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Hero Does It Better

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My son is starting a D&D 5e group and we've been discussing GMing in general, as well as playing, and just roleplaying in general. We started sharing various YouTube videos with each other and using those as springboards for more discussion. He sent me the following video, and as I watched it, it really hit home how the Hero System really does some things really right. There's mention of how HPs don't seem to really represent damage well. How there's no easy way to determine lethality. And the importance of discussing the campaign setting with the players. These of course are all things that I, and I assume many of you take for granted as non-problems when it comes to Hero. We've got BODY vs STUN and we've got campaign planning sheets that the group can use to define the campaign as a whole including lethality, and then we can easily exercise that via the types and amounts of damage. Sure there's always bad dice rolls that can happen and terrible player decisions, but as a whole I think Hero really handles the questions of lethality better. What do you all think?

 

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The Hero System definitely offers more options than most game systems for dialing things up or down to suit a desired outcome, and in the hands of a skilled GM who knows what they want for the campaign they are running that level of control can afford a "better" result than if using a system that does not offer such tunability.

 

However, while I've had a lot of success over the years using the Hero System for a wide variety of genres at a similarly wide variety of power levels and grittiness, I'm also not blind to the cost of the game in my time as the GM or the learning curve for the average player. 

 

The question often isn't "does the Hero System do this better?"...to which the answer often is "yes" or at least "maybe". Instead the question more typically is "does this other system do it well enough and are there people who will agree to play it with me?". 

 

If time and players were abundant, I would likely still be using the Hero System for everything. But as they aren't, often times I'm looking for the game system I can wring the most amount of fun out of with the least amount of effort. Sad but true. :(

 

 

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HERO's system of STUN and BODY does help to mitigate the "HP makes no sense" issue, but it still rears its head from time to time.  It's SFX dependent, but a mental attack that Does BODY (for example) can start getting really strange when it interacts with Paramedics or a healing power. 

There's also the issue that if your opponent has decent resistant defenses the fastest way to kill them is to slam them with STUN damage until they keel over, then finish them off.  It's very hard to tell if somebody's trying to knock you out to capture you or knock you out to murder you. 

I fully disagree that it takes the need to discuss campaign setting away, though.  Even if you're using a genre book, those genres are so broad that you can have The Gunisher submitted next to General Greece, Nocturnal Mammal Person, and Angst Storm.  That won't go well. 

 

There's also a number of things HERO doesn't do as well as I'd like, mainly in the area of balance and accessibility. 

The one-cost-fits-all scheme leads to situations where a power (Regeneration in Superheroic play, for example) is massively overcosted but a new GM isn't likely to be comfortable adjusting price from What Is Written. 

Getting players to remember the rules of even something as simple as M&M ("Which dice do I roll to attack", they ask in the third session playing the system that only uses one dice, just before asking what their attack bonus is) has given me headaches, I'm one of only two people in my current 5-7 person group who's really put learning time down on HERO and I can't really say I don't understand why everyone else is shying away from the giant books.  Big scary book makes peoples eyes glaze over.  The fact that you really do have to read the entire combat chapter and all your powers and skills doesn't help. 

 

And while HERO does work as a universal system, there's something better out there for most purposes other than build-your-own-super.  The only question is if the time it takes to find and learn that other thing is worth it. 

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Pretty much all the cons you stated are the reason I haven't moved beyond 2e.  Well, maybe 2.5, as I have grabbed a few things from 4e.  Not much: just the newer powers and Perks. 

 

Really drops the learning curve and the amount of time spent flipping through books (bookses?  We need a "plural plural" for cases when the number of rule books is pushing seven or so :lol:) and web archives for answers to a question. 

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Hit Points were always a gross abstraction of many cinematic elements all rolled into one pool of points. They represent luck, divine favor, heroic destiny (i.e., a benefit of being the heroic protagonist in the "story"), endurance and toughness, dodging and parrying, etc. Anything (that isn't armor) which might prevent a blow from dealing actual bodily damage is abstractly covered by all but maybe the last dozen Hit Points a character has. This mechanic isn't lacking in realism so much as it is lacking in fine detail.

