Frequently asked questions about system stuff and usage.
Last modified: 18th of September, 2012.
All items can be clicked to go straight to the corresponding answer.
- 1/ Where can I find the Powers, Advantages, etc. that are not in Blood of Heroes Special Edition?
- 2/ Do you use the stats benchmarks in the sidebars in the rulesbook?
- 3/ Powers that do not function as their own AV
- 4/ Use of Martial Artist-enhanced EV
- 5/ What is Vehicles (SEAL)?
- 6/ Why do some entries have Skills below default?
- 7/ Attractive Advantage and Appearance Drawbacks
- 8/ How closely do writeups.org stats stick to Mayfair stats?
- 9/ Are the characters created using a points budget?
- 10/ What is this “assuming that Superman has a DEX of 10” thing?
- 11/ Management of the Mental Attributes
- 12/ How do you interpret Skin Armor?
- 13/ So, is it Heat Vision or Laser Beam?
- 14/ What is the character creation paradigm?
- 15/ Why are Column Shifts used instead of Row Shifts?
- 16/ Are people with a STR of 4 or 5 really that strong?
- 17/ What is the notation with slashes around a /word/ in stats?
- 18/ Why do some protections have /BODY/ and other have RV-raising powers?
- 19/ How are links used and noted?
- 20/ Aren't 6 and 7 APs of distance the same thing on the chart?
- 21/ Explain “building up” vs. “building down”
- 22/ Explain effect-based vs. descriptive
Special section — Q&A with Ray Winninger
- 1/ Many people find it weird that Knockback Damage is Killing Combat. Is it OK to make it Bashing instead?
- 2/ Aren‘t Critical Blows and Devastating Attacks a bit weird? Can Robin really take down Godzilla by kicking him in the nuts?
- 3/ Are, say, Skin Armor and Force Field supposed to stack?
- 4/ Why did Batman drop from a DEX of 10 to a DEX of 9 in the third edition?
- 5/ Who wrote the stats in the otherwise excellent 2995 Legion sourcebook?
- 6/ Was DC Heroes RPG material used by DC writers to write comic books?
Special section — design notes by Greg Gorden
- 1/ Are APs a base-2 exponential system?
- 2/ Is Batman really that strong?
- 3/ What about exploding doubles and Hero Points?
- 4/ Why were Column Shifts added to the game?
- 5/ Why were Subplots added to the game?
- 6/ What is the history of the Mystic Link?
- 7/ What is this joke about forks?
- 8/ The saga of firearms Action Values
- 9/ How much information did Mayfair have about Crisis?
1/ Where can I find the Powers, Advantages, etc. that are not in Blood of Heroes Special Edition?
For the community-developed material that was done after Blood of Heroes : Special Edition, search writeups.org for “New Rules”. We are gradually moving all the material there in a centralised, well-organised manner — it just takes time.
Though we will eventually add rules that were developed around a gaming table, all these new Powers, Advantages, Drawbacks, Skills, etc. were developed because we were stuck statting a published character. They do not exist because of personal preferences about how the system should work - they exist because we couldn‘t find a clean way to model characters that should be modellable using DC Heroes rules.
Much of this new material is very niche - if it fulfilled a common need, it would be in the basic rulesbook. However, some of the concepts developed to address a corner case (such as Marginal, Schticks (Paired weapons) or Sharpness) later proved useful to add nuances to quite a few writeups.
Generally, statting up a wide variety of characters has been a great tool to add options and approaches to the system — and ones that reflect the material rather than our whims.
2/ Do you use the stats benchmarks in the sidebars in the rulesbook?
We do not. These benchmarks do not align with our shared understanding of what the Attributes do in the game. They do not match the Mayfair writeups either.
The official, Ray-Winninger-tweaked writeups in the second and third edition are what we use as benchmarks. Super-hero comic books are something of an endless series of hierarchies (“Who is stronger, early Man-Mountain Marko or classic Tobias Whale?”, “Who‘d win in a skeet-shooting match, Ma Kent or Aunt May?”, and other questions for the ages) so it is possible to determine stats that way (“Is he really as charismatic as Hawkman? Or is he closer to a early young Tim Drake, maybe? Could classic Starfire have done what he did in issue 15?”) until a strong sense of scale and ranks has been developed.
When things are a bit murky, decisions can be taken by running some numbers. We have an article about probabilities in DC Heroes and the Rule of 15 in the rulesbook to help with suggesting number that align well with the events seen on the page.
Writing new benchmarks has been considered from time to time, but that‘s a large and precise project whose payoff isn‘t very clear. Most people playing DC Heroes have developed a good sense of scale through years of proximity with stats.
3/ Powers that do not function as their own AV
Bonuses & Limitations blocks occasionally include a note about a Power being or not being its own AV. This might be puzzling, since the normal DC Heroes working is that all Powers are their own AV.
The default assumption in writeups is that they‘re not - people use either a Skill or the relevant Action Attribute (DEX, INT, INF).
This is something of a historical accident, as the main community members in the 1990s happened to share that house rule, and it worked much better than “use APs of Powers as the AV” when statting published characters - or even when using the Mayfair stats for DC characters.
Generally assume that writeups.org entries use the Powers ≠ AV convention — except for most homemade characters.
