This is another entry from the Designers & Dragons Platinum Appendix, which is available as an eBook or POD from DTRPG. Thanks to Carl Rigney, the platinum dragon patron behind this history.

This article was originally published as Advanced Designers & Dragons #6 on RPGnet. It was written for inclusion in Designers & Dragons: The Platinum Appendix (2015).

The Hero Auxiliary Corps was a volunteer organization that ran innovative tournaments for Hero Games throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. They’re a prime example of how fans can make a difference.

Prelude to a Legion: 1982–1983

The story of the Hero Auxiliary Corps (HAC) begins with two gamers from New Jersey. High school student Keith Hannigan and recent graduate Mike Malony met at one of the East Coast’s 1982 gaming conventions — during a RuneQuest (1978) game run by none other than Ken Rolston. They immediately struck up a friendship.

Hannigan and Malony stayed in touch through the rest of 1982, then in spring 1983 Hannigan invited Malony up to northern New Jersey to play a guest villain in his home Champions (1981) campaign, which starred a group of heroes called the Texas Rangers. In advance of the game, Malony was given investigative dossiers on the Rangers — who had been captured in the previous week’s play. Malony studied them while hiding in Hannigan’s dining room, and then at Hannigan’s cue he strode into the living room, resplendent in dress clothes and a black cloak — at which point he began to interrogate the characters.

This focus on roleplaying and on dramatic action would inform the group that Hannigan and Malony would soon create — but first another convention had to enter the story.

From EastCon to Gen Con: 1983–1984

In its earliest days, the Origins Game Fair was a roving East Coast gaming convention that landed at different locales throughout Maryland, New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania in different years. But then in the early ‘80s, the Origins organizers decided to go further afield, traveling to San Mateo, California, for Pacific Origins (1981) — which was the same convention where Champions premiered.

This left a convention-sized hole in the East Coast’s gaming schedule. The Eastern Gaming Association (EGA) — who ran Origins ‘80 in Chester, Pennsylvania — decided to fill that hole by creating their own convention: EastCon. But before they could finalize plans, TSR offered to get involved, resulting in the creation of Gen Con East.

Gen Con East lasted two years, appearing in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1981 and in Chester, Pennsylvania, for 1982. Afterward, TSR withdrew but the EGA crew continued on, resulting in one more gaming event. This time, though, it kept its original name. EastCon (1983) ran at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey, from June 24–26, 1983.

We now return to our New Jersey Champions players — and to Keith Hannigan in particular, who contacted Hero Games to request sponsorship for a Champions tournament at EastCon. This wasn’t an unusual request, as EastCon was still a pretty big deal, even without the TSR partnership. James Ward famously ran Rob Kuntz’s “The Maze of Xaene” as a D&D tournament at the convention, while there were also official tournaments for TSR’s Gamma World (1978) and GDW’s Traveller (1977). Unsurprisingly, Hero Games gave Hannigan the go-ahead to run an official Champions tourney too.

Hannigan and Malony quickly set to writing an adventure starring the Texas Rangers, and “The Official Champions Tournament: The Kiros Files” (1983) premiered as planned at EastCon. The two were assisted in running the tournament by another New Jersey roleplayer, Sue Grau — who handled some of the game’s logistics, so that the other GMs could concentrate on the roleplaying. She’d be a full GM by the third year of the tournament and would grow even more important to the group in later years.

The Texas Rangers adventures are well-remembered because they were innovative and quite unlike the other big tournaments found at conventions at the time. To start with, they focused on roleplaying — at times becoming live action games where players were encouraged to get out of their seats and move around. However, the unique heart of the Texas Rangers games was what the GMs called “The Question.”

These Champions tournaments were run in multiple rounds, as was typical for convention adventures. The GMs of the first round ensured that the best roleplayers advanced to the second round; then at the end of the second round, the players were faced with a Question. Questions were a natural outgrowth of the disadvantage system already built into Champions, which suggested that heroes could be conflicted in their choices. However, the tournament went beyond that, introducing a subgenre of the game that’s been called “moral dilemma Champions.”

That first adventure, “The Kiros Files,” was based in part on the Keith Hannigan adventure that Mike Malony participated in a few months earlier: the PCs discovered a “villainous” organization and traced it to a secret lair. There, they were given the opportunity to join the organization, and perhaps do more good than they could as a local hero group. Would they do so? That was the first Question.

