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HERO System 5th Edition Revised
Following is a breakdown of the contents of the humongous new HERO System 5th Edition Revised.
One thing that keeps cropping up is people sometimes refer to avoiding the HERO System because they don't want to read such a huge book. I suppose some people think they are supposed to start at page one and read to page 577 (578-590 being the index, and 591-592 being a character sheet).
I guess you could do that. I don't know if I would or not; I learned from the old 4th Edition HERO #500; the generic rules only book which was much smaller than the current iteration of the rule book; about 1/3 the size or less. Personally, I use the book as a reference. It's more like an Encyclopedia of Rules to me.
The following document informally parses out the contents of the book into sections, with an eye towards number of pages dedicated to certain topics.
The 1st 22 pages are intro, and that's including the contents and coversheet.
Pages 24 thru 344 are Character Creation. So half the book essentially is just about how to make your character(s). Minus out some sample characters and some pages at the beginning that you'll only ever read once, and you are looking at 310 pages on characteristics, skills, perks, talents, powers, and disadvantages -- the elements of a HERO character. Powers alone are covered from pages 93 to 324, so 231 pages, with sidebars.
So obviously, if the book is about 550 pages of actual content (not counting table of contents, intros, index, blank character sheets, or full page art spreads), then over 1/3 of the book is just coverage for how to build Powers.
Are you meant to read this section from front to back? No. Read the bit at the beginning of each element that explains what a Power or a Skill or a whatever is, and some general rules regarding their use and then make your character. Each section has a list at the beginning, so as you make your character simply look at the list and see what's available that sounds like it might be relevant, then look up the actual description of the ability.
That's a basic character design trick, and I've designed characters in a couple dozen game systems using the exact same method. If I'm making a character with Flight, I don't really need to know what Mental Illusions. After you've made a few characters with different abilities, you'll already have a working understanding of how to make characters. You can pick it up as you go. This is true of the GM as well, save the addition that he needs to know what all the Players can do too -- still not a problem; simply read their sheets and look up anything you don't know about yet.
Further, if you read the Powers section, you'll see that for the most part there is maybe a couple paragraphs for a Power explaining its basic purpose and how to use it. Then if necessary it goes on to clarify any unusual cases or circumstances, how the Power interacts with other Powers and Modifiers, and so forth. The kind of thing you'd normally have to go scour a FAQ for, Ask a Sage and hope to get an answer within a year, seek counsel from a more experienced GM on, or just guess at. In fact, that's where most of the extra bulk of Fifth Edition Revised comes from -- it incorporates the Rules FAQ generated from the original Fifth Edition. That's a very handy feature when you need to know something in a pinch or when designing a character.
Pages 348 to 402 cover Combat in two halves -- setting up Combat, and actually resolving Combat. The Combat engine itself is 370 to 402 and if you for some reason didn't want to use any of the Optional Maneuvers or Martial Arts, its 370 to 374.
Yes, that's right, the entire Combat engine of this monstrous book can be pared down to 4 essential pages, with charts and a full column art piece. Perhaps 2.5 pages of actual text. Pages 375 to 383 explain the Maneuvers and modifiers that appear on the lists. Explanations of the Optional Maneuvers and Martial Arts finish out the section from 383 to 402.
Unsurprisingly its a very simple combat model and is easy to implement. Any GM should be able to read that section and have a working knowledge of how to structure combat. The challenge of running a HERO Game isn't the basic flow of combat -- its adjudicating the somewhat unique combination of abilities each character represents, determining how various SFX's interact, and keeping track of salient numbers such as BODY, END, and STUN. The combat engine itself just kind of chugs along like the little train that could however.
Pages 403 to 418 cover how to resolve damage, with various levels of genre-appropriate lethality and such things as Knockback vs. Knockdown and an option to use Hit Locations instead of generalized damage. Basically, understand the difference between Normal and Killing damage and beyond that this is a settings panel; decide what settings you want on for your campaign and you're done.
Pages 422 to 423 describe unusual "damage" such as being restrained, being deprived of senses, and things of that nature.
Pages 424 thru 427 effectively deal with fatigue (though it isn't called that in the HERO System).
Pages 428 and 429 explain a concept unique to the HERO System to the best of my knowledge, the Presense Attack, which is a free mechanic usable by all characters to frighten, impress, or rally others (and similar).
Pages 430 to 431 is a sample combat.
Pages 434 to 454 covers the Environment.
Pages 456 to 488 covers Equipment. This includes rules to handle Vehicles, Bases, Computers, AI's, and Automatons (things like robots, zombies, and golems)
Pages 490 to 540 covers using the HERO System for various Genres. Covered are: Champions, Cyberpunk, Fantasy, Martial Arts, Action Adventure, Pulp, Sci-Fi, Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Swashbuckling, Victorian, Western. Twelve sample characters are included.
Pages 542 to 556 covers Game mastering the HERO System. General advice useful for the novice GM, mostly skimmable for experienced GMs. The only key info here is the awarding Experience section.
Pages 558 to 568 covers making changes to the system to suit yourself. So 10 pages of the book are just about how to scrap things you don't like or add things you think should be included. The basic design principles of the game (the meta-rules) are exposed here, and some coverage is give towards understanding the ripple effect changing a key mechanic might cause.
Pages 570 to 572 give a capsule history of the HERO System and it's iterations, informative for a new player and a neat bit.
Finally 573 to 577 gives size templates for characters/creatures that are larger or smaller than normal all the time (as opposed to characters that can alter their size via a Power but are normal sized otherwise).
The book is completed with the aforementioned index (which is very good) and a sample blank character sheet.
I think it's pretty obvious that the book isn't laid out or intended to be read cover to cover, but rather in sections as needed. It's a reference book, basically, not a novel like some rulebooks seem to think they should be. Some people like that kind of no nonsense approach, others want fluff and flavor text. It's really nothing more than a preference.
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