M&M Red Flags

When I GM I am fanatical about scrutinizing new player characters to make sure they are going to play well. I want PCs to have abilities that a) encourage them to play the genre, b) won’t just eliminate interesting situations, and c) will work well with the other PCs and not overshadow anyone (all rules which can be broken in the right circumstances, of course).

Point based systems require a particularly keen eye. There is no such thing as a perfectly balanced system that includes any level of complexity (which is why GMs are so highly paid and respected for their shrewd wisdom in foreseeing what characters will work). A player can make an unbalanced or problematic character without ever meaning to. Your job is to catch it before it gets in play and messes up a perfectly good evening of gaming.

These are red flags I watch for when reviewing new M&M player characters. Think of it as a GM early warning system. If you see these items, slow down and take a closer look to make sure the character is going to work in your game. Context is everything: a power that works fine on one character might lead to nightmare situations on another character.

This list only covers some M&M specific rules issues. It doesn’t cover conceptual problems that would be trouble in any rule system (an incorporeal character who can affect material targets, a psychic who stays at home but strikes via ESP and mental blasts, the wizard with 700 minions, etc.). For that you’re on your own.

And of course these are just my opinion. You might be perfectly happy letting every hero in your game buy Luck 5. In fact if every hero did buy it it would balance out and it wouldn’t be a problem.

Boost, particularly in array w/slow fade — Boosts are Instant, so putting them in arrays is a cheap way to get powers that work after you switch the array. Add slow fade and total fade and it’s pretty close to a free power. Most self Boosts can be better expressed as a power with a drawback (“My super strength only lasts for a few minutes after I activate the MightyMittens!” = enhanced ability strength with power drawback only lasts a few minutes). Less math too.

Healing in array — Alternate Powers are cheap because you can only use one at a time. It doesn’t make you that much more powerful to have several different attacks like blast and snare and stun, you can only use one at a time. Healing fills a different niche, so for 1 point you are gaining a whole new ability to recover from a beating.

Selective Area Attacks (five stars) — All the damage, none of the downside! Done properly (?) you can inflict damage on every opponent on the battlefield every round. No choices to make. Woo hoo! Now just add Perception to remove the Reflex save…

Luck feat (five stars) — Who wouldn’t buy extra hero points? Best investment ever. Inventors and magicians wanting flexibility (via extra effort alt powers) will clamour for them, but then again so will everyone else.

Aura — Aura is pretty hard to beat for cost effectiveness. It’s a defense and an offense all rolled into one. As a defense it’s fine, but be wary of characters with strong melee attacks stacking Aura on top, giving them two nice toughness saves each attack. Same applies to all Linked powers.

Improved Grab — The downside of going for a grapple is that you have to win the grapple check to inflict damage, versus the guaranteed damage of a punch (we’re assuming you hit). Improved Grab just skips that risk and let’s you try every round.

Concentration skill (one star) — Invest some points in Concentration and your Sustained powers are about the same as Continuous powers until you get knocked unconscious.

Fat Arrays — If the main power of an array is expensive, the alt powers might have more points available than they really need. The player will naturally try to use them, even when PL limits rank. Watch out for piles of inappropriate extras tacked on to fill out the available points.

Any standard action reduced to a move or free action — Yeah, you probably didn’t need me to mention that one.

Beating PL Limits

The power level limits catch a lot of balance issues, but there are a few ways to get around them. Like the other red flags take a closer look when these are on the page.

Autofire — For the right price you can get extra damage with almost every hit, up to +10 damage if you’re lucky (or the target is easy to hit). And unlike power attack, you aren’t gambling your chance to hit, so there’s no risk attached.

Improved Critical feat — Let’s say you need a 10 to hit (your attack matches your opponent’s defense bonus). If you bought Improved Critical 10 you’re doing +5 damage every time you hit. The same price as buying ranks in Blast, but over the PL. Not bad. If you buy fewer ranks, you are just doing the bonus damage less often (same point to damage value). The value is even higher if the power costs more per rank.

Regeneration — You can sacrifice toughness to get a higher defense, compensate with regeneration and benefit from the higher defense vs attacks that are not part of the trade-off (anything with a hit roll but a save other than toughness).

Immunity (one star) — Full immunity to attacks is expensive, but half immunity can be pretty affordable.

Deflection (one star) — Could be used to beat defense PL, but pretty darn expensive to do it effectively so not a huge concern.

All-out Attack / Defensive Attack feats — Shifting between attack and defense is entirely different from shifting _within_ attack and defense (as power attack and accurate attack do). Shifting within attack and defense limits is self-balancing because if you hit more often you do less damage when you do hit, if you are hard to hit you are easier to damage, and so on.

There are probably more, but these are the ones that come to my mind.

    Ben Robbins | April 11th, 2006 | Mutants & Masterminds | show 4 comments