Complications and the Hero System
I think ever since the Hero System was created, way back when it was just Champions, people have complained about Disadvantages/Complications. The reasons vary from too much extra work; a hassle or even the ol’ “I have to take disadvantages”. I’ve heard GMs complain as well about them getting in the way or not needed in the game and so on.
So here is my two cents about Disadvantages/Complications, here on called Complications.
I’ve been lucky in the fact that most of the players I gamed with had the same opinion about Complications that I do. To me, they were a way of further fleshing out a new character. It gives you an opportunity to explain quirks, weaknesses and even a look into the characters background. For instance:
Hydro is a hero I’ve used as a PC and a NPC from my introduction to the Hero System and he has changed though the various editions of Champions of course. Hydro is a mutant with the ability to manipulate, create and control water. Through the years he had become quite a thorn in the side of VIPER and had proven a tough opponent for them. He didn’t like killing or those that recklessly do it. Being a mutant he fought often with the anti-mutant group of the campaign, The Knights Of Purity.
His Complication was based on his origin and the game play. Both VIPER and The Knights hunted him, about an 11-less chance as he had upset both groups. He has the Pysch. Limit: Dislikes Killing, has a Secret Identity and he had a Reputation as a tough opponent. All these not only took care of the needed points in Complications but it explained aspects of the character as well
Another example would be a thief in Fantasy Hero. Even without going into a back-story several Complications fit the character without any real work at all. Most thieves are greedy and some tend to be distrustful of others. Being a thief you are watched when you go into any town that has a thieves guild. No there is no sign on the character, however, the guild always stations individuals around the town to insure that thieves from other guilds or towns pay a “tax” on their ill-gotten gains. If you steal in our town you owe us a fee, just the way it works or can work depending on the GM.
So this means with no back-story a thief character could have Psych. Limit. Greedy, Psych.Limit Distrustful Of Others, Hunted (Watched) By Local Thieves Guild. Other Complications, if needed, could derive from the characters back-story, race and so on.
If as a player you view Complications as a tool the process of using them in character creation becomes far easier and less of a hassle. This makes the process of character creation easier and less of a necessary burden as I’ve heard it referred to.
For GMS sometimes the problem is how the character’s Complication affects the game. One complaint I’ve heard multiple times is, “So and so keeps showing up because the hero is hunted on 14-less”. Well there are two ways that a GM can approach this dilemma, First simply ignore the roll if it gets in the way.
The neat thing about being the GM is if you want to ignore something because it is going to cause a problem in the adventure you can. Why? Because you’re the GM and the players don’t actually know what you rolled or even why you rolled a dice. So if VIPER showing up every other adventure is a problem then simply ignore the roll.
Another option is use it to “adjust” the way players approach Complications. If VIPER is hunting someone then there is a reason and a Complication is just that. It is something that makes the characters life a little harder. So, if VIPER keeps showing up then life is hard and they need to do something about it.
In game terms, they need to do something to discourage VIPER from sending personal after them all the time. Answers well they could offer a payoff or continue to hospitalize their personal being sent after them, both can work. Now a hero giving bad guys money is not a good thing so that leaves beating up their people, a lot. If it is expensive to hunt you they may start deciding that there is better things to do. Of course they could send even more, but for this discussion let’s say they decide to send less often. In other words, players can use experience to buy down the hunted.
So how does a GM convince the player that this is a good idea? Simple, when the roll says they show up then have them show up. Not as part of the adventure but as a add-on to the adventure. However, have them show up at a very bad time and not integrated into the story. You design that adventure without regards as to any hunted showing up at all, and I do mean at all.
When the game session starts and you make your rolls to see if any hunted if to show have them show at the worst possible time the character would want. Right after or even during a big fight with other multiple assailants. The characters already have enough to deal with if a hunted keep showing up then it is going to be maybe too much for a character to handle.
Another good time for the hunted to show up is right at the end of the adventure. The players just stop the damn from blowing up. They are licking their wounds and getting ready to head home an then, BAM. More bad guys show up for the weakened heroes to deal with. If this happens multiple times then the players will need to do something to stop it from happening.
You could of course just say, no more than 11-less, but this way shows them why it’s a really good idea to keep it low. Other Complication can be addressed the same way as well. If one Complication keeps showing up to often then you can show the downside depending on the Complication. If a character has the reputation as a great fighter, individuals may want to test the reputation. Again, if a fight keeps breaking out at a bad time then something may need to be done.
Here is another example that I had and what I did to try and curb it or at least see what would happen if the Complication became a bigger problem. In my hometown of Wichita at the time there was a gaming group that would meet on the weekends. We would meet above a mortuary, not making this up, to play various war games, board games and role-playing games.
Unfortunately most of the players, no matter what game they decided to play, would be considered power gamers. All their characters it seemed were designed completely around maximizing points and power levels, not about concept.
It seemed that most, if not all, the character of some of the players would take the Complication: “Won’t fight or Harm a Woman”. While there is nothing wrong with the concept or the Complication itself, they seem to view it as free points. They figured, perhaps accurately, most villains are male and even if a female villain appears then the other heroes could deal with her.
I started to think about this and realized to a certain extent they were correct. If you look at most comics out there or superhero RPG supplements, villain books and so on you’ll find that most villains or heroes are in fact mostly male. I still had a problem with the reason they were taking the disadvantage/complication. If it fit the concept of their character would have been one thing. However, they were taking it because they simply felt they were free points and this bothered me a bit.
So I decided to see what would happen if the heroes showed up to stop a robbery and all the villains were female. Needless to say the players were shocked to say the least. Long story short, some players didn’t play with our group again and others not only did but also seemed to enjoy changing the way that we were designing characters. In the end our group enlarged and I had a new villain group. Though it was suppose to be a one-time thing it seemed the villains were a hit.
To me the bottom line is Complications are what you make of them. If you approach them as a hassle or a pain then they will be. If you approach them as a tool of character creation and even a tool for GMs then they will be that too. It’s all up you, they will be what you choose to make of them.
Hope something here helps, happy gaming
If you are interested in Hydro or the Knights of Purity you can find them in my S.I.D.s Report product line that you can find here:
The all female villain group, The Sisterhood, will be in a future installment of my Villainy Codex line of products that can be found here: