Because I Haven’t Done One Of These In A While
I don’t have a lot of intro. I felt like I should do another chargen/walkthrough, people seem to like it when I dredge up older games, and I’ve had Golden Heroes on my shelf for forever and have barely cracked the box to look at it. So, on with it, then.
What do I know, going in, about Golden Heroes? Very little. It’s a classic 4-color superhero game (at least, that’s what the cover art promises, but don’t me started on Aberrant, which had a setting where people gained all manner of unique and idiosyncratic personal abilities, used code names, formed teams, and battled each other, but which included editorials about how it wasn’t a superhero game so don’t try to use it like one, you unwashed heathen gamer scum!… but I digress), it’s British, it was advertised a lot in gaming magazines I read in college, and it was featured in a contemporary installment of Murphy’s Rules, which was a collection of cartoons that ran in one of said magazines. (Space Gamer, probably.)
What You Get
As was typical of the boxed games of the early 80s, you got a big box with some fairly slim (by modern standards… back then, the idea a “game” could have rules longer than Monopoly or Risk was rather shocking) booklets.
So you’ve got a “Players Book”, a “Supervisors Book”, a “Supervisors Kit”, some counters to cut out and fold into little tents that will be tossed around by an errant breeze or a playful kitten, and an adventure involving Queen Victoria, because we’re British, you know.
This being from Games Workshop, I’m a bit surprised it doesn’t come with miniatures and a painting guide, but perhaps that came later.
So, the second paragraph informs us that the game is run by a “Scenario Supervisor”, or SS. Hinting at something, GW?
One thing that’s slightly odd, for games of this era, is the lack of any boilerplate (in this book, at least) “What Is This Roleplaying Stuff, Anyway?” in the introduction. The first sentence just says “You will be role-playing a character in a Superhero adventure.”
But how did you get your powers? Possibly by drinking too much?
Reading on, “The SS will guide you in the generation of your character…”, possibly by threatening to execute your family if you don’t comply.
OK, I’ll stop now.
The game box was supposed to contain dice, of the six and twenty side variety. As a sign of the age of the game, the rules discuss how to color in the D20s so you can tell which are the high numbers. You damn punk kids with your fancy hundred-dollar dice made from meteor iron and dinosaur bones might not know this, but in the old days, when those dinosaurs were walking around until that meteor killed them, D20s were numbered 0-9, twice. As noted, you colored in half of the numbers, leading to endless arguments as to which color was “high”, which was, coincidentally, always the color which was most advantageous for the given roll.
“The SS will usually tell you what dice need to be rolled.”
Und you had better listen!
OK, seriously, I’ll stop now.
Roll 3d6 And Total Them..
Excuse Me, I’m Having A Nostalgia Moment…
So, Golden Heroes was published in 1984. Champions had come out three years earlier, and even allowing for the lack of Internet, must surely have made it across the pond by then. “Roll 3d6 in order” (or similar variants) was already fading as a game design trope by the mid-80s. Point-based or some kind of more weighted dice rolling were coming into vogue, rapidly. But I find this series of walkthroughs works better when I have a random system to play with, so, we’re good.
Anyway, dice. There are four lights, I mean, stats: Ego, Strength, Dexterity, and Vigour.
For me, these are pretty good rolls.
Following along in the early D&D/AD&D tradition, most of the rolls have a minimal effect.
Ego: Has no little chart of its own; the rules will be explained later. It’s used for magic, mental attacks, and fighting Thor and Galactus.
Strength: My Strength of 9 has no game effect; the range of 6-15 does nothing (at this point). Higher/lower strength may impact “Damage Modifier” and “Damage Divider Modifier”. The Strength chart does go up to 60, which makes a lot of sense for a superhero game.
Dexterity: 6-15, no effect. Higher/lower values affect your “Strike Modifier”, which determines if you give in to the boss’ demands or kick and punch some scabs, or whatever Brits call scabs.
Vigour: 6-15, no effect.
Two Kinds Of Hit Points!
