Champs Now Beta – actual play: M – Hero “Weird science and conspiracies at the University of Michigan”

We have a playgroup that are long time Champs/Hero players. Myself, Storn, Eric, Rick and Joe. (Their personalities and play styles are important to these play-test notes.) I’ve been playing since ’81 first edition, and Storn Cook (who you might know from art he has done for the game) and I have been playing together since ’92-ish. The others have joined over the years, with Joe, only having known him for 15 years, being the newbie.

  1. ​Important to realize that we have long history and strong opinions about Champions Hero, and have modified Hero in some significant ways in or normal games (no Speed Chart, no END tracking, Luck Chit system, etc.) This is important because it shaped the views of the players as they read the beta document.
  2. I specifically said we were playtesting “as written” and would not be changing the rules. Interpretation of vague statements were to be taken in the most liberal (player perspective) way possible, even if that seemed broken. (Like “Strike” advantage.)
  3. We were specifically sticking to the 2 sentences world building… which immediately caused all kinds of interest… see below.
  4. I specifically said that as GM, I was stepping way back and not dictating expectations to the players beyond 2 sentences. This did not really go over well, see below…

Session 0 – character creation, players ask questions, group ideas

tl;dr – two sentences are cool, but not enough for my players…


(previously posted on Hero system boards)

Ron’s rules in Champs Now asks the GM to do nothing more in terms of world building than create 2 sentences of a particular kind. From there, the players were to make their characters, disads, story hooks, etc. Then the world would evolve during play.

(This both worked and did not work at all for our group.)

My two sentences were…


  1. Superhumans are a relatively new phenomena, and the first ones did very, very bad things.
  2. Weird Science and Conspiracies at the University of Michigan
Now… for our group, who have played many years together, this immediately kicked off certain people expounding on this, “Cool… that means X or Y and…” which is really fun, but I didn’t want all the player’s character concepts colored by the more enthusiastic players (who immediately started world building via email). So I asked each player to come up with “one additional sentence” that built on/added to my original sentences.  (These could have been general statements on theme or whatever, but they actually were more detailed and specific to world building and creating a history.)
  1. Storn – We four are on campus and gain our powers when villains try to rob a research facility, accidentally unleashing weird energies.   (Actually Storn started with “We all have a shared origin event” but then he got more specific.) 
  2. Rick – Decades ago in the vast salt mines beneath Detroit, space had to be cleared out for a new research facility–and an embassy.
  3. Joe – After Martial Law was declared, college attendance sky rocketed as a way to stay out of the military.
  4. Eric – The Singularity offers a path to surviving the coming darkness.  
My Commentary: While Ron specifically states that none of this world building should be done until you play, and it should evolve from what players put on their sheets (Hunteds, DNPCs, etc.) these guys refused to be so loose. Only Storn came up with a character off my sentences… the others demanded much more world discussion to have an idea about what they want to play.

As a GM, I usually have a very strong idea about the world I’m creating, but wanted to let the players really shape this… and they stepped up… not in the way Ron envisioned, but with a demand for group world building during/prior to characters being built.

The world we came up with immediately veered from the expected idea of “Don’t over think, just use the world outside your window and add supers!” It was clear none of the players were satisfied with that and so a rough but fascinating timeline and setting was hashed out. (They specifically stated that this is 2018, it won’t feel like the ’80s, we have facial recognition tech, militarized police, fascist president, tropes like domino masks don’t work, why would somone dress in a costume, etc., etc. Not me… the players brought this up.)
We hashed this out, clarifying what our brief sentences meant:
  • Relatively new superhumans became “over the past 20 years, after an unexplained event in the late 90’s”
  • A focus on ‘weird science’ was agreed upon, so this tossed the typical super-worlds where anything goes, magic, gods, technology, aliens, etc. We agreed that ALL super powers come from ‘weird science’ and accidents, with the scientific community having dozens of theories on what is going on to allow this breaking of the laws of physics by certain individuals, but there is nothing proven or even a consensus on one theory over another.
  • The martial law statement then really shaped the world. We decided that immediately following the original ‘event’ the world was on the brink of war as thoughts of sneak attacks and nuclear detonations were considered… and when months later, people with powers started showing up in very destructive ways. In most places Martial Law ended after a few years as no military attacks happened, but it continued a streak of secrecy and security paranoia as more and more powered people began to appear.
  • At some point, it was decided that a few super-powered people actually showed up and helped stop/defeat the destructive ones, and the first “heroes” were christened. The past 20 years basically happened as they have, but with the military deploying rare but useful metahumans in combat, corporations funding a few “super teams” as much as marketing ploys as real, active teams. The costumes and code names came out as a way to use tropes long established in comic books to make a terrified public more accepting of superhumans… but the paranoia and fear still runs deep.
  • The Singularity is an even more popular and well known meme in this world, as eschatological belief have grown… will technology bring about the end of days, or save us from it? Are superhumans the harbingers of doom or those who will save us? The “coming darkness” could be many things, but it is a current that runs through society.  (Think of all the political and social fracturing and upheaval of the current real world, and turn it up to 11 by adding superhumans and “weird science conspiracies” that might actually be true.)
  • Players wanted a clear villain in terms of a certain, secret gov’t agency that was hunting supers (Joe created this). There is also a military draft that on the surface is simply about maintaining the military, requiring military training for everyone of a certain age, BUT there is a huge social division this as some claim that people drafted later disappear, “die mysteriously” and that the gov’t is using it to search out superhumans or experiment on people, etc. (The gov’t is not a monolithic entity of course… it has as many divisions and agendas as the real world.)
  • The salt mines of Detroit will factor hugely into the initial adventures, as the player did NOT want this defined before the game, and he dropped the “embassy” part (mole men?) because he felt it no longer fit the concept.
  • The shared origin “accident” was established, creating the “Hunted” on Flanker’s sheet… a villain team called The Hack. The players then wanted an event later that brought them together as a public super-team… and this was really cool. We established that after they had individually begun displaying powers, the secret gov’t agency showed up and tried to “sweep” them, but they fell back on their connections and the resources of some influential faculty at U-M and decided to “come out as supers” in the public eye (secret IDs, but public super personas) as a defense against being “disappeared.”  They’ve been an active super team for 8 months or so.

