THE ART OF CREATING CHAMPIONS SUPERHEROES
by Peter Lindstrom edited by Ghost Archer

     The reason I am writing this discussion is because I remember what it was like when I first started playing Champions.  Compared to D&D, this game is obviously much more complex.  It also gave players the freedom to create their own character from scratch.  This meant we were going to see a lot of characters based on both good and bad ideas.  In either case, many heroes were well-conceived but poorly or inefficiently written up.  It took me awhile to get the hang of the game and start creating characters that were both efficient and worth keeping around.  As a matter of fact, I got too good for my own good, because I was hounded by fellow players to help them with their characters.  I finally got tired of wasting all of my good ideas on other player's  heroes so I announced a retirement from this activity, but here I go anyway.
     This discussion is meant to be a guideline that may help you create a Champions character that does not step on the toes of other superheroes or the GM.  Beginning players and heroes are the focus of this, so do not feel you should change your old heroes on account of my opinions.  My ultimate goal is to help you create reasonable and interesting characters to maximize your enjoyment of the game.  I also wrote it for me as well, to keep myself in line.
     I will be discussing such topics as character conception, the creation process, backgrounds, and some recommended campaign rules.  Players confident about their ability to create characters can skim or ignore most of this discussion, moving on to some of the house rules suggested for powers and disadvantages.  Firstly, some words and ideas to keep mind as you conceive your character.

CHARACTER CONCEPTION: 

This is the initial spark that inspires you to sit down and write-up a character.  As the character is developed, this conception becomes the basis of the write-up itself, the hero's background, how he is role-played, and often the events of his career as unfolded by a GM.  Some of the types of conceptions I have seen, fall into one or more of the categories that follow.  My recommendation is to be aware of them so that you will not fall into some of traps that result in a character that becomes poorly received by your fellow players or the GM. 


GIMMICK VS GOOD CHARACTERS: 

Gimmick characters are those characters that are based on a power or set of powers that become his main "shtick", and then he comes up with a shallow background to support it.  These kinds of characters are fun at first, but eventually the gimmick gets old to all parties involved.  Such characters are short-lived for anyone who takes the game somewhat seriously.

Good characters are based on a solid background, have an interesting set of powers, have a function in non-combat situations, and are interesting and fun to role-play.  These types of characters tend to have longevity.  If a GM is basing a plot around your character, then this is a sign that the hero's conception interests him.


INSPIRED CHARACTERS: 

Sometimes a character in a novel, movie, or comic book interests you so much that it would be a great hero to play.  Not necessarily.  If you "rip off"  such a character, then you will find that the other players and the GM will be more than happy to inform you if the write-up is "wrong" or anytime you role-play the character "wrong".  Avoid unnecessary pre-conceived notions about your character.  If you are inspired by an outside source, then steal the conceptual ideas but not the whole character.


COMPOUND CHARACTERS: 

Have you ever tried to create a character but then something goes wrong that prevents you from finishing it or running it?  It may have been a flawed conception, but with a few good character or background ideas.  Maybe the conception was so ambitious that there were not enough points.  I say save all of these abandoned projects because some excellent characters can come from the best ideas of those earlier projects! 


ACTIVE VS PASSIVE CHARACTERS: 

Active characters refers to the ones that get into the fray of combat situations.  As Rob Bell says "Be a Hero."  The opportunity and risks involved in saving the day, to commit acts of heroism, is what Champions is all about.  Passive characters, who stand on the fringe of combat hiding in crowds of normals (i.e., those egoists and those using invisible powers), are boredom incarnate to the other players, GM, and hopefully the players who run them.  If you have to run an egoist, then run one who is not hesitant to leap into combat when it is due!


CHARACTER BACKGROUND: 

The reason I included this topic next is because you should be thinking about the  character's background as you write up the hero.  This actually makes it easier to pick the appropriate skills and powers as well as come up with disadvantages.  Your character's background should include your hero's life story, the events that affected him as a superhero, and those that helped convince him to become one.  The background should include the following:
PERSONAL DATA:  Information on the hero as a person, not necessarily as a hero.  Take this as an opportunity to give your hero character.  This is what makes him interesting to role-play no matter what the situation is.  Go beyond your psychological limitations, never forgetting that your hero has a life besides being a hero.  He has his personal identity, or is looking for one.  He has his own personality, hates, loves, friends, enemies, a past and a future.  Bring your character to life.
THE ORIGIN: The events involved in how the superhero got his powers.  The origin not only justifies your hero's powers and other capabilities, it also should justify his Disadvantages.

