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Selling Fantasy Hero


Christopher R Taylor
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Pathfinder continues to find great success in game stores and gaming groups around the country despite being almost 10 years old at this point.  D&D has already had 2 more editions come out since it was published, and still its quite popular.  The new edition of D&D is apparently doing well too and is getting good reviews from players.  I read a recent article in the Boston Globe that said gaming in general - particularly D&D - is coming back in popularity.

 

So how do we get Fantasy Hero to more players?  How can the game build interest and fans as a hobby?  I know that as the RPG hobby grows, Fantasy Hero necessarily gains popularity as all boats rise with a growing tide, but how can we specifically push this game?  I think Fantasy Hero is the best product Hero puts out, that the system works better for fantasy than even superheroes, which is considered its core.

 

Pathfinder has built a base by having a huge amount of source material, especially its 'adventure path' series, which allows GMs to put players on a railroad track and chug them along to high level following a specific story.  I can see the attraction of that concept - its similar to what many gamers are used to in computer games, its easy to plug in and play, and it has a consistent feel to it, as well as a goal and end point. But I know at least some players find it too restrictive and forced.  Would that kind of concept help?

 

I personally think that a well-built, consistent setting and lots of adventures to help support it is the way to go - its how D&D built its popularity.  But that was in the 1980s and maybe new gamers are looking for or expect something different.

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Pathfinder had a built-in advantage in that it was D&D 3.75 that allowed it to siphon off some of D&D's 3rd edition user base. Attracting people away from that system to Hero is the big challenge. I'm not sure if a cool setting and plentiful support for it is enough to draw people in, but Narosia is going to be multi-platform as a setting so I'm hopeful to see some gains.

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Interesting article. And I can agree to the staement that playing roleplaying games is good for your education and eventually for your career as well: In my group we are two teachers (I am head of a departmnet of my school, the other is training other teachers), one is a judge and all have quite a good command of a foreign language (English) becaus emost of the games we play are not translated. Same is true when I enter my local gaming store: Lots of people holding degrees of one or the other kind.

 

I disagree that HERO works best with Fantasy though. I alsway considered it CHAMPIONS first and modern pulpish adventures second. But the second edition of Fantasy Hero (for Hero 4th edeition) was the best a approachable edition ever published of it because there was all you needed (except the core rules): Spells, monsters, a world, an adventure (or two if you like).

 

A new edition should not only give me the shorted core rules, it should be like Lucha Libre Hero: A self-contained set of rules including a fantasy world (or part of it) and at least one adventure to set you off.

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When talking about fantasy, any product that wants to draw new customers has to address the basic question any potentially interested gamer will have: Why choose Fantasy Hero over D&D?

 

So how do you get the answer out there? Well, that's basic Advertising 101. What sort of advertising muscle does Hero Games have for such an endeavor? Even if they knew how to effectively answer that question, I'm not sure they have the resources to maximize all the available advertising vectors.

 

But aside from that, telling gamers that the Hero System lets them build the character they want using a complex point-buy system may only appeal to a select minority. I feel a different strategy is needed. One that does not rely on convincing gamers of the merits of the Hero System itself. The strategy I propose is to "pull a White Wolf," if you will, and come up with a fantasy setting so compelling that customers will buy into the system just to experience the setting. And while we're at it, give the core book a setting-focused version of the Hero System rules, a bunch of pre-made characters, and at least one starting adventure.

 

As for adventure structure, I think we might borrow from the Savage Worlds concept of Plot Point campaigns. It provides an overall epic storyline into which published or homebrew adventures can be inserted as desired.

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Unfortunately, the best setting writer the HERO system had was Aaron Allston. :(

 

Scott Bennie's no slouch though. Testament was a very cool piece of work, although too narrowly focused to just pick up wholesale.

 

Dean Shomshak ruled the mystic side of superheroes. I'm sure he could do fantasy if he was interested.

 

The existing published settings don't really do much for me, although I haven't paid much attention to them.

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I think the ideal way to pitch Fantasy Hero over D&D is all the fun, with a fresh approach, and greater flexibility.  Run a good game and they will come, maybe.  I suspect that Gonster might have it, although Champions might be a greater draw just because of all the background noise with Pathfinder.  11 fantasy games and one superhero one helps you stand out a bit better.

