I read today (h/t Chris Mata) that this is the anniversary of the release of the first edition of the Champions RPG. I’d have been just 11 years old myself, and it would be at least two or three years until I first met the system, but I do recall playing every edition – absent the Fuzion years – of the game at one point or another in my gaming history. It was the first true point-buy system I ever encountered and it spoke to me on a genetic level. After years away from the system, I still had minutia from those earlier editions in my head and when I’d encounter a superhero in a movie, could stat them up in Hero vernacular with little effort. It is, in some ways the exemplar against which other systems are measured. And it no doubt is responsible for how quickly and thoroughly I took to GURPS when that came along later.
Hero is one of those systems that gets short shrift, often called out for being “too math heavy” – which translates to “I don’t like multiplication or fractions” and always makes mathematical me laugh, albeit ruefully. There is a lot of arithmetic that goes into making a character, I won’t deny that. It’s a mini-game all by itself, and a fantastic way to keep an introverted child busy by himself for a few hours or a few days if you’re not paying attention – I once had a pretty amazing stable of pre-generated characters is what I’m saying. But it’s so very satisfying to find that, absent a few areas of deliberate weakness (the system doesn’t deal in absolutes and is quite up front about that, for example) you can stat up most anything you could imagine using the system.
This is not to say that it’s perfect – I think it has issues scaling down below the superheroic level, below even the heroic level to the mundane level. Plain, average folk just aren’t represented very well and the granularity starts to break down. But that aside, I’d put up against any system out today for ease of play and verisimilitude. In its native tongue – supers – I’m not aware of a better system on the market today or ever.
Where other system have fairly radical departures from edition to edition, Hero has remained pretty solid down through the years. The most radical changes were the creation of a generic system instead of a bunch of separate genre books and the most recent numbered edition that made some very low level changes that I think improved the system overall. Unfortunately, with each edition there’s more collected wisdom from the experts, more examples and more optional rules, and when the 6th edition first came out, it was truly encyclopedic, filling over 800 pages across two volumes. It wasn’t especially functional in the hands of a novice, that’s for sure. But those rules have been pressed down, cleaned up and made genre-specific again in editions like Champions Complete and Fantasy Hero Complete, and the cost of entry in terms of bringing in new players has never been lower. And who doesn’t love a RPG where all the rules fit in one 240 page book, right?
So, if you’ve never played Champions or any other Hero System game, you might consider giving it a try. Once you get past the delightfully fiddly character creation rules, you’ll find a system that really does a great job of maintaining a fun, fast-paced game, but very rarely leaves you without a rule to fall back on when someone tries to do something awesome.