Wednesday, March 30, 2016

History of Wild West RPGs: First Fifteen

SHADOW OF THE COWBOY
Why are there no good Western games? I’d seen that question posed on RPGGeek & Reddit, even "Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff" covered it. Eventually that had me hunting down Wild West rpgs to check the truth. I uncovered almost five dozen core systems, not counting revisions and new editions. Proof that the Western’s a vibrant genre? But a closer look contradicted that. The list contained many, many single-edition, flash-in-the-pan games. In the same period other genres had more releases by leaps and bounds. Just up to 2000 we see about 14 Western RPGs, but Post-Apocalyptic had about 100, Supers 60, and Horror 45. It even falls behind Steampunk, a late-comer genre, with two dozen games or genre books in that time.

But the Wild West remains a touchstone the industry returns to time and again. It has roots in miniatures and wargaming just as deeply as D&D. That echoes through many designs. Even later games often offer deeply tactical play to simulate gunfights. I remember it as a go-to genre for introductory mini games at local cons in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. The Western calls companies out, but only a few exceptional ones remains standing even a few years after they step into the street.

I come to this list not as a huge fan of Westerns. That always surprises me. I grew up watching older, Wild West TV shows: Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick, The Rifleman, The Cisco Kid, The Lone Ranger, and best of all Wild Wild West. But I didn’t really care for Western films, except for maybe later Eastwood movies like Pale Rider and Unforgiven. I hadn’t actually seen The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly all the way through until last week when I caught a special theatrical showing. But I bought each edition of Boot Hill, I ran Owl Hoot Trail, and I keep trying to figure out how I’d get Deadlands to the table. So maybe it's more appealing to me than I think?

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HIGH NOON-ISH
I’ve tried a slightly different approach here. Rather than an exhaustive series going up to the present, I examine the earliest games, the first fifteen. I want to gauge reader interest for taking on niche genres (Pulp, Mecha, Western) or genres almost too large to cover (Sci-Fi, Modern, Fantasy). If there’s enthusiasm (from readers or myself) I may return to do further installments of this genre. I focus on printed products in the list, skipping pdf-only releases. I consider it a Wild West game if it calls itself that or walks like a duck. I focus on core books & systems (which is why something like the awesome Six Guns & Sorcery doesn’t appear). Besides LeGrog, Wikipedia, and RPGGeek, Eric Hotz’s Whitewash City helped in tracking things down. Additional Note: Some of these games have real problems with representation, especially of Native Americans. I'm leaving those issues aside for the most part. It's worth considering elsewhere.  


1. Boot Hill (1975)
The original edition of Boot Hill offered man-to-man gunfights with miniatures. It came in a smallish booklet, the same size as early D&D products. TSR re-released relatively unchanged it in 1977. Finally in 1979 it popped up on RPG gamers’ radar. D&D had done well and TSR recognized it could create similar games for other genres. So Boot Hill became a more conventional RPG with a box set release. The new edition offered a super-thin set of rules (only 36 pages), a campaign map for Wild West hex-crawls, a city map on the reverse side, dice, and counters. But TSR opted to avoid a standardized system for their early games. D&D, Boot Hill, Gamma World, and Top Secret didn't work together, though conversions were published, including notes in the DMG.

Boot Hill managed to hold on for a few years. I remember picking it up and trying to play. Grade school me laughed at the town named Buffalo Chips Junction. But we ultimately discarded Boot Hill in favor of more exciting fare. TSR supported the line with a GM screen and five modules over the next few years. After being buried for a time, the company dug it up in 1990, releasing Boot Hill 3rd edition. This quadrupled the size of the rules, released as a single soft-cover. It massively retooled the system and added much more on the role-playing side, including rules for Stature as fame. TSR made a valiant attempt to bring Boot Hill up to then-current rpg standards. Ultimately this crashed and burned, with no other supplements released for the edition.

2. Wild West (1981)
Fantasy Games Unlimited never met a genre they didn't like. Wild West offered their box-set take on the Western, with a rulebook, map, and reference cards. It focuses on skills, a common FGU games trait. The blurb mentions players can choose from "Gambler, Lawman, Cow Hand, Outlaw, or Snake Oil Salesman." I'm not sure if those are just examples, or if the game has something like classes. Wild West claims in-depth research and accurate detail (done in only 40 pages). FGU supported the game with a single module, Trouble on Widow's Peak.

3. Desperados (1988)
(1988) Note the gap in publication years. Did I see Desperados on the shelf on my local game store? I don't remember. Companies large and small pumped out many of these small, single volume rpgs. They sat on the shelf until someone took pity or they landed in the bargain bin. I remember visiting pop-up game stores which had clearly bought a "starter store" package from the distributor. Invariably it included a handful of these ultimately forgotten rpgs. Desperados seems Skycastle Games only product product. It followed a standard approach with attributes, percentile-based skills, and hit locations. It has largely vanished down the memory hole.

4. Western (1989)
A Swedish game with at least two editions and several modules. Publisher Lancelot shuttered a couple of years after this release. It’s hard to find solid Info on the game, save for this: Western was complex. By that I mean deep and complicated with second-by-second resolution. As will be used several times, it employed a plastic overlay to determine hit location. The cover bears a striking resemblance to the poster for a film called Kid Vengeance. In a G+ post Olav Nyg√•rd explains, "Western is probably most famous for being really simulationist while at the same time using a crosshair that makes you more likely to hit if you aim away from your opponent. "The Swedish Roleplaying Games history site reveals that Lancelot also licensed Western to a Spanish publisher. A third edition came out in 1998, with some support. And even a fourth

5. Time Drifters (1990)
An early oddball time travelling game. I'm sure most chrono games have a Wild West component or module. It's easy and evocative. (See the Jonah Hex episode of Legends of Tomorrow or Dr. Who’s “A Town Called Mercy”). But Time Drifters puts it on the front page and offers it as the only period or setting in the book. I include it here in the spirit of completeness and since many of these items are more “genre sourcebook” than full stand-alone games.

6. Outlaw (1991)
I've played a lot of Rolemaster. Westerns aren't what I think of when I reflect on that system. On the other hand there's an appeal to the lunacy of RM critical hit charts. They could easily represent the random nastiness of six-shooter wounds. But I have a hard time imagining actually playing this. Iron Crown released several products bring Rolemaster/Spacemaster to other genres. Mind you, there was no "universal" version or the system or even base, separate engine. So if you wanted to play Outlaw, you’d potentially have a ton of flipping back and forth.

Surprisingly the mechanics only take up the first 50+ pages of the book. We get Brave. Cowboy, Gunsligner, Private Eye, and Solder as professions, each with different skill costs. There's a stripped down list of those...followed by a page of 52 “secondary skills.” Outlaw has some interesting ideas for RM old hands, like handling explosives and gun malfunctions. However, the majority of the volume (120+ pages) presents a generic Western Sourcebook. That covers tropes, campaigns, money, a timeline, sample characters, and more. It's a decent resource and feels they wrote that and then hitched up Rolemaster to it.

