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General Advice When Creating Champions/Hero System Characters

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I wrote this as something to help a group of players new to the Hero System just starting a 4th edition Champions game. Would anyone care to give this a read through and critique with any suggestions for important details I might have missed or gotten wrong? I would rather keep it short so as to ensure player will actually read it, but not so short that it is missing crucial info.


General Advice When Creating Champions/Hero System Characters

There are several factors you want to pay strong attention to when you create a character in Hero System (Champions, etc.). All of them are important. Ignoring any of them will leave your character weak or vulnerable in a way you will rapidly find not fun. Of course having a cool character concept, background, etc., is important too, but I am going to focus here more on the mechanics of the system, how to balance characteristics, powers, etc..

The ideal character will have a reliable means of helping to take down bad guys, or some other way of meaningfully helping the rest of the party do so. They should also not be overly vulnerable to attacks from bad guys, lest they be quickly downed. A downed character is neither helpful nor fun. A character will greatly benefit from at least some additional movement ability, even if that's just a few inches of extra running. Finally it's really nice to have a few useful skills one can use outside of combat, ideally skills that fit with your cool character concept.

How much, how big

Hero System is a game with thresholds, meaning you need to do enough damage to an opponent that it actually gets through their defenses with enough stun (or whatever effect) for it to actually be worth the use of your action phase. The gold standard for super hero level Champions is a 12d6 attack. This does enough stun to reliably get a decent amount over an enemies defenses. Even an extremely tough enemy will feel a 12d6 attack. Much less than that starts to be weak, unless it targets defenses that are themselves weak or has a special effect that the target is vulnerable to.

Mind attacks can be powerful with as little as 5 or 6 dice of effect, as could a 'no normal defense' attack like say a gas attack (defense is breathing gear or not needing to breathe). One can get away with an energy blast that is a dice or two lower in many cases because opponents often have lower ED than they do PD defense. Moreover with a range attack, you have more choice of targets so can often pick a more vulnerable target. That said, I would still try to have such a ranged energy attack be 12d6, because then your character would be a true force to be reckoned with.

How to Win

In a fight, what you really want to do is to stun an opponent. You stun an opponent by having more damage get through their defense than their constitution stat. If that happens, their DCV drops and they lose their next turn to recovering from stun. Usually team mates are able to hit the stunned character and put them down for the count, if they take advantage of the opportunity. (Always take advantage of such an opportunity.)

The flip side of this of course is that you want to avoid the same thing happening to your character. If your character gets hit with a 12d6 attack, that will do an average of 42 stun. If you have a defense of 20 and a constitution also of 20, you are stunned and likely the target now of a few more incoming shots from other bad guys. You are going to go down fast. So you want to avoid being stunned by such an attack. There are essentially two ways to do this.

The first and most obvious way to avoid being stunned by an average 12d6 attack is to have sufficiently high constitution and/or defenses that what gets through does not exceed your constitution. The other way is to not get hit at all. Not getting hit relies on having a high DCV, which means either an unusually high dexterity stat, or a few 'combat skill levels' devoted to defense. Usually more dex is the cost effective way to do this. To note is that ranged characters can often get away with having a slightly lower DCV, simply because many attacks against them will necessarily be at range, meaning the attacker is likely to suffer range penalties to their attack. When you build a character, decide which of these two approaches you will take towards not being too easy to take down, and then invest in it sufficiently to do the job.

All characters regardless of how hard they are to hit should have AT LEAST 12-15 PD/ED to avoid having their character literally killed by typical attacks that none the less get through.

Reducing Costs

You can trim a good few points off of some things by taking limitations on them. Don't go overboard with this though, because those limitations can and will come back to haunt you at inopportune moments. Expect supervillains to do as much research as you might. They could figure out your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and exploit them. Moreover, limitations have diminishing returns. You can save a lot of points by having an appropriately thematic -1/4 limitation on one or more a powers, but a -1/2 limitation won't give you twice the point savings.

Another way to save points is to think about elemental controls and multipowers. An elemental control is great for when you have a few powers that are all united by a strong theme that you need to keep active or in use most if not all the time. A multipower is useful for when you have several abilities, also united by a theme or special effect, but that you would normally use only one at a time. For the mechanics of building such things, consult the rule books, use Hero Designer, or send me an Email describing what you are thinking of, and I'll help you build it.

