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The last time I played Mutants and Masterminds 2e I tried to make a character that imitated a giant tarantula (kind of a subverted Spiderman). But I never got to grips with Alternate Powers :

A particularly important power feat is Alternate Power, which allows you to use one power to essentially duplicate the effects of another. So, for example, you can use your Telekinesis to create a powerful kinetic blast, or your Fire Control to forms sculptures of flame. Many of the powers in this chapter list potential Alternate Power feats suitable to the power’s effects. The listing in the Power Feats section describes Alternate Powers in detail but the important limitations to keep in mind is that a set of Alternate Powers (called an array) must all have the same costs and you can only use one of them at full power at any one time.

Emphasis mine.

My character had various abilities, some of which where Alternate powers. From what I remember, this was:

  • Aura of Dread (name?)
  • Invisibility/stealth bonus
  • Extra arms
  • Strength
  • Two separate types of venom

I think at least the poisons were alternative powers with each other (two combined) or maybe with the aura of dread (making three alternates). Or the aura of dread and invisibility/stealth were bundled together with one or both of the poisons (combining 4 alternative powers). My logic was I wouldn't want to use the two poisons at the same time, and/or the aura of dread (I think my reasoning was: if somebody is frightened by the aura, I don't need to envenomate them and vice versa).

At the time (sometime between 2008 and 2009, if it matters for errata date), the other players helping me make this character told me that anytime I swapped alternative powers the previous power stopped working entirely. i.e. any effect from the venom would end as soon as I switched powers.

Because of this advice, I've never understood the best/correct way to design alternate powers that have a duration. How can make the most of all alternates at the same time. Should the alternate powers be thematically the same (so they don't overlap in use), or different (more like a toolkit)? Should I just make sure none of them have ongoing effects at all?

What things do I need to keep in mind when optimally combining Alternate Powers in M&M?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean Venom, the Marvel Comics character, or just different kinds of poisons? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Different kinds of venoms, which is different to poison. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 19:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage: Incidentally, rpg.stackexchange.com/a/38245/10867 (also written by me) has a bit more information on what happens when you switch array slots, including a citation on attacks not going away when you switch slots, even if they have lasting effects. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 3:51

3 Answers 3

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Alternate Power is best used for effects that are thematically similar, useful one at a time, and with a duration that's either instant or continuous. If the duration is sustained, or maintained by concentration, you'll find yourself having to drop one effect or another during the change in slots, which can feel disruptive. AP is really good at helping simulate "energy controllers" or other types that can manipulate an element in a variety of ways, but don't necessarily need to do more than one trick at a time. It's also good for "arsenal" characters or other utility-belt builds.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok so making powers continuous. Is there anything else? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pureferret There could be. Why don't you put the power write-up in the question so we can offer suggestions? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jadasc
    Commented Jan 20, 2012 at 20:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm looking for generic advice, as the campaign I played in is over, and I no longer have my character sheet. I still don't understand the best way to build generic powers though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 21, 2012 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that Create Objects is the only power that is an exception to Continuous powers no longer being maintained upon switching array slots. atomicthinktank.com/viewtopic.php?p=315791#p315791 \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 28, 2014 at 2:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've updated my question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 11:24
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Because my prior answer was largely a matter of addressing points in other answers, I'm going to answer your primary question of how to use an array most effectively separately.

The text on Page 108 explaining the exclusivity of Alternate Powers is slightly different than the sidebar you quoted, which was meant as more of a summary:

Alternate Powers cannot be used or maintained at the same time as any other power in the same array; they are mutually exclusive. Switching between powers requires a free action and can be done once per round. If anything disables, nullifies, or drains any power in an array, all of them are affected in the same way. The effects of Lasting powers remain, even if you switch your array to a different power, until the target recovers.

The second bolded bit is relevant to your question in that Lasting powers are generally considered to have an effect past when you are maintaining it, so switching the array doesn't change things. Once someone has been electrocuted, even if you turn off the juice, the person is still going to be suffering aftereffects. Damage is another case where there is a "lasting" effect, although it's not noted as such. Once you've burned someone, the burn doesn't go away because you're now using your fire to make ornamental dragons. Lastly, powers which change your physical location are generally considered to be a sort of "lasting". If you fly 500 feet up into the air and then turn off your Flight, you'll still be 500 feet up in the air (but likely, at that point, gravity is taking hold of you.).

So, how do I best set up arrays?

Because you can only switch once per round, and things you have to maintain go away, it's generally considered a bad idea to mix offense and defense, and mixing forms of movement with your offense can result in them being unavailable.

Take, for example, the classic case of someone who has Strike 10 (AP: Force Field 10). Let's assume that the Strike is the "on" power when combat starts. The hero could Move into striking distance, use a Standard Action to attack with their Strike, and then use a Free action to switch to the Force Field and a Free action to put that Force Field up. The next turn, to use the Strike, they would have to use their Free action to switch to Strike, turning off the Force Field, and they would be unable to switch back, since you can only switch once per round (on your turn), which will leave them underpowered on their defense every other turn (or unable to use their offensive capability). A slightly less optimal version might involve someone with Flight or Teleport as an AP to their offense, and find themselves only able to Fly or Teleport every other round while attacking. Putting your Offensive powers requiring a Standard action into the same Array is generally a pretty safe bet because 99% of the time, you're only going to be attacking once (Extra Effort would let you attack a second time), or at the least it will be with the same power both times (although you could use Strike, use your Free action to switch, use Extra Effort for another Standard, and then use your AP of Stun). Most attacks either leave a naturally lasting effect (wounding someone, or teleporting them to another location, for example) or are Lasting so that the target retains the effect even if you switch away.

