I used to play in a long-running campaign using the fourth-edition Hero System. Ever since the fifth edition came out, and Hero Games started publishing supplements like they were going out of style, I’ve been wanting to check out their work, and maybe throw some cash their way. So after I read some favorable reviews of Star Hero, the science-fiction “genre book,” I thought I’d check it out.

Now, here’s the thing about the Hero System. The basic goal of the game is to be a universal system: one set of consistent self-contained rules useable for any game or genre. So the main rulebook has all of these rules (like a basic textbook on cooking might explain knife skills, and techniques like roasting and sauteeing), and then there are genre books that discuss how to use these rules to model different kinds of game worlds (like a Chinese cookbook, or a barbeque cookbook). Star Hero, then, is all about how to run a science-fiction (sf) campaign with the Hero System.

I’m only about halfway done with the book, and what I’ve read so far is pretty solid stuff. Lots and lots of discussion about how to apply different Hero “powers” to various sf conventions, talk about different levels of realism, all of the good stuff you’d expect from a book like this. There’s even a fair amount of pagecount devoted to guidelines for randomly-generating star systems – based on modern astrophysics, but with alternate rules for more “space operatic” settings.

Hero is a rules-heavy system (maybe “rules-intensive” is a better term), and I’m noticing a lot of this in Star Hero. This isn’t surprising per se; after all, if you’re not using the rules, you can just make stuff up, so published material is naturally going to talk about how to do stuff with the rules. That Hero sets out to allow you to model anything within its rules framework seems, however, to create some odd behavior in its users. I suspect that some people see this as a challenge, and some as a kind of obligation. If you’ve got a thing, and a system that can model any thing, then surely it can model your thing, right? And if you mention that thing in a supplement, than you ought to model that thing, right?

So, in Star Hero, we have rules for blasters, and ships, and space stations, and lightsabers, and aliens, and time travel, and sensors, and all manner of other sf goodness. But then there’s the odd stuff. The stuff I can’t reliably classify as serious or sly or outright self-parody. Stuff like:

  • A Hero power simulating the dropping of a comet onto a planet from orbit to improve its atmosphere. (Only 3 Real Points, by the way, so stock up!)
  • Mention of how much damage is done by the tidal forces close to a neutron star.
  • How to build a jump gate in Hero. (Really, does this need actual rules? You drive through, you’re somewhere else.)
  • The different layers of the sun, and how much damage you in each. What’s almost worse is that they only provide the power ratings; I actually found myself starting to count in my head the point value of the sun.

If I’m to be honest, this is actually one of the things that appeals to me about Hero: I like modelling problems, and I enjoy messing around with RPG systems (and computer software) because of that. But more as an intellectual exercise. I find it sort of hard to believe that there would come a time in actual play when that cometary terraforming writeup is actually going to be useful.