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10 hours ago, Killer Shrike said:

The Hero System definitely offers more options than most game systems for dialing things up or down to suit a desired outcome, and in the hands of a skilled GM who knows what they want for the campaign they are running that level of control can afford a "better" result than if using a system that does not offer such tunability.

 

However, while I've had a lot of success over the years using the Hero System for a wide variety of genres at a similarly wide variety of power levels and grittiness, I'm also not blind to the cost of the game in my time as the GM or the learning curve for the average player. 

 

The question often isn't "does the Hero System do this better?"...to which the answer often is "yes" or at least "maybe". Instead the question more typically is "does this other system do it well enough and are there people who will agree to play it with me?". 

 

If time and players were abundant, I would likely still be using the Hero System for everything. But as they aren't, often times I'm looking for the game system I can wring the most amount of fun out of with the least amount of effort. Sad but true. :(

 

 

This is all so very true, KS. It's a shame that more people aren't willing to give it a go. The good news is that now that role-playing games are experience a "revival" (read D&D is cool), I think it is easier to get the "new," younger generation to give it a go. Both my son and daughter, obviously, have played Hero, and they both really enjoyed it and didn't find it difficult. But as you said, it is that "time investment" that needs to be made to really get in to it, and the time investment for the GM is often quite large compared to other systems.

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I think it is harder (not impossible) to kill PCs in Hero because the original source material was designed around comic books.  Death of a comic book hero was extremely rare.  Comic book heroes that were knocked out and came back into the fight a bit later happens all the time.  Hero by using PD/ED/DCV/Stun and Body lowers the likelihood of a character being one shot killed and still includes the likelihood of being stunned and/or knocked out in a single shot.

 

I think Matt's video has something much more important to communicate than the value/history/purpose of hit points.  PC death, how lethal is the campaign, how dangerous are the villains, and how as a GM you can help make sure that PC deaths are meaningful (if/when they happen).  When he talks about his friend tracking all the hit points, I thought about my tool, Hero Combat Manager (shameless plug) because that is one of the things you can see at a glance to know how bad off characters are.  I also like the whole magnet idea.  We used the plastic colored rings that are on soda bottles, milk bottles, etc to do the same thing when we played at the table.

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1 hour ago, bluesguy said:

how as a GM you can help make sure that PC deaths are meaningful

 

I kinda feel that depends on the style of the campaign. For instance, "Old School" RPG campaigns don't obligate the GM to protect PCs from the poor play of their players. PC deaths aren't always meaningful; sometimes they are the result of shockingly stupid decisions, and sometimes they are the result of just plain bad luck. In old school campaigns, not every gamble pays off and foolish choices have consequences, sometimes deadly consequences. Players who can't stomach the prospect of losing their characters will find great solace in the superhero genre where, as you point points out, death is rarely the consequence of anything, never mind a consequence of poor decision making. But if the Hero System is going to be used for grittier genres, like fantasy or sci-fi, then all the safety features of the system should be turned off so that the campaign doesn't just feel like low-level superheroes merely reskinned in a medieval or far future setting.

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5 hours ago, zslane said:

 

I kinda feel that depends on the style of the campaign. For instance, "Old School" RPG campaigns don't obligate the GM to protect PCs from the poor play of their players. PC deaths aren't always meaningful; sometimes they are the result of shockingly stupid decisions, and sometimes they are the result of just plain bad luck. In old school campaigns, not every gamble pays off and foolish choices have consequences, sometimes deadly consequences.

Or you don't play those "old school" RPG campaigns.  My recollection of those kinds of games from the late 70's and early 80's were dungeon crawls in a place that pretty much made no sense at all.  Often Fighter A, killed in session 18, was the same as Fighter B, killed in session 23, played by the same player.  The 'characters' were more like chess pieces rather than actual characters like you might read in a novel or see in film/TV.  So pretty much what does it matter if Fighter A dies due to dumb luck, roll up a new one and you are ready to go once the party finds you in room 32 all tied up and few hit points down and your stuff in room 38 (he/she is ready to go).

 

Quote

Players who can't stomach the prospect of losing their characters will find great solace in the superhero genre where, as you point points out, death is rarely the consequence of anything, never mind a consequence of poor decision making.