4/ Use of Martial Artist-enhanced EV
Another historical peculiarity is that the change in using the Martial Artist Skill for EV that took place between DC Heroes third edition and Blood of Heroes Special Edition did not “stick” with many writeups.org contributors. Many of us have continued to use the third edition rule, often because we hadn‘t realised that it had changed, and by the time the discrepancy was pointed out an embarrassing amount of time had passed.
The difference between the two tends to be slight, except for high levels of Martial Artist (8+ APs) in characters with human-level strength. Generally, assume third edition usage for Martial Artist was the intent, particularly if the entry specifies different levels for the Subskills of Martial Artist.
5/ What is Vehicles (SEAL)?
“SEAL” is simply an abbreviation for “Sea, Air, Land”, a common set of Vehicle Subskills. No special relation with the US military.
6/ Why do some entries have Skills below default?
Usually, it‘s one of four cases:
- The Skill (or Subskill) was just added for flavour, as a nod toward the fact the Character has some formal training with that Skill. Consider, if you will, that the Character‘s player has invested some Advancement HPs toward raising that Skill, but is still below the Unskilled level.
- The Skill is intended to model what happens when the Character is depowered and loses their high Attributes and thus Unskilled levels. This is usually the case for Characters with long histories who have been depowered several times, and thus can be observed in that state.
- Some people use house rules regarding Charisma, where the relevant Subskill is required in certain specific situations to avoid Unskilled penalties (say, professional negotiation). This is usually explicitly noted (something like “the Charisma score is for those campaign with house rules concerning Unskilled Character Interaction”), but some older writeups miss that note.
- We goofed.
7/ Attractive Advantage and Appearance Drawbacks
These were often a bit confusing when the community started working together, and others might likely be a bit confused. Here‘s the skinny:
- Both in writeups.org and in Mayfair material, the Attractive Advantage is reserved for these characters who have a clear, consistent track record of getting much better Character Interaction results with people attracted toward their gender. Any subjective appraisal of the character‘s appearance is ignored - especially when it comes to super-hero comic book characters, who tend to have impossibly idealised bodies and features anyway. We strictly stick with what it does mechanically.
- The new Appearance Drawbacks introduced in Blood of Heroes (Creepy and Distinct) are often found to be unintuitive, and people frequently get them reversed. Entries on writeups.org probably all have the version intended by the author, though it‘s not uncommon to realise during peer review that they were swapped yet again. Changing these rules has not been seriously considered so far due to the sheer amount of material using Appearance Drawbacks.
8/ How closely do writeups.org stats stick to Mayfair stats?
DC Heroes has a tradition of “anchoring” stats to punctiliously ensure their coherence. As Ray Winninger explained - “During much of my time working on DCH, I was a hardliner on stats. I personally rewrote most of the stats we published for two reasons: 1) I wanted to make sure that all the stats had a consistent voice and 2) I was maybe the only person regularly working on DCH who read almost *all* of the DC Comics in that era; when I assigned a stat, I could balance not only against other characters in that title but against the whole of the DCU. The Bierbaum‘s Legion book was an interesting anomaly for us — it came toward the end of the line, I was already lowering my involvement with DCH and the Bierbaum‘s LSH was one of the few DC Comics that I didn‘t read (for whatever reason). As I recall, I was putting a lot of work into the aborted Sandman project at the time.”
Furthermore, there were statting benchmarks that are visible when analysing stats, but are not the ones expressed in the game‘s benchmarks. A clear one is Strength scores. As Ray Winninger explained : “I tended to rule that an average man has a 2 STR, the average cop or gang member is one better at a 3 and most low level superheroes are one better than that at a 4. I made exceptions when they seemed warranted. I didn‘t allow for any gender differences in my statting (i.e. I always assumed that women are equivalent to men).” ; he further notes that he, in effect, shared Mark Gruenwald‘s “people in a costume are Olympic-level athletes” rule of thumb when it came to STR. We assume that a very similar kind of “hierarchy” existed for other Attributes and Skills.
Generally, we stick close to the Mayfair standards — if you take a writeups.org character‘s stats and compare them to a very similar character written up by Mayfair, it will clearly be on the same scale. However, with time, different ways of doing things have emerged. Here are the points where you will find significant differences between us and Ray. Admittedly the “significant difference” is usually on the order of one or two points, but heh.
- Slightly lowered STR scale for scores of 02 to 04. STR 04 is pretty damn strong, and most cops and gang members are not depicted as being that much stronger than an ordinary person. Having more adventurers pegged as a 03 also ensures more nuance and diversity in strength scores, rather than the “if you have a costume, you have STR 04” old rule of thumb. This also means that if female characters are depicted as less strong than male characters, they will have a STR score reflecting their performance in the source material - since we have a primary source-based approach.
- Competent supporting cast (say, many post-Crisis versions of Lois Lane) are ranked on the same scale as heroes, whereas Mayfair stats for supporting cast usually cap them under a sort of glass ceiling.
