Frequently asked questions about this classic Super-Heroes Role Playing Game system.
Last modified: 1st of August, 2012.
All items can be clicked to go straight to the corresponding answer.
- 1/ Standard version of the game
- 2/ Real short history of the versions of the game
- 3/ Current status of the game
- 4/ Distinctive features as a rules system
- 5/ Common Internet talking points about the game
- 6/ Current status of the game system ownership
- 7/ A real short history of super-hero pen-and-paper RPGs
1/ Standard version of the game
Blood of Heroes Role-Playing Game : Special Edition, as published by Pulsar Games in 2000, is considered the standard version of the rules. The technical references are to this book.
This set of rules is a moderate evolution over the DC Heroes 3rd edition rules. Writeups.org entries can thus mostly be read by people familiar with DC Heroes 3rd edition and, to a large extent, the 2nd edition (though we recommend getting Blood of Heroes : Special Edition). The Files section of the community site at Yahoo! has a paper about the differences between 2nd and 3rd.
There are some common deviations from the books in stating practices on writeups.org, which are covered in detail in the Technical Section for DC Heroes Players on this site.
There also have been further developments from the community, which are described either in the aforementioned Files section at Yahoo! or directly on the site. All the new material (Powers, Skills, Advantages, Drawbacks, etc.) is being gradually moved to the “New Rules” articles on writeups.org.
2/ Real short history of the versions of the game
The first edition (DC Heroes 1st edition - the light blue box) was published by Mayfair in 1985. It offered pre-Crisis DC characters, with the pre-Crisis scale and genre, and the system still had some weak areas, such as Gadgetry. This core, groundbreaking design was largely the work of Greg Gorden, who is behind much of the power and elegance of the system. While it is an interesting read, it is not recommended that one buys the 1st edition to run a modern DCH game.
The Batman RPG published by Mayfair (as a single book) has been jokingly called edition 1.75 of the system. The Batman RPG appeared on store shelves just prior to DCH2E, but DCH2E was designed first. Jack Barker edited and pared down the DCH2E manuscript to assemble the Batman RPG, with an abridged list of Powers and a simplified Skill set in order to focus on Batman-style adventures. The Batman RPG was released to coincide with the release of the Tim Burton Batman movie.
The second edition (DC Heroes 2nd edition - the black box) was published by Mayfair in 1989. It was a strong overhaul of the system, making it remarkably smooth. It offered a post-Crisis roster and scale.
The third edition (DC Heroes 3rd edition - the glittery book) was published by Mayfair in 1993. More smoothing and improvements and overhauls, but mostly compatible with the 2nd edition. Like with the second edition, the work was headed by Ray Winninger, who occasionally participates in the DCH/BOH community discussions.
In 1997, Pulsar reprinted the rules text from the third edition as the first edition of Blood of Heroes. Different title and publisher, exact same rules except for not mentioning any DC character.
The Sidekick Sourcebook, mostly based on the DC Heroes Mailing List‘s Fourth Edition Netbook project, was published by Pulsar in 1999. Many consider it edition 3.5.
Blood of Heroes : Special Edition (BOH:SE) was published in 2000. Many consider it to be the fourth edition of the system. Much added content and many tweaks and improvements, but does not stray far from the third edition rules.
The system, sometimes called MEGS (Mayfair‘s Exponential Game System), helped pioneer many concepts that became part of modern super-heroes gaming - Subplots, Hero Points, Altering the Environment, etc. Its creators designed variants of the core MEGS system, which powered two critically-acclaimed and fondly remembered RPGs - TORG and Ray Winninger's Underground: It's 2021 and the dream is dead . Some of the design choices live on with the current category leader, DC Adventures RPG Heros Handbook: Super-Hero Roleplaying in the DC Universe , which drew inspiration for some of its features from the best traits from previous leading super-hero games. This is especially true of the third edition of Mutants and Masterminds, which counts Ray Winninger as an additional designer.