7. Western Hero (1991)
Then we come to the Hero System version of the Wild West. You might recognize it as it's the campaign, sourcebook, and setting materials from Outlaw married to a new system. I'm unsure which game version came first. Perhaps they released simultaneously. Both mention of the back cover that you shouldn't buy this if you own the other I'm glad to see the disclaimer. Even after looking through both, I can't decide which of the two would fit the Western best. On the one hand, Hero has tactical maps and second-by-second play. It could make for a solid shoot-out board game (like Gunslinger). On the other hand, RM has colorful damage and combat, a far cry from Hero's clinical approach.

8. GURPS Old West (1991)
Was there something in the zeitgeist that made the Western a go-to genre in 1991? We saw a new edition of Boot Hill the previous year, and then three sourcebooks for generic systems. Old West follows the pattern of the early GURPS genre sourcebooks: material for character creation, new skills, ideas for handling special circumstances, background material, NPCs, and alternate takes on the genre. It's a decent resource for Westerns, though it offers more mechanics and stats than general material. In our area several gamers used it to run "shoot out" miniature games. The simulationist approach made that easy and objective. Almost a decade later, Steve Jackson Games revised several of their keystone genre books, including this Old West. That brought it more in line with a new approach to character templates and deepened the historical material. It also made it more useful for the GURPS Deadlands material.

9. Far West (1993)
The Spanish rpg Far West doesn't have the Spaghetti Western look I'd expect from. Instead the cover has a more classic Hollywood look with "Redskins" and steely-eyed frontiersmen. It uses a stripped down version of Chaosium's Basic Role Play (BRP) with some tweaks. Far West has an interesting mechanic where you can choose to act faster (like when drawing a gun) but that speed reduces your chance of success. Though I'm unsure of how well they're treated, it apparently had a significant section on "Amerindian" cultures and options for shamanic magic. Far West went through two printings with different covers, and received several supplements: two modules (Union Gold and Spanish Ballad) and two sourcebooks (Hogan's Last Stop and Apache). Surprisingly, a new edition seems to be in the works Far West La Leyenda. Or it may already be out, the website's immune to Google Translate. That version has a new logo eerily reminiscent of Deadlands. Still the website has nice art  with a striking look.

10. Burros & Bandidos (1995)
I love discovering these games I’d never heard of, let alone seen. Burros & Bandidos focuses on the Mexican border during several historical periods, including the early 20th Century. That’s awesome; most Wild West games aim at the heyday of gunfighters and railroads. But the Cowboy’s wane offers different but equally interesting elements. Consider how both Once Upon a Time in the West and The Wild Bunch present that decline. The latter especially embraces a fatalism, with an ending that feels like Wild West cyberpunk session gone wrong. Burros & Bandidos had two printings- one bagged and the other in folio. Both contained several booklets, plus charts, counters, maps and more. Sierra Madre Games simultaneously released a single supplement, Frontier. It’s unclear, but B&B may have been intended to work with the company’s boardgame, Lords of the Sierra Madre. Incidentally, finding info this was complicated by the existence of a popular restaurant named “Burros and Burritos.”

11. Deadlands (1996)
Deadlands saved the Wild West. It almost came out of nowhere. Almost, as Joe Landsdale’s clearly it’s spiritual godfather with his Jonah Hex mini-series "Two Gun Mojo" & "Riders of the Worm" as well as his Razored Saddles collection. But it smartly took a decay genre and made it exciting and fun for the table- blending the Western, Steampunk, and Horror.

Deadlands is among the first really successful genre mash ups. Deadlands wears its gaming DNA on its sleeve. It is unabashedly a Western and a Horror game. It engages and entangles those elements at every conceivable opportunity. The genre conventions lend themselves to small groups of adventurers at the margins of society fighting back on their own terms against convention and evil.

Deadlands is among the best and most successful examples of "cartoony horror." It keeps the crazy, 'laughing as they bury you' energy up. GMs (or Marshals* as they're called here) can run the game tongue-in-cheek or more seriously. Read closely and you'll see Deadlands manages some truly awful horror, and over the course of the line they roped in many awesome writers. They crafted some bits worthy of Lovecraft and Le Fanu. But most groups I knew ran campaigns on the other end of the spectrum- puttin' bullets in the brainpans of zombies.

Yet it doesn’t ignore the Western. It takes all of those tropes and plays with them: early industrial developments, the gambler as mage, sinister Pinkertons, Native American mythology, and people driven crazy by the frontier. It’s a post-modern Western, but not in the vein of Unforgiven. Everything’s reconfigured, but the message isn’t about personal failures and moral codes, but humanity’s foolishness and the legacy of colonialism as Elder Gods. The Western tropes aren’t critiqued so much as they’re flung against the wall to see what sticks.

As importantly, Deadlands grabbed the reins of gaming and took off in another direction. It moved away from the twilight years of D&D and the dark and sometimes self-important atmosphere of White Wolf. Few other games brought so many cool gonzo ideas to the table and presented them in a super-accessible way. It was hugely popular among YA players looking for a way to break into rpgs. Deadlands showcases itself as dumb fun. But underneath it has some super-sharp ideas about system and setting from some of the best designers of the time. 

12. Basic West (1997)
In the late 1990's Italian publisher Stratelibri published a series of Basic Roleplay supplements. These filled the gap as Chaosium slowed down releases of non-CoC items like Elric! supplements. The line included a new BRP core book, a Jurassic Park pastiche setting, Pharaoh's Egypt, and a licensed adaptation of the Alien universe (!). The imaginatively named West offered a slim (48 page) set of Western rules. It aims for a conventional approach with three scenarios and no rules for Native Americans. There's setting material, special rules, and additional skills for the BRP system. And of course as is appropriate in these games, detailed new rules for guns and gunfighting.

Oddball coincidence or enemy planning? This came out the year after Deadlands. I have to wonder what the lead time was? Did WW see the success of DL and make this the next "historical" game they put forward. Or was WtWW already in development and playtesting, making the company sigh that they hadn't beaten Pinnacle to the punch. This game garnered a couple of supplements, but eventually died out. They did produce a number of cross-over adventures for the two games. I wonder if that was the first instance of that?

A "Choose Your Own Adventure" in the vein of Steve Jackson's Warlock of Firetop Mountain or the TSR Magic-vision modules. This is a solid book, 135 pages standard size. According to the publisher, the game contains "…four-hundred episodes, forty endings, and at least eighteen ways to bite the dust!" “Knucklerduster Interactive Adventures” uses stat+skill for resolution with d6's. The Devil's Addition takes place in Abilene with you on the trail of a dangerous outlaw. A second book, Raining Hammers: The Ballad of Johnny MacDonald dropped the following year. That has you clearing your name by bringing the real killers to justice. It’s set in the mining camps of New Mexico in 1883. Knuckleduster games shifted away from these solo rpgs to more generic Western materials a few years later. Knuckleduster Firearms Shop is a generic period weapons book, with an additional essay on the psychology of gunfighting. That's probably useful if you're into gun-love supplements. On the other hand, Knuckleduster Cowtown Creator feels like a stronger book. It’s a universal sourcebook for building Western towns and communities, clocking in at almost 300 pages. It sounds like an awesome GM resource. Cowtown Creator’s still available from the company, now called Knuckleduster Miniatures. They're clearly shifted over to the wargaming side. As we've seen before, there's a good deal of overlap between Western rpgs and miniature gaming.

