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.
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 or 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
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
AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS?
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.
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.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
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.
DRIVING THE POINT HOME
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.
YOU CAN ALWAYS ADD MORE BUT ITS HARDER TO
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.