Thursday, April 17, 2008

[M&M] Martial artist character builds

So, pretty recently, I ran across a post by Rob Donoghue (one of the creators of my current favorite-game-in-the-whole-world, Spirit of the Century) where he laments the lack of good RPG systems for flavorful, diverse, and mechanically-deep martial arts action. And he mentioned that systems where "Martial Arts builds like superpowers" are lacking because they only offer "different color for mechanically identical characters".

And that seems kind of odd to me, since I've always figured that if I was gonna run something with a lot of martial arts focus, I would almost certainly use Mutants & Masterminds, because it would offer a tremendous amount of mechanical variation between fighting styles. So maybe Rob just meant "mechanically identical" in the sense that martial artists in most superhero games would just be built with the same subsystems as any mutant, vigilante, or sorcerer? That would make sense, although it's definitely not something that I'd call a drawback.

Anyway, the whole thing really makes me want to test out M&M's capabilities with martial arts character builds, just to see if I can actually do the stuff I think I can with it. I don't think I've really got time to properly get into such an experiment right now, but I can at least write up a few thoughts.

The way I'd like to start is by taking the classical five animal styles of kung fu and defining them very vaguely (and with little to no regard for their real life characteristics) in the mechanical terms of Mutants & Masterminds. Let's give it a try, shall we?

Tiger Style
  • decently high Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution

  • high-damage unarmed attacks based on Strike power (possibly lethal damage--Tiger Claw Fist!--and definitely with the Mighty feat)

  • low Attack bonus, plus a few ranks of Attack Focus: Melee and Attack Specialization for that Strike power (kung fu basasses shouldn't be any good with guns, after all)

  • maybe a rank (or even two) of the Rage feat, or--for a more super-power martial artist--the Boost power (applied to Strength, possibly Constitution)

  • Takedown Attack feat, so that tiger practitioners can tear through multiple enemies in their fury

  • Improved Block, Improved Sunder, and Weapon Break feats, because shattering weapons sounds thematically appropriate

Crane Style
  • high Dexterity

  • high-damage Strike power (non-lethal, maybe without the Mighty feat, and possibly even with a Limited: Humans Only flaw, because crane practitioners are striking at pressure points)

  • again, low Attack bonus, plus ranks of Attack Focus: Melee and Attack Specialization with Strike

  • a few ranks of the Improved Block, maybe some Improved Disarm and Weapon Bind feats (disarming dudes just seems right)

  • Improved Throw and Improved Trip feats (knocking dudes down also seems right)

  • Acrobatic Bluff and Redirect feats, and of course some ranks of the Acrobatics skill (crane practitioners make dudes hit their friends, but they do it through deceptive movement rather than guile)

Leopard Style
  • decent Strength, high Dexterity

  • low-damage Strike power (probably non-lethal damage, probably with the Mighty feat, and--here's something cool--with the Autofire extra, which should actually work quite nicely with melee attacks, especially ones with more accuracy than power)

  • low Attack bonus, plus ranks of Attack Focus: Melee and plenty ranks of Attack Specialization with Strike

  • Move-By Action feat and (maybe) a little bit of the Speed power, for hit-and-run goodness

  • Instant Up feat

  • the Stealth skill seems kind of appropriate

Snake Style
  • high Dexterity

  • high-damage Strike power (maybe lethal, maybe without the Mighty feat, and possibly with a Limited: Humans Only flaw, because the pressure point thing makes sense for snake practitioners, too)

  • low Attack bonus, plus ranks of Attack Focus: Melee and plenty ranks of Attack Specialization with Strike

  • Stunning Attack feat (combined with a powerful Strike, this should be pretty potent, and fits a "venom" theme)

  • maybe some ranks of the Defensive Roll and Evasion feats (snake practitioners might not be sturdy, but they're resilient because they're flexible)

  • Elusive Target feat, because snakes as wiggly and hard to aim at from a distance

  • Prone Fighting feat, because snakes are low to the ground

  • a rank or two of the Improved Initiative feat, because snakes strike quickly

  • maybe some ranks of the Escape Artist skill, possibly also Medicine, as it fits with the pressure points and venom themes

Dragon Style
  • high Strength and Constitution (because one of these these has to be the brick style), and also a decent Charisma

  • decent Strike power (lethal or non-lethal, most defintiely with the Mighty feat)

  • low Attack bonus, plus ranks of Attack Focus: Melee and plenty ranks of Attack Specialization with Strike

  • a few ranks of the Protection power (non-Impervious, maybe with the Limited: Physical Damage flaw

  • maybe a bit of the Immovable power, because nobody gets to push a dragon around

  • All-Out Attack feat (great resilience means dragon practitioners can throw caution to the wind, sometimes)

  • Improved Grab, Improved Grapple, and Improved Pin feats, since the brick ought to get the wrestling abilities

  • Fast Overrun and Improved Overrun feats (charging through crowds of enemies all impressively seems right for the dragon style)

  • several ranks of the Fearsome Presence feat, also the Distract, Fascinate, Fearless, and Startle feats, and finally some ranks of the Intimidate skill (scary and impressive seems to work with the dragon theme, to me)

There are a lot of other styles I can think of trying--like a monkey style, or drunken boxing, or something involving weapons--and of course things get extremely crazy (and awesome) if you start including blatantly superhuman wuxia-style abilities, which is something I'd also like to play around with a bit. I definitely think Mutants & Masterminds could handle a hell of a martial arts campaign, with characters that are completely distinctive in terms of both flavor and mechanics. And, damn, I'd really love to try it some time.


Michael J. Patrick said...

I was playing with M&M a couple months ago- creating characters to see how flexible it was. I have yet to actually play the game, though. I'm not sure if I prefer the in-game combat system over an hp-based system.

Have you tried running the game at all?

Matt Sheridan said...

Nah, that's why I'm so uncertain about what I can really do in it. In fact, I've only even played a short-lived forum-based game with it (cool game, though, as it was actually set in the Planescape setting). M&M was in the running for my new campaign, but Spirit of the Century won out instead. (Can't say I'm sorry about that, either. It's really the system I've most wanted to try.)

Anyway, I definitely like the hitpoint-free combat system in principle. I've got to play it a hell of a lot more to see how well it actually works, though.

I'm kind of on a kick lately about tactile gameplay aids, and I like the idea of replacing pencil-and-paper point accounting with piles of physical objects to keep track of points and such. So in D&D, of course, you could have a pile of beads representing hitpoints, and you'd lose some of them every time you get hit. The weird thing about using this paradigm in M&M, though, is that you'd instead be collecting some kind of object in order to represent damage conditions.

Man, the more I think about any game, the more I want to play it.