Friday, December 4, 2015

A look at Masks

Here's a brief look at Masks, a PbtA game which had a very successful Kickstarter, and which I expect will be published in 2016.

I've never played another Powered by the Apocalypse game, so I'm a virgin there. I've never even owned one before, so I have no idea how it goes.  But there's a call for playtests on Masks, so I had a look at the playtest materials.

Currently, there are three PDFs to the playtest materials: one of the ten basic playbooks, one of the basic moves, and one of GM moves. I and my gang have been playing RPGs since 1980, so there is clearly some unlearning that has to go on, and unfortunately the skeletal nature of the playtest material doesn't help. Fortunately, I can look at the DungeonWorld SRD for some of the connective tissue. Unfortunately, it's a bit different.

Part of it is the terminology (what is the difference between a soft move and a hard move?) and part of it is the formatting (the PDF they supply is clearly in format for booklets, but figuring out how to print it isn't in the remit, apparently). Still...

The playbook for a character is also the instructions for creating the character. It lists the various decisions you have to make and the moves that are unique to your character type.


The characters are teen superheroes in Halcyon City. They are a team: they all want to be superheroes and they all want to be together. Reasons might differ, of course.

Players define their characters' backstories and then the players together define how the team came together.


It turns out that saying "powered by the Apocalypse" goes a long way, but not far enough. It basically covers the resolution mechanic and the approach to storytelling. But there are a couple of other things that are involved.

Characters don't have hit points; they have emotional conditions. It might seem limiting to say that the character has only five hit points, but emotional conditions are more fluid than hit points typically are, and there are ways to relieve an emotional condition, either in the scene or for the next scene.

There's an influence mechanic that affects your rolls against a character, but you can trade your influence in for something more momentous.

There's a team mechanic that can provide benefits to the entire group or to an individual at the expense of the group.

The game works best with three or more players and a GM (whatever they call the GM in this system...referee?). You can make it work with two, but it stutters, and I can't imagine how it could be done with a single player without some heavy alteration of the rules.

Encouraging the Tropes

The game has a number of clever things that really encourage the tropes or cliches of teen team comics. (You'd probably have to make changes if you wanted to be the Teen Titans as written by Bob Haney, but frankly, I'm not sure that Bob Haney's mind could be contained in any game.) It would handle the Wolfman-Perez Titans brilliantly:

  • Robin/Nightwing: Protege.
  • Starfire: Outsider.
  • Raven: Doomed.
  • Cyborg: Transformed.
  • Changeling: Okay, Changeling I have trouble slotting into a playbook. I feel certain that he'd fit, but I don't remember all ten of the character types right now. Emotionally, he feels most like the Beacon playbook to me, but his powers don't match the description they give at all.
The biggest problem (as shown above) to me is that the playbooks are essentially classes, and sometimes you end up choosing a class because there's a power you feel is neat. In the full game, I hope there's some discussion of fitting powers to the playbook. I don't have enough experience with PbtA games to know where I can hack, yet