Photo credit - The Irredeemable Shag
3/ Current status of the game
Pulsar Games, the publisher of Blood of Heroes, offered to sell the intellectual property pertaining to the game system, which was bought in 2004 by members of our community. The current head moderator of the DCH mailing list and administrator of the writeups.org site eventually decided not to participate to the initiative to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The project of publishing a new, improved edition of the game system was stalled by unexpected legal difficulties that arose after the sale. As is common in such situations, the parties will not release statements about it. See question #6 for more.
The current edition of the rules thus remains Blood of Heroes Special Edition. It can still be bought in mint state from mainstream resellers, for instance at Amazon.com, so it‘s not entirely out of print.
There have been some discussion about a retro-clone but it‘s not generally considered a worthwhile endeavour, especially with DC Adventures/Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition drawing inspiration from many of DC Heroes’s strongest points.
Photo credit - The Irredeemable Shag
4/ Distinctive features as a rules system
DC Heroes’ design was distinctive, and was further refined by a second and third edition. Remarkably, most of these features from 1989 would not be out of place in a modern game. Some of its notable features are:
- A unified scale (“Attribute Points” or APs) measuring weight, distance, time, volume, money and information. This allows for quickly evaluating the feasibility and impact of many actions, even at non-intuitive scales. For instance, your Strength in APs minus the weight of an object in APs is the APs of distance you can throw that object.
- An exponential progression of Attributes Points — a score of 4 corresponds to twice the quantity of a score of 3, a score of 5 is twice as good as a score of 4 and thus four times as good as score of 3, etc. This rapid progression is a sweet spot to handle both Superman and Jimmy Olsen without using huge numbers, but without drowning the differences between characters.
- A 3x3 grid of physical, mental and mystical/social character stats expressing precision, force and resilience in each area.
- Action resolution based on 2d10 (re-rolling doubles) and two universal tables.
- A list of broad Advantages, Drawbacks and Skills that covers most characters very well without being too expensive
- A lengthy list of Powers describing concrete effects rather than abstract game concepts, and with a streamlined depiction of super-speed.
- A system of Hero Points spent by characters to enhance their actions. This very important feature of the systems expresses endurance, willpower, narrative immunity, luck see this article for an in-depth discussion of HPs in DC Heroes.
- A simple system of Subplots formalising character(s)-specific stories that run parallel to the main intrigue — romance, secret identity problems, day job matters, mysterious pasts, power complications, good or bad luck, public image problems
- A simple system of Genre to change the texture of the game system depending upon whether you‘re telling silly Silver Age stories or gritty Iron Age stories.
- Technological and magical inventions, social conflict, special tactics and combat manoeuvres, improvised one-off use of powers, and other less distinctive subsystems.
5/ Common Internet talking points about the game
DCH/BOH is out-of-print (though the books can still be bought new from, say, Amazon), and thus most newcomers are likely to learn about it from Internet discussions, posts and reviews.
Beyond the usual vagaries of Internet opinions, there are two recurring bits of common wisdom about which you might want to hear from us. One is mostly true and one is mostly wrong.
- Mostly true - the production value of Blood of Heroes are terrible and the art and gaming universe are poor.
Most people will agree about the art and the production - though it is the latest, most complete version of the text, it is not generally packaged or laid out in an attractive fashion. Please do not expect a gorgeous book if you buy it.
Many readers considered the gaming universe in the back of BOH:SE not to match their preferences, but others liked it and happily used it for extended campaigns. The first category tends to be more vocal than the second.
- Mostly false - the game lacks granularity, especially at the low end.
Many folks have run street-level campaigns without any issue. The range of feasible human attributes in DC Heroes is about 1-10, with the narrowest (reasonable human Strength scores) being 1-5. 1-5 is the normal range of human attributes in, say, the Storyteller system used by White Wolf or in most editions of Dungeons & Dragons where a dice roll modifier is derived from each attribute.
There are various approaches to further distinguishing the scores - a common one being to use Columns that are one AP wide from 1 to 10 - though Hero Points can do a lot of the heavy lifting in representing different performance from folks whose raw capabilities are not that different from each other. Writing up a lot of street-level, action-movie characters has led the writeups.org crew into a third direction concentrating on unique moves and abilities setting these characters apart, and thus to Schticks.
