Masks: A New Generation (PbtA young supers RPG)

Caesar Slaad

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I have been informed by Tristram that I have failed to talk about this game, which sort of surprised me, because I know I talked plenty about my other game of the moment. I guess I figured that most people who were interested knew.

What is it:

Masks: A New Generation is a Powered by the Apocalypse game of young superheroes. So by intent, it covers heroes like Teen Titans, Young Justice. the younger X-Men/New Mutants, and young Spider Man. This means that by design the heroes do not have full mastery of their capabilities, and they are also learning who they are as people.

As a PbtA game, it has these features:
- Basic 2d6+mods for resolving actions. In all cases, 6- is a failure. 7-9 is a partial/complicated success, 10+ is a full success. As simple as it seems, I feel this is what is at the heart of PbtA. The fact that free-and-clear successes are rarely a guarantee keeps the game developments flowing.
- Move based resolution. The game uses "moves" to handle actions. The GM may adjudicate what moves are reasonable given the situation, but one the dice hit the table, the system doesn't stress too much about whether you are beating up the villains with super strength, eye beams, cybernetic missiles, or mind blasts.
- Playbooks based character generation. For those not familiar with PbtA (and it's close cousin, FitD), a playbook is more or less a character sheet with a specific character type printed on it, and all the rules you need to complete your character on the sheet. In Masks, they playbooks are primarily based around the dramatic challenges your character faces. So, the Bull loses his cool (think YJ Suberboy or Arsenal), the Transformed is loathed and feared, and the Janus is most concerned about maintaining a double life (think Spider-Man).

Things unique to Masks:
- Labels. Most PbtA game has static scores like intelligence, etc. Masks uses labels to modify rolls. Labels are roughly how you are viewed and how you view yourself. So a character with a high Danger is thought of as dangerous. The catch here is that during the game, other people (including other PCs) can shift you labels up or down. This models the fluid self-image of a young hero.
- Influence. There is a simple influence mechanism that is reflected in the combat and other mechanics.
- Learning by failing. Dungeon World did this first but it's a lovely feature. When your character scores a miss (6-) on a move, they get a potential point, like experience. This makes for a nice little consolation prize when PCs screw up. And they will screw up.

That's the 50 cent tour. If I have some time later this week, I may talk a bit about my current campaign.
 

Skywalker

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Masks is great. I had never found an RPG that produced gameplay that felt like the superhero stories that I enjoyed until Masks. Though it can seem a little daunting at first the mechanics became almost invisible in how well they matched and supported the gameplay.
 

Tommy Brownell

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I was a late backer to the KS and so I have the whole line. I like the PbtA stuff pretty well and would love to run this, but about half my group is skeptical on the teen heroes slant. It's got some nice stuff in it.
 

Skywalker

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It does help that many of my favourite superhero series have teen characters :smile: I found that this particular slant meant that players focussed on the personal stories and emotions of the PCs, which are also essential elements of any superhero story.
 

Skywalker

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You probably could, given his maturity levels.

Superboy is more in its wheelhouse though.
 

silva

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@Caesar Slaad , do you think the labels could work for something like a Planescape PbtA? I mean, I always wanted something more abstract to go with PS and this looks a nice fit (how would a "Joyful" label effect a Dustman? )

Edit: a more practical question: how do labels interact with the rules? Do they give bonuses/advantage to rolls?

P.S: it also occurred to me the Legacy: Life among the Ruins factional play would also fit Planescape. Hmm... maybe I'm into something here.
 
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silva

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Rise from thy grave!




Finally reading this in wait for a game and... dude, this shit is PENDRAGON for millennials! The way it focus on how you cope with external pressure and how it changes your identity is ingenious! Also It's more "how can Spider cope with his two lives" than "how fast/strong/resistant is Spider" which is totally my thing, as I've always find the drama part of these stories the more interesting part.

One of the most interesting mechanics I've found is Influence. When a person with Influence over you says something that challenges your identity, or when they explain to you how the world really works, then they get to muck about with your stats and shape you into the kind of superhero that they want you to be. Either you take your lumps and let them reorganise your stats however they like, or you openly defy them and have to roll dice (And if you fail, they still get to reorganise your stats, and they get to give you a negative condition as well).