- Conversely, Mayfair stats tend to have superhumans and costumed adventurers as being automatically better in every area than ordinary people. Since writeups.org features a lot of obscure, low-powered, less impressive characters we‘ve relaxed that one. It‘s OK to have costumed characters with mediocre INF, AUR, INT, etc. if this is how they perform in the source material. We still assume that superhumans and costumed adventurers tend to start at 04 or more, but if they don‘t perform that well then it will be reflected in the stats. This is also true of Skills.
- Writeups.org entries often have an extra “does the Character really need these scores to perform the actions in the material” self-editing pass when finishing the entry. For instance, a character may be given a cookie-cutter WIL score as the statting process begins, but if it turns out that the character never performs any special deductive reasoning or other WIL-related action, and there‘s no implication that they might do so proficiently, then the writer will likely consider lowering the WIL score from the cookie-cutter one.
- Thus, generally, writeups.org has lower stats than Mayfair because we have more obscure characters who are less impressive and less skilled than the flagship characters in Mayfair‘s rulesbooks.
- The “Superman has a DEX of 10” benchmark — see below.
- The “Mental Attributes three-cards monte” benchmark — see below.
9/ Are the characters created using a points budget?
Some of the homemade characters are, but that‘s about it.
The published characters are strictly based on what‘s in the primary source, without any concern for points budget, cost-effectiveness, game balance, etc. And many homemade characters were simply written up and eyeballed by the GM as fitting the desired power level for the campaign. Not bothering with points seems common among those with a long experience with the system.
Some contributors who use software or a spreadsheet to create characters do indicate the point cost in their article. This is just bonus information, not an indication that the character was built using a budget. Occasionally the points cost for the character is specifically given without Equipment, Pets, Sidekicks, Rituals, etc. — this is usually because the points cost for these is provided separately so players can use them right away.
10/ What is this “assuming that Superman has a DEX of 10” thing?
Superman is a super-important benchmark in the DC Universe - and beyond since many characters in comics are clear Superman equivalents. This is doubly true since, generally, Superman has the maximum level of power and few entities surpass him in his strong suits.
However, Superman‘s level of power has varied over the last three decades. Furthermore the official Mayfair stats for Superman is a sort of idealised, archetypal Superman — for instance he retains his “Man of Tomorrow” abilities such as WIL 20, Scientist: 10 and Charisma (Persuasion): 15, which were not apparent in most post-Crisis eras.
The immense DEX in the official stats - 15 - is problematic, since in most takes Superman is not depicted as being nearly impossible to hit and having nearly every punch connect with any opponent short of high-powered super-speedsters.
Thus a standard assumption when benchmarking characters interacting with Superman is that Superman has a DEX of 10. This is a sort of murky middle ground - he often seems lower than a 10, sometimes seems higher - and it assumes that when Superman is acting with extraordinary speed and precision, he‘s engaging his Superspeed Power.
This assumption is stated when it directly comes into play - or when the writer is not using it and is portraying an ideal Superman with a DEX of 15 (such as the Universe AZ writeups).
However, it plays a “stealth” role in nearly every entry about high-DEX characters in the DC Universe. For instance the Wonder Woman (Diana of Themyscira) (Gail Simone take) entry has her with DEX 12 and Martial Artist: 13, which means something different if Superman is benchmarked as being about 10 (which is the case here) rather than a 15.
If you are convinced that Supes‘ DEX is 15, a lot of DEX scores (like Wonder Woman‘s) need to be increased which in turn means that they will cease to align with every other character‘s DEX scores.
11/ Management of the Mental Attributes
During the 1990s, the DC Heroes community discussed the fact the Mental Attributes do not quite seem to play a role that corresponds to their name and to Mayfair‘s statting practice or benchmarks. When one concentrates on the actual role these stats play in-game, the conclusions are:
- INT has little to do with “intelligence” (a hopelessly vague term anyway) or education but expresses perceptiveness and mental speed and agility, being an AV. The one exception to this is some Skills (Scientist, Gadgetry) being Linked to INT. An absent-minded professor should certainly not have a high INT in game terms — these skills would have better been Linked with WIL.
- WIL has little to do with “willpower” (in the sense of resolve and mental endurance) but expresses analytical and deductive intelligence - the ability to draw conclusion from clues, being an EV. The one exception is the link with Green Lantern rings, which is a problematic rule even without bringing in the role of WIL and is better handled by different rules.
- MIN is a much more logical stat to measure “willpower” in the sense of mental toughness, being a RV.
Thus it will sometimes seem that a game of three-card monte has been played by Mental Attributes between writeups.org and Mayfair, with what Mayfair would have called INT being used for WIL, what they would have used for WIL being used for MIN, and INT being based on what INT does in the game.
Not every single writeups.org contributor uses this approach - and there are entries that are old enough to have been drafted before a consensus was reached - but most such exceptions are found in the Homemade Characters section of the site.
12/ How do you interpret Skin Armor?
On writeups.org, Skin Armor is assumed to protect against Physical Damage (as noted in the description) with a definition of “Physical” that excludes energy attacks (Energy Blast, Flame Project, Lightning but not some forms of purely concussive Mental Blasts or Energy Blasts). The WORG interpretation of Skin Armor does not protect against energy attacks.
This is not the only interpretation of the Power, and may not be the best interpretation, but that‘s what is used here. As long as you‘re aware of it, everything should be fine.
13/ So, is it Heat Vision or Laser Beam?
