We sit down and talk with the developer of the Champions role-playing game
While at the Origins Game Fair I was able to talk a bit with Steve Long, HERO System Line Designer for Hero Games, the makers of the Champions superhero role-playing game. With superhero films at an all-time high, I figured this was the perfect time to talk to the creators of one of the most long-lived and robust superhero games in existence (the first edition of Champions came out in 1981!).
For those of you unfamiliar with tabletop role-playing games, think of them as a cross between a board game and an interactive storytelling session. Each player has one character they control, with one player taking on the role of Gamemaster. The Gamemaster is responsible for setting the story and controlling the villains, random passers by, and friends and family of the player's characters. With a superhero role-playing game (RPG), these games allow you to re-create your favorite superhero adventure, or create entirely new stories about either existing heroes or your own creations.
SuperheroFlix: It's been a great time for superheroes in the media, with the success of Smallville and Heroes on television, and the box office successes of most of the recent superhero films. Has that increased popularity of superheroes in general helped bring a greater interest to superhero table-top RPGs?
Steve Long: It's difficult to say for certain, since there are few (if any) reliable ways to track marketing information about table-top RPGs. But I think the general popularity of superheroes in the media definitely doesn't hurt. We see a lot of people on our message boards asking about how to do/create things they see on TV or in movies in their Champions games.
SHF: On a related note, have you guys done any specific work to tie into the popularity of superhero films?
Steve Long: No, we haven't. Advertising is a difficult proposition in the RPG market, and licenses for popular media properties tend to be so expensive and troublesome that they're not worth it for a small company like Hero Games.
SuperheroFlix: Cryptic Studios (who developed the City of Heroes online MMO) is working with you to create Champions Online. How closely will the video game tie into the world of Champions as developed in the books?
Steve Long: Ultimately, that's up to Cryptic Studios, who bought the Champions IP from us. If they see something they like in our books, they can use it as-is; if they see something they want to change, they can change it. Many things that work really well in RPGs don't "fit" quite so well in an MMO, and vice-versa, so there has to be some adaptation.
Going forward, as we publish more Champions setting books we'll follow what Cryptic does. However, we can expand upon that, since MMOs have to remain fairly straightforward and "focused," while RPGs can cover much wider ground. You'll see this in the two Champions books we're publishing this summer, Monster Island and The Book of the Destroyer. The first book is almost entirely based on Cryptic's work for one of the zones for Champions Online, and the second has a chapter of information on Dr. Destroyer as he'll appear in the MMO. In both cases this will be the first time the public sees a lot of art from Champions Online and learns some of the secrets of the setting -- it's a "sneak peek" nearly a year before the game's launch. We're very grateful to Cryptic for letting us do this, and for their strong support of the Champions RPG in general.
About a year from now we plan to publish the Sixth Edition of our HERO System rules, and after we do that we'll publish a new Champions Universe book. The new CU will sort of "reboot" the setting, bringing it into full conformity with Cryptic's vision for the property.
SHF:Will there be back-and-forth crossover between the two in the future?
Steve Long: Absolutely -- see above. The great thing about the relationship between Cryptic and Hero is that it lets the two of us play off each other. Cryptic can take something we've previously created and craft it into something cool and fun for the MMO. We can take Cryptic's work on the MMO and flesh it out for the RPG, expanding beyond the restrictive nature of MMO play to provide more information about the Champions Universe as a whole. For example, in the MMO, an instance might be a series of rooms in a VIPER base that the heroes proceed through, one after another. In an RPG book, we can expand on that map, turning it into a multi-story secret lair. We can provide a full description of the boss at the end of the instance so you know his history, powers, personality, and evil schemes -- things an MMO can only touch on briefly most of the time. As a creator, I'm finding the whole process intellectually stimulating and a lot of fun.
SHF: If someone wanted to get involved in superhero role-playing games today, where would you advise them to start?
Steve Long: I'm going to restrict my comments to CHAMPIONS, since I don't want to speak for my competitors. Heck, I don't even want you to know I have competitors! (laughs)
If you want to get into Champions, you need a couple of books. First, you need a copy of the rules. If you want the full version, that's The HERO System 5th Edition, Revised rulebook. That can be a little complex and daunting for a first-timer (just like any RPG), so we have a simpler, "easy-learning" version of the HERO System rules that we call HERO System Sidekick. You can buy Sidekick for $15, or as little as $7 if you want it from us in PDF form.
Second, you'll probably want a copy of the Champions genre book. It discusses the themes, elements, and "tropes" of comic book stories and settings, and discusses how to create or simulate them using the HERO System rule. It's an ideal guide to the Superhero genre for RPG gaming.
If you want to know about the Champions Universe setting, the one the MMO's based on, we have plenty of books you can choose from. The most crucial are probably Champions Universe (the basic guide to the setting as a whole) and Conquerors, Killers, And Crooks (our main book of villains). Beyond that, it depends on where your interests lie. If you want pre-generated superpowers and gadgets to make your game play easier, try The UNTIL Superpowers Database and Gadgets & Gear. If you want more villains, check out Evil Unleashed or Villains, Vandals, And Vermin. The Millennium City book details that metropolis, while VIPER describes the most powerful criminal organization in the setting. And there are plenty more; you can find summaries of them and more information on the Hero Games website (www.herogames.com).
SHF:What can we expect to see from the Champions line going in to the future?
Steve Long: More great books! We have several planned for the upcoming year, including a detailed look at another of our arch-villains, the evil robot Mechanon. Then, as I mentioned above, we'll be "rebooting" the setting for the Sixth Edition rules. However, at this point I don't expect that to involve a lot of radical changes; most of the Champions Universe books will remain "valid" and won't require a new edition.
Our thanks go out to Steve Long and Hero Games for taking the time to answer some questions for us. While you're waiting for the next superhero film to hit the big screen, go check out their games and see if you enjoy creating your own superheroic adventure!