Who hasn't been in this situation? You're completely fed up with your current campaign. You want something new, something Completely different. But now you need to sit done and learn a whole new set of rules, a new campaign world... well, maybe your old campaign wasn't that bad after all?
Or maybe you have an original new idea? Something nobody has ever thought about beforehand? Only you don't have a clue what system you can use, and writing your own system isn't as simple as it may sound (believe me, I know what I'm talking about).
HERO System (I haven't got the foggiest idea why they capitalize it, HERO isn't an initial, but oh well...) was invented exactly for people like you. Just to give credit where credit is due, the system was written by George MacDonald, Steve Peterson and Rob Bell.
The basic idea is that use can use the same basic ideas for everything, and I mean everything, from conventional genres such as fantasy and cyberpunk to the weirdest things you can imagine like a game where the players play valiant gummy-bears. Just to demonstrate how versatile HERO System can be, I'll note that there are sourcebook for playing fantasy (Fantasy HERO), cyberpunk (Cyber HERO), science fiction (Star HERO), oriental style (Ninja HERO), super heroes (Champions) and 1930's style detectives (Justice inc.)
HERO System has fourteen characteristics that are divided into eight Primary Characteristics (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Body (hit-points), Intelligence, Ego (willpower), Presence and Comeliness) and six Figured Characteristics (Physical Defense, Energy Defense, Speed, Recovery, Endurance and Stun) that are figured according to the primary characteristics but can be improved independently.
The Primary Characteristics have a range of 0 to 20 for normal humans (super heroes, monsters and other inhuman beings don't have a limited range of characteristics) and each Figured Characteristic has its own range.
The entire system is based on regular dice (d6, as role-players call them). All the rolls are done with 3d6, besides damage rolls.
All the aspects of the character, whether they are characteristics, skills, talents, powers or even a high position in society or special equipment are bought with the same points. In addition, the player can choose disadvantages for his character that will give him more points to use.
When the character is constructed, the GM must decide a few things. First of all, he must decide how many points the characters will have to start off with. In a super realistic campaign, for example, the characters will have to do with fifty points and up to another fifty additional points from disadvantages. In a four-color super hero campaign, the characters could start with a hundred points and could get an additional hundred and fifty points from disadvantages.
In addition, the GM must decide what the characters can buy with these points. For example, in the fantasy campaign above the characters could only buy skills, whereas in the super hero campaign they could buy whatever they desire, including powers. But the GM needn't limit himself to these broad categories. Lets take for example a Bruce Lee movie style campaign. The GM decides he will allow the characters to buy skills and talents (which are traits that aren't super natural, just very rare in the real world like ambidexterity, eidetic memory, etc.). In addition, to keep the Bruce Lee style of the campaign the GM allows the characters to buy the power Superleap in a limited way to allow them to jump over walls, trees and people like the late great Bruce Lee.
I mean, only AD&D has almost two hundred spells, and add to that all the super powers, all the cyberpunk implants and all the science fiction technology?
The Simple answers is, they don't.
The HERO System Rulebook provides a list of 66 basic powers, 34 advantages (that make powers more effective, but also more expensive) and 23 limitations (that make powers less effective, but cheaper), that can be used to construct any spell, power or item you could think of.
For example - a fireball will be a Ranged Killing Attack (RKA), lets say 2d6 worth. We'll add to this attack the advantage Explosion and Reduced Endurance Cost so that the wizard won't collapse after casting the spell. Since this is a spell and not an instinctive power, we'll take the limitations Incantations, Gestures and Concentrate, and presto! - a fantasy style Fireball spell.
In a similar way we can construct any power, from eye implants that let you see Infra Red for cyberpunk game to a mutant healing factor Wolverine style for a super hero game.
Although it will sound like an evasive answer, but HERO System can be as realistic as you want it to be. It provides a variety of rules that allows you to play at any level of realism you want, form a total lack of realism where laser beams push you back a couple of blocks like the 1970s Superman movies, to critical hits and a meticulous track of each wound like a scene from ER.
Nonetheless, HERO System is fairly simple, and can be learnt quickly and easily. Personally, I suggest starting to play without the bleeding and critical-hits rules and incorporating them into the game as the GM and the players become more experienced.
Unfortunately, nothing's perfect (except perhaps Cookies and Cream Ben and Jerry's ice-cream). The main "problem" with HERO System, is that it requires the GM to put in a considerable amount of work compared to other systems.
In fact, it could be said that the GM must create his own private system for his specific campaign using the HERO System rules.
In other universal systems, such as Steve Jackson Games' GURPS, there is a basic skeleton of rules and lots of accessories that convert those rules to anything the writers could think of. HERO System, on the other hand, provides a skeleton of rules and accessories that explain how to take that skeleton and use it however you wish.
For example, GURPS has more than seventy different sourcebooks, including fantasy, Conan the Barbarian, Robin Hood, ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. If the GM feels like running a campaign in Renaissance France, he's stuck. He could either try and improvise with the rules of for fantasy and modern campaign settings, or he can wait for the Renaissance sourcebook to come out. In HERO System, on the other hand, there's only the Fantasy HERO sourcebook, but it explains how to construct any campaign even remotely connected to fantasy, from the stone age to the Renaissance, form extremely realistic campaign to epic adventures like "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe". Here the GM needs to build the entire campaign, but, at least in my humble opinion, it is a small price to pay for the possibility to construct any campaign you might want, without being limited by the game designer's ideas and beliefs.
To learn more, visit the HERO Games website.