 

The people I have gamed with over the years invest time into a backstory and actually role play a character for 20 or 30 sessions are not going to be happy if they die because of a bad die roll.  Maybe the people you game with don't mind that happening and just roll with it (pun intended).

 

5 hours ago, zslane said:

But if the Hero System is going to be used for grittier genres, like fantasy or sci-fi, then all the safety features of the system should be turned off so that the campaign doesn't just feel like low-level superheroes merely reskinned in a medieval or far future setting. 

 

Who says Fantasy or Sci-Fi are grittier genres than comics.  How many main characters died in:

  • In any Star Trek show?  None in TOS.  One in TNG (but they recycled the actress to play an alternate timeline daughter). DS9 had one death which was Jadzia Dax.  VOY, I believe the only main character who dies is Kes.
  • LoTR:  Lots of deaths and I would argue that at least 75% were to move the story along vs. 'bad luck (dice roll)'

If you want a grittier game then Hero can give you all the grit you can possible stand.  I can easily see a Hero game where characters (PC & NPC) are regularly mamed (temporarily or permanently) or killed (every few sessions).

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6 minutes ago, bluesguy said:

Or you don't play those "old school" RPG campaigns.  My recollection of those kinds of games from the late 70's and early 80's were dungeon crawls in a place that pretty much made no sense at all.  Often Fighter A, killed in session 18, was the same as Fighter B, killed in session 23, played by the same player.  The 'characters' were more like chess pieces rather than actual characters like you might read in a novel or see in film/TV.  So pretty much what does it matter if Fighter A dies due to dumb luck, roll up a new one and you are ready to go once the party finds you in room 32 all tied up and few hit points down and your stuff in room 38 (he/she is ready to go).

The idea was that everybody makes a couple characters and you play it like a small-scale wargame with persistence of units.  Fighter B is just Fighter A with a different name for the same reason you don't give your queen's rook a backstory every time you set up the chessboard.  It's a wonderful style of play, but it takes a lot of getting used to. 

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I remember a conversation with a hobby store employee back in the late 1980s or early 90s, where he proclaimed that GURPS was better than Hero specifically because "it's too hard to kill a player character in Hero."  My own opinion was that this was actually a good thing, not a bad thing.  (I later learned that this person was a very adversarial GM -- you know, the guy with a Mary Sue GM-PC to show up the PCs -- along with other obnoxiousness.)

 

That said, as GM I've accidentally killed a superhero PC (due to a design flaw in the PC's defenses and other powers), and had to go out of my way to keep other PCs (trained normals, not supers) from getting slaughtered.

 

I'll admit that way back in my early days of D&D gaming, my characters were all cookie-cutter 2D cutouts who existed mainly for churning through dungeon crawls to pick up cool magic items.  If one died, another was quickly rolled up and took his place without blinking an eye.

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12 hours ago, Gnome BODY (important!) said:

The idea was that everybody makes a couple characters and you play it like a small-scale wargame with persistence of units.  Fighter B is just Fighter A with a different name for the same reason you don't give your queen's rook a backstory every time you set up the chessboard.  It's a wonderful style of play, but it takes a lot of getting used to. 

 

That may describe the proto-D&D of the Chainmail miniatures days of the early 1970s, but by the 1980s roleplaying had evolved quite further than that, even the "old school" style. Just because PCs can die--fairly easily if players are not smart and cautious--doesn't mean they are disposable characters that should be treated like nameless figures on a mass battlefield. It just means the campaign is more of a sandbox simulation of a world in the given genre, rather than a story-driven collaborative experience where every PC is a precious snowflake that must not die unless it serves a satisfying dramatic purpose.

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I missed out on playing in the 70s, but by the time I started in the hobby in the early 80s, I never heard anyone treat PCs like chess pieces. They were characters we cared about, and it was often painful when they died. That was even true for NPCs in many cases.

 

To return to the original subject: HERO does enough things well that it's the first RPG I reach for when I start planning a campaign. But no game among the multitudes I've played and owned has done everything better than all other games. It's always a trade-off. And often, it comes down to what works best for each group.