Attached Example Character

I've created a sample character by way of example, Stormy Johnson. There is a bit of everything I mentioned in this character. Note that while this character is clearly a bit of a knockoff of Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, he is nowhere near as capable as the comic version. That is because we are playing 'starting' heroes, not heroes who have had decades of accumulated experience points. 😉  The PDF attached will open a basic character sheet.

Note that the only point where Stormy is actually weak is in the limitations placed on his flame powers. This is deliberate, as it gives our GM an easy way to contrive interesting situations for Stormy to have to resolve. That said, as long as he plays to his strengths and works through such challenges, he is more than capable of holding his own. His energy blast is strong and reliable, his defenses are excellent, he will not be stunned easily. His movement ability is top notch, likely good enough to maintain any preferred range. He has a few combat skill levels that can make his energy blast genuinely effective, and in a pinch be used defensively as well. Especially at range, he will not be particularly easy to hit either with a decent dex. His speed is also excellent allowing him six moves/attacks per turn. Combined with his flight he can really move. Finally he has a few thematic skills to use out of combat that compliment his character.

Of note is that I spent almost as much time coming up with appropriate and thematic disadvantages for him as I did spending points. 125 points of disadvantages is a LOT to come up with. That said, the effort you make to come up with them will really force you to create personality and backstory you likely would not have otherwise. I had zero backstory in mind when I built Stormy. However by the time I finished those disadvantages, his character and backstory was very obviously clearly defined, without having written a single word in actual backstory text. (As this is just an example character, I forgoed actually writing a backstory text.)

As always I remain available if anyone has questions or wants help with their character. All of this may appear overwhelming, and while I assure you it is fairly straight forward once you grok the basic concepts, it is also quite easy for someone else such as myself to create characters based on someone else's conception, so do not be shy about asking for such help if you don't want to have to do it all yourself.

Stormy Johnson.pdf

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I read through and mostly ignored the dice values listed since that is pretty much up to the GM and their personal decision on point caps.  By saying 12d6 you ensure that new PC's will have 12d6 attacks.  If you said 10d6, they would build to 10d6.


I do have a couple small comments.


You said:

2 hours ago, Panpiper said:

One can get away with an energy blast that is a dice or two lower in many cases because opponents often have lower ED than they do PD defense.


This might imply that Energy Blast always affects ED.  EB can be designated to affect either PD or ED.


Also there is not mention that the game power names (Darkness, Energy Blast, etc,) are simply a way to identify the game mechanic effects.  While Darkness can be bought for the obvious effect of making an area dark, it can also be used to create an area where one can see easily but has no sound. 


You might want to include a paragraph explaining how to determine a potential ability/power's end game effect and special effects and then look at which game mechanic/powers actually achieve the concept.   Consider the Flash (or any speedster), in the comics we see him run past a line of thugs, punching each one in a flurry of super-speed punches.  Trying to buy up the PC's speed to the point they can punch out 10 or 12 henchmen is far too expensive.  So what are we really doing here?  Flash is punching each thug as he runs past at super-speed. 


As an example:  Super-Speed Punches: 3d6 EB (vs PD) Area Affect (line), only in hexes Flash moves thru in this phase, selective target. 

Lets say Flash has 20 inches of Run.  I move Flash 10 inches through the bank, ensuring I move adjacent to as many robbers as I can.  Then at the end of my move I attack with Super-Speed Punches and do 3d6 to every mook I had moved past, yes because it is selective target you will have to make a separate attack roll for each mook, but Flash isn't sloppy.  Rules requirements are met. move half and then an attack ending my phase.  Narrative description of my turn: Flash unleashes and torrent of super punches as he zips past the bank robbers. 


Somewhere in your paper I would try to convey this concept.  If you don;t then you will miss out on some truly creative Heroes and mostly see straight power buy blasters and smashers.


Just a thought triggered by my own failures to get the concept across to new players :think:

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Suggesting you can get  by with lower dice as an energy attack because ED is often lower than PD suggests that you should also be able to get by with lower ED than PD because energy attacks are commonly lower damage than physical attacks.  Both convey a campaign expectation more than a hard and fast rule of Hero.