OPEN BACKGROUNDS: Try to come up with an origin and background that can grow and develop with your character.  Closed backgrounds, such as ones based on revenge or hunteds, are dead-end origins.  Just ask your hero this question once your hunted is defeated or vengeance is meted out: What do I do now?  Your background should contain alternative goals and motives for your character that can never be resolved. 

MOTIVATION: What motivates you to be a superhero?  Why are you willing to work for a cause, just because you want to?  It may be because someone you respect or someone in authority wants you to.  It may be a sense of duty, or just to have fun.  It may also be a revenge motive against all evil and villainous forces.  Whatever the reason, this super heroic ideal also means that you should respect the property and rights of the normals you strive to protect.  It also means that you should strive to defend and uphold the law.  If you fail to do this in public actions, then the citizens and the all-powerful press will find it difficult to separate your hero from super-powered mercenaries and villains.  Bad press means you will not get non-combat help from normals when you need it.  You will not get sponsors to form a hero group or build a base for you.  The government will not back you up when you most need it.  Most importantly, the superheroes you are supposed to work with and trust with your livelihood in a fire fight against untold powers may find it hard to trust you.  All because of bad press. 

THE HERO NAME:  A sure sign of a gimmick character is when the hero's name is based on his powers.  I have found that names based on the hero's background, goals, and not having much to do with his powers creates an aura of mystery about your character, which makes things interesting.  It also means that your hero will seem competent and intelligent, and not a sap or clown in tights.

CHARACTER CREATION: 
Now here is the really tricky part.  There is no way to master the art of character creation without experience.  I am hoping that this discussion, which imparts much of my experience, will save you some time.  Here are some more words and ideas to keep in mind as you write up the superhero. 


THE GM'S HOUSE RULES: 

I am sure that he or she will be more than happy to impart you with this information.  Follow them, because he can always say no when you show him your character.
GA Note: My Campaign Ground Rules


BALANCE: 

All heroes should have their strong points counterbalanced with some weak points.  If you want to be a brick, then you should be slow and ponderous.  If you want to be invisible at will or have a high DCV, then that should be balanced with lower defenses.  Get the idea?


VERSATILE CHARACTERS: 

Your hero should be useful in both combat and non- combat situations.  So don't skimp on skills just to be a dominant force in combat.  Some believe that quality role-playing can take up the non-combat slack.  Although role-playing is the name of the game, it will not substitute for skills when they are called for.


CHARACTER POINTS: 

Most character conceptions are based on the hero's powers.  When they start to get expensive, abilities that promote role- playing are usually sacrificed first for the good of the conception.  I say it is bad for the conception, and everyone involved.  If your hero has 10's in Presence and Comeliness because you couldn't spare the points, something is wrong.  If your character lacks knowledges or other useful non-combat skills, then again something is wrong.  I say either cut back on the powers or find another alternative.  One is to give the heroes more points!
Now I know I am on thin ice, but bare with me.  250 point characters tend to be the "Gimmick characters" that I have mentioned before.  With so few points, versatility of character is nearly out the window.  Having few options in combat and non-combat situations can also lead to a hero's short  playing span.  I encourage 300 points for moderately-powered games and 350 points for high-powered games.  If the GM allows more points, it should be on the pretense that most of the bonus points are to be spent on that which promotes role-playing.
GA Note: I prefer a high point level, generally around 350 but I have been know to push that limit if a character is particularly well developed.  You could say that I give bonus points for creativity.


THE POWER LEVEL: 

The GM's house rules will provide the specifics, but I will detail a power level that is balanced and used by the group I game with.  There are always exceptions, for a good conception can transcend all if the GM likes the idea

 
Hero Type
Power House
Mid-ranged
Finesse
Attack(Active Pts)
60-65 (75-100)
50-55 (60-75)
45-50 (40-60)
DEX
17-21 (15-23)
23-27 (24-28)
29-33 (29-35)
CON
30-35
25-30
20-25
PD+ED
60-65 (60-70)
50-55 (50-60)
40-45 (40-50)
SPD
4 (5)
5 (5-6)
6 (6-7)
rPD/ED
15 (30-35)
12 (20-30)
9 (0-20)
Power House characters are usually bricks, egoists, powerhouse energy blasters, and powered armor suits.  Mid-Ranged characters are mostly energy  blasters, gadgeteers, and those unusual or weird characters that tend to have a wider range of powers.  Finesse characters are most commonly martial artists, speedsters, and shrinking-type characters.  Those are not the only characters in each category, they are provided merely to distinguish the three categories.
The idea is if one wishes to deviate from the power level, then the character should be balanced as appropriate.  If you want to have a higher Speed, then you should do less damage.  If you only use HTH attacks, then you can be on the higher end on the damage and defenses scale.  As always, experienced characters will begin to transcend the power level.  The power level given is for "Standard" characters.  Other factors may also adjust one's power level:

