Mutants and Masterminds Day 5: Why

“Why?” Just three letters, yet it’s the most difficult question in the world to answer. Why do the heroes and villains do what they do? What motivates them? Answering these questions sets the tone of the campaign, and that’s what we’re going to look at in today’s contribution to Mutants & Masterminds Week.


The history of Superhero comics is generally divided into five ages (or four, or six, depending on who’s counting): The Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze, Dark and Modern. There’s considerable overlap between all the different eras (to the point where it’s difficult to define them at all),  but they serve a convenient shorthand when it comes to talking about a characters’ motivations, style and backstory. Just look at Golden Age Batman, for example.


Dude, Batman is smiling. He’s a happy, optimistic guy who appears in adverts for Hostess Twinkies. This is a Batman who’s….. nice! Compare and contrast:


Not smiling.

What motivated the Golden Age Batman (or Superman, or Aquaman, or….) was a strong sense of justice, fairness, truth and decency. The Modern Day Batman is just plain driven – to the point of serious psychosis, not to mention death. Or not, depending on which Batman comics you read. Sheesh. Of course, I’m generalising (talking about comicbook ages does that to a person), but when we’re building a Multiverse-level campaign it’s worth thinking about the general tone and style of play – and then being willing to break it. To keep things familiar I’m aiming for a Modern Age style, but throw in a few characters and settings from earlier eras to re-enforce the multiversal variety. This is a setting where Captain Canine of Tooniverse-17 can rub shoulders with the Revenger, dark anti-hero of Earth-512, all wrapped up in the shades-of-grey moral tone of the Modern Age where there are consequences for your actions. Nice.

Mutants & Masterminds has a mechanism whereby the GM can reward players for great role-playing, acts of heroism, living up to the genre and acting in accordance with their motivations. If you’re running a gun-toting Dark Age anti-hero and the GM gives you a kill shot and you take it (whatever the consequences), your character gains a Hero Point for working in line with his motivations. Captain Canine of Tooniverse-17 might gain a Hero Point when his Complication of Must Chase Cats comes into play. Similarly, if a Golden Age-style hero has to choose between saving a kindly old lady from a runaway truck or catching the bad guy….. you get the idea.

These Hero Points can be spent in-game to perform suitably Heroic Deeds. They’re like 4e D&D’s Action Points, only more flexible and useful. For example, a Hero Point can be used to gain a temporary Feat or Alternate Power to help save the day, improve a roll, overcome fatigue or even escape death!

But what of the villains?

Their motivations are as varied and complex as the villains themselves. In this campaign setting we’re going to dealing with villains who (intentionally or unwittingly) breach the multiverseal barriers in some way. This could be as simple as a hostage situation which endangers an innocent destined for multiversal greatness (the John Connor Syndrome), or a multiverse-spanning villain on a grand scale. Villains don’t get Hero Points to help them win – but they do have the GM on their side, and he can use GM Fiat to give the villains an edge. This might mean they pull off a dramatic escape, somehow capture our heroes or otherwise further the story by winning the battle – only to be defeated in the final climactic scene. Yes folks, Mutants & Masterminds is a game where it’s cool for the Heroes to lose! If the GM uses with awesome GM Fiat-wielding powers, the heroes get a Hero Point in return. See how it all hangs together?

Next time, we’re going to look at how Mutants & Masterminds handles breaking the greatest barrier of all – time travel.

3 Comments on “Mutants and Masterminds Day 5: Why”

  1. If you want a fantastic look at what motivates superheroes then check out J. Michael Stracynski’s reimagining of Marvel’s Squadron Supreme. The original Squadron Supreme was Marvel’s blatant rip off DC’s Justice League of America. In the JMS update, he takes all the JLA… um, Squadron Supreme, and looks at what it would take in today’s society for them to become the characters we know and love. In an interview JMS said that the origin story of Nighthawk (Batman) wouldn’t work in 2000. The frightened child who witnessed his parents’ murder wouldn’t fight crime, he’d go into therapy. So in the rebooted story Nighthawk (Batman) is a black child who witnessed his parents killed as part of a hate crime. Now he’s not only looking for revenge, but HATES white people.

    Amerons last blog post..Review: When Night Falls

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