Monday, September 5, 2011

Hack and Slash: Relationship Mapping and You!

The premiere edition of Hack and Slash, which will regularly talk about mods and hacks to various existing game systems that I either A) came up with or B) think are cool, started with the comments from my previous post, Campaign Concepts: The Crew.  Somehow, it was mentioned that in a DC Adventures RPG ( which is really Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition) Campaign that I played in/ co-gamemastered, we had incorporated Relationship Mapping from the always awesome Smallville RPG.

As I am sure I have mentioned, I was lucky enough to be part of the writing team of the Smallville RPG, but as much as I would like to claim it.. I had nothing to do with coming up with the relationship map idea. That might have been Cam, Bobbie,or Josh, who knows? Regardless, it is still a fantastic piece of game design and one I wholeheartedly enjoy adding to a game here and there. Mutants and Masterminds, however, has a very different that wants to mesh with relationship mapping so bad, you can almost hear them trying to sneak out of the school dance to make out under the bleachers.

Maybe it's just me.

So here's the nitty gritty:

For those not familiar with them, the game currency for Mutants and Masterminds is called the Hero Point. Similar to Plot Points in Cortex Plus, Hero Points allow players a great deal of special game fiats. They can modify dice rolls, ignore the effects of powers used against their character, allow characters to recover form negative conditions (dazed, stunned, etc.), gain the use of an ability your character does not possess, ask for some clues form the GM, or even editing the scene that the characters find themselves. That's right, these things are mighty powerful.. But not all that common- at best they are in finite supply and other than the single Hero Point each character starts with during each session, players only seem to gain them by putting their characters in compromising situations, some seriously good roleplaying, or the dreaded Complication.

Complications, in general, are the meat and bones of the ROLE part of roleplaying MnM characters. They tend to flesh out the why's and who's while the rest of the character sheet focuses on the how's. Beyond just fleshing out the character, however, Complications  do as the name implies. They complicate things for the character. He may not be able to do something the player intends because the player wrote the character to be to morally pure to steal, or might be afraid of heights, or might fight crime for the sake of his poor, sick aunt at home in Queens. 

There are three specific Complications that tie directly to relationship mapping from Smallville: Enemy, Relationship, and Rivalry. To some degree, we simply replaced these three from the book (though Enemy still has its uses and doesn't necessarily fit in every relationship map) as every character will be getting some form of at least one of these three Complications in our modified map. 

  1. To keep it simple, and because it was a bit of a testbed, each player made a list of one "close" NPC (let's call them Allies) to their character and two NPCs they aren't as close to (for these we'll go with Contacts).  
  2. We then built the start of a Smallville style Relationship Map: each character's name was put in a box and a line was drawn between each character to denote their relationship (though nothing was filled in here at this time) Ideally, this should be done with a different color for each PC (you'll see why later).
  3. Each player then drew a line from their character's box to a diamond with the name of their Ally inside. On that line, we listed the nature of the relationship between the PC and the PC's Ally.
  4. Next, each player drew a circle for each of their Contacts and drew a line back to their character. Again, just like they had done with their Allies, the players listed the nature of the relationship between the PC and the Contact on that line.
  5. Now, just to mix it up, we had each player draw a line from one of their Contacts to any other Contact or Ally listed on the map.
  6. Finally, Each player wrote in what their PC thought about one other PC on the Relationship Map and that PC wrote back in turn (Not every PC gets picked by multiple people, but this gets us past the awkward "You seem trustworthy.." stage of getting adventuring groups together.
Now anyone that's read the Smallville RPG knows that this is, at best, like dipping your feet into the shallow end of the pool when it comes to the expansiveness of the Smallville relationship map, but this was the only part I really need for MnM.. at least for my purposes.

In Smallville, besides giving the Watchtower (read Gamemaster for non-Smallville players) a pretty big graphic showing places and people from which to derive the entire campaign, the relationship map is a pretty good way to move dice around the table- usually to the PC ("Have to hold up this building long enough for Lois to get free!" means Clark gets dice from his relationship with Lois... etc, etc). 

In Mutants and Masterminds, it's Hero Points that move around the table. How these Hero Points  move varies from shape to shape and character relationship type to type..
  • Any PC can give a Hero Point to any other PC based on their relationship with that PC. For example: Superboy is dazed by a magical effect and is out of Hero Points and his player can't roll a SAVE to save his life. Robin's relationship to Superboy reads "Conner is my best friend." In character, during the fight, it might play out like Tim struggles to his friend's side to try to help him or defend him while yelling for him to get up ("I'm here, buddy, but you've got to get up!"). At the game table, Robin's player just hands Superboy's player a token or chip representing a Hero Point that Superboy's Player can turn in to remove the DAZED condition.
  • If a PC is in the same scene as any of his Contacts  represented by a Circle in their color, they can use a free Hero Point generated by their Contact. The relationship between PC and Contact is mostly a roleplaying guide for how the NPC will deal with the PC and in case the relationship ever progrsses to full on  Ally (see below).
  • Allies, represented by the colored Diamonds, are the most important part of this equation and will likely generate the most Hero Points for the PCs. An Ally is a real friend or lover or family member- someone very important to the PC so interacting with them will ALWAYS end up in Hero Point accrual or adventure plot. Clark Kent hiding his identity from Lois (before they were married in pre-DCnu) when he needs to get away to save the day = Hero Point. You get the idea. But more importantly, these NPC's will really go to bat for you. When Lex Luthor's media outlets blasted Superman as an alien menace, it was Lois Lane's articles for the Daily Planet that defied Luthor's accusations. However, Lois was also the most kidnapped character in Superman comics ever.. so it's a 2-way street.. but it's the Gamemaster's job to work that street. Unlike Contacts that should have a somewhat glossed-over contact with the PC, interacting with Allies should feel very rewarding from a ROLE playing standpoint.
Advancement of relationships is a very real possibility.And there are a few ways to spend your hard earned Power Points (the measure of experience and growth in Mutants and Masterminds) to cultivate your relationship list:
  • If a player spends 1 Power Point, they can draw a line from any of their Contacts or Allies to any other NPC on the relationship map. They then write in that line to explain the relationship between the two NPCs.
  • If a player spends 2 Power Points, any NPC connected to one of the that PC's Allies or Contacts can become a Contact of that PC by making a circle around that NPC in the color denoted for that PC and drawing a line to the PC with an explanation of their new relationship.
  • If a player spends 4 Power Points, they can create a new Contact. They then draw a circle for with the name of the new Contact in it and draw a line back to their character, listing the nature of the relationship between the PC and the Contact on that line.
  • If a player spends 5 Power Points, one of a PC's Contacts that the PC interacted with this game session can be upgraded to an Ally.
So there you go.. That's my hack for Smallville Relationship Mapping in MnM. It works nicely and the free flow of  Hero Points makes me feel a little less bad when I make the bad guys a power level or two higher than the heroes.. just to even it out..  hehe.


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