90s (H)ero (guest post)

An invited guest post by Steven S. Long! Ron asked me if I wouldn’t mind taking the baton and continuing the journey forward to look at how Champions/the HERO System developed in the Nineties, and I said I’d be glad to give it a shot. But before I do, allow me to issue a few caveats, just so the commenters have something to ignore. 😉

  1. This is entirely a personal recollection. I’m speaking only for myself personally — not for Ron, not from my current position as part owner of the HERO System, nothing like that. It’s just me talkin’ about “how things was way back when.”
  2.  It’s been twenty-plus years since a lot of this stuff happened, and it’s not like I took detailed notes along the way during what were often some complex goings-on. So please forgive me if I get a date wrong or don’t arrange events in the precisely correct sequence. And as always, if you have knowledge of what I’m talking about, feel free to chime in with a comment.
  3. I’m writing entirely from my own perspective. This isn’t an attempt to write an objective history of Hero Games/the HERO System in the 1990s. All I’m doing is offering my own opinions, as someone who was involved (directly or indirectly), about what was going on and how the game developed. Reasonable minds may differ, as Internet folk are fond of saying.

So then, on to the meat of the thing. The 1989 release of the 4th Edition of Champions, both as Champions itself (the “Big Blue Book,” or BBB as fans often called it) and as a stand-alone HERO System Rulebook, combined with the resources Iron Crown Enterprises could muster, really invigorated the game, and an ambitious publishing schedule followed. The latter half of 1989 saw the issuance of such supplements as Scott Bennie’s Classic Enemies, Scott Heine’s Mind Games, and Allen Varney’s Mystic Masters. The latter, as an exploration of a specific “sub-genre” of Superhero stories/gaming, was particularly influential on me (and the cool Bill Willingham cover didn’t hurt).

But it was 1990 where I think things took off in a serious way for the HERO System, not because of Champions supplements (though plenty of those appeared) but because of the arrival of two highly-regarded, and for me influential, sourcebooks: Aaron Allston’s superb Ninja Hero and the 4th Edition version of Fantasy Hero, compiled by ace Line Developer Rob Bell. These were both what I as Line Developer ten years later would call a “genre book” — an RPG supplement that examines a specific genre (or sub-genre) for gaming and shows how to implement its common character types, tropes, and abilities using the HERO System rules.

ninjaheroNinja Hero And Its Influence. It would be difficult for me to over-emphasize the importance that Ninja Hero had on the development of the HERO System going forward. When HERO gamers talk nostalgically about Aaron Allston’s work, they’re more likely to refer to Strike Force or other great supplements he did than “NH.” But the truth is that while Aaron’s Champions supplements were tons of fun, it’s Ninja Hero that truly left his mark upon the rules and affected how they’d develop for the next twenty years.

Ninja Hero was a “genre book” devoted to Martial Arts adventure, and Aaron’s love of kung fu movies comes through on every page. It had some significant rules material (primarily rules for creating new Martial Maneuvers, and additional explanations for some combat rules), but that’s not what makes it so important. Its influence lies in the fact that it was the first book to really show how to take the elements of the HERO System — the Skills, Powers, Advantages, and so forth — and use them to simulate various abilities and aspects of the genre. These included things like crafting a Limited form of Gliding to represent walking across the ground without leaving tracks, an elaborate construct using Drain to build the infamous dim mak “death touch,” and buying Damage Resistance to create the “iron skin” ability to withstand weapon attacks.

All of this hit me like a bolt out of the blue. When I first started playing Champions back in 1982 or so, it had immediately appealed to me because of the creative freedom and versatility it offered. No longer did I have to use whatever powers or spells the D&D books, the Traveler books, or the rulebooks for any other RPG I was trying back then told me I had to use. I could create powers and abilities that worked the way I wanted them to. I wasn’t restricted any longer. It was like being let out of a cage.