15. The Legacy of Zorro (2001)
A small, 32-page complete rpg from Gold Rush Games. This landed during the company's efforts to release many different games using the Fuzion system. Interestingly GRG also had the generic Action! System going at the same time. The Legacy of Zorro came out a few years after The Mask of Zorro movie and around the time the syndicated show Queen of Swords arrived. The latter riffed on the themes, but with a female Zorro. It's neat to see some less traditional stories explored in Wild West rpgs. Zorro's still a Western, but embraces a costumed crime-fighter aesthetic. I remember watching Disney's version with Guy Williams, the dad from Lost in Space (a distinctly non-Hispanic actor). In any case, The Legacy of Zorro clearly aimed to be an introduction to role-playing, with perhaps other purposes. The back cover blurb mentions that it "Promotes story-telling & cooperation!," "Can be used to teach history!," and "Includes color cut-out figures!"

16. The Next Ten
Dust Devils (2002)
Link: West (2003) *d20
OGL Wild West (2004) *d20
Spellslinger (2004) *d20

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What's the Deal with RPGGeek?

Wait, wait don't go away. Yes, we talk about RPGGeek in this week's episode of Play on Target. All four of us use it heavily and it's how we linked up to do the podcast in the first place. That being said, let me echo something we stress in the show. Yeah, the look and layout of the site can be a turn off and a barrier to entry. If you've fled the site, I'm with you on that. They're still working to roll out a new interface. BUT here's the thing: I think RPGGeek's fun, rewarding, and interesting. It pays off if you have the time and inclination to get past the barricades. That's paid off for me. YRMV. 



Thirteen More Thoughts & Ideas about RPGGeek 
1. Tree of Games: We discuss RPGGeek's data structure several times in the show. The site has a solid approach to organizing diverse items while showing meaningful associations. That structure has created some weird "corner cases." How do you organize New World of Darkness lines like Mage the Awakening and Changeling the Lost? Are they an independent RPG or something else? More importantly what would new users assume and how would they hunt for them? 

2. User Tip: The site has a simple search box at the top of the page. However, that only searches a limited pool despite saying “All” (RPGs, RPG Items, RPG Families, Series, and Settings I think). If you put a designer's name in, it won’t generate a result. Instead you need to choose your search type from the dropdown. The Advance Search option offers more power, though it still only allows for certain data sets (and their combination). So while you can search for Core Books from Superhero RPGs, you can’t search for Superhero RPGs that use d20’s.

3. Role Out the Barrel: Does RPGGeek put in everything? No, some products, like miniatures are still outside the site's range. But web-published homebrews, Game Chef entries, RPG art books, magazines, fanzines, convention materials fit. They’re all fair game and you can find awesome stuff there.

4. Get Thine Stuff: Here's something else I dig. In the podcast I mention the robust system supporting trades. There’s also a decent marketplace for sale (with a small commission going to the Geek). But Math Trades are even cooler.  In these trades you put up appropriate items you’re willing to swap. These go on a Geeklist, along with notes on condition and shipping policy. Usually there’s a separate "Wish List" for games and items everyone's hunting for. After the list closes, you go through to see if there’s anything you’d be willing to trade for each of your items. You don’t have to: if there’s nothing worth swapping for, you don’t. But if there are multiple cool things, you can mark those. Once everyone’s submitted their “Want Lists” the Math Trade program goes through and works everything out, aiming to maximize the number of trades. You’re then told who to send what to and what you’re getting. You can check out the current RPG Math Trade list here. (It closes April 2, 2016).

5. Mine Doesn't Look like That: RPGGeek’s a great way to track down what games looks like. Something with multiple printings may have different covers. Since each item has an entry for versions, you can figure out which you own. As well, the site's always looking for scans of games that lack images, so that’s a good way to get started helping the site.

6. Getting Game On: The last couple of years I’ve run at VirtuaCon, RPGGeek’s online convention. The first year I had players craft a setting with Microscope and then I ran a game in it later in the con. The second year, a group created a Superhero setting which I then I ran a couple of different supers game in. Last year we created a fantasy city and then I ran DCC and 13th Age there. Long story short: a good and fun online convention experience. One of the best parts is the linked experience throughout the weekend. There’s a virtual tavern and various panels broadcast throughout the three days. If you like online gaming, you should check it out.

7. Good Game, Would Play Again: One of RPGGeek’s most interesting options is the ability to rate things. You can rate RPG Items, RPGs, Series, etc. That has a couple of purposes. On the one hand you can go back and assess your collection. I try to keep up on rating items I own and have read/played. I review my impressions and sometimes update them. A couple of times these ratings revealed to me games I hung on to out of habit. On the other hand, every rating goes into the aggregate. That means you can check what others thought. You can trace that back to see who rated it and check if their opinions square with yours. Following people you like to see what they’re interested in is a great way to find new gaming stuff.

8. Helps Me, Helps You: The RPGGeek community’s small compared to BGG, but it has a vast number of items in the database. That means a smaller rating pool. And that means that if you love something, you can more easily bring it to others' attention. If you have a game or system you feel strongly about, go through and rate it. Help others who might be looking at buying it make their judgement. Consider putting together a Guide Geekllist, like I’ve done for Fate, 13th Age, and Mutants & Masterminds. That’s a great thing to point someone to when they ask “Where do I start with X”?

9. What's Missing? RPGGeek’s info is user driven. I’ve entered almost 1500 games into the system, with all the details like designers and such. If you see something missing, consider adding it. Or if you see a mistake or gap in an entry, submit a correction. In the show I mention designers and artists should go through to make sure their listings are right. That’s easy to do. Each item has a submit correction button on it. Why should you bother to enter things? On the one hand you increase the depth of an already large database. On the other it credits you Geekgold which can be used for microbadges and avatars. That’s a goofy achievement, but I like it.

10. Virtual Assistant: Data entry can be tricky the first time you try it. If you want to add something, feel free to contact me and I’ll help you out.

11. Sound & Fury: If you’ve been on Board Game Geek and dealt with their forums, you may already be turned off. The atmosphere over there can be aggressive and tumultuous. That’s not the way it is on the RPGGeek side. It’s one of the best online communities I’ve interacted with. The site takes moderation seriously. Users can mark posts for review, which mods then check and assess against the site's stated standards. That’s always been handled quickly and quietly. As well they use a rule which reduces some passive-aggressiveness. You can mute & hide other users if you find them a problem. But you can’t post about muting people. You have to keep that choice personal.

