Recently, I brought up Mutants & Masterminds to my gaming group, and now they seem really interested in playing a game with superheroes. I only have the First Edition "Core" book, but it seems to me like M&M just shoehorned superheroes into the d20 system. I'm not saying it's a bad game, but...

I'm curious if there is a superhero game out there where the system is more tailor-made for superheroes. It seems like a skill-based system (as opposed to a class-based system) makes more sense for superheroes (I'm aware that M&M isn't class-based), but I just have so little experience with the genre. I'm looking for a system that makes the players feel super-powered. I want it to be something where they have a great deal of control over their characters' powers. I could take or leave a system that comes with a setting; I'm really after ruleset that does a good job modeling superheroes. Maybe that system really is Mutants & Masterminds; if someone wants to make that case, please be my guest.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You might check out this post as well: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/13199/…. It was a bit more specific in its requirements, but the answers cover a lot of systems and give some good synopses of them. \$\endgroup\$ – Zimul8r Nov 7 '13 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi! I like this question but it needs to be more focused. There are hundreds of superheroes games out there, and what "modeling superheroes" means is very different to different people (hence Champions and Icons). The way this is currently stated it will just get "everyone who has a supers game they like." Please add more requirements per our usual game-rec guidance (which I will add next). The question @Zimul8r links is a good example of being more specific. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Nov 7 '13 at 20:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and the guidance on recommendation questions on our Meta. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Nov 7 '13 at 20:27

I want it to be something where they have a great deal of control over their characters' powers.

I know of no system with greater control over character creation possibilities than Champions.

The Champions RPG was designed ground up in 1981 to model super heroes. It's since been revised and expanded/generalized into the Hero Games system, which can be used to model anything from sword & sorcery to space opera settings...but the mechanics started for supers and to me that's where they shine.


  • Built for super heroes from the ground up, so you get rules for superheroic tropes like how far a punch knocks someone backward (or pushing yourself to exhaustion for one massive blow) and mechanics that encourage heroic personalities and goals.
  • Massively customizable. One uses points to buy ability scores, skills, and powers...and can tweak and customize those abilities to a greater degree than I've seen in any other mechanical system. In most other systems I've played, I start character creation from some mechanic (e.g., in 3.5e, deciding to play a Rogue a Fighter) Do you want your water blast to knock foes back more than normal? Sure, it just makes your blast more expensive. Do you want an ability that's extra potent, but can only be used in certain conditions (e.g. limited ammo or recharge time or only under the full moon?) Cool, and it'll make your blast less expensive.

  • Captures superheroic foibles and limitations. Every character chooses "Disadvantages" which can range from psychological limitations (e.g. never abandons bystanders) that villains can take advantage of, social limitations (e.g. a secret identity to protect or an unusual appearance), physical limitations (e.g. blind or wheelchair bound), dependent NPCs (e.g. a dear aunt who's always needing to be rescued), dependencies on a super-syrum, etc. I find these do a lot to help establish the super hero feel, and the more a player chooses, the more points they get to build their character.


  • Complexity. This is the flip side of massively customizable. You can build anything...but figuring out how to get just what you're imagining might make your head spin. If you enjoy complexity and optimization, you're in luck. If not, this might not be your system.
  • Learning curve. If you're coming fresh from d20, it's a major shift in rules. I believe those rules are better designed for a superheroic game...but there's a lot that works differently than the d20 model.

If interested, the book to start with is Champions Complete (if you're only interested in the superhero genre) or else the full Hero System rules (if you might want to explore other genres too).


For a dedicated system with a lot of customisation options for powers (thus giving PCs a lot of control) I would recommend Wild Talents by Arc Dream . It's setting free in the raw form although there are also a lot of settings available (some of them pretty unconventional for superheroes).

It's all skill/power based with no classes and uses the rather interesting One Role Engine.


The case for Mutants and Mastermind.

I can only speak for 2nd edition, but to me this is the best superhero game I played.

