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Re: Dark Champions review posted


I was getting set to write an RPG.net review myself.

Then again, they usually take multiple reviews.

You should. Multiple reviews gives you a better idea of the product. Everyone brings their own bias. With multiple reviews you can see what is just bias and what is actually product.

As excellent as Arcady's review is, he and I approach roleplaying from different perspectives. Things he may see as a flaw, I might see as an advantage.

Consider also that some people may not like Arcady or his reviews. They may have no interest in the product from just the title and do not read his review. How will they ever know that DC is not just costumed vigilantes anymore? (assuming they are not loyal Hero board denizens)

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Re: Dark Champions review posted


There's a very signifigant backlog right now on rpg.net...


I've got three reviews in their queue actually, dating back to the 22nd of August. They really have no, in my opinion, valid excuse for the delays.


They say they don't want to diminish reviews by overloading the readers, but this is the time of year that gamers go out seeking reviews of all the new products that came out at Gen Con.

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Re: Dark Champions review posted


People are always submitting reviews though. rpg.net never has a shortage of them. It may have trouble at times with getting good reviews or reviews in anything I personally want to read about, but not reviews overall.


I was told here that they were behind by 36 reviews.

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Re: Dark Champions review posted


36, huh?


Well, I posted mine. It may be a while before it gets up then. I'll just put it up here for reference. (I'm not sure if there's a proprietary matter involved, but it's not like they're paying me...)




PRODUCT: Dark Champions

AUTHOR: Steven S. Long








The Book of Infinite Guns is updated for HERO System 5th Edition.





Background and Introduction


In 1993, Hero Games published Dark Champions: Heroes of Vengeance as a sourcebook to its Champions superhero line. It was the

first RPG book written by Steven S. Long, a lawyer-turned-part time game

author. DC:HOV detailed the "realistic" universe of vigilante heroes

like Batman, the Punisher, and most of the Watchmen. The book instantly

became a classic part of the Hero Games catalog, attracting praise for

Long's highly detailed overviews of the law enforcement world,

organized crime, and real-world guns and equipment, things given short shrift

in Champions' energy-blaster world. Dark Champions also served

as the definitive Champions guidebook for the increasingly popular

"take-no-prisoners" kind of vigilante- the guy who, unlike Batman or

Daredevil, wouldn't just capture the psycho killer and send him back to the

asylum so he can plot yet another escape.


Long wrote several other sourcebooks for the Dark Champions line and

branched out to become a full time game writer, contributing to White

Wolf, Last Unicorn and other companies. In 2001, he and his business

partners formed DOJ and bought out the star-crossed Hero Games company,

putting it back on its creative and financial feet with solid products

like the mammoth HERO System 5th Edition and sourcebooks like

Fantasy HERO. Yet it wasn't until now that Long was able to update

his original project for 5th Edition.


Between 1993 and 2004, a lot of things changed. In comics, the wave of

"adult" superheroes (what's now called the "Iron Age") crested and

broke for the same reason that the Dark Champions line of products started

to get stale: Basically, once you've seen one gun-toting sociopath,

you've seen 'em all. At the same time however, the "action-adventure"

genre- normal people in a realistic universe going through

larger-than-life adventures- has become more popular than ever, especially in this age of terrorism. So DOJ announced that the new Dark Champions would be more devoted to the broader action genre and would not be a superhero sourcebook. This caused a minor controversy on the Hero Games Discussion Boards, with a lot of people thinking that a more appropriate title

would be Danger International (Hero Games' pre-4th Edition

action-espionage title) or even Action HERO (going with the 'Hero' theme).


In the Introduction to the new Dark Champions, Steve Long

distinguishes "Dark Champions" (the superhero sub-genre as presented in the

original book) from the broader action genre and explains why he stuck

with the original title:


"It quickly became apparent that the [original] book was a hit. It

sold well, and the fans really seemed to enjoy it. Before long, gamers

were talking about playing or running in "Dark Champions" campaigns.