Heat Vision was in all versions of DC Heroes, but became Laser Beam in Blood of Heroes, presumably because “heat vision” is too evocative of Superman and Blood of Heroes cannot mention DC Comics IP. Laser Beam works differently than Heat Vision, to make it more distinctive than another Energy Blast variant.
Heat Vision is still occasionally used in writeups.org entries, usually because it‘s a perfect fit for what the character does.
14/ What is the character creation paradigm?
There are two paradigms involved in designing a character for DCH/BoH: the character‘s paradigm, and the game‘s. The character‘s paradigm can involve just about anything, and the character and other characters in his or her universe can describe them in just about any way (Example: “I can‘t become visible without extreme effort.”). The game‘s paradigm, on the other hand, is centered on the abilities of a typical human being as described in the rulebook, with variations from those abilities being described as special Advantages, Powers, or other stats even if they are natural or innate to the character.
When actually making the character sheet, it is the game‘s paradigm that dominates. It doesn‘t matter what the character says, believes, or feels the power is, all that matters is what the ability does, even if this conflicts with the character‘s own point of view. (This is often cited as the difference between a lower-case power and an upper-case Power; the former is the power from the character‘s perspective, and the latter is the actual Power or Powers from the rulebook required to achieve the effects produced by the character‘s described power.)
The difference between game and character paradigm explains why various normal abilities of living beings are treated as Powers, such as insects having Shrinking. Such traits can be clarified by the list-created Form Function Bonus (called Innate in some writeups), which denotes a Power that is not a super-ability per se but rather an innate natural trait of that character.
Contributor: Eric Langendorff
15/ Why are Column Shifts used instead of Row Shifts?
For those curious about why Column Shifts should be used instead of Row Shifts (i.e. shifting of OV/RV rather than AV/EV on the Action and Result Charts for Maneuvers, Scholars, etc.):
The effects of Column Shifts versus and equivalent Row Shifts on the Action Table are the same. However, for the Result Table a Row Shift often yields a different number of RAPs than the equivalent Column Shift would have. For example, take an EV 10 vs. an RV 8. Reducing the RV by one column changes the RAPs from 3 to 4. An “equivalent” Row Shift moving the EV up one row changes the RAPs from 3 to 6.
Row Shifts as modifiers also raise potential problems when you get Column Shift over to the A category. If you use the original EV value (as you would for RV when applying RAPs after Column Shifts), you get a irregular leap or drop in RAPs depending on the direction of the row shifts.
If you use a modified EV value you may get arguments about what the new EV value should be. For example: a 14 EV gets a Row Shift from the 13-15 row to the 11-12 row. Does it now count as an 11 or a 12? This particular case can be adjudicated by making it the highest value when dropping “down” and the lowest when moving “up”. For example, an EV 14 dropping down to the 11-12 row would be considered an EV 12, while being raised to the 16-18 column would make it an EV 16.
Given the above factors, it is usually best to avoid Row Shifts on the Result Table.
16/ Are people with a STR of 4 or 5 really that strong?
A flaw commonly noted with the STR scores in relation to the weight AP benchmarks is that lifting strength of human characters scales up much more quickly than it should. Two common fixes include:
1) Divide the base weight in the AP Benchmarks by 2 so that 0 APs of weight equals 25 lbs. This would move each current benchmark up by 1 AP. For example, the weight and examples currently used for 4 APs weight would now be used at 5 APs weight. This can be a good solution for the sort of street-level campaigns that are seldom going to feature characters with massive superhuman strength.
2) Human characters subtract 1 AP from their STR for lifting purposes. Thus, a STR 04 human can only lift 3 APs without Pushing.
Another approach would be to limit human characters to lower STR ranges appropriate for their lifting power. However, this has generally not been done for two reasons. First, it would compress the range of APs in human characters even further in the Attribute that already has the most limited range. Second and more importantly for most players, it would require adjustment of many pre-existing scores of characters with human strength.
The above fixes are usually much more convenient, assuming that the gaming group in question is concerned about this issue in the first place. Many are not, especially since the need to know precisely how much weight a human character can lift may not arise very often in normal play.
17/ What is the notation with slashes around a /word/ in stats?
It‘s an old trick that was used back in the days of raw text display to denote that a word is in italics. Thus, when you see /STR/ or /BODY/ those are actually italicised Attributes, and would be written in the rulesbook STR or BODY. You have to imagine that the letters align their vertical lines with the slashes, see?
Though our work is no longer displayed in raw text, we have kept the notation since italics do not really pop out on older and/or smaller displays and could be missed by some readers.
18/ Why do some protections have /BODY/ and other have RV-raising powers?
Having body armour and similar garb modelled using /BODY/ was the traditional approach. However, using this approach gives the character more “hit points” (that is, more APs in their Current BODY Condition) and it makes them resistant to other Physical aggressions such as poison gas, radiation, disease, etc.
The /BODY/ approach can work fine with many types of power armour, enchanted armour, etc. but with more mundane equipment the side effects mentioned above can be a little odd — especially in more down-to-earth, gritty genres. Thus, normal protections tend to be modelled with a few RV-increasing Powers instead (Skin Armour, Shade if there are eye protections, Fire Immunity and/or Cold Immunity for thermal insulation, etc.). However, when you have more than three such Powers, /BODY/ might be more appropriate after all, if only for simplicity‘s sake.