JACK-OF-ALL-TRADES:  Characters with a wide variety of combat powers should do a little less damage (-5 to -10 active points).

SPECIALIZED:  Characters who focus on a single form of attack or other power should be better at it than others.  They should be able to be on the higher end of the power scale.  Obviously, heroes should only be allowed to specialize in one type of power.

SPECIAL DEFENSES: 
One should consider how his hero rates with these defenses, which include Lack of Weakness, KB Resistance, Mental Defense, Flash Defense, Power Defense, and Hardened Defenses.  One should never take even most of them, and if he rates "high" on one of them, then he should rate "low"  on the other.  Unless of course your character specializes in special defenses.  Low defenses are characterized by 0 points.  Moderate defenses are 5 points, while high defenses are 10 points.  One should not exceed these amounts unless there is a dramatic change of power level, or it is strongly conceptual--such as if a hero uses a power that the defense is based on.  KB Resistance is -0, -4, and -8 respectably.  Full hardening should be rare so that AP is a viable advantage.  The range of hardened PD or ED should be 0 for low, 10 for medium, and 20 for high levels. 
UNBALANCING POWERS: 
Some powers annoy GM's because they overwhelm the villains or cut the climactic battles short.  They can include autofire NND's or area effects, full invisibility or darkness, area effect telekinesis, attacks while desolid, INT drains, extra-dimensional travel (and usable on others), fully invisible power effects, and so forth.  Try to avoid what we here call abusing or raping the rules by looking to exploit some of those loopholes (and we know there are a bunch).  For characteristics, just consider fleshing out your character by buying up some of those often ignored characteristics like INT, EGO, PRE, and COM.  A good way to decide where your character stands on a given characteristic is by comparing him to normals and to other heroes.  For skills, a roll of 11- means competent--your hero can make a decent living.  A 14- means your hero is an expert, and 17- implies mastery of the skill.  I am saying this so that you will not feel a need to buy skill rolls over 17- unless your conception says that you are virtually unrivaled by your peers.
SKILL LEVELS: 
With some exceptions, beginning characters will be beginning heroes.  Therefore skill levels should range from +0 to +2.  Those heroes that are supposed to be veterans may have more, but try to stay within the OCV/DCV range for your power level.
PICKING SKILLS: 
Knowing your character's background makes this real easy. Where did he grow up?  In the streets, in suburbia, in the echelons of high society, in another country or world, in another dimension or time?  Next consider where the character has been, where his travels have taken him.  Most importantly, what is his profession?  Knowing this leads to the professional skills, backup-knowledges, and other skills that are handy to one in that profession.  What are the character's interests or hobbies?  Skills are essential to a hero's use in non-combat situations.  Some heroes are almost entirely skill-based by conception.  They are usually martial artists and scientists.  All heroes, though, should at least have a skill niche--something he is good at.  Please note that your hero should be able to communicate.  I cannot tell you of the boredom enjoyed by players that run a mute character with no way of communicating.  Not knowing the language may be fun role-playing at first, but it gets old real fast-- so quickly learn one.
POWERS: 
This section includes mostly recommended House Rules, with some suggestions.  In this first powers section, I discuss the categories that players draw from in creating a versatile character. 

ATTACKS:  It is good to have some options in combat, so it is good to have at least two modes of attack to create some suspense for the GM when he asks you what you are going to do on a given phase.

FIND WEAKNESS:  Treat attacks with this ability as if it was AP for the purpose of determining its power level.

