Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fun With The Hero System: Tricks You Can Do With ENDurance

Folks unfamiliar with the Hero System might not know the purpose of a (formerly) figured characteristic known as Endurance (END).

In the Hero System, END is based on your CONstitution, and is a measure of how much personal energy. Your personal END reserve enables you to

  • exert your STRength in useful ways like lifting a car over your head or punching the baddie into next Wednesday;
  • use active Powers like Energy Blast or Killing Attack (depending on how you build them, of course);
  • other active heroic stuff.
Here's a short explanation from +Ron Edwards 's Doctor Xaos blog:

"Which brings me to Champions the role-playing game, first published in 1981, and examining a crucial rules change for its 1989 fourth edition, written by a different set of authors.

In the earlier editions (1-3), the rule is that for every 5 points of strength or power used, you lose 1 point of Endurance. Granted, that value starts pretty high – typically 40 or more – but consider that one is typically slamming away with 50 or 60 point powers, or as a strength-based fighter, an equivalent amount. Just hammering away like that can drain you, and at 0 Endurance, further effort comes off your more crucial reserves and can knock you right out. There’s a periodic recovery during fights, and one can use actions to do it too, based on a value called Recovery, sensibly enough. In a relatively standard Champions fight of the early days, heroes had to strategize their heaviest hits against their energy reserves, ducking to recover every so often."

Of course, doing all this stuff means your spend your END like a resource. When you're down to zero, you can still exert yourself, but now it starts doing STUN damage to you, meaning you can knock yourself out by overexerting yourself.

The obvious downside to this kind of simulationist (or whatever) modeling of getting tired is the extra bookkeeping -- which is made even more fun with rules that deal with Recovery (I'll tackle that in other post).

However, there are a few reasons -- off the top of my head -- that my friends I used to put up with this extra in-game work (which becomes second nature after a while, anyway):

  1. Pushing: There's this rule that you can push STR or any Power that Costs END up to 10 points maximum, but you have to spend extra END in addition to the normal exertion. That means that you can get extra damage or extra movement, but trade in rapid exhaustion (or even knock yourself out) redlining your abilities. Very comic book-y.
  2. Pushing Stats: Did you know you can buy up abilities like INTelligence or COMliness with the limitation Costs END? Then means that if you choose to use these stats at a higher level, you gotta spend END to do it (special effects: activating alien secondary brain and sucking in your gut, respectively). But, because the rules say you can only push powers or abilities that cost END -- you can effectively burn END to become hyperintelligent or incredibly good looking for as long as you can pay the END (or endure the STUN damage once you've run out).
  3. "Free" Cost Discount: the END cost of a power used to be Active Points / 5. When 4th edition came about, this rule was revised to END cost = Active Points / 10. This halved the END cost, and immediately prompted my group to buy all their powers at 2x END cost, because they were already used to the spending of END at the old rate; instant reduction in power costs!
  4. Power Batteries: It's a nice way to model things like a battery of some kind: by creating something called an END battery (sort of an external END stat) that gets used up faster if you use it at full power.
  5. Nova Blasts: There are certain types of powers that will wipe you out if you use them -- maybe even cause you damage. Sort of like a wave motion gun for a super-hero, you can't use most of your powers after doing it. In HERO, you can buy that 'beyond normal campaign limits' power at 10x END cost or something similar (making sure that using it doesn't inadvertently kill you when you use it) -- it helps convince the GM that you won't use it that often.
  6. Temporary END Boosts: sometimes powers of heroes, villains, or the environment in a super-hero setting can boost your total END reserve, or increase your rate of END recovery. This means that you can operate at a higher power level for a short while (taking advantage of things like #1, #2, #4, and #5 as needed), but within certain limits. 
But that's just me, and what I remember us doing -- what about the other HERO mechanics out there? What builds have you put together?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Things I Learned From Champions: A 500 pt. Character is different from a 250 pt. + 250 XP character

I think that most point-build veterans know what I'm talking about here; they've had first hand experience.

But first, a little background.

The Hero System Context

In many systems, experience points allow you to improve your character -- but not all systems use experience the same.

D&D, of course, keeps track of your total experience points. Making it to certain tiers of experience qualifies you to a new batch of capabilities.

In other games, you can use experience points (XP) as a currency. You spend XP (usually with some kind of exchange rate) to buy things that you were able to buy with initial character build points. The exchange rate varies -- but it's usually more expensive to buy up Stats or Skills or Abilities with XP than with initial character build points.

The Hero System is different there: 1 Experience Point = 1 Character Build Point.

This means that if you started off as a 400 pt. character, and you got 100 XP (that you spend to improve your character), you are now effectively a 500 pt. character.

Or are you?

Lump Sum vs. Downpayment + Small Installments

I liken what happens to the difference in behavior of most people when they get a huge sum of money all at once, vs. getting a downpayment, followed by small installments:

  • in the case of the former, you tend to spend on several big things all at once;
  • in the case of the latter, you tend to spend on good quality essentials and then either (a) make refinements with subsequent installments; or (b) save up for that big item you've decided you really need.

