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A peek under the hood of M&M

March 12, 2007

Iron Age Design Journal #2

Welcome to the Iron Age...

The history of comics has been divided into a number of different ages. First was the Golden Age, followed by the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the nascent Modern Age. This book centers on a portion of that continuum commonly referred to as the Iron Age, which was characterized by grim-and-gritty stories, mature themes, and increased lethality.

The �official� start of the Iron Age began in 1986 with the publication of Frank Miller�s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore�s and Dave Gibbons� Watchmen series, and continued until roughly the mid-90s. This decade was a time of transition; the Cold War was coming to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall came down, the World Wide Web was created and catapulted the developed world even further into the Information Age. With all these changes and the availability of ever-increasing amounts of information about the world we live in, people began to see the world as a place in which moral absolutism was something to be guarded against and few conflicts had clear-cut, black-and-white solutions.

The heroes and stories that started the Iron Age showcased political and moral extremism, but did so in a cautionary way. Coming, as they were, out of Thatcher�s England and Reagan�s United States, the writers and artists showed where the policies of the day could lead if left unchecked.

Due to the popularity of both The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, other writers quickly took the trappings of the characters and stories � hard-line heroes, cynicism, �darker� tone and subject matter, willingness to kill, and �realism� � and incorporated them into their own books. This resulted in many new and re-imagined books, stories, and characters that looked like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, but lacked any social conscience or message. In a lot of ways, these new �grim-and-gritty� characters exemplified exactly what Miller and Moore were cautioning against.

They did, however, make for some great action/adventure stories, which has always been a focus of the comic medium. In addition, these new characters with a more practical view of the world asked a lot of the same questions fans (and haters) of comics had wondered for years; �Why not just kill the villains instead of locking them up so they can�t get away again,� and, �Isn�t what comic book heroes do just another kind of vigilantism?� and, �What drives a person to dress up in costume and fight crime? Isn�t that more than a little, well, crazy?�

Regardless, in the Iron Age it looked like heroes had grown up. In a lot of ways it was the next logical step for the genre, while still being mainly a male power fantasy. The characters and stories were much more serious than in previous ages. Stories weren�t necessarily far-fetched plots populated by silly, two-dimensional characters; these were more plausible stories often filled with flawed, human characters who were trying to do what they could to make the world a better place, no matter what the cost.

Iron Age allows gamers and comic-book fans alike to explore these same action-packed ideas, using the best-selling Mutants & Masterminds RPG as a guide. In these pages, the darkest time in comic books meets the World�s Greatest Superhero RPG.

Using This Book

All that is required to role-play in the Iron Age is a copy of the Mutants & Masterminds rulebook, a twenty-sided die, some pencils, copies of the character sheet in the back of M&M, and a group of players who want to kick ass and take names, oh yeah, and make the world a safer place. Feel free to add miniature figures, dry-erase maps, and anything else you like to the mix. In addition, copies of Ultimate Power and The Mastermind�s Manual are useful references, but are not required.

Chapter 1 provides a brief history of the Iron Age, from its earliest days to the dawning of the Modern Age. This section gives an overview of the time period and provides all the information you need to bone up on your knowledge of the Iron Age.

Chapter 2 goes in depth regarding Iron Age campaigns and what makes them different from other Mutants & Masterminds games. It covers real-world and comic history and how the two influenced each other.

Chapter 3 gives you all the information you need to create Iron Age heroes. Characters and stories from the Iron Age were much more mature than in previous ages. This chapter arms you with all the information you need to create characters that fit into the Iron Age.

Chapter 4 gives information to Gamemasters on how to create Iron Age adventures and adversaries. Villains have always done a lot to define the heroes that oppose them, so villains from this time period are darker and more menacing than usual; this chapter gives GMs everything they need to know to make great Iron Age campaigns a reality.

Chapter 5 looks at the Iron Age of the Freedom City campaign setting, a dark period in the city�s history when costumed superheroes were outlawed and forced to operate outside the law against a corrupt city government and the criminal syndicates supporting it. It includes information on the hero team FORCE Ops and their various foes, as well as how to set an Iron Age game in Freedom City.

Iron Age concludes with the adventure Bad Medicine, in which a group of heroes investigates street drugs and corruption at the highest levels in Freedom City during the Moore Administration. It�s suitable as the start of an Iron Age series or just as a flashback or change-of-pace adventure.