Superhero Autopsy: Widowmaker

Here’s a little twist to my usual Character du Jours. This time around I’m going to present a character, then take him apart piece by piece. We’re going to look at how the character fits the concept, and what options our hero has both in and out of combat. Along the way we’ll showcase a little of the system we’re using (Mutants & Masterminds in this case) to help you see how it all fits back together.

But first, we need a victim.

Meet Widowmaker.


Widowmaker AKA Karl Windslow, PL6 90pp
Str 16, Dex 18, Con 16, Int 14, Wis 16, Cha 18
Tough +3/+9 (Tactical Vest), Fort +7, Ref +8, Will +7
Attack +4, Defense +3, Init +4

Bluff +8, Gather Information +8, Notice +7, Stealth +8
Assessment, Attack Specialization 2: Machine Pistol, Attack Specialization 1: Nunchaku, Attractive, Contacts, Defensive Attack, Defensive Roll 2, Distract: Bluff, Dodge Focus 2, Elusive Target, Evasion, Favoured Environment: Urban, Improved Aim, Improved Critical: Machine Pistol, Power Attack, Precise Shot, Seize Initiative, Skill Mastery (Bluff, Gather Info, Notice, Stealth), Sneak Attack, Equipment 4

Camo Clothing, Commlink, Multi-Tool, Night Vision Goggles
Machine Pistol +8 DC18, Autofire, 30′, Crit 19-20
Nunchaku +6 DC20

If The Punisher and Black Widow had a child, Widowmaker would be it. He’s a street-level vigilante who solves problems with his machine pistol, and doesn’t ask questions. In a world with costumed superheroes, Widowmaker is neither costumed, nor a superhero; he changes his clothes regularly (prefering the casual look), and wears urban camos and tac vest while he’s on the job.

He’s also a really nice, popular family guy. His friends think he works in waste disposal. Which, in a way, he does. He makes a reasonable living collecting Dead or Alive bounties – with emphasis on the Dead.

On to the autopsy.

As this is for a low-powered (in M&M terms) game, we’re at PL 6. This is one of my favourite Power Levels as even regular unpowered crooks can still be a threat. Go up to PL10 and beyond and you’re mainly looking at superhero-on-supervillain action. Which is also fun.

Statwise, Widowmaker falls into the “highly talented normal” bracket. He’s strong and tough, highly agile, smart, and possesses the kind of looks and a smile which would make anyone his friend. Unless, of course, you were looking down the barrel of his gun.

Str 16, Dex 18, Con 16, Int 14, Wis 16, Cha 18

When it comes to his combat stats, the Power Level limits his Toughness, Defense, Attack and Damage at 6 each, and his saves at 9. We can trade those numbers round a bit, but I don’t want Widowmaker to particularly be the best fighter around – I’d rather he spend the points on lots of options in combat, so we’ll save the points for feats. I set his baseline Toughness and Defense at +3 each. His tactical vest and the Defensive Roll Feat bump that up to +9, which (thanks to trade-offs) hits the Power Level caps just right.

Tough +3/+9 (Tactical Vest), Fort +7, Ref +8, Will +7
Attack +4, Defense +3, Init +4

Skillwise, Karl is quiet, observant, and has bluffed his way through life. He has no Knowledge or Profession skills (he faked his way through college too), but with a Bluff of +8 and the Skill Mastery Feat his friends and family (innocent bystanders from the Core Book, all) have little chance of doubting anything he says. In mechanical terms, he can Take 10 even under pressure meaning it’s a DC18 Sense Motive check to see through his façade. As they’re Sense Motive rank is +0, and they’d have a -5 penalty to the roll (they’re his friends and want to believe him), the highest they could roll is a 15. Nope. Not a chance. Widomaker’s secret life of vigilantism is pretty safe.

He has Skill Mastery with all of his trained skills – this is one cool customer who doesn’t fold when the pressure is on. Even in the middle of combat he could spot something out of the ordinary, recognise a strange tattoo or (with a suitable diversion) fade into the background. That’s badass.

