Top 10 Myths about the HERO System

by John Kim

     There are a number of myths which crop up about the HERO system, usually from people who played or just looked at Champions briefly and extrapolated wildly from there. There are actually only eight here, but top ten lists sound better.
NOTE: This was originally written circa 2000, prior to the release of 5th edition.

1) HERO is messed up because my PC can't pick up a sword and use it.
Non-superhero games in HERO deal with equipment in the same way as most systems: a PC picks up a flashlight and uses it. She buys equipment with money, and if it is lost or stolen, it's gone. Superhero games by default use an optional rule which simulates comic-book reality where characters like Batman don't pick up guns and use them, and conversely characters like Captain America nearly always have their signature items. However, the system works with or without this optional rule. (cf. Equipment in HERO)
2) HERO is too coarsely-grained for non-superhero play.
There are indeed break points for HERO characteristics, but even if you consider them there are just as many steps for the normal human as in comparable systems like GURPS, Storyteller, and others. For example, Storyteller stats go from 1 to 5. It is true that not every point in a HERO stat makes a difference, but it has a comparable number of steps. Some people don't like the esthetic of there being breakpoints at all, but most stats at least have multiple breakpoints. (cf. Breakpoints in HERO)
3) HERO only does comic-book damage where guns don't kill.
While it is true that HERO intentionally tends to be less deadly than reality, the same is true of nearly all RPGs to some degree -- including GURPS and others. If you use the gritty options recommended for deadly genres, HERO is roughly as lethal as comparable systems. (cf. Lethality in HERO)
4) HERO kills flavor by making a magical fireball just like a superpower plasma burst.
The HERO system mechanics for fireballs and other effects are just as varied as the basic mechanics in other systems (i.e. Nd6 for damage, subtract X defense, etc.). The HERO system specifies that powers with different "special effects" should have real differences in them. i.e. A magical fireball will set things on fire, while a magical cone of cold will freeze things and so forth. If a GM doesn't do this, it is because he is rigidly following the details of mechanics even though the rulebook advises otherwise. As a side note, the 4th edition Fantasy Hero supplement does have a pretty boring magic system -- but that is just one example. (cf. Power Design in HERO)
4) HERO is hard to adapt because everything has to use the overly complicated Powers system.
This criticism is usually that systems like GURPS or FUDGE write new rules which are specially tailored to handle special cases like a new form of magic -- while in HERO they are forced use the Powers meta-system. While the Powers system is handy for doing a wide range of effects, it is no more immutable than any other rules. For example, Horror HERO wrote in new rules for spirits, and Ninja HERO wrote in new rules for martial arts. The Powers system is just a tool. If it helps for adapting material, then use it. If it seems restrictive for a given case, then you can add in your own rules just like any other system.
5) HERO character creation is always insanely complicated.
sort of
This is true only if players are designing their own custom powers with the Powers meta-system -- which usually applies for genres like superheroes. Genres which don't have unique set of powers for each PC are a lot easier. The basic character creation (sans powers) is time-consuming because there are a lot of stats and options, but it is straightforward. You pay for what you get, and all the operations are just paying N points for a given ability.
6) HERO is a nightmare of bookkeeping.
sort of
The rules as written do call for tracking a lot of different numbers: i.e. STUN, BODY, and END. Also, STUN and END are large numbers (20+) which are frequently changed, with automatic recoveries every few phases. This can be simplified in house rules, but by default it is more bookkeeping than most systems have.
7) HERO combats take forever.
sort of
HERO definitely has an involved combat system. There are a number of tricks to try to speed it up, but especially if you are new to the system you should expect combats to take longer than in most comparable systems. On the positive side, HERO combats have a lot of options which make them more interesting and fun than just hit-defend-hit-defend.
8) The HERO rulebook is written in legalese.
This has varied with edition. Some earlier HERO system games were more streamlined, such as Danger, International and Justice Inc. However, the current 5th edition rules (released in 2002) is definitely written with a very technical, lawyerly slant.


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue Jun 6 15:00:40 2006