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The first superhero game I got was Supervillains from Task Force Games.  While it had all the more popular powers and was a good combat system the RPG part had the player as" Supervillains. 

 

Villains and Vigilantes had a good power list but it was completely at random, and for some reason I kept rolling "God" for Occupation (For the record I'm a grandchild of Mars).

 

 

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7 hours ago, zslane said:

 

That may describe the proto-D&D of the Chainmail miniatures days of the early 1970s, but by the 1980s roleplaying had evolved quite further than that, even the "old school" style.

 

It had, and there was plenty of tension between the Chainmail-era grognards and the new generation of roleplayers.  Gygax Himself complained about it in Dragon #102 (1985):

 

The  current  vogue  of  placing  seemingly undue  importance  on  the  role-playing  portion  of  the  game  is  simply  meant  to  inform and  educate  participants  about  a  very  important  segment  of  what  differentiates  these games  from  other  types  of  games.  It  is  to  be hoped  that  the  needed  training  thus  afforded  will  enable  game  participants  to go beyond  role playing of  their  characters  and enter  into  role assumption instead.  Once  it is understood that role playing is a vital ingredient  of  the  game,  and  players  understand  how  to  actually  accomplish  it,  the undue  attention  can  be  discarded.

 

One of the things that really set Hero apart was the invention of a mechanic for roleplaying--Disadvantages, particularly psych lims.  Though it may have been based in four-color Comics Code inflexible superhero values, it was the first concrete mechanic that forced the character to behave differently than its player would.  And even today few games have such a mechanic.  D&D5 doesn't.  Pathfinder doesn't.  Shadowrun doesn't. 

 

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20 hours ago, bluesguy said:

 

Who says Fantasy or Sci-Fi are grittier genres than comics.  How many main characters died in:

  • In any Star Trek show?  None in TOS.  One in TNG (but they recycled the actress to play an alternate timeline daughter). DS9 had one death which was Jadzia Dax.  VOY, I believe the only main character who dies is Kes.
  • LoTR:  Lots of deaths and I would argue that at least 75% were to move the story along vs. 'bad luck (dice roll)'

If you want a grittier game then Hero can give you all the grit you can possible stand.  I can easily see a Hero game where characters (PC & NPC) are regularly mamed (temporarily or permanently) or killed (every few sessions).

 

 

I had a roommate in the eighties.....

 

As noted before, I never was (and have never become) a comic book guy, but I had a roommate who was (one of the guys I game with at the time, actually).  I remember during the eighties there was some sort of crossover event in comic books where they were wiping out entire universes wholesale-- billions of trillions of people killed off--

 

Just so they could straighten out the plots and writing staff.

 

Talk about hardcore.

 

Beat that, Lord of Most of the Planet Lived!

 

 

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I played RPGs in '75-'78, a bit in the very early 80's, but then gave it up and got back in only late in 1988.  Had characters die back in those early days; not so much after the hiatus in the '80s.  Almost exclusively a fantasy gamer in RPGs (until the '90s), but I was a hexgrid wargamer starting Christmas 1967 through 1978.

 

The Gygax pontification Old Man linked ... goes back to a different time, an era of badly "designed" game systems where characters got killed for dumb reasons (Runequest = notorious here) or even in character creation (yeah, I'm not a great fan of that happening in Traveler) and gross lack of understanding of probabilities.  There was one supplement (I want to say City State of the Invincible Overlord here, but it's been too long for me to be sure of it) where any given character stood a good chance of not making it through a day before being attacked by an angry god purely due to random encounters, and you had a vanishingly small probability of making it through a week, unless you had crooked dice.  Gygax showed his background as a miniatures battle gamer, where there could be no personification of the player into the pieces on the table, unless of course the player puts himself on the table in the persona of the Napoleon figure.

 

It also reminds me (in terms of tone and patronization) of some of the later diatribes that came out against "silly" games that existed before Paranoia but had much the same flavor,  and of course Paranoia itself, where the point was to get all your clones/characters killed in patently stupid ways, preferably with as much collateral damage as possible.