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The strategy I propose is to "pull a White Wolf," if you will, and come up with a fantasy setting so compelling that customers will buy into the system just to experience the setting.

 

It would be wonderful if someone could come up with such a setting on demand, but unfortunately it seems to be a lot more hit-and-miss than that. Starting with Fifth Edition Hero Games produced four very different fantasy settings, all with their own unique conventions and flavor, often utilizIng Hero System in innovative ways to suit the conventions and feel of their respective sub-genres. While each of these settings has its supporters, none of them caught fire with the general public, even among established Hero gamers. The people who wrote them were experienced game designers with quality work to their credit, so I don't think they can be accused of not knowing what they're doing, or of not trying. It's just really tricky to figure out a "hit" setting that a large percentage of the gaming public will all agree is "compelling." Luck seems to be a signficant factor, much as it is for a movie or television series.

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It would be wonderful if someone could come up with such a setting on demand, but unfortunately it seems to be a lot more hit-and-miss than that. Starting with Fifth Edition Hero Games produced four very different fantasy settings, all with their own unique conventions and flavor, often utilizIng Hero System in innovative ways to suit the conventions and feel of their respective sub-genres. While each of these settings has its supporters, none of them caught fire with the general public, even among established Hero gamers. The people who wrote them were experienced game designers with quality work to their credit, so I don't think they can be accused of not knowing what they're doing, or of not trying. It's just really tricky to figure out a "hit" setting that a large percentage of the gaming public will all agree is "compelling." Luck seems to be a signficant factor, much as it is for a movie or television series.

I never meant to suggest it was the easiest way. But I do feel it is the best way.

 

I think it is unrealistic to expect Hero Games to do it all on their own. In fact, I think they've already done their part by creating the system and providing a very reasonable licensing path. The task of coming up with the killer setting falls upon third party creators. By spreading the endeavor over a broad base of writers, we increase the odds of scoring the "lucky hit". Look how much enthusiasm third party writers/publishers have for Savage Worlds. The number of licensed settings is staggering. Not all of them are stellar works, but that's to be expected. But out of sheer volume comes higher chances of producing a "hit". Hero Games needs to find a way to cultivate that sort of third party excitement for the Hero System, and push heavily for new, unique settings.

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Interesting take on this conundrum overall, though I honestly think it is something of a gordian knot. Due to the fact that D&D & Pathfinder represent the lowest common denominator here, the likelihood of pulling a current gamer, much less a casual one to a "fringe" system is staggeringly low from my point of view. Even if Hero were able to license the Middle Earth setting, I doubt you would pull a ton of gamers. I think the reality here is that though Hero is a great system, the amount of work required goes beyond what most people are willing to put into a hobby these days. That is why you don't see as many settings as Savage Worlds for instance, the amount of work to make a good setting is considerably higher for Hero than most games. And though there are some third party creators out there doing excellent work, and least a few of them want to be paid for their labors (rightly so) and as such, focus their efforts on the system(s) that are likely to pay off. I have had many gaming groups over the years, and the vast majority of those I am still in contact with no longer play Hero. Not because it isn't a great system, but because there are easier ones out there. A good portion of them even play M&M because it is easier, and doesn't have as much math. So I think in general, getting Hero to the mainstream is tilting at windmills. 

 

ZSlane has it right, in that a unique, proprietary setting would be the best hook, but even that would require advertising and media beyond the budget of a small company. Really, MHI was a good shot at getting a more mainstream setting in place and leveraging it for players, and though it has been doing well by Hero's standards, I doubt it has made a great dent in players of any other more popular system.

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Well I wouldn't say to trick people into playing Fantasy Hero via Champions, but introducing people to the system and its flexibility through Champions is a way of getting people to pay attention to Fantasy Hero.

 

Honestly in the end I wonder if it isn't really in our hands at all, its just a matter of the way waves of market and culture go.  For a while RPGs seemed completely dead, now they seem to be rising in popularity again.

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I've been saying it a lot lately and others have said it in this thread.

 

A compelling campaign setting is what is going to draw players in. but the problem even in that is getting the word out and getting gamers to try. i fear more and more that the only way to do that is to introduce a "lite" version of the rules attached to a brilliant setting and go from there.

