit and wound your opponent. Lots of calculation but luckily you have already written those down in your character sheet. So just check out the number for your melee or ranged attack and add it to D20 roll. Same way skills work. Roll modifiers to your skill what you try to do, roll D20 and try to score over difficulty number determined by situation or GM.
What is really different from D&D 3.X is damage. This is when my brains crack. So when you hit with your attack you potentially deal damage instead of just rolling damage. Each attack has a damage bonus. Melee attack damage bonus is strength plus possible modifiers from for example super-powers. Ranged attacks use power level of weapon or attack type as damage bonus. If opponent is hit he must make damage saving throw with damage save bonus. Damage save bonus is constitution bonus + power bonuses + modifiers. Roll D20 and add damage save bonus against difficulty of 15 + attack's damage bonus. Then based on your success or failure determine how much damage is dealt. Success means no damage, fail means injured, fail by 5+ means stunned and fail by 10+ disabled. And there are two types of damages: stun and lethal with slightly different effects.
I think when you fight a few fights you get the gist of it but still to make some of the rules more simple why damage rules are this complicated? It does take several problems from hacking hit point per time away though. But still I am not happy with this. But it's similar to other D20 rules. Add this to that and bonus and modifier + D20 against this with that modifier or DC of this plus modifier. When you think about it and go deep enough damage works the exactly same way as other rules. It makes sense, but still I am not 100% convinced.
But there is alternative way to roll damage. After hitting opponent attacker makes roll D20 + damage bonus against opponents constitution bonus + power bonuses + modifiers + 15. Consult the table what type of damage is dealt based on success. I actually like this more somehow. Attacker rolls when attacker attacks. But still it basically is the same mechanics.
Another thing I hate are different types of actions. Free, half and full. Luckily there is a list of these and they most definately are print-to-sheet material for quick access. Other combat rules naturally cover initiative, movement and position, modifiers from situations and surroundings. Lots of tables to check on. Personally I am the GM who strips these and goes with the flow. Depending on what happens in game I give or reduce penalties and rule myself what modifiers take place. Thanks to World of Darkness games I don't need too detailed combats. I want my combat turns to go like this:
Player: "I jump over the cover and shoot him."
Me as GM: "Okay, from jumping and shooting you suffer penalties. It's hard to aim when in movement. Oh, and your opponent is in partial cover. Hmm take -7 to your roll."
Someone might argue that my style is not fair as penalties and modifiers are not written in stone and after few weeks similar situation might only be -5 or even -9 penalty to attack roll. Stable rules, people say, what work same way every time. I partially agree. Rules are good so situations have a norm what player character follows. But I want fast action. Instead of spending tens of seconds calculating every modifier and determining situations by the book I keep action fast and just say it. That is my style and basically rules wise it is wrong.
Breaking items is easy. Substance hardness + 15 is difficulty. There are also other little bits what are nice and easy to deal with. But what about grapple rules what commonly in roleplaying games are clumsy or even hard to understand? Attack roll is basically same as melee attack roll. After initiative grapple when you decide to hold your opponent make opposite checks next turn. You win, you keep your grip. Opponent wins and he breaks apart. There are also different things you can do in grapple like do damage or just pin. You can also make a group grapple... visualizing it makes me laugh out loud.
Also basic hazards and conditions are covered like starvation, falling, disease and radiation (you might re-allocate power points if radiation is exotic, or it might work like poison). I think rules cover in only 18 pages everything needed and personally for me half of that is gibberish. Not bad at all. At this point of rulebook roughly only one third left most of the material has been about character. Character creation, powers, devices etc. and at page 143 only 18 pages of hard rules. Not bad at all again.
Unfortunately, this is where I have read the book and will continue to read from this point. Gamemastering - Creating and running the universe is the next chapter. I will continue this "review" when I finish the book.