19/ How are links used and noted?
The usual notation for Links is an asterisk - for instance Artist (Musician)*: 04 - and the usual notation for a Mystically-Linked trait is a (ML) - for instance Regeneration (ML): 02. Instances of Half-Linking and Double-Linking are noted (HL) and (DL), though these are rare. Some very old writeups use a slightly different notation which hasn‘t been corrected yet.
Links were used abundantly in the official material, since they are a convenient way to have coherent scores. Writeups.org tends not to use these and to prefer evaluating the APs of each Skill and Power based on the material - since we have unlimited space and no deadlines, making extensive research possible.
Links remain used for homemade characters (as a price break scheme), for some characters who are known to have a skill but never use it on-screen (say, fighting game characters whose background implies non-combat skills), and for characters where tying a score to another score reflects how they operate.
20/ Aren't 6 and 7 APs of distance the same thing on the chart?
We call that the “Fake Distance Squish” issue. At first glance, 6 APs of distance (listed in the chart as 200 yards) and 7 APs of distance (listed in the chart as ⅛ mile, and thus about 200 yards) are the same thing. What actually happened is that the writer selected values within the 6 APs range and 7 APs range to have a convenient progression. Likewise 10 APs is closer to a mile and a half than a mile. Remember, APs are a range of values, not a single value!
Use the chart with the *upper limits* (Blood of Heroes:Special Edition p354) to clear any confusion about distances in APs or use the metric system.
21/ Explain “building up” vs. “building down”
Super-hero stories are full of people who are stronger under certain circumstances — the typical example is an aquatic character who gets stronger when immersed in sea water. A common reaction to these is to model them in DC Heroes terms by “building up” - that is, assuming that their strength on land is the baseline and giving them an ability that increases their APs of STR, BODY and perhaps other scores when immersed.
Experience strongly suggests that it is cleaner to “build down” — that is to assume that the maritime strength is the baseline and that the character suffers from a penalty on dry land. The main reasons for this are:
- There is no Power clearly intended to do that in DC Heroes. The nearest neighbours are Power Reserve and Enchantment, and that is not quite what they do - both are heavyweight, very flexible Powers meant to circulate additional APs among abilities as needed. If one just wants to increase a Character‘s STR by three and BODY by one when wet, using Power Reserve is the equivalent of using Force Manipulation to model a baseball bat - and there‘s the issue of how to adjust the huge BC and FC of Power Reserve. The Energy Absorption → Power Reserve → client Power chain is a bit closer, but whereas Power Reserve was a cannon to kill a fly, this chain is too specific to one application.
- Building up also runs into a weakness of DC Heroes - linear addition of APs. When in DCH 3 + 4 = 7 and not 5, very high scores can quickly ensue without control. As noted later in this FAQ, this is a bug that was somehow missed during development and linear addition should probably not exist.
- Building down, on the other hand, does have tools - the Power Loss Limitation in Blood of Heroes:Special Edition, who have a pricing scheme that generally produces intuitively correct point breaks. Power Loss can be employed for most simple needs about a character having bolstered abilities under certain circumstances — again, by flipping the reasoning and stating that the character is weaker in some circumstances.
- In practice, such characters tend to either have a few scores well-handled by Power Loss, or a lot of small changes impacting multiple aspects. For the second case, we strongly suggest considering Alter-Ego. If once immersed the character becomes not just stronger and more durable but also faster, healing more quickly, having a more regal countenance due to their enhanced vitality, etc. writing all of this will soon be confusing. Having two character sheets - an Alter-Ego - is going to be simpler, and lets you fiddle and introduce small differences to your heart‘s content. For us on writeups.org, it is certainly a cleaner way to present the information. For gamers around a table, it does require a more involved pricing scheme if the Alter-Egos points budget do not fit cleanly into the standard allotments, though.
- Writeups.org includes characters who are built down and some who are built up - the second category being usually older material written before this consensus emerged.
22/ Explain effect-based vs. descriptive
This is a decades-old distinction between two types of super-hero role-playing games. To use a simple example, an effects-based RPG might describe something as a 12d6 Ranged Killing Attack No Knockback, whereas a descriptive RPG would describe it as Flame project: 14 or Fire Generation (Monstrous).
Descriptive games have the advantage of being much more concrete - we can reasonably assume that Flame project is a Power that involves shooting fire. They have the drawback of requiring longer lists of Powers ; for instance DC Heroes has Flame Project but also Energy Blast, Laser Beam, Mental Blast, etc.
However, effect-based vs. descriptive should be understood as points on a line rather than as two islands. For instance our writeups for DC Adventures (an effects-based system) use the preferred approach for that game, which is to “wrap” effects in two kinds of description so they're not too abstract. Likewise, there is such a thing as going too far into the descriptive direction in DC Heroes. An example of this discussion was had during the writeup of Armor (Hisako Ichiki), pictured below:
As can be seen, Hisako psionically surrounds herself in a sort of force field that protects her and enhances her strength and some of her combat abilities - a sort of virtual power armour. A descriptivist will see a force field, and since DC Heroes has a Power called Force Field will be tempted to base the modelling of Armor around the Force Field Power. Since it‘s a force field.
