What about Champions Universe? A review…

This is a short review about a PDF product we recently received a review copy of, Champions Universe by Hero Games.

This is the default Hero System superhero universe. A rich, detailed campaign setting imbued with the feel of traditional comic book universes populated with classic Champions villains and characters. It integrates elements from the Champions Online game with which I am not familiar so I can’t really judge that aspect. Full of elements reminiscent of the big two (Marvel and DC comics) but given their unique twist, familiar and new at the same time. While it includes some character write ups and sample NPCs there is a lot of fluff and inspiration that make this book a great resource, no matter which superhero role-playing game system you prefer.

What to learn more? Read on…

I’ll admit I’m a Hero System fan. I was first bitten by the Champions bug while it was still in the 2nd edition, and the villains and organization books they put out back them just captured my imagination. I remember spending a whole summer creating characters and getting ready for my campaign. When I sat down with my players, they tried to create characters but never quiet wrapped their heads around the system, so we went back to playing the Marvel Superheroes RPG. I tried to rekindle my Champions dreams when the 3rd edition came out (with the AMAZING cover by George Perez) but when I destroyed the heroes on the first encounter the dream died that day at the table.

Still I pursued my love of the Champions Universe; I had loved the Hero Comics and snatched up the 1992 version of the Champions Universe book with the hopes of using the campaign for a future game, regardless of the system. I examined the book in excruciating detail, but must admit that I remember very few specifics. I didn’t even remember the book was written by Monte Cook and Illustrated by Storn Cook until I looked up the book online. It still sits on my shelf, with a lot of unused Champions and Justice Inc. (amazingly my FIRST Hero System purchase) materials.

And then along comes the 2010 Champions Universe. I’ve been away from Hero Games for a long time so when I sat down to read the digital copy of the setting I did so with fresh eyes. Old familiar faces were there, UNTIL, PRIMUS, VIPER, Doctor Destroyer, Mechanon, but it all felt new and shinny. The cover art and chapter openers by the Brothers Fraim were appropriately super heroic, capturing the feel of timeless comics. The layout and other interior art was top notch, this is one book I was happy just to look at. And I’m reviewing the PDF, in print this has to be one gorgeous book!

The history and timeline chapters paint a broad picture of a rich superhero setting that hits all the right notes of classic and modern comics, from Victorian extraordinary gentlemen to the golden age all the way to modern times. I said it before and I’ll say it again, it feels like a setting inspired by the big two comic book universes populated with characters that evocate the classical archetypes with their own unique twists. The discussion of superhero demographics and their impact on different aspects of world culture, technology, religion, the economy and the legal system was entertaining and gave me all sorts of ideas to include in any supers games.

Despite being obviously centered in the US and neighboring countries’ super humans, the book offered a true world perspective on super heroics. I was a little worried about the inclusion of the Champions Online content, which I’m not familiar with and feared might simply not fit well with the rest of the world they had created, but what I saw of the game in the book felt really like an organic addition to the tapestry that is the Champions Universe. The lists of threats, discussion on organizations, details on lost cities, other worlds and dimensions really rounded out the book well.

The inclusion of a GM Secrets Chapter gave the book an old school feel, so appropriate for a supers game, where not all is as it seems, like saying “here’s a peak behind the curtain!” If you are a player, heed the warning, don’t read this and you will be rewarded by the true superhero campaign experience. Character write ups were there, but I see no problem adapting them to other systems. This campaign setting is a great resource to any Game Master that wants to run a traditional superhero game, or see how to create one, and adapt it to their system of choice.

I whole heartedly recommend the Champions Universe to any fans of the superhero RPG genre!

5 thoughts on “What about Champions Universe? A review…”

  1. To be honest, the only reason I got into touch with the Champions universe was because of the MMO published about a year ago. I haven't bothered checking the P&P so far, but I heard that the system is rather clunky. Are my sources just a bunch of whimsical brats or is it really a bit sluggish and complex?

  2. Markus, thanks for dropping by! In all sincerity the Hero System can be rather complex. Last time I used it was two editions ago and I've heard they've streamlined some of the math and there is character creations software you can buy to help with the most tedious aspect, making a character. My players, two separate groups never got into it and could never follow the rules.

    I loved how the point based system and powers allowed

    you to create the character you wanted, which was something I did not have in other super RPGs I owned back then.

    Currently there are games like Mutants & Masterminds that

    allow that kind of detail with a simpler mechanic. If you don't want a complex point based system (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing) maybe pass on the Hero System! Others may have a different opinion…

    That said, this book is entertaining even when you leave out the rules and great inspiration to role-play in any supers game!

  3. Thanks for the quick reply! :D

    Well, it's not like I'm actually planning to set up a Supers game in the near future, since my current Exalted chronicle is already heroic enough ;) But I really like the setting Champions offers, so I guess I would use just the fluff and replace the crunch with something a bit less clunky. ICONS might be a bit TOO simple for my tastes, but I guess M&M isn't that bad.

  4. As soon as my current D&D game is done I plan on trying out one of these Superhero systems with my group. I am pretty excited to try it out. Thanks for the great post.

  5. Markus, if you are like me and sometimes you read gaming supplements just for the heck of it, this book is an excellent read. In my experience Mutants & Masterminds works really well. I love ICONS, and love its simplicity. If I’ll use the setting for my tabletop game of ICONS is still in doubt since my players have player four color supers before with me and are looking forward to a different experience. Something perhaps more Heroes (the TV series) like or some other twist on the genre.

    Exalted is one of those games I’ve NEVER played. I purchased the original book but never played it. Is it too over the top heroic?

    Youseph glad you liked it. Supers gaming is a strange beast, it can be greatly rewarding but sometimes hard to run. I wish you luck!

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