12. Bonus Features: The site also offers several initiatives and contests throughout the year. There’s a Play by Forum initiative. That gets many GMs to start new PbF campaigns and issues an open call for new players. They offer yearly 24-Hour RPG Design competitions. There’s an ongoing Iron Reviewer competition, where users try to keep up with an onerous schedule of reviews. There’s the “Ladder of Insanity” challenge pushing players to play ten sessions each of ten different RPGs in the current year. There’s many more beyond this. Sometimes publishers have contests. Pelgrane sponsored a Drama System Series pitch competition last year.

13. Finding Players: When I’m hunting for or starting online games, I check both G+ and RPG Geek. The Geek has a strong and active VoIP forum (yes, that's an archaic name). It’s a good place to track down GMs. As well there’s an even larger and more active Play by Post group if that’s what you’re into.



Full Disclosure: I hopped on RPG Geek immediately after beta. I worked hard entering in data the first couple of years (I’m in the Data Uploaders Hall of Fame). I was on the informal advisory team, did a regular blog there, and was also an Image Admin. I quit that position after an alienating experience. Despite that I still use the site and participate in activities like VirtuaCon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Unbuilt Campaigns: Mage the Sorcerers Crusade

Some campaigns never launch. Those hurt a little less than ones cut short (Changeling the Lost; White Mountain, Black River; Exalted: Dragon Blooded). Sometimes the effort and thinking eventually gets used or repurposed. Sometimes you look back on it and wonder what exactly you were thinking. That's sort of the case with Mage the Sorcerers Crusade. I'm working on a Renaissance portal for OCI, drawing from Assassin's Creed, 7th Sea, Lace & Steel, The Golden Compass, and MtSC. That sent me hunting for notes I'd written up for a Sorcerer's Crusade game back in 2002. Back then I wanted to bring in more Ars Magica elements and establish a truce in the war between the factions. You can see my brainstorming  for that below. I'll spare you (for the moment) the bad game fiction I wrote as an intro. I wouldn't approach a game the same way today- certainly not building up so much without player input. Anyway check it out; I think imaginative failures can still be useful.


PLANNING THE MAGE CRUSADE
Game begins with the various Magi all having made some extreme error in their initiation, having a wayward mentor, being caught up in political shenanigans, or some other incident. They are hauled before a meeting of the Quesitori; they are the group that tries harder than any other to maintain a semblance of unity among the various houses and traditions. In this opening gambit, they will see the split among the various groups and have a chance to meet people from a variety of places. There should also be discussion of changes to the sigil system, political currents, a wizard’s march and so on…the destruction of a house (or perhaps just loss of contact).

In any case, they are assigned to the care of an ancient and somewhat twilight touched Magus, one whose age and research has been noted. He has requested for a number of seasons to have a group assigned to him to assist in his works. They will travel to a secondary covenant with a Redcap. This one should be smallish and provide them with an opportunity to meet some more people. Imply that in the absence of K, he is to be their director. Depending on what their custos or consors seem like, those may stay here rather than moving on.

K the Chainer is an elderly Magus. He will give them a simple room and test their abilities in a number of ways. Once he is certain of them, he will speak with them about his own fears of senility and his issues with memory and recall. He will send them on a quest to recover an ancient object whose powers revolve around memory. He has researched this and found the history of an artifact which may date back to Carthage and beyond. He has obtained some knowledge about the resting place of this item and the key to enter the vaults. They will travel there to bring it back to him.

On the journey, they will have at least one moment of crossed destinies. At a crossroads they will split from another group heading in the same direction. (Later they will find someone from this group in one of the bags, taken by The Forgot.). They will reach the place, but find it under the influence of one of the more conservative Order of Reason holdings. They will have to make their way through and down into the catacombs. Smallish dungeon adventure with some challenges. They find the sphere at the end, guarded by someone who will tell them they don’t really want what he has to offer. In whatever process happens, the sphere will be shattered and they will have the power of the sphere invested in their own mind (perhaps some kind of differential memory advantage…several aspects of it.)

They return to K the Chainer only to find him dead. They will find certain of his notes taken, however, they will also find a map upon which they will see some strange markings. Something points them to a location perhaps a week away from the other covenant they met the people at. That’s not too bad a distance, magically speaking but keeps them from getting too chummy.

They can go there. What they will find is a smallish town, with fancy walls and such. There should be an oddness to the place. The town is perhaps an hour (plus) away from the site on the top of the hill. There are several magical features nearby: an abandoned caern, help by a spirit, a strange Fey hole that drops through to nothing, but with some nature spirits around, another source of vis, a tower sticking out at a nearly horizontal angle from a cliffside, some other magical things. The building itself is largish but empty; there are perhaps some instruments left behind bearing marks. There is a mark for a Covenant, clearly in the style of the other Covenants, which the group has never heard of. Which one this will be is up to you. There are several options…it could be one of the Order of Hermes house that was vanished to create this effect. OOH what could be interesting is if this place is call XXX House of House XXX and that is the name of the main chantry of another order…but this one is clearly not that one and vice versa. It could point to the sublimation of a whole section of the Order.

*Stepping off point into a strange pocket, portion of the Umbra. Black Lake.

In any case, internally they should find another potent source of vis, gone a bit wild. There are no servants, but a garden or some-such could be set up to feed them. Inside they can find a giant triparte stone clock in the basement. Let them have a number of sessions settling in, figuring out what is wrong with the town. Meeting some of the surrounding figures. Eventually putting together the clues to how to open the clock. The implication should be that the clock is a recent addition to the place, sealing away something below. It seems to hold an protect.

Down below they will find the other labs and such of the covenant. It should be clear to them from their earlier popping around that there ought to be more; they will find that here, including a library (which will have the marks of whatever house is involved). Eventually they will find the bags (after having to crawl through and passing some tests). Magical Animals (the dogs again…they are such great images). There they will first encounter the size of the problem facing them.

Now, at this point we have a campaign…one about resources, finding places to go…figuring out what is going on. Need to consider the clues at hand for this. What are the leads, what is happening, how can it lead to encounters and interactions with the other covenants. Hunting for items or resources.

In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.
- Robert Ingersoll

How should we explain to someone what a game is? I imagine that we should describe games to him, and we might add: "This and similar things are called games." And do we know any more about it ourselves?

The more I think about it the more I like the idea of them coming on what appears to be a Chapterhouse of an existing covenant (could be the main house, not sure). This might make them nervous and/or worried about the activities of that group. However, they have been blanketed by the same charm of forgetting as everyone else, even those who participated in this or have been brought in by The Forgot. They may be trained and act, but after they will forget until the day when this change comes to pass. This can create some interesting things, especially if they meet someone who has been a great villain to them but has now forgotten that.