People can certainly model her that way, though that will likely require a lot of strange kludges - we're not one-true-wayists. However, close your eyes and imagine that Hisako doesn‘t surround herself with a might-enhancing force armour, but achieves the exact same effects by turning herself into a blue oni demon with a large moustache (and horns). The stats write themselves - she's a normal girl who has a monstrous Alter-Ego, which is a much simpler and cleaner approach. Yet we've only changed the visuals.
In other words, do not get too focused on the descriptions and how well they match the names in the rules book. Descriptive games are cool (we sort of like DC Heroes), but are best used by constantly asking oneself “OK, but what does it actually *do*?” - the effect - when modelling. So as not to get trapped on the surface of things.
SPECIAL SECTION — RAY WINNINGER
1/ Many people find it weird that Knockback Damage is Killing Combat. Is it OK to make it Bashing instead?
From a discussion with Ray Winninger: “I agree that it doesn‘t represent certain comic books very well. The original intent was to make some of the more powerful heroes think twice before unleashing their full fury on lesser characters—when Superman punches a burglar, he‘d never think about hitting with his full EV. Perhaps Killing damage from Knockback is best classified as a ’Genre Rule.‘ “
2/ Aren‘t Critical Blows and Devastating Attacks a bit weird? Can Robin really take down Godzilla by kicking him in the nuts?
From a discussion with Ray Winninger: “That‘s a possibility, though I think I prefer the idea of raising the Hero Point costs for increasing AV/EV, etc or maybe even charging Hero Points to launch Critical Blows and Devastating Attacks. DAs and CBs are necessary to explain a lot of the odd outcomes that happen in the comics. They‘re also important for gameplay reasons—they prevent players from feeling completely helpless when facing a vastly superior foe. (“I‘m only Hawkgirl. What am I supposed to do against Brainiac?;” the comics have certainly depicted the equivalent of Robin kicking Godzilla in the nuts on more than one occasion). Still, the intersection of Hero Points, Critical Blows and Devastating Attacks is one of the idiosyncrasies of DCH (maybe its equivalent of the Daredevil Problem).
(If I remember correctly, the rules outlaw Devastating Attacks when playing some Genres, no?)”
They, in fact, do. The discussion then veered toward whether doubles and HP spending were sufficient to explain those occurrences, rather than special attack rules, and how most of the weird cases happened due to the low OV of targets with Growth, but Ray unfortunately had to leave.
3/ Are, say, Skin Armor and Force Field supposed to stack?
From a discussion with Ray Winninger : “When I wrote the 2nd Edition rules (which are essentially the same as the 3rd Edition rules) my intent was that multiple powers that *add* their APs to AV, EV, OV or RV don‘t “stack.” In other words, a character with APs of both Force Field and Force Shield can add only one of those powers to his RV, not both. That‘s certainly the way I‘d run it if I was GMing. If we had seen this problem crop up frequently in playtesting I would have written it into the rules. Additive powers are already a little dicey - allowing multiple adds runs too much risk of abuse.”
Ray then added that he would apply the same rule to multiple characters stacking their Powers. For example, if a character projected Force Field to protect another character with Skin Armor, the other character would use the higher of the applicable Powers rather than both.
As a more forgiving alternative suggested by DCH community members KalEl and Mike Winkler, the GM can mitigate abuse by adding the highest applicable Power normally and then adding the others using AP math. For example, a character with BODY 10, Flame Immunity: 08, Force Field (Self Only): 05, and Skin Armor: 07 might have an RV of 18 versus a punch (BODY 10 + Skin Armor: 07 + 1 AP for Force Field), an RV of 15 versus most energy attacks (BODY 10 + Force Field: 05) and an RV of 19 versus heat-based attacks (BODY 10 + Flame Immunity: 08 + 1 AP for Force Field).
4/ Why did Batman drop from a DEX of 10 to a DEX of 9 in the third edition?
No, it can‘t be the broken back thing - that occurred later. The matter is important though - Batman‘s DEX is a hugely important benchmark for practically all the street-level physical fighters in the DC Universe. Ray Winninger‘s recollections about that were :
“I changed Batman‘s DEX to 9. The trend in the comics, at the time, was toward a grittier, more down-to-earth Batman. As I recall (and over a decade later, the details are hazy so I may remember this wrong), the change was made for two reasons: a) to reduce the number of thugs Bats could comfortably Multi-Attack when expending maximum Hero Points, and b) I seem to recall that a comic in that era cleanly established that Lady Shiva was a more capable martial artist than Batman (though Bats would still win the fight due to his experience, superior intelligence, etc). Rather than raise Shiva‘s Martial Artist skill to the very problematic figure of 11, I decided instead to lower Bat‘s DEX/MA to 9.
Beginning with Morrison’s JLA run, I would have reset the scores to 10.
At some point, I think I concluded that 10 should remain the absolute limit for most “street-level” Martial Artists. Karate Kid, from the LSH, would be an obvious exception to this general policy; there are undoubtedly others. I temporarily lowered Batman‘s value to 9 during the era in which DC was trying to define him as a bit grittier and more down-to-earth than the pre-Crisis Batman. These days, I‘d definitely restore it to 10, where he‘d be joined by Lady Shiva, maybe Cassandra Cain, maybe Deathstroke.”