Ninja Hero was the first HERO System book to really grasp what that freedom meant and show gamers how to employ it to emulate — or simulate, if you prefer 🙂 — a genre and its elements. This was like taking my existing love of and fascination with HERO’s potential and turning the dial up to 13. I’d already been let out of the cage; now Aaron had thrown open the door to the prison and shown me the wide world beyond, full of infinite possibilities.

Ninja Hero had one other thing that really resonated with me: a wealth of real world information translated into HERO System terms. Plenty of books had done this with guns, vehicles, and the like, but NH did it with martial arts styles and other such things. Like most great RPG supplements, it taught me something I didn’t know while providing me with endless hours of fun.

Why is all of this so important? Because, at the risk of sounding like an immodest jackass,* I soon became the most productive freelancer working for Hero Games. That influence became even more central when I ponied up most of my life savings and, with my business partners, bought the Hero Games assets in 2001. Anything that had a strong influence over my views of how to use and develop the HERO System rules thus had strong influence over how the game evolved.

(Lest you think I’m exaggerating or puffing myself up, from 1993-2013 Hero Games published about 145 Champions/HERO System books, including the 5th and 6th editions of the rules. By my rough estimate I’d say that I personally wrote about 70% of those books, and pretty much 100% of the books that significantly developed or contributed to the HERO System rules set. From 2002-2012 I also edited — which often meant significantly rewriting or reworking — any Hero Games book I didn’t write, and as HERO System Line Developer my philosophy about the rules and how to present them held absolute sway. So based on numbers alone, I think I’ve had a bit of an effect on things. 😉 )

I began writing for Hero Games about a year after NH appeared, when they put out a call for martial arts articles for the latest issue of Adventurer’s Club, the company magazine. That led to more articles and a bit of work on one supplement. Based on that, I said, “Hey, I could write a whole book!” And I did.

That book, released in early 1993, was Dark Champions: Heroes Of Vengeance. I’d originally pitched it as a genre book like Ninja Hero, using the subtitle as the title. But the company, knowing how its bread was buttered and what most appealed to its fans, had me rework it as more of a Champions supplement.

mysticmastersIf memory serves, I was told to look at Allen Varney’s superb Mystic Masters, a Champions sub-genre book published in 1989, for inspiration and guidance. As much as I love Mystic Masters, I largely ignored that advice and looked to Ninja Hero for what I wanted to do. And that dictated the end result: long descriptions of how to emulate action-adventure genre conventions and abilties using the HERO System rules; lots of information about real-world subjects like organized crime and guns. In the years since I’ve been told by several people I admire that Dark Champions affected them much the same way Ninja Hero affected me, and it’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten about my writing.

(To give Mystic Masters its due, I do remember it introducing me to a HERO System concept that had never occurred to me before: using a Multipower to represent one power a character could employ in multiple ways. Prior to that I’d just used Multipowers for collections of powers, usually attacks, of different types. MM represented many of its Doctor Strange-like spells, such as the Lights of Luathon, with Multipowers to reflect the many ways a mystic could cast them. In time I adapted that methodology to guns and other abilities, but MM’s what gave me that idea.)

(Department of Irony Department: my inspiration for writing Dark Champions was that I was currently playing a gun-toting vigilante character in the local ongoing Champions campaign, and I was frustrated by the fact that (a) there was basically no material in print regarding those sorts of characters and style of play, and (b) that my knowledge of crime, law, and related subjects kept tripping me up because the GM didn’t share it. I wrote Dark Champions in large part to get gamers to run more of the types of games I wanted to play in. But in the 22 years since then I’ve never gotten to play in a Dark Champions campaign. In fact it’s been far too long since I got to gun down any criminals, and the withdrawal symptoms are settin’ in….)

