View Full Version : Hero Roleplaying System: Experiences?

2008-03-28, 01:02 PM
A friend and I are developing a campaign setting and we're looking for a system to run it in. For the most part the world is pretty simple and could be run in standard D&D - that's where it started - but it has a major complication. There's an organisation which plays a big part in the world, each of whose members has control over one of the elements, and depending on what they train at they can do different things with that manipulation, from hurling a boulder at someone telekinetically to creating a wall of rock from the ground. Not only that, but they retain progression in their normal abilities once they join the organisation, continuing to become a better fighter/mage/whatever as they progress their elemental abilities. D&D doesn't really work with either the customisation or developing two sets of abilities, as our attempt at some kind of crazy gestalt-esque prestige class proved, so we're looking around for a better system to handle this.

We had the Hero system suggested to us something that's infinitely versatile that would allow both dual progression and especially customisation, and I wanted to ask you guys if you have any experiences with running or playing in this game. Specifically,

How well does the system handle fantasy settings? You can get a fantasy sourcebook for it, but does it have a decent feel for a world of wizards and knights?

How time consuming is character creation? I've heard rumours that it's a really long process. Our current group is mainly university students, including several maths and science majors, so calculations aren't a massive problem, but how long can we expect to spend making characters that are roughly equivalent power-wise to 5th level D&D characters? 10th level? 20th level?

How does play go? Does the complexity of the system carry on in actual game time, or is all the work up front? How long does combat take compared to D&D? Is it decently balanced?

How hard is it to DM? How difficult is it to work out the power level of the group and design appropriate challenges for them? How long can a DM expect to spend preparing for a session compared to D&D?

Is there anything else we should know?

2008-03-28, 01:11 PM
Well, I haven't played 5th edition HERO, so my experiences aren't really up to date. 4th edition HERO really didn't mesh all that well with fantasy, to be honest- HERO is meant to model anything from batman to superman, which means there's a lot of creative space in the upper levels of power, but not so much on the lower side. Melee fighters all wind up looking fairly similar, and wizards' spells are handled rather strangely.

That said, it would handle your specific issue perfectly well.

On the other hand, D&D handles your situation perfectly well too- use a Template instead of a Prestige Class. Check out the Half-Celestial as an example of a template that gives you more powers as you gain levels in other classes:


2008-03-28, 01:24 PM
We tried templates before we tried the prestige class. Both approaches worked, but had zero customisation and were more or less impossible to balance and find appropriate encounters for, which is why we we're looking for something that balances and customises using point buy.

2008-03-28, 02:11 PM
Fantasy Hero CAN work quite well, BUT....the GM has to do a lot of world building up front. Fortunatly, some of the splatbooks give you a good example of what to expect with spells, and give some rather nice ones as examples. The hero system can take a while to run( especially in combat), but once you know how the system and math work, things can speed up greatly.

2008-03-28, 02:19 PM
Fair warning: an assumption that the HERO systems uses is that "if you haven't bought an ability with points, you can't do it". It's not stated in the rules per se, but conversations with players and Mr. Long have pretty much confirmed that. If, for example, you have uber-strength, you must still buy the power (immobilization, close range, no limit) to use that strength to wrap a light pole around someone to immobilize them. Want to knock them through a wall? Buy an additional knockback ability.

Otherwise, HERO5e isn't bad. It's complex, though not horrendously so (equivalent to MERPs, I'd say), but the books are textbook-dry to read. Additionally, make sure you have a character concept beforehand. For example: if I want to play a flying blaster, I need to know if he's throwing fire or cold and how fast he's flying BEFORE I make the character...otherwise charcreation will take forever.

2008-03-28, 02:22 PM
I tried really hard to like HERO but after reading the books the character creation process and also the rolling system threw me off. I found there was too much number crunching for my taste. You had to divide and multiply to get anything done. I really thought it was just a big mess.

2008-03-28, 05:38 PM
The first HERO game I ran was a fantasy game, and it went really well. I'm glad I used HERO over D&D, since it let me actually create a world instead of trying to shoehorn it into D&D mechanics. If you have a clear idea of how you want things to work, it's not too hard.

I found that making HERO characters takes about the same time frame regardless of power level, whereas D&D takes longer for higher level characters. I usually spend about as much time making a moderately complex HERO character as about a 5th level D&D character.

The real drawback of HERO is a sharp learning curve - it's not plug-and-play, it's a toolkit. It does take some getting used to, and the rulebook isn't super fun to read. Once you "get it," it's a great system and easy to use.

The feel is fine, you just have to know what you're going for. You should probably use the Hit Locations optional rule (actually, IMO, every campaign should). The Fantasy Hero sourcebook is pretty good - it has a lot of advice on doing stuff like setting up magic systems, and creating the right feel for a fantasy world.

