My friends and I ran our first playtest of the combat system in Mutants and Masterminds 2nd Edition. It was a productive test, and we learned a lot about the game’s mechanics … and how to design a more effective heroes. Here’s what we learned in the first go round, featuring four battle-suited, Power Level 10 combatants:
1) The rules are as cool as they seem, and once you get the base mechanic down. We had a little confusion understanding how the Protection (Invulnerability) power worked, but eventually figured out it was soaking a certain amount of the damage bonus each round, and how to defeat (or at least, weaken) characters with such powers by making power attacks (which increase the damage bonus by sacrificing the attack bonus).
2) We learned that having four characters with varying degrees of Protection (Invulnerability) makes for a very long combat, because while it’s easy to hit someone, actually hurting them is considerably harder with that Protection power.
3) We figured out the speed issues, or at least, what we want to do with them. When you’ve got characters who can move 250 mph, a conventional square grid loses some of its usefulness. So we ended up using our HeroClix maps coupled with some abstraction; e.g. for normal ranged and melee combat we were on the map, but when Nate’s Paragon flew straight up at 250 mph (2500 feet, or something like that) in anticipationg of a flying slam attack, we didn’t try and map it, and when the final climatic chase had them all flying out to sea at 250 mph, we abstracted it. Truth be told, you can fly 1 million mph, but if you don’t close with your enemy, nothing gets resolved, so the combat map still plays a role.
4) Tactics in Mutants & Masterminds is all about powers. In D&D, it’s about special abilities that let you get an edge on the tactical, miniature-based battle field. In M&M, you’re figuring out how to use your powers to undermine the other guys defenses. As a result, it’s a good idea to make sure any character you create either has alternate powers OR secondary powers that he can fall back on. You also need to know when to use Extra Effort (which allows you to add bonuses to your attacks or to temporarily add a power feat to your character, but which causes him to become fatigued) or a Hero Point (which can do the same, but without the fatigue risk) to deal with an enemies powers. Character awareness and a diversity of team powers will be the key to running a successful game.
5) More playtests are needed. It takes a little while to get your head around the M&M mechanics, mostly because hit points are a thing of the past, and powers can vary so much in their capabilities. To run an M&M campaign without everyone having a chance to test out their character’s capabilities is an invitation to disaster.