Investing In: Masks

“Masks: A New Generation is a superhero roleplaying game in which a team of young heroes fights villains, saves lives, and tries to figure out who they are—noble paragons? Dark avengers? Or regular kids? All against the backdrop of Halcyon City, the greatest city in the world.”1

MASKS, Magpie Games

I said last time I wanted to play some Masks, and indeed I have. The sweet creative wonder that is Dan from Order of the Amber Die – who introduced me at my first PAX – was kind enough to say he’d do a two-shot of Masks for a group of us. Well, that two-shot became a three-shot so we could get in all we wanted. We really had a good time, and a big part of that is the characterization as they are the stars, the young superheroes. From the creation process to the forming relationships between characters, this is really a game about exploring growth. Thankfully Dan gave us plenty of challenges to grow against!

Young Superheroes

I touched upon the premise last week, but in short: you’re young superheroes, possibly high school age or possibly young adults. You might be a former villain or more of an antihero. Think of Teen Titans or Young Justice for other media reflective of Masks. Together, you’ve formed a team to help protect your city, which is probably the Magpie created Halcyon City though of course you could make up your own. Each character is trying to figure out who they are, and who they will be. The influence of your team and the rest of the city, primarily the adults, helps shape that image of us as we shift between perceptions and grow. You might have young villains to contend with at school and in the field. Perhaps figuring out who is who in your school is a primary goal for your team. However, there’s everyone else in the city to contend with: adult heroes, adult villains, and of course the general public. The heroes might be mentors or possibly disappointed with your behavior. Young heroes make mistakes of course. Villains might be trying to convince you of their way of thinking unless you’re taking them down just as fast as the adult. The general public may love or hate you, but ultimately you’re here to help save them. You grow through action and interaction, but also by failing and learning. Literally that gives you experience or more precisely potential, but I’ll get into mechanics next!

Part Apocalypse, Part Monsterhearts

Ultimately Masks is a tabletop roleplaying game with cited uses of Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts. There are basic moves taken directly from Urban Shadows, a game they also publish. You’ll have a Skin, a la a class, that represents what kind of hero you are like the tough Bull type or the Doomed, very Raven of Teen Titans in feel. The Legacy is a good one that a friend played in our game; it’s someone who’s descended from a powerful heroic lineage that’s probably very active and well known. You choose various looks, and some are suggested, but those are tied to your storytelling and character rather than mechanics. You also choose your abilities, which again are for the character and not specifically the moves you get to do with them. You could be a Legacy with super strength but maybe instead it’s divine armor and magic weapons! It’s your Labels that’ll you use to do your moves and use abilities: Danger, Freak, Savior, Superior, and Mundane. There’s a spectrum of -2 to +3 and over the course of your game session(s), they will shift! Why? 

Labels are a reflection of how others see you and how you view yourself. That’s where the Influence of others comes in. Influence can help anyone use moves against you, and adults have it pretty easy, but you can take influence away as you challenge societal norms, expectations, or just terrible adults. Your fellow teammates will have Influence on you or vice versa, and building influence means more about shifting perceptions as you try to find who you are. If they’ve already got influence on you, getting more influence means they are starting to impact just how Dangerous or Mundane you might feel. It’s a shifting mechanic to play up that discovery and growth. Considering all moves are based on these Labels, you probably don’t want negatives and so that will frame up how you behave. Fail a move and you get Potential. Those moves include the basics of engaging a threat directly (with Danger) or using special moves reserved for your hero skin. On the flip side, you’ll gain Conditions that impact your use of moves: Afraid, Angry, Guilty, Hopeless, Insecure. If you’re Angry for example, you’ll get a -2 to engage a threat. Check all five and you’re knocked out. You do have the chance for some Team help though, with a mechanic that your friends can give you +1, take from a Team pool, but be careful to use it up and then need it later. You’ll likely add to it each session so it’s not a one and done, thankfully.

Really all these chosen mechanics are to encourage that group storytelling. How do you see your character, how do they see themselves, and how are others influencing that? You’re telling the story of your character growth with more focus than I’ve seen from other TTRPGs. Everything is framed to handling conflicts – not always violent – and the impact to self and team. Adult influence will heavily impact that as well, but every Skin has two Team Moves specifically about how you’re sharing with them, learning about yourself, etc. The Harbinger – someone from the future – gets to confess about differences in the team from what they heard/knew from the future, which adds to that Team pool and then you pose a question if you depict a future they’d want. Say yes, and you get potential, say no and you get a condition. Roleplay then continues to ensue! Masks takes that storytelling a step forward to think of framing scenes as if it were a comic. Dan liked to say they struggled with the visualization aspect of that, but I felt they were excellent about it, not only as they set up scenes but encouraged us to visualize in such a way too. What do you see in the drawn panel? Maybe half a face and a tear or just a single fist with a POW! At one point Dan said it was a whole page image of the city bridge where we were arriving. It really helped put me in that superhero mood!

My Warlock

The character I created was the Scion. That is, my character was the child of a major, true villain. While not all knew, those who do can’t help but think of your parent. They likely don’t trust you, seeing only your parent’s villainy when they look at you. And while you’re out to prove yourself as different, there’s no denying some of that darkness is in you or at least what drove your parent to villainy… Mickey was the child of the vile Spellbinder, who may have started on the right side for championing rights but eventually went so far no one could agree with his actions, including Mickey’s mother. Thankfully Mickey took after both parents, hearing the spirits and drawing on cosmic energies to produce sorcery. Thus I chose the name of Warlock for my hero. All my labels started at 0, save for a 1 in Danger and Savior. Knowing I wanted to Unleash My Powers sometimes, I increased Freak up one. I talk to spirits and seem a little weird, so Freak made sense anyway!