While many of these were just variations on the Champions theme, what

interested me most were people who created games and characters with no

real connection to superheroes or comic books. I heard things like "I'm

running this Dark Champions campaign where all the characters are cops"

or "I'm using Dark Champions to revive my old Danger International

campaign." In effect, I'd accomplished what I'd set out to do- write a

book that stood on its own as a genre book- despite the inclusion of

"Champions" in the title. The term "Dark Champions" came to stand for a lot

more than just characters like Batman or the Punisher; it encompassed

the whole action-adventure genre, even though the book wasn't written

that way."


The Introduction, which in many ways is Long's professional

autobiography, concludes: "And now I get to delve back into the genre that brought me to game writing, with a dozen years of experience and the authority and resources to the book the way I want to. Man, I have a great job."


The Book


Dark Champions is one of the more massive HERO System 5th

Edition sourcebooks, at 372 pages (the same as the hardcover rules

themselves, not counting end pages). At $31.99, it's substantially more massive-

and more detailed- than the entire basic hardcover for Mutants &

Masterminds, although the fact that DC is a softcover also means it's

not as durable as the M&M books. The cover of the book features Dark

Champions' iconic character, the Harbinger of Justice, doing what he

does best- blasting into a room and killing everybody in it. The cover,

by artist Storn Cook, is loaded with detail: Harbinger has just crashed

into a skyscraper office via a lanyard attached to his belt, he's armed

to the teeth, slug casings litter the ground, light reflects off his

night goggles and clips eject from the pistols in his hands as the slides

pop back. It's a vast improvement from the cover Storn did for the

first DC, and in many ways it's symbolic of the book as a whole.


However, the interior art isn't nearly as detailed or exquisite, with

some of the better pieces actually being the bits Dan Smith, Greg Smith

and Storn did for the first DC. The newer bits are well-produced in

greyscale but just aren't that well drawn for the most part.

The text is organized in a manner similar to other 5th Edition books,

with chapters separated by black title pages.


Chapter One: Action and Adventure- The Dark Champions Genre


This title starts by defining what is being discussed by the "Dark

Champions" genre. First, it's realistic- characters automatically start

with Normal Characteristic Maxima (you pay double to get stats above 20,

to reflect their rarity), but you don't have to pay Character Points

for mundane equipment. The genre is also "Action" oriented- which means

that it's actually MORE violent than the real world, with plenty of

plots and mercenary activity going on around the globe.


These things mean that the game is going to be a LOT more lethal than

even a Fantasy or SF game, since characters primarily use guns and

knives, and don't have cure wounds spells or "mutant healing factor." It

also means that the GM needs a lot of stats for real firearms and other

adventuring equipment. The new Dark Champions certainly doesn't

disappoint in that regard. (See below.)


Chapter One continues with overviews of various subgenres like

"Vigilante Crimefighting" (what the Dark Champions brand traditionally refers

to), "Caper Hero" (think Ocean's Eleven or The Sting),

Espionage, Law Enforcement ("Cop Hero") and so on. Like other

sourcebooks, DC also goes over "meta-genres" that can be used in a campaign like

Comedy and Horror. Then it determines how well DC mixes with other

HERO System lines. Champions, for instance, produces either "Iron Age

Champions" (think The Ultimates or The Authority), or a

four-color heroes meet street crime approach (described as "Dark Champions:

The Animated Series"). Daredevil, for instance, has superpowers and a

four-color morality, but is definitely a street-level hero.

The chapter concludes with an alphabetical list of "genre bits" like

amazing escapes, car chases, dead relatives, and of course GUNS.


Chapter Two: Vigilantes, Spies & Soldiers- Character Creation


This chapter first goes over some of the logical backgrounds for a

character in the action genre (cop, martial arts student, etc.) and some

archetypes like The Avenger and The Gun Nut, with appropriate

Disadvantages suggested for each.

Next is a large list of Package Deals organized by category of

Criminal, Espionage, Law Enforcement, Military and Miscellaneous. Note that in 5th Edition, Package Deals don't give you any kind of "cost break"-

they're just lists of what Skils, Perks and whatnot the character ought to

have to be considered a "member" of the group in question. There is

some detail given to worldwide espionage agencies, but the Military

packages focus entirely on the US forces.