I can't speak for 4E Hero, not having played much. 5E Hero doesn't have any trouble making a good-quality fantasy world. The fantasy campaign I mentioned above was extremely low-magic, and the PCs were three "fighter types" and one character with innate magical power. The fighter-types started out similar (because I intentionally made everyone extremely low-powered to start) and grew in different directions. One of them created a martial arts style based on halberd attacks, and eventually developed a non-crappy Whirlwind Attack-like ability. Another went for a high-dexterity sword-and-shield fighter who specialized in "called shots" (aiming for the head, usually) and the last one went for a Viking warlord style role, focusing on rage-based abilities and inspiring troops.

The spellcaster started out fairly undefined (as intended) and then grew into a more specific role - he ended up as what we would call a "gish" character. There were a relatively small number of other magical characters, but they all wound up feeling very different. The system made it easy to encourage mages to have a few distinctive spells as a realistic alternative to the bag-of-tricks generalist.

As far as actually constructing your game, a few points of advice that won't make a damn bit of sense until you've read the books.

You should decide how many "abilities" your elemental master types should have. For example, should a specific earth master be able to (besides his normal, non-elemental-training abilities), say, summon rock walls, throw boulders, and create earthquakes, but no other abilities? Or if there are others, are they going to be relatively minor in effect?

If the answer is "a few distinctive abilities," and they're all Attack Action abilities, you should build elemental masters with a Multipower and slots to represent the tricks they know. If they aren't all attack action (for example, a wind master who can fly, throw lightning bolts, and protect himself with winds all at once), Elemental Control. If they also have some minor tricks, then include a small VPP, or use Power Skill: [Element] Tricks.

If the answer is "no, they can learn dozens of different skills," they should be built with a VPP, most likely.

Fair warning: an assumption that the HERO systems uses is that "if you haven't bought an ability with points, you can't do it". It's not stated in the rules per se, but conversations with players and Mr. Long have pretty much confirmed that. If, for example, you have uber-strength, you must still buy the power (immobilization, close range, no limit) to use that strength to wrap a light pole around someone to immobilize them. Want to knock them through a wall? Buy an additional knockback ability.

There is actually an ability for this; Power Skill: [SFX] Tricks. It lets you do stuff that the GM agrees makes sense for your abilities, but that you didn't actually buy; however, if you want to repeatedly use the same ability, the GM makes you actually buy it. It's intended for doing occasional tricks like what you mentioned.

Also, if you have super strength, you can hit people through walls. Additional knockback makes you better at it, but the ability is always there.

2008-03-28, 06:21 PM
I have no actual experience with the Hero System, but I know that the rulebook is literally thick enough to stop a speeding bullet.

While that piece of information has nothing to do with what you asked, I still thought I'd share it.

2008-03-28, 08:42 PM
If you're looking at HERO you might also want to check out Mutants & Masterminds Second Edition from Green Ronin. It has certain familiar functionality to D&D (d20 and all that), and has that free form character building that HERO has, its also not as clunky as HERO in my experience (ie. you don't need to be able to do advanced calculus to build a character ;))

In effect if you can add attack bonuses for D&D you can place Mutants & Masterminds.

2008-03-28, 08:53 PM
Thanks for the pointers, everyone! I've managed to scrounge up a copy of the core Hero book and now have backache from lugging it up a hill for 45 minutes, which makes me think I should have read Pauwel's comment before going to fetch it without a car. I definitely agree that it is large, and rather dull...

Still, this coming from the person who read through the entire SRD. At least that didn't have pointless padding telling me what a RPG is. I wonder, can I ignore everything past chapter four? I also had a flick through the owner's copy of the fantasy splatbook, and the way the races work in that looked pretty close to what I was after, so that's promising.

I'll give M&M a look, though. Avoiding complexity is never a bad thing.

2008-03-28, 09:36 PM
How time consuming is character creation? I've heard rumours that it's a really long process. Our current group is mainly university students, including several maths and science majors, so calculations aren't a massive problem, but how long can we expect to spend making characters that are roughly equivalent power-wise to 5th level D&D characters? 10th level? 20th level?

Character creation is the most tedious part of the system, IMO. The strength of the system is the flexibility, but it will take a few go-rounds before it doesn't take a long while to feel comfortable with the process. If you like to optimize, the system is full of mathmatical tricks that will allow you to tweek a character to the nth degree (beware of your math majors!). You will derfinitely learn your fractions after playing for a while. Once established, I think combat actually goes fairly quick and is straightforward. You can make characters that require a lot of bookkeeping or very little at all.

As pyroconstruct mentioned, there are a number of methods for developing thematic groupings of powers:
Multipower: multiple, mutually exclusive powers (say like Green Arrow with all his trick arrows)
Elemental Control: multiple, thematic powers that can be used simultaneously (as allowed by rules) (such as having a forcefield up and firing energy blasts at the same time)
Variable Power Pool: a pool of points that can be spent to emmulate powers on the fly, preferably linked by some coherent theme (like Green lanterns ring). I would not recommend using this until folks are very familiar with the rules.