Dark Champions 4E CoverDark Champions was an immediate success. It sold out its first print run and earned a second (unusual for RPG supplements, even back then). The company asked me if I had any more material for the genre (I did — two books’ worth, in fact), and began rebranding a lot of Champions supplements for Dark Champions. In some cases (as with Chris Avellone’s brilliant Underworld Enemies [1993] or Ed Carmien’s excellent adventure Hudson City Blues [1994]) this worked out well. But choppy editing quality and a lack of vision about what Dark Champions was resulted in a rather… uneven… product line.

(Gaming Industry Aside: by the time I started working on Dark Champions, Rob Bell had vacated the HERO System Line Developer seat to go to law school. So my editor was the new Line Developer, a fellow named Monte Cook whom some of you may have heard of. Years later, when I went to work for WotC and met him in person, I mentioned that he’d been my first editor in the RPG industry. He jokingly replied, “I’m sorry.”)

Fantasy Hero And “Genre Books”

Fantasy Hero 4E CoverBesides Ninja Hero, the other 4th Edition book that really exerted an influence over me was Fantasy Hero. A quantum leap of an improvement over the first Fantasy Hero (1985), which was a stand-alone game with its own tweaked version of the HERO System rules included, FH was the first genre book I really took notice of as such. (NH was a genre book, but since no one in my group had any interest in running Martial Arts games it became “a book of cool abilities to buy for my Champions characters”). The way it discussed the different types of Fantasy and how they’d function in gaming/HERO System terms affected not only my gaming writing, but the way I tend to analyze genre fiction. Its influence is more subtle, and less rules-oriented than NH’s, but still plays in to my view of “simulating” genre elements and real world information using the HERO System.

The Ultimate Line, And Beyond. Heading into the mid-Nineties, the main vehicle for general Champions/HERO System rules development was the “Ultimate” line of supplements. Around this time TSR began publishing a series of class-specific guides for D&D 2nd Edition — The Complete Fighter, The Complete Cleric, and so on. Aaron Allston wrote some of these, and he suggested to the Hero Games guys that they do something similar for superhero archetypes. The idea had appeal, and the company planned an ambitious product line. It assigned most of the titles to freelancers who (as far as I know) had never written any RPG books before but had good ideas on a given subject. In the end, though, during the Nineties the company only published three Ultimate books — The Ultimate Martial Artist (1994) and The Ultimate Mentalist (1995), both by me, and Dean Shomshak’s The Ultimate Super-Mage (1996; PDF only). Numerous problems (briefly discussed below) prevented the others from seeing the light of day. It wasn’t until I took over as HERO System Line Developer in the 2000s that they finally got published (though often in very different form than originally envisioned, and I never got around to one or two concepts, such as The Ultimate Gadgeteer, for various reasons not pertinent to this discussion).

Eventually — around 1996 or 1997, I think, I don’t recall for sure — the decision was made that enough material had been generated since 1989, and the owners wanted to make enough changes to the rules, that it was time for a new edition — the Fifth. Given the amount of writing I’d done for them over the past several years, especially on rules-related issues, I guess I was a natural choice for the task of writing the book, so they offered me the job, and I jumped at the chance. After a lengthy meeting or two with Steve Peterson to discuss the outline and various rules issues, I got to work and had a final manuscript ready a few months later.

champsnewmillBut there was something else going on — something, I think, that ultimately not only failed, but contributed to Hero’s slide into a moribund state during the mid-late Nineties. That was the Fuzion system, the rules behind the “Champions: New Millennium” product line that attempted to reboot the entire Champions Universe to be more like the Image comics that were so popular at the time. Fuzion began as “Instant Hero,” an attempt to boil the HERO System down into a very short, simple rules set that gamers could use to introduce other players to HERO. (Somewhere along the way one of us who was involved in the initial reviewing of Instant Hero joked that the idea was “cheesy,” and as a result Instant Hero quickly earned the in-house nickname “Mozarella.”) In theory the idea wasn’t a bad one, but I thought it diverged from the core strength of the HERO System and wasn’t particularly in favor of it (though I certainly didn’t hate it; if nothing else it showed some interesting game design work).

