DC Adventures Design Journal #5

The Game System Top 10

With the appearance of a full hero write-up for Green Lantern last week, everyone is abuzz about what to expect from the game system of DC Adventures.  Here’s a list of the top ten modifications and updates to the Mutants & Masterminds game rules you’ll see:

1. Abilities

Rather than the original six abilities of M&M, DC Adventures has eight with the addition of a Fighting ability (representing a character’s raw close combat capability) and Agility, splitting off the movement capabilities from the fine motor skills of Dexterity.

We also changed the names of some of the existing abilities to make them better fit the super-hero style, rather than the game’s d20 ancestry. So we have Stamina, Intellect, Awareness, and Presence in place of Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Strength and Dexterity remain unchanged, save for the aforementioned split between Agility and Dexterity, which helps to spread out the ability’s elements, keeping it from becoming a single “uber-ability”.

As previously mentioned, the system also streamlines abilities by assigning them a single numerical rank, dropping the previous ability score used to calculate that rank. Now abilities simply cost 2 point per rank.

Lastly, note that the prior Attack and Defense scores have been folded into abilities, based off of Fighting and Dexterity (for close and ranged attacks) and Fighting and Agility (for parry and dodge defense) modified by specific skills. Now the odd-duck traits of combat work the same way as other abilities and skills do.

2. Skills

Speaking of skills, DC Adventures slims down and streamlines the game’s skill list. Where possible, multiple redundant skills (Climb and Swim, for example) are folded into a single skill (Athletics). Various specialty skills like Craft, Knowledge, and Profession have become a single Expertise skill. We’ve also added Close Combat and Ranged Combat skills, helping unify the skill system as a whole.

The smaller skill list means a bump in skill cost: 1 power point per 2 skill ranks, since characters typically have fewer overall skills (and therefore ranks in them). We also simplified power level limits with regard to skills with a flat (PL+10) ceiling for total skill bonus.

3. Advantages

Feats are gone, but not forgotten. They are replaced with Advantages, which perform the same function: minor benefits and abilities, most often for things a character either has or does not have. We generally consolidated the advantage list, making ample use of the Benefit advantage to cover a lot of general ground.

Other modifications to advantages include making many combat advantages like Power Attack into improved versions of combat maneuvers (so everyone can Power Attack, those with the advantage simply do so better) and use of circumstance modifiers (see below) to clarify the relationship between advantages and power level.

4. Effects

Powers in DC Adventures have been clearly divided into effects, which are the components and game elements, and the powers themselves, which are made up of one or more effects with modifiers. So Damage, for example, is an effect, whereas a Blast is Ranged Damage, possibly with some other modifiers and appropriate descriptors, such as electricity or force. Similarly, razor-sharp claws are Close Damage, perhaps with the Penetrating modifier. Powers may even have arrays of Alternate Effects, choosing between different ones each round.

Again, where possible, effects have been consolidated and made consistent. For example, the Affliction effect and its modifiers allow you to custom-build a wide range of powers that impose certain conditions, including Dazzle, Mind Control, Sleep, Snare, and Suffocation, to name a few. You can even fine-tune the power so your Dazzle has different conditions (or imposes additional ones). The pre-built powers are simply examples of what you can do with the effects and modifiers.

5. Defenses

“Saving throws” are converted to defenses in DC Adventures, values used for both the difficulty of certain attack or effect checks, and for resistance checks against certain effects. So your character’s Dodge defense determines the difficulty to hit him with a ranged attack, and may also be used for a resistance check to narrowly avoid a danger or trap.

6. Complications

Complications come into their own in DC Adventures, taking over the role filled by drawbacks as well (some power drawbacks get turned into flaws for effects). Now pretty much anything that causes trouble for the heroes is handled as a complication which earns the players hero points. They range from personal issues and dramatic subplots to vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and physical challenges. In particular, players are encouraged to define their hero’s motivation as a complication, which the GM can use as a story hook, rewarding the player with hero points for doing so.

7. Actions

We provide a clear breakdown of different types of actions during a conflict, including some new ones like Recover (letting you take an action to remove a damage condition), and modified actions like Grab, the new-and-improved version of grappling.

8. Conflict

The game’s combat rules are generally cleaned-up. Modifications include the addition of maneuvers like All-out Attack, Defensive Attack, and so forth; different ways of performing actions that affect how the checks for that action are rolled. There are also additional options for critical hits beyond increased effect, including adding an additional effect onto the attack–such as a critical hit that blinds or stuns in addition to doing damage–or even having an alternate effect.

9. Circumstance Modifiers

The vast majority of situational modifiers in the game have been consolidated into a simple scheme of +2 for an advantage (+5 for a major advantage) and -2 for a disadvantage (-5 for a major one). Various conditions, effects, maneuvers, and so forth reference these circumstance modifiers and they provide a quick guideline for applying modifiers to any situation. Circumstance modifiers (being situational) do not count towards power level; anyone can partake of them, depending on the circumstances.

10. Rank & Measure

Lastly, DC Adventures uses a consolidated table for converting game ranks into real-world measurements of things like distance, time, mass, and so forth. This applies some consistency across the board in terms of how abilities and effects work, and allows for quick in-game calculations like the distance a character can cover with a particular movement effect rank (since speed + time = distance).

The Rank & Measure table is broadly used throughout the game, bringing many game systems under the same set of guidelines.

There’s much more: addressing things like specific power effects, modifiers, actions like grabbing, and so forth, all designed to make things clearer, most consistent, and easier to use. We’ll take a look at further examples and get a look at the game system in action in an upcoming design journal. Stay tuned!

All characters, their distinctive likenesses, and related elements are trademarks of DC Comics © 2010. All rights reserved.

Steve Kenson

Steve Kenson has been an RPG author and designer since 1995 and has worked on numerous book and games, including Mutants & Masterminds, Freedom City, and Blue Rose for Green Ronin Publishing. He has written nine RPG tie-in novels and also runs his own imprint, Ad Infinitum Adventures, which publishes material for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevekenson.com.

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