What's more, after three decades, this old-school game stands suddenly at the vanguard of an emerging trend: the perfusion of MMOG ideas and companies into the tabletop space. D&D's 4th Edition couched its concepts in terms suited to an audience familiar with online games; CCP, publishers of EVE Online bought White Wolf Game Studio; and now the Champions MMOG brings new opportunities for Hero Games.
How is the company planning to welcome Champions Online players to the tabletop version? "We've got some new books in the works that we hope will be attractive to MMOG players," says Long. "One, the Basic Rulebook, is a slimmed-down, easy-learning, quick-play version of the Hero rules - the essentials condensed down to 130 pages. Later this year we'll be doing a new Champions genre book and a Champions Universe setting book, both in full color, the latter based on Cryptic's take on the setting; it will be a great place for an MMOG player who likes the 'lore' aspect of the game to learn about the Champions Universe. Early next year we'll publish a Champions Online RPG, a one-book game containing the Basic rules, pre-built versions of all the Champions Online powers, a summary description of the setting, and lots more."
Long hopes to coordinate with Cryptic to cross-promote both versions of the game. "When we do the new Champions, we're talking about a promotion where each book will have a code that you can enter into the MMOG to get some sort of unique item, like an action figure or a special cloak. Cryptic has been very supportive of the tabletop RPG and has really gone out of its way to help us promote it."
Online players interested in trying pencils and dice should visit the Hero Games forums. "Hero fans have always been among the most friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic in gaming," says Long. "Just look at the response that new players get on our message boards when they ask questions or want suggestions on what to do. Our fans know that there are likely to be some new players coming in from the MMOG (in fact, we've already had quite a few), and are ready to welcome 'em with open arms.
"Generally speaking, I think Champions is most likely to appeal to MMOG fans who want to exercise their imagination and creativity in ways that no MMOG permit. Champions Online is light-years beyond most MMOGs in terms of flexibility ... but there are still limits. The guys at Cryptic can only program so much content, after all. And there are players who want to know what's over there, or what happens if their character does so-and-so that the game doesn't cover. Those are players who, whether they know it right now or not, want to give traditional RPGs a try."
Meanwhile, early response to the Sixth Edition has been positive. Long says, "We started the process in February 2008, creating a special area of our message boards where the fans could post any suggestion they wanted about what should go in 6E, so the fans have very involved from the start. (Take it from me, the guy who had to read all 1,248 pages' worth of posts in that forum!)" At GenCon 2009, "We took enough pre-orders for the 6E two-book set to break our previous single-product sales record. Now that the PDF of the books is in the fans' hands, they've been discussing it extensively, asking questions, and looking forward to all the great books we have planned."
Even after three decades, the Hero community looks to the future. Ray Greer also reflects on the past: "Back then, I was feeding dreams and making something I was proud of. The stuff looks pretty simplistic when you compare it to today's books, but against the self-publishers of the day I can still hold my head up proudly. I'm still stunned at how much we did with so little. We were young and didn't know we couldn't do the things we did - so we just did them. And once a month I'd get a letter from a soldier, or a dad who connected with his kid, or a guy in prison who told us that he liked playing the good guy for a change - real people who got real value out of what we did."
Allen Varney designed the 1989 Champions supplement Mystic Masters, and contributed to Champions in 3-D and Fantasy Hero (2nd edition), both 1990. He has written over 50 articles for The Escapist.