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    Default Mutants and Masterminds 3e Character Guide

    The Goals of this Guide

    The goal here is not to build the most effective character on the lowest budget possible. It is to define a character as precisely as one can while ensuring that all characters made using the same design principles are tightly balanced with each other. This means one has to avoid options that are unbalanced with the rest of the game. This can mean too good for their cost (or, and especially, just too good in general), or it can mean too expensive when compared to another option that does the same exact thing in a more balanced manner. Waste not, want not. Admittedly, not everyone will agree with where I set the "balanced" bar in all cases. We each have our own optimization standards, and I am cognizant of the fact that mine is on the higher end of the bell curve. Regardless, most of this information should be fairly accurate even in lower-optimization games, and I try to clarify where my own preferences might be assigning higher values than some groups would want to use.

    As a note, this guide is primarily written to assist players in building characters, but it can also be used by GMs both for help with creating balanced but challenging enemies, or identifying mechanics that could be improved upon or nerfed with house rules (or just banned outright).

    This guide will use the following color codes when judging mechanics:

    Broken: This mechanic is underpriced, overpowered, and complicated enough that I don't even have ideas for self-nerfing it into a more balanced format. It can be nerfed or restricted, sure, but there's actually a pretty fine line where it falls into balance with comparative options; it's easy to make it useless or pointless by going to far, or leave it overpowered by not going far enough. These are options that I literally don't trust myself in use on PCs in games. Avoid them wherever possible; if you must use them, do so sparingly and work closely with your GM to establish some guidelines and limits that will keep you in line with other players. If nerfing with customizable Flaws like Quirks and Limits, judge them more harshly than normal and keep the point discounts low.

    Overpowered: This mechanic isn't just too good for its price - it's just too good in general. These options can be damaging to a game. Fortunately, there are often ways to nerf or restrict them to allow them to fit in in a more balanced manner, which I will include where I have them.

    Strong: This mechanic is stronger than its cost warrants, but probably not so strong that it has to be nerfed. Use sparingly, and if you can balance out their use with less raw power elsewhere, do so, but snagging one or two of these for special "big gun" moves and such is fine. In lower-optimization games, you may want to avoid these options entirely, or nerf them significantly.

    Balanced: This mechanic is solidly balanced and priced accordingly to its power. These are the sort of options you want to focus on most.

    Niche: This mechanic isn't bad, quite, but it probably has some flaw that makes it hard to use effectively, easy to get around, or only useful to certain characters. Niche options may still have great flavor though, so don't be afraid to take them where your budget can spare, but if the choice is between a niche option and a balanced option that both provide equally good definition to the character, go for a latter. Niche powers are usually more palatable in arrays.

    Weak: This mechanic is strictly weaker than others that can do effectively the same thing in a more balanced manner. So use those instead!

    Useless: This mechanic is counter-productive. It may leave you worse off than you already were, cause you to burn points on literally nothing, or cost more to use than you would gain from a successful use. These mechanics have no real redeeming qualities. Pretend they don't exist.

    Mechanics with a by them come highly recommended for any appropriate character.

    Finally, minor note, but when mentioning specific mechanics I'm generally using the baseline of a PL 10 character. So ranks will generally be 10 and so on. Just for consistency.

    Core Principles

    This is something I want to take a moment to discuss, because it informs a lot of this guide. M&M has made a strong effort to divorce flavor from mechanics. In my opinion, many of the issues in the system actually stem from the fact that they didn't go far enough with that. Nonetheless, I take it as a given that the core principle of M&M character design is that you pay for the mechanical capabilities you want, and describe them how you like.

    What this means is, no specific mechanic inherently deserves higher status than another that serves the same purpose. Now, some mechanics are going to provide simpler, more intuitive, possibly even more elegant access to the fluff you want. And that's fair enough. But it's not what this guide is about. You could say that the core principle of this guide is for finding the most balanced and precise mechanics to use to get the fluff that you want.

    So, for example. Say you want a power that will gradually slow down and eventually paralyze an enemy. The simple, intuitive way to build that is Affliction 10 (Hindered/Immobilized/Paralyzed). First application halves their speed, second stops them from moving from their current position, third paralyzes them entirely. Straightforward.

