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A peek under the hood of M&M

August 26, 2005

Heroism Has Its Drawbacks

Drawbacks are weaknesses for characters to overcome. They're the flip side of a character's skills, feats, and powers. Drawbacks serve two main purposes. First, they provide characters with additional depth and a degree of vulnerability, which can be important for heroes able to move mountains or bounce bullets off their chests. Second, drawbacks give you additional power points during character creation to spend on improving your character's traits.

A drawback's power point value is based on two things: its frequency (how often the drawback affects your character) and its intensity (how seriously the drawback affects your character). The more frequent and intense the drawback, the more points it's worth. Drawbacks generally range in value from 1 power point for something that comes up rarely and has little effect to 5 power points for a drawback that comes up all the time and seriously weakens the character.

Fitting Drawbacks to the Campaign

Although suggested values are given for various drawbacks, the value of any drawback is based largely on its effect. So drawback values can vary from one campaign to another. For example a common Vulnerability in one setting may be uncommon in another and non-existent in a third (making it worthless as a drawback). The Gamemaster must judge the frequency and intensity—and therefore value—of each drawback based on the context of the character and the campaign as a whole.

Sample Drawbacks

Here are some drawbacks you'll find in Mutants & Masterminds and how they're used in the game.

Action

A power requiring longer than a full-round action to use is considered a drawback. Each step up the Time Table is a 1 point drawback. The drawback cannot equal or exceed the value of the associated power. So a power costing 10 points cannot have more than 9 points in this drawback (and the power takes three months to use!).

This drawback can also apply to the time needed to switch between alternate powers in an array: 1 point if a move action is required, 2 points if a standard action is required, 3 points if a full action is required, each step up the Time Table thereafter is an additional 1 point drawback. In this case the drawback's value cannot equal or exceed the power's total Alternate Effect feats, so a power with four Alternate Effects can only get 3 points out of this drawback (requiring a full action to switch between them).

Disability

You lack a particular ability most people have. The frequency of the drawback is based on how often this lack limits you, while the intensity represents how serious a limitation it is. Some examples include blindness (very common, major, 5 points), deafness (very common, moderate, 4 points), one arm (very common, moderate, 4 points), mute (very common, moderate, 4 points), paraplegic (common, major, 4 points), one eye (–4 with ranged attacks, common, moderate, 3 points), and illiterate (uncommon, minor, 1 point).

Note characters with certain powers may have this drawback at a lesser value. Being blind is an uncommon, minor drawback for a character with Blindsight, for example, just as being mute is an uncommon, minor drawback for a character with Mental Communication, since the drawback comes into play less often and is less trouble for the character in general.

Involuntary Transformation

You have two or more forms or identities you sometimes change between against your will. The value of the drawback is based on how often you change (frequency) and how difficult it is for you to resist the change (intensity). If you cannot resist the change, no matter what, the intensity value is 3 points. If you involuntarily switch between super-powered and normal human forms, you also have the Normal Identity drawback.

Power Loss

You lose the use of a power with this drawback under certain conditions. Examples include when exposed to a particular substance, when immersed in water, when unable to speak, and so forth. You can also suffer power loss from a failure to do something, like not recharging a power, breaking an oath, not taking a pill, and so forth. Power Loss is minor intensity, with frequency based on how often you encounter the conditions, giving it a value of 1–3 points. You regain use of the power when the condition that triggered the loss no longer affects you.

The loss of Devices and Equipment is not covered by this drawback. Losing Device and Equipment powers due to theft is a part of those traits and factored into their cost. So characters cannot take Power Loss with the condition "when devices or equipment are removed."

Vulnerable

You're vulnerable to a particular type of attack. Frequency is based on how often you encounter your vulnerability. Intensity measures how vulnerable you are; minor vulnerabilities add +1 to saving throw DC. Moderate vulnerabilities increase the modifier to the save DC by 50% (x 1.5, round up). Major vulnerabilities increase the save DC modifier by 100% (x 2). So, for example, an attack doing +7 damage normally does +8 damage to someone with a minor vulnerability (7+1), +11 to someone with a moderate vulnerability (7 x 1.5 = 10.5, rounded up), and +14 to someone with a major vulnerability (7 x 2).

Weakness

You suffer harm from something normally harmless to others. It may be a vampire's weakness to sunlight or holy water or a hero's weakness when exposed to glowing meteorites. Alternately it may be the lack of something, like a vampire's need for blood, an addict's need for a drug, an amphibian's need for water, and so forth. Frequency is based on how often you encounter your weakness. Intensity is based on the effect the weakness has on you.

  • Minor: cumulative –1 on checks, attack bonus, or defense bonus.
  • Moderate: cumulative –1 penalty to all checks, attack rolls, and Defense, or a –1 cumulative drain on an ability score.
  • Major: cumulative –1 drain on all ability scores.

The base time before a weakness affects you is 20 minutes. Increase the drawback's value by 1 for each step up the Time Table and decrease it by 1 for each step down. So a weakness that affects you each round is +4 points while one that only affects you once a day is –3 points. If your weakness is an instant rather than a continuing effect, like an attack, it has a time modifier of +0. If your weakness affects your Constitution score (and therefore might kill you) add +1 to its value.

Under the Hood: Drawbacks vs. Complications

Many things that might be considered drawbacks in other games are actually complications in Mutants & Masterminds. For example, having a secret identity, an unrelenting code of justice, unquenchable curiosity, or an elderly aunt in need of your support are not drawbacks, but they are potential complications, which can earn you hero points during the game.

As a general rule, complications are things you roleplay: your hero's attitudes, relationships, personal issues, and so forth. Drawbacks have defined game effects—usually physical ones. Sometimes there's a fine line between the two. For example, a freakish-looking hero doesn't have a drawback, but may encounter prejudice (a potential complication). On the other hand, a freakish character who can't speak has a definite drawback (being mute) and may also encounter prejudice, but it's the inability to speak that's the drawback, not looking freakish.

Option: Temporary Drawbacks as Complications

At the GM's option, characters can acquire temporary drawbacks as complications. This is like the reverse of temporarily acquiring power stunts using extra effort: the hero suffers a one-time incidence of the drawback and, in exchange, earns a hero point.

For example, perhaps an incident in the adventure causes temporary Power Loss or imposes a drawback like Full Power, Involuntary Transformation, or Weakness. Each scene where the hero is saddled with the drawback, the player earns an extra hero point. These temporary drawbacks do not provide characters with additional power points, and they're generally gone by the end of the adventure.

On the rare occasion when a hero acquires a permanent drawback during play, the GM should award the hero extra power points equal to the drawback's value.

The Gamemaster also has the option of making all drawbacks in the game into complications. In this case, characters cannot take drawbacks for additional power points. They can, however, have drawbacks come up as complications and earn hero points when they do. So, instead of being a drawback worth power points, a hero's Normal Identity or Power Loss is a complication, like any other.

Next: Gear up! We take a look at devices and equipment in Mutants & Masterminds and find out where heroes get "all those wonderful toys."