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
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
- 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
- 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