    But here's the thing. Hindered is a laughable condition. Speeds in M&M can get ludicrously high, and halving them is very often not going to do much. Compared to other first-tier conditions it's strictly and massively less debilitating. Immobilized would have made sense as a tier 1 condition; it's about balanced with Dazed, but compares poorly to things like Defenseless and Disabled, let alone Stunned.

    And it's also not especially precise. They're slower and hampered, but they can still defend themselves just fine? Sure, that's possible I suppose, but it's a little weird, isn't it?

    I'd build that power as Affliction 10 (Dazed+Vulnerable/Stunned+Defenseless/Incapacitated; Extra Condition, Limited [First conditions apply to physical activities only, second conditions are limited to two degrees]).

    That power is more complex, undeniably. It involves adding an Extra and a Flaw, and the Limit has this weird split function. You could also argue it's min-maxing. Hindered, Immobilized, and Paralyzed are meant to provide the fluff of slowing someone down and eventually stopping them. I'm ignoring the options that are there for that and instead using stronger, broader options that I then restrict down to do what I want, using the points saved from the restriction to add more conditions.

    But here's the thing. Dazed/Stunned, Vulnerable/Defenseless, and Impaired/Disabled are all very strongly balanced with each other. Dazed/Stunned denies actions. Vulnerable/Defenseless cripples your defense. Impaired/Disabled has a less profound effect than either, but weakens you both offensively (attack rolls) and defensively (resistance checks), while also making the Affliction harder to recover from and hindering skill checks and other utility. And between them, they cover a lot of design space. There are fairly few maladies that can't be represented by some combination of restricted action, curtailed defense, and check penalty. Hindered and Fatigued, Immobilized, Exhausted, and Prone, are vastly weaker than the conditions they're competing with. So the question becomes, why should say a 10-point Affliction with the fluff of "slows you down" be so much worse than a 10-point Affliction with the fluff of "knocks you out" (Dazed/Stunned/Incapacitated) or the fluff of "balefully transforms you" (Impaired/Disabled/Transformed) or "completely disorients you" (Impaired+Vulnerable/Disabled+Defenseless)? You're paying the same price, and trying to do the same basic thing (hamper the opponent), just in a slightly different way. That shouldn't lead to that level of reduction in effectiveness.

    Balance concerns aside, I'd also argue that the more complex version is more precise. Generally speaking, having your movements restricted is going to make it harder to defend yourself and make other things that involve moving more time-consuming. Being unable to move is going to leave you, well, unable to move. Maybe that's not always the case - if it's like just a sticky substance that traps their foot to the ground or something. Even then, you could just do Affliction 10 (Dazed/Stunned; Limited [Two Degrees], Limited [Physical actions only], Limited [Movement only]). That's basically equivalent to Hindered/Immobilized, but at a much lower price, which is appropriate since it's a much weaker effect.

    This all comes back to that core design principle. Hindered and Immobilized are definitely an option for achieving the fluff of "an attack that slows a target down or stops it". They are probably the simplest, most intuitive option - it's what they do and it's all they do. But they are not the only way to achieve that fluff, and my standpoint is being simpler and more intuitive is not a point inherently in their favor. All else being equal, sure, go for simple and intuitive. But all else isn't equal here; there are other options that are more balanced and more precise, and those are the ones that this guide will be giving preference to.

    But I do want to make clear, this is about balance and precision, not power. Yes, in many cases, the simpler and more intuitive options are less powerful than the broader and better-balanced options. It's an unfortunate flaw in the system's design. But that doesn't mean we always want to use the best and the broadest option. You see, there is technically another way to design that power:

    Affliction 10 (Entranced/Compelled/Controlled; Limited [Physical activities only], Limited [Compelled/Controlled can only prevent actions, including actively defending, cannot actually compel actions; Entranced only prevents targets from using their standard action on physical activities, doesn't otherwise restrict action]).

    Look at that monster. It has all the function of the balanced version, but at a third of the cost! See, Compelled and Controlled (and to a somewhat lesser degree Entranced) are strictly better than any other conditions of their tiers. Entranced shouldn't have been moved down a tier, it should just be Stunned with a Limit. Compelled is still probably stronger than the rest of the tier three conditions. Controlled is the most powerful condition in the game, easily. Now, I'm not going to say you should avoid these conditions entirely - they're stronger than they should be given the costs and difficulties of inflicting them, but they do have their uses. But using the same strategy of starting from them and downgrading to get what you want when one of the more balanced conditions will work will give you overpowered Afflictions rather than balanced ones.

