Why You Should Not Listen to Me About Champions Online

I have a shelf of Champions books from my youth. In my mind, the 3rd 4th edition Big Blue Book is one of the foundational PnP RPG books, a strong attempt at a system that strove for mechanical perfection while leaving the flavor entirely flexible. The standard example is the power Energy Blast. It covers all energy attacks, and whether that is fire, ice, or gamma beams is just a special effect. Give it an area of effect if you want a fireball or cone of cold. Take the cone, make it fire damage, and remove the range to make a flamethrower. Add “no normal defense” to make it poison gas or a monomolecular needle. Add “variable special effects” if you want the one power to be able to shoot fire, electricity, darkness, whatever.

If you ever used the Hero Games system, you know that it rewarded planning and math, two areas where I do well. It also was often painful to use in practice, with a lot of dice and math flying around for every turn of combat. As a superhero game, Champions made it even harder to track by going 3D, with flying, burrowing, and phasing characters that make your miniatures difficult to use. Long before there were MMOs, I thought that this was exactly the kind of problem that computers could solve, tracking locations and doing all the complicated math while letting the players play.

You can imagine how I reacted when Cryptic took the standard example, briefly explained the Champions PnP system, then said they were not going to use that. You probably saw similar reactions from Tolkien fans when The Lord of the Rings Online™ announced each of its fireball-chucking classes. “You took the game I have been waiting most of my life to play and did what?!” Maybe the marketing plan looked better with fifty different energy blasts, rather than one with ten damage types times five shapes.

In terms of whether it is a good game, never trust the views of the people who actually care about the setting. I am surprised to see people who play World of Warcraft without having played any of the Warcraft RTS games, but I also trust their view of WoW qua game not to be clouded with baggage about how Illidan was retconned. When a Champions review seems to take Foxbat personally, or objects that this is not the “real” Doctor Destroyer, stop reading there.

: Zubon

Unless they are mentioning that there are fake Doctor Destroyers, like how Dr. Doom has his Doombots. That’s okay.

10 thoughts on “Why You Should Not Listen to Me About Champions Online”

  1. I know exactly how you feel. The LoTRO example is a good one. While they are not the game destroying monstrosities I first feared, Runekeepers have no business being in that game. There is pretty much no way in hell you can justify such a showy magic class being common based on the books. Especially a dwarven (?!?) one. I can see how from a purely mechanical perspective they improve the game by adding to class diversity. However, the cranky lore grognard in me still finds them a bit offensive.

    And on the subject of PnP games about tights, to my mind Marvel Basic (not Advanced…it added arbitrary layers of complexity that utterly failed to make the mechanics any more believable than the Basic system) was the most playable. Just enough rules to get the job done without standing in the way of the narrative.

  2. I dunno if this is too obvious, but while Cryptic owns Champions, they don’t have a license for the Hero Game PnP system.

    The better example to LOTRO would be how Turbine doesn’t have a license to the rest of Tolkien’s works.

    It’s more of an inclusion problem / situation than an exclusion one.

  3. @Bagpuss: if you play all three games, EQOA, EQ, amd EQ II …new nerdgasms become available. Two examples:

    1. In EQOA, Erudites look like normal dark skinned humans. Necromancers and Shadowknights start in the same city as other erudite classes. And you can actually go an visit Erud in the new erudite colony on the island where Erud and Paineel will eventually be. In EQ, erudites have elongated foreheads and have been riven into two separate societies. I assume the elongated foreheads come from the effects of long interaction with magical forces. In EQ II, Erudites have become so infused with magic that they resemble alien beings.

    2. In EQ, if you head to the PoK, you can read about how trolls largely worshipped the god of fear in the past, and how the main troll alter to that god is now underwater. In EQOA, trolls worhship the god of fear for the most part. In your starting town, most of the class quest chains lead you through the alter of the god of fear. Some even have you commune with him.

  4. 1) The Big Blue Book (aka the last rules system I ever really needed) was the 4th edition of the Hero system.

    2) I agree completely: I was incredibly excited by the idea of an online implementation of the completely point-based Hero system, and proportionally dismayed when I discovered that they weren’t implementing that system.

  5. Granted, in reference to my comment above–

    I did have a poor reaction to LOTRO when I first tried the beta before it released. I balked at Turbine’s version of Middle-Earth and I was horrified at the game’s performance on my PC besides.

    That, I would guess, does correlate.

    Here’s a separate question though, I’m not super familiar with the Hero system (flipped through some books a few years ago): Would it work well in an online game? This may be naive, but I’m guessing it would be very easy to exploit into something impossible to balance. Hold back points in short term to double-up on the big goodies min/maxing later, that sort of thing.

    Mind you, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have adapted it, or at least gone with a point-based system. This routes back to the question of licensing tho if they’d done something close.

  6. The downside of the Hero System’s flexibility is how exploitable and confuddling it can be, so I’m not surprised they chose to shun even a simplified version for ChampO. (That was the Fuzion system, right..?) I would have preferred something closer to the source system rather than this apparent “City of Heroes Part 2”, but I’m willing to forgive the streamlining when a GM can’t look over someone’s build and say: “Not no, but Hell no.”

    Not to mention the probable coding insanity involved in implementing the thing.

    I’m also mulling over the distinction between “setting” and “system” here. The problem with the LotRO Runekeepers (based solely on blog posts – never played the game) is that they don’t fit into the setting as established by Tolkien. With Champions Online, the setting itself can withstand just about any rule system as long as it allows for superheroes. Matter of fact… I never really thought of a Champions “setting”, but then I played back when you got the game in a sky-blue cardboard box. The NPCs and groups were just there to drop into my campaign system — I never considered that a Champions ‘Greyhawk’ existed anywhere.

    In that sense Champions *is* The Hero System, and so I think I get what you’re saying. If you’re dropping the game system, why call it Champions?

    I suppose it’s the difference between creating a old-school Vampire the Masquerade game and dropping the Skills/Talents/Abilities system for something simpler, vs. making Malkavians the healers because, hey, it’s an MMORPG and we need a healer for our Brujah tank…

    Dangit, now I miss tabletop RPGs.

  7. It’s not the real Dr. Destroyer, though. The one with the corrugated Dr. Fate mask is ‘Shadow Destroyer’, an evil version of Defender from an alternate universe. You know, like Tyrant. (Of course, most of CoH is Champions anyhow: Crey Industries is Dutchess Industries, the Council is Viper, the Thorns are DEMON, and so on, and so on.)

    No, really. They wrote a book. The Book of Destroyer.

    It and Monster Island are post-MMO revisions of the game.

  8. I’m with Jack on this one.

    And Sok–Fuzion was ‘Champions: New Millenium’, an experimental hybrid between Hero and R. Talsorian’s Interlock system that…didn’t work too well, partly because they used Interlock as the base and added Hero features, rather than the other way around. (Mekton fan here, so I saw both sides of the thing. :-) ) ‘Real’ Champs is in 5th edition now.

    Frankly, the major part of the problem is that CO (like CoX before) has basically gone with, for lack of a better description, hack-and-slash superheroes. You want to do a concept that’s not primarily a combat build of some sort, and you’re pretty much SOL, unlike what you could do in the Hero RPG system.

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