KILLING ATTACKS:  These should not be a hero's primary or only attack because it will get him into trouble with the law and other heroes.  The use of killing attacks is not really heroic anyway.  It is an unspoken honor code between heroes and villains that neither side will pull out the killing attacks unless there is a real good reason.  Of course, crazy heroes and maniacal villains are exceptions, as always.
NND DEFENSES:  The defense should be appropriate to the attack's special effect.  The defense should also be common and affirmative.  This means that if your initial defense is not very common, then add another one or two.  "Not having something" is not an appropriate defense, and should not be allowed. 
GA Note: Only one type of NND is normally allowed however I do not count NND Martial Arts maneuvers in this case.
DEFENSES:  Remember that besides the obvious, these include high DEX, DCV, and STUN.  Powers such as invisibility, Desolidification, and shrinking also fall into this category.  If a hero depends on not being hit in combat then the GM will feel challenged to hit the annoyance anyway.  So don't tempt fate by going overboard on these powers, or else watch out for area effects!  A player was once asked why his big and stupid brick had ego defense, and his reply was "Because I don't want to be screwed over."  This is an honest but not a very good reason to justify a defense.  A hero should not have a contingency for every kind of attack or bad situation. All defenses must be justified by character conception. 

RESISTANT DEFENSES:  Death to a character should be at least a remote improbability.  Thus it should only occur if the player does something stupid, is unlucky, and/or if a disadvantage like a vulnerability or susceptibility was triggered.  So don't buy defenses so high that a character is virtually unkillable.  Besides, a little blood mixed with a little fear can make things interesting.  On the other side of the coin, one should be able to take attacks that he can dish out, or make it up with another defensive power.

INCAPACITATING POWERS:  Entangles, flash, darkness, telekinesis, and force walls are popular versions of such powers.  Try not to be redundant by taking too many of these powers.

SENSORY POWERS:  Enhanced senses are popular because no one wants to be worthless in sense affecting environments, or by such powers.  Again, don't be redundant by taking senses that accomplish the same objective.  I mean why take danger sense when you already have 360 degree vision, radar when you have sonar, etc...

MOVEMENT POWERS:  Try to figure out how many MPH you go and see if the amount you bought is conceptual.

UTILITY POWERS: Powers that do not fit into the other categories are encouraged.

HOUSE RULES: 
A hero should not have more than two of the magnifying glass or stop sign powers.  Classify life support as a special power.  Figure in aid, absorption, and transfer when you determine the power level of your attacks or defenses.  Start a little below so that you can max out a little higher than the power level.  For damage reduction determine the power level of your defenses by comparing a 35 stun attack against you.  The following are suggested changes for your GM to consider.  They are no way universal so discuss them with your GM before following these guidelines. Change darkness, flash, and images to affects 1 sense, and affect that whole sense group for +5 points.  For discriminatory sense,  change it to identify    requires a base PER roll, and to analyze a -3 PER roll.  Change targeting sense cost to 10 pts. for a specific sense, 15 pts. for a sense group, and 25 pts. for all senses.  Tracking scent can be renamed tracking sense, this will allow it to be used with detects.  Immunity to normal drugs or poisons costs 5 pts. in life support or either, 10 pts. for both.  It is highly recommended that those heroes buying tunneling buy life support so that they can breathe and N-ray vision so that they can see where they are going.  In a broader sense, some powers just seem to be meant to go together.
POWER LIMITATIONS: 
Don't overload powers with gratuitous limitations that will probably never come up in a game.  Limitations like "Doesn't work in a vacuum" must be strongly conceptual, and the hero must be able to survive in the environment in order for it to be a limitation of worth.  Another house rule is to allow activation that are only made when the power is activated, then the limit is 1/2 value or -3 steps, whichever is lower.  The limitation always on can never be qualified by another limitation, or the value is 1/2.  Examples include an always on power based on a focus, hero ID, or that doesn't work under a given circumstance.  As stated in the book, foci eventually get taken away.  Unless you enjoy you hero being helpless, I would not suggest you base all of your hero's powers on one.  The GM usually frowns on focused characteristics, especially when they affect a hero's DEX or SPEED.  The limitation independent should only be taken on unique items, not anything easily replaceable like a common gun.
POWER FRAMEWORKS:
 
ELEMENTAL CONTROLS:  This is good for those powers with a common tight special effect.  Unnatural special effects like powered armor suits are not appropriate.  Broad special effects like magic are equally inappropriate.   The special effect should be tight enough that the player will not be able to justify every power under the sun for the elemental control.  They are good when the hero will want to use an attack, movement, and defensive power simultaneously.  Additionally, if the conception does not call for the hero to expand much beyond those core powers.  Any non-END using power should be allowed in EC's only with GM's approval.