    This is what this guide is here to do. To show you how different mechanics compare to each other; which are balanced, which are strong, which are weak, and what you can do to use the strong ones without being overpowered, or replace the weak ones with better options. Characters using these design principles will be more complex and less intuitive. But you'll be able to trust them to all work together without anyone being accidentally overshadowed, or feeling unable to contribute. And as a bonus, they'll probably be more fully realized characters, since they won't be wasting points on inefficient options and so will be able to spend those points really fine-tuning their desired capabilities. It's my experience that as long as you're not wasting points, you can flesh out a very well-defined, detailed character on a PL 10/150 PP budget. And isn't that the goal?

    Abilities

    Strength: Actually gives you a little more than it costs, so worth it if you want it. High Strength opens up Grab (and its related Advantages) as a viable combat option, which can be quite powerful. You do have to be somewhat careful if using Strength to make sure you're not paying twice for your attack options - see the Paying Once For Attacks section. If buying Strength tricks you into paying twice for your attacks, it becomes Useless.

    Stamina : Worth every point you put in it, guaranteed. The Gold Standard of Abilities. Also generally the most advantageous way to buy Toughness (Defensive Roll is easy to negate, even Permanent powers can be Nullified unless you pay a surcharge for Innate, but straight Stamina does its job every time), and since Debilitated Stamina is one of the few things in the game that can knock you straight to Dying status, it's a solid investment.

    Agility: Counting initiative, worth slightly more than it costs. Everything it gives you is solid if you plan to use it. If you want to make a ninja/thief type character, it's a solid Ability. If you don't plan to take full advantage of Stealth and Acrobatics, it becomes Weak and you're better off leaving it 0 and buying the aspects you want a la carte.

    Dexterity: Competes with Presence for worst Ability in the game. Makes you overpay for attack bonus (see the Paying Once For Attacks section below), and boosts two of the game's least-useful skills. Pretend it doesn't exist.

    Fighting: Makes you overpay for attack bonus (see the Paying Once For Attacks section below) and doesn't even have interesting fluff of its own. When would you ever roll a Fighting check rather than just an attack roll or Parry check? Why does this even exist?

    Intellect: Actually has a special effect of its own - Intellect, in conjunction with Jack of All Trades or Eidetic Memory, is basically Expertise (All). If you want to be a know it all, get it and either make sure you have Jack of All Trades (since Int skills are all Trained Only), or apply Reduced Trait to the skills you don't use (Intellect with Limited 2 [Expertise Only] also work, they're basically the same). Be warned though, all Int skills are Trained Only, so if you don't want all of them, and especially if you aren't trained in all of them, it becomes Useless.

    Awareness: Perfectly solid. Will and Perception are always good, and Insight usually is (although Deception can be used as a poor-man's Insight in some cases). You generally won't regret points placed here.

    Presence: Probably the worst Ability in the game. It is the only Ability that outright gives you less benefit than it costs (Fighting and Dexterity do as well, but they at least pretend not to). Only made worse by the fact that you're generally better off with one high social skill than three mediocre ones. Avoid like the plague, just buy the social skills you want.

    Skills

    Acrobatics: Strictly inferior to actual movement powers, though it has some merit with regards to certain combat maneuvers and looking cool, and it's certainly not impossible that you might want to make an Acrobatics check to like pull off some crazy flying stunt of something. Picking up Agile Feint and/or applying a bit of Check Required to a mobility power easily solves its problems. All in all, it takes more effort to make it work, but it can be solid if used well.

    Athletics: More-or-less fulfills the same role as Acrobatics but not as well, and if anything is even more likely to be invalidated by movement powers. Flight 1 renders the whole thing almost irrelevant. It overlaps so heavily with Acrobatics that buying both is probably Useless (if you're that worried about Improved Trip pick up Prone Fighting), and given the choice I'd rather take the former.

