Monday, May 2, 2011

We Are The Champions - Part II

As I was saying in my previous post earlier today, my friend, fellow GM and Champion Guru Extraordinaire Will had asked me to join in on his Champions campaign to help wrangle in an out of control player. While not yet ruining every one's fun, this player was often a hinder to the Superhero team's endeavours, especially those of their leader, an extraterrestrial psionic hero called Omni. Will didn't want to kill him outright but wanted him to have a nemesis to level the playing field as it were. A hero is only as cool as his villains but if the hero is the villain he needs an arch-enemy who's a hero.

Wow, that's actually right. O.O

I was up for the challenge and eager to help but I confessed to not liking Champions, even though I had yet to play it. The rule complexity combined with my mindset of 'Math = Unholy Evil' prevented me from trying it in the past. Will understood and said he would do all the hard work and make up the character if I gave him a description of one.

We agreed to take Champions out for a 'test drive' and create my favorite Villains & Vigilantes character, my own
Excelsior. Will looked over my V&V sheet and built Excelsior noting that he was not incredibly familiar with V&V but it should be basically the same.

It wasn't. In under 10 minutes I got my butt handed to me by some ninja dude. Excelsior?! A Ninja?! That's like a single
Hand ninja taking out Wildfire from the Legion of Superheroes. For those of you less familiar with the 'Big Two' comic book companies, it's akin to a 5th level Thief taking out a 12th level Fighter/Magic User.

As you can imagine I was not impressed. I didn't understand how all that complexity could result in a character so unable to do the same thing he could do in a simpler game (though as the years went on I would feel that the simpler the game the more it could do over all but that's another discussion).

Will was also disappointed I could tell. He turned to me and said, "Tell me about Excelsior." I was a bit confused as I thought I already had but what will wanted to know was his origin, the way I explained his powers outside of a game and "all the things about him that matter and aren't stats."

After about half an hour or so of him listening to me talk about the various ideas, stories, goals, hopes and dreams I had for Excelsior and Excelsior had as a character, Will asked if we could try it one more time. I agreed to give it one more shot. Will spent two days working on Excelsior and when next we played I not only demolished the ninja, I had to fight a moral quandry when I sort of hurt him really, really bad and Excelsior has a bit of a code against causing that much harm.

"That's a disadvantage," Will explained, "as is Excelsior's inability to pull his punch or directly feel physical contact. He won't know exactly how hard to hit an opponent when he first meets them." Disadvantages to your character give you points in Champions (as many of you know) and these points can be used to up your abilities. Once this was explained to me I looked at the many disadvantages Excelsior had and a light went on. Champions does that to you when you first play it if you've been playing non-point buy games up to that point. To this day I tend to do disads first when making up a Champions character.

Next, Will explained the all important, 'figure out the effect you're going for and then build the power to do that' element of Champions that blew my mind back then. For example, Excelsior's Anti-Matter Streams are Disintergration Ray in V&V and Will initially built them as energy based 'Ranged Killing Attacks'. When he discovered that in my mind they were really based after the Star Trek phaser 'Disintergrate' setting, practically erasing matter, he altered their construction to a ranged Transformation Attack. Basically, a Transformation Attack is one that transforms the target into something else, like a Witch turning someone into a Frog or Firestorm changing a goon's power armor into smoke. What Will did for Excelsior was stipulate, 'Transforms to Ash', enabling me to literally vaporize objects or even people (something Excelsior would never do).

With a little time to ask questions and think on a character I agreed to join the campaign as StarGuard, leader of an alien superhero team inspired by the Legion of Superheroes and the Justice League.
StarGuard greatly resembled Gladiator of Marvel Comics, who he was largely influenced by. His starting story was that he had come to Earth to investigate rumors that the long lost prince of his people's greatest stellar rival was alive and dwelling on this out of the way, backwater planet (Omni, who was believed to have died along with the rest of the royal family decades ago).

The troublesome player was a very fine fellow but his character and mine took an instant dislike to each other. I represented another faction threatening the Earth in his mad alien conspiracy theory while he represented the greatest danger to the lost prince and therefore any chance of peace between Omni's people and mine.

I tried to work with the character and showed no outward signs of being there to be his enemy. Sure, I was a ringer, an inside man but I fully intended to play the character and enjoy someone else GMing for a while. And boy did I. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Will running Champions has no equal. As a matter of fact I'd say he was/is the greatest GM of anything I've ever met. The NPCs were awesome, interesting and in many cases extremely deadly. Plots were thick, detailed and full of twists and turns. The group sometimes included 15 some odd players playing at the same time, splitting the party, using alternate characters and getting involved in crazy battles with dozens and dozens of NPC heroes and villains and Will never missed a turn or skipped a beat.

