I was reading an old Champions rulebook over the weekend and got to thinking about the (still?) standard “Code vs. Killing” Disadvantage. What a gamer concept: “Oh, my PC can’t wantonly kill people? I get points for that, right?”

I don’t doubt that this is a holdover from the early days of gaming, sort of a crutch for people used to murderhoboing their way across a D&D landscape. But as a grownup in 2017, this idea just seems bizarre. If anything, you’d think that in a straight-up superhero campaign, willingness to kill would be the disadvantage (think of the many times Wolverine has sliced a mook dead and Cyclops is all “WTF ARE YOU DOING?!?!?”).

Gamers are weird.

50 thoughts on “I was reading an old Champions rulebook over the weekend and got to thinking about the (still?) standard “Code vs….

  1. Champions/Hero is an engineer’s design concept of roleplaying mechanics. You work backwards, you start with an idea and build your character mechanically afterwards, sometimes backwards engineering the steps of the idea.

    The same is the approach to psychology of the character. You take what is “normal” to a player and backwards engineer its limits and advantages.

    Code vs Killing was meant to more emulate 1970s Batman (“I will not pick up and use a gun to kill someone or threaten them with such, ever, even if they have gunned down a hundred children in front of me. I am Justice not Vengeance.” or the same period Superman “The Big Blue Flying Boy Scout” who would pull ALL his punches, full strength was for punching thru mountains or asteroids.

    How society would react to you killing wasn’t the issue. How it affected yourself psychologically was the issue. Psychology in the system, as well as social interaction, was all just more things that involved engineering (social engineering, Psycho-Engineering etc,)

  2. < ![CDATA[Champions/Hero is an engineer's design concept of roleplaying mechanics. You work backwards, you start with an idea and build your character mechanically afterwards, sometimes backwards engineering the steps of the idea. The same is the approach to psychology of the character. You take what is "normal" to a player and backwards engineer its limits and advantages. Code vs Killing was meant to more emulate 1970s Batman ("I will not pick up and use a gun to kill someone or threaten them with such, ever, even if they have gunned down a hundred children in front of me. I am Justice not Vengeance." or the same period Superman "The Big Blue Flying Boy Scout" who would pull ALL his punches, full strength was for punching thru mountains or asteroids. How society would react to you killing wasn't the issue. How it affected yourself psychologically was the issue. Psychology in the system, as well as social interaction, was all just more things that involved engineering (social engineering, Psycho-Engineering etc,)]]>

  3. I sympathize with the snark, but being agnsty about not-killing even though it would make life easier is a pretty standard superhero trope. It’s a huge amount of Season 1 of Netflix Daredevil, for example.

  4. < ![CDATA[I sympathize with the snark, but being agnsty about not-killing even though it would make life easier is a pretty standard superhero trope. It's a huge amount of Season 1 of Netflix Daredevil, for example.]]>

  5. When I started roleplaying, it was with Heroes Unlimited in the early-90s, and everyone played basically variants of the Punisher and Wolverine. The fact that an M16 assault rifle did just as much damage as a standard energy blast, and that there were no rules for stunning damage (that I can recall) meant we just murdered our way indiscriminately through enemies.

    I might have taken this kind of disadvantage, if it had been presented. It does seem to me now, though, that if I were to design a supers game, I might go with the inverse: the game mechanics assume a subdued enemy is alive and will recover, unless you take some in-game penalty in order to kill (whether in the form of a temporary trauma or permanent callousness, or something else).

  6. < ![CDATA[When I started roleplaying, it was with Heroes Unlimited in the early-90s, and everyone played basically variants of the Punisher and Wolverine. The fact that an M16 assault rifle did just as much damage as a standard energy blast, and that there were no rules for stunning damage (that I can recall) meant we just murdered our way indiscriminately through enemies.
    I might have taken this kind of disadvantage, if it had been presented. It does seem to me now, though, that if I were to design a supers game, I might go with the inverse: the game mechanics assume a subdued enemy is alive and will recover, unless you take some in-game penalty in order to kill (whether in the form of a temporary trauma or permanent callousness, or something else).]]>

  7. M’eh. Spider-Man and Batman are perfect examples of the Code vs Killing. Champions is an older game and many of its sensibilities share a lot of those older comics mottos.

    It’s also why they have supplements like Dark Champions back in the day as characters like the Punisher and Wolverine became more popular and even 3rd party comics started hitting with Spawn and other ‘anti-hero’ types.

  8. < ![CDATA[M'eh. Spider-Man and Batman are perfect examples of the Code vs Killing. Champions is an older game and many of its sensibilities share a lot of those older comics mottos. It's also why they have supplements like Dark Champions back in the day as characters like the Punisher and Wolverine became more popular and even 3rd party comics started hitting with Spawn and other 'anti-hero' types.]]>

  9. First off, let me just mention that I am an old Champs veteran — I bought the first edition when it was new — so I get how the game works.