And because I had always been far more interested in roleplaying than in just beating up villains, these events had tremendous appeal to me.

Rod Currie, “Playing the Con Game,” Digital Hero #9 (April 2003)

It was an exciting new focus for roleplaying and one that continues to influence GMs in the modern day — including the patron of this article. This would be one of the biggest impacts that the Texas Rangers tourneys had on the field.

Keith Hannigan got to meet Ray Greer, Bruce Harlick, and Stacy Lawrence of Hero Games a few weeks later at Origins ’83, which was back in Michigan that year. At Hero’s urging, Hannigan, Malony, and Grau ran The Kiros Files again at Gen Con XVI (1983). The game was once more well-received — and exactly what Ray Greer had been looking for.

Participating in Gen Con was difficult for a small company like Hero Games. Their convention presence was usually too small, and most of that convention time was already taken up with selling product and with meeting artists, authors, and distributors. As a result, Hero had been looking for local talent who was interested in carrying the banner for Hero Games. Hannigan, Malony, and Grau were a godsend; Greer definitely wanted them to continue producing tournaments for Champions.

Hero worked with the group through the next year — by which time Greer had conceived of an organization he called the Hero Auxiliary Corps (HAC). Though it would also include star GMs from Canada and from across the East Coast, the Texas Rangers GMs were the heart of organization. In later years, it was Sue Grau who coordinated HAC tournaments across the country, and it was her group that survived when the rest of HAC faded out.

The Core of the Corps: 1984–1993

Following the Gen Con run of The Kiros Files, Keith Hannigan’s Hero Auxiliary Corps quickly grew. This began in fall 1983 when Keith Hannigan moved to Chicago for college. There he connected up with Marc Blumberg and Joseph Adlesick, who he met at Gen Con. They joined Hannigan’s new college gaming group and would go on to help with HAC’s Champions tournaments, starting with the second adventure, “Killing Miss Texas” (1984) — in which players had to decide whether to take one innocent life in order to save a city. It was the only HAC Champions adventure ever where some of the players could break away from the group (here, to kill Miss Texas) rather than everyone deciding The Question as a group.

“Killing Miss Texas” also revealed another important fact about the Texas Rangers stories: they were a continuing narrative, with each adventure building on the one before it. Rod Currie later described it as “an ongoing campaign with one game session per year.”

The tournaments continued in 1985 with not just the third Champions tournament but also something new: a Justice Inc. (1984) tournament organized by Blumberg, Hannigan, and Malony. It was best remembered for “Bandit, raccoon of the future,” a sidekick to a scientist character in the game. The tournaments were always bringing new GMs to HAC, and this was the case here: Canadian Dean Edgell joined the group after his Justice Inc. play.

Meanwhile, Malony also moved to Chicago for college in 1985 while more Chicago gamers joined the group, including Mitch Gitelman and Drew Novick. What had begun as a New Jersey group of GMs would now receive more attention as a Chicago group — and was even called the “Chicago HACs” by Ray Greer. Despite the name, the group had members in New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Quebec, and Toronto.

Throughout the rest of the ‘80s, the Chicago HACs ran Champions and Justice Inc. tournaments at Gen Con and (when it was nearby) at Origins. By this time they’d registered as an official club at Gen Con — making it easier for Sue Grau to organize things, which probably contributed to the longevity of the organization.

Meanwhile, HAC was growing increasingly important to Hero Games. This was in part due to the transformation of Hero that occurred in January 1986, when Hero Games signed a publishing deal with ICE. Though the HAC’s Champions tournament took a year off in 1986 due to illness and the pressures of college, the group bounced back in 1987; working with ICE, they were able to ensure continuity in Hero’s convention presence.

It was a draining event. Physically, since it is always warm in the room (small room, too many bodies; it always draws an audience) but emotionally as well. … Hugs and handshakes were exchanged all around, players, GMs, audience.

Terry O’Brien, “Gen Con 1993” (1993),

As the ‘90s dawned, the first chapter in the story of the Hero Auxiliary Corps was drawing to an end. The seventh tournament, “Rangers in Hell” (1990), was the last one to star the Texas Rangers. “The Confederation” (1991) then introduced a new group of heroes. Keith Hannigan decided to leave the group after the ninth tournament, “The Blade Stigma” (1992). The next year, the Chicago HACs recognized Hannigan’s departure by producing a big finale for the gritty world that had been the setting of the first 10 HAC adventures.