Ray couldn‘t remember why he thought that a 11 was such a problem, and we never really found this column to be a breakpoint. As such, the writeups.org scale has the Morrisonian Batman at a 10 like Ray intended, but also has the ultimate, best fighter in the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe at Martial Artist: 11, at least during those eras where they clearly are better than a version of Batman who clearly is operating at Martial Artist: 10 and DEX 10.
Note that many old bat-villains are benchmarked against estimates of Batman‘s DEX *when the story occurs*. Thus we entirely concur with Ray that there were eras when Bat had a DEX of 09 or even lower. Many versions of Batman in the 1940s and the 1950s are pegged at DEX (and DEX-based Skills) 07, since he‘s a run-of-the-mill two-fisted masked mystery man during these stories.
5/ Who wrote the stats in the otherwise excellent 2995 Legion sourcebook?
Ray : “Definitely not the Bierbaums. I don‘t recall who wrote them—certainly not me as I never read a single issue of the Bierbaum‘s LSH. They never looked quite right to me either.”
6/ Was DC Heroes RPG material used by DC writers to write comic books?
Quoting Mr. Winninger again:
“Absolutely true. I had a series of lengthy conversations with all sorts of DC writers and editors when compiling the game stats and rules for DC HEROES. I personally worked with : Mike Barr, Andy Helfer, Denny O‘Neill, George Perez, Alan Moore, John Byrne, Neil Gaiman, Marv Wolfman, JM DeMatteis, Steve Englehart, Paul Levitz, Mike Grell, Dan Jurgens, Paul Kupperberg, Jack Kirby (!), Roger Stern, Jerry Novick and (undoubtedly) several others I‘m forgetting.
In most cases, we‘d have a quick phone call and then I‘d prepare detailed questions and the folks from DC would answer them. (For example, “With maximum effort, Superman can lift-circle one-a tank, an apartment building, a skyscraper, an aircraft carrier, the moon, or more.”). In other cases, we collaborated much more closely. I had a series of lengthy conversations and back-and-forth with Alan Moore on Watchmen, Paul Kupperberg and I co-wrote the Doom Patrol sourcebook, etc. Lots of the DC folks we worked with wrote original blurbs for us for the 2nd edition of DCH.
A lot of the material we created and compiled was used for DC for a long time after DCH gave up the ghost (and may still be in use). I know that my Green Lantern sourcebook was used by several of the writers who have written GL in the intervening years.”
SPECIAL SECTION — GREG GORDEN
This section is an enhanced summary - in our own words - of Mr. Gorden‘s design notes in 1985. There was some hesitation in publishing those, but most people nowadays are probably not going to own the first edition of DC Heroes.
1/ Are APs a base-2 exponential system?
Mr. Gorden actually based APs progression on a logarithmic scale — namely decimal exponents of 1,000 (1,000 raised to the .1, .2, .3, etc.) rounded up to the nearest convenient number.
Practically this is not hugely important, though it explains the 125, 250 and 500 effect unit multipliers for 7, 8 and 9 APs (rather than 128, 256 and 512). Mathematically, the approach is quite different. Presumably, Greg Gorden was specifically looking for an elegant progression to represent a thousandfold increase.
Thus, technically one more AP is not exactly doubling (the multiplier is roughly 1.995), but ten more AP is precisely multiplying by 1,000.
2/ Is Batman really that strong?
Mr. Gorden wanted Batman to be markedly stronger than an Olympic weightlifter with a STR of 04. Batman being at the high end of 04 seeming tepid, he opted for a 05 though the upper range of 5 APs of weight is 1,500 lbs. Though this isn‘t mentioned in his design notes, we assume that this decision meant in turn that humans could have a BODY of 06. 06 is proportionate to a STR of 05 but makes them remarkably resistant to small weapons.
The decision was made since Mr. Gorden did not want Superman to have a STR of 100 (back then, Superman had a STR of 50 rather than 25). With the post-Crisis scale, where Superman has a STR of 25, this suggests a new scale with greater granularity - doubling with every two APs rather than with every AP - but this was never adopted for DC Heroes. In such a scale adding one AP would be a multiplier of 1000.05 - that is 1.4125, which as you‘d expect is close to the square root of 2 (namely 1.4142).
3/ What about exploding doubles and Hero Points?
While working on the game Mr. Gorden was impressed by the role of lucky breaks, blows of maniacal intensity, sudden surges of willpower, etc. in super-hero stories. By contrast the normal distribution of 2d10 is fairly tame — and thus exploding doubles reintroduce the possibility of freak events (see our short articles about probabilities).
However, super-heroes can also produce these effects more-or-less on demand, which hoping to roll doubles doesn‘t simulate. Hence Hero Points to make one‘s own luck (see our article about Hero Points).
Having Hero Points also behave as experience was inspired by how little super-heroes seemed to progress in abilities from “session” to “session”. Back when Mr. Gorden designed DC Heroes, in the early- to mid-1980s, the dominant RPG paradigm was still constant progression of the characters‘ abilities, whether through gaining level or raising skills, and a “trick” still seemed necessary to explain why super-heroes did not fit this RPG logic.