 

We in our group try different systems frequently, but I actually think the last real RPG in-game player character death we've had at our table was in a HERO System superheroes campaign.  The GM overreacted to a back-rank character's overly effective ranged power (ranged Entangle against Ego Combat Value) and started teleporting literally rampaging uber-bricks into the PCs' back rank.  Another less-experienced player had bought his alpha-strike power with some big defensive weakening (full turn at DCV 0 and some other unfortunate "features"), so the berserk uber-brick thin-red-misted him in one charge.  AND the players were all required to have the CvK psychlim, and I all but had a shouting argument with the GM demanding why I couldn't shoot him in the back of the head with the anti-tank rocket since nothing else had slowed him down.

 

The versatility of HERO means players and GMs can go way out into their corners and do stupid things if they are both making invalid assumptions about what players and GMs will do.  In this situation, HERO doesn't do it better, if avoiding character deaths is what we're talking about, because it can enable newbs to do the character-building equivalent of putting the four-year-olds in with the gun collection with live ammo and no supervision.  Here on these boards we are pretty much all HERO grognards and know not to do that.  A roomful of people new to the system may build stuff that'll get multiple characters killed in a single dozen-segment round.  For all we know, more than a few people had exactly that experience and decided it was too bloody a system and went looking for something else.

 

 

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10 hours ago, Old Man said:

it was the first concrete mechanic that forced the character to behave differently than its player would.  And even today few games have such a mechanic.  D&D5 doesn't.

 

To be fair, D&D has "alignments," even if they are virtually unused anymore. But it is at least a way to encourage players to play their characters perhaps differently than they would behave. But the alignment mechanic is dying out and seems more like an afterthought anymore. HERO does, in fact, do it better. Disadvantages is one of the rules that got me to make the switch in the first place back in the '80s.

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12 hours ago, Old Man said:

One of the things that really set Hero apart was the invention of a mechanic for roleplaying--Disadvantages, particularly psych lims.  Though it may have been based in four-color Comics Code inflexible superhero values, it was the first concrete mechanic that forced the character to behave differently than its player would.  And even today few games have such a mechanic.  D&D5 doesn't.  Pathfinder doesn't.  Shadowrun doesn't. 

 

 

I'm not so sure that it's fair to say few games have such a mechanic. Fate Points/Hero Points/Bennies seem to be pretty popular these days (and that mechanic dates back to 1983's James Bond 007; not quite as far as HERO, but pretty early on). And then there are the direct Disadvantage analogues, such as Hindrances in Savage Worlds. I believe the idea of behavior-modification mechanics is reasonably common these days.

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11 hours ago, Cancer said:

an era of badly "designed" game systems where characters got killed for dumb reasons

 

There was a lot of design experimentation going on in those early days, and many of those experiments led to dead ends, and for good reason. There were also plenty of cases where the designers themselves had only a modest understanding of probabilities and the combinatorial nature of the interplay between game mechanics, which often led to in-game outcomes that made little sense. Unfortunately, most GMs weren't any better at understanding these things than the designers, and so their home-brew "fixes" were usually cures that were worse than the disease. Worse still, the need for GM intervention in this manner evolved into the dubious belief that GMs should always be guiding PC action resolution towards "satisfying" outcomes, which I regard as a profound overreaction to the problems posed by the "era of badly designed game systems".

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Certainly true, and it's easier to criticize now that there's 40+ years of experimentation and development.  From my experience, I suspect there's at least a factor of ten more unpublished home-made scratch-built systems (not just settings and supplements) out there than systems that did see publication, even if the publication runs were very small; that means we've seen only a fraction what people actually bashed together.

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On 1/2/2019 at 10:10 PM, bluesguy said:

If you want a grittier game then Hero can give you all the grit you can possible stand.  I can easily see a Hero game where characters (PC & NPC) are regularly mamed (temporarily or permanently) or killed (every few sessions).

 

It can.  It just takes work.

 

Our old Gatecrashers (heroic level) game was like that. It took us a bit to fine tune the damage vs defenses but we finally got to the point where the players had to think and be careful because our body armor was good, but not that good.

 

Don't get me wrong, regardless of tweaking and other things there's still, for me, that "superhero roots" feel to the game but if the players and GM are willing to put in the work, it can be dealt with.

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