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Skip Navigation LinksHERO System>Equipment Costs Points Debunk
Myth: Paying Points for Mundane Items
Following is a rebuttal of the common misconception that one must pay for all equipment in the HERO System.
Many people seem to think that in the HERO System characters must pay character points for Equipment. This basic idea is a common and reoccurring one for detractors of the HERO System. The frustrating thing about it is that it is based upon a complete misconception of the rules, yet has proven to be a difficult to debunk myth.
FACT: In every genre except for Superheroic, Equipment is paid for with in-game money, not character points.
Ill restate that, because it is important and I want to make sure it is conveyed clearly: in practically every genre; the vast majority; you do not have to pay character points for normal Equipment.
In the Superhero genre the idea of "Equipment" doesn't exist as a distinct category because the genre isn't geared at a scale to care about such mundane things. It's all about fantastic powers and abilities. If your character has an ability that they always have available and can use in combat then by the logic of the game they should pay points for it. This is an "effects" based game after all.
But does a character have to pay character points for something as mundane as a flashlight even in Superheroic games?
Well, it depends.
It is important to clearly establish that there is a difference between normal off the shelf Equipment and suped up, unique, or otherwise unusual items. For example, even in a heroic campaign where Equipment costs money, Excalibur or a piece of super tech unusual to the setting probably costs character points. What constitutes a normal piece of Equipment from an item bought as a Power will vary from campaign to campaign.
Originally Posted by Evil Dr Ganymede
The thing that killed HERO for me was flashlights.

I got HERO Sidekick, and was doing OK with it until I read the part that if a PC gets an item that could duplicate a power (like a flashlight) and keeps it for long enough, their points value had to increase to accommodate this.

I just couldn't get my head around this. A 100 point character finds a flashlight. He keeps it till the next adventure. Now all of a sudden he's a 110 point character (or whatever), just because he has a flashlight??