We have “Hits To Coma” (HTC), and “Hits To Kill” (HTK). “HTK” was a very common wargaming term, the obvious ancestor of “Hit Points” in OD&D, and sometimes used in early D&D spinoffs, variants, and house rules. “Hits To Coma” is a term I’ve never seen before, but the concept was very much coming into fashion at the time: Basically, stun points. Or vitality, fatigue, shock, etc. Shorter-term, non-lethal damage – quite important for a superhero game, where fights should not be settled by one lucky hit. Characters in GH are staggered at 1/5 HTC, stunned at 1/10 HTC, astonished at 1/20 HTC, flabbergasted at 1/50 HTC, and… OK, that joke’s been beaten to death. Or has it? Let’s look at Hits To Kill!
For HTK, you are “Hospitalised” at 1/10 HTK, and dead at less than 0 HTK. At exactly 0 HTK, you’re only mostly dead. No, seriously, if you’re at 0 HTK, you are “technically dead, but may be revived”.
For both HTC and HTK, you roll a number of D6 equal to your Vigor. Each is rolled independently. So, 14d6.
With an expected roll of 49, I am doing slightly better than average.
Movement: Movement determines how far you can travel in a Frame, the unit of time in GH. I add everything but Ego and divide by 6. Aw, no one told me there’d be math! Well, actually, since I started gaming in this era and am very familiar with the tropes, I pretty much expected math. No trig yet. That’s for Traveller.
Rounding down, I learn I can travel 6 metres a frame. Not only do the Brits use the metric system, they spell it wrong.
Interestingly, even if superpowers increase my attributes, my movement doesn’t change, unless I gain attributes from Previous Training. This will, presumably, be explained later.
I Have The Power… Rolls
You can either be assigned a number of Power Rolls (also, Force Buns, Ability Croissants, and Talent Scones) by the SS (und you vill like it!… OK, I am so totally done now), or you can roll to determine how many rolls you get. (I am surprised you don’t get to roll to see if you roll for your rolls or have the number predetermined.) I’m going to roll. Possibly rock.
I roll 2d6. then divide by 2, then add 4. I end up with 8 power rolls.
Now, I can take some of those rolls and instead use them to choose Advantageous Background. There’s 10 of them, including two kinds of Rich, two kinds of Scientist, and one kind of Immortal. However, I don’t determine which I have until after I get my powers. Hrm. I’ll set aside 1 of my rolls for a background. That leaves me 7.
If I roll the same power twice, I may increase its grade, if it has a grade. (Some powers go to one of those new age hippie schools where they don’t give out grades because what matters is the student’s progress as a whole person.) Or, having rolled a graded power, I can automatically forego a roll to increase its grade. This provides some mix between purely random generation and a primitive kind of point system.
89, Weapon Skill. I can raise this up to two grades, if I wish. But what is it? I mean, “Weapon Skill” isn’t hard to understand in general, but every game has its own specifics. OK, the power descriptions are quite a bit ahead, past Combat. Let’s see.
I think I’ll burn a roll to raise this to Grade 2, which gives me a damage modifier of +2 in the chosen mode if it’s one-handed or +5 if it is two handed, unless the weapon can be used in two modes, in which case, I instead strike as Weapon Class 4 (Angry Teamster).
Now, as anyone who reads these things regularly knows, I love complex, crunchy, rules. I also enjoy pointing out that such rules were the norm, not the exception, in Ye Olde Dayse, revisionist rants notwithstanding.
So, lemme see. I am holding one roll for a Background, and I spent two, so that leaves me five.
14: Energy Attack. This can be upgraded to Grade 3, if I wish. But first, I need to roll for my type. I get a 9. “Cosmic”. That’s, uhm, helpful. Hopefully, this is further defined somewhere else. I flipped through the combat rules and the index, but there’s nothing there. Maybe in the Supervisors Book? Nope. At least, not in that book’s “Superpowers” section, which gives some additional notes and rules for the Supervisor to consider. (A lot of stuff in the Supervisors Book is amplification/explanation of the Players Book. It was not uncommon to provide the players a subset of the rules, to keep them from being overwhelmed.)
