A friend suggested I post some reviews of some under-appreciated, under-rated and otherwise overlooked material for GM's Day this year, so let's look at Rogues, Rivals & Renegades Collection Two.
Mutants and Masterminds supplements must live in a strange little ecosystem. M&M is probably the premier "carefully build a superhero's capabilities" game, having surpassed Champions relatively handily given the (often literal) weight of the HERO system. However, lacking the pacing system of Marvel Heroic or the emotional impact mechanics of Smallville or Masks, M&M must rely on setting and character material to get the melodrama of superheroic adventure across, and this is often quite idiosyncratic to the particular setting. In this respect, the DC and Marvel universes, created as they have been over decades of corporate restructuring, interal conflicts, mergers, and lawsuits, form more of a stumbling block to exceptional storytelling rather than a toolbox. M&M supplements at their best try to create something unique enough to have the feeling of the classic superhero story, but can't be too unique - we have to be able to pull the villain out of the villain supplement and put them in our own world, and maybe that's a world where heroes are hated and feared, or maybe it's a world where they're all Vine stars. You can't quite know what each individual group is doing because M&M is a system that encourages people to come to it with individualized ideas that can't be handled in more specialized systems.
RR&Rv2 is, primarily, a character collection, but what sets it apart is that it tries to communicate the world around the characters in a way that's both sufficient to understand where the characters are coming from and how to change it to fit your own world. For example, a character named "Blackwing" was empowered by a group which would wipe out her debts in exchange for her evil service. Great - tells us what kind of character she is, it fits with her personality, and when the time comes to situate her in a personalized campaign world, there are several different options for who might have given her this power, from a crime syndicate to a secret government program or an evil superscience organization. The GM is given the tools needed to use the characters well.
This even extends to the mechanics. More than one character have statistics which are outside the "norm" for M&M characters, but these are noted and explained. A character is extremely weird? Yeah, he's a joke character to lighten the mood or for a game that aims for more of a light tone. A character is extremely difficult to damage? Remember to use her for her own goals, of having fun and excitement, instead of as a serious and direct threat. Importantly, the characters also illustrate good ways to use the mechanics of M&M to get across particular capabilities, which is useful both for GMs and players.
In addition to the characters, there are several organizations listed, both helpful and unhelpful. I especially appreciate the characters that have their own agendas, which might not be directly evil, but which they pursue regardless of the consequences, likely to bring them into conflict with superheroes and authorities in an interesting way.
R&RCV2 is one of the best Mutants & Masterminds supplements out there; it gives enough of a world to have character, and to base characters on, but also gives you the tools you need to adapt it to your own campaign world. If there is anything I'd suggest to improve it, I would say to make the character sheets more usable at the table. Right now, they're bold-colored and sometimes difficult to read when printed out. Further, feats and powers are simply listed when they could be printed with reference material to remind you what they do and where they are in the book.
Overall, it's one of the best M&M collections out there and highly recommended from me!
[5 of 5 Stars!]