The DC Adventure game I have been threatening people with finally took place this month so I thought I might hurl my two cents in your face for your consideration. This was really the first step in a painfully slow and awkward process of branching out from 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons and making use of the bajillion (that’s a word right?) RPG’s I have purchased over the past several years. I wanted to be able to walk into my basement and not feel their lonely eyes burrow into my soul from their perch atop my bookshelf, a shameful and constant reminder of my lack of impulse control and its’ consequences. This year will be my gaming equivalent of “the summer of George”, and DC Adventures has kicked off the festivities.
I chose DC Adventures (aka Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition) largely as a bit of a break from the fantasy genre, plus just seeing my favorite DC Heroes and Villains stated up made me a little turgid below the equator. The production value on the core and supplemental books is amazing, with art taken directly from the comic books, and on par with anything I have seen WOTC put out. The game is built around the d20 system so largely familiar to anyone who has played dungeons and dragons, particularly 3rd edition. Characters are built by spending power points on bumping ability scores, skills, powers, and advantages (essentially feats). The total power points available to pimp your character with is determined by the series power level (masked adventurers, super heroes, big leagues, and world-protectors) which is meant to loosely keep the characters balanced to the style of game you want to play. Given that I was running a limited scenario I let players use any hero or villain with a power level of 10/super hero. If I was going to run a longer game I think I would have insisted on everyone making their own characters. I encouraged the players to only use the hero’s continuity or established fiction if they felt that it would help them and to add/make up whatever they wanted. Thus we ended up with someone playing The Trickster from an alternate earth as a hero. This then allowed for a fairly dramatic scene with the current earth’s Trickster, seething with anger over his material/act being stolen by this upstart hack, challenging the player to a yo-yo duel. Overall, I liked the character generation system, as it was fairly flexible and customizable enough to build whatever hero concept you have.
In terms of the gameplay, combat encounters are resolved by applying “conditions” on opponents. So if you hit and damage an opponent ( i.e. punch, kick, blast etc) or use a power with some kind of effect (i.e mind control) it doesn’t subtract from some form of health but instead lays a condition. If an attack requires and attack roll you role to hit against the targets Defense Class. if you hit then the target makes a resistance check against your effect/power/attack DC to determine effects. there are no hit points and results for attacks cause various conditions based on degree of failure of the resistance check. a successful resistance check negates the effects of the attack. This plays out until the accumulation of conditions renders one side incapacitated. I found the lack of health or hp’s a little jarring during the first session and despite having a Doctoral degree calculating the degrees of success and failure on the fly (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th) was a little awkward. The players also disliked the resistance checks to negate any effect of a successful attack. I think this coupled with the lack of hp made their characters feel less than heroic and the combat stagnant. Even if the villain failed a resistance check on an attack the resulting effect of -1 to his toughness defense (what you use to resist damage attacks) seemed boring or anticlimactic to them. The first encounter was so flat and off putting I downloaded and actual play podcast to see if I was doing it right. The second session went a little smoother, but the general consensus was a dislike for the null effects or action negation. I think one other thing that was missing to create that comic book feel was the lack of knockback during combat. When super powered guys are stomping each other’s faces in I need dudes to be flying into buildings, lampposts and other shit.
The only other quibble as GM that I had was the relative lack of encounter building advice in terms of balance. I bought the Game Master’s guide as well and while they had lots of flavor and challenge/encounter ideas there was a lack of actual guidance in terms of number of villains and their power level that would be appropriate or how to use minions. I ended up using a formula that someone on the Green Ronin forums had created. The first encounter I ran had the party facing off against Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, and Girder (a pretty typical scene in the comics to me). It went pretty awful partly due to lack of system mastery but also due to the challenge either being too hard or better suited to a more climatic end type battle. After about an hour of combat with everyone making their majority of their resistance checks nothing had really happened. In the second session I used more faceless minions with one or two standard bad guys which helped with combat length. I think the more familiar I become with the system the less an issue this would be, but some upfront advice would be welcomed.
Overall, I think the system is pretty serviceable and I could run a decent longer term campaign with it. With the Heroes and Villains Volumes 1 and 2 coupled with all the setting fluff from the different era’s and worlds of the DC universe allows you to readily create any series you could desire. The skill system is fairly robust and good for creating skill challenges. However, I think my preference would default to Champions/Hero System if I was to run another super hero game. So what’s next in my “summer of George” gaming festivities? Well I am currently prepping a 1st edition AD&D game using the OSRIC system to run the recently re-released Against the Slave Lords series, so stay tuned.