by Chris Perrin
DC Heroes is an out-of-print role playing game published by Mayfair Games. The first edition was released in 1985 and the third (and final) edition was released in 1993. DC Heroes uses a proprietary rules engine called the Mayfair Exponential Game System (MEGS) which was designed just for DC Heroes (though it was later licensed for two other games, Blood of Heroes and Underground.) As the name would suggest, DC Heroes licenses DC comic book settings and heroes and provides statistics for them all. DC Heroes should not be confused with West End Games’ DC Universe, which was published in 1999 and shares only the licensing of the DC material with DC Heroes. It also shouldn’t be confused with Green Ronin’s DC Adventures, which is the most recent licensed DC Comics roleplaying game.
As a superhero role playing game, DC Heroes has a lot going for it. First, was the importance of the DC license. While it came out the year after Marvel Super Heroes, DC Heroes was the first game to license the DC world and provide actual role playing stats for DC characters.
More importantly though, the game solved the problem of scale in role playing games. In superhero gaming, there is always the problem that heroes run the gamut from the cosmic super being able to destroy planets at the blink of the eye to the more mundane humans like Batman and Robin. In order to successfully emulate the superhero genre DC Heroes had to come up with a way that Superman could fight Robin and that Robin could have a (small) chance.
MEGS: The Mayfair Exponential Game System
Mayfair Games solved this dilemma with their MEGS system. MEGS uses an exponential number system to represent absolutely everything in the game from how strong or fast a character is to weight to distance to speed and so on. An exponential system sounds like it would require a lot of math, but the MEGS system also abstracts out the exponents using Advancement Points (AP) so that everything stays on its on small scale.
For instance, 1 AP represents either one hundred pounds, five seconds, twelve feet, etc. 2 AP is roughly twice that number (two hundred pounds, ten seconds, etc.) and 3 AP is twice that (four hundred pounds, twenty seconds, and so on.) So, as an example of using the same scale, a normal human might have a 1 or 2 in Strength (the ability to lift one or two hundred pounds), while Superman might have an 8 in Strength (almost thirteen thousand pounds.) While the normal human will probably be pounded by Superman pretty quickly in a fight, the human does still have a chance, since there is only 5 or 6 AP difference between the two.
The other thing that MEGS does that is very interesting is that it represents everything physical in terms of AP. Vehicles travel at speeds measured in AP. Time is measured in AP. That means the distance Superman flies is determined by taking his flight speed (say 5 AP) and the amount of time he flew (for instance 2 AP) to get a distance of 10 AP, the value of which can then be found by consulting a chart in the book. This chart is comprehensive and goes from -100 AP to 100 AP, which should cover nearly every situation in which players may find themselves.
The rest of the MEGS system is just as simple as the use of AP. Rolls in the game use two ten-sided dice with doubles exploding (being rerolled and the new result added to the old.) This allows players to make incredibly powerful rolls within the rules of the game, letting their characters do miraculous things throughout the course of gaming. Conflicts also use an Action Table to resolve what happened.
The worst thing about the game is that it’s out of print. There is still a vibrant, active community supporting it on the Internet. It has its own Yahoo Group, a character index giving stat blocks for the majority of printed DC Heroes supplements and characters, as well as character generation software. Around three hundred messages are posted every month on the Yahoo Group, which means that those interested in the game should find someone to help them with it. Of course, used copies are floating around the Internet for those who want to own their own copy and variant rules can be found online.
If you’re interested in the MEGS system, you have two other options. The first is called Blood of Heroes, which is a game produced by Pulsar Games. Pulsar licensed the MEGS system directly and produced a game that is very similar to DC Heroes except that the standard characters were different and produced specifically for the Blood of Heroes game world. The other game was entitled Underground, a cybernetic war veteran game, that uses a close version of the MEGS system with only minor changes to what an AP represents.
DC Heroes is a great game with a strong fan following. For it to have endured as long as it has, it would have to be a great game. The fact that people are still talking about it twenty years later means that the game did a lot of things right. The exponential, though still abstract, AP system is the cornerstone of what DC Heroes/MEGS does right. The way in which characters of two vastly different power levels can co-exist and play a useful role is a fine accomplishment for a role playing game. Also, the enduring legacy and continued support for all of the DC’s games will continue to drive gamers to try DC Heroes.