I’ve been playing a bit with using Villains and Vigilantes, a very old school rpg, to describe characters from DC comics from the 1930s through the 1960s. So far as powers go, the system works moderately well for the earlier generation characters—it can model the Superman who could lift an automobile, but not the one who could change the Moon’s orbit. But I’m dissatisfied with the handling of characteristics. If you create new characters (rather than superpowered avatars of the players, as the rules recommend), you roll 3d6 for each of five characteristics—whether you’re creating Mr. T.C. Mits (The Celebrated Man In The Street) or Earth’s mightiest heroes. And that just doesn’t fit the source material. No superheroes have all their characteristics below average, which could certainly happen by rolling dice (about 3% of the time); a rare superhero may be below average in one characteristic, but not in roughly half of them; and it’s common for superheroes to range from marginally above average to impressive, which is certainly not common with random rolls.
There are actually two issues here. One is the player who wants to play a character who fits a specific concept, such as “brilliant inventor,” and rolls a character with Intelligence 5. (Yes, back in the old school, we did assume that you would play the character the dice gave you. But now most players come in with a character concept.)
- One option would be to let players move characteristics around: possibly putting any roll onto any characteristic, or possibly just picking the characteristics they want to have highest and lowest and swapping their rolls for the highest and lowest rolls. That doesn’t avoid the risk of a below average character, but it does improve the chances of playing the concept you want.
- One option is to allow buying characteristics with a point pool. Borrowing from RuneQuest, characters could start out with 8 points in every characteristic, and get 10 total points to buy them up, making their characters average (and probably not heroic enough), or 15 points (making them “adventurer grade,” more or less). That does more for “the concept you want.”
- One option is to buy things like Heightened Agility A and Heightened Intelligence A, which are defined as characteristic boost attainable by training. That will work moderately well for Batman-like characters, but if you’re building a powered character, it cuts into your number of powers. You can do Cyclops, say, or Invisible Kid, but good look building Green Lantern or Doctor Strange.
- One option is to improve the dice rolls. A mechanic I’ve played with is to allow rolling four dice and choosing the best three; I think that boosts the average roll by about a standard deviation, from 10.5 to 12, which still leaves a risk of a below average character, but decreases it and makes the average superhero a bit superior to Mr. T.C. Mits. This might need to be combined with swapping rolled scores around to get a character who fits a concept.
I’m not sure if there’s one of these I quite like. Does anyone have thoughts on ways of addressing these two issues? Or preferences for different approaches?