In “Paranormal Zero” (1993), the heroes discovered that super powers were the result of an experimental virus that also caused sterility. It was about to be unleashed on every person on Earth, which would effectively end the human race. The heroes could stop the virus, but doing so would kill everyone who already had it — including themselves. The final round of “Paranormal Zero” was played out in a side room at Milwaukee’s MECCA that was packed full of spectators. They tensely watched as the heroes ultimately decided to end themselves and the age of heroism.

It was the biggest Question ever, and a glorious end. Though the Champions tournaments continued afterward, it was with new heroes, in a new world.

“I: The Kiros Files” (1983). After tracing a secret organization to Baron Kiros, the heroes must choose whether to follow the letter of the law or take on a greater responsibility.

“II: Killing Miss Texas” (1984). A mage’s spell curses the city of Dallas, and the heroes must decide whether to sacrifice Miss Texas to save the city.

“III: The Scarborough Affair” (1985). Senator Scarborough is holding together a US crumbling from within; the Rangers must decide what to do when he’s revealed as the creator of those problems — and how to respond to his offers of “perfection” for each of the heroes.

Afterward the Texas Rangers’ leader, Sphinx, becomes the new President of the United States by popular acclaim.

“IV: Project Soulstar” (1987). As the USSR prepares to attack the Middle East and Japan develops a missile shield, the players must help the Sphinx to decide whether to drop The Bomb on the Soviet Union’s massed forces.

“V: Vox Populi” (1988). The Sphinx is running for reelection as President, while the Rangers are fighting against a repressive anti-gay bill. Though this is all a plot by Doctor Destroyer, the Rangers have no proof. They must decide whether Sphinx should veto the bill — which will doubtless lead to his defeat in the election and the bill’s passage anyway in the next year.

“VI: A Matter of Faith” (1989). After Firestar sacrifices himself, the Rangers (now largely retired from public life) are given the opportunity to convince a faith healer to help him; instead, they lament the loss of their comrade.

“VII: Rangers in Hell” (1990). The Rangers come together one last time to try to save Firestar from Hell. They succeed after a rather philosophical Question makes them realize that their powers and morals came from within and are without limit.

“VIII: The Confederation” (1991). After the escalation of the previous years, a fresh start allows for simpler adventures. A new group of heroes comes together and must decide whether they trust each other in the face of attacks by a shape-changing foe.

“IX: The Blade Stigma” (1992). Following a chase around the world, the Confederation must choose what to do when they learn that their main supporter is using drug money to fund them.

“X: Paranormal Zero” (1993). After defeating natural disasters, the Confederation must decide whether to sacrifice all of their lives in order to save the human race.

The Original Ten Tournaments: 1983–1993

A Publishing Interlude: 1987–1996

After Hero Games arranged their publication deal with ICE, the principals of Hero moved on to other jobs in the roleplaying and video game industry. This left ICE with a bit of a dilemma: they had a well-loved mature game system thanks in part to Hero’s great convention presence, but they didn’t have anyone to produce new material.

Rob Bell eventually stepped up to manage the Hero System for ICE; he was another tourney GM, who’d been running his own Capitol Patrol convention adventures since around 1985. However, the Hero Auxiliary Corps was also given the opportunity to influence Hero’s publishing future.

For a short time in 1987, ICE tasked Blumberg, Gitelman, Hannigan, and Malony with “evaluating proposals” for new Hero products, but the plan didn’t work out. Blumberg, Grau, and Malony edited and contributed to one book, Robot Gladiators (1987), while Blumberg, Hannigan, and Malony wrote an article for Hero’s Adventurers Club #10 (Summer 1987) called “Champions Minus,” and that was the majority of HAC’s contributions to Hero’s official publications.

In the following years, some individual Chicago HACs opted to write books of their own for ICE. Dean Edgell and newer member Chad Brinkley were the most prolific, contributing to a small handful of books — beginning with the GM Screen for Champions (1989) and ending with Edgell’s Blood Fury (1996). Meanwhile, Blumberg and Hannigan were among many contributors to Hero System Almanac 2 (1995).

