Characteristic Breakpoints

by John Kim

         One of the odd features about the HERO system is that there are distinct breakpoints for effectiveness in Characteristic values. That is, going from 12 CON to 13 CON gets you more than going from 13 CON to 14 CON. This does mean that the scale is coarser than the 20-point scale might initially suggest. However, the HERO System is just as detailed for normals as comparable RPG Systems like D&D, Storyteller, and Exalted. While it is true that there are definite break points, the HERO system characteristics in general still have just as much detail as comparable RPG systems. We can look at various RPGs and look at how many meaningful steps there are between "human average" (i.e. 10 in HERO) and "normal human maximum" (i.e. 20 in HERO), inclusive:

Wizards of the Coast's Dungeons & Dragons (3.X edition)
The main feature of abilities is the ability bonus, which goes from +0 for stat of 10, to +4 for stat of 18. This is 5 steps, inclusive.
White Wolf's Storyteller games
Attributes here go from 2 dice for average to 5 dice for normal human maximum. This is 4 steps, inclusive.
Steve Jackon Games' GURPS
Technically human attributes go from 10 to 20 in GURPS. However, an attribute of 20 is prohibitively expensive and produces extreme results (i.e. taking a bazooka to the chest and surviving). Even elite special operatives only have attributes of 15 or so (from GURPS Special Ops). In my opinion, the equivalent to HERO's normal maximum is more like 15. This would be 6 steps, inclusive.

         Now let us look at the HERO primary characteristics. A common misconception is that only (Characteristic/5) matters, which would mean only 3 steps between average and normal maximum. However, the only characteristic where this is true is INT. Considering each individually, I find:

STR (Strength)
Each point of STR potentially matters for standard melee weapons, where damage is based on STR minus the variable STR minimum. Unarmed damage is based on absolute STR. Both of these give a full d6 every 5 pts, or a half-d6 for 3 pts. For unarmed damage this has break points of 13(2.5d6), 15(3d6), 18(3.5d6), and 20(4d6). Each melee weapon will have different break points, though. Between average and normal maximum: 5 steps, inclusive.
DEX (Dexterity)
Each point of DEX matters for initiative in combat. The more primary use for DEX is CV, which is based on DEX/3. This has break points of 11(CV4), 14(CV5), 17(CV6), 20(CV7). Between average and normal maximum: 5 steps, inclusive.
CON (Constitution)
Each point of CON matters for resistance against being stunned in combat. The more primary use is its figured characteristic bonus: ED and REC are based on CON/5, while STUN is based on CON/2. This has break points of 13 and 18. Between average and normal maximum: 3 steps, inclusive.
There are no breakpoints for BODY. Each 1 BODY is used to absorb wounds, and also adds 1 STUN. Between average and normal maximum: 11 steps, inclusive.
INT (Intelligence)
The primary use is for Perception rolls and as a base for skill rolls, both of which are based on INT/5. This has break points of 13 and 18. Between average and normal maximum: 3 steps, inclusive.
Each point of EGO matters for resisting mental effects. It is also used for mental combat (based on EGO/3) and psychological rolls (based on EGO/5). It is not clear which of these is primary, so this is either 11 steps, or 5 steps, or 3 steps.
PRE (Presence)
Each point of PRE matters for resisting Presence attacks. It is also used for making Presence attacks (which works like STR damage) and as a base for social skill rolls (based on PRE/5). That's 11 steps, 5 steps, or 3 steps -- so splitting the difference roughly 5 steps.
COM (Comliness)
Frankly, Comliness isn't used for any game-mechanical function. It is purely GM's discretion how to apply it to role-played interactions.

         The first conclusion is that even though there are break points, the average number of meaningful steps is just as much as comparable RPGs. For most characteristics each point has meaning, although steps over break points are more useful than others.

         In a thread on, Bill Seurer objected to this feature of Hero, saying:

The point for Hero is that the 5/11/3/whatever is from the same set of numbers. Why bother with having 11 (or whatever) possible Intelligence values if only 3 of them have any meaning when all the same values count for other attributes? All the levels in FUDGE count; FUDGE has a very coarse scale and sticks to it.
Now, that's a valid esthetic concern. However, it is just esthetic. Note that, for example, the D20 system has 20 steps of attributes but only the even-numbered steps generally make a difference in rolls. Also, nearly all of the attributes in HERO do have some meaning for each step. This is at least as much effect as odd-numbered stats have in the D20 system.

         The exceptions are INT and COM. If the esthetic bothers you, both of these could be removed from the game with little effect. The effect of INT can already be duplicated by General Skill Levels (i.e. +1 to all INT-based skills) and Enchanced Perception. COM can also be eliminated without any real effect to the game. In this case, a character's beauty and intelligence become a matter of description and role-playing. i.e. A character with a lot of skills and who is role-played intelligently is "intelligent". A character's beauty is judged based on the description.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Apr 30 14:53:53 2007