Experienced Hero System folks can usually tell by looking at a build which of the two your character falls into (without looking at the Experience Points box first, of course), because they're familiar with these spending patterns in the game.

While it is possible to have a lean, efficiently-built character with little nuances and splashes of characterization right off the bat, most of the time there is a sort of roughness to an initial build of a character, and it's not just evidence of ruthless point-shaving evident in some of the power builds -- there are some powers or abilities that don't gel with the others, or there are some actual redundancies, or some things that don't quite go with the character concept after all.

The experienced character builds are a bit more refined, with tighter character concepts, and more seemingly redundant or extravagant purchases that actually round out the character or solidify the concept.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Plot Points takes on Champions

I listened to a Plot Points podcast on a Champions adventure -- an old one -- titled Day of the Destroyer. I was surprised that I had so many reactions to something so old and that I'd written about so often.

Here's the link to the podcast. And the link to the podcast on iTunes.

And here are my reactions (which I e-mailed to them, of course):

Response to Plot Points (Champions - Genre Podcast)

I listen to your podcast selectively; because of the review format of the show, there are certain things I'm not really curious about and therefore skip. The rest, I do listen to -- but the recent episodes about the adventure module "Day of the Destroyer" and a discussion about Champions (and the Hero System) spurred to write to you.

Short background: I've been interested in RPGs since the early 80s but only really started playing regularly in 1986. During my time in the U.S. (I'm back in my homeland of the Philippines now), I was based in the San Francisco Bay Area and played a fair amount of Champions there back in the day. I've been interested in it ever since, even though time and availability of interested gamers has waned.

The podcast was entertaining, though I found it odd that sometimes there were some instances of "talking over" one another, which kind of confuses or disrupts the flow of your discussion (sometimes with Sarah, other times with Torii). Is this a matter of the delay in transmission of the online chat / telecon?

It was also very engaging, as I found myself shouting responses to some of the topics or questions answered. This, as you might have guessed, is the reason I'm writing you.

For ease of reading / skipping over, I've put Topic Headings for your convenience. And I swear, I won't tell you about my Champions character.

Champions Gives A Lot Of Power To The Players

I felt that this wasn't quite tackled or explained as clearly as Torii clearly wanted to. Okay, let's be honest: it wasn't explained as clearly as I wanted it to be. So here's a stab at it --

Champions (and the HERO System) allows your to create exactly the character that you want. Any Champions player worth his salt will be nodding up & down at that last phrase: "exactly the character you want".

While almost any RPG allows you to create your own character, few out there allow you to create "exactly the character you want". There's a level of customization in the Hero System that allows to realize your character concept to a great degree, restricted only by the point limit.

In fact, one of the great pastimes of Hero System afficionados is to find a way (preferrably more than one) to create characters that are hard to build in other systems without some hand-waving.

I suspect that this is partially because Champions is early enough in the RPG history that it was in some ways a reaction against the "GM is a God" and the "adversarial GM and Player" dynamic. It may have even been necessary, given the nature of the genre: a slugfest is a very regular occurence -- sometimes between fellow heroes. But I digress.

Okay, so how does it give a lot of power to the players?

Well, first off: the player gets to set the special effect of his / her character's powers. Also known as: Game effects cost points, special effects are free.

What does this mean? My favorite example of this is a power called Instant Change.

Game Effect: your hero can change into his super-hero form (or back to his normal form) without expending an "action". Cost: 10 points.

Possible Special Effects:
(a) there's a flash of light, and you're now in your supersuit;
(b) you change at superspeed, and you're now in your superset;
(c) the planets align, a bolt of pure etheric energy streams from the heart of the Milky Way galaxy into our solar system, and shatters each one of the planets from within, and triggers the Sun to go supernova, destroying everything around it for light years -- then it all reverses, everything goes back to normal just before the planets aligned, and now you're in your supersuit. Cost: FREE.

Sure, the GM still has to allow it into the game (as with any game), but this uncoupling of the game effect from the special effect allowed many a player to break out of any pre-existing classes or templates of the time.

But the uncoupling had a other ramifications, such as being able to craft different ways of achieving the same special effect.

Special Effect: I run so fast, I can run up the sides of buildings OR across the surface of water.

Game Effect:
(a) Buy Running + Clinging (with limitation: only when running); Buy swimming (with limitation: only on the surface of water)
(b) Buy Flight (with Limitation: only to move on surfaces)

These examples, and many more, show how -- as a player, you're granted more options in character creation than most other RPGs.

All Math Is Frontloaded

Well, to some extent it is; the rest of it isn't. But the act of building your character makes you familiar enough with the system that the rest of the math is usually easy enough.

If, that is, you're obsessive when building the character I suppose.

If You Don't Have A Skill, You Can't Do It

Technically true, though the concept of Everyman Skills was introduced into the campaign. And occasionally, the GM can grant a rare bending of the rules based on background or special effect.

Other super-hero games

If you want an exhaustive list of Super-Hero RPGs, go to Lowell Francis's blog:

He has multiple blog posts on the many RPGs released in this genre across the years.

And I hope that puts things at rest.