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Skip Navigation LinksHigh Fantasy HERO>Conversions>D&D>D&D 3rd Edition>DM to GM>Opposition Advice
Opposition Differences
This document discusses some principles of employing antagonists for use in your campaign, and illustrates some key differences between the way antagonists are handled in D&D and the HERO System.
D&D Level Oriented Antagonists
In D&D XP is fairly abstracted; Characters don't change at all until they hit certain arbitrary XP totals at which point they get a collection of automatic power ups. However there are some significant challenges caused by such a level based scheme. For starters not every level of every Class is of equal power. Secondly a collection of Characters in a playing group are typically at different XP totals and thus "level-up" asynchronously, and gain more or less benefit for doing so depending on which Class they progressed in.
Due to this fairly frequently one or more Characters will suddenly level up, gain some significant key abilities all at once that make them much more capable and thus render entire swathes of opposition obsolete.
Further, as Characters accrue levels and gain to-hit, number of attacks, saving throw, AC, statistics, and hit point power ups they become increasingly unchallenged by broad categories of opponents as well.
This underlying dynamic forces settings intended to be used for such an artificially leveled  game to become strangely distorted to hold opposition of such widely different power level as to be absurd and provide some rationale where the more powerful opponents are always deeper in or further away from the unleveled masses. The result is a bizarre videogame like situation where as Characters level they often have to go someplace else geographically  where there are more powerful threats.
And yet, these dangerous, more powerful enemies are kind enough to stay in their little corner of the world and not roll over all the areas stocked with lower level threats and helpless peasantry. D&D 3e mitigates this illogical pattern somewhat since "monsters" can have class levels, which allows the same Orc horde that's a threat at low levels to still be a threat later on thanks to having a pyramidal structure of low level masses ruled over by higher leveled leaders (and thus more powerful opposition suitable as antagonists for higher level Characters). Nevertheless, the flawed underpinning of level-scaled threats still exists.
Basically to keep providing challenges to PC's in a level based game, newer more powerful opponents must be cranked out filling various strata and in sufficient quantity to provide sufficient content for parallel advancement by disparate Characters that have an ever increasing array of odd abilities that become increasingly difficult to plan or play test for. This also leads to a setting that must be stocked with literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different kinds of creatures of grossly different threat levels.
Anyway, reams have been written on this sort of inherent illogic engendered by level based games, and this isn't intended as a retrospective on the subject. Suffice to say that the huge plethora of strange creatures with bizarre abilities designed to be threats for a specific narrow band of levels found in D&D is driven by the limitations of the level scheme and do not exist as such in the point based HERO System.
Because of these differing dynamics the approach to employing such opposition you have learned as an experienced D&D DM will not work well when you are running a HERO System campaign, and can in fact lead you to accidentally kill off entire PC groups if you don't realize it in time.
HERO System Points Oriented Antagonists
Experience Points equal Character Points in the HERO System, and are granted by the GM rather than "earned" by whacking creatures that have an XP value tattooed on their rear ends. The GM has direct control over how much extra capability is doled out to Characters; the awarding of the means by which Characters become more capable is completely under the GM's throttle.
Further because HERO Characters don't have any sort of automatic "hit point" accrual, if a Character wants to be more durable then they need to allocate some of their Experience Points to buying more BODY or STUN. Similarly, if they want to hit better or have more attacks, they have to pay points for that too. If they want new abilities, they also have to pay points for those too. And so on.
Thus in the HERO System Characters progress in a slow and gradual but continuous curve rather than the stair-stepped D&D progression. Additionally the mechanical resolution of conflicts is based on a Bell Curve in the HERO System rather than the highly volatile d20 percentile resolutions of D&D which also serves to deflate extreme variance in resolution. This has a massive effect on how the antagonists of a Fantasy HERO campaign are designed and used.
Namely, the same sort of opposition remain a threat for much longer, and scaling the opposition to keep pace with the PC's progression (if desired) is much easier; often a single additional +1 to hit, a single +1 DC to an effect/attack, or a mild improvement in Characteristics (or some similar minor improvement) is sufficient to keep a particular sort of opponent competitive and usable.
To put it into a concrete example, rather than designing a version of  a Cockatrice that threatens a range of three to five "character levels" and is largely useless to anything of higher levels, and also designing another creature with basically the same powers plus some other threats to use against a higher level band, like a Gorgon for instance and so on you can instead just define what a Cockatrice is in your setting, allow some variance for individuality, and turn them loose.
Some Characters will be able to deal with the threat that it represents, others wont, and it completely depends on how those characters have spent their points rather than on how many points they have. The opposition is threatening by circumstance rather than relative power level.
In the HERO System it is very possible for a 75 point Orc to kill a 500 point PC in one hit, depending entirely upon their builds and on circumstance. I know -- I've seen it happen. It's also possible for a group of twelve cultists of less than 100 Character Points to completely befuddle, hamper, and delay a group of seven 600 point superheroes. I know -- I've done it.
The lesson to learn here is that points don't compare the same way levels compare, where more is always synonymous with flat out better, and large gulfs in point differences are surmountable by focused builds, circumstance, and the bell curve.
The conditioning you have undergone running a level based game that teaches you the only way to challenge a group of PC's is to continuously hit them with ever more powerful threats in an ever-escalating arms race is not necessary or appropriate in the HERO System.
It is useful to remember that much like in cooking its always possible to add a little spice if needed while the pot is simmering, but its much more difficult to fix a dish you spiced to much. If unsure how difficult a certain type of foe will prove to be, don't be afraid to have the initial contact be small scale. You can always add a second wave, or have the second encounter be with a tougher version of the same type of foe.
Similarly in the case of individual NPC's you don't necessarily have to use everything printed on their Character sheets just because its there. If the PC's are struggling and it's not your intent to defeat or make them run away, then hold off on using an NPC's more potent abilities. If nothing else it will make a good surprise later if the PC's are doing too well and are ready for the challenge to be dialed up a bit.