The Forgot are constrained in their own way. They have an almost wraith like existence. They can form themselves corporally and use some of their power. This is equivalent to them stepping out of the Umbra; the layer that they exist in is all about mind and memory. When they manifest in this way they are potent but vulnerable. They will also be desperate if they are caught or captured. However a good deal of their work revolves around possession and control of persons. Often they will find someone and rest in their soul almost semi-permanently, making them over time susceptible to their control without arousing their attention. The Forgot can also seize control of other people quickly, but this is an intrusive effect and will likely stand in their mind after. If The Forgot is held in place and kept from leaving, he will be forced to destroy himself in a flash of magical energy. This energy is all about forget and about destiny. The players (assuming this goes as I have spelled it out here) will be relatively protected from too much of the memory effect. However, they may have a Fate laid upon them.

Need to look through the lists of the 13 and consider. If possible, a number of them should be represented or changed over into the some of the Orders.

For example: Bjorner could adopt in old Diende people and move toward the more Druidic order as presented in the MSC book.

House Jerbiton could split and form a couple of the Order of Reason groups. This is probably more likely for Veriditus (Items) given the reliance on items and construction.

Certain portions of Quesitori or Flambeau could end up forming some of the more militant factions of the Order of Reason.

The RedCaps (Mercere) could become Explorators.

House Ex Miscellania would become the focal point for the arrival of other forms of magic.

If possible, I’d like to end up with 6, maybe 7 Houses of Hermes that make up the Hermetic Order. Criamon, Bonsaigus, Tytlaus?, Tremere?

Who else is there Meritina (Fey)? Would they be appropriate for certain of the traditions?

From other notes: Daedeleans vs. the Tzghul? What is that about? Also consider running this in the earliest part of the period 1380-1420. Also note what it says about the Seven Thunders. Need to take these considerations in.

Some of the more interesting of the NPCs in the bags will be people who perhaps saw a pattern in these changes. These can then be traced back in an effort to uncover what happened. There, as Sherri suggests, ought to be vis at the top of the bags.

Need care to ensure that this doesn’t just become a fantasy game. There should be that tension between the populace nearby (and in general)-- the Order of Reason—the other traditions—and their own goals. There should be a political aspect to things that implies some real tension.

Perhaps the point is not that they can stop the disaster which is going to fall, but that they can fight against it. Imagine that the Chantry not far away from where they are is, in fact, a retirement community. Here old people, old magus who have mostly given up practicing magic have gathered. It looks for all intents and purposes like a monastery. There could be a character who is raised among the old men there. Either the Primus of the Chantry or else one of the important people there could be an ally. If I think about this, it could be just off the path from some crossroads between several of the Tribunals. Consider what the politics are of the nearest places. They could certainly present themselves as affiliated with the retirement house and therefore avoid too much scrutiny.

Have to consider what kinds of characters would make good protagonists. Need a strong fourth player (assuming JM, SH, SS…need one or two more…someone to lighten the mood?). Need to go through and look at the various advantages and disadvantages presented in MSC and beyond. Could Ars stuff be adapted? Is there “normal” material which would be useful? Need to make it such that the Custos and Companions who are part of the group have a certain importance and life on their own. As well, while not as powerful as the Magi, they should have a set of skills which will serve them well in the field.

Consider what kinds of resources should be available to them at that place…I don’t want it to be a candy factory, but they should be able to survive and build up from what they start with. Ideally a certain portion of the game should revolve around them discovering hidden or lost resources in the area and having to go and gather those things again.

I like the idea of the groups being tangled together from the various Orders and Traditions. I need to see what the historical timeline is like. Consider how to build up the differences while at the same time keeping some continuity. The cracks should just be starting to show…with some of the groups having split off earlier and not having been caged in. One reason could be a split among the Quesitori. This would lead to certain weaknesses and would allow the Order to become split. For that break to occur, moving from the Ars Magica traditions, there would have to be a breakdown of the ability for enforcement to be managed.

We can easily picture Jerbiton carefully working itself such that attacking it or trying to affect its power would result in more destruction. This insulation would be matched by a split within Veriditus. Some would join with the Craftmason’s existing mystical order while others would form the XXXX.

One of the considerations is whether the Tremere have turned or not. Certainly there will be some discussion of that in the books. The web pages pins the date at around 1100. I’m not sure how that works in with the continuity provided in the game book, but I can guess OK.

A certain portion of the OoR arises independently; some come about from defections or changes in the philosophy of certain Hermetics. The rise of Divinely inspired magi makes the Magi nervous.

Essential Differences: OoR: a different kind of elitism, a sense of it as Art and therefore something which anyone can do, in religious cases—a different sense of why people are gifted with the power. OoR believes in contact with the world, in reshaping people’s approach with their arts and in bringing these things into contact with the mundanes. They believe in active uplifting and proselytizing. A number of them also clearly believe that rationality and scientific method are the tools to be used [this is not so far off from the Hermetic Order which also practices these things] however these OoR people believe that Art follows established patterns for mundane activities and that this method is has further implications than just the process they are working through. They believe in Order and Control through this.

The Celestial Masters: Moderate. Golo’s link.
The Guild: Split; a number coming from the Jerbiton background. They have an acute sense of realpolitik.
Explorators: Less interested. Has had encounters with the Chinese OoR and was disappointed. Some of these people come out of House Mercere.
Cabal of Pure Thought (Gabrielites): The most fanatical of the groups but also the one with the most potential friction with the rest of the Order. The Masons keep them in line with discussions of god’s work…however, there is tension over how this dynamic is read.
Artisans: the most actively moderate—strong ties to Verditas. The most fanatical members of this house move to the Masons.
The Masons: Arising out of certain Germanic philosophical mindsets, tied to old classical philosophies, rejecting the idea that Hermetic systems have any logic to them. This group came out of people who had not had any contact with the Magi, but learned to hate them early on.

Among the Hermetics, a number of them follow very similar senses to OoR procedures. Certainly Verditas, Bonsaigus, Flambeau and Tytalus all follow these patterns—and the Quesitori. Therefore the split will come as something of a shock to them. They will attempt to hold the line. They will also be the ones who will push for a truce when the opportunity presents itself. Bjorner stands close by the skills of the Old Ones…the Verbena may arise out of their skill sets; a number may join the Black Forest folk. Meritina: contact with the Fae. May be the one that has most contact with the Witches (if not Ex Misc). Ex Misc: has had contact with foreigners. Would be contact point for Al-Baitani, Akashics, etc. Criamon: has members of their cabal who have had contact with the Al-Baitani and the Sins of Chronos.

Hermes: Bonsaigus, Verditas, Quesitori, Mercere: These houses are most moderate about the philosophical tradition. Would try to create a bridge between the two groups.

Hermes: Flambeau, Tytalus: Dedicated to the Hermetic tradition and the methodology…not seeing a huge split in the ways between, except on the ambition front. Both tend to be militant and would be readying themselves for the conflict to come.

Hermes: Bjorner: Would have suffered badly, falling back to the northern reaches. Point of contact for Pagan, Verbena and Witches. Oppositional to the OoR because of issues of faith and control. If there are Dreamspeakers, they are among this hours or Meritina.