Bluff +8, Gather Information +8, Notice +7, Stealth +8

But what Widowmaker is all about are his Feats. And my, there’s a lot of them. Let’s break them down into three groups – those which round out his character, those which provide “always on” or situational bonuses, and those which provide options in combat.

Skill Mastery (Bluff, Gather Information, Notice, Stealth)
Equipment 4

These feats combine to say a little more about who Karl is – a good looking, popular guy with a wide group of friends (many from the local police departments and media) who is extremely calm under pressure. The Equipment Feat covers his Machine Pistol, Nunchakus, Tac Vest and military-grade equipment (Camo Clothing, Commlink, Multi-Tool, Night Vision Goggles), all of which packs neatly into a false bottom in his sports holdall.

Attack Specialization 2: Machine Pistol
Attack Specialization 1: Nunchaku
Defensive Roll 2
Dodge Focus 2
Elusive Target
Precise Shot
Favoured Environment: Urban
Improved Critical: Machine Pistol

Here’s Karl’s combat training: This is one urban warrior who is darned hard to hit! Give him any weapon, and he’s good (base Attack +4), but with his Nunchaku that rises to +6, and it’s +8 with his Machine Pistol – and Improved Critical too! That’s one of the (many) strengths of M&M: you can fine-tune the characters exactly how you want, from a “good with anything” four-colour superhero to a combat specialist like Widowmaker. The Favoured Environment feat gives him an additional +1 to either Attack or Defense when he’s in built-up areas. This lets him hit his caps at +9 DC18 for his Machine Pistol, with an option of switching that to +1 Defense if he’s caught without his Tac Vest. In other words – using the environment to his best advantage.

Defensive Attack
Distract: Bluff
Improved Aim
Power Attack
Seize Initiative
Sneak Attack

Oh, the choices. These Feats roughly equate to 4e D&D’s Powers, but without the fiddly limitations on how often they can be used, or by how much.

Karl can choose to fight aggressively, or defensively. Does he reduce his Attack bonus to boost his Damage, or reduce Attack to boost his Defense? He can switch round-by-round, by up to 5 points (or down to +0) meaning he could go a slow as +3 with his Machine Pistol for DC23 – a right between the eyes instant kill – or drop his attack bonus with his Nunchaku to +1 for Defense +8. Or anything in between. Flexibility, again.

Improved Aim is a gimme when combined with Power Attack if you’re using a ranged weapon. Karl can use his Stealth to get in position, take a round aiming then use full-on Power Attack. This would count as a Sneak Attack, so that gets him +7 DC25, less range modifiers. Using a machine pistol to snipe? Also badass.

Thanks to his Assessment Feat, Widowmaker can size his opponents up as a move action so he knows whether to hit them hard, or tread carefully. What’s more, all of his Feats work just as well with his Nunchaku as the do with his trusy Machine Pistol, meaning that he’s every bit as lethal up close as he is from a distance. Nice.

Finally we have Seize Initiative, which lets Widowmaker spend a Hero Point (more on those another time) to take the first move, guaranteed. That’s perfect when you need a quick getaway or need to hit first, and hit hardest.

This is over and above all of the regular combat options, of course. He can block, demoralize, disarm, distract, feint, grapple, rush, startle and a whole load of other tricks too, so you never have to hear “I hit him” again.

In all, Widowmaker is one serious, gritty and dangerous customer with a whole range of combat options. Outside the field of battle he’s no less capable too, with skills, contacts and a charming personality which makes his brutal street-level war against organized crime all the more stark.

For my money, Mutants & Masterminds has one of the best true Character generation systems around. It lets you build exactly who the character is rather than just list his class features and talents. Even for a combat-heavy character like Widowmaker I can fine-tune his combat style so that his abilities tie in with my concept of him, and have more than enough points left over to bring his personality out.

That’s not to say other systems can’t do the same, of course – I expect a Savage Worlds version of Widowmaker wouldn’t be quite as detailed or crunchy, but no less fun to play!

Next: Let’s put Widowmaker through a little combat training.

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