After the Package Deals there's an analysis of what Characteristics a

PC needs to fill a given archetype and some tips to help the GM avoid

HERO's problem of "stat duplication."

Then there's a very useful overview of Skills, including a list of what

you get on a roll of Analyze Combat Technique, detailed rules for

Bribery and Bureaucratics, VERY detailed rules for Bugging, the "Zen

Riflery" Martial Art, a new Skill for Parachuting (basically 'Combat Piloting'

with Parachute use) that also includes a HERO writeup of how a

Parachute actually works (that way when Seeker falls off a building, he doesn't

have to make it up on the fly...) and other such useful bits.


There is a new Skill Enhancer called "Expert." Whereas other Skill

Enhancers give point breaks for Skill type (like Linguist for Languages)

Expert gives breaks for subject. For instance "Russia Expert" would

give you a 1 point break on Russian Language, and on Knowledge Skill:

Russia, and Area Knowledge: Russia. It's an interesting option.

There are also rules listing the costs for certain Perks, which are

necessary to serve in certain organizations and thus a place for

experienced characters to invest their XPs. Note that in the main rules, "Head of State" is 15 points; in this book, that only applies for a "minor"

nation. Being Head of State for the US or another major power is 25

points. Just in case you were thinking about it.


Next there is a list of Talents, many of which are duplicated from

Fantasy HERO (Deadly Blow, Rapid Healing) or Star HERO (Hotshot Pilot).

Then the book lists Powers. Given that characters are supposed to be

realistic, Powers are used mainly for equipment (with the Focus

Limitation) or to simulate extraordinary human abilities- what this book calls

"super-skills" and what the old DC:HOV gave the ungainly title

"non-powered Powers." There is also a "new" Power called Piercing. Anyone else remember Piercing? It was introduced way back in Champions III

and attached directly to an Attack Power by subtracting points off a

target's Defense *before* attack Advantages like Armor Piercing were

applied. Piercing was never used in 4th Edition rules... probably because



After an overview of Disadvantages (including a discussion of why most

characters do NOT want to be Hunted by the authorities) the book begins

a list of the aforementioned "Super-Skills." These are organized in

the format first used in The UNTIL Superpowers Database. These

example Powers provide a lot of flavor, with titles such as "Corridor of

Death" (Area of Effect Advantage for use with an Autofire firearm) and

"Son of a Bitch Must Pay" (Skill Levels usable only to get revenge on

the people who beat you up).


Chapter Two concludes with a very interesting new optional rule for the

GM: Resource Points. This concept reflects the fact that characters in

action movies go through a great number of vehicles, weapons and other

gear that gets destroyed or otherwise needs to be replaced. "Normal"

characters don't need to pay for these things, but the GM may still want

to keep track of them, and give PCs a break on other "Resources" like

their Contacts. If the rule is used, the GM decides how many Resource

Points PCs get in each category (the example is 60 points for Equipment)

with options to buy more on a ratio (1 Character Point per 5 Equipment

Points, 1 CP for 2 Vehicle/Base Points, etc.). This is a very neat

idea, although I don't think it serves well for all campaigns, like (say)

the Watchmen comics setting. It works best for a character who's

independently wealthy, a team supported by someone who's independently

wealthy (like the one in the back of the book) or- most likely- memb

ers of an organization, ranging from the police force to MI-6.


Chapter Three: Traces of Crime- Forensics


Chapter Three goes over various types of evidence analysis. This

subject was one of the strong points of the original Dark Champions, and

that was before the CSI TV shows. The new DC covers many new

technologies and methods, such as DNA "fingerprinting" and Computer

Forensics (analysis and repair of data on storage disk). As with the first

Dark Champions, this section is short but extremely detailed. For

instance, because oil mixes with other chemicals in a car engine, it's

possible to "type" a recent oil sample to a particular automobile. Another

example, from Forensic Pathology: "Different stages of insects are

attracted to a corpse at different stages of decomposition. Scientists can

use the rate of development of their young to determine the time of

death." Mmmm... maggots....


