A giant robot is smashing down Main Street. Your best friend tried to kiss you. Your mom thinks your grades need work. Your mentor thinks your team is bringing you down. Oh, and your costume is ripped.
Just another day in Halcyon City…
A Superhero RPG With a Focus on Teens [ edit ]
Although the titles of many classic comic books would suggest they only focus on adults (Spider-man, X-men, etc.), the truth is that many actually have younger subjects. For instance, many X-Men stories often revolved around the high school students at Xavier Academy, and both of the recent cinematic Spider-"Men" have similarly been in high school (both the Miles Morales of Into the Spiderverse, and Peter Parker of Spider-man Homecoming).
Masks is an RPG that focuses on this subset of comic book stories, heroes like the Young Avengers, Teen Titans, Stargirl, or the characters of My Hero Academia. When you think about such stories, while combat certainly plays a key part, it's the relationships between the characters that really drives the story. Similarly with Masks, the combat mechanics are much simpler than in a game like GURPS or Mutants and Masterminds ... but the system instead has entire mechanics for things like how much Influence characters have over each other.
Character Creation [ edit ]
Like other PbtA games, Masks uses playbooks instead of classes. The games basic playbooks can be downloaded for free here, and more are available in other supplements. Although playbooks determine a characters' power options, the playbooks focus more on the characters story/origin, for instance The Doomed, The Legacy, or The Transformed.
Playbooks provide both abilities (ie. powers) and special "moves", which only players with that playbook can take. In addition to their playbooks, characters also pick one of five "labels", like Freak or Savior, which describe both how they view their identity, and how others view them.
These labels are not fixed, and are designed to change over the course of the game, providing different bonuses/penalties when combined with each playbook. For instance, one way to change labels is to take a special "team move" a character can "Act Selfishly", where the character gains a bonus to a roll, but changes their Label in the process (eg. by insulting a teammate as they show them up).
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
As a PbtA system, everything a character wants to do is handled through a "Move". There are both basic moves, which anyone can take, as well as playbook-specific moves, adult-only moves, etc. The core moves are: directly engage a threat, unleash your powers, comfort or support, pierce the mask, defend, asses the situation, provoke someone, and take a powerful blow,
To determine the success of a move a player rolls 2d6. A result of 6 or less fails, a result of 7-9 succeeds, but potentially with a complication, and a 10+ succeeds fully. The exact details of success or failure vary however, depending on the move.
Unlike other PbtA systems Masks also has the concept of a Team Pool and special Team Moves. The team pool provides a bonus to actions taken when working as a team, and the team moves allow a character to celebrate a victory, or share a weakness, with another team member, in order to receive a playbook-specific benefit.
The Best High School Superhero Story RPG [ edit ]
While many other superhero RPGs emphasize creating your perfect comic book character, and then taking them out to battle super villains, Masks is instead a game about change and character progression (in the thematic sense, not just the "leveling up" sense). it's an RPG that captures not just the comic book slug-fests, but also the drama of a rivalry between two heroes, or the stress of protecting a secret identity.
If you're looking for such a story-focused comic book RPG ... and in particular one with an emphasis on high school heroes, Masks will likely be the perfect RPG for you.