Hermes: Criamon: Has among itself some of the Sons of Chronos. Opposed to OoR on philosophical grounds concerning method, rationality and control.

Hermes: Meritina: Opposed to OoR on basis of faith, the persecution of the Fey and the destruction of certain places of power.

Hermes: Jerbiton: Gone. Most left for real world paths. A goodly chunk having become part of the Guild. The Middle Eastern portion staying relatively intact, but having to split from the Hermetics in the Crusades. Probably not identified as a House as such. Part of the mix of middle eastern and Asian sorceries. Opposition is based on Muslim connections.

Ex Miscellania: Includes Hedge Mages, Shamans, the various foreign refugees, etc. Least influential of houses and opposed to OoR because so many of their members represent and anathema to the OoR structure.

Celestial Chorus: Strange bedfellows for the Hermetics. Ties are closest to Quesitori and Mercere, for structure and contacts. Still dislike the Hermetic ways, but opposed to the OoR vision on spiritual contact. Especially displeased with the treatment of Joan of Arc.

Cosians: Old ties to Hermetic methodology, but a split that occurred long in the past. With the battles over territory, symbolic natures and such having driven them out, then come to the Hermetics as allies. Most in favor of a truce. Viewed with suspicion by the other houses for political reasons.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mutants & Masterminds 3e: System Guide for New Players

SAY REBOOT ENOUGH AND IT SOUNDS WEIRD
This began as a quick reference document for players in my upcoming Mutants & Masterminds campaign. I’m migrating them from M&M 2e to 3e. As you can see, my brevity escaped me. In the end, I wrote this for two audiences: M&M players who haven’t made the switch and superhero gamers curious about the system. Obviously I’m in the tank for M&M, having run it successfully for many campaigns. I know superhero rpgs generate more “Don't play X, you should play Y” posts than other genres. I play and enjoy several different systems: Venture City Stories, Base Raiders, Worlds in Peril, Marvel Heroic, etc. I’m not weighing M&M’s value against other systems; I’m just supplying an overview. Feedback’s welcome.

tl/dr: Buy some version of the core book and then Power Profiles


M&M 3e is a d20 system, built around single roll resolution. While it has roots in the d20 OGL, this edition moves further. Players build characters using points; an average starting PC has 150. While the system has levels these serve only as benchmarks and limits to purchases. Points buy attributes, advantages (i.e. feats), powers, skills, and attack/defense ratings. M&M feels much less complicated than GURPS Supers or Powers and a bit less than Champions. It’s in the ballpark with Mutant City Blues and Rotted Capes; maybe a hair more involved. Your reaction will depend heavily on your experience with point construction mechanics. If you haven't used those before, it may feel overwhelming.

Power creation is central to the system. One of my players describes it as “object-oriented.” You define an effect for a power and then construct attributes around that. So an energy blast is a Damage effect, with the "Extra" usable at range. This gives the power’s base cost per rank, in this case 2 points per. You can apply additional Extras and Flaws to change costs. Most powers operate this way. A sub-set has your rank allow for a choice of effects. In this case, you "spend" ranks to select from a menu of options. Immunity and Movement work this way for example. The advantage system follows this pattern. The feat-like qualities are presented as micro-powers, covering simple effects.

At heart, M&M works like other d20 games. Rounds cover six seconds and initiative determines action order. Distances are given and can be determined from movement tables, but in play feel fairly abstract. I suspect most GMs will rough those out, given the nature of supers flying around a battlefield. Players roll most attacks by adding a rating to a d20 roll and comparing the result to a defense value. If they equal or beat that target, they hit. The defender then rolls a resistance versus the effect. In the case of a damage, the target # is the attack’s rank+15; in the case of other power effects the target # is the attack’s rank +10. If the defender saves, nothing happens. If they fail, they check how badly. M&M breaks this into four degrees, one for each 5 points of failure. Damage effects have specific results: miss by one degree and you gain a cumulative -1 to further damage saves; miss by two degrees and you get that -1 as well as becoming dazed; miss by three and you get the -1 and become staggered. If you miss by four degrees, you drop. Non-damage effects usually have three stages of severity as well, without the a stacking penalty. So a Poison effect might cause Impaired/ Immobile/ Paralyzed, depending on degree.

The end result is that as they take damage, characters become more susceptible to being KO'd. Teaming up becomes a strong tactic, allowing players to raise the resisted damage number. In practice it feels very comic book. Though the system seems complex at first glance, a small set of mechanics run through everything. Once you get a few of the pieces, the rest fall into place. Players who gain that mastery can then explore more complex options and maneuvers. In my experience combat's faster than Champions, but not as fast as something like Fate.

I ran M&M 1e for several years and then reluctantly transitioned to 2e. That turned out well and I came to appreciate the changes. I've written about 2e in a previous post. When M&M 3e released I held off making for a couple of years, continuing to run 2e campaign. I’d invested heavily in resources and supplements for that edition. I think gamers considering the shift to 3e have the same questions I did. What are the changes and what can I use from previous editions?

Moving from "bundled" powers to effect-based builds changes things the most. Originally M&M had some effect-defined powers and a larger pool of essentially pre-built common ones. The supplement Ultimate Power began to redefine that, offering a way to get under the hood of powers and construct even more interesting options. If you know Ultimate Power, then you'll recognize that system in M&M 3e, though even more stripped down. That shift has in turn driven the designers to make effects consistent across systems. Affliction-type effects now clearly echo damage template and advantages more clearly fit with the power system. M&M 3e also changes up Abilities, with a new selection and ratings now only modifiers (rather than classic “3-18” values). Other factors like Defenses have also been streamlined. The game consolidates advantages and skills. Now only 16 skills exist, and some of those represent combat abilities. M&M 3e has other changes scattered throughout: putting more focus on motivation, standardizing modifiers (+2, +5 now), and retooling (but not really reducing) conditions.

All that means conversion from 2e to 3e can’t be done “at a glance.” With 1e to 2e, I could mostly make that shift in my head (with some significant exceptions). Conversion here requires more effort. Green Ronin has provided conversion guidelines- but only on their website, not in the core book or Gamemaster’s Guide. I suspect companies do this to keep focus on the new edition, but it isn’t my favorite design choice.

The mechanics shift means that some M&M 2e releases aren't useful to GMs of the new edition: the core book, Ultimate Power, the Masterminds Manual, Beginners Guide, and Instant Superheroes for example. Collections of foes and modules require retooling: Freedom City, Paragons, Crooks, Lockdown, Freedom's Most Wanted, etc. They remain useful because you can always use inspiration. As well GR smartly hasn't duplicated most of these materials in their releases. For example, instead of doing Freedom City again, they chose another urban locale. New edition GMs will get the most use out of the M&M 2e genre books. While they include character examples which have to be converted, they mostly contain general setting material. So Silver Age, Mecha & Manga, Golden Age, Worlds of Freedom, Iron Age, Hero High, Wild Cards, Book of Magic, etc are worth keeping or picking up. Green Ronin has kept these materials available for pdf purchase.