MULTI-POWERS:  These are good for groups of powers that a hero will use only one at a time in a given phase.  Attack and movement powers are popular powers for this framework.  If you start constructing more than one multi-power for a hero, then consider combining them into one BIG multi- power.  It will have enough room to use powers you need simultaneously, and also give you room to fit in a conceptual big power or two.

POWER POOLS:  Most GM's do not like these.  If taken, avoid the cosmic ones.  To be able to do anything you want in a split second will slow the game down, as you must allot the pool each phase.  In addition, try to come up with a list of powers that the hero may access in advance.  The GM might even allow one or two strongly conceptual special powers to be available.  Power pool powers cannot be used in tandem with other power pools, and cannot augment existing powers.  Again, the GM may allow rare exceptions if it will further the plot and if he is in a good mood (emphasis on good).

DISADVANTAGES: 
Since disads are no longer divided into half and quarter values,  make them good ones.  They should be based on the hero's background and origin, his powers, and so forth.

ACCIDENTAL CHANGE:  This should result from a change in the hero's environment, and not from intangibles like villains being nearby.  Accidental changes are not to be free detects, and the character should already have a means of instant change, multi-form, or shape-shift to justify it.  Define the circumstance under which the character is switched back.  A one-way accidental change is worth 1/2 points!

BERSERKS:  Take this disad if the hero is mentally unbalanced.  If he is cool-headed by conception, then he probably wouldn't go completely crazy in combat to where he might kill loved ones who get in the way.  He might just get mad sometimes, and that's not a disad.  This means don't take a berserk triggered by normals or DNPC's being threatened, a time when a hero needs to be calm because they are often between the hero and the villain.

DNPC:  The reason that this is a disad is because they get in the way and do things that may at least inconvenience the hero.  Do not expect them to be useful to you in combat, or even non-combat situations.  DNPC's that are "Slightly less powerful" can be written up like a "hero" with 75 base and up to 75 pts. in disads.  "As powerful as PC's" get 100 base, and 150 or less in disads.  In both of the above cases, the GM gets up to 100 mystery points that are only useable to further the storyline.

DISTINCT. LOOKS:  A character who can alter his distinct. features by instant changing or otherwise easily assuming hero ID cannot take more then "easily concealable."

HUNTEDS:  If you take too many, or have them on high rolls, then the GM is tempted to include them in his game just for fun.  Be careful.  In the case of a "Watched", try to include the reason in the background.  The hero may work for an organization, possess a power that attracts their attention, or he may owe them a debt, etc...

PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS:  This disad is good for any physical flaw not covered by another disad category.  They don't have to be like the classic examples in the book, but unusual ones like:  affected normally by desolids, iron skin attracts lightning, armor very noisy, sinks like a rock in water/cannot swim, bright light impairs vision, cold NND's cause body, flash stuns rather than blinds, cannot leap/recover while not touching ground, etc...

PSYCH'S:  No two Psych's should do the same thing in different words, and they should never contradict each other.  When deciding whether to take uncommon, common, or very common just decide how often the disad will come up in a game for that hero.

REPUTATION:  Should never be taken more than once.  If a hero has a REP that differs according to a circumstance, take points for the one that affects other heroes.

SUSCEP. VS VULN.:  As a general rule, a susceptibility causes damage from a  situation which normally shouldn't cause any damage.  Vulnerability is used when a hero is more severely affected by an attack form than normal.

THE WRITE-UP ITSELF: 
GM's don't like surprises in the middle of the game, so be clear and legible.  Each power should clearly list it's active and real costs as well as itemized limitations.  Cross-referenced common limitations are fine as long as they are well documented somewhere.  Disads should include a break-down of how you arrived at the value on the character sheet.  There is no need to write down all of the elements, numbers will be sufficient for most cases.  Here are some examples:
     DNPC:  Jarvis the Butler.  Slight., NCI, 11-
     HUNTED:  Zodiac.  More, NCI, 8-
     PSYCH:  Code vs. Killing (10+10)


DEALING WITH THE NUMBERS: 

Use the breakpoints and round-offs to your hero's advantage because the points here and there will enable you to buy more of those non-combat characteristics and skills.
GA NOTE: Break points for Characteristics is mainly what he is talking about.  Those breakpoints are: 10, 13, 15, 18. 


Well, hopefully this will have something in it that gives you a better command of Champions as a player and gamemaster.  Now all I can say is have fun!
 

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