Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hero System 6th Edition – Notable Ideas

Continuing my analysis of the changes in Hero System 6th edition, I'm writing down some of the notable "toolkitting" or rules suggestions I thought were interesting. Many of these aren't actually concrete rules, they are just comments that the GM might want to change the rules in a given situation, or invent new rules to solve a certain problem. Since these suggestions are optional, I didn't bother to analyze suggestions I didn't like.

Notable Ideas I was positive about:

You can now specialize a skill for half cost, or buy limitations on skills. Limitations on skills were technically allowed in 4th Edition, but they required GM permission and I never saw anyone use them except for the most obvious cases. It occurs to me that you could use these changes to do a much better job of customizing your character's skills by purchasing bonuses in specific areas you specialize in, or using limitations on skills which would otherwise give you more than you need.

I like the "Skill Combinations" idea a lot. This is the idea that you could take a bunch of specialized skills and bundle them into one meta-skill. Note that this is only a suggestion, not a really formalized rule, but I like it. I don't know how far they intend to go with this in their sourcebooks, but I'm tempted to run pretty far with it. One of the problems of Hero System has been breaking down the skills into far too much detail for campaigns not based on those skills. For instance, Cryptography skill. In a game where everyone is an espionage agent, having this skill be separate allows one character to be the cryptography expert. But in a superhero game, this skill is just something the secret agent character ought to have but will rarely use. So you end up having to pay lots of points to give your secret agent a laundry list of rarely used skills that clutter up the character sheet, or you skip some of the skills but then you don't have them in the rare cases that you need them. Giving the option of breaking down espionage skills for espionage games, but then combining them into an overall "espionage" skill for superhero games, is great. The combination can cost less than the individual skills, so you can put a bunch of highly specialized skills into one skill combination for a reasonable price. This is like an extension of the rule that useless skills cost nothing; in this case skills of very limited use have a small cost and don't clutter up the character sheet.

There is a suggestion to the effect that you if you want a power to work a certain way that doesn't exactly fit within the rules, you just buy the closest power you can, then say it works that way. This sounds like a good suggestion to me. It is often a lot easier to match a complex character conception by designing powers with custom rules. But typically it is very difficult or impossible to assemble these powers by combinations of the standard powers, advantages, and limitations – it is either illegal or prohibitively expensive. This suggestion could be interpreted to let you just find an equally effective legal power, and redefine it to work the way you need. Also, this rule could really help when transferring complicated characters from one GM to another. In the past, you had to worry that the GM would rule that your power didn't work the way you wanted it to under his rules interpretation. Now you can just tell the GM how the power works, and he just has to decide that the power isn't unreasonable and that the point cost is appropriate. However, I have to point out that this suggestion is just a small one that I'm reading a lot into.

The absolute effect rule covers the problem that you can't purchase immunity to specific effects. It says that the GM can define a certain amount of defense against a certain special effect, and if you get it, you become totally immune to the effect. The only problems involve things like determining how you buy "immune to poison" when many different game powers can have the special effect of poison. And, of course, that the cost is likely rather high for some types of effects. But at least there is a rule to do it.

Cool idea – get rid of the points from complications and give out hero points whenever a complication appears in the story and is overcome. Actually, I'm thinking this could be simplified to "whenever a complication hinders the character". This is clever, I don't know if this comes from another game, but I really like this idea, it takes the onus of the GM to find ways to make a complication actually be worth its point cost. I really have to think about this, I've never thought of doing this before (at least not for Champions – Torg's Nile Empire sourcebook had a version of this rule, but the execution of the rule was quite awkward and didn't inspire me to transfer it to other games). I should point out, though, that this idea is presented as a throwaway concept, not something fleshed out into proper rules.

There is a helpful suggestion that the GM should only let PC's wake up from unconsciousness, not NPC's. This is one solution to the annoying problem that under Champions rules, after you knock someone out you have to hit them again to keep them out, a rather unheroic thing to do.

There is a suggestion that objects should be easier to break in superhero campaigns, and that the GM may want to have "real weapons" cause less damage in superheroic campaigns. This is exactly what I have done and always thought Champions should do. In 4th edition the recommended power level of tanks and guns was reasonable for heroic campaigns in which you want big guns to be totally lethal, but way too strong for superheroic campaigns. I was always annoyed that tanks were far, far tougher and more damaging than any superhero, it just didn't fit the comics at all.

There is a nifty optional rule for critical hits and fumbles.

There is a section discussing the problems about how the Hero System rules cause minor opponents to be rather tough and hard to kill, and in particular how they all tend to be unconscious rather than dead at the end of a battle, forcing the players in heroic campaigns to break the dramatic conventions shoot all of the unconscious opponents to finish them off. I like the discussion of the problem, and they have some suggestions for how you might fix it that are sketchy and primitive, but probably workable.

There is a revival of the old 3rd edition idea of a discount for multiple enhanced senses, in the form of an optional suggestion. This directly acknowledges that the high cost of many enhanced senses is based on their usefulness in avoiding sense-affecting attacks; once you have one, the rest have diminshing returns.

Notable Ideas I am positive about, with reservations:

The GM is advised that he may want to forbid use of martial arts to do other ridiculous things like break out of steel prison cells. This suggestion exemplifies what I feel about a lot of the little "toolkitting" type rules suggestions they have. On the one hand, it is a revealing and intelligent observation of a problem that can arise when you use the rules literally. On the other hand, this is pretty far from being a rule to fix the problem. I mean how do you decide what he can break, and what he can't, and what to do when things are on the edge? You would need to improvise, as this is basically a GM'ing suggestion.

Optional Healing rules has a nice preamble about how inconvenient it is for players to take BODY damage in a campaign that lacks magical healing, and all the problems this causes. The suggestions for fixing this seem weak, however – they are most effective at helping characters with heavy armor, which isn't very appropriate for many of the genres which have this problem.

Notable Ideas I am neutral about:

There is a "toolkitting" suggestion that you could have skill rolls be derived from your characteristics divided by 3, for instance, instead of by 5. This would solve the problem that there is very little "granularity" for statistics like intelligence – very few values that are actually different from one another, since the only really meaningful values to buy are 8, 13, 18, and 23. However, this is just a sidebar, it doesn't give actual rules for how to change point values to match. And it makes your skills tied even more closely to your stats, an effect I don't like. Although they have a contrary suggestion in the same section that the GM could untie all skills from statistics completely – they have a lot of interesting little ideas for how skills could work in a game.

One of the many ideas for skills presented is to base skill rolls off of different statistics depending on how you are using them (as is done, for instance, in the Storyteller system of Vampire). Interesting, but this adds to complexity and I would prefer to just purchase the amount of skill I want and stick with it.

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