    Okay, so if you’ve played any Champs/HERO, you know the adage that “A disadvantage that isn’t a disadvantage isn’t worth any points”. You don’t get points because something is a trope, and you don’t get points just because you’re modeling your vision of the PC’s psyche. You get points for things that complicate the character’s life (that’s partly why they renamed Disadvantages to Complications in HERO 6).

    So, think about it. If having a code against killing is a disadvantage the earns you points, what does that say about the baseline? That’s what I find curious. It’s a dispassionate, problem-solving view of morality.

    Now, granted, given that the villains typically have no such qualms about murder, it does put the heroes at a sort of disadvantage, i.e., they can’t just retaliate in kind — so that seems to me the best explanation for the code as a Disadvantage.

    But my Wolverine example, IMO, better exemplifies how killing tends to work in superhero comics, it’s an aberration, not the norm, and so willingness to kill is really more of a Disadvantage, in the Champs sense; it colors how the world looks at you, and will have far more repercussions than not killing people.

    To invoke Dan’s use of Netflix’ Daredevil, the Punisher deals with way more obvious fallout than Murdock does.

    Anyway, were I to run a typical supers campaign with Champs again, a general aversion to solving problems with killing would be the baseline, and so not worth any Disadvantage points.

  10. < ![CDATA[First off, let me just mention that I am an old Champs veteran — I bought the first edition when it was new — so I get how the game works.
    Okay, so if you’ve played any Champs/HERO, you know the adage that “A disadvantage that isn’t a disadvantage isn’t worth any points”. You don’t get points because something is a trope, and you don’t get points just because you’re modeling your vision of the PC’s psyche. You get points for things that complicate the character’s life (that’s partly why they renamed Disadvantages to Complications in HERO 6).
    So, think about it. If having a code against killing is a disadvantage the earns you points, what does that say about the baseline? That’s what I find curious. It’s a dispassionate, problem-solving view of morality.
    Now, granted, given that the villains typically have no such qualms about murder, it does put the heroes at a sort of disadvantage, i.e., they can’t just retaliate in kind — so that seems to me the best explanation for the code as a Disadvantage.
    But my Wolverine example, IMO, better exemplifies how killing tends to work in superhero comics, it’s an aberration, not the norm, and so willingness to kill is really more of a Disadvantage, in the Champs sense; it colors how the world looks at you, and will have far more repercussions than not killing people.
    To invoke Dan’s use of Netflix’ Daredevil, the Punisher deals with way more obvious fallout than Murdock does.
    Anyway, were I to run a typical supers campaign with Champs again, a general aversion to solving problems with killing would be the baseline, and so not worth any Disadvantage points.]]>

  11. Remember that although the superheroes don’t kill, their enemies do. As does the government (military, cops etc.) as will a chunk of the general public in many situations.

    The point of the points given for taking it is that it’s not universal and generally isn’t. In the right situation PC supers will kill, either thru action or lack of action. The code causes them to have to act or suffer complex character development moments. The game is designed to invoke those moments, those challenges, and when they fail to use those to cause affects associated with their failure.

    Change it so everyone has an aversion automatically and you change the game into something else entirely. It becomes a matter of stolen player agency if you force a trait across the board on all supers by changing the baseline. And loss of agency affects how players approach a game.

  12. < ![CDATA[Remember that although the superheroes don't kill, their enemies do. As does the government (military, cops etc.) as will a chunk of the general public in many situations. The point of the points given for taking it is that it's not universal and generally isn't. In the right situation PC supers will kill, either thru action or lack of action. The code causes them to have to act or suffer complex character development moments. The game is designed to invoke those moments, those challenges, and when they fail to use those to cause affects associated with their failure. Change it so everyone has an aversion automatically and you change the game into something else entirely. It becomes a matter of stolen player agency if you force a trait across the board on all supers by changing the baseline. And loss of agency affects how players approach a game.]]>

  13. Mark Delsing Because if you’re playing in a standard game of the time, the Not Killing is a quick way to get some points. There are times when you don’t necessarily want that so you don’t take it but it will drive your group into conflict aka Spider Man vs Wolverine, Daredevil vs the Punisher, etc… It also acts as a good ‘role playing’ guide, as many of those disadvantages did back in the day.

  14. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing Because if you're playing in a standard game of the time, the Not Killing is a quick way to get some points. There are times when you don't necessarily want that so you don't take it but it will drive your group into conflict aka Spider Man vs Wolverine, Daredevil vs the Punisher, etc... It also acts as a good 'role playing' guide, as many of those disadvantages did back in the day.]]>

  15. Joseph Teller There are existing Champs supplements where CvK is the baseline (Golden Age, I’m guessing), so no one’s agency is being messed with if that’s a campaign default. It just affects what gives you points and what doesn’t.