As adult NPCs always start with Influence over the young PCs, so when Uncle Ben talks about power and responsibility, that stuff always gets to you.

@Caesar Slaad how have been your experiences? Any tips for a newbie? The only thing that's making worried is combat, which seems pretty abstract.
 
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Skywalker

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Combats in Masks are great. You have some very obvious moves which can be used:

- Directly Engage a Threat
- Unleash your Powers
- Defend
- Take a Powerful Blow

If you follow those moves, then fights will inevitably be dramatic affairs that drive the narrative on to move interesting things. Taking conditions as damage are a serious disability and to clear them requires taking action that complicate the narrative further. I always felt encouraged and excited in adding fights to my Masks game as a way of moving the story along.

The fact that bad guys get a free Villain move after taking a condition is also very cool IME.
 

silva

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Thanks @Skywalker for the explanation. I think I'm grokking it already.

Another question, if I may: how adaptable the premise is to a Xavier academy of mutants setup? I admit I'm not a supers fan (weird, I know) and the only supers stories I really followed was the X-Men, so having the group as a new class on the academy would be more familiar ground for me.

I see there are a bunch of supplements for the game, perhaps some touch on this setup? If not, is the game easy to adapt in that direction?
 

Skywalker

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Super easy. There is a 28 page treatment for exactly that set up called the Phoenix Academy in Mask Unbound.

My recommendations for inspiration are to watch the Teen Titans animated show (the one before Teen Titans Go) and read Runaways. However, any media with your people with super powers is great, such as the Power Rangers movie, Avatar the Last Airbender etc
 

Caesar Slaad

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I'll get to this later but short take: though it does put some onus on the gm and players, I find it's great in generating twisty, interesting combats that I've not noticed some other supers game do without a little tweaking.
 

Caesar Slaad

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Finally got home and got to sit down long enough to read this.

Rise from thy grave!

One of the most interesting mechanics I've found is Influence. When a person with Influence over you says something that challenges your identity, or when they explain to you how the world really works, then they get to muck about with your stats and shape you into the kind of superhero that they want you to be. Either you take your lumps and let them reorganise your stats however they like, or you openly defy them and have to roll dice (And if you fail, they still get to reorganise your stats, and they get to give you a negative condition as well).

As adult NPCs always start with Influence over the young PCs, so when Uncle Ben talks about power and responsibility, that stuff always gets to you.

@Caesar Slaad how have been your experiences? Any tips for a newbie? The only thing that's making worried is combat, which seems pretty abstract.
Combat has been pretty fun, though it does rely on the GM making judgement calls (and "awesome calls"), though the rules do provide you with a lot of material. For example, every villain has their own moves, and there are a list of moves that a villain automatically makes when they take a condition. This gives you an easily customized menu of options to give you ideas of what happens next and to keep the conflict tense and interesting.

I am a bit trad/sim, so I do actually have a sort of "mental system" for scaling powers and the like. In essence, I grade most threats on a 1-5 scale, and if something is 2 above you on the scale, you need some extra move to let you affect it. Most heroes are 3, Beacons are 2, Novas are 4. This goes a little beyond the rigor of the system, but is enough extra detail for things to operate in a way that makes sense to me.

I do have a "gifted teens" school as a regular part of my game. Well two. Long story. But for the most part, I don't want to run day-to-day activities at the school. It has mainly been a venue to introduce peer hero NPCs which have become elements of further game plots. To manage some of this stuff, I made a few custom moves to run in lieu of trying to handwave the sort of classroom interaction I have no real interest in running.

Which is an interesting side point: the basic moves in Masks are very flexible, but they don't cover all situations in as interesting manner as they could. But Masks gives you a tool to handle corner cases an keep things fresh: the Custom Move. There is a bevy available online and in the Masks books, but you can make your own once you understand the structure.

I gave some thought to putting an actual play of my Masks game up. Is that something that would help?

If you want to get a good idea how a session can run, you could do a lot worse than checking out the podcasts Nerds on a Roll and Protean City Comics.
 

silva

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(I'm replying here as this seems the more general thread about the game, while the other is for Caesar Slaad chronicles)

What do you think of the advanced playbooks? Are they good? The Harbinger seems damn cool to play.

