Photovore roared, the massive creature’s head thrown back in a cry of victory. The air around it grew dark as it drew in the ambient light. Blaze lay on the asphalt at the monster’s feet, drained and unconscious. Huma was still in the air, trying to get a shot at Photovore but barely dodging the creature’s blasts of scorching heat.
Lian—she still didn’t think of herself as Hornet—watched from atop a nearby roof, trying desperately to come up with a new play…but instead, thinking about what Mantis would say when they got back to base. “Why couldn’t you keep control?”, or “You have to do better, Hornet,” or the worst, “Are you sure you still want to be here?”
No. She couldn’t let herself get distracted. Mantis would lecture her soon enough. Right now? She and her team had a monster to take down. She put her hand to her ear and clicked on her communicator.
“Blaze, if you can hear me, stay low. Huma, get ready to come in at a 45 degree angle along the street. I have a plan. We can do this, boys.”
We can do this, she thought, and she dove off the building into battle.
Masks is a tabletop roleplaying game in which you play young superheroes who are growing up in a city several generations into its superheroic age. Halcyon City has had more than its fair share of superheroes, superteams, supervillains, and everything in between. Over the course of three different generations of super-people, Halcyon City has seen it all.
You play members of the fourth generation, young adults trying to figure out who they are and what kind of heroes they want to be. The rest of the world is telling them what to do, but they’ll find their own path amidst the noise. And kick some butt along the way. After all, what’s the point of being a hero if you can’t fight for the things you believe in?
Masks is based on the award-winning Powered by the Apocalypse system developed by Vincent Baker and used in Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts,Urban Shadows, and more. It’s a rules-light system that fuels some of the best innovations in gaming in the last ten years, and Masks has been built from the ground up to incorporate everything I’ve learned about Powered by the Apocalypse games.
When you take an action that would trigger a move, you roll two six-sided dice, add them together with one of your Labels (a stat that describes your hero), and look to the move to see what the results are. On a 10+, you get what you want, and maybe a little extra. On a 7-9, you get what you want, but at some kind of cost or with a complication. On a 6 or less—a miss—the GM says what happens next, and chances are things get complicated for our young heroes.
Masks produces stories like those found in Young Justice, Teen Titans,Young Avengers, X-Men, and more, using the Powered by the Apocalypse rules to provide an easy but useful skeleton for awesome storytelling!
Halcyon City is a metropolis of gleaming spires and countless cultures, one of the greatest cities in the world. It also has far and away the greatest concentration of super-powered individuals in the entire world. Why that is…no one’s yet been able to say, but the why isn’t as important as the radioactive dinosaur stalking its way down Main Street or the devious mole people burrowing up underneath the Halcyon City Bank and Trust. The people of Halcyon City see more superheroics in a day than most people see in a lifetime.
Halcyon City has adapted to the superheroes and their struggles in ways both obvious and subtle, from rapid-action construction crews designed to deal with destruction and mayhem to supervillain penitentiaries (like The Spike) near or even in city limits. It’s a place of wonders and dangers…and it’s awesome to live here. There’s no place like it on Earth.
Supers have been around publicly for over half a century, starting with the first folks to put on the mask in the late ’30’s. Supers may have been around for much longer than that, but it’s only since they came forward and became a dominant force in the city that meta-historians, sociologists, and suprologists have tried to classify them by generation.
The Gold Generation was the first, filled with costumed adventurers and men and women with powers greater than mere mortals. They were noble and honorable, and they fought for their country, for justice, for freedom and liberty. At the time, they could do no wrong. Nowadays, the historians of Halcyon City acknowledge the many flaws, blind spots, and failings of the Gold Generation, but no one can deny the good they did. Their statues stand across the city, and their names adorn buildings and streets. Though the vast majority of them are dead or retired at this point, the new generation of heroes can still feel their influence. The heroes that would come later were often more powerful, but the Gold Generation started it all.
The Silver Generation came next: the first true supers. The Gold Generation was mighty, skilled, and maybe even superhuman, but the new generation could fly, tear holes in the fabric of reality, or summon up the primal forces of nature. The Silver Generation was the first generation to devote themselves to fighting supervillains, monsters, and dangerous phenomena instead of criminals or political wrongdoers. They carried on the “nobility” and “honor” of the Gold Generation–to them, matters were most often black and white. Their powers boosted them to the top of the superhero scene, and most of them are still in positions of power and authority in Halcyon City. They’re in charge of the largest superhero teams, the heads of giant megacorporations, and the most powerful politicos in the city. But they’re aging, passing into obsolecence, and they’re looking for new heroes to carry their torch.