Chaining defensive powers together is generally fairly safe (for example, building different settings for Defense versus Toughness, or being able to switch your Reflex, Will, and Fortitude saves around) since the odds are you'll only be switching once per round.

Chaining Movement powers together can be a bit more tricky if you want to use more than one form of movement in a round, but it generally doesn't come up as often (one possibility is the person who makes their Leaping an AP of their Speed and is attempting to run, leap a gap, and then keep running, or their Quickness an AP of their Speed and they want to use Move-By Action to move to a door, use enough Quickness to be able to open the door as a Free action (normally a Move action), and then keep moving.

Lastly, powers that you have to maintain, such as Create (without Continuous), Transform, Summon, or Move Object, you will have to consider what will happen when you switch and that power goes away.

Considering what you're not going to need

A common mistake in new players is that they throw everything they can do into an Array, particularly when adapting a classic character who has a number of demonstrated uses for their powers in the comics. YAGNI (You Aren't Going to Need It) applies here. Especially if your GM is free with Hero Points for Complications, Fiat, and good play, it's much more effective to buy the core effects, and then use Extra Effort to do a Power Stunt to get a rarely used effect, optionally using your Hero Point to recover from Fatigue.

Alternative Approaches

Dynamic Alternate Powers can let you move the points around, which can be especially useful for maintaining a "minimum" amount of points in a maintained power to avoid it entirely switching off. However, they cost an extra point for each AP made Dynamic, and you're still dealing with the same pool of points, so you'll still likely have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and in most combats, you will have a large chunk of your points "stuck" maintaining your defense. Also, be mindful that some powers, like Insubstantial, have a fixed cost, and that you are required to apply all Extra, Flaws, Quirks, and Power Feats to any Dynamic AP that has any ranks activated.

The Independent Extra, introduced in some of the supplementary books like Ultimate Power allows you to take a Sustained power and apply a +0 Extra to make the power no longer require maintaining it, but also making it fade away and removing your ability to directly control it. A classic example is a smoke cloud that will fade away on its own, or summoning a storm (Environmental Control) which will dissipate on its own.

Summary of effective tactics

  1. Keep your attacks in their own Array
  2. Keep your defenses in a separate Array
  3. Be mindful of maintained powers, including Utility powers like Create and Transform, and what will happen if you have to turn them off to use a given attack or defense.
  4. Buy the core powers for your character and use Power Stunts to manifest rarely used one.
  5. Be mindful of minimums when using a Dynamic Array, and consider whether some of your points are always going to be in use, and therefore that particular power is better built outside of the Array.
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I know this is a little late, but I was fixing tags and realized that there may be an error of understanding (maybe long since resolved).

My issue was that when I tried to make different venoms Alternate Powers, the two different venoms would conflict; one would stop when when the other began.

Lasting effects and the results of a power don't go away. Damage, for example, has the damage remain even if the Alternate Power is switched. Similarly, Paralyze is noted as having a Sustained (Lasting) duration and

A sustained duration lasting effect allows a new save for each interval on the Time Table, the same as with concentration duration, but does not require an action to maintain; its effects continue until the target successfully saves. If you concentrate during an entire time interval (taking a standard action each round), the subject does not gain the cumulative +1 save bonus for that interval. Once you stop concentrating on a sustained lasting effect, you cannot start concentrating on it again without an entirely new use of the effect.

Essentially, when you punch someone, or inject poison into them, those things don't just disappear when you switch powers because they're no longer under your control.

As a side note, regarding Jadasc's answer, only Create is indicated to allow you to maintain a Continuous effect after switching slots (although, as noted, Lasting powers have their own effect without you having to take action).

Another bit of advice for Alternate Powers, be wary of putting defenses in them like Protection and Regeneration because they're only active when the slot is, and you can only switch once per round, so if you have your Blast and your Force Field as Alternate Powers, you're going to wind up only being able to have your Force Field up every other turn if you're consistently Blasting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure what I was remembering at the time I made the character. Is this definitely a 2e thing? I don't remember what the venoms did unfortunately, but it's possible they didn't have 'Sustained (Lasting)' for the duration. It definitely wasn't 'Paralyze' as far as I remember. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 9:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd have to dig up my 1E books to be sure, but 2E definitely had a number of Lasting effects, from Nauseate to Snare to Paralyze. The Lasting aspect was complicated (there's four paragraphs in Ultimate Power explaining how it interacts with different durations, most requiring consulting the Time and Measurements chart) and varied by power effect, and so it got largely dropped when status effects got moved to Affliction in 3E, which also used Alternate Effect to refer to these items (and 1E didn't have a 1 PP alt, although they did have a +1 Extra to append powers). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ ^_^ And yes, I'm well aware that you probably haven't thought about your 9-year-old character in years, but most of the "poison" kinds of effects were indeed Lasting, where even the Instant version still required saves to shake it off; they just came every round instead of on a sliding schedule like a Sustained (Lasting) power. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 12:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess the link in this comment of yours would have backed up this answer if it wasn't broken? rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/12062/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AncientSwordRage: Good catch. Accessible version at web.archive.org/web/20140726004402/http://atomicthinktank.com/… I think (my current machine/network is unhappy with archive.org at the moment). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 14:20

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