My strength is as a strength of 10 because I am average

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?

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If you want a random character, roll dice for it. If you have a character concept in mind, there should be a mechanism to purchase stats/skills/talents/etc, and that’s only as a control to keep characters from being too good.

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A set array of values that the player distributes across the five skills?
For OSR it is something like 14,13,12, 9, 8, 7 for a non-heroic character to allocate across the traditional D&D 6 stats.

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Yeah, I kind of like an approach where players can either roll or purchase. In my Runequest campaign, I set it up so that purchasing gave you slightly fewer points that the average you’d get for rolling, so that there was a payoff for taking the risk. But figuring that tradeoff requires determining the average roll.


If it were my game to run, and you rolled less than the points, you could opt to take the points.

Sometimes, unless you do have a good concept to work from, it’s just not fun to play as an underpowered character.

What specific game are you citing in this case? It’s an interesting approach, and one that I’ve never seen before. David Pulver’s “old school” supers game Guardians just calls for rolling 3d6 for every characteristic.

It seems kind of odd to have a distribution with no 11 or 10. I think if I were setting such a thing up I might go for 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, or even 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14.

It certainly has problems if you’re playing a superhero! Oh, I guess you could play a low-end character with mutant powers . . .

Stars Without Numbers is the specific one that I pulled that from, but on review I’ve got the wrong array (should be 14,12,11,10,9,7).
The system also allows for the standard ‘roll 3d6 six times and assign them in order’.

Do you roll and assign, roll and assign, . . . ? Or do you make all six rolls and then start assigning?

  1. Original V&V was based on players playing super-powered versions of themselves, so they could simply pick their stats based on their own abilities. In the spirit of the game, you could just assign whatever stats you want.

  2. 3rd edition introduced a point-based option. V&V 3.0 Mighty Protectors - Monkey House Games | Villains and Vigilantes | You can actually download the full-sized preview. It has an array-based option where the values in the array can be chosen or randomly assigned. The specific array is based on the power level.

It’s read vertically. A normal campaign uses an array of 14, 12, 10, 8, 6; a high-powered campaign uses an array of 20, 18, 16, 14, 12.

In the point-based creation, characteristics are bought with points on 1:1 basis. So, if you want that flexibility but not necessarily do all character creation by points, you could just assign a number of characteristics points based on the power level of the campaign, such as 70 points for a standard campaign (based on the sum of the characteristics in the array above).


As written, roll the dice and assign in the order of the stats (STR, DEX, CON etc).
Basically, you don’t get to pick which stats the highs and lows get allocated to, as per the situation you described in your first post.

If you elect to roll for stats, you are allowed to replace one result with a 14 to represent the character being gifted in at least one area.

The set array is offered as a choice to have more control on which stats you excel at, but without the chance of rolling a better (or worse!) set of results.

I wasn’t aware that there WAS a third edition. How much of a departure is it from the second edition?

I don’t know. I just knew it existed, found it on DTRPG, and skimmed through the preview. :smiley:

Oh, the V&V editions are a mess. As far as I can tell:

1979 first edition by Jeff Dee/Jack Herman, published by FGU.
1982-1987 second edition, ditto.
(long gap)
2004- FGU reprints of older material
2010- “2.1” by Dee and Herman as Monkey House Games
2010- new “second edition” material from FGU without Dee and Herman
2016 the court case is resolved, both sides can keep publishing

I think that those original options can be ordered on a scale of randomness versus design:

  • 3d6 in order
  • 3d6 out of 4 in order
  • Heightened [Stat] power
  • move characteristics around
  • point buy

What’s the objective? Is it fun to play an all-below-average character? Is it fun to play a character with high X and low Y, if you didn’t choose X and Y? Is it fun to play a typical superheroic guy if some other player happened to roll better than you for everything? (To some extent that’s “how important are stats as distinct from the powers you choose”.)

For myself, the longer I’m going to be playing the character, the more I want to start with a concept and fold the numbers to match it, while if I’m playing expendable dungeon-bashing adventurer #17 I don’t really care.

Another option to consider, which I’d rate near “Heightened [Stat] power” on the list: roll, and then if the total is less than some threshold add points to bring it up to the threshold. This solves incompetence but not the situation where the other guy rolled better.

Where would you put the one where you have the numbers (for example)13, 12, 10, 9, 8 to be assigned as you choose?

Last but one. There’s no randomness in there, but you don’t have quite as much design flexibility as you do with pure point-buy.

You could try something like start with a base of 6, then roll 3d6 and add the highest two values. That gives a minimum of 8, max of 18, but likely falls somewhere in the low to mid teens.

Basically the 4d6 option above, but guaranteeing at least one 6.

Well, the mean of 3d6 choose 2 seems to be 8.46, and the median and mode are both 9. Adding 6 gives an expected score of 14.46 or 15. That might be a bit higher than I want.

Looking at a different process, rolling 3d6 six times and discarding one roll, I find that the median lowest roll is 7. Symmetrically, the median highest roll must be 14. For five characteristics, the four in the middle will average 10.5, and 4 x 10.5 + 14 = 56, for a mean of 11.2. That might be a little low. It could be equated to assigning scores of 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14, or to setting every stat to 8 and then having 16 points to spend on raising stats.

It appears you’re basically describing the options in D&D 5e (possibly others, I haven’t played since 2nd edition).

They have roll 4d6 and choose the highest 3. Assign to the stats you want.
Just use 6 pre-determined scores: 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8
They have a variant of point buying where you have 27 points to spend and different scores cost different points from 8 costing you 0 points to 15 costing you 9 points.

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A mechanic I remember from somebody’s D&D game back in my university days was “For each stat: Roll 3d6. If the result is 9 or less, re-roll. If the second result is below average, take the sum of the two rolls.”

(I think that the re-roll number was 9 or less; anyway, that can be tweaked to taste.)

That generally ensures that everyone has above-average stats, and a decent chance of some very good numbers without too many freakishly powerful characters - and the very occasional low number for characters who’re just glitchy that way despite being heroes.