Monthly Archives: October, 2016

Off the Path: HERO Power Construction

A brief diversion on the Words of Power exploration, I thought it worth providing a bit of an overview of how powers are constructed in HERO System. This looks like it will become important soon.


Powers in HERO are based on effect, with descriptors added to give flavor and something to hook abilities on. At its root, a fireball and a lightning bolt are very similar: they do damage at range. In HERO 6e terms, and for the sake of argument, they both use the Blast power (previous editions it was ‘Energy Blast’, but the same power was used for energy and physical blasts. Blast costs 5 points per 1d6 damage, and has a range directly proportional to points. The descriptors provide narrative and descriptive elements that can be applied, and can influence how these interact with other powers. For instance, a staff that augments fire powers can make the fireball more powerful, but do nothing for the lightning bolt. For this example, we’ll work with an 8d6 blast in both cases (worth 40 points, the Base Cost).

That is at the base… but powers are not just the base effect. In this case ‘fireball’ implies that it fills a circular area, while a lightning bolt probably zaps anything between where the bolt started and where it ends. The fireball might be best defined as having a ‘radius area of effect’ that determines how much gets charred, and the lightning bolt could be defined as having a ‘line area of effect’. This sounds like it should make the spells better than without, providing an advantage. It would be reasonable to expect this to be more expensive… and it is.


The 40 point base cost is just where we start. Advantages are measured in units of “+¼” (and presented in simple form: the next step up from a +¼ advantage is a +½ advantage, not a +2/4 advantage). You  multiply the base cost by (1+sum of advantages) to get the Active Cost, the measure of how powerful the power is. A 4d6 Blast (20 Base Cost) with +1 of advantages would have an Active Cost of 40, same as the 8d6 Blast (and in principle is as powerful — it might do less base damage, but the advantages might make it better than the 8d6 Blast, such as if it were armor piercing and able to ignore some armor, or indirect and not needing line of effect to the target).

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, fireball has a 20-foot radius. This doesn’t align exactly with HERO System (which uses metric on a hex grid, each hex being 2 metres across), but 20 feet is four squares, and if I equate that to four hexes that would be 8 metres. In reality this is a little more than 25 feet, but in game terms I’ll consider this a rounding error. A power in HERO with an 8-metre radius would have a “+¾” advantage. The fireball has an Active Cost of 40*(1+¾)= 70 points.

With the lightning bolt I’m going to do something different. In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game this is a 120-foot line, but instead I’m going to make it indirect, a +½ advantage that means I don’t need line of effect to my target. Unlike the fireball I affect only a single target, but I all lightning from the sky to strike my enemies, and don’t need to be able to reach them directly. The indirect advantages increases my Active Cost to (40*(1+½)=) 60 points, but ‘calling lightning from the sky’ sounds like I need to be able to see the sky. That limits how I can use the spell, it’s not going to be much use underground.


Limitations serve two purposes in power construction. They lower the Real Cost of a power to make it affordable (in a Heroic-grade game a 60- or 70-point power would consume a very large fraction of a character’s build resources), they provide restrictions on the use of a power to make the powers more interesting to play, and they help make the powers more distinct.

As advantages, limitations are measured in units of ¼, but are marked as negative values as a reminder. Where the Base Cost is multiplied by (1+advantages) to get the Active Cost, the Active Cost is divided by (1+absolute value of limitations). That is, a 60 Active Cost power with -½ limitation would be worth 60/(1+½)= 40 character points.

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, casting fireball has verbal, somatic, and material components. In HERO terms these would be Incantations (verbal utterance for the purpose of activating power and no other purpose, recognizable as unusual; preventing speech prevents the power from being used: -¼), Gestures (free and visible movement for the purpose of activating power and no other purpose, recognizable as unusual; preventing free movement prevents the power from being used, -¼), and a Focus (“Obvious Accessible Focus”: it’s clear that the bat guano and sulphur are used for unusual purpose, and thus ‘obvious’, they can be knocked out of hand (spoiling the spell) with a single action, and thus ‘accessible’, -1… foci are worth a lot in HERO). This is a total of -1½ limitation. This reduces the Real Cost to (70/(1+1½)=) 28 character points. Still awfully big for a heroic-grade HERO campaign, but you wouldn’t often see a starting PC with a 70 Active Point spell.