And WOAH there's a Days of Future Past like set in the Unbound book where the city is occupied by alien forces and all mutants are killed or locked up. It's got a mission-based structure where the group must target the invaders infrastructure, and receive help from resistance/rebel groups each with their own specialty and countdown clock to track how they're holding against the invaders (and you can do missions to help them to recover their clocks). Its sounds frigging good. :shock:
 

Caesar Slaad

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What do you think of the advanced playbooks? Are they good? The Harbinger seems damn cool to play.
They are mostly pretty cool, but the general consensus is that they are more demanding of the campaign, so tend to be a handful in multiples. Some are a little weird. Joined is the sort of playbook you don't play because you saw it, but you play because you already wanted to make similar characters. Harbinger is weird because its team moves don't fit the pattern. I'm not sure how the Scion's respect mechanic is going to pan out; they come across like the Beacon's drives but slower and with less built-in ideas.

I've had three of my players transition to advanced playbooks: Night Gaunt (Beacon->Brain), Yayael (Transformed->Harbinger), and Emma Will (Janus->Scion).

Night Gaunt's transition didn't fall directly out of the fiction, but it was easy to explain by leveraging the fiction. At the end of one session, he stole a broken piece of dangerous technology (think a Father Box from DC), and he fixed it then... lost it.

Emma's change to the Scion is the most recent. It required a little work on my part to figure out how she could reasonably fit the role of a Scion, given that she was an unknown before, and the whole dramatic point of the Scion is "people in the city know your parent and don't trust you", so I am sort of having to come on strong to sell it. (Her mother is a Doctor Doom type who tangled with the cities heroes before, and already has scions that are known for causing trouble, and it turns out that Emma is already depicted on propaganda posters in her own country).

Yayael had about the least support in the fiction, so we sort of had to sell it as "untold secrets" that Yayael never told anyone. I have some ideas of what Yayael's future world looks like, but given how random it is, it's hard to say how it's going to pan out.

And WOAH there's a Days of Future Past like set in the Unbound book where the city is occupied by alien forces and all mutants are killed or locked up. It's got a mission-based structure where the group must target the invaders infrastructure, and receive help from resistance/rebel groups each with their own specialty and countdown clock to track how they're holding against the invaders (and you can do missions to help them to recover their clocks). Its sounds frigging good. :shock:
It does. I'm also interested in the space travelogue one. With the exception that I find their villain names very corny.
 

Skywalker

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I agree that given the demands on narrative I would look to limit the non-core playbooks.
 

Voros

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(I'm replying here as this seems the more general thread about the game, while the other is for Caesar Slaad chronicles)

What do you think of the advanced playbooks? Are they good? The Harbinger seems damn cool to play.

And WOAH there's a Days of Future Past like set in the Unbound book where the city is occupied by alien forces and all mutants are killed or locked up. It's got a mission-based structure where the group must target the invaders infrastructure, and receive help from resistance/rebel groups each with their own specialty and countdown clock to track how they're holding against the invaders (and you can do missions to help them to recover their clocks). Its sounds frigging good. :shock:
Sounds sweet. I was just looking over the MSH Days of Future Past module by Steve Winter and its quite solid.
 

silva

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What are good playbooks synergies?

In Apocalypse World having the Hardholder in play is guaranteed to spawn conflict due to its more... assertive nature. Add the Hocus to the mix (another community leader with clear goals) and it's nitroglycerin. Ha!

How about Masks?
 

Caesar Slaad

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What are good playbooks synergies?

In Apocalypse World having the Hardholder in play is guaranteed to spawn conflict due to its more... assertive nature. Add the Hocus to the mix (another community leader with clear goals) and it's nitroglycerin. Ha!

How about Masks?

Well, Masks isn't really task-oriented, so the primary consideration I take into account when considering archetypes really isn't there.

At the very least, you might consider making someone who doesn't stink at given basic move, so you have someone who is good at directly engaging, someone who is good at comforting, and so forth. But since labels are fluid, that may be a bit of a crap shoot.