Chapter Four: Combat & Adventuring


This chapter begins by emphasizing the difference between "Dramatic"

and "Realistic" combat. The HERO System default, in which it's difficult

for characters to die, already stresses the Dramatic side. Stressing

Realism requires use of the game's optional rules, such as Hit

Locations, Wounding and Bleeding. The first part of the chapter reviews the

standard Combat Maneuvers and how they apply to the genre. Some optional

rules (like Critical Hits) are presented, but were also used in other

books like The Ultimate Martial Artist; of particular interest is

the optional Healing rule allowing characters to heal wounds that are

only 1 BODY, which prevents people from being nickled-and-dimed by minor

wounds in a setting where healing superpowers are nonexistent.


After that section are special "Gunfighting" rules, including an option

for "Blowthrough" (if half the attack's damage exceeds the

thickness of the barrier, it provides no defense to the target behind it,

similar to how strong PCs can use Casual STR to push through barriers).

The most useful rule for simulating Realism would be Recoil (an

additional -1 to-hit penalty for each shot after the first as the gun 'rides



Chapter Five: The Arsenal- Weapons


The first time I saw the original Dark Champions, I looked at the

equipment section, and thought: "God Christ, does this book have a lot of

guns." In fact, I and my gaming group called it the "Book of Infinite

Guns." Dark Champions is a more than sufficient update for 5th



After reviewing the physical properties of the various firearms and

ammo types, the book lists sixteen pages of guns. I counted to make sure.

No wait: That's just sixteen pages of generic ammo types. Then after

listing Firearms Accessories, the book lists 11 pages plus notes for

firearm brand names. The generic table is useful mainly for games using

the Resource Point rules. For instance, if a PC uses a handgun with 9mm

ammo, he can see what it costs with 7-8 shots, and then see what it

costs with an extra clip (13-16), then takes the difference to see what

the extra clip adds to his equipment allowance. Similar adjustments can

be made by taking the character's basic gun and buying it with Armor

Piercing ammo, and so on.


There's a fairly detailed section on explosives, which are mostly

normal damage (concussive) weapons, but of such high Damage Class that they

ought to kill most people. This section also includes experimental but

real devices like sonic cannons and sprayfoam riot weapons.


Note that most of the weapons are not given any picture examples or

other illustrations. This is a weakness in the book, but understandable

given its space limitations. It will probably necessary to consult one

of the reference books listed in the back (like Edge of the Sword), especially if you, like me, can barely tell the difference between

a "bullpup configuration" and a sawed-off shotgun.


Chapter Six: Field Kit- Dark Champions Gear


As if the last chapter weren't enough, Chapter Six lists real-world

non-weapon equipment, namely body armor and communications gear. Bugging

equipment and other sensory devices are detailed in HERO System terms.

More exotic stuff like superhero Utility Belts and spy gadgets (both

'Cinematic' and real) are detailed here also.


Chapter Seven: The Enemy- Dark Champions Adversaries


This is the chapter focusing on various types of organized crime. This

was another strong point of the original book, analyzing the American

and Sicilian Mafia, the Yakuza and even street gangs. Not detailed

originally (but presented in Long's Justice, Not Law, 1993) is the

Russian Mafia, re-presented here. The original book presented these

overviews with fiction pieces and character examples; the new book is more

utilitarian. After listing the real-world organizations and their

activities, DC goes on to mention other "genre" threats, namely criminal

masterminds, robbery crews, serial killers and costumed criminals.


The book then devotes a section to real-world terrorism, including, of

course, al-Qaeda, but also several organizations that committed

domestic terrorism in the '70s and '80s, like the Aryan Nation and the

Japanese Red Army. Which demonstrates that this issue has actually been a

problem for quite some time, however much Islamic terrorism is an issue



Chapter Eight: Running the Gauntlet- Gamemastering Dark



This chapter is of course the GM's guide to properly running a Dark

Champions game in genre. Tips are given for how powerful characters

should be for a particular sub-genre (superspies can get away with more

stuff than realistic cops or soldiers, for instance). A special section is

given to crossing supernatural themes with the Dark Champions genre, a

la The X-Files. The general advice is that paranormal abilities

need to be kept rare, sinister and unprovable- which means they

shouldn't be possessed by PCs.