Choosing Moves was difficult, but Dan asked us to start with one extra to make us a bit more developed for this two-shot. I chose a few that I thought would be fun with a limited run. White Lies let’s me comfort people by telling them lies they want to hear, letting me use Savior instead of Mundane and possibly get more influence over them. “No, no, sometimes buildings just get destroyed… Not your fault,” for example. They Don’t Deserve Forgiveness lets you tell a villain they aren’t redeemable. You have to get two conditions, but they lose influence on you and then when you directly engage them, you get to choose an extra option for what happens to them like taking something from or frightening them. Finally I chose Changed Sides so I could pretend to be on someone’s side to get away with something, maybe get into a place I wasn’t supposed to, or learn a weakness or a flaw. What I thought was exciting/fun/spicy was that if you failed your roll, of course you got Potential, but also a cool story thing happened: “On a miss, someone else watching comes to the worst possible conclusions and acts on it.” I love when moves in games like this have story elements you can act upon/respond to!

The Chaperoned Heroes

Our game also included a Bull (that strong, tough type), a Beacon (think well-trained fighter like Hawkeye or sweet no power type), a Legacy (with granddaddy issues), and a Nova, which is sort of the super-extra powered Jean Grey Phoenix type. We called ourselves the Chaperoned Heroes based on our typical need for guidance by the Legacy’s mother. That’s partially due to an accidental destruction of city hall when stopping a previous problem. Well they built a new one, and some angry journalist mocked us but we still went along with other heroes and civilians to see the new hall open. Of course that’s when darkness enveloped the area and someone named the Scavenger climbed up onto stage. We sprang into action though I had Warlock look for the real thread with Assess the Situation, a Superior based roll. I succeeded enough to notice 4 creepy casters on roofs of buildings casting some spell. We took all out but one; using fear, they’d momentarily caused Warlock to pause before they got away. We even stopped a fire from burning up a school! 

But the Mayor’s wife? Oh she wasn’t impressed, and went quick to mocking me after we’d just celebrated saving the day with minimal destruction of property. Why? Well Warlock’s father, the supervillain, had killed her first husband so she didn’t exactly love my character. What I did love – at least OOC – was how quickly other characters sprang to his defense either saying something, or in the Nova’s case losing their temper to throw something at her. The Legacy tried to stop it, failed, and seemed like he’d done it. Granddaddy wasn’t happy and of course, Legacy went off to brood. We’d all used some team moves to celebrate success or share with one another, but it was quickly looking like the Legacy wasn’t growing apart from us, almost embarrassed by us. He went up to that bridge I mentioned while the rest of us reconvened to rest at Warlock’s home. There was flirting between the Nova and the Bull, while the Beacon – who our friend Brian named Treefrog and I absolutely adored the premise – hung out with my Warlock. Treefrog had an adorable pet named Mr. Hop who could help with various moves. 

It didn’t take long to find the Legacy and the spellcaster who got away: both were at the bridge.  Now they were out for maximum damage including destroying the bridge and killing whomever; they were pissed. We nearly lost Treefrog who got thrown off the bridge and Thunder who got knocked down. Warlock got psychically attacked by the physically beaten spellcaster. But thankfully between the Legacy – who took the brunt of 5 shadow tentacles at once! – and Thunder – who used their special Moment of Truth – all survived. The Moment of Truth is a special move that each skin can get where you get full narrative control to do something pretty badass, though there’s implications in each like for the Scion it suggests you do something no hero would do but no villain could even understand. Riding that line I guess! Once you use it, you lose it, though there’s a way to get it again through further growth.

Superhero Landing

We got to end our oops-three-shot of Masks with some sweet musings save for the Legacy still feeling a bit estranged. We left for the ice cream we’d wanted to get before the bridge attack and some heinous flavors were suggested. I said something like pistachio and calamari. Terrifying, right? All in all, I really enjoyed the scenes we put together. We got just enough interaction and intra-conflict for some growth and exploring influence/label shifting. We felt the villainous attacks, the unhappy and supportive adults, and the full impact of problematic public and authority figures. I’d be really interested to see a longer term campaign where the need to work in moves to try them out would be a bit more natural. I think you could tell some amazing character and group stories with these rules. I highly suggest you invest in Masks if you love shows like I mentioned cause it’s easy to put together that Young Justice feel! There’s so many options for characters and with a great GM, you can really explore many topics though as always utilize those safety tools!

Investing In:

I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!

I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!


Banner Masks: A New Generation cover, Magpie Games

  1. Quote from back cover, Masks: A New Generation, Magpie Games
  2. The Doomed unleashing their powers, Masks: A New Generation, Magpie Games
  3. Scion hero, Masks Unbound playbooks, Magpie Games
  4. Group shot for Chain Reactions section, Masks: A New Generation, Magpie Games
  5. Nova hero, Masks: A New Generation, Magpie Games

Rob Pontious

You may know Rob Pontious from Order of the Amber Die or Gehenna Gaming's first series of Monster Hearts 2. He currently writes Know Direction's Investing In blog as well as a player for the Valiant podcast and Roll for Combat's Three Ring Adventure. He's been a lover of TTRPGs for over three decades, as a gamer, and a GAYMER. You can find him on social media as @silentinfinity.