Now we have four PCs who have a shared origin story and an established reason for working together… three have very overt and noticeable power-sets. The fourth is the shadowy, controversial member. We have the politics of universities, state and federal gov’ts, research funding and crazy experiments… along with shadowy crazy super-stuff… we’ll be getting down to it on 9/19.

It is an interesting experiment in using Ron’s scaled down Champions Now rules… so we’ll see what happens after a few playtest sessions, whether it works and we want to continue… or it peters out.

image: Flanker, played by and illustrated by Storn Cook



6 responses to “Champs Now Beta – actual play: M – Hero “Weird science and conspiracies at the University of Michigan””

  1. Wait, I know you

    As heaven is my witness, I did not until this moment realize that you were RDU Neil.

    It seems to me that you guys did not stray as far as it might look! Almost all the "new stuff" arrived by way of character sheet anyway, so that most of the discussion of it looks to me less like full-on world-building and more like a comfort zone about how to put stuff onto sheets. For example, the Hack – if the player had put that on the sheet first, then told everyone "hey, this is how we got together," the effect would have been the same.

    It's possible to ruin things by front-loading and world-building, but this is more like what I described than not. It was more talky than I've been recommending, and granted, a little more content via consensus than I prefer, but that latter is a preference rather than a mandate.

    Even if one of the participants really says that you didn't do it "my way," legitmately given that I wasn't there and you were, the point can be offered that offering a "too little" procedure allows the group to fill in more – and still using the statements very productively – as opposed to "too much," in which the locked-down, choked-up, and homework-y situation is likely to occur.

    • Content via consensus… bad?

      Content via consensus… bad?

      I'm interested in your dislike of content via consensus, but whether or not this thread is the place to discuss it… Have you written about this in particular in one of your articles or threads?

      Also… yes, I'm RDU Neil, but whatever you heard… I didn't do it.   (I have a reputation?  Uh oh… wait, how many points is that worth?)


    • Not “bad.” Let’s see, on an

      Not "bad." Let's see, on an everyone-to-me scale of negative implications for game features and practices …

      • This is broken, ill-designed, no fun, and contra-indicated. Do not do it if you value your time even a little.
      • This sucks. I mean, for me and what appears to be a lot of other people.
      • This is no fun for people in |[specify] circumstances or with [specify] preferences.
      • You might not want to do it because [this] is what typically happens.
      • I don't do it because I dislike what typically happens.
      • Anyone might like it but I tend not to, unless something else is in place so it works for me

      This falls into #3 to ##5, counting downwards, and since this is a project design toward a particular zone or aesthetic of play, I was careful with my verbs in my comment above.

      Obviously it's not fair for me to go this far without explaining what [this] is, and you did ask me nicely, but then, well, yes – it's true, I have written about it pretty extensively, all the way back to the first months of the Forge, and a ton of posts here too. Kind of a lot to boil down. Maybe we could have a video dialogue, especially as it applies to Champions and (a different thing) the Hero System?

  2. It strikes me as interesting
    It strikes me as interesting that the possibility of disappearance has occurred in both the Defiants and this game. As a South American, it turned out to be a topic a bit more sensitive to me than I expected – when the DNPC brother of one of our PCs was taken away by a government agency with known headquarters, I was distressed and surprised that the other characters, PC and NPC alike, weren’t immediately requesting habeas corpus, filing a missing person report, picketing at the front of the headquarters.”It’s what you do!”

    We thankfully haven’t feared dissapearances since the 70s, so, before I was born, but it seems that it is a concern for you in America – I guess it’s gone from acute to almost none for us, while it’s an ongoing, moderate concern for you? After all, I guess, we’ve went from CIA sponsored dictatorships to democracies, while you’ve always gotten democracies but with the CIA living right there.

    • In editing the session where

      In editing the session where this came up, I put in a little text to point up the issue. The facts are these: habeus corpus has been largely removed from American legal practice regarding military, security, and police activity, de facto, as well as in the U.K., and the three of us are acutely aware of it. "Extralegal rendition" has evolved from something that might have happened to some other person overseas (who is easily labeled bad or suspicous or "the wrong sort" somehow) into the practical realities of domestic arrest, for a lot of people in a lot of places.

      Right there in San Antonio or any other American city, it is simply impossible for anyone to go to the military base or facility, legal papers in hand or not, to see if a person has been detained – they would receive nothing but the most hostile and brazen dismissal. A regional judge or branch of the city would already have plenty of bureaucratic ink stating that what the military or sort-of military does whenever and wherever it likes, is key to our national security, and what do you think you're doing, questioning the integrity of our men and women in uniform who have sacrificed so greatly for our freedom?

      Therefore it would be wise for the group to establish legal backstopping with the right inquiries and paperwork, but only as part of a larger strategy, with little hope of effect from that angle.

    • Oh Jesus fucking Christ. Holy
      Oh Jesus fucking Christ. Holy shit. I can’t believe it. I’m so sorry.
      Thanks for answering.

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