So, uhm, cosmic energy bolts. There’s a pretty interesting system for energy attacks, and I’m not being too snarky. You get a 15d6 pool of damage dice. Over five rounds, the character allocates attacks out of this pool, assigning dice to HTC and HTK (no more than a 2 die difference between them). At the end of 5 rounds, the pool refreshes. So in Round 1, you might attack with 5 dice, 3 vs. HTC and 2 vs. HTK. Then you have 10 dice left for the next four rounds. This provides a decent resource management mechanic.
(A round, as it turns out, contains frames, and different character types have varying frames per round – most heroes and villains get four, secondary characters get three, and average bystanders and generic thugs get two. Not gonna lie, that’s not a bad concept. I’ll never know how it works in play, but it sounds usable.)
I’m going to spend two rolls on this, raising it to Grade 2. This gives me 1d10 more dice to spend… rolled now, at character creation. This is a bit unbalanced. You may end up “wasting” this power roll for a barely noticeable power increase, or luck out and get an effective +2d6/round. Let’s see what I get… 5. Perfectly average.
So now I’m down to three rolls. I have two offensive powers, an unspecified background, and no defense or movement.
Keep on rolling…
95: Weather Control. At Grade 1, I can cause a strong breeze. Seriously. That’s it. This lowers the Strike Modifier of anyone in the area by, causing them to accept pay cuts and reduced vacation days because they’re damn lucky to have a job in this economy and they bloody well know it.
OK, I’ll stop with that joke, too. You people never let me have any fun.
At Grade 2, I can “cautiously” manipulate all weather phenomenon. Doo-doot-do-do-do. This lets me summon stronger breezes, create fog, use a tornado as a personal force shield, etc. No lightning bolts, though. Further, these powers only work in the open air – I can’t use them indoors.
So, let’s spend two rolls for Grade 2 Weather Control, which gives me one roll left.
19: Energy Attack (again). This means I gain an extra grade, or Grade 3. This gives me an “additional trick or gimmick”. I will pick “Manifestations”, which vaguely allows me to “produce helpful side-effects and manifestations”, such as an ice slide for ice powers, which I don’t have. I figure I can shape my “cosmic energy” into various forms, use it to provide light, etc.
I now roll for my Advantageous Background. I roll an 8, making me a Wealthy Industrialist with a Resource Level of 8.
So, time to put all this together and make sense of it. Here’s where Golden Heroes does something really clever: Given a set of 7 powers, it creates 8 different character origins/backgrounds, all utilizing the same set of 7. Several of the examples choose to “forfeit” some of the powers (but don’t gain any additional rolls or benefits), in order to make them more coherent. This plethora of examples is an excellent way of getting players to start thinking about how to turn these random rolls into a person, or at least, enough of a person to put on a fancy costume and fight crime at the expected story standards of the early 80s.
Hopping over to a random name generator, I get Anthony Adams. As a “Wealthy Industrialist”, he was trying to find a way to tap into the Casimir Effect to produce unlimited energy for the world… at a healthy profit. Industrialist, not philanthropist. (It took me several tries to spell “philanthropist” correctly. What can I say? It’s not a word that comes naturally to me.) This being a superhero universe, naturally, something went horribly wrong, or horribly right. His experimental device exploded, bathing him in radiation from beyond the quantum realm of the normal universe. When he recovered, he found he could use this energy to produce bursts of destructive power, form simple objects (such as the two-handed battle-axe of pure force he wields in close combat), and cause powerful repelling fields (that seemed to be a kind of wind), along with being able to surround himself in a glowing field of particles that obscured his enemies’ vision. Thus, he fights crime under the name “Cosmic Storm”!
Oh, wait. I forgot about sex. (“Hey, this was a mid-80s RPG aimed at comic book fans! Sex was never going to be an issue!” Ba-dum-bum!) No, I mean, gender. There’s only two options, showing how primitive and retrograde the era truly was. I roll 1d6 – if it’s 3 or more, the character is the same gender as myself; if it’s 1-2, it’s the opposite. Four. So, male.