Instant Hero by itself never saw publication because in 1996 Hero Games severed its publication/distribution arrangement with Iron Crown Enterprises and formed a similar deal with R. Talsorian Games. The Hero and RTal guys, who’d been good friends for a long time, noticed a lot of similarities between Instant Hero and RTal’s “Interlock” system and decided to merge them to form a distinct rules set — Fuzion. While Fuzion’s roots in the HERO System are obvious, it very much was not the HERO System. (Among other things, the Champions: The New Millennium rulebook included a simpler character creation system that offered little of the flexibility and freedom the HERO System did.) That, combined with the fans’ misperception that “this was the HERO System 5th Edition,” made it a no-go as far as most long-time Champions fans were concerned. Hero Games produced three or four Fuzion-based books before various factors precluded any further use of Fuzion for Champions.

Hero’s financial difficulties eventually resulted in the sale of the company to a company called Cybergames. Despite extensive plans, Cybergames never published anything, and in late 2001 my partners and I bought the Hero Games assets from it. The rest, as they say, is history. 😉

*: “At the risk??!? What do you think you’ve been doing for the past twenty years, Long?” — the entire Internet. 😉

Next: The book that wasn’t there

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About Ron Edwards

Game author and publisher via Adept Press / Biology author and former professor

Posted on July 16, 2015, in Guest posts, Supers role-playing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I have a question about Fantasy Hero for 4th Edition. Did it breakdown of fantasy genres in a way that would make more casual readers care? I’ve seen chapter long treatments of the subject… and there are so many– and it’s so hard to explain some of this stuff to people that haven’t already read it– I was wondering how the supplement could pull it off.

    Another question: was there anything special about its advice for creating fantasy settings?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it did a good job of providing short breakdowns that differentiated each subgenre (or “type”) of Fantasy so that a casual reader could make an informed choice. (Assuming, of course, the editors writing the back-of-book copy for novels properly describe a book’s subgenre, which they often don’t).

      Of course, I think that Fantasy Hero for 5E/6E does a *much* better job, but I are biased. 🙂 The text of that section of 6E, slightly updated, is available for free on my website, along with the FH bibliography of “Fantasy that Steve recommends”: http://www.stevenslong.com/articles/2011/12/28/defining-fantasy.html

      Liked by 1 person

    • D’oh! I forgot the second question.

      I suppose it depends on what you mean by “special.” I think it does a solid, basic job of providing advice about setting creation, and given that it’s a Hero supplement it approaches the subject in a logical, systematic way.

      Again, I think FH for 5E and 6E do a much better job — but if so, it’s because I was standing on the shoulders of giants when I wrote it.

      A book I’m currently planning, my Worldbuilder’s Guidebook, based on the methodology I use in the “worldbuilding workshops” I frequently run at conventions, will make them both look anemic — but it’s not available yet and may very well provide more detail and information than you want. 😉

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  2. Ron, I enjoyed Steve’s guest post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. James Nostack

    Steve, thank you for this – I’ve never played any version of Hero, but you help me see the appeal.

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this: back in the day, in games like Dungeons & Dragons or Marvel Super Heroes, you basically selected your magic p0werz from a menu. Whereas with Champions / Hero, the game basically let you go back into the kitchen and whip something up for yourself. In effect, the player became a mini-game-designer, at least for the purposes of super power stuff. Is that fair to say?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that’s generally fair to say, yes. Of course there were some games that provided greater freedom than the standard D&D “here are your powers, pick from this limited list” method. But without going back to review a bunch of history, I think CHAMPIONS was the first popular, high-selling game to really bring that philosophy front and center.

      Liked by 2 people

    • My take on this one is that “back in the day” needs some revision. Point-buy came in very early, with Melee in 1977 if not before, and by 1980 was evident in very sophisticated form in the complete Fantasy Trip. There was no period when the “D&D way” ruled the roost and a whole generation of play went by with nothing but. Champions was available. A very great part of RPG rules-concepts diversity was in place right from the start.