I have not played with the fantasy setting, but I would think a classic wizard template might be easily developed using the Multipower ability, where each spell is a slot in the Multipower. Since slots are relatively inexpensive to build in an established Multipower, it might be easy to develop new spells with experience. A powerful elemental control could make for a very challenging BBEG. A variable power pool can be very creative to play, but a player should have a recipe list of premade powers if you want it to not slow the game down.

A note on experience (XP). Unless things have changed significantly since I played (which is a while now), XP does not accrue in the same way that it does in D&D. Typical adventures might net between 3-6 XP. Now you can do a fair bit with that XP (like increase your strength from 10 [normal] to 15 [50% stronger), but if you want folks to advance anything like D&D you will need to up XP some. Characters typically start strong in Hero, then advance very slowly, in my experience. I think the "typical superhero" template is based on 225-250 starting points (unless this has changed in recent editions). I'm not sure what the recommendation is for a fantasy setting. Also, if you want folks to increase skills, stats, and powers, you might dictate house rules on how players can spend their XP, because spreading out 5 XP among all these abilities produces very little results and many powers cannot be increased except in certain set increments (adding 1 d6 damage to an energy blast = 5 XP, assuming not power modifications or weaknesses).

Again, I haven't seen the rules for Heroes: Fantasy, so I may be off on my criticism.


2008-03-29, 12:47 PM
I have to agree with the posters who say to avoid the Variable Power Pool (VPP). It is incredibly useful, but open to way too much abuse if the GM is not familiar with the rules.
When deciding how to do magic, remember that mages have to spend points for every spell they learn. If you can find them, I'd recommend looking through the spell books for ideas on what to allow for your magic users.

2008-03-29, 01:58 PM
I run one and play in two HERO games, and I find that HERO actually plays as fast and more consitently than D20 once everyone is up to speed on the system.

The only real trick is to remember the separation between power (what you paid points for) and special effect (what it looks like, how it plays). Once you get your head around that, everything else is easy.

2008-03-29, 03:22 PM
I've played HERO for years.

And I echo the beware your math majors sentiment. They've gotten rid of some of the major loopholes in the newest edition, but I can still tweak it enough to easily be more powerful than any of the other players simply because I know the character creation system by heart. Character creation will be long. Depending on what abilities your players get, expect your first several combats to be REALLY long until they get used to it. And get d6's. A short metric ton will suffice. For now.

If you ever have a question PM me, I love fiddlkiing with HERO stuff. They also have a forum at their site.

2008-03-29, 08:52 PM
I really like HERO5e, and highly recommend it. It really isn't that hard to learn, and the system itself is so versatile. I would, however, highly recommend picking up the first party designer software, HERO Designer. It does all the math for you, and if you need something defined, it has a small entry and a page reference, so you can look it up.

2008-03-29, 10:53 PM
Prompted to try it by a friend of mine, I GMed a HERO5 game about a year ago, in a campaign that eventually became the basis for my webcomic. I haven't tried it with fantasy, and I could forsee some difficulty in getting used to the different game mechanics available to represent magic and so forth, but I'd have to say overall I think I'd prefer it even for such settings.

I have to second farmer42 on the character generation utility, as it eases the process immensely. I can't imagine having to make characters by hand.

I have to comment though, that some loopholes seem to still exist. Unless I was misunderstanding about the rules, one of my players more than proved to me that density increase + growth was absurdly overpowered. ;)

2008-03-30, 02:36 AM
You should've seen the things you used to be able to get away with with Package Deals and Elemental Controls. I think my absolute worst was packing several thousand points into a 350 point character. It still has loopholes, but not like it used to. And the GM can always say "uh uh" once he realizes them.

2008-03-30, 09:14 AM
While I seem eternally consigned to serve as the GM for all my games, I must admit I'm not particularly very good at it. While I did end up mandating some nerfs (for another even more broken character, but that one was because I missed a very important rule somewhere...), for the most part I'd just respond in a passive-aggressive fashion against overly munchkinned characters.

Then again, if it were as broken as previous editions sound, I'd probably have had an easier time with the nerfbat. ;)

2008-03-31, 03:28 PM
Hero is essentialy THE toolbox, if you can use it there is almost nothing you can't recreate, the problem is that learn to use it is not exactly simple. I'd consider as an alternative mutants & masterminds, it is almost as flexible, where it counts at least, but waaaay easier and much less math heavy.

2008-03-31, 04:16 PM
We've looked at both and I think we're actually going to go with Mutants and Masterminds. HERO looks amazing, but we don't think our players would want to learn an entirely new system for what will initially only be a 10-week campaign. M&M is a really nice middleground between the customisability that we want and a set of rules that we all know.