I'd consider using the example character more, perhaps to indicate that his 8 OCV and DCV are pretty average for a Super in this game - you likely would not want to be lower than 6, and you'd need pretty solid reasons to be higher than a 10 or 11.  His Speed is a bit above average - a 5 is pretty typical, a 4 is about as slow as Supers go, and a 7+ is pretty spectacular, and not very common.


I'd also consider discussing the limitations a bit more, such as


Limitations save points and give you some control over the game.  The greater the limitation, the more frequently it crops up and/or the more debilitating it is when it does arise.  Stormy's -1/2 limitation is pretty debilitating - basically, he loses all of his powers when it comes up.  It shouldn't come up every game, or every other game, but expect it to arise maybe every 4 or 5 games.  When it does, it is a big deal. Similar logic applies to Disadvantages - for example, Stormy should expect to see issues arising from his womanizing pretty often, with a variety of minor drawbacks resulting, due to the large number of disadvantages he has in this regard.


Minor, but I am not sure how 3 point levels that would normally be "with blast" get extended out to Flight, with extra DCV when flying, at no extra cost.

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Good work!  Nice to see people focusing on the new folks. 


>General Advice When Creating Champions/Hero System Characters

No criticism, seems solid. 


>How much, how big

You are using numbers here, and if the reader is in a game with different benchmarks following your advice will cause them problems.  I strongly recommend removing the numbers. 

For that matter, you haven't even talked about campaign benchmarks here. 

I can't speak for all campaigns, but ED tends to be equal to PD at my table. 

I'd mention that because defenses are subtraction and tend to be a significant % of a capped attack, losing even a couple dice really hurts your damage output. 


>How to Win

More numbers here.  I'd recommend switching to formulas. 

You're missing a conversation on the topic of NNDs and how high your CON should be to not get Stunned by NNDs.  Also how to not chump to Coordinated Attacks. 

If you're suggesting ranged characters hang back in range-penalty-land, you should also suggest range PSLs.


>Reducing Costs

I'd recommend waving newbies away from Activation Roll, RSR, and well anything that involves more dicing. 

I'd also recommend recommending they keep the Limitations off their main attack and defense so they don't have to worry about sudden inability to function on the battlefield. 


What I'd Like To See Added

A section on Skills: Numbers, what everyone should have compared to what specialists should have, using Powers as super-Skills. 

Talk about effect-first and how to go from description to effect to write-up. 

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6 hours ago, Spence said:

I read through and mostly ignored the dice values listed since that is pretty much up to the GM and their personal decision on point caps.  By saying 12d6 you ensure that new PC's will have 12d6 attacks.  If you said 10d6, they would build to 10d6.




That's been what I've seen in the games I've played in.  If the GM sets a point/dc/stat cap.  THAT is what the players build too.


Even if the GM gives a stat range of say, 20-35 . . . the players, or certain players, will build to 35.  Same with attacks.  12D6 attack, character has 12D6 attack.  X active point limit?  Powers are at X active points.


1 hour ago, Gnome BODY (important!) said:

I can't speak for all campaigns, but ED tends to be equal to PD at my table. 


Usually the same in the games I've played in.  Unless there's a conceptual reason as to why one or the other should be lower, they're always bought to the same levels.

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In the end, Hero has a lot of moving parts and options. 

One thing I have done that was successful in introducing new players to a RPG (not just Hero) is to do a "practice" intro using their second character concept.  I explain that with all Hero's options it can take a try or two (or more :sneaky:) to actually get the effect you want.  Making a practice character and then playing an encounter or two will help them actually build the PC they really want.  


Hero is one of those games that is truly easy once you grok it, but is also a "chicken or the egg" type of game where you can't really understand how the build rules work in building a character until you play an encounter which you can't really do until you build a character :angst:


A run through demonstrating how the powers work in play really helps. 

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I think you did a fair job, Panpiper.


If you listen to every suggestion of what you _should_ include or _might_ include or what-have-you, you'd end up re-writing the entirety of 6e, which defeats the purpose.  (We did an exercise on writing a cover bulb some months back, and that turned into a chapter, so....)


  Shortening anything requires leaving things out and making decisions about what to leave in, leave out, and to create shortcuts, and frankly, I don't think you did those at any sort of unrecoverable level, yet still managed to give a solidly accurate description of the game.

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