      It’s maybe most useful to contrast Villains & Vigilantes, which was built on more of a D&D template (or maybe Gamma World), with the idea not being that it was “old” and Champions was “new,” but that very similar topics were being addressed via equally-available rules concepts pretty much at the same time. V&V was published first, but the two games’ adventure supplements shared space on the racks basically as one big line for a long time.

      I’m not diminishing the importance of the new design, though. Among other things, what Champions absolutely rocked the world with was the valuation of character problems.

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  4. Steven, Dark Champions is what I played almost exclusively! It really struck a chord with me and I spent the next 10 years or so playing in that bullet-riddled playground. In fact, I have such fond memories of it that I submitted my group’s Dark Champions group, The Vigil, for publication in one of the Icons Hero books.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Steve! Thanks again for contributing this. Here’s my question to you: how about any of this as a more personal experience? I know you have good reasons not to get too critical even by implication, but that’s not what I’m asking for – more of a question, what moments of observed value informed your play-experience, then served as powerful design urges?

    I know which bit I’m homing in on. I’m talking about Dark Champions in particular, especially the part about making “ordinary” abilities and powers more dramatic and effective via the powers rules. So you can buy Invisibility without saying Bat-Guy actually goes invisible, just that he’s effectively, dare I say narratively invisible just because his stealth and timing are that good. Transcending the already-in-place rules for stealth and timing, you see.

    It’s really a mere extension, or even just an application, of the existing special effects concept that goes all the way back to 1st edition, but it takes a genuinely personal angle of perspective, of understanding through play and rules-use, to get it and to articulate it as you did – and to make it as explicit as you did, when you had the chance. How did that happen?

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  6. OK, but don’t forget — you asked for this. 😉

    Dark Champions was inspired and informed largely by my Champions play experiences in the mid-to-late Eighties and early Nineties, primarily under the GMing stewardship of my good friend John “The Mad GM” Grigni, with other friends like Tim Binford, Steve Stone, Jon and Kelley Ferrante, John Losey, and the late Andy Mathews as players. For quite a few years I’d struggled to come up with a Punisher-like “ruthless vigilante” character I could enjoy playing. This was partly because I’d never played such a character (nor had anyone else in my gaming group, as far as I can recall), and partly because I wanted to explore the morality of vigilantism. That topic fascinates me but is usually glossed over in comics and RPGs (for obvious reasons).

    My first effort was a pretty much straight-up Punisher clone called Captain X (for the bandoliers of bullets across his chest, of course). I played him a few times and he never really “clicked” with me. Then two comics events provided me with the inspiration I needed. The first was the character Rorschach, about whom you’ve written previously. 😉 The second, much stronger, influence occurred when Mark Gruenwald started the “Scourge of the Underworld” story arc in Captain America. The subtlety and attitude shown by these characters, as opposed to the Punisher’s more brute force militaristic approach to crimefighting, gave me the imagination fuel I needed.

    The result was the Harbinger of Justice, who ultimately appeared in a couple of my HERO System books and could in many ways be said to be responsible for my career as an RPG writer/designer. I first played him on March 15, 1986, and I remember it like it was yesterday. (In fact, after playing the character for a couple years I realized our gaming group was creating some great stories but letting the memories of most of them fade away. So I began recording the games with a microrecorder and taking notes, and then wrote each one up journal-style in Harbinger’s voice. I still have many, many notebooks filled with the group’s adventures, each one carefully noting who played, what character they played, and how many XP I earned. I also have a few last tapes I never got around to transcribing.)

    Harbinger quickly became my favorite PC of all time, bar none. His ruthless methods of dispensing Justice meant the other PCs, burdened by their Codes Versus Killing, not only wouldn’t work with him but actively tried to capture him (and even succeeded, briefly, on a couple occasions). So the cops were against me, the villains were against me, and the heroes were against me.

