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[HERO] Let's Read: The Big Blue Book

Felix

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A letter before I start the actual thread:
Gentle thread reader,

I pray this will not end in flames. I am well aware HERO causes ... polarized feelings. Know I am not a brave man. If things get too nasty, I will run away from this thread, and then I will have a sad. (Insert picture of unhappy kitten here.)

While I know rpg.net doesn't allow you to dictate the rules for a thread, I humbly request civility. And I really don't mind if people who have issues with the game (notably the fourth edition of the game, which this "Let's Read" is about) post here. However, I'd love to keep it polite. Since there are two major issues that generally turn any discussion about Hero on most sites on the Interweb into a thread Cthulhu would be scared of, I make these two requests on the most contentious issues:

1) If you're going to comment about how the math is too complex, please wait until the thread gets to the complex part of the game. I don't think anyone finds the fact that it costs 3 points to get a skill the hard part of making a character.

2) If you're going to post something along the lines of "In the time it takes to complete one turn of combat in Champions, a trillion cosmoses would flare up then sink into eternal night," please wait until I get into the combat section of the rules.

There are so many other interesting facets of the system that I'd hate to see the thread get bogged down repeating these two arguments which will never get settled.

And with that out of the way, I wish to start on one of the most interesting books in RPG history.

Yrs.,
Felix​


The actual thread

I was going to start with a small essay about Champions' importance in the history of RPGs. It was one of the first major supers RPGs; its point-based system inspired Steve Jackson and countless others; etc. But there's a lot of stuff about that floating around the web. So I'll just give a nickel tour of this book and my reaction the first time I read it.

The Big Blue Book (this let's read is based on the softcover, stock #450) came out 20 years ago, in 1989. Although it's called the Fourth Edition of the HERO system, it's really the Fourth Edition of Champions; the HERO system had, before this, been tweaked somewhat for each genre.

I picked this copy up a couple of years later; probably about 1992 or 1993, while looking for a supers rpg. I chose it because I was a big Rolemaster fan, and Iron Crown Enterprise distributed this. Reading it blew me away. It was the first RPG I've ever encountered that really did a good job with a universal system. And it felt right. It was well-written, and the GMing advice is still among the best that's ever been put out there.

Despite my great fondness for it, I've only played a handful of games with the system. (A question of the right group at the right time, for the most part.) And I can understand why people would find it complex, though that doesn't bother me in the least. As I said, I'm a Rolemaster fan.

I found this book near the bottom of a drawer while cleaning up, and it made me nostalgic. So I figured, what the hey. Let's review it. Especially with 6th edition around the corner, this should be fun.

In this Let's Read, I'll be going over this from the front cover to the sample adventure's Gweenies. Some of the things that I hope to go over:

* Some of the controversial points. (E.g., the great Linked debate)
* Some of the philosophy/math behind the game design
* A bit about the Champions universe at the time
* Some comparisons to the Fifth edition.
* Plus, the actual text of the book.

My goal is to have at least one post every 24 hours. Depending how interesting the topics are, I may cover whole chapters at once, or a paragraph at a time. So, without further ado, I'll start by covering the parts before the actual rules.

Also, because I am very lazy, and do not always want to hold the shift key down for four laborious keystrokes, sometimes I will say "Hero" instead of "HERO." I doubt this will confuse anybody, but I notice I'm being inconsistent in my text, and apologize to those who get annoyed by that sort of thing.

My next post (coming in just a few minutes) will look at the section before the rules.
 

Felix

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The cover

While the book contains rules for a generic system, you wouldn't know it from looking at the cover. It's very supers-oriented.

It features characters from the Champions universe engaged in a battle that is destroying the city. Mechanon (the Champions' equivalent of Braniac or Ultron) is being attacked by Seeker (an Aussie ninja who provoked a lot of hate -- more on that later), as Solitaire (the group's sorceress) tends to a wounded Defender (Iron Man clone) in the background.

I probably won't comment on the art too much, but most of it strikes me as decent, though not jaw-dropping. I do like the action shot on the front page. I think I prefer that to more abstract covers.

Pages i to v and 1 to 7 (table of contents and intro to the system)

In the start of the book at probably a lot of names that might be memorable. They do a thorough job of crediting people. In addition to designers George MacDonald, Steve Peterson and Rob Bell, a few other notable names, like Aaron Allston's appear on the copyright page or the credits page. One name that stood out to me, since he was working at I.C.E. at the time, was Monte Cook.

The game has a very thorough table of contents. (Actually, tables of content; this is a rules book, source book and campaign book.) Since it has no index, as far as I can tell, that's probably a necessity.

Introduction to the HERO system

Welcome to the HERO System. What you hold in your hands is a powerful entertainment medium -- the first truly universal roleplaying game. The HERO System is designed to let you experience the excitement of interactive fiction -- where you make the decision. More important than that, the HERO system lets you create any background, from fantasy to detective; from science fiction to comic book superheroes.
That first paragraph may be arguable; GURPS was universal before HERO was a unified system. But it's still a good assessment.