    Close Combat: Solid way to purchase attack bonus if you only use a single type of close attack. If you're just a brawler or unarmed fighter, you're fine. Otherwise, you'll be overpaying for attack bonus and it becomes Useless.

    Deception: Very good skill with social, tactical, and even defensive options. While not vastly beyond the others or anything, I'd be willing to call this the single most broadly useful skill in the game.

    Expertise : Expertise is amazing fluff for just about any character and highly recommended. But, and this is important, you need multiple Expertise skills for the price of one for it to be good. Buying Expertise individually is way too niche and becomes Weak. Now, if you want to play a know-it-all, you just do Intellect, Reduce any Int skills you don't want, pick of Jack of All Trades and/or Eidetic Memory, and go on your merry way.

    But say you want to not just be a generic know-it-all. You want a character who is skilled at certain things, but not everything. I've worked out a few mechanics to do this in the past, and the one I like most is: Enhanced Intellect X (Limited 2 [Expertise Only]), Enhanced Advantages 1 (Jack of All Trades), Feature/Quirk (Jack of All Trades only applies to Expertise skills, but guarantees use of Int for Expertise skills), Quirk (Int bonus only applies to one Expertise skill per rank). If one Expertise skill per rank is more than you need, use Quirk 2 (Int bonus only applies to one Expertise skill per two ranks) instead.

    Insight: Solid defensive/information gathering skill. Has some overlap with Deception though.

    Intimidation.

    Investigation.

    Perception : Because noticing things is good and noticing dangers is better.

    Persuasion.

    Ranged Combat: Like Close Combat, solid way to purchase attack bonus if you only use a single type of ranged attack. Want to play a pure archer, gunslinger, or energy blaster, this is your skill. Otherwise, you'll be overpaying for attack bonus and it becomes Useless.

    Sleight of Hand: The best use for this skill takes way too long to use in all but niche circumstances. Most of the other uses are stupidly specific. Should have been divided into Acrobatics and Stealth. Honestly I'd see about using some custom Benefits to allow you to swap certain specific functions to other skills. Failing that...I'd probably replace it with powers. Immunity to Entrapment Effects costs 5 points, less with something like Limited (Doesn't prevent entrapment, but allows immediate escape as a move action). Move Object 1 (Subtle, Insidious, Precise, Reduced Range [Close], Quirk 2 [Reduce mass to 12 pounds]) costs 2 PP. This is not a good skill, is what I'm saying.

    Stealth.

    Technology.

    Treatment: Weirdly though, Treatment's ability to Revive, if one assumes it can remove Stunned from complex conditions like Incapacitated, may actually be Overpowered. General sense though, it's a pretty niche skill because of how low-lethality M&M is and how fast damage heals.

    Vehicles: Okay sure if you actually use vehicles this is merely Niche, but for superheroes who can fly at Mach 3 or whatever, this skill offers very little.

    Advantages

    Accurate Attack.

    All Out Attack : Yes, I know, I rate this as Strong and still give it a recommendation. What can I say, it's a really good advantage. You do have to be careful with it, but lower defense doesn't matter if your enemy is too unconscious to fight back, and smart use of All Out Attack can really let a character punch outside its weight class.

    Chokehold: ...You expect to be able to maintain a Grab for more than 10 rounds just to start them rolling resistance checks? You do realize you can deal damage while grabbing every round just baseline, right? If that's not enough choking for you, you can build a Grab-based Affliction or something that's way better. Although it can be fair to say that this advantage prevents anyone you Grab from vocalizing. If the GM deems that reasonable this becomes merely Weak.

    Close Attack: Overpaying for attack bonus.

    Defensive Attack.

    Defensive Roll: Defensive Roll gives your Toughness a crippling weakness and offers no discount for it. For the same fluff and a better price point, use Protection with either Quirk (Benefits lost if both Stunned and Defenseless), or Easily Removable (Benefits can be taken away if Vulnerable or Defenseless rather than by removing an item).

    Evasion.

    Fast Grab: Count Fast Grab as a Linked effect for purposes of balancing Linked attack powers.

    Favored Environment: Okay, one little note, though, Favored Environment (Aerial) should not apply just any time you're flying. It should need either wide-open sky, or for your opponent to also be flying, or the like. I'd also say that Favored Environment (That Exact Environment Power I Have) isn't kosher. It should be a natural environment. Tricks like that make this advantage Overpowered. Players shouldn't do it, GMs shouldn't allow it.

