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Why You Should Try Hero System

Casey and Bruce are running a 5th Edition Hero Fantasy Game. I’ve talked about it on the show — I’m playing a blind guy with a katana. It’s a very fun game, and it’s reminded me what I really like about Hero — and it’s inspired me to run a one-shot at Orccon 2011 in February.

Hero has been around for a very long time, starting with Champions in 1981, and it may be the first  RPG to use a point-based chargen system. Hero as a system has many aspects that set it apart from many other RPGs.

Character Generation

First and foremost is character generation. The Hero System strives to allow the players to come up with quite literally any character concept and create it. Because of this, the Hero Chargen System is very flexible and vast., and this has its drawbacks:

  • The core books are HUGE. Yes, the chargen book (Volume 1) rivals some phone books in size. But this book is really a reference, not a rule book per se.More than half of the book describes powers, power advantages, limitations and frameworks. You only need to learn the sections that pertain to your PCs and NPCs. Having an encyclopedic knowledge of this book does make it easier to quickly come up with a method to build an unusual character concept, but it’s not necessary.
  • Hero is a munchkin’s wet dream. Because chargen needs to be flexible, most attributes or characteristics are cheap. The reason for this is so you can build your character as close to your concept as possible. An unfortunate consequence of this is that gaming the system isn’t even  a challenge. Give your typical munchkin/min-maxer 500 character points and he can build a character who can kill whole planets with his mind (though he’d only be able to do this on Tuesdays, while dancing, and singing an incantation)
    Hero handles this drawback by relying on GM fiat to maintain a sense of game balance. It is the GM’s responsibility to set characteristic maxima, approve “unusual” powers, etc. Even under these restrictions, gaming Hero is still not much of a challenge, which is why I would only recommend it to grown-ups.

Proportional Initiative System

This is my favorite part of the game. If you played Starfleet Battles, you are familiar with the movement chart. Hero uses a similar (but smaller) chart. It breaks a turn into 12 phases, and each character’s speed determine how many and which segments they act.

Unlike a round-robin initiative system, faster characters in Hero get more opportunities to act., rather than just the option of “going first.” This makes sense. It also makes the Speed attribute very important (and one of the first things the GM has to limit during chargen).

The drawback is that combat doesn’t go very quickly (especially if your character is on the low end of the Speed spectrum), and the GM really needs to take the time to set up a chart or spreadsheet for combats.

The Damage System

Characters in Hero have two types of hit points: Stun and Body.

Stun is like temporary hit points, but you can never die from taking too much Stun damage — you simply get knocked out. If you take the equivalent of your CON(stitution) in Stun damage, you’re stunned. If your Stun is reduced to zero, you’re unconscious. Stun regenerates at the end of every turn, using your REC(overy) stat.

Body, on the other hand, is serious. This is actual physical damage — the kind that requires a doctor or some kind of healing to recover.

Additionally, there are two types of damage: Normal and Killing. Normal damage is your standard comic book damage: it does mostly Stun and a little Body, but you’re more likely to be knocked out than killed. Killing damage penetrates most defenses and tends to do proportionally more Body than normal damage.

Because of these different aspects of damage and hit points, combats in the game can be customized from pulpy to deadly with ease.

I have more to say about Hero, and I will in future posts.

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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