The lightning bolt, on the other hand, requires some more adjudication. There actually isn’t an inherent “must be able to see the sky” limitation, so the GM will need to determine a limitation value based on campaign expectation. If the campaign is largely set outdoors, this might be only a -¼ limitation: the sky is almost always available. If the campaign is in the Underdark and the sky is only rarely visible it might be -1½ (or even more! and this is probably a silly spell to pick). I’m going to guess here and say that the spell is usable roughly half the time, which is a -1 limitation (and I’ll be strict — if I made it a -½ limitation I’d likely still let it work in caves and rooms with windows, as long as the sky was reachable). I’m going to say that this spell has verbal and somatic components (-½ together), but that each casting consumes a wand made from the branch of a lightning-struck oak (OAF expendable, hard to get: -1¼). This gives a Real Cost of (60/(1+1.75)=) 21.8181… points — which in HERO rounds down to 21 points to 22 points.

Thanks to Chakat for the correction, I was misremembering a different example. Rounding in HERO is to the nearest integer, with half-points being rounded in the character’s favor. The only exception I can find is that the figured SPEED attribute always truncates — a character with Dex 18 would make DEX checks at 13- (i.e. 9+18/5 = 12.6, rounds up to 13) and have a base SPD of 2.8 (1 + DEX/10), which gets treated as SPD 2 for determining actions.

Closing Comments

This has been a brief explanation of power construction in HERO System. Even just as far as I’ve gone here, the flexibility inherent in the system should be evident… and I left out some of the funkier options, such as:

  • Naked advantages, advantages bought ‘as powers’ that can be applied to other powers. Buy an advantage as its own power, such as being able to Autofire ‘any weapon’ up to a certain Active Cost: take the Active cost of the biggest effect the Autofire can be used with, multiply by the Autofire advantage cost, and treat the result as the base cost of the ‘Autofire power’.
  • Partially-limited powers, where you can apply limitations to some but not all of a power. For instance, the 8d6 ‘fireball’ above has Gestures, Incantations, and OAF limitations. The spell could be written as being 6d6 with those limitations but having 4d6 more power available if other limitations (such as Extra Endurance, Extra Time and Concentration, say) are applied. You can cast a 6d6 fireball ‘normally’, or exert yourself (Extra Endurance, Extra Time, and Concentration) to cast a 10d6 fireball. The Active and Real costs of the two pieces would be calculated and added together to find the final values for the spell.
  • Power frameworks, where thematically related powers are grouped together to reduce their Real cost. This gives you more powers available at once, but there are restrictions on how you can use them. For instance, a ‘multipower laser rifle’ might have several ‘configurations’ that allow you to use Blast, Killing Attack, each with Autofire or Armor Piercing or Area of Effect… but only one configuration at a time. Lots of options, cheaper than getting six different items, but only one is usable at a time.

Hopefully this will help make my next Words of Power articles easier to understand. I’m pretty sure I can lean on this power construction mechanism to build and apply the Words of Power framework I’m devising.

Letters from the Flaming Crab Kickstarter

Alex Abel — the Flaming Crab himself — is Kickstarting the 2017 Letters from the Flaming Crab series.

These are small (15-20 page), flavorful supplements that explore topics often overlooked in many roleplaying games, topics that help round out a setting and make it more than a murderhobo arena.