    Grabbing Finesse: As things to make Dexterity more useful go it's decent enough. It in no way is worth actually buying Dexterity.

    Improved Aim.

    Improved Critical.

    Improved Defense.

    Improved Disarm: Disarm only works on a specific subset of enemies, but it's great when it does.

    Improved Grab: Pretty much a necessity for Grab-heavy characters, although you can get it free with Extra Limbs.

    Improved Hold: A staple for Grab-heavy characters.

    Improved Initiative.

    Improved Smash: Same as with Disarm.

    Improved Trip: Buy two underpowered skills with a lot of overlap between them or be completely unable to defend against my trips. Only reason this isn't Overpowered is that Trip isn't all that amazing a condition. Can still be a pain though. I have seen characters I otherwise would have deemed underpowered contribute extremely effectively alongside more-optimized characters based primarily on the strength of this Advantage.

    Improvised Weapon.

    Move-by Action : Why is this not just how movement works?

    Power Attack : Because sometimes you just have to hit them really hard. Excellent synergy with All Out Attack.

    Precise Attack.

    Prone Fighting: Somewhat better than Instant Up against Trips. Instant Up won't save you from being attacked at +5 by any allies they have that act before you. If you exploit this for a virtually-free +5 Defense against ranged attacks, it might even be a bit too Strong.

    Quick Draw: I sincerely believe this advantage only applies to Equipment. Devices include easy means of carrying and equipping and arrays are swappable as a free action. If you use Equipment as weapons or your GM disagrees with me and forces you to eat an unpaid Activation 1 flaw on your weapons, then it's fine I guess.

    Ranged Attack: Forces you to overpay on attack bonus.

    Redirect: Kinda hard to get it to work, because it doesn't draw aggro. Admittedly, can be fun when it does.

    Set-up.

    Takedown.

    Throwing Mastery: Interestingly, one of the best ways to buy ranged attacks.

    Uncanny Dodge: This gets a recommendation for any Defense-shifted character. Also highly worth considering if PL 12+. Vulnerable gets more severe the higher your defense is. Most GMs I've played with have ruled this doesn't apply to Feints. I rule it does and those other GMs baffle me. It says it protects against being surprised or caught off-guard. That is literally all that a Feint does!

    Weapon Bind.

    Weapon Break.

    Beginner's Luck: Spend a Hero Point to roll at +5 rather than +0? Nowhere even close to worth it. If you're that desperate to pass a mediocre skill check you can probably figure out a power stunt to do the job.

    Inspire: Originally I deemed this Balanced and said it was expensive, but worth the price, though hard to justify not maxing it. Having seen it in action a bit more since then, both using it as a player and having it used against me as a GM, I've revised my opinion. It's expensive, its usage is limited, but used intelligently Inspire can turn a challenging encounter into a cakewalk. Honestly it's probably borderline overpowered depending on the size of your group.

    Leadership: If this only cost the Hero Point it'd be reasonable enough, but spending a standard action too...for the same price you can do Luck Control 1 (Grant Effect; Limited [Remove Conditions only], Quirk [Must be able to interact with target]) and do it as a flipping reaction!

    Luck : Okay, honestly, it's too strong. And if I'm being realistic, having a disparity of Luck in the party leads to imbalance. And the game would be better if Luck were removed and everyone started each adventure with like three Hero Points or something. But what can I say this thing is basically hit points only better and we're playing superheroes so I'm good to say we're among the luckiest people on the planet by definition. I unashamedly max this on every character I make. Not appropriate for most NPCs though, since it's balanced around being an adventure-level resource, not an encounter-level one. I do maintain that for certain NPCs it can be appropriate (luck controllers, solo bosses, etc), but even then players tend to find it annoying.

    Seize Initiative: Not sure how often winning initiative is worth a Hero Point, but I guess if you really care that much.

    Ultimate Effort: When you absolutely, positively have to succeed no matter what!

    Assessment: Useful, but I hate the whole "roll secretly, might get false info" bit. If you can't trust your information-gathering capabilities, why have them?

