Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Batman Next/Detective Feats in M&M

So I saw The Dark Knight Rises last night. I’d avoided reading as much as I could about it- several really excellent bloggers has written responses and I had them sitting and taunting me from my RSS feed.

The short version is that I enjoyed it- I had a good time while I was watching it and felt satisfied when I walked out of the theater. It had a few places that bugged me a little but it still pulled me along. It is a bit predictable in places but perhaps there’s a message about inevitability there? There aren’t a lot of twists or surprises, as my friend Art pointed out. It has a lot of plot complexity, perhaps more than it needs. It is loooong, but unlike the last movie, I wasn’t conscious of the time passing. I checked my watch several times during Dark Knight Returns.

It is a very particular Batman film- with a specific version of Batman. Those who didn’t care for that version from the earlier films won’t find much here to satisfy them. I like many different kinds of Batman, from BTAS to classic Brave & the Bold to Superfriends to Adam West to Frank Miller to Nolan’s vision. I like this for what it is, another distinct and dark take on the character. I liked Bane, I like Catwoman, I was happy with the new character, and generally enjoyed the ending- even with the telegraphing.

My one huge complaint would be the sound of the film. The dialogue washed out for me I would say about a quarter of the time, buried under the swelling and too loud music. I like Zimmer’s work and I think his batman compositions are hugely listenable. But when that score prevents me from being able to follow things, that’s bad. I really wanted subtitles at times.

So where does the Batman franchise go from here? Art and I were batting this around for a little bit today. It’s pretty obvious that Warner will want to turn around and put another approach on the fast track. Having a closed trilogy will allow them to reboot with some of the potential ill-will of the most recent Spider-Man. Perhaps they can get Nolan to produce. Art pointed out that they’ll need to establish a Batman who can work in a Justice League movie. That would require a more globe-trotting version of the character and perhaps more gadget (vs. weaponry) based. I wouldn’t mind see a lighter version of the character, perhaps with a little super-spy vibe thrown in.

But here’s what I really want to see.

Forget the movies, let’s talk television. I think we can have a version of the Batman TV show- borrowing from Smallville and Arrow, but discarding their continuity. We don’t need to tie into that universe.

Instead we have a "Year One Batman", or at least early days. We have a character who has been a young boy-sleuth (ala Encyclopedia Brown). He’s done this despite the murder of his parent in front on him years ago. But his days of being a prodigy are behind him. He’s trying to find a place in this world, taking odd jobs. In the course of this he gets in over his head- ending up about to be murdered by Gotham thugs.

And that’s when Batman appears. The dark knight appears out of the fog on a bridge and saves him. The vigilante asks his name- Richard Grayson. Batman tells Grayson that he’ll be an agent for him from now on. The next day, Grayson’s contacted by famously eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne. Wayne’s looking for a personal assistant and wants to hire him.

They meet and it becomes clear that Wayne’s a little crazy- perhaps manic or schizophrenic. He swings between outgoing party animal and prickly recluse. Wayne’s doing investigations, but he doesn’t want his name entering into things directly. He wants Grayson to serve as his leg man (his Archie Goodwin to Nero Wolfe). He needs eyes and ears he can trust. Though Wayne won’t say it, he perhaps also needs someone who can help him interact with people like a human being. The suggestion might be that Alfred’s served this role as a mentor, but passed away recently, precipitating this movement.

So together they fight crime, with the inevitable revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He’s intense- too intense for ordinary people, which is why he needs someone like Grayson to serve as his middleman. Wayne puts in his time as a playboy when he has to, but otherwise he trains his physical prowess endlessly and researches cases. Batman has a network of agents, not unlike The Shadow.

The premise borrows pretty heavily from Sherlock, and I think you could do it without going too far over into the humor. Grayson serves as the human face of the series, our lens into understanding the focus and obsession of the Batman. Of course you can do all of the classic and new Batman stories in this context (Joker, Riddler, Court of Owls, etc.). Eventually Grayson would learn that he’s not the first assistant Wayne’s had- leading to the Red Hood arc, if you wanted.

Done right, with Batman as a complex figure just starting to get his patterns in place- while recognizing that he’s missing “something,” it could work. I’d watch it.

I forgot something with my previous post detective skills in Mutants & Masterminds- specifically about useful Feats for investigations. Some of these feats allow benefits, while others offer bonuses to investigation checks. It is the player’s responsibility to remember and mention these to the GM.

Assessment: This feat generally applies to combat situations, allowing your character to size up the power and fighting capabilities of opponents. However you could also use this when checking out suspects to see if any have had specialty training or carry themselves like professionals. In this case, I would have the feat offer a circumstance bonus to your investigation or perhaps even give you the base information freely (“He looks like a weak practitioner of Shorin-ryu karate…”).

Attractive: This offers a +4 bonus to diplomacy and bluff checks with persons who might find you attractive. Useful for seduction, flirting, and the like to gain information.

Connected: You can call on a specialist or just someone who owes you a favor. This can be to get an introduction, hunt down info, get you in some place, provide legal advice, or other favor. This is a useful way to model someone who knows lots of people or has a team working for them (rather than buying those as minions). Using this requires a diplomacy check, with a DC based on how difficult or dangerous the favor is. I’ll generally give you the opportunity to describe and name your connection. You can also spend a hero point to secure the favor without a roll (subject to GM approval).

Contacts: A little like Connected above, but with a very different mechanical function. As long as you have access to communications, you can make a Gather Information check very quickly (the book suggests a minute). It also allows you to take a 10 or 20 on a check like this at an accelerated pace.

Well-Informed: When you encounter a person or group, you may immediately make a Gather Information check to see if you already know something about them. You usually need to phrase this in the form of a specific question (narrower than “What do I know about X?”).

Benefit: This is a catch-all feat which covers many areas. Several could be easily used to give your character a circumstantial or situational bonus to an investigation check. Wealth, Fame, and Status are obviously picks for example. You can throw money at a problem if you happen to run a company, like Iron Man. Or you may have access to exclusive tickets or back-stage passes, something Mister Miracle has used to grease the wheel of investigations. Security Clearance is another good one. You can use this to represent past experience with intelligence services or groups. Status as a member of a unique group could also help.

Keep in mind that characteristic bonuses can affect several skills. CHA hits most social and interaction skills, while WIS is often useful for perception, and INT works with many technical skills.


  1. I was thinking about the various shades of Batman. Specifically I was thinking about how the Adam West Batman was such a boy scout, especially when he was lecturing Robin. Compare that to some of the the extreme sociopath-with-a-calling versions. For example, breaking bones as an interrogation technique.

    Medicine skill would come in handy for somebody trying to get information by torture without killing somebody...

  2. That's interesting. I saw TDKRises on Tuesday and then ran the supers game on Wednesday. I was struck by just how straight-laced and upstanding this group of heroes is. They may be the most solidly "heroic" in all my years of running supers. It was especially apparent coming off of the darkness of the Batman flick, to come into a game where the group balked at intimidating an underworld contact and instead opted to bribe him.