It struck me as being an example of really unnecessary book-keeping. Maybe it's right from a technical point of view, but in my mind a PC's power level doesn't change because he's got something as mundane as a flashlight.
In the case of a "flashlight", if you consider what it does it's not so simple a thing as you might think to just hand wave it away as needless bookkeeping. You have to ask yourself, what does a flashlight do for a character? We are playing an effects based game so we need to consider the effect, in other words.
Basically a flashlight allows a character to counteract the effects of darkness, in a cone shaped area. Thus it affects the perception of the owning character as well as the perception of others. It could very reasonably assist a character in combats that take place in poor visibility, since lack of visibility in combat carries severe penalties. A character could also use some flashlights as effective ersatz clubs.
Other characters may have bought specific abilities innate to their character that allow them to counteract the same perception penalties in whole or part, and they paid points for them. Other characters also might have purchased clubbing attacks, which they also paid character points for.
After all, the ability to make light is something other characters might have as an integral part of what makes their character "super". What about another players character Dizzylyre, a mutant with the power to transmute the sound of conversation (which confuses her) into light (which is pretty and makes her happy)? Among her "solid light" and lazer beam powers, she can also generate an area of light...kind of like a living flashlight. She paid character points for this ability.
Similarly the ability to deal bludgeoning damage might be an integral part of other character's "super" abilities. What about the altered human Rockthang, who is covered in a crumbly, rocky hide and whose fists strike with extra clubbing force than normal. He paid character points for that ability.
Considering that, is it fair for your character to carry around a flashlight that can be used both to give off light and to club people with, and not pay character points for it?
The game philosophy question behind that:
 Is it fair or balanced to give your character a similar ability to those of other characters (real or theoretical), for free because they "carry a flashlight"?
In campaigns where equipment is not purchased and unusual abilities must be paid for in points, the HERO System says "No".
What does your "flashlight" actually do though, in game terms? We know what its SFX is, but what is its mechanic? How does it compare to actual "superpowers"?
Well, there are a squazillion ways to model a "Flashlight" in the HERO System, but here's a few quick ones done a way that I prefer; other GM's might differ. I'm also only designing the flashlights to cast light; if a character intended to use one to smack someone with they could either add a 2d6 HA to the Power Construct or just treat the Focus as a normal object and hit them with it (and risk damaging the flashlight in the process); FOCI have DEF equal to the Active Points / 5 of the largest Power in the Focus and no BODY.
Heavy Flashlight: Sight Group Images Increased Size (16" Cone; +0), +/-4 to PER Rolls, 1 Recoverable (Get New Batteries) Continuing Fuel Charge lasting 6 Hours (+3/4) (55 Active Points); OAF Durable (Large Metal Flashlight; -1), Only To Create Light (-1), No Range (-1/2); Real Cost: 16
Lantern Flashlight: Sight Group Images Increased Size (16" Cone; +0), +/-6 to PER Rolls, 1 Recoverable (Get New Batteries) Continuing Fuel Charge lasting 6 Hours (+3/4) (70 Active Points); OAF Bulky Durable (Large Lantern Style Flashlight With Big Battery; -1 1/2), Only To Create Light (-1), No Range (-1/2); Real Cost: 17
Weak Flashlight: Sight Group Images Increased Size (8" Cone; +0), +/-2 to PER Rolls, 1 Recoverable (Get New Batteries) Continuing Fuel Charge lasting 1 Hour (+1/2) (32 Active Points); OAF (Cheap Plastic Flashlight; -1), Only To Create Light (-1), No Range (-1/2); Real Cost: 9
Penlight: Sight Group Images Increased Size (4" Cone; +0), +/-2 to PER Rolls, 1 Recoverable (Get New Batteries) Continuing Fuel Charge lasting 1 Hour (+1/2) (28 Active Points); Only To Create Light (-1), No Range (-1/2), OIF Durable (Small Metal Pocket Flashlight; -1/2); Real Cost: 9
So, it's fairly clear that even something as simple as a flashlight has a measurable effect and a not inconsequential cost. Is it fair to arbitrarily grant this ability to some characters for free? Well, if a "flashlight" is modeled as a Power and paid for with points then it is assumed to be part of a character's usual repertoire of tricks, and is useful in "heightened circumstances" such as combat.
If a "flashlight" is modeled as a Power and paid for with character points then it is assumed to be part of a character's usual repertoire of tricks, and is useful in "heightened circumstances" such as combat.
If your character does not normally carry a flashlight, and/or if the flashlight is mostly a plot device ("I grab a flashlight and head outside"), then you don't have to pay points for it, list it on your sheet, or worry about how exactly it's built even in a Superheroic game.
In such a case it is completely in the hands of the GM how and when your free flashlight works. If it is convenient to the plot for you to have it work then it works; when it becomes inconvenient to the plot don't be surprised when the bulb goes out, it runs out of battery, you drop it in the heat of combat, or an enemy knocks it out of your hand (and without resorting to an actual Disarm maneuver at that), and so on.
If it is part of your character's shtick to have a flashlight that works reliable, then you should pay points for it. If you just want to pick up a flashlight when the story strays in that direction, then don't worry about it.
This brings up another key consideration about "mundane items" in a Superheroic setting.
 If your character is in a Superheroic game where they are allowed to fly around, shoot energy, level buildings, and shrug off artillery shells, but is operating at a level that they are worried about having a flashlight handy at all times, then they are probably a "Gadgeteer" at some level.
That or the player is just missing the point of the genre.
One of the most hoary and well used Superheroic constructs in the HERO System is the so-called "Gadget Pool". This is a Variable Power Pool defined in such a way as to hold various gadgets...such as a flashlight. Or a raygun or a batarang or a measuring tape or a tac nuke. Depending on how the Gadget Pool is constructed, it can range from the character always seeming to have the Gadget they need at hand ("how many pockets does that belt have, Batman?"), to needing to return to their lab and pick it up or kit-bash something together ("Where's Reed?", "He went back to 4 Freedom to get some doo-hickey").
 In other words, in all likelihood if your character for some reason considers a flashlight to be an essential item to their repertoire, they would probably want other similar items and be good candidates for a Gadget Pool.
Unlike most other games where there is a tacit outlook that if you tinker with the rules or alter things where you see fit you're on your own and not really kosher, the HERO System openly embraces the idea of individual GM's taking what they want, tossing the rest out, and making up the remainder if they so choose. It's a toolkit system after all.
The interests of Common Sense, Game Balance, and Fun trumps all other rules.
If you as the GM think it is fair, balanced, and/or fun to make a mutant pay for light generation, an android pay for Nightvision, and Brass Knuckle guy pay for a Hand Attack, but let 7-11 Man have a "flashlight" for free then hey -- you're the GM. When Tankboy comes along and says he wants an Abrams tank for free (since its just a mundane piece of equipment after all -- not like an actual, you know, superpower or anything), then you can deal with any logical inconsistency in whatever fashion you think best.
In summary, to make sure there is no confusion, in non-Superheroic campaigns characters do not normally have to pay character points for Equipment. Characters pay for items with in-game currency just like they do in practically every other role-playing game ever created.
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