Monday, December 9, 2013

Champions System Review Part 4: 6th Edition

Greetings, readers, and welcome to the final installment of my review of the Hero System. This particular entry in the series focuses on the sixth edition of Champions, released originally in 2010. 

My review of this edition is going to be relatively short and sweet—the newness of this system and the fact that it is difficult for me to find an ongoing Champions campaign means that I haven’t played very much of this edition. Most of my experience comes from running and playing in one-shot adventures at conventions (such as the amazingly fun Genghis Con in Denver, Colorado).

A Grand Adventure

One of the biggest factors involved with sixth edition that simply must be addressed up front is the fact that the video game studio Cryptic purchased the Champions IP to use in their MMO, Champions Online. This purchase provided a huge money infusion into Hero Games, and paved the way for a major improvement in the overall look and feel of the game in this edition. First of all, the artwork received a much-needed upgrade; nearly everything is in color, and all the art appears to have had a huge jump in overall quality. Secondly, the production values in general for the line (including logos, trade dress, etc.) all improved as well.

Making, or Breaking, the Rules

Sixth edition changed more than just appearances. Steve Long conducted an online poll of Hero gamers to find out what most people wanted to change about the new edition, and took that into consideration when redesigning the ruleset. Sixth edition is a much more refined ruleset than, say, the difference between 4th and 5th editions, and several rules that remained unchanged for decades were altered in profound ways. Figured characteristics were removed, the points costs of other characteristics modified, and a character’s combat value was separated out as a distinct characteristic and not just part of Dexterity. Comeliness as a characteristic was removed, replaced by a “striking appearance” Talent. There are other changes, but the ones listed above are the ones I found most memorable.

Personally, I am a big fan of Sixth edition’s ruleset. I love that Strength has no figured characteristics, because in previous editions of the game, Strength was basically king (leading to a description of Champions by many gamers as “Champions Loves Bricks!”). This separation means that Strength could now be a part of my character power builds, as something that made mechanical sense. I also appreciate the removal of Comeliness, since “Striking Appearance” does everything meaningful you wanted for looking particularly bad or good. In general, I definitely feel that Sixth edition is my personal favorite ruleset of all the editions.

All of these improvements to the rules did come with one drawback--the already-intimidating size of the rulebooks for 4th and 5th edition pale in comparison to the size of the rules for 6th. In fact, the rulebooks were broken up into three separate volumes!

Critical Hits

I love making characters for Sixth edition. I love the way that the new powers work (such as Damage Negation, which is flat-out the best way to represent a “bulletproof” superhero I’ve seen so far in the system). I love the vibrancy that seems to fill the line in the wake of its predecessor, and I love the way that Sixth edition gains quite a bit from the connection to the Champions MMO (particularly in terms of artwork!).

Adding in more contributions to the line from respected authors like Mike Surbrook, Derek Hiemforth, and others has also helped the line feel more distinct and have a different voice from its predecessor. The addition of Champions Complete to the lineup feels like an excellent move to try and get more gamers interested in the system. I’m pleased by the books that focus on the big threats like Mechanon—these are welcome additions to the line. I’d also like to single out the Ultimate Base as being a book worthy of high praise, with a ton of interesting ideas for setting up your superhero group’s headquarters.

Critical Misses

There’s not a lot to dislike in Sixth edition, so all I will say here is that I found the villains books a bit lackluster, but then, my yardstick will always be 4th edition’s Classic Enemies, which is a hard act to follow!

Featured Creators

Mike Surbrook: Mike was tapped to write quite a bit for this addition, adding in his contributions to the Hero System Bestiary and receiving cover credit for the Hero System Martial Arts book. Mike continues to add a lot of value to the Champions line (and make sure to check out Kazei 5 as well, below).

Scott Heine: For more about Scott, see my 4th edition Champions review. Suffice it to say it was very nice to see Scott contributing more material for Hero.

Steven Long: For more about Steve, see my 5th edition Champions review. Steve continues to be the main writer for Sixth edition, producing so much content I am certain that Steve is in fact a golem built by a wizard who wanted more Hero products.

Third Party Material

Sixth edition is blessed with quite a bit of excellent third party material. Especially noteworthy are the pulp adventure The Day After Ragnarok by Kenneth Hite, featuring an alternate WWII involving a mind-bogglingly huge jormungandr serpent, and Kazei 5.

A Note From the Editor. I need to make a correction from something I pointed out in my 5th edition review—Mike Surbrook’s Kazei 5 was actually printed for sixth edition, not fifth, this making this excellent addition for the Champions game part of this section of the review.

Blackwyrm Publishing created a ton of settings for this edition as well, including Bill Keyes’ The Widening Gyre, Grady Elliot’s Terracide, Ryan Wolfe’s Lux Aeternum, and Patrick Sweeney’s The Fires of Heaven.

What the Future Holds

The Sixth Edition of the Hero System is off to a strong start, with over 30 products on the shelf and a robust set of supplements. However, the publisher—Hero Games—is essentially on life support since sharply reducing production and staff in 2011. This is not to say that the game is dead or dying; Champions Complete came out this year, further products are planned, and Darren Watts is putting his characteristic energy and passion into the Champions Live Action LARP project.

I hope you’ll join me in hoping for more and better things for Champions in the future, wishing all of the creators well, and keeping an eye on further developments for the Hero System.


  1. My comment on the 6th Edition is that it serves as a perfect example of rules bloat. I can point to the two 400+-page encyclopedic volumes and say, "This is what happens when you try to write a rule for every possible situation."

    The Hero System is still the best one for modeling a character. Unfortunately, it has reached a point where playability has been reduced for the sake of that goal.

    1. Check out Champions Complete. It's 95% of the 6e rules in 240 pages. It's small and a lot easier to read.

  2. Definitely going read Complete soon. Been rebrowsing my Third Edition rulebook...which is 96 large print pages. At the time, we thought that was quite long! Don't have my 1 and 2 copies anymore.

  3. couldn't even buy 6th even if I wanted to...invariably stores had vol. 2 and not vol. 1 if they had ANYTHING in stock, and I don't buy a game unless I can look through it first.

    But the sheer size is ridiculous. Was this debacle the undoing of Hero?