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M&M 3E allows an Athletics check as a Free action to add one rank to your speed that round, effectively doubling your speed.

You can make a DC 15 Athletics check as a free action to run faster: one or more degree of success increases your ground speed rank by +1 for one round.

It's a nice way to let players sprint when they need to pour on the speed, but my players have come to realize that, much like the Acrobatics check to rise from Prone as a Free action, there is no drawback built into the system to try it every time in case you get lucky.

Is there a good way to balance it out so that there's some risk, but not enough that the players never take advantage of it?

I considered lifting the 2E setup for All-Out-Movement and only allowing it for a total number of rounds equal to one's Constitution (Stamina in 3E) before you start having to make checks for Fatigue, but that still allows a lot of running, and given it's often an intermittent thing, I suspect they'd probably try to argue that they got some rest while jogging in between.

Another option would be providing for a consequence if they miss the check by more than one degree of failure, but some of them have bonuses (or Skill Mastery) high enough that that will never happen.

Or is this something where I'm probably just best off handling it in-character with it being hard to be stealthy while running, and/or people looking at them weird for occasionally breaking into a sprint?

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As it happens, I recently started a 3rd edition M&M campaign, and immediately ran into issues with run speeds.

For those not in the know, movement speeds are relatively cheap when you're playing a superheroic (~PL 10) campaign, and I, migrating from D&D, immediately gave up on things like combat grids. They're useless when half the party can move 500 feet per round or faster.

That said, in terms of game balance, the increase to speed is actually kind of negligible. A character could permanently double their run speed in two ways:

  1. As you say, they can take enough ranks in Athletics to always succeed on a check to run faster;
  2. They can spend one point to increase their Speed rank by 1.

When all is said and done, there isn't much difference in a combat situation between outrunning a bullet and running laps around it; a Speedster indefinitely increasing their top speed from Mach 3 to Mach 6 looks exactly the same to a thug who can only move 30 feet.

What you may be more interested in is a method of making whether they succeed on a check to Run Faster important. That's more straightforward- change what they're checking for. Instead of making a DC 15 Athletics check to double their ground speed for 1 round, have them make, say, a DC 20 Athletics check to outrun an explosion in dramatic fashion. Instead of ruling that they can catch up to a sprinting bad guy if their top speed is higher than his, make the check opposed, and the villain topping a heroic roll means that he opened some distance- maybe he zigged when the heroes zagged, and now they have to make up the lost ground.

If you'd rather have the basic check be more meaningful, you can always decide that a complication pops up when the heroes abuse their speed (This is the tactic I'm using, it's going well so far). My favorite complication for would-be speedsters is property damage: every time someone thoughtlessly tries to move more than a mile per round, the shockwave they create from approaching/passing the speed of sound begins tearing up the surroundings. Of course, I describe it in four-color fashion, and the hero who accidentally blew out all the nearby windows gets a hero point for their troubles, so for the most part I get a sheepish, "Oh yeah, that's right," when I use this tactic. It has the added advantage of allowing a player to feel quite cool when their hero finally gets to open up the throttle, and I've had two players deliberately provoke this complication as a combat tactic (they earned kudos, but no hero points, for that trick).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your input. I agree that the degree to which Speed increases is such that this really isn't a big thing. And the one player with Skill Mastery and the right bonus, I'm pretty cool with the idea that they're fine sprinting everywhere. It's everyone else who's doing it because it's a free check, with no penalty for failing. But I think that the descriptor of them trying to sprint and failing is probably going to be sufficient for the most part. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Duggan Feb 1 at 14:13

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