    And I loved it. To this day it remains the most intense and fulfilling roleplaying experience I think I’ve ever had. I’d drive to the game each Thursday with my hands shaking on the wheel in anticipation of what would happen: the risks Harbinger would face; the opportunities to make the city a better place that would come his way that he could not fail to take advantage of; the machinations of the other PCs that I’d have to oppose but without inflicting any harm on them; the GM’s attempts to trip me up by getting me to execute (not kill, as I frequently pointed out to the other PCs) an innocent or undeserving person. (I’m proud to say that as far as I know, he never got me.) So as not to disrupt the game I basically only got five or ten minutes of the GM’s time per hour of play, but given my methods and skills I got just as much done in that time as the other heroes did with their time (or so I like to think).

    Every game, every action I took, every interaction with an NPC, every time I had Harbinger pull the trigger, was a moral test. Is this the right thing to do? Does this person deserve execution — or if not, what punishment? How can I convince others to agree with my point of view? It was utterly intoxicating. I enjoyed playing Harbinger so much that in the summer of 1991 the gaming group banded together and for about a month and a half absolutely refused to let me do any gaming so I could focus on studying for the North Carolina bar exam. It’s one of those odd things that friends sometimes do for each other, and I’ve always been grateful that they cared so much (though I don’t actually think such an extreme step was necessary — I can quit anytime I want to, sure, that’s the ticket…).

    Over the course of years of play, Harbinger went from a very simple character (trained normal Characteristics, one gun, a bunch of Skills) to a highly, complex detailed one. I earned well over 900 Experience Points playing him, each one verrrry carefully spent to flesh out the character as I saw him developing. Drawing on Ninja Hero’s method of using Powers to represent skills and trained abilities characters could have, I began paying close attention to “street-level crimefighting” comics characters (Batman, Daredevil, most of the Watchmen, the Punisher, the Vigilante, and so on) and to action movies (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Hard Boiled, Bond films, Predator, ad infinitum) and studying what those sorts of characters did. Then I would try to figure out how I could represent that in HERO System terms. Was that just a good roll with some Skill — or was it a separate ability built with a Power to make it easier to achieve?

    I ended up with a long list of such abilities (not all of which Harbinger bought, of course — even 900+ XP only goes so far, alas). I think my favorites were: “Disappearing Act” (a.k.a. Vanishing Teleport, using Teleportation to represent Batman’s ability to “vanish” when no one’s looking, or a character’s ability to get into a surprise attack position in far less time than it would actually take); “Rapid Fire” (applying Autofire to any handgun to represent John Woo-style multi-firing — my first use of the “naked Advantage” concept, which caused considerable argument with some members of my gaming group); and “It’s Somewhere In These Files” (using the Speed Reading Talent, cranked way up, to represent how characters quickly find just the right piece of paper amidst a room full of disorganized files). Had a book like The Ultimate Skill existed at the time, I probably could’ve done most of this with expanded Skill rules — but thankfully for my career, the rules writers had largely ignored the Skills element of the HERO System as a subject for analysis and evolution.

    All of that’s a long introduction to an observation I made after several years playing Harbinger: there were no RPG books for characters like him. All the Champions books to date assumed traditional, four-color play with superpowered heroes who didn’t kill their enemies. Indeed, the rules were set up to enforce that view, with STUN damage and combat mechanics that made killing anyone damn difficult. But we were in (or swiftly approaching) the Iron Age of comics, which meant that “greater realism” and more intense violence were becoming a significant part of the superhero comics landscape. Someone needed to speak up on behalf of all of us gun-toting vigilantes!

    (I had a couple other motivations as well. One was to encourage more people to run the sort of games I wanted to play in. The other was that I wanted to provide GMs with more information on “street-level play” and related subjects. My knowledge of organized crime, law, criminology, and other such subjects was constantly tripping me up because I knew more than the GMs did, so my assumptions and actions didn’t always square with their plots. I distinctly remember a game where the GM set up a “white slavery” plot that the Mafia was behind. As soon as he said “white slavery,” I said “I head to Chinatown!,” knowing that was a yakuza gig. Kind of threw the whole plot into a cocked hat….)

