Sunday, May 22, 2011

Prepare for a 6th Edition Champions Campaign in 5 Steps

It hasn't come up that often, but I'm sure that some of the readers who've been paying attention know that I am a fan of the Hero System. Now, I picked up as many books of the 5th Edition as I could all the way over here in the Philippines (and this was way back before this fantastic buy-the-PDF option was around) and now I'm looking at doing so -- more selectively -- for the 6th Edition.

In addition to the issue of price, it's also because I've not really had time to play. And if I don't play the games I buy, the only other reason is to learn about the setting or the system.

One of the big changes from 5th Edition to 6th Edition is the decoupling of the Figured Characteristics from the Primary Characteristics, making all things a point buy. Arguments about "is it even the Hero System anymore" aside, it's interesting because it should certainly make teaching the system easier (a good thing) and break up the dependencies of figured stats on primary stats (debatable), and it's one of the things I'm looking at for my sidelined project on HEROic D&D.

Anyway, this post is about getting ready to run a campaign for Champions in 6th Edition Hero System, so let's get started.

Step 1: Become familiar with the genre

Naturally, Champions: The Super Roleplaying Game is the first place I'd look. Contrary to the title, though, this is not a self-contained RPG. You have to buy the Hero System 6th Edition rulebook to get the rules -- this book's all about the genre of super-heroic RPGs.

There've been iterations of this in the past, with the 4th Edition and 5th Edition versions among my favorites for covering the genre, along with Aaron Allston's Strike Force supplement for an earlier version of Champions also among the classics. For completeness, I'd get this, but what could possibly be in it that I've not seen before? I'm not sure, but between the two authors I'm sure there's something new in there worth picking up.

I'm also happy to see the art has kept improving. There was a spike in the cover art from 4th Edition onwards (a George Perez cover!) that was sustained into the 5th edition and now to the 6th edition.

The value of this book is in helping you identify the type of campaign you'd like to run (and perhaps identifying the type of campaign that your players would be interested in experiencing). Different GMs and players have different tastes in comics, and so some knowledge of the sub-genres and tropes would be useful. Furthermore, there are some things in the genre that don't translate so well into gameplay -- knowing these pitfalls would also be advantageous when setting down the shape and scope of your game.

Step 2: Establish the setting

There's no shortage of settings available, though in a pinch you can set yourself up in a made-up city in the same universe as your favorite comic book series.

If you're the type of Gamemaster who'd prefer a bit more source material, however, Hero Games has two setting books for you. One is Champions Universe (which details the super-hero universe of the company on Earth) and Champions Beyond (which expands the universe into space, including other galaxies).

It's important to note that the settings not only help you with a more consistent feel for your campaigns in areas you may not have considered yet (legal implications of years of metahuman antics, impact of superhumanity on sports, etc.), but may also give you a ton of thrilling locations and adventure hooks for your campaign (and perhaps for the origins of your player's characters as well).

At the very least, it will give you a DC / Marvel feel: there are heroes and villains that are doing things that may or may not impact you, even if they are far away from your city.

Step 3: Stock up on antagonists

The very next thing I'd pick up are a couple of books that are filled with an essential element of super-heroing: supervillains. Hero Games has apparently broken their source material here into three parts: one for the masterminds, and one for the supervillain teams, and one for the solo villains. This trilogy should provide a major shortcut to building the antagonists in a Champions campaign.

Of course, you don't need all of them at the same time.

Depending on your style of play, you can start off with either the book of solo villains or the book of villain teams. You can probably manage a year of super-heroics with those two books together, until you feel the need for an arch-nemesis for one of the regular heroes or for the entire team.

Masterminds should be handled carefully, and require some measure of GMing experience. They have to be played like the intelligent planners they are, rather than yet another punching bag for the player's characters.

Step 4: Oversee Player Character Creation

With all this in mind, it's important to guide the decisions made by your players during character creation -- particularly if some of them have never played in the system or the setting before.

You'll want to make sure that each player's character is the type of character they really want to play, and you'll also be in a good position to gently remind them of the type of campaign they're playing in.

It may not make sense, for example, for a player to build a grim and gritty character layered with emotional baggage if you and your other players were hoping for something more light-hearted in the vein of DC's Batman: Brave & the Bold or even the last animated incarnation of Teen Titans.

Step 5: Run a game

It's always good to have a "pilot episode" for your campaign. You'll get a better feel of the game, the setting, and the players if you do.

At the same time, your players will gain a better feel of your GMing style as well (along with how their character feels after some playtesting) allowing them to tweak and adjust accordingly.

After that, you can discuss your shared discoveries and opinions and then get started on the campaign proper!


  1. I've always liked the Hero system (haven't looked at 6th ed. yet, though), though it may be a little complicated for me these days.

    Still, all the superhero media has given me a jones for supers...

  2. @Trey: that's true -- the overall success of Marvel movies, the hit or miss of DC, and the cartoons have been quite prevalent recently.

    But based on your work (on your blog), you also seem to have a taste for the pulp era... am I right? Or is that an itch that's already been scratched?

  3. I do dig the pulp era.

    I think at the moment I'm getting that worked out though. :)


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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