Hero System: Taking Combat Out for a Test Drive

I spent some time talking to folks who really like Hero, and they convinced me to give a sample combat or two a try before I worry overmuch about the mechanics that I think might be less than ideal. I will say that the system proved to be more robust than I gave it credit for, and I've compiled my results into a little PDF documenthttps://www.dropbox.com/s/td0h6n1n1fvdnmu/Hero%20System%20Combat%20Example.pdf that I hope will be useful to others out there. It's in two columns, with the left side dedicated to the fluff and the right to the mechanics.

Initial thoughts:

  • The ability to abort a future action to block avoids the issue I was having with fights being decided entirely by a single die roll. Not only do you get an active defense that way, you get the natural back and forth of control over the fight, and a successful parry opens up the opportunity for a less dextrous fighter to retake the offensive.
  • I find myself fond of the breakdown between stun and body for keeping track of damage. A hit that doesn't penetrate armor does more ephemeral damage in the form of stun, which can be regained during combat, while a more thorough hit does body, which requires non-combat time to recover from (barring the use of powers).
  • Endurance that is used enough to wear out the characters in a natural way, and eventually slow things down until folks take a breather is a nice addition, and feels very smooth in play. It's less aggressive than +Douglas Cole's Last Gasp rules are about movement, which leads to a more potentially dynamic battlefield, but the fact that turns are 12 seconds long and even the fastest "normal" fighters typically can only move up to 48 meters during that time is already relatively self-limiting.
  • The speed statistic, which dictates number of actions in a 12 second turn, leaves me wanting something different. If an average joe has a speed of 2, and he acts on the 6th and 12th segments of each turn, what's he doing for the other five seconds out of every six? Is he really taking six seconds to attack? I'm not sure what the answer is there yet. It may be a level of abstraction I'm just always going to be uncomfortable with.
  • I missed the ability to reduce my opponent's defenses through feint or deceptive attack, but have found that one of the supplements (the book Hero System Skills) has a new skill called Feint that appears to do a nice job covering both options. Something to add in next time.
  • Updated to add: one on one combat, with both fighters having the same SPD doesn't really show off the nuances of the speed system, and it doesn't lend itself well to exploring how useful CSLs can be in finely tuning your character's balance between offense and defense.
Overall, I was pretty impressed. I look forward to putting it through a few more fights, some two-on-threes and some higher tech battles, to see how it holds up.

Comments

  1. SPEED segmentation.

    The separate of SFX and mechanics of HERO means that the interpretation of what a character is doing or not doing in empty segments is open to interpretation from character to character, situation to situation.

    Its not necessarily the case that characters are just standing around like lumps during segments that they don't get a phase (though that is certainly a possible explanation for some cases, some characters).

    However, it is also viable to describe this as a natural part of a observe, orient, decide, act cycle. Some people have a faster OODA loop than others.

    See also, Non-actions (vs. 0 Phase actions); some very minor things can be done as literally a non-action.

    Also, characters who are moving don't really move in spurts during their phase and then "hang" in place in the intervening segments; they have velocity and in actuality their movement would be allocated across the segments between their phases. This would be a lot of extra state tracking for many to want to track and thus the convenience of tracking movement during a character's turn is a reasonable compromise between realism and ease of use. But you could certainly opt to use segmented movement for your games if you wanted to.

    Having said all of that it is generally understood that characters with higher SPD have better reaction time and ability to take _deliberate, directed_ action. This is not unrealistic; some people are demonstrably more dynamic than others in real life.

    So, slower characters MIGHT just be standing around gob-smacked, or they might be "feinting and parrying" or bobbing and weaving in a combat stance, or gyrating thru a martial art style, or tracking with their guns, or looking for an opening, or whatever non-mechanical cosmetic SFX fluff you want to add over top of the mechanical resolution of SPD, segments, and phases.

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    1. Most of what you list - it's all pretty great - definitely falls under "level of abstraction" for me. I'm always on a quest for the Least Abstracted System. I'm one who is totally willing to do the necessary extra paperwork for segmented movement and acceleration to get something that feels more like reality, but I'm pretty sure I'd be the only one.

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  2. "The separate of SFX..." should be "The separation of SFX..."