    After I started writing magazine articles for Hero Games, I decided, “Hey, I could write a book!” And I instantly realized what I wanted to write about: the RPG supplement on vigilante crimefighting. I pitched the book to then-Line Developer Monte Cook as Heroes Of Vengeance, since I saw it more as a stand-alone genre like Ninja Hero at the time. The Powers That Be wisely realized this worked better as a Champions supplement and devised the title “Dark Champions.” And from there I think you know the rest. 😉

    I miss playing Harbinger. It’s been years since I got to execute a criminal or supervillain, and the withdrawal symptoms remain as intense as ever….

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Steve! That really humanizes the article for me and explains some of my favorite things about your work. You sound like that you might have been a “that guy” at the table once in while, which is sometimes a doorway into great things – especially with Champions. I might like to try a vigilante game with you one day.

      Like

  7. Gordon Landis

    Thank for that, Steve – great to read! And thanks Ron for prompting him.

    Like

  8. Great read. This was the era I was getting into the HERO System, so it hits home.

    Ah yes, Ninja Hero; what an awesome book. Still got mine, and I always considered it (and later Ultimate Martial Artist, the Surbrook Ninja HERO and finally Hero System Martial Arts) to be the only “must have” supplement to the core rule book. Ultimate Skill later earned that stature as well.

    I also had Ninjas & Superspies, and some other gaming material from that period, plus lots of issues of Black Belt magazine. Loved that stuff back then. The differences between various martial arts styles fascinated me to no end, fed by Run Run Shaw and Golden Harvest movies.

    I always considered the HERO System’s detailed coverage of martial arts and the compact genius of the “maneuver” concept to be one of the most interesting and compelling in any game, and I always enjoyed using them heavily to give PC’s and NPC’s alike distinctive combat styles.

    The sheer variety of gritty and very tactical melees that could be simulated using the martial maneuvers made for some real nail biting fights, but also from a role playing perspective knowing that the rules could back me up if necessary gave me the confidence to portray practitioners of various styles very differently from each other.

    One of my all time favorite PC’s was FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeff Chen, from my playgroup’s original Demon Hunter: FBI campaign (which much later in the 6e era was morphed into a collaboratively designed urban fantasy campaign known as Here There Be Monsters). Jeff Chen was a practitioner of the “Insidious Snake Style” martial arts, learned from his family’s patriarch “Grandpa” Chen (really an immortal master and a much more distant predecessor). I put together a custom style based around nerve strike and some other suitably sneaky / evasive maneuvers and anchored my character’s persona around how I envisioned a student of that (imaginary) secretive art might act. Well, that plus bits lifted from various Kung Fu movie tropes. Very memorable character; one of those rare ones for whom the roleplaying and the mechanics gelled perfectly from the first scene of the campaign to the last.

    Ninja Hero was definitely a classic and remains an all time great, IMO.

    Really, that whole Rob Bell era was something special, at least in my memory. Solid trade dress, very approachable books (by HERO System standards). And while almost all of them had something to offer, they also tended to have what I perceived as obvious gaps or even flaws that often compelled me to write up my own takes on things.

    They thus sucked me in to the deep end of the HERO System as surely as a blackhole, and I spent many hours revising, rewriting, replacing, and adding on my own characters to the published supplements. To my ultimate betterment as a gamer and a HERO System player and GM.

    I’m proud to say I still own many of the books from that era. Many of them look very anemic and woefully incomplete after the avatar of prolific and thoroughness known as Steve Long took over and put out massively detailed and ultra-consistent mega-tomes like clockwork, but they still have an endearing quaintness to them. Or maybe it’s just my own nostalgia. Regardless, those were good times.

    Thanks for sharing this, Steve. You, as always, rock.

    Liked by 1 person

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