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A peek under the hood of M&M

May 7, 2006

Golden Age Design Journal: Golden Age Heroes

Golden Age comic books (and comic books set during that period) feature main characters of varying degrees of superhuman ability, from war-comic soldiers who fight with nothing more than guts and a Tommy gun to nigh-omnipotent supernatural beings who can play billiards with the solar system. This section outlines how these differences translate into the Mutants & Masterminds rules.

Two-Fisted Adventurers & Uniformed Heroes

Campaigns from this era often center on the type of non-costumed, double tough, globetrotting pulp-style heroes that predominated in comic books of the mid-to-late 1930s. Such men are men among men, and manly men to boot. By their side (and sometimes, in the lead-character spot) are equally formidable women, more than capable of holding their own when trouble rears its ugly head. These Einstein-smart, Olympic-gold athletic, movie star good-looking folks start out as PL 6 characters with 90 power points to spend.

The heroes in uniform found in war comics seem a lot like prewar two-fisted adventurers who got their draft notice. Therefore, they too start out at PL 6 and with 90 power points, though the other members of their unit (especially the non-player characters) are usually of a slightly lower PL and starting power point total.

Classic Golden Age Superheroes

If war-comic heroes seem like pulp heroes who traded in their trench coats for combat fatigues, most Golden Age superheroes seem like pulp heroes who opted for multicolored long johns instead. This is mainly because the superheroes of that era certainly were heroic, but by today's standards, they just weren't all that “super.” Indeed, the most common ability 1940s comic book characters had was a mean right cross.

Even the heroes who had unusual abilities were typically possessed of what might best be described as “neat tricks” rather than full-blown superpowers. Therefore, classic-style Golden Age superheroes begin the campaign as PL 8 characters with 120 power points to allocate.

Modern-Style Golden Age Superheroes

A few Golden Age heroes stood out from their costumed fellows because their abilities were amazing by anyone's reckoning. Whereas most of their costumed contemporaries—the kind seen in the early days of superhero comics—were limited to socking crooks in the jaw, these heroes were powered by super-science and super-sorcery. They could do truly extraordinary things, like flying, moving at super-speed, and zapping criminals with their magic jewelry.

These really super superheroes were the forerunners of the types that predominated in comic books during the Silver Age and afterwards. Not surprisingly, they were among the first Golden Age heroes to be revived in the late 1950s and 1960s, as they fit right in with the comic-book trends of that time. So close are these more-super-than-usual heroes to their present-day counterparts that they start at the usual PL 10 and 150 starting power points found in standard M&M campaigns.

It's worth noting that (just like today) Golden Age super-teams had members of noticeably different power levels, from the PL8 boxers-in-tights to PL10 types who move quicker than the human eye. If the Gamemaster and players want authenticity more than they want to all start at the same PL, their characters can represent a similar mix of power levels. In these cases, it's important to make sure lower PL characters have skills and feats no one else on the team has so they can remain vital contributors to the group's efforts.

Nigh-Omnipotent Golden Age Heroes

When super-powered heroes sold super-stacks of comic books during the Golden Age, publishers soon after tried their luck with even more powerful characters, whose abilities bordered on the godlike. Such characters were capable of dispatching their enemies by hitting them with the sun, or casting them into the dark dimensions and otherworldly nether regions. They start at PL 12 with 180 power points, and go up (and up and up…) from there.

These seemingly omnipotent heroes were sometimes seen as part of a super-team, though in hindsight, one wonders why they needed any sort of backup. Still, a Gamemaster who's running a mixed-power level campaign can allow them to join the group if he doesn't mind a supreme challenge in keeping all these differently-abled heroes simultaneously occupied.

The easiest way to use such powerful characters in an M&M game is as the focus of a campaign with a small number of heroes, perhaps even a solo-hero setup. Obviously, this situation is not preferable for every M&M gaming group. If a mixed-power level campaign is similarly unpalatable, then omnipotent characters are going to work best as occasionally seen non-player characters.

That said, omnipotent characters can be a nice change of pace for a long-running campaign, even as a one-shot digression from the normal campaign. The weeks when not all the players can be there for the regularly scheduled game are perfect to give the people who do show up a shot at playing the team's omnipotent mystical ally. Letting the lucky few in attendance take on an entire enemy battalion all by themselves and so forth can definitely liven up what could've otherwise been an off-week.