Anyway, back to money. I get a free superhero costume that’s “Defence Class 5”. At Resource Level 8, I live in a Large Private Town House, have a chauffeur driven limo, and have 25, 200 GP in wealth. GP? Why, “Golden Pounds”, of course. No, seriously. That’s what the rule book says. I’m not kidding, damn it! Do you think I write these things for fun? Well, of course I do, no one pays me, but, yeah, “Golden Pounds”. It’s in there.
The SS vill… I mean, will, evaluate you to determine your Public Status (und it had better be good! (Sorry. So done with that. Really done. Totes done.)), based on a 1-5 rating in Backing, Heroism, Public Relations, Public Identification, and Practice (1-10 for that one), giving a score of 5-30, or a descriptive range of “Who?” to “Legendary”. There are also five rankings for “Detective Points”, and five rankings for Personal Status! All of these combine to do a good job of defining the character in the world and establishing social and legal strengths and weaknesses. It’s a nice touch.
And The Rest…
That’s pretty much it. A few random notes:
- “Magic” and “Psionics” are rolled as individual powers, but each is basically a microsystem with their own power lists.
- “Skills” are a kind of power. They’re not something just anyone has.
- Unlike far too many superhero (or just high powered) games, GH avoids the trap of a simplistic linear strength system. One of my first “tests” for any superhero system is, “Can a starting character who is a ‘Brick’ archetype at least lift a small tank?” (Or, at a bare minimum, 20-30 tons?) Any time I see a game system where the best you can manage if you hyper-optimize is to lift an unloaded Volkswagen, I seriously eye-roll. The “Strength” power in GH gives 1d10+10 strength, and each additional grade adds the same. So let’s say you have a rolled Strength of 14, and 1 grade of the Strength power. The bonus of 10+1d10 average 15, so let’s say, Strength 29. This lets you lift up to ten “tonnes”, with examples of a truck or elephant. That’s pretty good. If decide to, ahem, “up-grade”, gaining another 15, this puts you in the 100 “tonne” range, comparable to the official strengths of Thor and the Hulk (at least per the original Marvel Super Heroes RPG, out around the same time as GH.)
- “Weapon Class” is cross-index with “Defence Class” to determine a D20 roll to hit. Sound familiar?
- “Martial Arts”, as a power, is divided into “Oriental” and “Pugilism”.
- Per various online articles, GW was angling for the Marvel license.
- There was an amateur 1982 printing of GH, not in a box.
- A retroclone called “Codename Spandex” was produced, but the publisher, Gurbintroll Games, isn’t offering it any more.
- A Kickstarter for another clone, “Legacy”, was funded, but it doesn’t look like it’s produced a game yet – at least, I’m not seeing links to buy it anywhere.
There’s nothing spectacularly wrong with Golden Heroes. Trust me, I have seen far worse superhero RPGs out there. There may be some small typos here and there, but nothing so glaring as to merit extreme (sic) ing. The powers list is a bit small, but it’s easy to see how it can be expanded on. The rules, at a casual reading, hit the level of completeness I’d expect for the era, touching on most of the common situations. Perhaps the only glaring exception is the lack (as far as I can tell, I’m not reading every last page exhaustively) of a generalized resolution system. A character with the “Locksmith” skill (rolled as a power) can open locks instantly, but I can’t see how anyone without that skill could attempt it, or any of dozens of other “mundane” actions. That was… kind of… par for the course in the era, but rapidly fading as a design trope.
So, there you have it. Another day, another exploration of one of the endless previously unexplored games on my shelves.
A “magazine” is like a bunch of web site print outs glued together, but you don’t pick the sites, someone else does, then you pay money to them based on your hope they picked sites you like.
”College” is where you spend a lot of money to prove you can endure four years of random makework and being polite to people who are stupider than you but whose approval is needed for you to succeed. This, in turn, demonstrates your ability to work in a typical business environment, which is why businesses require a college degree. The actual skills you might need to do your job, you’ll learn there.