Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fantasy Hero Complete

So this is the cover of the new "Fantasy Hero Complete"

Following in the footsteps of "Champions Complete" it's a one-stop book for using Hero System to run a fantasy RPG. I love the idea, as Fantasy Hero is a great system, but what is going on with that cover illustration? Is this a shot from a blooper reel? Why is everyone cracking up? It's like a SNL skit gone wrong. What is supposed to be happening here? To contrast, here are some of the prior covers of Fantasy Hero:

First edition is a little static but it looks like a dungeon crawl of the time. Also, that font/logo is a million times better than the one on "complete". Also interesting - first edition was a complete standalone game too.

It looks like there was a kickstarter last year (that I somehow missed) to do this complete version.  I'm disappionted in a  way that the game isn't doing better. It's one of the older "not D&D" fantasy games still around and it's a great system though it does go against the current popular trend of "simpler is better." It's also not an OSR game, so no pocket of resistance there. Players who enjoy more complex rules are probably already playing Pathfinder so there's not a lot of room to recruit new players. I suspect there's just not enough of a critical mass of hero gamers out there to do much more with it right now.

Had a hard time finding a decent cover shot online so that's a scan of my old battered book. Note the Elmore cover - they could afford decent cover art at some point.
In the 80's & 90's though it was a fairly popular game. I played various incarnations of Hero in college quite a bit, mostly Champions but we used it for Fantasy as well. It made a nice alternative if you were tired of 2nd ed. AD&D but didn't necessarily want to go gritty like with Runequest or GURPS. I ran a homebrew campaign of my own in the mid 90's that was well-received and I've always wanted to go back to that someday.

Same here - scanning in the old warhorses. Also an Elmore cover

The second release of Fantasy Hero came out about 1990 and that's the version we played the most. I suspect the 90's were the peal of popularity with Champions 4th edition being regularly supported and even Fantasy Hero had a pair of companion supplements released. Between the 3 books there was a very large number of races and schools of magic available, making it pretty easy to find something you liked or an example that could be used to build your own version of a particular concept.

Just for grins, here's the back cover of the FH Companion II
When Hero 5th edition came out in 2002  it brought another release of FH which was a single huge volume. I never played much with this edition but it did bring a new wrinkle: settings.

Not a terrible cover and it wraps around to the back
Previous editions of FH (and Hero System in general) were strong on mechanics and campaign advice but lacked a published setting to tie things together.  Now with Hero being the ultimate toolkit some might say that it didn't really need a published setting as everyone was going to homebrew or convert their own. Looking back though, I disagree. Based on the past 30+ years of RPG history I think settings are what keep people playing your game. Sure, mechanics are important but mechanics just do not inspire loyalty the way a strong setting does. Look at the Forgotten Relams, Greyhawk, Glorantha, and even Pathfinder's Golarion has a strong following now. Deadlands is another example. Also, licensed settings like Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, and DC change mechanics with every edition but certain groups roll with those changes because they love the setting regardless.

Pretty effective cover
For 5th edition Hero there were 3 published settings:

The Turakian Age - the high fantasy big magic setting

The Valdoran Age - the low fantasy swords and sorcery setting

Not the most inspiring cover - what is this, a Traveller supplement? (I don't own this one)
Tuala Morn  - The Celtic setting

Now all of these were single-volumes with one book and no other real support but it's a big step up from where things were before this. 

Unfortunately this version was up against 3E D&D and the d20 revolution and I believe that tidal wave just rolled over and smothered much of the conversation and interest with Hero. I know it did with my own group, and the few other people I knew who played it in the past pretty much lost interest during this time. That said Fantasy Hero for 5th did also receive a bestiary, a grimoire of spells, and a "Battlegrounds" book with maps ad adventures intended to be dropped into any campaign. This was the most published support FH had ever seen. I think timing, ot the quality of the game, was the biggest issue here. 

With 6th edition Hero there was of course a new Fantasy Hero as well. I know nothing about it other than it exists and probably covers a lot of the same ground as the previous 3 editions. Requiring the buy-in of Hero Basic and Hero Advanced (6th edition finally split Hero System core into two books - two not-small books) plus this game probably damaged it's chances, especially in this era of simpler, faster RPGs. Fantasy Hero complete is a good move in my opinion as making it a one-book game gives it a much better chance to find some traction out there.

I do think Fantasy Hero has a chance. With D&D 5th's extremely slow release schedule I think there's a chance to connect with gamers who are tired of Pathfinder, not feeling a lot of love for D&D, and maybe not super-committed to 13th Age or one of the OSR games. FH has the mechanics already. For example, D&D looks at flying PC's and says "oh that's a problem". Fantasy Hero looks at flying PC's and says "Cool - 15 points" and has a system built to handle that kind of thing. It's great strength is that you can break away from the limited concepts of player character races found in most fantasy games combined with the lack of character classes and create any kind of world you want while knowing the mechanical underpinnings of the game will be solid. If you want a world where the Hawkmen from Flash Gordon, Warforged from Eberron,  Frost Giants, the talking animals from Narnia, and the Horta from Star Trek are all playable races then Fantasy Hero is the perfect game for that. Maybe you want six different and mechanically distinct magic systems - FH can do that. Breaking out of these mechanical limitations also tends to free me up at least from a lot of other conventional thinking so I've written up campaigns with FH in mind that were set on a flat earth and a fantasy ringworld. 

For the future, I hope Hero Games can do more. The wishlist:

  • I'd like to see, well ... better art. It does matter. Even a "line artist" to help get some attention and make it look like a modern game line would be a big improvement. Look at everything from Pathfinder to D&D 4E to D&D 5E to games like ICONS and Mutants and Masterminds. They tend to have a certain "look" especially when it comes to covers. They came close to this with 5th edition, then gave up.
  • I would limit the number of books of rules material but something like a bestiary or expanded race-building options is probably good. Mass combat, kingdom ruling, and expanded magic examples and options would be fine based on past history. I think a lot of this kind of thing would be best handled through PDF support.
  • The big one is a setting. A great setting that demonstrates what FH does better than other games. There have to be some out there from long time players. Just as an example, Pathfinder has had adventure paths focusing on epic, mythic power in a war against a demon invasion - Hero could do that. PF has also had one about crossing technology and fantasy - FH could do that easily. I'd look for something beyond those but thinking on at least that level is a start. 
That's probably more than enough on the subject but the Hero System in general, and  Fantasy Hero in particular, is an old flame of mine and it's worth a few more electrons that a lot of games. Hopefully this is the start of a new and better run for the game.

Mr. Nimoy - Thursday: Contrasts

Monday, March 2, 2015

First Up - Spock!

Is there really anything more newsworthy in this area of interest than this?

 I'm going to try and have some fun with the many faces of Mr. Nimoy this week.