The HERO System is a powerful point based RPG with an extensive history. The 5th
Edition has been out now for a few years under the helm of Steven S. Long and associates,
collectively referred to as "Defenders of Justice" or DOJ. Much like a
Phoenix rising from it's own ashes, the DOJ acquisition of the HERO System has seen
the HERO System do a 180 from it's slow decline into the void and become one of
the more successful game lines of the last few years. If one word were chosen to
characterize the new line of HERO System product, "SOLID" would serve
as a worthy candidate. The new products have universally been well written, well
edited, and chock full of useful material. The artwork is a bit shaky in many of
the books, but the content is top notch. Quality control and editorial oversight
are hallmarks, as well as a compact but informative writing style.
While the quality of the products available are a strength, many people are intimidated
by the sheer scope and flexibility of the HERO System.
The HERO System is a "heavy", complex system, with an extensive character
design mechanic intended to allow just about any desired result to be expressed
mechanically via the use of base "Powers" which are essentially game effects
purchased at scaling levels of effect, and then modified by Advantages and Limitations
to express the desired ability.
Thus in the HERO System, you reason from effect and then select a game mechanic
which most closely matches your intended effect. The classic example is that a Lightning
Bolt, a Pistol, and Mutant Eye Beams could all be expressed with the "Ranged
Killing Attack" Power, modified appropriately with Advantages and Limitations.
This is a powerful approach to character design and allows an almost infinite number
of differently nuanced abilities across just about any genre. A Wizards Spell, a
high-tech gizmo in a SciFi game, a Superheroes Superpowers, and more can all be
defined equally easily via this method.
Of course, while empowering to those who like mechanics and enjoy character design,
this flexibility can be quite overwhelming to novices or less mechanics oriented
gamers. Some gamers that just want to play their idealized version of The Amazing
Spiderperson or the surly, gruff Ex-Weapon might be at a loss for exactly where
to start. Plus there is math involved; for people that haven't done any math since
they took Business Arithmetic freshman year of high school or those who prefer a
lighter system of prepackaged abilities this can be a showstopper.
That's where books like the USPD and the similar Fantasy HERO Grimoire come into
The USPD is just a massive pile of pre-designed Superpowers intended for Superheroic
games (but also generally useful for some other genres).
Want to play the Sapien Lighter, a superhero able to surround their body with an
aura of flames and project superheated (but non-lethal) gouts of molten fire from
their hands but aren't sure what that translates to in the HERO System? No problem,
just flip to the Fire Powers Chapter in the handy USPD and buy abilities that catch
your eye until you run out of points.
The USPD is page after page of Power Constructs, complete with flavorful names and
multiple options for improving or reducing the base effects, organized by Special
Effect. Want to play a mentalist? Go to the Mental Powers section. Want to play
a Weather Control....you get the idea.
And that's all there is to this supplement. It's like an Encyclopedia for Powers.
It also has some flavor bits like cutesy captions on the interior art tying into
the idea of UNTIL (the United Nations Superhuman Affairs department in the default
Champions Universe superheroes setting) collecting data on powers by observing various
superheroes and super villains, and a little bit of fluff here and there to further
support the premise, but it's 99.9% mechanics.
So the question then is, how well does the USPD fulfill its purpose of presenting
easily accessible pre-built Superpowers for use with the HERO System?
All in all it fulfills it's purpose very well, in my opinion. You would be hard
pressed to do a more comprehensive coverage of the product and it certainly remains
focused on it's goal throughout.
The only other product that I can think to compare it to is the Ultimate Powers
Book for the Advanced Marvel Superheroes RPG of yesteryear. The UPB was chock full
of neat concepts, and was probably more creative than the USPD; however it was also
rather vague in many areas and it wasn't always clear what actual game effect some
of the really cool Powers were supposed to have. The USPD is basically the reverse
of that; it's kind of repetitive in some places, since many effects boil down to
the same game mechanic in the HERO System (want an Electrical Bolt? That's an Energy
Blast (EB) or a Ranged Killing Attack (RKA) most likely; want a Telekinetic attack
that picks up things and hurls them at an opponent? You can do that with an EB or
an RKA as well), but there is never any doubt as to exactly what the result is in
Some other pro's for the book include coverage of some hard to do powers from Comics
in a sort of Miscellaneous section at the end of the book, such as the Rogue power
theft ability or Darkseid's Omega Beams, the inclusion of a few optional Power Modifiers
and Adders here and there, such as the neat Physical Manifestation (useful for things
like an Iceman style slide), and Affects Porous for TK (useful for effects similar
to Hydroman's hydrokinesis). Some of the blurbs for the various graphics are amusing
as well. And as usual for a DOJ-era HERO Product the compendious Index can be a
real time saver.
On the downside, and typical of many HERO Games products, the cover and interior
art could be better. I'm the type of person that would rather see no art than substandard
art, but on the other hand I don't buy game books for the pretty pictures either
so I rarely deduct points for it unless the artwork is really poor. Most of the
artwork is "passable" at least, and a couple of pieces are pretty cool
so we'll just say that overall it could be better and leave it at that.
In summary, the USPD is a great product for players and GM's alike that are committed
to trying the HERO System out, but are hesitant to dive in and design powers themselves
without some kind of a roadmap. The USPD is also handy as an idea starter; I've
handed the USPD to players that were lacking clarity on what kind of character they
would like to play and it's really gotten their creative juices flowing. It's also
handy for fleshing out characters that are "almost there" but lacking
a few tricks; a page through the relevant section of the USPD can introduce some
good filler abilities that you hadn't thought of adding previously.
It's well worth it's price and can be a big aide to novices and experienced HERO-ites
both. Highly Recommended for those using the HERO System to run Superheroic games.