4/ Why were Column Shifts added to the game?
The first reason is that differences in power on the newly-created DC Heroes logarithmic scale seemed to matter much more at the low end that at the high end. An action hero with DEX 07 will utterly dominate a brawny thug with DEX 03 in a brawl, whereas a four-APs difference matters less between fighters with a DEX in the double digits. With increasingly broad columns, this effect is baked in.
Mr. Gorden was also concerned about high Action Attributes (DEX, INT, INF) overshadowing the Effect Attributes, which they did in early development versions of the game. Column Shifts mean that high Action Attributes and high rolls still play a role, but bring it under control so that having a high Effect Attribute is also important.
5/ Why were Subplots added to the game?
Tales of the Teen Titans vol. 1 #50. The series was hugely popular back then, and this issue focused on the wedding of Donna Troy and Terry Long and the private lives of the various Titans and related characters. Realising that he needed something to help Gamemasters run stories like this rather than endlessly focusing on combat mechanics, Mr. Gorden came up with the Subplots mechanic.
6/ What is the history of the Mystic Link?
Originally, the Physical, Mental and Mystical Powers were organised in more rigid categories, each with its own list of Powers. This resulted in an array of Mystical Powers that were very similar to Physical and Mental Powers, and the Mystic Link idea was a way to eliminate this redundancy.
Mystic Link was also the product of a discussion with Bob Greenberger at DC Comics, who asserted that pound-for-pound magical abilities were better than other powers in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe, because they were backed by the power of magic. To model this imbalance, Mr. Gorden wrote the first edition Mystic Link mechanics, where the Link itself could be Pushed, resulting in a source of additional APs of power as long as the magician could afford the Hero Points to Push.
This specific role of the Mystic Link was dropped when the second edition was published.
7/ What is this joke about forks?
The Gadgetry rules in the first edition were serviceable (if somewhat clunky) for extraordinary inventions and super-tech, but completely fell apart when trying to build more ordinary items. The designers were well aware of it, and warned the players against using the rules of the game in general to model mundane, everyday situations as they were geared toward more four-colours pursuits.
Mr. Gorden‘s favourite way to explain this was what happens when attempting to build something as tepid as a fork using first edition DC Heroes Gadgetry rules - a long endeavour requiring Hero Points even assuming a professional engineer, and producing a fork that needs to be “recharged” after every meal. ”Building a fork” thus became a shorthand to poke fun at the first edition Gadgetry rules, which were fixed when the second edition was published.
8/ The saga of firearms Action Values
Originally, Greg Gorden wrote firearms with some verisimilitude - from context we assume that this was because of his previous work on the James Bond 007 RPG published by Victory Games. This broke apart in DC Heroes and he modified his initial drafts. The two main changes were :
- In the first edition firearms ended up doing Bashing damage after Mr. Gorden ran a test where a bunch of thugs with guns, high rolls and Team Attacks killed Batman in three Phases. Killing vs. Bashing damage was since revised, and a common modern take at writeups.org would be that thugs don‘t get to do Team Attacks in the first place unless the story calls for it.
- Firearms originally had an AV bonus (from +1 to +7) to represent accuracy and volume of fire. This did not work at all (why doesn‘t Nightwing carry a machinegun just in case for the nice bonus?), so firearms were set to have a fixed AV that would benefit a thug but not a hero. This is a compromise solution, and modern usage (at least at writeups.org) is to completely drop the AV - no firearms-using character ever benefits from it, and thugs do not appear to be more accurate in comics when they have better weapons. Plus, if the goal is to avoid Batman being shot full of holes in three Phases, increasing the mooks‘ AV with guns is counterproductive.
And this is how DC Heroes ended with firearms that all have the same accuracy, at least as far as most writeups.org stats are concerned. This is sometimes called the “it‘s the man, not the weapon” rule, and is supported by most comics, action movies, video games, etc.
9/ How much information did Mayfair have about Crisis?
Mr. Gorden asked a flurry of questions about what the DCU would be like after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, and used DC‘s answers to explain how the universe worked, stat up the characters, etc. Thus, when we state - for simplicity‘s sake - that the first edition represents the pre-Crisis DC Universe, this is not technically accurate. This becomes clearer when one starts working out the details to stat certain pre-Crisis characters, such as Wonder Woman‘s opponents.
What information existed at DC about the post-Crisis DCU whilst Mr. Gorden was working was clearly limited, though - the Monitor wasn‘t even named, the Great Scale Compression had not been decided yet, the redefinition of Superman by Byrne and of Wonder Woman by Pérez isn‘t mentioned and presumably didn‘t exist yet, etc. Generally, this was a version of the DC Universe that was closer to the pre-Crisis DCU than to what actually emerged from the Crisis and the subsequent period of uncertainty and odd fixes.
A very similar situation occurred in 1989, when Mayfair obtained exclusive information from DC Comics about the Reign of the Supermen story arc for inclusion at the back of the third edition book. What was actually published by DC featured versions of Steel, Superboy, the Eradicator and the Cyborg Superman that were different from the early draft explained to Mayfair.