Lethality in the HERO System

by John Kim

         Lethality in the HERO system is often misunderstood. This is partly because of the multiple options, but more often because of the pre-existing bias that it is "comic-book". Damage is less lethal than in reality, but frankly the same is true of nearly all RPGs. For example, gun damage is lower in dice in the Hero System than in GURPS. Both games have an average of 10 lethal damage points: BODY in Hero, HT in GURPS. However, the meaning of damage is very different. In GURPS you can be reduced to 5 times your HT below zero before death is assured. In the Hero System, once you are at 0 BODY you are dying quickly (losing 1 BODY per turn), and die upon reaching negative 1 times BODY.

Hit Location

         The tables below compare the effect of hit location on attacks for the HERO System (4th edition) and GURPS (3rd edition).

Hero System

3d6 Roll Location N STUN K STUN K BODY To-Hit
3-5 Head x2 x5 x2 -8
6 Hands x0.5 x1 x0.5 -6
7-8 Arms x0.5 x2 x0.5 -5
9 Shoulders x1 x3 x1 -5
10-11 Chest x1 x3 x1 -3
12 Stomach x1.5 x4 x1 -7
13 Vitals x1.5 x4 x2 -8
14 Thighs x1 x2 x1 -4
15-16 Legs x0.5 x2 x0.5 -6
17-18 Feet x0.5 x1 x0.5 -8

GURPS Hit Location

3d6 Roll Location To-Hit Effect
3-4 Brain -7 DR+2, x4 damage, HT roll vs knockout
5 Head -5 HT roll vs knockout
6 Sheild/Far Arm -4 Max damage HT/2 cripples the arm
7 Hand -4 Max damage HT/3 cripples the hand
8 Weapon/Near Arm -2 Max damage HT/2 cripples the arm
9-11 Torso -0 Max damage HT
12 Far leg -2 Max damage HT/2 cripples the leg
13-14 Near leg -2 Max damage HT/2 cripples the leg
15-16 Foot -4 Max damage HT/3 cripples the foot
17-18 Vitals -3 Impaling weapons do x2, roll HT vs knockout

     The Hero system table has less absolute differences. Hit location is not as critical, though it makes a big difference in STUN. A common flaw discussed of Hero is the "Stun Lottery", which is that the basic mechanic for STUN damage from killing attacks has a huge variance. The table below compares the chance of each Stun multiple using the basic system and the hit location system.

Stun Multiplier Chance (1d6-1) Chance (Hit Location)
x1 33.3% 6.5%
x2 16.7% 31.0%
x3 16.7% 36.6%
x4 16.7% 21.3%
x5 16.7% 4.6%


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Wed Feb 1 17:54:41 2006