Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Universal Comics Movieverse 14

14: Game Mechanics Changes in HERO

I am not a natural fan of the HERO system and Champions. I admire how long it’s been in publication and how closely it hewed to its original rules but I find character creation to be too math intensive and granular and the characters are too balanced for combat, which makes the fights last too long. This campaign, however, is somewhere that I think it would work well.

First of all, the granularity is a boon when you’re trying to differentiate between the supporting characters – especially in situations with multiple band members or doctors who would have identical backgrounds in V&V. And the time it takes to build a character in HERO is less of a factor when as a GM I only have to make up one villain per movie, along with some mook stats. That takes the burden off.


Second, the over balancing of the characters is a cultural thing and not a permanent aspect of the system. It happens because HERO’s underlying mechanics are so balanced that it’s easy to find all the break points and exploit them. It is a game designed by engineers for engineers, but it can work just fine if everyone agrees to a different balance point – after all, the core heroes are supposed to be balanced in offense and defense, but we can declare the campaign balance to be a little more offense than defense, or less Stun behind the defenses, an apply it across the whole cinematic universe. Since the setting requires fewer super-level characters that still works to our advantage.

As such the changes I want to make to HERO are as follows (and this will make a lot more sense of you have a copy of the rules; I’m working from my 5th edition book):
·         Heroes are built on 50 point ‘ability sets’ that let us keep things conceptually clean for the Frequency rules. They have one of those for their normal stats and skills, and then 2-5 more depending on whether they’re a core hero, back up hero or supporting cast.
·         Heroes should select 50 to 100 points of disads. Don’t get caught up on points.
·         Everyone is bound by Normal Characteristic Maxima to start; anything outside those ranges must come from an ability set. Characters with a 23 are either superhuman or world renowned geniuses or Olympians who come so close to being superhuman as to make little difference.
·         Normal people are built on a -25 points (an 8 in every primary characteristic, 2 SPD) in attributes, so our heroes are actually 75 points higher than baseline.
·         Normal People have 15 to 25 points in disads that pay for their skills, so they end up as -25 point characters.
·         Make liberal use of the Power Frameworks to maximize character versatility within the concept of the ability.
·         Defenses should be slightly lower than attack powers, or when they’re not the PC shouldn’t have too much STUN; even heroes shouldn’t be able to take too many solid hits in a row. Recovery can be pretty good.
·         Killing Attacks do stun based only on penetrating body – they are great against people without resistant defenses but it’s really easy to be bullet/knife proof. This makes heroes more powerful against mooks. Characters can use 8 or 10 point skill levels to boost damage classes of killing attacks by up to 2 classes (10 AP).
·         Speeds should be kept low to speed combat, but Heroes can/should make use of the rapid fire, sweep and spreading combat maneuvers to hit multiple opponents on an action. (Alternately, pick up powers with area effects.) This makes the heroes more effective against mooks without over-burdening the speed chart.
·         High Dex and Speed shouldn’t be taken to solely indicate combat skill. Combat skills should be taken to do that.
·         Personally, pre-calculate all but the last 3 dice of damage and then add the to hit roll to that pre-calced number to get the damage. Some variability, mostly reliable and it gives a boost to more accurate heroes since the goal is now to roll as high as you can without going over the target number.
·         Borrow Bang! Skills from GURPS. These are expensive but really broad skills like, say, Science! That let you build characters like Doc Toltec who are really good at all sciences without having to list every specific discipline. That lets you get granular with the supporting cast but give the heroes a lot of versatility. Bang skills (ended with an !) cost 12 points for a 9+(stat/5) and 5 points per +1. They can only be increased with Overall levels.

Now, you may wonder about balancing things out for the supporting cast but if the characters combat stats are built as discussed it should speed things along. One reason why HERO games can feel so fight heavy is because the fights take so long as to eat up all the table time. Remove the core problem and you have more time to dedicate to research and character interaction.

I also recommend the supporting cast take abilities that include Luck, with the ‘roll the dice at the start of the session and be able to modify dice rolls with that point pool’ option – it lets them avoid damage or reliably hit with any big gun they have on hand or make key skill checks. Core heroes shouldn’t have Luck as it gives the supporting cast a good mechanical boost.

Honestly that ought to do it. It might be jarring for a standard HERO player to have a Speed of 3 but attack designs that let them do more in a single action, or weak enough mooks that single hit drops them. Given how the speed chart works this does make a difference in accelerating the fight scenes, even if it isn’t exactly how HERO was originally designed.

