So, the news of Hero's latest setback got me thinking about the game line over the years. And how when the fourth edition (the Big Blue Book, aka the BBB) came out, it really took the game and the system in a different direction. Up to that point, each Hero title had their big elements in common (Characteristics, Skill Resolution, Combat), but tailored certain specific bits to each genre. For instance, Martial Arts in Champions were quite different from Martial Arts in Espionage/Danger International, and completely absent from Justice, Inc. and Fantasy Hero. Fourth edition took everything and moved it into a unified whole, and the Hero System moved from being a series of games with common parts to a generic, universal game. Yes, the fourth edition rules still said Champions on the cover, but that was all about marketing.
The thing is, to bring all of those elements together required a lot of new parts. The BBB was about three times the size of any Hero product published up to that point. With the notion of unified rules, it became important to quantify points for various levels of play across the board. In order to open up the middle ground, superheroes became more powerful, a trend that would continue into the fifth and sixth editions.
With more points available for character creation, the characters became more elaborate. With the addition of the more detailed skill systems from the non-supers games, skills became cheaper and more plentiful. Champions characters became more defined and nailed down and less loose and fun.
And suddenly, I couldn't create a character from memory anymore, Used to be, everything I needed to make a Champions character fit on about five sheets of paper, one of them the character sheet. By the heyday of 4th edition, I'd begun learning to use a computer, just so I could create spreadsheets to help me with the heavy lifting of character creation. By the end of 4th ed, I owned both Heromaker (an early DOS-based character creator) and Hero Creator (a Windows-based one that still lives today as Metacreator, though they don't have a Hero version anymore). With 5th and 6th edition, I've turned to Hero Designer, just to keep things sane.
Sane. It used to be that the Hero System was fairly sane. Or reasonable, at any rate. Sure, the third edition of Champions had its flaws, but it was complete in under 100 pages. When it came to additional rules, one only had to look for Champions II and Champions III (often confused with rules editions; they're not). Even with the supplements combined, the game still weighed in at a fraction of Hero 6th's 784 pages of just rules. And being that Hero was still producing individual games back then instead of toolkits, the game drips with superheroic atmosphere.
All of which got me thinking: what if 4th edition hadn't been the BBB? What if it wasn't an attempt to create a different GURPS? What if, instead, it had simply cleaned up the existing rules, combined them all in one place, in one neat little package, still aimed at just playing superheroes. No power creep, no extraneous stuff. Just Champions.
So, last night, I went out to the garage and pulled out one of my copies of Champions, Third Edition, Champions II, and Champions III. I think I'm going to do some mad science.
Of course, since Hero isn't part of the OGL, anything I do will be for my own private edification, but I've got a couple of weeks' worth of vacation coming at the end of the year and I figure it'll give me something to do.