If you have picked out playbooks and notice you are weak in one label, you might strongly consider moves that.let you swap out labels, like the Legacy's good fight or the Transformed's wish I could be.
 

silva

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Well, Masks isn't really task-oriented, so the primary consideration I take into account when considering archetypes really isn't there.
Sorry for not being more specific. I meant synergies that spawn interesting group dynamics and drama. Like rivalries, love triangles, etc. I don't even think task-oriented stuff works for Masks (?).

In my example above, having both a Hardholder PC and a Hocus PC in play means two leaders pushing their own communities in different directions, forcing players to take (conflicting) sides. Another combo in Apocalypse World is a Gunlugger PC side by side with a pacifist or social one (like the Skinner). The former thrives on violence and the later in manipulation, and this tends to generate tension.

I don't know how that translate to Masks, but I bet there are similar patterns to be found. Ie: the Legacy boyscouting nature seems to contrast with the Delinquent, so having both at the table seems good for drama. The Bull too, by declaring a love and a rival, seems good at creating explosive relationships (specially if the love and rival are close and form a triangle?). The Bull actually reminds me of the AW Skinner in this: one of it's starting relationships is "______ is in love with me", which you can give to anyone in the table, even same sex PCs, which makes things messy from the start. Only the Bull also sets up a rival, which seems even more interesting!
 
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Caesar Slaad

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I don't know how that translate to Masks, but I bet there are similar patterns to be found. Ie: the Legacy boyscouting nature seems to contrast with the Delinquent, so having both at the table seems good for drama. The Bull too, by declaring a love and a rival, seems good at creating explosive relationships (specially if the love and rival are close and form a triangle?). The Bull actually reminds me of the AW Skinner in this: one of it's starting relationships is "______ is in love with me", which you can give to anyone in the table, even same sex PCs, which makes things messy from the start. Only the Bull also sets up a rival, which seems even more interesting!
Yeah. There's a lot of latitude, but you named the first "generic" examples I thought of. Also, the undisciplined Bull, Transformed, and Delinquent would often find themselves at odds with the more "team player" legacy and protege. You might also have situations where some playbooks set up mutual "grass on the other side of the fence is greener" situations, like the beacon wanting the Nova's or Transformed's power, but they don't want their power and would rather be like the beacon.
 

silva

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Is the Team Pool supposed to reset between missions? Or is it like Labels, aka all shifts are final/permanent? If the later, I imagine it may get really big after a couple sessions. Doesn't it make the team too powerful on the long run?

Also, the undisciplined Bull, Transformed, and Delinquent would often find themselves at odds with the more "team player" legacy and protege.
Makes sense! And having the group split between those two teams would be great.

Also:

- For a more grounded/"street level" game the Beacon, Delinquent and Protege seem a good combo while the Nova, Doomed and Outsider sound more "cosmic level" stuff. Depending on the tone the group wants, having this in mind could help.

- I noticed some playbooks come naturally with built-in stuff that may require more GM sweat to function. From a quick scan, the scale seems to be:

1) The heavier loads, which will have a strong saying on the direction the stories go and tax the GM with heavier prep: Doomed (his nemesis and doom clock puts such pressure that the PC will want to act on them as much as possible, taxing the GM into prepping for it more), Janus (same but with regard to it's double life and it's complications), Legacy (his interaction with his family/faction seems constant and would be the source of dedicated prep in this case), Protege (same but for his/her interaction with the mentor).

2) The Transformed and Outsider could or could not fall on this case, depending on how much the player brings on the pitchforks crowd and the alien race respectively.

3) The lightest workload: Beacon, Bull, Delinquent and Nova.

So, the general advice would be: avoid having more than a couple of those 1st tier playbooks in play. Ideally, have just one of those mixed with the lower tiers ones.

(Makes sense?)
 
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Caesar Slaad

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Is the Team Pool supposed to reset between missions? Or is it like Labels, aka all shifts are final/permanent? If the later, I imagine it may get really big after a couple sessions. Doesn't it make the team too powerful on the long run?
More often. Whenever "time passes", the GM empties the Team pool and restores it to one Team. (page 86, third page of discussing "Adding team to the Pool")
 

silva

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More often. Whenever "time passes", the GM empties the Team pool and restores it to one Team. (page 86, third page of discussing "Adding team to the Pool")
Hmm... doesn't it get a bit wonky then? I mean there are lots of team moves and playbook moves that fill the Team Pool, but the if it's reset like that ("when time passes" - sounds kinda subjective [Edit: arbitrary]) it feels like nullifying those moves relevance.