It wasn't long before the anti-alien hero showed his true colors and on no less then four or five occasions we (his character and StarGuard) came to blows. We battled in the streets of New York and on the Moon. I destroyed him in one battle only to discover it was a robot double. His original body had been refitted and enhanced with cybernetics and it too was destroyed. He consciousness was transferred into a virtually indestructible robot body only to have it destructed by StarGuard and my pal Pete Hernandez's character, Arctic Fox (aka The White Wolf). At one point he created a state of galactic war between the major interstellar powers and I had to travel back in time to undo the mess he'd made. Eventually, after escaping from body to body some many times, we (the entire Super group) finally managed to figure out his transfer system network and after a final brutal battle, Omni used his vast telepathic abilities to prevent the villain/hero's disembodied mind from ever being 'embodied' again.

I fell in love with Champions and I still didn't really know the rules. It wasn't until I had played the game for nearly 2 years that I first saw my character sheet and had any idea what the mechanics of the darn thing was. I continued to play for another year or two but was determined to run it myself someday. Not long after that, Champions came out with its 4th Edition.

George Perez cover. Freakin' George Perez! Massive book (at the time one of the largest single books for an RPG I'd ever seen, if not the largest), very complete and easy to read in my opinion (one of the advantages over previous editions for me was the cleaner and clearer text and layout).

Soon after purchasing 4th Edition I started running a campaign of my own and I will tell you more about that sometime soon. In the meantime, what is all of this pointing toward, eh? A new campaign to be sure, possibly New York based and using Champions 4th Edition. Just once I want my players to experience what I experienced in high school and beyond.

More thoughts to come...

Barking Alien


  1. Thick rulebooks and complicated mechanics always ring alarm bells for me, but I would have given Champions a go if I'd ever encountered it. As it is, the only superhero game I've had any experience with is Golden Heroes and that was only a session or two.

    Alas, one of my current group hates superhero games with a passion, so that makes it difficult to try something new.

  2. At this point I believe I have played every Supers RPG ever put on the market, several free ones and done a homebrew or two. Supers gaming is my favorite after Star Trek and even preferred over non-Trek Sci-Fi at this point honestly.

    Part of the reason for this is my players (New York Group) are really into it and their enthusiasm inspires mine.

    While Mutants & Masterminds 3E is my all time favorite Supers game, I keep wondering if it is the best one for this group. Hence my interest in revisiting Champions.

  3. So, BA, when are you going to write more posts about your superhero WW2 campaign?

  4. Sadly that game is in a holding pattern at the moment while my finances and gamer availability seek to align.


  5. Man, reading stuff like this always gives me twinges - I've played in (and hopefully run) some great campaigns but there are others out there that sound really cool and yet I missed them. Not the games as a whole (I have 3 or 4 copies of Champions 4 floating around the house myself) as I have had some great times with them, but those great individual campaigns that sound just flat out awesome.

    I agree with you about that edition being a high water mark for the game. If
    you can talk a group into letting you run it, I say go for it. If you can take some inspiration from that previous campaign then you really should do it. Enthusiasm like that is a powerful thing. Plus I'd like to read the writeups.

  6. I haven't even scratched the surface on how awesome Will's game was.

    PC heroes and villains, time travel, Cosmic Crisis one week, street level hate crime the next - it was unbelievable. The villains kicked sooo much ass!

    One time, I got punched...wait...I'll tell that story in an upcoming post. Heheh

  7. I DMed some Champions in the 90s and got a blast with it. It was my fav Supers game... I planned to DM again and the game my players wanted to play was Champions. 4th was my edition too, and I loved too the George Perez cover... But nowadays, I found it too complex and I don't got so much time to dedicate to this!

  8. I have ran my group (NYC Based) through a crap load of superhero games, all different types and systems. Heroes Unlimited(can't beat the price of the book), Champions 3rd, 4th New millennium and 5th editions(love new millennium), DCu original, D20 and WEG versions, Marvel original(have the newer diceless one but haven't ran it), Godlike, Wildtalents, and a couple more, and we have more than one campaign for each of them. Sooo I guess we Really like our Supes RPG's. So I feel your attachment. I run many other games of every genre for almost 20 years(my wife and my friends wives play as well) but we always go back to capes and cowls.