The power of the Hero System RPG by Hero Games lies in the freedom it gives players and the game master to create exactly what they want. It does this by having rules that concern only the game effect without being tied at all to presentation. You can literally create any character from any genre. Each mechanic can be modified by advantages and limitations. This extends all the way down to even your base abilities. For example lets say your character has average strength of 10, unless there are certain circumstances in which case he has a strength of 100! You wouldn’t want to see him angry, would you?
Reasoning from the Special Effect
The Hero rationale for this is “reasoning from the special effect,” which means that you consider what the effect on the game would be. There are no rules specifically for say a lightning bolt or a fireball spell. But there are rules for powers that cause damage that you can modify to act like those things. To me a fireball is hot, it explodes on contact and strikes an area. A lightning bolt is quick, hits a single point and delivers all of its damage there. There are ways of modifying the standard attack to make these things happen such as adding an Area of Effect advantage to the Fireball and Armor Piercing to the lightning bolt spell.
A great example of this philosophy would be you have conceived of a character who can manipulate the weather. You could go looking through the rule book looking for weather manipulation powers but they won’t be there, excepts perhaps as examples. Your next step is to think of “what effects would come from manipulating the weather?” High heat and humidity would sap endurance. Bitter cold would slow beings down. A sudden snow flurry would obscure sight. A small tornado would throw things randomly with great strength. Icy rain would make surfaces slick. How localized is the weather change? Is it a single cloud over an enemy’s head or is it a major storm that covers a 30,000 meter radius? Perhaps the effect is widespread but the most intense effect is very localized. These are all possible given the proper advantages and disadvantages.
Where to Begin
The first place to begin is the background the Game Master provided. It gives the theme of the game, lets you know how many points the starting characters begin with and what the adventure is classified as (Super heroric, Heroic, etc.) You could certainly have a super heroic fantasy game or sci-fi game – the characters start with extraordinary powers. Or, conversely the characters might start off as standard humans with no special abilities for a game setting where the character’s decisions are more important than the character’s stats and abilities. Once you know if your character will be imbued with great abilities or common ones you can begin to ponder just how the character will exist in the world – not how they are constructed but at a more basic level. Consider how you would introduce the character to a story.
A great method I’ve seen used is for each character to have a 3 page introduction. Page 1 is the origin and back story of the character. Page 2 is a description of the character’s recent past. Page 3 is a description of the character’s strengths and weaknesses. The language should not contain any Hero System mechanics. It should simply describe the powers, talents and skills the character has in plain terms. Don’t be afraid to list as yet dormant abilities – mentioning them now will make it easier to add them to the character later in life as experience is earned.
Inspiration can come from many sources. You could take a current comic book, graphic novel or regular novel and develop a character like one of the characters found in those sources. You could take a playing piece, like the miniature depicted in this article and use that as the basis of your inspiration. You can research art, history and science to find inspiration. You may have your own muse – just go with it!
Remember, consider first the special effect, then the effect it would have and then finally the game mechanic.
Quick and Dirty Example
The world is Margaxt – a complex continent in the temperate zone that is marked by deep forests, mighty rivers, tall mountains and disputed borders. It is a world of high-fantasy where a small cadre of elites enjoy the benefits of The Magic while the rest of the population can only dream of such luxury. The problem isn’t tyranny but the exact opposite. The Magic has given The Elite everything they want. When they have no other needs they don’t have to depend upon the people. In fact the regular people are a problem because the lifestyle of The Elite demands a lot of resources. The Elite no longer really even acknowledge there even exists a population bereft of The Magic outside the stoney walls of their super fortresses.
Enter the Heroes – drawn from the best the common population can muster they have developed skills, recognized talents and created their own system of enchantment they call The Way of the Wyrd (or just Wyrding Way in many parts). The Elite have cut down forests, disturbed dangerous creatures which now roam the villages and cause great damage, they have diverted rivers, poisoned lakes and polluted the air. This heroic cadre is bent on entering the fortresses and breaking the source of power for The Elite so that the villagers may live better lives in safer world.
Pg. 1 Lorus Hightower Origin/Backstory (kept short for purposes of this article)
As a farmer, Lorus was good with the land. His sharp mind kept is harvest bountiful each year; that is until The Elites diverted the river he used to irrigate his fields. Angered by this he flew into a rage and attempted to sabotage a river diversion team made of of golems. He was badly beaten and if it wasn’t for High Rebel Anticus he would have likely perished. Instead he was brought back to good health and instructed in the Wyrding Way. Under the tutelage of Anticus and several others of The Wyrd Circle he gained the abilities he would need to disrupt the plans of The Elite and plot his eventual penetration of the nearest Super Fortress. During his training, Lorus acquired Screech, a pet owl that he soon enchanted to become his familiar.
Pg. 2 Recent History
It should be noted that this is a rather excellent time to collaborate with other players about their characters and to come up with some reasonable minor adventure you can claim they were in together. It makes the reason for the party to be aligned as they are in the present more understandable and beats the old saw “you all meet at a tavern to discuss who is brave enough to follow up on the latest rumor.”
Lorus recently was out scouting for river diversion teams with the tracker known as Ed the Ranger. It was not long before Ed found tracks belonging to golems. “These are big ones! We won’t be able to take them down just by ourselves.” They crept ever watchful through the forest until they heard the unmistakeable sound of rock and mud being brutally reconfigured to divert the river along a new path. Lorus spoke to Ed, “give me your leave and I’ll enchant you such that we may speak over great distance. We may thus split up and surround this team.” (Here we see an indication of an ability the character has planned for Lorus that will appear on Page 3.) Ed gave his leave and the two separated.
From his new vantage point he could see the team of golems at their task. They indeed were big and far to powerful to render harmless. Lorus knew that the golems would need a human master who was somewhere hidden among this site. He sent forth his familiar, Screech, who was able to communicate to Lorus all that he could see. Indeed, in a protected houdah on the back of the largest golem he spied the controller. Alas, since there was no direct path to the controller there was little Lorus could do. He could try to penetrate the houdah with his spells but it may take too long before the golems ripped him to shreds. He communicated with Ed the Ranger and told him where to look. Perhaps with his bow he could, by indirect path, strike the master. Ed understood where he needed to strike and carefully arched an arrow through the forest, striking his target and halting the entire company of golems in their tracks. (A nice touch is to talk about team work or to reveal your personality. The point is to introduce some recent history and foreshadow the noble and ignoble traits of your character.)
Pg. 3 General list of powers, talents and traits in on gaming terms (this will be what you’ll design your character from when it finally is time to put them together.)
Lorus is above average intelligence and has a very outgoing personality. He is a leader and respects hierarchy. He is proficient in the Wyrding Way but still has a lot to learn. He absolutely hates The Elites and will never skip an opportunity to strike at one of their operations. He would want nothing less than seeing a Super Fortress collapse into rubble and dust.
He has an ability to allow one other person to speak to him and hear him at long range. He has the ability to see and target what his familiar sees and to target what his familiar smells. He is working on developing his ability to fly but currently can only make great but awkward leaps. Offensively he has the ability to command fire and brimstone into flaming and exploding balls as well as the ability to direct lightning that can penetrate many things or chain from one thing to other things in a short path.
He still has a knowledge of plants, farming, harvest cycles and irrigation techniques.
Conclusion of Part I
This was a very basic tutorial. While you didn’t learn much about how to build an actual character from the Hero System, yet, you did learn the basic philosophy of the system and a method for defining your character ahead of time before starting on the actual design. Next time we will start to build out our character and get into the actual mechanics of the point system. I hope you enjoyed this article!