One consistent problem I have with HERO is that V&V, my preferred system, uses defenses like D&D uses Armor Class – they eliminate ‘hits’ that have no effect, while HERO has every blow that comes in physical contact with the PC have a chance to do damage. This requires a real paradigm shift on my part,.

Of course, I also think that HERO s presented has way too much tech fetishism in it, especially when it comes to guns, with too many modifiers and advantages and whatnot to lovingly model an AK47. That said modeled assault rifle will have an active point total greater than many campaign limits on super powers is irrelevant. As such I have a simple RKA chart for my games
Weapon
RKA
Adv/Lim (all OAF)
AP/Cst
Lt Pistol
1d6-1
Charges (-1/2)
10/4
Pistol
1d6
Charges (-1/4)
15/7
Hvy Pistol
1d6+1
Charges (-1/2)
20/8
Auto Pistol
1d6
Charges(+0), Auto(+1/4)
18/9
Lt Rifle
1d6+1
Charges (-1/4)
20/9
Rifle
1.5d6
Charges (0)
25/12
Hvy Rifle
2d6
Charges (0)
30/15
Auto Rifle
1d6+1
Charge(+1/4),Auto (+1/2)
35/18
Shotgun
2d6
Charges(-1/2),Reduced penetration (-1/2)
30/10
Grenade
1.5d6
Charges (-2), Explosive
37/9

That ought to do it. Note the absence of the Beam Weapon limitation – if you want to use your single charge to spray fire an area with the same mechanics a hero would use to spread their energy blast, feel free. It’s a super hero story, I am not stopping to count bullets. Also the ‘real gun’ disadvantage is gone – it was cheesy for a Supers game. Increased STUN multiple is also gone from the baseline gun designs, as is Armor Piercing. Those just lead to point inflation in my opinion, and I don’t want to worry about them outside of special cases.

Taken together it means I can build the following for Doc Toltec to simulate his bronze hard skin
Armor: 9 PD, 5 ED. AP = 21, Cost  = 21
Lack of Weakness: -2, Cost = 2 pts
Multipower: 20 AP, all slots are Fixed, cost = 23 AP
1) Bronze Knuckles: HTH Attack +3d6, 0 End Cost, Cost = 1
2) Missile Deflection: up to shrapnel, can defend people in adjacent hex (+1/2). Cost = 2
3) Force Wall: 1”, 8 PD, 0 ED, No range, 2 End/use. Cost = 1

With this construction he is immune to bullets of 1.5d6 KA or less unless they are fired by highly skilled opponents who are using 8 or 10 point skill levels to boost the guns damage class. This rules out all but heavy rifles. He can protect the people next to them by grabbing bullets out of the air. He can protect them people behind him by shielding them with his body. His fists do a lot of damage when he hits. However he does have to worry about a moderately big guy with a sword who could be doing 2d6 or more in damage, and will accumulate STUN from a 5d6 punch or energy blast.

This is, to my mind, as it should be – being bulletproof to the point of taking no damage from bullets ever is incredibly common, but being punch, sword or energy blast proof is less so. Doc Toltec is now really tough without needing 20+ points of defenses or piles of STUN. Plus it cost him just 50 points.

Since the other heroes and villains will be built in a similar fashion we can also keep Doc Toltec’s damages relatively low. Since he’s able to lift some 670 lbs per V&V that means he can lift 300 Kg, or a STR of 18 in Champions. That’s a base damage of 3.5d6, plus another 3d6 for his bronze knuckles. With these rules mods he does 13 points base (the average of 3.5d6)+ his attack roll (which is the remaining 3d6) or 24 points of STUN with a punch. That is doubtless going to KO a normal person and Stun your average thug with one hit before finishing him off with a second. To speed things along I as GM I might just have anyone stunned by an attack be out of the fight.

If he were to fight a doppelganger of himself he has a total of 17 Physical Defense between his figured characteristics and his armor. Each of his punches would do 8 STUN. With his 14 CON he has little risk of being stunned, With 33 STUN he could take 4 of his dopplegangers attacks before being on the edge of consciousness and hoping for a recovery. That sounds about right for a major hero vs. major villain combat to me, especially one where I didn’t want to have the rest of the players bored.


As I said, this is very non-standard HERO design, but it works for me.