Mutants and Mastermind works wonderfully for a game where people are just over the top competent. Not only superheroes but just amazing characters beyond humans capabilities. The d20 side of Mutants and Mastermind is just because it's easy. One dice to roll and that's it. It works perfectly because the game is fast. There's no grid, no opportunity attacks (how can you handle a situation like this when you could have someone run next to you at the speed of light anyway?) and no flanking rules (that last one I'm not sure).

Powers are broken down into nice machines. You put a number in and it outputs results. I've never played a game of Mutants and Masterminds where players didn't know how to build a specific idea from the available powers.

My favorite aspect of Mutants and Masterminds is the GM fiat rule. Let's say you're playing a bunch of superheroes in New York city trying to fight an alien invasion. One of your players built this character who can do miracles with a bow and arrows. There's no ammo in Mutants and Masterminds so basically he can never run out of knives..unless the GM has something to say about it. So what you do is you gently give the player a Hero point and say: Sorry buddy, but you ran out of arrows. You can use that to call that a certain power doesn't work anymore or something happens. You give a hero point and they can use it in so many ways. The reason why this is the best part is that it's just what d20 needed specially in a game where characters can basically be immortal and invincible (with the right combo).

Where Mutants and Mastermind is running short in my opinion is the less flashy aspect of superheroes. If you want to make a game closer to Batman or The Punisher, your players must have really good self-control over the options available. A typical Grim game will be Power Level 6+ (see Iron Age supplement) but you still have access to all the powers (unless the GM makes his own list).

I've played from everywhere between PL6 (Grim City game with vigilantes) to PL15 (Players are minor gods working to investigate a major god gone rogue) and it not only works, but it's awesome. The rules are fast, efficient and when you know how the powers works you can improvise an entire BBEG on the fly.

The thing you need to watch for Mutants and Mastermind is to not let power resolve everything. Make sure they have skills because yeah you can be invisible but someone with the right gear or powers can find you so don't forget your stealth skill..it could save your life.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I do like the idea of the "Hero Point Fiat", but you do touch on one of the issues I encountered last time I played M&M: The players essentially avoided skills entirely. \$\endgroup\$ – Llepwryd Nov 7 '13 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ At character creation make sure they understand that having super-sense is great but it becomes like regular senses unless you have ranks in Perception. I can see the atoms..sure. Can you see the cat on the other side of the street? Roll that Perception check. \$\endgroup\$ – user4000 Nov 7 '13 at 16:26

If you're gaming with engineers, mathematicians, or other folks who like to fiddle with the mechanics and design, and you're not afraid to take on a rules-heavy system, then you might enjoy Champions, which is the Hero Games System supers version. The system is of the "universal" flavor, with lot's of flexibility to build your powers and decent mechanisms for hero disadvantages, weaknesses, recurring foes, etc. We played it for many years and had a lot of fun making unique characters with odd power combinations and (what we considered) "cool" themed characters.

Lately, we've gone in the other direction and are playing a lot of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, which is a Cortex+ based game. It's out of print (sadly) but there's a ton of support material on line and the rulebook and a few supplements are still floating around in stores and on Amazon. It's very rules light and leaves a lot of room for players to define what their powers do and how they do it. The mechanics are pretty straight-forward and allow the players to narrate cool effects on the fly during play without making the GM's job a nightmare. Also, there are tons of stock official Marvel heroes spec'd out for play, and a ton of fan-generated heroes from other venues and comic companies, which can make it really easy to bring first-time super hero gamers into the fold. Due to the popularity of movies and cartoons supplementing the comics, many people have a pretty decent picture of the basic structure of the Marvel Universe, including groups like SHIELD and powers, problems, motivations, etc for popular characters. Certainly enough to do a decent job role-playing them without needing extensive coaching, which leaves them room to focus on learning the system. Recommend (as always) that you find some good YouTube videos of play to see what goes into each system before you dive into one.

For MHR, try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFUARSmKYcs (or any of Jared Rascher's videos of MHR play).

Sorry, couldn't find any for Champions/Hero Games Systems play (too many links to video captures of the Champiions Online MMORPG that is based on the system).


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