This is the system’s core book. A smaller, non-Deluxe edition came out in 2011. The more recent edition, the only one currently available in print, adds a little under a hundred pages. That includes adventures and a 50+ page Quick Hero Generator. The Deluxe edition fixes the errata. It's a heavy book, amazingly illustrated. The text can be dense and a little overwhelming if you're coming into it for the first time. Powers get the longest treatment (along with the Quick Creator). What's striking is how tight the actual resolution and play rules are. There's a 12 page overview at the front and then all of action resolution and combat fills only 17 pages (including examples). In fact, you may wonder where the resolution rules are, since they don't pop up until page 235. The last fifty pages of the book offer materials for the GM. It's a solid production overall.

My only real complaint is the placement of the Quick Hero Generator. It's an excellent GM tool and perhaps a good one for the starting player. But for veteran players or those wanting to get to the meat of the game you have to flip past this large early section. It's a small thing but it breaks up character creation and makes it harder to find things in this hefty volume. For M&M 2e released a stripped down Pocket Player's Guide, cutting out GM sections. Something like that would be awesome. Alternately- players looking for something streamlined, should consider picking up the DC Adventures Hero’s Handbook. It has the same rules, but with DC examples and illustrations in a shorter, lighter format. I've also been able to find copies of online at a decent price.

Some version of the core book is essential. To play you need either the Mutants & Masterminds Hero’s Handbook or the DC Adventures version.

The screen for M&M 3e; your reaction will depend greatly on whether you use a screen or not. The original version of this set included the Quick Character Generator later rolled into the core deluxe book. The revised GM kit contains a solid, landscape format screen, four reference charts, and a laminated action tracker. It skips the classic "GM add-in" booklet in favor of something more practical.

GMs should consider buying if they run face to face and use a screen.

The Mastermind's Manual for 2e provided a host of options and mechanical insights. The Gamemaster's Guide for 3e might look like the parallel volume, but it has a very different objective. Where the earlier book delved into the game’s crunch, the GM Guide almost studiously avoids that. Instead it's more of a basic superhero GM primer. The first section goes over superhero setting tropes, the second & third looks at villains, and the fourth & fifth cover general plots and scenario planning. Only the shortest chapter offers any mechanical options, surveying mass combat, fighting styles, and how to handle wealth & reputation. Some of the Masterminds Manual concepts ended up folded into the new core book, like the richer treatment of skills. But some smaller, useful elements have vanished, like a discussion of scale and using miniatures. On the other hand, the Gamemaster’s Guide book has a much different purpose. It wants to orient new superhero GMs and perhaps provide a refresher for GMs returning to the genre. In that regard it works. I can imagine flipping through this for inspiration. It's no Villainy Amok, but few supplements are.

Useful for new superhero GMs. Optional for GMs with some experience under their belts.

Green Ronin has used online distribution as a development tool for this edition. Four major supplements bundle together materials released as weekly pdfs, and there's at least two more series in the pipeline. I'm curious about the economics of this. The number of books they've done this way suggests it works better than releasing the book cold.

Power Profiles consists of short (on average four pages) overviews of power archetypes: Electrical, Luck, Size-based, Teleport, and so on. Each covers common descriptors, features, and complications. They also provide example powers for that archetype in several categories: Offensive, Defensive, Movement, and Utility. This presents an excellent starting point for players and GMs armed with a basic concept. The book also includes several brief essays on related topics: boosting powers, point account, shifting powers, etc. Power Profiles doesn't offer new mechanics, instead it shows the flexibility and strength of M&M 3e.

While you don't have to own Power Profiles to play M&M 3e, it's the most useful supplement in the line. This should be the second thing you purchase, especially if you're a GM. If you're a player, pick it up if your groups transitioning to M&M 3e for the long haul. Otherwise consider just buying one of the individual pdfs related to your character archetype. Highly recommended.

The parallel product to Power Profiles, Gadget Guides covers areas left out: equipment, armor, and devices. While the earlier volume's materials can be adapted to gadgets and foci, this book concentrates on item creation. Twenty-two chapters cover different kinds of devices and how they can be used in M&M 3e. Topics include Biotech, Computers, Mecha, Steamtech, and Vehicles. There's advice for different genres and how to handle that kind of tech. Two appendices look at related topics: Inventing and Rituals.

This is a solid offering if you're into tech and the nitty-gritty of equipment. I'll admit I've never been a big fan of working out all the points to build devices. Things like GURPS Robots, Mekton Zeta, and HERO's vehicle design system left me cold. Usually I handwave things, making these powers with the removable flaw. But M&M 3e offers depth without too much strain. Players and GMs who like those details will find this hugely useful.

As I mentioned above, DC Adventures uses the M&M 3e system. So you can substitute the DCA Hero's Handbook as your core reference. While the DCA version isn't that much shorter (276 pages vs. 320), it uses a lighter-weight paper which means it's about half as thick. The pages look fine; there's only bleed through when you hold it up to the light. Obviously this edition uses DC examples and spends time covering that setting. It also lacks much of the GM extras and material. Ironically or awfully, DC Adventures came out just before DC launched their "New52" reboot. I imagine that's a little irritating and it reminds me of DC Heroes getting hosed by Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the 1980's.

Besides the Hero’s Handbook, Green Ronin has released three additional volumes. Book 2 and Book 3 are massive collections of Heroes & Villains. If you're planning on running M&M these are an awesome resource. On the one hand, you get premade adversaries you can reskin. On the other, when someone says they want to run a character like "Batman” or “The Flash" you can reference this. These books also note characters who have point costs corresponding to their power level. You could use these straight as pick up PCs. Book 4 covers the DC Universe as a whole. This is super useful if you're planning on running there. If not, it does have tons of example NPCs- both normals and supers. I think there's actually more characters here than in either Heroes & Villains volume, just without full background write ups.

In short all of the DCA volumes are useful to GMs. The Hero's Handbook offers a good starting option for players.

Freedom City's been the flagship location for Mutants & Masterminds since the first edition. It's a classic Astro City-like locale, with a history explored in a dedicated sourcebook and imbedded in other supplements like villain collections and era books. M&M 3e adds new major campaign location to the world. Emerald City lies in the Pacific Northwest, a pseudo-Seattle (which makes sense since that's where GR's located).

The full Emerald City set is massive. It comes in three volumes, plus a map. The smallest book (96 pages) is the Player's Guide to Emerald City. It opens with a player-facing tourist guide, and moves into classic territory. That means a ton of information. I'm never sure if this work. Is it’s better to hand something like this off, write a summary, or just present it in play? The Player’s Guide does discuss how to integrate characters into the setting. The second book, Secrets of Emerald City (128 pahes), gives the GM rundown of events, characters and secrets. It expands on the Players Guide and adds new areas and adversaries. Finally Emerald City Knights is an introductory campaign for the setting. It’s intended as a starter to bring new characters in and grow them as they tour the location.

