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Switching Systems (Again)

Once Upon a Time…

I mentioned in several posts here that I was in the process of porting my fantasy campaign from DnD4e to Hero System 6th Edition. A couple of the players took up the job to make the PCs (making Hero PCs is no small task).

I had a few hours to review the PCs, and though I had some misgivings, I decided to run the PCs mostly as-is and see how things shook out around the table.

Although I had sent out guide lines (basically taken directly from the book), that is only the tip of the iceberg of the ground rules that need to be set in a system as flexible as Hero:

  • Assumptions about the frequency of things like penetrating and armor piercing attacks
  • Assumptions about resistant and the frequency of hardened defenses.
  • The existence of power modification powers and power defense.

Because this was considered at the higher end of the “heroic” power level (as Hero System defines it), the PCs had points to spare to improve their effectiveness in ways I had not anticipated. Since I don’t have a mastery of the system, the first session was (and each subsequent would be) a cakewalk.

In fact, the first comment I got from the players after the session was that the PCs were very powerful.

Time for Another Change

I spent much time over the past three weeks with both the Hero Designer and the GURPS Character Assistant. After several attempts at building a few of the PCs in both systems, I decided to switch the system for the campaign to GURPS.

I know the system very well, and can come up with challenging combat encounters with very little preparation. I know how everything works and I won’t have to reference the rules book very much at all during the game.


The other thing I noticed was some player frustration with the initiative system in Hero. Personally, I’m a big fan of it. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a brief description:

A turn is divided into 12 segments. Each PC has a speed score. This score tells you how many times you can act in a turn — eg. a PC with a speed of 4 gets to act 4 times per turn, as opposed to a PC w/ a speed of 3, who only acts on 3 segments.

Additionally, there’s a speed chart so segments on which a PC acts are distributed proportionately throughout the turn.

(if you’ve ever played Starfleet Battles, you are familiar with the impulse chart — the speed chart in Hero is similar, just smaller).

I’m a huge fan of Hero’s proportional initiative system. I think it gives faster characters a more realistic advantage than simply being allowed to go first every turn, which is an advantage when combat begins, that advantage lessens with every turn.

The problem is, most systems use initiative systems where PCs act once per turn — and players are used to being able to act once per turn. This, quite understandably, caused some confusion and frustration — especially from the players with low speed scores.

I’ve used the Hero initiative system in convention games and one-shots, and haven’t had a problem — but in all those cases, the party consisted of six of fewer players. When you have a group of eight or ten players, and a pretty large speed score differential, it can seem like an eternity between turns for the slower characters.

While I feel it’s more realistic, it causes frustration, and — well — games are supposed to be fun.

Now to GURPS

So in less that two weeks, the game starts again in GURPS. Now to prep!


Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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9 Responses to "Switching Systems (Again)"

  1. 8one6No Gravatar says:

    I’ve been running my Ghostbusters game under GURPS for a while now and I’ve played a few games (but not run) under HERO, both 5th and 6th ed. It may just be my personal bias, but I’ve never really cared for HERO all that much. Both are really similar but if given the choice I’ll go with GURPS every time (and truth be told, if someone suggests a Supers game I’ll suggest M&M 2e before I suggest the other two.)

    I would have to agree with your players that the initiative system can be really frustrating if you are playing a slower character (especially if what you’re trying to do in a round fails to work).

  2. MattNo Gravatar says:

    I have never changed systems of a campaign before. It just never occurred to me that it was an option. I’d like to know how it turns out and how the players feel about it. (I would guess that it is no big deal since the players are familiar with both systems already.)

  3. Bradley HarveyNo Gravatar says:

    Stu, I am sure that you will let us know how the GURPS run goes, in the later podcasts. I am a huge fan of the system and cannot wait to hear you all talk about it again.

    After seeing how initiative works in Hero I could see how players may get pissed and feel hopeless in combat.

  4. JoeGunNo Gravatar says:

    I’ve changed systems mid game before. I moved a palladium game to Savage Worlds….because it was Palladium….Just kidding, we actually moved because we played during lunch and an hour just wasn’t enough time to resolve combat in Palladium. So yeah changing systems to something you are more comfortable with and can run easier is always a win!

  5. vbwyrdeNo Gravatar says:

    Ever since AD&D came out I’ve dreaded the whole “Changing System” phenomenon. My world’s characters are continuous over time, or at least intended to be. The idea of a system change that requires a bunch of rework, and changes the fundamental assumptions of the game mechanics (meaning that in one version some action makes sense, but in another version it’s completely boneheaded) gives me the creeping willies. I avoided the issue by creating my own homebrew rules which for the most part stayed consistent between 1978 and 2006, at which point I created a Mini-System that I’m pretty fond of now. Older characters were easy to migrate to the mini-system however, since it’s based on my own rules, only simplified. Translating characters up to the original system is also not difficult as the principal assumptions about combat and skills remains the same. Only the numbers have been made smaller in the mini-system, and some rules shaved out if not essential. Other than that the systems are parallel in concept and design. So after 30 years of gaming, wow … am I glad I did that. Whew. System change just makes my skin crawl. But then again.. at this point, one could reasonably argue that I’m missing out on a lot of innovations in RPGing. On the other hand, again, is my conviction that I have a working system that’s been play tested for three decades and has worked very well for me. So… hard to say. I do poke around at other systems, but usually walk away saying “not for me, thanks”. That said, I’ve heard a lot of good things about GURPS. Best wishes and the most important thing is – have fun. Of course.

  6. Philo PharynxNo Gravatar says:

    I think the initiative is part of this, but changing rules systems affects characters in lots of ways. D&D4e is a very cinematic game with lots of flashy effects. It takes a lot to wear a character down. GURPS is a very gritty system where a couple good hits can easily kill a character. Hero is in between. I think that characters might be feeling frustrated for multiple reasons and just expressing this in the initiative issue.

  7. StuNo Gravatar says:

    One of the things that I wanted to get away from was the “everyone has magical powers” phenomenon in 4th Edition DnD.

    Also, the length of combats was getting ridiculous. The last combat in 4th Ed DnD lasted almost three hours. Granted it was a big climactic fight, but three hours is a little long.

    In the Hero session, one combat didn’t last a full turn (I think it went 5 or 6 segments), and the other combat didn’t get out of the initial Segment 12.

  8. SeanNo Gravatar says:

    I agree that changing systems in mid-game is a bad idea, though you might pull it off. High powered heroes have a lot of quirks and nuances that make them hard to convert and harder for the GM to deal with. GURPS might be easier, since you’re more familiar with it, but the players might not be happy with how their characters convert over, particularly since GURPS is a more deadly system.

  9. BazzaNo Gravatar says:

    Heck, all I can say is that it was brave swapping from d20 to HERO!! My Group played HERO for nealry five years – love the total flexibility, lack of levels and comabt system – but you need someone expert in the rules (I was lucky enough to have a great guy for this) – once the PC generation is out of the way, it is a pretty easy game to run (quite deadly).

    We found Hero did not handle magic spells all that well.

    Finally moved from HERO to Mongoose runequest 2 and never looked back – has the same flexibility and realism but 95% less complex rules!

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