Put out by Green Ronin…erm…about the middle of this year, actually (sorry for the lack of major history!), the DC Adventures Hero’s Handbook is, more or less, a licensed version of the third edition of Mutants and Masterminds, the popular classless d20 supers game. While this is technically a d20 title, it’s also a bit of its own beast, so I’ll be noting any changes to the standard rules here since I haven’t reviewed any M&M titles before (although I guess that floodgate has been opened now that I’m doing this review). But enough of that guff, let’s get to the review stuff!
Building a Hero
Like any book introducing a new game mechanic, the first chapter or two (or even three…or in this case, five) tends to be one on rules; DCAHH is no exception. Now, while the game runs off of the d20 system, it’s a point-buy rather than classless system, and has some other changes worthy of note as well. First off, instead of measuring ability scores by twos that have modifiers associated with them (10-11 being +0 bonus, 12-13 +1, etc.), DCAHH uses the modifier itself as the ability score; this is something to watch out for and remember, so you aren’t like me and end up getting farther into the book questioning why Green Arrow has a Strength score of 2 (which would translate to Strength 14 or 15 in a standard d20 game). This means, that when buying points in ability scores, you have to pay 2 per each 1 point of the altered ability system, rather than “1 buy point = 1 ability score raise”. The ability scores have also been transmuted a bit from standard d20 (or even older M&M editions); Intelligence and Constitution have been renamed Intellect and Stamina, Charisma and Wisdom are now Presence and Awareness, and there have been additions of two new ability scores – Agility and Fighting – to compensate for the lack of class-based Defense and Attack Bonus. Again, if you ever want to play this game, you will need to remember these discrepancies from both standard d20 and the 2nd edition of Mutants and Masterminds. Don’t forget.
Anyway, moving past that, as a classless point buy system, everything will rely on point buy. Want to upgrade your attack bonus? Point buy! Want fancy abilities? Point buy! Skill ranks or “Advantages” (their odd rename for feats)? Point buy! Etc., etc. There are also “Extra Effort” and “Hero Points”, which both pretty much act like d20 Modern’s action points and allow you to perform feats beyond your ability or “rewrite the plot” for a moment to not utterly fail. As for how many points you get to buy stuff to make your character, that all depends on what the campaign’s “Power Level” is. Power Levels are listed from 1 to 20, 1 being the mundanest of the mundane, up to 20, which is where you get demigods duking it out. The given examples of some power levels for campaigns are level 8 “Masked Adventurers” campaigns (which is the old Green Hornet- or Blackhawks-style heroes), level 10 “Super Heroes” campaigns (the area of Black Canary, Green Arrow, and Teen Titans), level 12 “Big Leagues” (the majority of the Justice League, including Batman and the Flash), and level 14 “World Protectors” (which stakes you out on par with the Super-family, Wonder Woman, and the Lantern Corps). Now, the fact that they start at 8 and end at 14 should tell you something, but there’s nothing stopping you from managing to figure out a way to have a 7- or 15+ level campaign.Finally, there are some pre-made hero archetypes that you can use as enemies, allies, or even for the PCs, such as the Gadgeteer, Martial Artist, Mystic, Weapons Master, and other old standards. But who wants to hear about those? Let’s get on with the show.
Most people who have played M&M or seen my review of Blood and Vigilance (and if you haven’t seen the latter, why are you reading this?! Go! Go back and look it up!) should know how powers tend to work in d20 systems, so I won’t make this too verbose. Basically, you take ranks in a power, you can have add-ons or drawbacks that affect how the power specifically works, bada bing, bada boom, you have a powers system. The powers here range from things like Quickness and Leaping to big powers like magic and immortality (yes, immortality has different ranks in this game. That is rather true to DC’s hero revival policy 😛 ). So yes, basically the same old song and dance. I won’t even cover the equipment chapter, because even items are point-bought in the system (weapon damages, headquarters features, etc.) rather than preset. It is at least worthy of noting that there are three stats in the gadgets section: robots, giant robots, and zombies. “I’d like to buy that big zombie on the left, please.”
Next time: types of campaign, more info on the DC Universe than you can shake a stick at, and stats for famous, infamous, and sometimes unexpected supers from DC Comics as we dive into the second half of the review!