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In Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition, on page 25 of the Hero's Handbook, the rule for balancing attack bonus and effect rank is as follows;

Attack & Effect: The total of your hero's attack bonus and effect rank with that attack cannot exceed twice the series power level...

For many situations, this is a simple rule to apply. How accurate a hero is with their power limits how potent that power can be. As it is an innate part of their hero, they are simply limited to this restriction by the rules of the game, and the in-universe justification for this is that that is simply how their power happens to work.

How does this work when their 'power' is a hand gun, and they decide to just pick up a bigger hand gun?

While the rules discuss equipment points being spent on 'standard gear,' there seems to be no explanation on what happens when a character acquires a weapon they Should be proficient in using, but has a higher damage output than the weapon they normally use. This becomes quite important in the case of hand guns, of which the game has multiple that deal different damage numbers. All of them being handguns would mean they should all fall under the same skill for knowing how to aim a handgun. The issue being that larger hand guns can be bought (there just is a perk that states the character is varying degrees of wealthy), acquired from allies who happen to prefer a larger gun, or even obtained from downed enemies.

Would the new weapon reduce their effective accuracy because of its higher damage? Would the damage that weapon does be reduced because of how accurate they are? Would they just be weirdly unable to use the weapon? Should the amount of hero points a player can spend on accuracy with handguns be limited based on the highest damage a handgun could have, regardless of whether or not their character actually uses that hand gun? I am uncertain, and could not find a definitive answer.

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It's a GM call. I don't know if this actually got addressed in 3rd edition, But the 2nd edition Agents of Freedom sourcebook included some guidance.

Although Agents of Freedom provides the option for a higher PL limit for devices and equipment, there’s also the matter of how to handle “found” weapons and things like heavy combat equipment that doesn’t feature in every adventure, but comes up from time to time.

Dynamic Balance

One option to help balance the occasion when an agent grabs a bazooka (or what have you) and uses it is dynamic trade-offs. That is, for each point the weapon’s damage bonus is over the agent’s power level limit, reduce the character’s effective attack bonus with that weapon by 1; the weapon is simply too powerful (has too much kick, heft, etc.) and the character isn’t used to it. So an agent using a weapon that’s 2 points over the damage PL limit suffers a –2 on attack rolls with it. This preserves power level balance in a fairly easy-to-use way.

Heavy Weapons

Another option is lighten the power level limit for heavier, less portable weapons. While agents aren’t going to have massive-damage sidearms, they might use tank cannons and emplaced machine guns or blaster-cannons to get the job done. As a basic guideline, an emplaced weapon can exceed power level by 2 points, while a weapon with the Crew Required Flaw can exceed it by 4 points. This allows some flexibility in the power of weapons characters can use without really changing their routine equipment. You can even combine the two options so that really heavy weapons get the extra ceiling, then anything over that imposes an attack roll penalty to balance out the differences.

Personally, in situations of Dynamic Balance, I generally do go the route of reducing the accuracy by default, with combat maneuvers like Accurate Attack being used if the character in question opts to, say, aim for a larger target area knowing that it's more likely to be stopped by armor plating. However, in-game, I've let players decide the tradeoff at the time of empowerment with the caveat that it's a one-time choice, and of course that I get the final say.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As a side note, I'm honestly surprised that they didn't copy and paste the text from the Agents of Freedom book into the Heavy Weapons Gadget Guide. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2023 at 12:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've played only a little M&M so I'm no expert, but right before the question's quotation in the Hero's Handbook there's this: "Power level is a value set by the Gamemaster [that] places certain limits on where and how players can spend power points when creating or improving their heroes" (25). That makes it sound like Power Level isn't a factor except when spending Power Points, making it so narrative events (like role-playing going to the store and buying a big gun) don't count. Or am I misunderstanding? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2023 at 12:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan: I don't have the chance to look up references, but there is a hard limit in-game, with a few points in the books that specifically reference that circumstance bonuses are not limited in this way (things like Favored Environment, Aim Actions, Extra Effort, or using Combat Maneuvers that trade off on two axes), which would be the exceptions that prove the rule. :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2023 at 12:50

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