Topics from 2016 include:

  • Winged Cavalry Welcome to our first issue: Winged Cavalry! Our team of writers brings you the master of aerial combat: the wind warden, an alternate class for the cavalier. And 4 orders for the wind warden: the order of the feather (pegasus), order of the hunt (pteranodon), order of the spire (magic carpet), and the order of talon and mane (griffon). In addition, we have a few advanced flying maneuvers in the book. “Do a barrel roll!”
  • Culinary Magic Within Culinary Magic you’ll find rules for culinary magic, a variety of recipes, new items, feats, and traits for magical bakers and chefs, and two new archetypes: the kitchen witch and the performing chef.
  • Haunted Places Within Haunted Places, you’ll find four haunts (one is sometimes also a loci), one new medium spirit, and three new archetypes inspired by those haunts just in time for the spookiest day of the year.
  • Wheel of the Year Wheel of the Year features 9 pagan holidays, from Yule to Samhain!For each holiday we have a brief description, the types of deities that are revered, mystic resonances (each holiday has a school of magic that’s enhanced and one that’s weakened), and a specific ritual/spell that may be cast during these events. Without celebrations, a campaign world is a sterile place. Breathe some life into your game with holidays!
  • Iconic Princesses Iconic Princesses features 4 women from classic fairy tales ready to be introduced into your campaign as NPCs or even as PCs.Each “princess” is detailed in the established iconic format (1st, 7th, and 12th level) along with a unique magic item, feat, or spell. Inside you’ll find:
    • Beauty. A vengeful witch that protects the powerless and curses their oppressors.
    • Mulan. A resourceful brawler that defends her homeland in her father’s stead.
    • Rapunzel. A disciplined monk with a hardened mind and barbed hair.
    • Snow White. A wandering occultist with a zest for battle.
  • Here There Be (tiny) Dragons Here There Be (tiny) Dragons presents six new Tiny sized dragons to be used as friend, foe, or improved familiar! It also features new archetypes and a new class of scaling wondrous item, dragonstones, that can only be used by a dragon and non-dragon in cooperation!
  • Her Story In honor of Women’s History Month, Her Story tells the tales of 8 incredible women (from Earth). It also features “crunch” inspired by each woman. (For example, Saint Clare Assisi inspired a pious Inquisitor archetype and 5 new virtues.) Inside you’ll find:
    • Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed
    • Queen Boudicca
    • Saint Clare of Assisi
    • Doctor Marie Curie
    • Hatshepsut
    • Joan of Arc
    • Osh-Tisch
    • Mary Shelley
  • Coins & Credit Within Coins and Credit (our biggest Letter, yet!), we cover the topic of money and how to make it fit in your campaign (and your bag of holding).
    The first part of our 8th Letter is all about coins. We cover mundane and magical currency crafting, counterfeiting, coin size, exchange rates, and transportation of coins. Slaying the dragon is great and all, but how many coins can you fit in a leather bag? And is the party barbarian strong enough to carry the whole hoard? Part two is on banks. Surely you don’t want to lug around all that gold? Even if you got it converted to mithral pieces, tens of thousands of metal coins is a lot for our heroes! We cover the different types of banks, account types, loans, account tiers, the likelihood of finding banks in different settlements, and example banks!Finally, part three covers credit. Don’t worry if your head is still spinning from tax season. We make things simple for you and your adventuring party! We cover tabs, letters of credit, promissory notes, banknotes, and magic items to assist in the transfer of wealth!
  • Hygiene In the days of old, the public bathhouse was as much of a social center as any tavern. So why not mix things up and start your adventure somewhere a little more clean? Sure, the half-orc may object to soapy water (after all, he’d get a -2 penalty on Diplomacy checks against his own people for being dishonorably cleansed of his enemy’s blood), but I’m sure the elf noble wouldn’t object to spending time in a more refined and relaxing establishment.Within Hygiene, we cover both the effects of neglecting cleanliness and places where you can scrub after delving in a mucky dungeon! Included are maps for each of the 6 locations inside, including 3 bathhouses (Japanese, Roman, meditative), a barber shop, laundry pools, and a salon.