    Joe Kushner Sure, but you can have those same moments regardless of who’s getting the points — Spidey for not-killing or Wolverine for killing.

    For context, the book I was reading wads the 3rd edition of Champions. This pre-dates the official HERO System era, and so also the existence of “setting” books — there were just adventures and villain books at this point. So, Champions 3e assumes a kind of a “generic” superhero universe, probably mostly ’80s Marvel-like.

    So, given their “baseline” super universe
    assumes that not wanting to kill people is a Disad — well, that is what I find interesting.

    And again, I get that the best explanation is the villain-vs-hero relationship. But their choosing to frame it this way is interesting to me.

  16. < ![CDATA[Joseph Teller There are existing Champs supplements where CvK is the baseline (Golden Age, I'm guessing), so no one's agency is being messed with if that's a campaign default. It just affects what gives you points and what doesn't. Joe Kushner Sure, but you can have those same moments regardless of who's getting the points — Spidey for not-killing or Wolverine for killing. For context, the book I was reading wads the 3rd edition of Champions. This pre-dates the official HERO System era, and so also the existence of “setting” books — there were just adventures and villain books at this point. So, Champions 3e assumes a kind of a “generic” superhero universe, probably mostly ’80s Marvel-like.
    So, given their “baseline” super universe
    assumes that not wanting to kill people is a Disad — well, that is what I find interesting.
    And again, I get that the best explanation is the villain-vs-hero relationship. But their choosing to frame it this way is interesting to me.]]>

  17. < ![CDATA[Actually 3rd edition (1984?) is when they began to introduce all the variant playing options. Golden Age, Horror, Fantasy, Pulp, Auto-Duel etc all came out in 3rd edition.]]>

  18. Sidenote, I actually played in each edition of Champions at one time or another from 1st thru 5th, as player or GM, at various times over the years. At one point it was the only truly generic system except for GURPs out there and handled all the stuff that GURPS was bad at thru all those years. GURPS required you to make new mechanics to patch in, Champions/Hero made you backwards think things to work within in its extensive power framework without having to add new powers.

  19. < ![CDATA[Sidenote, I actually played in each edition of Champions at one time or another from 1st thru 5th, as player or GM, at various times over the years. At one point it was the only truly generic system except for GURPs out there and handled all the stuff that GURPS was bad at thru all those years. GURPS required you to make new mechanics to patch in, Champions/Hero made you backwards think things to work within in its extensive power framework without having to add new powers.]]>

  20. Because it’s a game first, and a game of its time, restrictions on player behavior are automatically considered a problem. That’s the answer to your question.

    I think this would be handled better with a modern version that cared about murder (which, if you want any level of verisimilitude in a game set in the modern world, you probably should address). I can immediately think of a PbtA supers game with the basic move, “When you kill someone….”

  21. < ![CDATA[Because it's a game first, and a game of its time, restrictions on player behavior are automatically considered a problem. That's the answer to your question. I think this would be handled better with a modern version that cared about murder (which, if you want any level of verisimilitude in a game set in the modern world, you probably should address). I can immediately think of a PbtA supers game with the basic move, "When you kill someone...."]]>

  22. Joseph Teller Fantasy Hero, Justice Inc., Danger International, etc. are all still separate games at this point. Golden Age Champions, e.g., doesn’t come out for another ten years. Dark Champions won’t come out for another five.

  23. < ![CDATA[Joseph Teller Fantasy Hero, Justice Inc., Danger International, etc. are all still separate games at this point. Golden Age Champions, e.g., doesn't come out for another ten years. Dark Champions won't come out for another five.]]>

  24. No, there was a Golden Age champions book for the earlier edition. The one you are referring to was the Iron Crown one for 4th edition rules (1994). Wrong book.

    I used to own a copy of the earlier one. 1985. Link shows the cover but mistakes it for 1st edition rules (which it is not). It was produced not under the main Hero line logo but one called “Firebird, Ltd.)
    rpggeek.com – The Golden Age of Champions

  25. Interestingly, CvK is still a standard Psych Lim example in HERO 6.

    Also interestingly, the concept of CvK does not exist in V&V, Superworld, or M&M. I probably have some other RPGs I could check once I get home.

  26. < ![CDATA[Interestingly, CvK is still a standard Psych Lim example in HERO 6. Also interestingly, the concept of CvK does not exist in V&V, Superworld, or M&M. I probably have some other RPGs I could check once I get home.]]>

  27. hmmm. I don’t have an answer as to what it all means.
    But if I’m GM and I see that a player took that. What I’m hearing is that player wants situations where killing creates problems for him. I would make that pay.

