A Look at the Champions RPG and Champions Online (Part 1)

Coming of the Champions (Part 1)

What Champions Online Will Bring to Gaming

By Darkgolem

When I share my excitement about Champions Online, I have been getting a lot of confused looks from my gamer friends these last few days.  Champions Online (CO) has been announced for release in 2009 by Cryptic Studios, the same company which created the unique MMOG, City of Heroes and the follow up sister game, City of Villains.  Now I will tell you, I got really disturbingly hyped up about this when I read about it last week.  I proceeded to tell my gamer friends, both pen and paper RPG and console / PC gamers.  A couple knew what I was talking about, but quite a few gave me that blank look when I seemed so excited about it.  I weep for the lack of nostalgia among gamers these days.  Every time I get that look, somewhere an angel loses its wings.
destroyer1.jpg: An early look at combat in Champions OnlineAn early look at combat in Champions Online
Let me be the first to tell you: Champions Online is going to be one of the best games of 2009.  I should add some caveats.  Release could be delayed, or many of the features now envisioned by the development may not make it to release.  But keeping in mind the quality products that Cryptic Studios has put out, and the very smooth releases they have had, I have a lot of faith in the quality that Champions Online will have when it is released next year.

An excellent history of quality releases and a pedigree of relatively smooth game launches does not ensure a product will be great.  In the case of CO, my faith in the future quality of this product is derived upon the quality of the game it is based upon.

What Champions Online Is and Is Not

Champions, using the Hero System rules from Hero Games, is a super heroic role-playing pen and paper game that first was published in 1981.   The greatest thing about Champions is the character development system.  In this game, you have a set amount of points, based upon how powerful your heroic character should be in your game master's campaign.  You had enormous versatility with making a character in Champions, basically being able to simulate any ability you want by purchasing a basic power, and then modifying the powers cost by following a set of rules making it more or less expensive, depending upon whether the modification you made caused the power to be more or less useful.

Champions Online does not appear to have a rules system that is the same as the Champions pen and paper game.  According to a quote drawn from the HERO Games web page:

"Another thing to remember is that the Champions Online MMOG is not a 'HERO System MMOG.' It doesn't use the HERO System rules, and the full rights to those rules are still owned by DOJ, Inc.  Players of the MMOG won't be able to use the HERO System rules to design their characters, for example. But once the MMOG is available we'll publish a book that shows how to build Champions Online powers and abilities in HERO System terms so you can easily re-create your MMOG character for your tabletop RPG game if you want."

In other words, it appears the point-buy system of the Champions RPG will not carry over to Champions Online, nor are some of the other features going to carry over in the same way.

The question you should be asking me now is:  If the HERO System won't translate over to CO, why am I predicting Champions Online is going to be so big?  Because the feel of Champions should translate over to Champions Online - even if the exact game design cannot. But what's so compelling about Champions?

A Game With a Lot of Character

hero1.jpg: Characters in Champions Online have a much different lookCharacters in Champions Online have a much different look

First and foremost, character creation in CO seems to be destined to be great.  While Champions Online will not have the exact same system as the Hero System for making characters, Champions Online’s designers have committed themselves to making as much versatility as possible for character creation. 

If Cryptic Studios says that they are committing to versatility and customization, and they are talking about CO, then we are talking about the most fun, versatile and customizable system for character design you could ever want.  That sort of statement is similar to Cthulhu being said to be "a little grumpy when he first wakes up".

Cryptic’s last endeavor, the City of Heroes and City of Villains games had the best character appearances I have ever seen from a versatility standpoint.  Making a character for these games were so much fun that it was almost a game itself, because of the vast combination of choices you could make.  I know people who complained that they had so much fun making characters that they had a hard time getting to higher levels, because they kept remaking out of pure enjoyment.

Now add in the commitment that Cryptic has made toward versatility and customization.  As mentioned in the quote from HERO Games, there are plans for you to be able to translate a character from CO to the original pen and paper rpg.  This implies that a some of the abilities (while administered “under the hood” in a different way) are going to be the same, and admits that some abilities may be lost.  This is actually understandable, for example, certain abilities (such as time travel) just cannot be abjucated by a MMOG in a free-form basis.  However, the sheer number of non-special abilities (that don't require a live GM) imply that, if even a fraction carry over to CO, then there will be many, many abilities available.

Comments from the developers of Champions Online talk about this in more detail.  While necessarily hedging (since the game isn’t close to finished), they say that all powers will be available to all characters.  Within the old pen and paper system, there were archetypes, similar to classes.  These archetypes were predictable, energy projector, brick, martial artist and so on.  However, like the stated plans for character development in CO, in Champions you could have any power for any character.  You could have all sorts of fascinating characters, combinations of melee fighters, energy projectors, mentalists, and so on.

In CO, they intend to allow anyone to have these same abilities.  That is, you may have an archetype, such as a brick, but you also will be able to choose to have a mental ability, or a martial art attack, or ability drain, or any of the many abilities which are going to be part of Champions Online.  These will be more powerful for the archetype that traditionally has this ability (i.e. energy blast for energy projectors), but you still can have these fun and versatile combinations.

Overall, with Cryptic Studio’s history of beautiful and almost unlimited character appearances, with their commitment to character versatility, and with the level of versatility being carried over from the HERO System to Champions Online, the different characters you can make should be absolutely amazing.  In all honesty, I almost regret the game being announced now.  I have a year to wait!

But you won't have to wait long for Part 2 of Darkgolem's look at the game behind the game, where he'll discuss the innovative organizations and nemesis system proposed for Champions Online, how cell shading will define the next generation of the comic book MMORPG, and much more.

In the meantime, discuss Champions Online in the Ten Ton Hammer Forums!

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Champions Online Game Page.

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