  • County Faire Within County Faire, we take a trip to the fantastic Fantasia County Faire! It’s the perfect location to take a break from dragon slaying and dungeon delving! There is plenty to do!Play a variety of games of skill and chance! Can you hold your alcohol like a dwarf during the chug run? How many hot peppers can you handle in the flame mouth competition?See one of a kind spectacles and events! The finest cows, goats, sheep, and pigs are on display at the livestock contest! Watch a variety of animal races, everything from horses to humans to rats!Between events, be sure to pick up delectable treats. The faire has anything and everything you crave (most of it is fried, of course)! Children and adults with a sweet tooth will especially love dropping by Sugar’s Sweets!We’ve also included a mini adventure for 1st or 2nd level characters! The PCs are employed by the fireworks specialist– the Splendiferous Spranza– to guard her tent from nosy locals and mischievous children. While the default setting is the Fantasia County Faire, it can be used at any faire, festival, or celebration.
  • Inspired by Heraldry Within Inspired by Heraldry…We bring you 5 new unusual creatures for Pathfinder that are often featured as decorations upon a shield of arms: biscoine, enfield, lepus hositili (murder bunny), talbot hound, and yale.We also introduce heraldic feats that allow characters to draw power from their noble bloodline, familial history, and the spiritual patron of their clan. We feature the following patrons: allocamelus, basilisk, bear, biscoine, boar, bull, dragon, enfield, griffin, lepus hostili, manticore, phoenix, serpent, talbot hound, toad, unicorn, and yale.And we finish Inspired by Heraldry with the heraldic knight, an alternate class for the cavalier that invokes the power of their family’s crest.
  • Strange Weather Within Strange Weather…We bring you a dozen new Conditions and Hazards more magical and exciting than a mere thunderstorm! Acid rain, aurora hypnosis, ball lightning, blood storm, ectoplasmic storm, fire whirl, hailstorm, pollen storm, skyquake, blood moon, dread moon, radiant moon, and the solar eclipse!We also introduce the Storm Elemental with four variants: the blizzard storm elemental, dust storm elemental, hurricane elemental, and lightning storm elemental!And we finish Strange Weather with two weather related archetypes: the Stormcaller (Shaman) and the Child of the Sky (Barbarian)!
  • Dinosaur Companions We introduce 25 new dinosaurs (and pterosaurs and a crocodilian) to choose from to be your new best friend! Every dinosaur can be an animal companion/mount or familiar!15 of these prehistoric pals are animal companions/mounts: Argentinosaurus, Baryonyx, Concavenator, Corythosaurus, Deinocherius, Dilophosaurus, Dracorex, Excaliborsaurus, Maiasaura, Neptunidraco, Scipionyx, Stygimoloch, Tethyshadros, Tupandactylus, and Utahraptor!10 of them are familiars: Coelophysis, Jinfengopteryx, Leaellynasaura, Mei, Micropachycephalosaurus, Microraptor, Nyctosaurus, Parvicursor, Scansoriopteryx, and Sordes!
  • Household Magic

In 2017 they plan to drop to bimonthly (i.e. every two months, not the misbegotten twice per month) in order to accommodate the request that they make each issue longer. Topics planned include:

  • The Puppet Show
  • Gremlins
  • Libraries and Research
  • Imaginary Friends
  • Religious Communities
  • Dangerous Spores
  • 3 personal letters (topics chosen by high-rolling backers)

If you’re interested in an eclectic mix of topics that can help you flesh out your world, I recommend you check this Kickstarter out and consider backing.

Tenkar’s Disclosure: Alex is a friend of mine online, I backed his Archetype Compendium, Echelon Explorations: Polyhedral Pantheons was an add-on for $30+ pledges for the Letters from the Flaming Crab (2016) Kickstarter last year, and we’ve been talking about my writing about Small Gods for one of the Letters.

Letters from the Flaming Crab (2017)

Letters from the Flaming Crab (2017)