Monday, January 4, 2016

A moment of reflection: DC Heroes

SYSTEM: DC Heroes

I just wanted to take a moment to think about that other influential system, DC Heroes. Yes, the TSR Marvel game turned out to be stunningly influential, but aspects of DC Heroes have also influenced the modern superhero game.

I haven't the brainpower to spare today to actually trace the effects it has had, or even talk about what a mess the whole Blood of Heroes thing became. I just want to talk about the system and me.

I bought it in first edition. It concentrated on the Teen Titans, who were hot at the time, and it had (for me) two really revolutionary things. First, the action-opposition-effect mechanic was, well, beautiful. I still keep trying to recreate it in other things, and fall back on its division of physical, mental, and spiritual effects. I mean, wow. Other games have collapsed mental and spiritual or even provided mechanisms where all three are the same thing (only separated by power modifiers) but to me, there's something elegant in the domains of the mind, the body, and the soul. (Mind, it got confusing early in play trying to keep straight whether soul was the aiming attribute or will was or maybe spirit...but the structure of the cards kept it straight.)

Second, everything was on the logarithmic scale. Now, that wasn't new to me: Champions was already using powers to calculate strength. But applying it to everything? Wow. Information, time, distance, strength...all of it. You can see that influence in later games by Steve Kenson: both M&M3E and ICONS Assembled feature benchmarks that have almost all the same features. Heck, M&M3E even features the funky equations for distance, time, and speed.

Except...no one would play with me in first edition. So I eventually got rid of it.

Then a friend, my system whore friend, convinced me to try it again. We would run two campaigns that intersected: they took place in the same town but he would run the superheroes and I would run the mages. So I got second edition. And a number of the supplements. (I still own Magic. I might own others, but I haven't checked.)

I thought the campaign was a blast, and I still remember some of the player characters: the voudoun professor and the psychic private eye, and the mercenary who had been trapped alive in Hell since the Hundred Years' War. (Sorry, Jim, I don't remember your character. I don't even remember who I played as a superhero, except he was probably influenced by Batman because all my characters were influenced by Batman.) We were still playing it when the third edition came out, and I bought that so I wouldn't have multiple books to carry around.

Now, for all that I loved the game, I thought there were a couple of issues.
  • The power names were too specific, and it was often the case that you had the same power three times, once for spirit, once for physical attacks, and once for mental ones. The gadget rules in the first edition were clunky...well, the gadget rules were always clunky. And the numbers were huge...at the time, I had played Champions, where a character was between 200 and 400 points...the idea of playing 1400 point characters scared me. (It still does, a little. No, I've never played Rifts. Why?)
  • Even though the exponential growth is a way to make Jimmy Olsen and Superman fit on the same chart, it does lead to characters being rather similar at the low end.
  • And I really wanted a formula instead of the tables. Having to do table lookups was a bit of a nuisance to me....still is.
But the game...well. Great. I can see why writeups.org is still a going concern.