 

I just threw up in my mouth a little...

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I don't think you have to actually make a new set of rules, just a lite way of presenting them to players.  Stripped down character sheets, handle most of the bookwork and tough stuff as a GM, and introduce people to the game in small pieces as questions come up.  AD&D was tremendously complex taken as a whole, particularly with the weaponless combat system added in.  But nobody threw it all on players at once, they said "here's a character, lets go adventuring!"

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I want to note that this topic, and more, were part of the extensive forum discussion when Hero Games solicited fan input for the now-written Fantasy Hero Complete. It's intended to address some of these issues, so I intend to take a look at that, and see how it's received generally, and then form any recommendations as to how HG should proceed.

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I've been saying it a lot lately and others have said it in this thread.

 

A compelling campaign setting is what is going to draw players in. but the problem even in that is getting the word out and getting gamers to try. i fear more and more that the only way to do that is to introduce a "lite" version of the rules attached to a brilliant setting and go from there.

 

Why?  I'm curious as to why this would be the only way.

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Why? Because in my experience people just starting out with RPGs want to spend as little time as possible making a character and get to the adventure. The quicker they can get through character creation and start playing that shiny new setting the happier they are.

 

I've spent literally days working on a character in Hero to get it to where I'm happy with it. I enjoy the process, but it is more of a process than other systems have.

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It certainly isn't the only way, but I feel it has the greatest potential to attract new players than the approach taken for the last decade or so.

 

First, one has to acknowledge that the non-DIY-obsessed player has never been Hero's target demographic, and that needs to change if the Hero System is ever going to expand beyond its meager, albeit passionate, following. Appealing to the Read & Play crowd requires a very different approach than the Read & Build approach traditionally taken by Hero products.

 

So, in order to provide a Read & Play experience, there needs to be a product line that a new player can pick up, read, and dive right into adventuring. That means pre-made stuff for a pre-made campaign world. But if the provided setting isn't interesting, players will give up on it rather quickly, assuming they give it a try at all. So the setting is a key component to attracting initial interest as well as maintaining it.

 

Furthermore, a non-DIY presentation of the Hero System necessarily requires a presentation very different from what we've seen before. Whether we call it a "lite" set of rules, or what-have-you, it would not resemble traditional Hero products much at all. The mechanics don't need to change, but the way they are presented needs to change for easier consumption by Read & Play gamers. These are players who are now accustomed to, for instance, buying the Savage World of Solomon Kane core book and having a complete set of mechanics, a game setting, and everything needed to jump right into adventuring. And if they dig that experience, well, the more comprehensive Savage Worlds Deluxe rulebook is available should they get the urge to tinker with their campaign.

 

The "Complete" books are a step in the right direction, but they don't go far enough. They don't provide a setting (one that will see ample and ongoing support in the way of gazettes, bestiaries, gear books, adventures, etc.), and they don't distill the mechanics down to a Read & Play form. Granted, they weren't designed to do these things, and therein lies their weakness as vehicles for bringing in new players.

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Premade characters and simple templates are a big help if the only concern is character creation.

 

I'll tip a little hint here on a feature in an upcoming project (likely next year in my "Player's Handbook" for the campaign world): I have sets of templates under construction to speed building a character.

Characteristic blocs (academic, athletic, mystic, charming, fast, etc)

Profession (mariner, wizard, ranger, scout, theif)

Personality (complication blocs, basically, so things like do-gooder, mercenary, scheming, etc)

...etc for example

So with these templates a player can pick them like an ala carte menu: one from each and you combine to make a character.

 

With premade guys in various typical "classes" and archetypes, the template system, and a simplified approach to bringing new players in, you can get what people seem to be asking for here, without it being dumbed down or built as Fantasy Hero Lite.  That's my theory, at least.

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A modular assembly approach would be great for beginners getting started with their first few characters. The Champions gallery with its assortment of build options helped me get beginners going quickly playing Champions. A gallery of building blocks for fantasy characters is a good approach for getting things rolling quickly. Make it colorful with good art and enough options to be versatile without being intimidating, and you're off and running.

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one of the deliverables from fantasy hero complete was going to be an adventure module and ready to play characters.

 

Jason just sent out an update today will be ready soon. I think this will be a huge leap forward and making fantasy hero available to view players

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