This chapter also devotes a section to the tone of a campaign,

particularly stressing the idea that the world is dark, but the characters are

still heroes: "Characters who can't see beyond themselves,

beyond their own thoughts and desires, are death to any vibrant, active

Dark Champions campaign. What a GM really needs, even in a dark

campaign, is PCs who leap to meet a challenge, do a good deed or

accomplish something worthwhile- heroes, in other words. Even if the PCs go

about this in dark ways (like shooting gang punks or a dictatorial

government's goons) they're still taking part in something worth doing."


This is the kind of advice that would have been much appreciated in the

original Dark Champions line; as I said earlier, the moral grayness (or

'mature subjects') presented in those titles made the material

depressing and ultimately repetitive and stale. Whether it is heroic to shoot

gang punks is another story, but the subject can serve as a source of

drama between characters.


The book next goes into how to create a plot for each game story (with

a Random Plot Generator written up). As in Aaron Allston's

Champions, this book has a section detailing how certain genre bits don't

really work in a role-playing game (e.g. it's usually a bad idea to

split the party). The chapter then goes over "Disadvantages and How to Use

Them." For instance, since an action hero's friends and family tend to

die with great regularity in the media, players may not want to give

PCs Dependent NPCs. The book suggests a gentleman's agreement not to

kill the DNPCs ('at least, unless the injury is somehow directly the PC's

fault'). The book next goes over how to design Villains and other

NPCs, going through certain Archetypes like "The Corrupt Cop," "The

Likeable Crook" and "The Uptight Commander."


Chapter Nine- LIBRA


The first part of this chapter details a party of five NPCs or

potential sample PCs, each built with 200 points including points spent for

extra Resource Points. The five were recruited by the Harbinger of

Justice as potential successors and aides in his one-man war on crime. Note

that whereas the original DC:HOV presented Harbinger as a "force of

nature" with enough points and high-tech to attack Galactic Champions characters, Harbinger isn't statted here at all. Possibly he may be

given stats in the upcoming Dark Champions sourcebook Hudson City:

The Urban Abyss ('come for the pie, stay for the killing').


The second part of the book gives stats for the villains Abaddon,

Caliber, Crossbow, Fenris and Triggerhappy. These villains (and several

others) were listed in the original DC:HOV, but here they're written with

this sourcebook's rules as Heroic-level characters. They serve to

illustrate the versatility and potential of the system; Fenris, as a

Colombian drug lord, has the Resource points to back his status, while

Abaddon uses the Deadly Blow Talent in conjunction with Martial Arts

maneuvers and Skills to crank out up to 4d6 Killing with a 1d6 combat knife.



Bibliography: Compared to Fantasy HERO, this section is sparse, mainly

because it has no author comments and simply lists a large line of

mostly non-fiction reference materials. One of these is a treatise on

worldwide crime and terrorism called The New War, written by John

Kerry. I shit you not. By the way, did you know Kerry served in




Dark Champions is a book with vast potential for any sort of

modern-day roleplaying, perhaps not AS detailed on a particular subject as

say, GURPS Cops, but serving as a strong base for the entire

action genre. Its detail on detective work and real-world military gear

will also make it an invaluable sourcebook for many superhero games.

The original DC was already a superb resource in these regards, and the

update, like other 5th Edition products, is a great step forward from

what was already a high standard.



Style: 4

The book earns a "Classy and Well-Done" mark mainly because of its

layout and ease of use. It could stand some improvement in terms of art,

however, even given the limitations of Hero Games' budget.


Substance: 5

Actually, Dark Champions requires more than a 5 in substance.

It needs a 6. Or an 11.


"Well, why don't you just increase the volume threshold on the

amplifier and make that the new 10?"

"................ Well, this one goes to 11."

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Re: Dark Champions review posted


In the future would it be at all possible to have you email me the links to your reviews? That makes it easier for me to update the Reviews page on the site since I don't always catch the announcements in the boards.


Okay. :D



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