by Delos

Masks: How to do one thing really well

A month ago I backed an RPG on Kickstarter called Masks. The kick start is over, don’t worry they asked for 4k and got 100k so it will happen. After a quick scan of what they were trying to accomplish on day one, I did my pledge and moved on. Didn’t get around to reading through it until recently. This is an RPG that set out to do one thing and it does it really well.

So What’s It Do?

Masks is about playing teenage super heroes. At first I thought, so what? I’ve seen super hero games before. Masks is Powered by the Apocalypse and I’ve seen successful supers RPGs for PbtA before. Then I started digging.

The game focuses on being a teenager as much as being a superhero. Now I’m 31 years old at the time of writing this, but I work in a high school as my day job so I have some experience with teenagers. I mention this so I can back up my claim that I know what it’s like to be a teen by having gone through it myself and dealing with teens on a (nearly) daily basis.

The first thing that made this stand out was the five stats. Freak, Danger, Savior, Superior, and Mundane. These are interesting because they more so describe the person and not their abilities. Apocalypse World does that as well with Cool, Hard, Hot, Sharp, and Weird, but the reason Masks stats stood out was because it both describes superheroes and teens in a way. I’ve heard the word Freak used against students before, and while no one will say a class mate is Superior, I see students viewing themselves as such on a daily basis.

With my interest sparked I kept reading. I learned that these stats are called Labels and based on how high the Label is, that determines how your character views themself. Then I started to put the pieces together.

Here we have a person that views themself as a Freak because they look different. A Danger because they can’t control their new found abilities. A Savior because they feel that it’s their responsibility to help and fix things. Superior because they honestly believe they are better than others. Mundane because they believe there isn’t anything special about them.

I just described real life teens and fictional super heroes. Digging further I found that the games mechanics cover the emotional aspects of growing up (learning who you are, looking up to people and letting them influence your life, discovering what’s really important in life) in addition to how to punch through brick walls or fly.

The play books themselves cover both archetypical heroes and the emotional baggage that would come with being that kind of hero. Want to play a teen version of the Hulk, play a Transformed. Spiderman? The Janus is perfect. Each playbook covers the parts of fighting villainy while also showing how Spiderman’s life is so much different than the Hulk. Both of them want to help, but they each have unique problems to face. Hulk doesn’t fit in and is generally feared, while Spiderman has a mundane life he’s trying his best to maintain while still helping people.

The way the game tracks damage is unique. There are five conditions that you can gain. Afraid, Angry, Guilty, Insecure, and Hopeless. Each condition makes it harder to do a basic move or two. The only way you can lose the condition is to either have a move that tells you two or you act out. So if you’re angry, the fastest way to clear that is to act out in your anger and hurt or break something/someone important.

Masks also uses a social currency called Influence. If you’ve played Urban Shadows it’s kind of like Debt. If you have Influence over someone you can nudge them in a direction. PCs can have Influence on each other, but all adult NPCs automatically have Influence over any PC. PCs can either listen to their influence or they can reject it and watch the emotions fly.

I’m honestly amazed at how this game hits so many chords with the emotional journey that teens go through, while still being an entertaining game of super heroes.

My hope is to run this game at Evercon in Wausau, WI this February and see how it stacks up. If I get the chance to run/play it sooner, I will.

In Closing

Masks set out to do one thing. Teen Superheroes. Could you play Masks as adult supers? Yeah with some tweeks to the rules. Normally if your character hits adulthood, he/she becomes a paragon of the city and is no longer a playable character, but that’s the thing about Masks. It’s not about the destination/destiny, it’s about the journey. That terrible and wonderful journey that people have to go through. Discovering who they are.

I can’t wait to see the final product.

Thanks for reading.


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