How had it run at the table in your experience?
 
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Caesar Slaad

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Hmm... doesn't it get a bit wonky then? I mean there are lots of team moves and playbook moves that fill the Team Pool, but the if it's reset like that ("when time passes" - sounds kinda subjective [Edit: arbitrary]) it feels like nullifying those moves relevance.

How had it run at the table in your experience?
It does about what it needs to do at the table, I think. I wouldn't want a bit allotment of team pool transferring from week to week. That would make hoarding team pool more important than the moves that generate the pool, which is where the little bits of narrative fodder lie. Like "is the team really here for the same reason?" and "the brain is showing up the leader again".

I don't think it's all that ambiguous when there's a jump. They give you two paragraphs on the topic:
“Time passing” isn’t about some specific amount of time going by. It’s
about a fictional reset, like when there’s a time jump to leap ahead in the story,
creating a clear divide in the story. It’s when a TV show episode ends and the
next one picks up weeks later, or when a comic book has the little narrative
bubble saying “One month later…” Time passing naturally over the course of
play won’t trigger this move—the GM doesn’t simply empty the Team pool
because things move forward.

Essentially, if you ever come to the close of events and shift them forward
(most likely by a week or more) to get to the next exciting thing, then the GM
resets the Team pool to one.
 

silva

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Ok, it makes sense. Thanks.

Another question: is there a limitation on the support or comfort move? I mean, what impedes PCs from comforting each other immediately after someone gets a condition? Does it need some time and privacy or something?

Thanks in advance.
 

CRKrueger

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Ok, it makes sense. Thanks.

Another question: is there a limitation on the support or comfort move? I mean, what impedes PCs from comforting each other immediately after someone gets a condition? Does it need some time and privacy or something?

Thanks in advance.
 

Caesar Slaad

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Another question: is there a limitation on the support or comfort move? I mean, what impedes PCs from comforting each other immediately after someone gets a condition? Does it need some time and privacy or something?
Well, I think this is one of those things that falls under "following the fiction". You can't just say "I comfort Blue Heron", but you can say what your character says to Blue Heron and decide if that triggers the move?

If your players are obviously gaming it, you may have to tell them to cool their jets, but I've not seen it be a problem (and I have two players who aren't above gaming the system a little).

Edit: Again, there are a couple of paragraphs covering this. Masks is a surprisingly well-written and comprehensive little game!

Comforting or supporting needs to break a certain threshold for the move to be triggered. This isn’t for pats on the back or simple “Good job!” compliments. This is for genuine, open-hearted, even extended emotional support of another person. This is for heart-to-hearts, for meaningful gestures and actions.

That said, you shouldn’t feel that there are more limits on situations when you can trigger comforting or supporting. You absolutely can trigger it in the middle of a terrible fight, just as much as you can trigger it when you’re hanging out at your base. As long as you’re genuinely trying to comfort or support someone in a meaningful fashion, you can trigger the move.
 

silva

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I see all sample villain moves are purely narrative. How about something like this:

"Checkmate is all brains even in a fight. When you engage him, roll +Superior instead of +Danger".

Or

"When you engage Toad, roll +Freak. The way he moves is weird as fuck."

Is this fair game?
 

Skywalker

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I think the issue with that is that it may encourage players to just spam the move and not see them using different moves as narratively appropriate as normal. I think I would prefer to use fictional positioning so that using a Fight move on Checkmate is unlikely to be triggered until a PC has used a clever tactic first.
 

Caesar Slaad

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I see all sample villain moves are purely narrative. How about something like this:

"Checkmate is all brains even in a fight. When you engage him, roll +Superior instead of +Danger".

Or

"When you engage Toad, roll +Freak. The way he moves is weird as fuck."

Is this fair game?
Sure, why not. Sounds like a fair custom move for an eccentric villain to perturb the PCs.

The thing that the villain moves and condition moves do is give you a default list of things to do when playing in an unscripted manner. IMO, if you have an idea that model won't support, you shouldn't let that model stop you.
 
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