Equipment in the Hero System

by John Kim

     Equipment in the HERO system is often a source of confusion, generally because of the "points-for-equipment" rule suggested for superhero games. The first thing I would emphasize is that this is an option. Even if your PC's technically have superpowers, you may decide to use the normal "heroic" rules for equipment. This will make your campaign differ some from the mainstream superhero genre, but that may well be what you want (for example, if you want a superhero campaign modelled after Alan Moore's Watchmen).

     There is also another option, "Equipment Allowances", which was introduced in the Dark Champions sourcebook. This is a partial compromise between the realistic default and the comic-book-superhero rules of points-for-equipment. It is intended for more gritty genres which are still stylized, like The Punisher.

Normal Equipment Use

     This is the default for Heroic campaigns, and should be used for any realistic genre as well as some non-realistic genres. This just means that you treat equipment the same way that you treat it in most RPG's. i.e. A character who wants an item can go and buy it, or perhaps try to steal it. He doesn't have to pay any points for an item, and gets no points back for losing an item.

     The GM should provide stats as needed for items like guns and swords, but there is no need to write up every piece of equipment as a superpower. Weapons and vehicles probably need game stats, but mundane items like flashlights and rope do not. It is silly and counter-productive to try to write up every trivial item using the Powers meta-system.

     Characters should have starting money based on their income. Read the optional Money rules on page 44 as a default. However, there can be problems with it. To be more believable, most PC's should not spend all of their money on weapons, armor, and other such gear. One option could be to not require detailed accounting, but rather assume that PC's have quality of gear which reflects their socio-economic status. i.e. A rich character will have the best weapons and armor and other amenities, while a poor character will have cheap weapons and armor. The details of this would have to be worked out as house rules.

     The Hero system suggests that some unique items still be paid for with points: like magic items in a fantasy game, or possibly similarly rare items in other games (perhaps a lightsabre, for example). This should only be for items which cannot simply be bought. i.e. If your campaign world has magic items regularly for sale, then they should not be bought with points. Also, note that this is just for items that are owned by the PC at the start. PC's can still loot, steal, or earn magic items during the game.

     In this case, the item is bought as a power with the focus limitation. In general, the PC has to pay for the complete item as a power -- not just the magical enhancement over a normal item. This keeps magic items from being too common. There are two options for focuses:

Superhero Equipment

     This option represents the mainstream comic-book superhero world where superheroes and supervillians use distinctive "signature" items almost exclusively. For example, Batman uses all sorts of distinctive "bat" equipment rather than just guns or other normal items -- even when there is little difference. Similarly, Captain America has his shield as a signature item. It is part of his identity, and readers can be sure that if his shield gets taken away, he will get it back before too long. No mainstream superhero just uses normal stuff.

     By the same token, superheroes don't just stock their arsenal with whatever equipment they get. Thus, even though Spiderman defeats the Green Goblin, he doesn't start using all the Goblin's equipment even if it seems like it would be useful. If this doesn't seem right to you, then you probably don't want to use this option. This rule option is intended to reproduce the behavior in mainstream comics. If you don't want your PC's to behave this way, then use the normal equipment rules instead.

     If you do want this option, then you should consider carefully how you handle equipment. An important part of this is in character design. PC's shouldn't feel like they really need or want an ordinary gun or car or such. If a PC does feel that, then her superhero identity is incomplete. She should have a power to fill that role, or a signature item, or a motivation not to want the thing in the first place. For example, Batman has a motivation not to use a gun: both because he doesn't want to kill and because he wants to play up the mystique of being Batman.

     Still, unexpected needs often come up in play and a PC seems like he needs an item: either a normal item or someone else's signature item. The thing to remember is keeping the comic-book spirit. Comic-book heroes still do use ordinary items, like Spiderman will use a cement truck to make a trap for the Sandman. These are generally one-time tricks, and if anything you should encourage them as creative play.

     If the PC's want to add something to their arsenal or use it lots of times, then you as GM have a number of options:

Equipment Allowances

     This is an optional rule from Dark Champions. On the surface, it appears to be a compromise between the heroic and superheroic rules. However, really it is a guard against abuse of the normal heroic rules. It defines three states of readiness: "Everyday", "Patrol", and "Combat". For each of these, the character has a limit on total number of real points of equipment and maximum active points in any item. The limits are:

                         EVERYDAY           PATROL            COMBAT
CAMPAIGN TYPE          Real / Active     Real / Active     Real / Active
----------------     ---------------   ---------------   ---------------
Pure Heroic           20-30 /   30      40-60 /   40     50-100 /   50

High-Tech Heroic      30-40 /   30      45-75 /   60     80-120 /   90

     The point of this is basically just to keep trigger-happy PC's from carrying machineguns and grenades with them everywhere they go. Unless you are worried about that happening, I would not recommend using this rule. It adds an extra layer of bookkeeping to heroic campaigns which shouldn't be neccessary.

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Jul 23 21:25:39 2001