    Benefit.

    Diehard: Dying is the most toothless condition ever. You probably don't need this to stabilize.

    Eidetic Memory: Really nice for know-it-alls. Note that its bonus applies to any checks to recall facts, not just Expertise checks, so it does work with Well Informed. Similarly, note that it only applies to recalling facts, so it won't apply to checks for practical applications of knowledge.

    Equipment: It can have a bit of balance funkiness, but overall I think it prices out okay if the GM is attentive and maybe just a little malicious.

    Extraordinary Effort.

    Fearless: On the one hand, a little annoying that Fear is easier to become immune to than almost any other descriptor in the game (except disease and poison). On the other hand, I think Immunity to Emotion Effects would be a standard descriptor so any specific emotion would probably count as rare anyway, so really it's only like a point cheaper. The fact that it more-or-less invalidates the entire Intimidation skill is more annoying. This isn't to say the advantage itself is overpowered, just pointing out some general flaws in the game.

    Great Endurance: Oh, please.

    Instant Up.

    Interpose : An amazing tactical advantage and a key component of highly-tactical, high-op combat, where it becomes virtually required to make defense shifts worthwhile. In more normal games, still great for protecting vulnerable allies and shielding civilians. Highly recommended to anyone with any sort of defensive shift but especially Toughness-shifted characters and regenerators.

    Minion: I'll get into multiple characters later. Short version, they're broken.

    Second Chance.

    Sidekick: I'll get into multiple characters later. Short version, they're broken.

    Teamwork: M&M Aid/Team Check/Team Attack rules are actually really solid. Teamwork is a great way to ensure you always have something useful to contribute.

    Trance: I honestly don't even know how to react to this. It's so specific and weird.

    Agile Feint: Makes Acrobatics more worthwhile. Remember that Feint is a Deception action, so you can do it as a move action at a -5 penalty. (If the GM rules that doesn't apply when swapping the skill, this becomes Weak and Acrobatics cries itself to sleep at night.

    Animal Empathy.

    Artificer: Okay, Artificer (and Inventor and Ritualist)...vary, wildly. The base time requirements are way to high to do anything useful with them. Really, since power stunting is an option, it becomes hard to justify using these things at all if it'll take more than an hour or so (they do have advantages over stunting, but those only go so far). On the other hand, with enough Quickness, these advantages can easily cross the whole range of ratings. GMs should limit characters to one such temporary power (perhaps per advantage, or at least per skill) per scene. That keeps them from ever becoming outright Broken. At that point, Quickness ~6 brings them into Niche territory, Quickness ~8 should be about Balanced. Quickness > 10 is starting to get probably too Strong, and Quickness 15+ makes them Overpowered.

    Attractive.

    Connected: I find this one hard to judge because it's really kinda vague on what sort of favors are possible, how to measure the DCs, how often you can expect favors, etc. GM-dependent, pretty much.

    Contacts.

    Daze: I've got it! I'll spend my standard action, to have a chance to deny my opponent its move action! Brilliant!

    Fascinate: Requires the right situation, but this can be a great stalling tactic if you have a high enough skill.

    Favored Foe: Pretty niche, but can be interesting fluff. Weirdly, though, I sometimes feel that this advantage works better for groups you have a positive relationship or reputation with. Like, I've given it to politicians with regards to their own political party and such.

    Hide in Plain Sight.

    Improvised Tools.

    Inventor: See Artificer.

    Jack of All Trades: A necessity for characters who just buy Int and are done with it.

    Languages: Great fluff, too expensive. Fine for picking up a language or two; use Comprehend 3 (Speak, Read, and Understand All Languages; Limited [Max one Language per rank of Expertise]) for polyglots.

    Ritualist: See Artificer.

    Skill Mastery.

    Startle: As with Agile Feint, becomes Weak if GM rules that it doesn't keep Deception's move action at -5 rule.

    Taunt: But if we're ruling that it's the skill that matters rather than the action, this one becomes Balanced.

    Tracking.

    Well Informed: I love the concept of this advantage. Nothing so much to say from a balance perspective, I just wanted to note that.
    Last edited by Quellian-dyrae; 2019-02-05 at 05:23 PM.
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    M&M 3e Character Guide