However, by 1996, the Hero/ICE relationship was growing dysfunctional, which caused Hero to break away and to form troubled relations with a few other companies. These latter-day changes also marked the end of the HACs’ contributions to published Hero Games, with one exception: the much-later The Ultimate Speedster (2006), which Marc Blumberg co-authored with Steven S. Long.

However, HAC was never really about publication. They would continue to influence Hero Games in big ways, but it would be through tournaments, not books.

Ever Expanding: 1990–1997

In 1990, the Chicago HACs gave the Texas Rangers their finale, while their Justice Inc. adventures continued on. That year the group also decided to create a second generation of games with three more regular tournaments: Brian Curley, Dana Edgell, Dean Edgell, and Drew Novick began running “Drive-In Hero”; Sue Grau started a second superhero tournament, called “Octagon”; and Chad Brinkley, Mike Evans, Aaron Loeb, Dan Silver, and David Simkins began running a Fantasy Hero (1985) tourney. HAC’s registration as a Gen Con club made this expansion easy — co-opting new GMs into HAC who might otherwise have run tournaments on their own.

This was just the first step in HAC’s rapid growth in the ‘90s. There had previously been a variety of Hero events at Gen Con, such as Rob Bell’s “Capitol Hero” and Mike Nystul’s own “Fantasy Hero,” but in the years that followed an increasing number of Hero tourneys came under the Hero Auxiliary Corps’ banner. Though the logistics were growing more challenging than ever, Sue Grau coordinated them for the ever-expanding group.

Sadly, this Gen Con expansion occurred at the same time that the larger HAC group that Ray Greer had created was disintegrating. Though ICE made good use of the group in the late ‘80s, by the early ‘90s they let it fade away, resulting in the Chicago HACs being the sole inheritors of the Hero Auxiliary Corps name. Today, if someone mentions the HACs, they probably mean the Chicago group.

At Gen Con ‘’95, Grau reported 47 different Hero events, making it the second most popular game system after AD&D — something that had occasionally been true since the ‘80s, showing the power of the HACs. Of those, over a dozen of the events had been run by HAC, including: Agents of Fortune, Anime Hero II, Champions XII, The Dark, Dark Champions II, Drive In Hero VI, Fantasy Hero VI, Force 10, Justice Incorporated X, Octagon, Re-Run Heroes, Starship T-11, Team Justice, and What About Dessert. Classic GMs like Marc Blumberg, Chad Brinkley, Brian Curley, Dana Edgell, Dean Edgell, Sue Grau, and Drew Novick were joined by relative newcomers like Mike Naylor and many more.

HAC planned for 16 games at Gen Con ’96, and continued to run events at the 1997 Gen Con Game Fair, but that would be the last year for the organization.


The problem wasn’t too little success, but instead too much. By 1997, HAC was also coordinating with Don Prust’s convention group, SLASH, who was interested in things outside of the Hero Games wheelhouse. Meanwhile, potential HAC members wanted to run convention adventures for Deadlands (1996), D&D (1974+), and other games. At the same time, Hero Games publication was moving from ICE to R. Talsorian to Cybergames. As a result of all these factors, Grau and the others decided to shut down HAC — leaving their Hero Games sponsorship behind and instead creating something new.

Infinite Futures: 1997-Present

Though the Hero Auxiliary Corps was officially shut down in 1997, Infinite Imaginations immediately replaced it — revealing the transformation to mainly be a change in name and focus. This revamped organization continues to the modern day.

Today Infinite Imaginations includes about 40 GMs. They still run roleplaying-heavy tournament adventures, including a regular Champions tournament, and Sue Grau remains in charge. Rob Wiener and Geoff Speare ran “Champions 2014” at Gen Con Indy 2014; it featured the same focus on moral dilemmas and continued character development that HAC had kicked off decades before.

However, Infinite Imaginations runs a lot more. At Gen Con Indy 2014 they also hosted adventures for Adventure!Buffy the Vampire SlayerCall of CthulhuCommando, Dragon AgeDragonQuestDungeons & DragonsGodlikeGUMSHOEImmortalInSpectres, and Mutants & Masterminds. Despite this breadth, the Hero System got the most attention by far.

Besides popularizing moral-dilemma roleplaying and contributing to the success of the Hero System, the Hero Auxiliary Corps created an organization that’s lasted over 30 years.

And that’s how fans can make a difference.

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