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    1. Would it kill these guys to include an edit function on comments? I have been burned by this so many times...

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  3. The answer back in my Champions days was, who cares what the normal guys are doing the rest of the time? All the supers have Speed 5-7 and are doing to cool stuff. ;)

    I do sometimes miss Champions, but I'm not cut out to run superhero games. Stat out the heroes and villains, yes, but not to GM the game.

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    1. When it was just Champions, it was a little different. It didn't start to fray around the edges so much until it was made a generic system. I've been toying with the notion of increasing the default speed a bit, so that even normal folk are speed 3 or 4, and 2 is reserved for the elderly, infirm, injured or fatigued. Might go a ways towards assuaging my concerns.

      Right now I'm hashing out some misunderstandings of the weapon reach rules over on the Hero boards, and lamenting the abandonment of the hex map in exchange for the more general measurement in meters.

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  4. I think conceptually exchanging inches for meters makes a lot of sense as it allows scaling of a map without conversion...my problem is I was so used to it referring to hexes that I sort of do an unnecessary double conversion in my head almost every time.

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    1. I haven't played in literally decades, and when I started up with 6th edition, my brain immediately reverted to hexes and inches instead of meters. It's amazing how thoroughly ingrained into my mind that was...

      Makes me think I'll use a hex grid in my own games anyway, but make it 1m hexes instead of the older 2m hexes.

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  5. I run a lot of Heroic level games (SPD 2-4 with the occasional 5 or 6 for a major character or demon) and I find that once you accept the abstraction (and I agree with the OODA comment), it flows nicely. For example, in fantasy your commoners, militia, and typical street thugs, not to mention goblins and such, all have SPD 2. The players should be 3-4. Most trained combatants are going to be 3, with the fastest ones at a 4 (predator monsters, master rogues, etc.). Having a set initiative order and phased actions creates a smooth flow to the combat and rewards an edge to the faster players without overwhelming the action.

    I used to play a lot of GURPS as well - it was my go to system for many of the reasons you described. But over the past years I have come to enjoy the slightly less simulationist and more cinematic action of HERO. Multiple Attacks, Combined Attacks, Coordinated Attacks make it very easy to simulate what is seen in the action movies. I especially enjoy the grappling rules and the ability for characters to do things like "Multiple Grab By" so a brutish fighter can grab two thugs by the head and run them into a wall. Combined with a Presence Attack, you have a pretty unique action scene that few other systems can replicate. In fact, the only systems I know of that can do something like that by the rules are not crunchy systems at all (e.g. FATE, Cortex+).

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    1. I'm guilty of terrible double-standards that way. Every system gets held up to the light with GURPS behind it, to see where it fails against that standard, but at the same time I want fights to look like I imagine they look and my sole exposure to same is from TV and movies and the like. So for a game to be perfect it has to be both GURPS and Wushu, which requires an additional dimension or something.

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  6. I'm glad you are starting to see how flexible it can be.

    Aside from aborting attack which allow you to act early, you might also explore holding actions, which allows you to delay acting until a later segment.

    One thing I have had fun doing is shift my levels to a defensive stance on one phase, then hold the next phase until the segment before my next phase shift my levels to an offensive stance and then start a haymaker, which will land at the beginning of the next segment. Then I get my regular attack on the same segment that the haymaker lands. A couple of GMs have allowed me to do combo attacks with myself that way.

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    1. Don't haymakers land at the *end* of the next segment, though, as opposed to the beginning of the following, or are you saying that it's irrelevant in the grand scheme of things?

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  7. Hey there! I am new to the Hero System and stumbled across this post. I tried to grab your PDF from Drop box, but it appears to be no longer valid. Any way you could make it available again? Thanks!

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    1. Sorry for the inconvenience, Zakharov. I've updated the link in the post, but for a shortcut, here it is as well: https://www.dropbox.com/s/td0h6n1n1fvdnmu/Hero%20System%20Combat%20Example.pdf

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  8. Link has gone down again. Would like a read, seems interesting. Perhaps find a more reliable, permanent host? DropBox seems to dislike keeping this available.

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    1. Actually had someone read through it and find a number of mechanical errors. So I'm going to re-do it, as time allows. I'll definitely ping you when it's back to available.

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