The Bronze Generation, the children and proteges of the Silver Generation, came up in a world already filled to the brim with superpowers and cosmic phenomena, with magic and madness. Their elders were still on top for most of their lives, and even those who tried to follow in the Silver Generation’s footsteps found themselves pushed out by their parents’ and mentors’ dominance. Many found new paths, becoming explorers of the strange and unusual or dark vigilantes in the streets that the Silver Generation had abandoned…or even becoming government agents. They were the first cynical supers, the first introspective generation, examining the legacy left them by their elders and finding it wanting and incomplete. While the Silver Generation is still dominant, the Bronze Generation lurks in the niches that the Silver Generation wouldn’t touch. They’ve shaped the world in their own way.
And then…there’s you. An unnamed generation, not yet clear in temperament or destiny. No one knows yet how you’re going to reshape the world. That’s all down to you, your team, and your choices.
When you create your character in Masks, you use a playbook designed to provide a template for your character. Each playbook is geared toward a different kind of young superhero, offering you options and choices alike to customize your character as a hero of Halcyon City. You can download them here.
The basic set includes of playbooks includes:
The Bull – You’re tough, gruff, and powerful on the outside, and caring on the inside—oh, and you were made by an evil organization that’d love to get you back: can you learn to rely on the team enough to save you from yourself?
The Nova – You’re amazingly, egregiously, horrifyingly powerful, and keeping control is a struggle: can you come to terms with your power before it destroys you? Or someone you care about?
The Outsider – You’re not from here, and you don’t quite understand this place, but you find it fascinating: can you find a way to belong? Or will you always be different?
The Legacy – You’re carrying on a long tradition of heroism and nobility: how can you balance that legacy with your own identity?
The Protege – You’re tied to a mentor who trained you: do you want to be them? Or someone else entirely?
The Janus – You put on the mask, become someone different, escape your mundane life, but you know your responsibilities are always waiting for you: who are you really? The mask or the mundane?
The Delinquent – You’re a rabble-rouser, a rules-breaker, and an incorrigible prankster, someone who pushes people away while secretly wishing they would stay close: can you stop being a little shit for long enough to let them know you actually care?
The Doomed – Your powers are killing you; they come with some awful, nightmarish fate. But until that end comes, you’re going to work to change the world: how much are you willing to give up for your cause before your doom comes?
The Transformed – You don’t look human anymore and the world won’t let you forget it: can you learn to accept yourself? Can you deal with their looks, stares, and fear without becoming the monster they see?
The Beacon – You’re here because this is awesome, and you may not quite fit in, but screw it, you’re going to do this anyway: can you prove that you actually deserve to be here? Or are you just a wannabe?
Characters in Masks each have five mechanical attributes called “Labels.” Labels represent how your character views their identity. Are you a Danger or a Savior? A Freak or Superior? Or are you just Mundane?
Each Label ranges from -2 to +3; the higher the rating is, the more the character sees their self by that light. If you have Danger +3, you see yourself as a threatening, violent figure. If you have Mundane -2, you see yourself as anything but a normal person.
The Labels include:
Freak, which is all about being strange, unusual, unknown, different, unique, powerful, weird, and special.
Danger, which is all about being strong, threatening, violent, destructive, badass, frightening, reckless, and mighty.
Savior, which is all about being defensive, protective, overbearing, moralistic, guarding, patronizing, and classically heroic.
Superior, which is all about being clever, faster, better, arrogant, dismissive, commanding, egotistical, and smart
Mundane, which is all about being normal, empathetic, understanding, kind, boring, simple, uninteresting, and human.
The Labels shift and change over the course of the game as your self-image changes, most often due to the influence of others. As these Labels shift, so does your position in the story: a hero who sees their self as a Danger is better at directly engaging villains and threats, but their low Mundane means they might struggle to connect with ordinary people after a fight.
Influence is a mechanic used to keep track of whose words matter to you. When you have Influence over someone else, it means they care about what you say. When someone else has Influence over you, it means that you’re affected by their words.
Much of Masks involves giving, taking, and losing Influence over others. After all, you can’t convince your teammate to stop being a Danger if you don’t have Influence over them. When you do have Influence over them, and you tell them how they endangered civilians, your words might lead their Labels to shift. They might be chagrined at your words, and shift their Danger up, and their Savior down—they see themselves as more of a Danger, because of what you said. Or, they might resist, argue with you, and wind up shifting their Savior up and their Danger down—they don’t care what you say because they define who they are, and they choose to be a Savior.
Influence allows for a quick and easy way to understand whose words can cause your Labels to shift. You care about what they say, so your self-image is tied up in how they view you, what they say about you, and what you accept about their perspective on the world.
Of course, you are just a young superhero, trying to find your way. And that means in Masks, all the adults have influence over you by default. But you can resist what they say to free yourselves of their words. You just have to stand up to them, and tell them that you make your own path…easy, right?
You can keep up with the latest Masks news over at the G+ community, or on our social media. Also check out the long example of play Brendan wrote, as well as our backer appreciation page and the Halcyon City Champions!