Friday, June 11, 2010

Do I like Champions more than D&D?

D&D is my first and always will be my best love. I think.

I’ve been running my 1st ed. (started out as OD&D) game world for over 30 years, and it would be hard not to look at it as a favorite son. And jeez, I can run it in my sleep. I practically phone my games in a third of the time, and the players still love it. It’s easy peasy, and satisfying.

But see, I have these other two games I love. Call of Cthulhu has been a fave since before I ever read Lovecraft. At around 14 years old I played in some games at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, and although I found those to be lacking in the fun department (I have to be honest, most of my worst gaming experiences happened in the 4-5 years I spend time at Aero), I fell in love with the feel of the game and the system, and was soon running my own games of it. In the 90’s, I did long running campaigns. My D&D players would hem and haw when I suggested it (not one of them then was a Lovecraft fan), but after a game or two they were often preferring to do it over the D&D. It was great, but unlike my D&D it was a world I didn’t create, just one that I presented (I’d like to say I invented the 1920’s, but that would take Al Gore balls).

So the only thing that came close to my D&D game world love was my Champions campaigns. I started early on in the late 70’s with Superhero 2044. Most people to this day find it a perplexing set of rules to use, but my young mind didn’t seem to have much trouble working around the lightness of the rules. I have spoken elsewhere about my experiences helping playtest, then running Supergame in the early 80’s, so I won’t waste more breath on that here. Soon my friends and I were on to Villains and Vigilantes, but by the mid-80’s it was Champions that had captured my comic book loving heart.

I created my own futuristic game world for it. Heavily influenced by Superhero 2044’s “Inguria,” I made my “New Haven” a pacific island metropolis. America and a lot of the rest of the world was blasted by nuclear war, and New Haven was a place that accommodated many refugees – the majority of whom were rich and or/scientific people. Always exactly 20 years in the future, this setting has grown since the 80’s and the world has become a thing of my own. The 90’s were my heyday with New Haven, and much like CoC my D&D players fell in love with it after giving it a try.

The open nature of what you could create with Champions/Hero System (and in the 90’s I focused on the Hero System 4th edition book) appealed to what I was trying to do with New Haven. That is, create a setting where you could have not just superheroes, but anything that you can imagine from science fiction could be worked in. Aliens, interdimensional beings, things out of fantasy, whatever. Of course, seeing as I was setting my game world in a futuristic version of the Marvel Universe, combined with my weaning on Marvel growing up, many Marvel elements entered into it (I even had a futurist version of the X-Men as a campaign long ago). But my inspirations came from many other, more alternative sources, such as The Watchmen, Marshal Law, and Judge Dredd. Things that turned the superhero myth on it’s ear.

I loved the world, and the open nature of being able to have anything you can envision, and during the 90’s some of my greatest memories are of that game. Close to the year 2000, I pretty much ended my last campaign with a several game long assault on earth by an alien empire. After that, my game group and my gaming in general sort of petered out. And I was well into my 30’s and sort of just figured I had outgrown gaming for other things.

When I started my current group the other year after several years off, it was put together for AD&D 1st edition. But in my mind I knew I would be doing Call of Cthulhu or Champions as an alternative. Well, it is Champs that has come up as the alternative (finally). Regular players Dan and Ben have to take June off (Dan the big South African is getting married, Ben is going to his hometown in Vegas for a few weeks), so I sat down Wed night with Terry, Andy, and Paul for some Champs.
Right before the holidays I had gotten together with Paul and Andy to work up a couple of characters, and even did an encounter with them. They came up with some pretty good dudes. What I was going for was a version of my old Justice Incorporated campaigns (more or less a Dark Champions cross between the A-Team and the X-files).

Andy came up with a cool, Jackie Chan type Hong Kong cop who is in hiding from enemies in New Haven. Paul, still pretty new to gaming generally, came up with a French chemist who, besides having a bit of Savate kick boxing skill, carries chemical compounds that have various affects (gas, smoke, knock out).

Terry, whose characters featured prominently in my 90’s campaigns, came up with “Jane Doe,” a female Bourne Identity type who is a government assassin with amnesia.

I can’t tell you how jazzed I was to be doing a Champions game, especially with Terry, again after ten or more years. This is how gaming is supposed to feel! Terry, who is often a bit slow with her turns and such in D&D, took back to Champions like a duck to water, pouring through the Hero System book to work up her characters. She remembered the rules better than I did!

In that first short session with Paul and Andy, I had their characters hanging out near the theater district near downtown. A mysterious nun in black, wearing white chainmail, and bearing a broadsword showed up to each of them, and guided them into the back alleys where a yuppie couple was being mugged by several gang members. Sister Mary Alice, or “Malice,” was one of my old NPC’s in the game, and was the ghost of a nun who had been murdered. Both the characters, Ken and Jacques, beat up the muggers and saved the couple.

So in this week’s session, the couple thanked them (and unknown to the players Sister Mary will later possess the young woman to have a flesh and blood vehicle for her murderous vengeance on rapists and murderers) and they took off. But Sister Mary guided the two to another assault down the alleyway (comic book alleyways are just chock full of evil doing). They came upon a girl in a hospital gown being menaced by almost a dozen more gang members. The girl was “Jane Doe,” and she had woken up in a hospital with a head wound, hypothermia, and no memory. She woke up with doctors and nurses around her, and thinking she was being tortured she struck out, knocked them away (luckily not killing anyone with one of her heavy killing strikes), and took off to end up woozy in the ally. She came to in time to help Ken and Jacques beat the hell out of the mugger gang.

Successful in the combat, the three strangers were approached by Tawny, a girl who it turned out worked for industrialist Elizabeth Patricia Kyono, a billionaire of Irish and Japanese decent (I’ve always had a great mini for Kyono, and luckily found it). Kyono also ran the hero for hire office Justice Incorporated as a hobby from time to time, and she had Tawny out at night looking for possible employees. As comic book fate would have it, she found three at the same time.

Long and short of it, after meeting with Elizabeth Kyono and agreeing to work for her, the three new members of the new Justice Incorporated took a job protecting some merchants in the bad part of town from a martial arts Dojo turned criminal, and managed to top the night off with them beating up some vandalizing members of the gang. Nice high kicking and karate chopping combat session!

It was great fun, and these being basically martial arts characters very easy to run. They really seem to like their characters, and next week we are hopefully finishing up this adventure.

So right now Champs is my game of choice. When Ben and Dan get back in July, they might not be into it but that is fine. We’ll get back to the D&D, and Champions is best with two or three players anyway. When we are missing a couple D&D players, it’ll be Justice Incorporated, my friends.

p.s. –and oh what a joy to only have to use D6!


  1. Back in the day I played many of the original RPGs when they came out but D&D and Champions were my favorites and the two we played the most.

    Having been running a S&W sandbox campaign for the past year, I've been itching to get back into Champions and just picked up a copy of 1st ed. (the one I use to play). Looking forward to diving back into that too!