6/ Current status of the game system ownership
The original owners of Pulsar sold the company to its current owners in late 2003(1). The new owners have stated their intention to continue the Blood of Heroes line as recently as March of 2007(2) but have cited the need to address certain issues first, including the legal question of the game‘s ownership.
Ray Winninger, author of the DC Heroes RPG Second Edition and editorial director for Mayfair‘s DC Heroes line, summarized his understanding of the ownership question as follows:
- “1) Our contract with DC specified that DC Comics holds the copyright on every product we released. If you check the indices, you‘ll note they all say ’Copyright © DC Comics Inc.‘ The contracts didn‘t specify anything like ’Mayfair owns the copyright to the actual game rules, while DC retains the rights to its IP‘ or anything similar, just ’all DCH products are copyright DC Comics-period.‘ This would suggest that DC actually owns DC HEROES. I know for certain that DC *believes* they own all rights to the game and everything produced for it and I suspect they‘re probably right.
- “2) Greg Gorden believes that his contract specified that he retained ownership of the DCH game system once DCH was out of print. When I was at Mayfair I looked for this agreement and couldn‘t find it - but that doesn‘t mean it doesn‘t exist. One potential problem is that it‘s unclear that Mayfair could have made such an arrangement with Greg in the first place. Remember, the DC licensing agreement specified that DC would retain full and perpetual copyright over everything we released.
- “3) Pulsar licensed DCH from Mayfair but it‘s not 100% clear that Mayfair ever had the necessary rights to grant such a license in the first place (#1 and #2 above). I believe that Pulsar later made a separate arrangement with Greg.”(3)
John Colagioia, one of the new owners of Pulsar Games, commented on their current status in March 2007:
“We‘ve been dealing frequently with the owner‘s legal team to try to get a handle on who owns what, who licenses/can license what, and how much room there is to change things. When I have an update of use, I‘ll relate it here, because it‘ll mean big things are coming on Pulsar‘s side, too.”(4)
Colagioia also stated that “While I‘d like it to be otherwise, this is about all I can say on any of these (and related) topics, and would very much appreciate keeping any further questions/speculation off-list, since such has the potential to damage our position at a sensitive time. I can‘t stop you, of course (and wouldn‘t if I could), but it‘d be appreciated.” (4)
Further inquiries regarding the current legal status of the MEGS System and any DCH/BoH properties would be best directed toward the above parties as appropriate, and we encourage everyone to follow John Colagioia‘s request.
7/ A real short history of super-hero pen-and-paper RPGs
Though this is of course very subjective, DC Heroes can be considered to belong to the second generation of super-hero role-playing games.
The genre appeared very early in the history of the hobby. The major early games were Champions (1981), Villains & Vigilantes (1979) and Superworld (1983) — plus, for the British players, Golden Heroes (1984). Champions remained a major presence in the genre through numerous editions and supplements, and Villains & Vigilantes and Golden Heroes retain fan support to this day.
What we call here the “second generation” is chiefly two role-playing games backed by a major brand and a marketing budget. Both had a remarkable design that became even better in their second edition — the Marvel Super-Heroes Role Playing Game (1984, Advanced Edition in 1986) and DC Heroes (1985, second edition in 1989). These years were also marked by the third (1984) then fourth (1989) edition of Champions, and by super-heroes-themed games within the popular Palladium system - chiefly Heroes Unlimited. Sorry, I meant Heroes Unlimited™ and Palladium™.
These games dominated the genre until the mid-1990s and continued to be heavily-played. A case for a third generation could be made for the early 2000s with the fifth edition of Champions, and the first edition of the very popular Mutants & Masterminds. Beyond these category leaders, this generation saw less successful licensed games such as the Saga Marvel RPG (1998) or the DC Universe Role-Playing Game (1999) — but also numerous and often quite creative indie games experimenting with capturing the flow and feeling of super-hero stories, usually with lighter rules systems.