Your experience will vary with this product. I'm of two minds about city books, something I've talked about before. I've rarely seen GMs use them whole cloth. Often they steal elements for their campaigns. These volumes offer good value for the GM: villains, organizations, and plot hooks. Nicely Green Ronin also makes the Player’s Guide available apart from the set. That could allow a group multiple copies of this important resource.

Recommended for GMs if you use city-books as a resource. The Players Guide's useful for those playing in the setting.

A large villain collection from Green Ronin. They have released several of these over the years and this one continues the quality. Originally a series of character pdfs, Threat Report brings nearly everything from that together. It avoids rehashing earlier characters. I think everything here is new (except maybe Doctor Sin? I'm not sure). The collection includes 39 solo villains (plus assorted allies) and six villain groups. Each entry has background and hooks as well as full stats. Several have nice color commentary like database entries you could hand out to players. Threat Report includes two useful indexes. The first lists name, power level, and page number alphabetically. The second does the same, but organized by power level. GMs can quickly hunt down balanced foes for their team. While there are other sources of enemy write ups (the DCA Heroes & Villains, third party pdf books), Threat Report offers a solid and well-presented bestiary with great ideas. (Notably is has fewer supernatural psycho-killers than earlier collections).

Recommended for GMs.

Mutants & Masterminds turned it's attention to sorcery with the Book of Magic for 2e. Initially I'd assumed the Supernatural Handbook would cover the same ground. I'd missed the implications of the title. Where the previous book considered mages in the vein of Dr. Fate, Dr. Strange, and Justice League Dark, this instead aims for horror. That surprised me as I hadn't considered that genre for M&M. But then I thought about some of the more over the top sources like Tomb of Dracula, Elsa Bloodstone, or Van Helsing. The Supernatural Handbook offers that, but also more subtle things echoing Constantine, Swamp Thing, and non-comic book horror. Designer Lucien Soulban's worked on both horror and supers previously: Aberrant, Mage, Vampire, Orpheus, and earlier M&M editions.

This genre book primarily covers many different kinds of horror campaigns (Monster of the Week, Post-Humanity, The Ancient Ones, etc). The first chapter considers using those tropes and placing campaigns in different time periods. Chapter two discusses appropriate character creation and includes template for monstrous types. It also has a brief section on investigations. Chapter three goes over the elements of horror games, adding fear & corruption, running horror tales, and handling otherworldly evils. Chapter four contains adversaries and short adventures. The last chapter presents a supernatural investigation group, Arcade.

Recommended for GMs planning on running horror with M&M or introducing significant horror elements to their campaign.

Another genre book tuned to classic supers tropes. Think series like Guardians of the Galaxy, Legion of Super-Heroes, Silver Surfer, Green Lantern Corps, Adam Strange, Omega Men, and beyond. We haven't seen that many superhero sourcebooks cover this: Ion Guard & The Great Game, Aberrant, and licensed books like 2995: The Legion of Super-Heroes Sourcebook & Annihilation come to mind. The Cosmic Handbook follows the same structure as the Supernatural Handbook. Chapter one covers campaign types and elements. Chapter two looks at character creation and offers several templates. Chapter three talks about what a cosmic campaign entails and how to manage it as a GM. The last two chapters switch gears a little, connecting the material to the Freedom City Universe. Chapter four presents the cosmic history of the setting, from the birth of the universe to alien invasions to galactic empires. Chapter five jumps forward five centuries to present a LSH-like setting, Freedom City 2525.

Recommended for GMs wanting to run high-tech future or off-Earth scenarios or campaigns.

13. Electronic Resources & Miscellany
As I mentioned above, Green Ronin has supported M&M 3e with many electronic series. Three haven't yet been bundled into printed collections. The Wild Cards SCARE Sheets offer NPCs for the Wild Cards setting (though the original sourcebook's for M&M 2e). There’s a pdf compilation of this. Another is the Atlas of Earth Prime, still ongoing. It covers all of Freedom City Earth. Finally Rogue’s Gallery is a new series of villains write ups. I expect these last two will have a printed collections when they wrap. I should also mention that there will be a new version of the popular Hero High setting from 2e. I believe that will be a single-book release, rather than done as a pdf series first.

There are several online resources available for M&M players. You can find the M&M 3e SRD here. It contains all of the OGL material, though it does change a couple of the key terms to comply. The Atomic Think Tank is the active online board for M&M at Green Ronin. It's an excellent source for answers, ideas, and existing character adaptations. Hero Lab has a M&M 3e module if you’re willing to spend the money on that. We’ve always used user-made spreadsheets for calculations. Fantasy Grounds also offers a M&M 3e module. Finally Roll20 has a built-in M&M 3e character sheet. It isn't automated for creation, but is useful in play.

14. Third-Party Sourcebooks
Several companies have released larger sourcebooks for M&M 3e (100+ pages). They include pdf compilations, reskins from other systems, and new material.
  • Better Mousetrap: One of the few supplements offering mechanical elements. Better Mousetrap covers many topics. New skills & advantages, new powers, and new rules for things like chases. It has some good material on villains, new archetypes, organization building, and example builds. It has new gadget options and a major section on headquarters building.
  • Deus ex historica: A nearly 400-page character sourcebook. The framework is a future historian looking back at these heroes and villains to examine their stories. Characters are drawn from across different eras: Golden Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc. That's a nice conceit. I like game books which use the tales of multiple NPCs to sketch out the setting. If it's compelling, that can make for a great read (see The Algernon Files or Omlevex). On the other hand drawing across different eras potentially makes some characters less useful, depending on the kind of campaign you're running.
  • Extreme Earth: The Kickstarter for this game supported releases across several systems. This is a complete, Iron Age dystopian superhero setting. It's pretty dark and strikingly put together.
  • Iron Bay (AHC): Iron Bay offers two urban centers for the "Adventures Have Consequences" setting from AHC Studios. It splits between light and dark locations (I imagine a little like Gotham and Metropolis adjacent to one another). The broadersetting has many supplements which could be converted.
  • Larger than Life: One of the most unusual supplements, this covers characters from American folklore (Paul Bunyan, Iron John). It offers 20 archetypes, 24 full write ups, and 100+ biographies for significant 18th & 19th Century characters. It breaks these down by eras (Colonial, Tall-Tale, Wild West, and Post-War). While it doesn't offer an over-arching campaign, it does have a timeline and bibliography.
  • Watchguard Sourcebook: Offers a sketchy world background, re-released for 3e. The book has a short overview of a campaign city followed by several dozen character write ups and a number of scenarios. Watch Guard has a strong Valiant vibe to it, but you have to piece the world together from various entries. A solid and useful resource for any supers GM.

15. Third-Party Series
Several companies have released pdf series supporting M&M 3e, primarily villain and character books. I'll limit this to series with more than ten releases.