The next section, "How to Use This Game," encourages players to jump right in, which I find interesting. It says previous HERO gamers will understand most of the rules, and encourages those who don't want to go through the whole book to just take the sample characters, skim some sections, and start the adventure. As long as the GM has an idea what should happen, things should go all right.

The next section, "If You've Never Played Before" contains a half-page "What is Roleplaying" section, and a page-and-a-half "How to Play the HERO system." The intro to roleplaying mentions that these rules are designed to simulate life as seen in movies and action books; not realism. It also, again, says not to find the complexity too daunting. "The rules are simply a tool so that everyone can understand the actions of the characters." The How-To covers Characteristics ("Primary Characteristics mean what they sound like.Strength represents how much the character can lift...); Skills (roll under the number on 3D6); and Combat (speed, dexterity, combat value, damage). I don't think this is enough to understand how combat works, but it's enough to help follow theGM's explanation of what to do.

The next part, "If You Have Played HERO Games Before," is the sort of section that should be in any new edition. They explain why they made a new edition (to standardize rules across all the game lines, to improve quality), mention briefly what's changed (new skill organization; powers codified; disadvantages changed significantly), and give advice on how to convert existing characters who now would be different. I wonder how many flame wars when D&D 4th came out could have avoided if they had put in a page about what to do with your half-orc barbarian.

Champions also says that it's perfectly okay for the group to modify the rules as they want, or continue to use their old system and treat the new skills and powers as a supplement to that.

I had forgotten how much of an "it's your game, treat it as you will" was in fourth edition. I know 5E frequently made a point of it, but I hadn't realized 4E also encouraged you to mod the system so strongly.

My thoughts:
This introductory section is the equivalent of peril-sensitve sunglasses and a "Don't Panic" notice in big type. They're saying that the coming system may appear intimidating, but it's not.

I won't deny Hero's on the complex end of the games out there. I was a little surprised at the suggestions for avoiding how front-loaded it is. I think I skipped the intro the first time I read this book; I certainly hadn't thought of just plunging in to an adventure to get the hang or rules and powers. Though since my first rpg, D&D basic, started the players out that way, I don't see a problem with it.
 

OneEyedMan

Unfortunate inventor of the Bratwurstarita
Validated User
As a long-term HEROphile, I'm really happy you're doing this. I used my first BBB so much I literally wrecked it and bought a new one. I went to 4th Ed from 3rd, and also ont he heels on Allston's Strike Force, so I had been pulling in things from Danger International, Fantasy Hero, Justice Inc., etc. Having the uniform system made things so much smoother for our group.

Minor quibble: I think the Big Baddie on the cover is Dr. Destroyer (ChampU's Dr. Doom), as opposed to Mechanon. The helmet and belt give it away. On the other hand, he's about to hit someone with a brick wall, which means that whoever he is, he's cool.

-J
 

dleonard

Retired User
never bought the BBB. Not due to lack of interest I just liked 3rd and so never bought in.

I also happen to live in a gaming wasteland so rarely play or pick up new stuff.
 

Theron

The Best Legionnaire
Validated User
Nifty! Though, by and large, the HERO controversy over here has largely gone the way of the BBB.
 

Felix

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As a long-term HEROphile, I'm really happy you're doing this. I used my first BBB so much I literally wrecked it and bought a new one. I went to 4th Ed from 3rd, and also ont he heels on Allston's Strike Force, so I had been pulling in things from Danger International, Fantasy Hero, Justice Inc., etc. Having the uniform system made things so much smoother for our group.

Minor quibble: I think the Big Baddie on the cover is Dr. Destroyer (ChampU's Dr. Doom), as opposed to Mechanon. The helmet and belt give it away. On the other hand, he's about to hit someone with a brick wall, which means that whoever he is, he's cool.

-J
I remember reading a lot of people wore out their BBBs. Probably due to the fact that the hardcovers didn't have great binding, and the game kept a strong following for years when Hero Games was on life support, so old books saw a lot of use. My copy is not in great condition; I think if I were to try to open it all the way, the book would break in half.

Also, thanks for the correction on the cover. It's been a while since I checked on the Champs U, and Dr. D. isn't statted up in this book, so I'd forgotten about him. Though as you mention, it doesn't matter who he is as long as he's crushing someone with a brick wall. :D
 

Wilowisp

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Banned
I remember reading a lot of people wore out their BBBs. Probably due to the fact that the hardcovers didn't have great binding, and the game kept a strong following for years when Hero Games was on life support, so old books saw a lot of use. My copy is not in great condition; I think if I were to try to open it all the way, the book would break in half.
My first BBB fell apart completely, and is now hole-punched and in a 3 ring binder. I still use it though, grimy and old and slightly torn though it may be; that way, there's much less wear and tear on my other 3 copies........... :D


I've got some splat books from the 5e. era, but don't use em' much. I've never picked up either of the 5e. rules, and wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between them or between them and the BBB. The BBB was the perfect game book; only the D&D RC compares. :)
 
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