  28. < ![CDATA[hmmm. I don't have an answer as to what it all means. But if I’m GM and I see that a player took that. What I’m hearing is that player wants situations where killing creates problems for him. I would make that pay.]]>

  29. Mark Delsing of course, the rules make it damn near impossible to kill somebody accidentally in V&V so it would actually be more of a pain if you had a code OF killing people. Go through the average dude’s 4 HP to incapacitate him and then you have to slog your way through his 40 (I think) power points till he dies! You’d get bored halfway through.

  30. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing of course, the rules make it damn near impossible to kill somebody accidentally in V&V so it would actually be more of a pain if you had a code OF killing people. Go through the average dude's 4 HP to incapacitate him and then you have to slog your way through his 40 (I think) power points till he dies! You'd get bored halfway through.]]>

  31. Ha! Page 93 of 3rd ed. talks about the disadvantages AND advantages of living by the code (authorities are more willing to come to your aid, the public sees you as a hero). Sounds like something not worth points then… 😀

  32. < ![CDATA[Ha! Page 93 of 3rd ed. talks about the disadvantages AND advantages of living by the code (authorities are more willing to come to your aid, the public sees you as a hero). Sounds like something not worth points then... 😀]]>

  33. MadJay Brown Absolutely! But I’m not sure that kind of contemporary flag-framing perspective exists in the text. Other than Hunted and DNPC, there’s no explicit mention of using Disads as a tool for situation-building.

  34. < ![CDATA[MadJay Brown Absolutely! But I'm not sure that kind of contemporary flag-framing perspective exists in the text. Other than Hunted and DNPC, there's no explicit mention of using Disads as a tool for situation-building.]]>

  35. FYI, in my longest-running Champs game (a 5e/5er campaign), my PCs CvK was mostly used for finger-wagging by me at a PC whose main power was, literally, shouting NPCs in the head with a big gun, and some finger-wagging by the GM at me during some dicey moral moments.

    But the biggest ever use was during a campaign-defining moment years in the making, where my PC, the team’s leader, made the call to let the gun-toting PC mentioned above kill a villain who was quite literally about to kill every child on earth (including my PC’s DNPC son). That was a big OMFGYOUDIDTHAT moment. I have no idea if the GM actively set that up for me, and I’m not sure if there were many genuine repercussions other than some PR issues — which were sort of mitigated by saving the world.

  36. < ![CDATA[FYI, in my longest-running Champs game (a 5e/5er campaign), my PCs CvK was mostly used for finger-wagging by me at a PC whose main power was, literally, shouting NPCs in the head with a big gun, and some finger-wagging by the GM at me during some dicey moral moments. But the biggest ever use was during a campaign-defining moment years in the making, where my PC, the team's leader, made the call to let the gun-toting PC mentioned above kill a villain who was quite literally about to kill every child on earth (including my PC's DNPC son). That was a big OMFGYOUDIDTHAT moment. I have no idea if the GM actively set that up for me, and I'm not sure if there were many genuine repercussions other than some PR issues — which were sort of mitigated by saving the world.]]>

  37. I think grade school Jay waved fingers at folks with Code vs Killing at the right moments. Today, I’m looking at the PC group and who has the CvK and who does not. I’m likely to create situations where it’s an issue and IIRC there are mechanical penalties to be applied and always situational consequences – for and against killing.
    ie; Uncanny X-Force, after you hunt down and find the resurrected Apocalypse, do you kill him? What if he’s an 8 y/o kid?
    Today, I’m likely to watch the player choices and apply the mechanics and fiction accordingly. Maybe the CvK guy is all in, afterwards we’re prolly changing that 20pt CvK disadvantage to something else tied to what just happened.

  38. < ![CDATA[I think grade school Jay waved fingers at folks with Code vs Killing at the right moments. Today, I'm looking at the PC group and who has the CvK and who does not. I'm likely to create situations where it's an issue and IIRC there are mechanical penalties to be applied and always situational consequences - for and against killing. ie; Uncanny X-Force, after you hunt down and find the resurrected Apocalypse, do you kill him? What if he's an 8 y/o kid? Today, I'm likely to watch the player choices and apply the mechanics and fiction accordingly. Maybe the CvK guy is all in, afterwards we're prolly changing that 20pt CvK disadvantage to something else tied to what just happened.]]>

  39. Mark Delsing if the villains had blown all their power points zapping the heroes, they might have been much more killable. Ordinary schmucks don’t have many ways to spend power points though so they usually have this huge buffer against death.

  40. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing if the villains had blown all their power points zapping the heroes, they might have been much more killable. Ordinary schmucks don't have many ways to spend power points though so they usually have this huge buffer against death.]]>