Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Doctor Draconis takes a leap

Over the years, I have played or gamemastered the Hero System more than any other role-playing system.  I started playing the Hero System back in 1982, when it was ‘just’ Champions and the late Mark Williams seemed to do all of the art.  I loved me some Hero System; it was (is) consistent, adaptable, and scalable.  Until GURPS gathered a head of steam, there was nothing like it.  Although I didn’t pick up ‘Espionage!,’ I was all over ‘Justice, Inc.,’ ‘Danger International,’ ‘Fantasy Hero,’ and, when it finally came out, ‘Star Hero.’

When the responsibilities of maturity precluded extensive involvement in role-playing games, my attachment to the Hero System waned.  I bought the new additions as they came out, if only to support the publisher.  Something bothered me about Fifth Edition, but I couldn’t specify what.  I attributed it to the onset of becoming a curmudgeon and I went on with my life.

Then came Sixth Edition – two huge volumes (perhaps too huge volumes). What had become of my beloved Hero System? It was a bloated...thing...with more than 700 pages – more than three times the length of the Fourth Edition Rulesbook. Was all this...necessary? I know, I know...“It’s a toolkit!  Take what you want and use it how you want!”  Well, sometimes I don’t want a toolkit, I want a game. Sometimes I don't want an aggregate of customized sub-systems stitched together like some lurid quilt; I want a book – one book – that I can use to run a game. It doesn't need to be perfect and it doesn't need to account for every circumstance. For the sake of atmosphere, I welcome idiosyncrasies.
The Old School Renaissance made me realize that 'later' doesn't necessarily mean 'better' when it comes to RPGs. Older games still have much to offer the hobby. Not surprisingly, much (but not all) of the focus of the OSR is upon “the world's most popular role-playing game.” Yet there are many other games out there; many other vistas awaiting (re-)exploration. With this blog, your humble host hopes to do his part to draw attention to some of these other vistas. For some readers, this attention will be in the form of a remembrance; for other readers, it will be a learning experience.


  1. Excellent post!

    4th edition was my last one of Champions as well. The Big Blue book was kinda cool, George Perez art, but the worst binding in the history of bad bindings. The pages were falling out by the end of the first week I owned it.

    Nice shout out to Mark Williams! Left us too young. I was sorry to see less of his art in later Champions editions and supplements. The Gargoyle (who was always eating Gyro Jim's microphones) was his personal character.

    Dr. Draconis - I recognize that dude. Wasn't he the ultimate enemy in "Deathstroke?"


  2. Yes, Doctor Draconis was the ultimate villain in the Deathstroke module (Adventure Number 3 for Champions).

    Yes, Gargoyle was Williams' personal character and he retained the intellectual property rights to it. As a result, Gargoyle was not included in the 'Champions' comic book from Eclipse (and later Hero).

  3. Hey,I didn't realize that was the reason he wasn't present in the Eclipse comic. They changed the name from Goliath to Giant as well, I guess so as not to run afoul of Marvel.

    Not a huge fan of the Eclipse story, which was as I recall a bastardization of the Coriolis Effect adventure. I didn't care for the mysticism angle, I wanted some straight-up superhero action. I didn't like that they raped Rose, either. Although it did effectively foreshadow Bendis's storytelling techniques.

    The later Hero issues didn't do it for me either, stories never felt smooth, and then it devolved into whose-turn-is-it-to-sleep-with-Flare, and cheesecake shots of Flare. Not sure why they became so obsessed with her character. They even renamed the comic, "Flare and teh League of Champions" or some BS.

    I guess I sound like a bitter, "They destroyed my childhood!" edition warrior. Better shut up while I am behind.

    Gargoyle Rulz!

    Timothy (reporting from the Gyro Copter)

    1. The way I understand it, there wasn't any animosity involved in Gargoyle's absence, Williams just had other plans for the character.

      I picked up the first issue of the Eclipse run but the art was so god-awful, I couldn't bring myself to buy any further issues. At the time of the Hero run, comics were outside my budget.

      As for Bendis...well, I'd rather just enjoy the rest of the evening and not think about it.

      As for Flare, it looks like she has her own (comic) strip.

  4. I agree with you on the toolbox thing. It seems more of a cop out to me. "Lets just throw everything our there and see what sticks". Kinda makes me wonder what they are going to end up with on D&D 5e.

    1. 'Cop out' may be too harsh. Steven Long has/had a definite passion for the system, but it simply can't be 'all things to all people.' Yeah, it does make me wonder what might happen to D&D.

  5. I love those scattered references to PCs found throughout Champions, Champs II, and Champs III. I enjoy rereading the Eclipse miniseries even though it's not good. The flailing about of the leaderless heroes does seem to capture the flavor of many RPG sessions. And the write-ups in the back helped me break the "code" of Hero System. And Marksman had a great costume. I always wondered: is he supposed to be black?

    1. I just assumed Marksman was white given the flesh tone on the back covers of Champions II and Enemies II.