Random Heroes

Once upon a role-playing time, a small but distinct minority of rules-systems allowed you create completely random characters. The original and venerable Classic D&D started the trend, with it’s instructions to roll 3d6 in order for the stats. From these you chose the most suitable class (or otherwise, if you were feeling brave) and went from there. Traveller’s excellent character generation took this several stages further with an character’s entire career being mapped out with the fall of numerous d6s. Death during character generation was a very real possibility, though viable characters were usually given honourable discharge with a rakish war wound instead; I remember one session that had two characters who needed a stick to walk. Ah, good times.

Top of the tree when it comes to random heroes has to be the Marvel RPG. Jeff Grubb’s magnum opus is a work of pure brilliance that still stands up today as one of the best superhero games ever made – and it’s thankfully available completely free (along with all supplements, scenarios, extras and more) from http://classicmarvel.com. It’s well worth the price of download (free!) even if you’ve only a passing love of superheroes. The game comes in two flavours – Basic, and Advanced. The Marvel Basic version was targeted at a slightly younger audience (this was when comics were for kids. Can you believe that??!) and lacked character generation rules – the players used 100% official Marvel characters. This was also when Intellectual Property Stupidity wasn’t the disease it’s become today.

It’s the Advanced version that shone. Character generation allowed players to make choices or roll randomly all the way. I much preferred the 100% random approach. The most unlikely combination of powers, skills and talents frequently creates the most durable of characters. Many of the long-term heroes in our Superhero campaign originated on the tables of the Marvel RPG and survived migration to DC Heroes, HERO, M&M and more. Sometimes I still crack open the book and run through the table for inspiration, migrating the Powers and power levels to M&M right at the end. One of these days, I’ll convert those tables straight to Mutants & Masterminds but it’s always fun to hit the Marvel RPG directly.

One of the key strengths of the random generation is that rolling the stats and powers is only the start; once the numbers are down it’s fun to work out how it all hangs together, fleshing them out in a way that makes sense. Sometimes you’ll need to re-roll, but with practice even the strangest mixes turn into pure gold.

Here’s a quick example.

Altered Human
Fighting (Good 8), Agility (Good 8), Strength (Typical 5), Endurance (Remarkable 26)
Reason (Incredible 36), Intuition (Remarkable 26), Psyche (Excellent 16)
Sound Manipulation (Remarkable 26), Sound Generation (Excellent 16), Life Support (Typical 5)
Blunt (Excellent 16), Guns (Excellent 16), Chemistry (Amazing 46)
Health 47, Karma 78, Resources (Typical 5), Popularity 20 (Public ID), Contacts 0/4

We’ve got an altered human – someone like Spiderman or the Fantastic Four who encountered some life-changing event that granted their powers. He’s (or she’s) within the normal-human levels of fighting skill and agility, and of only average build. He’s highly intelligent, and very determined. I rolled Sound Manipulation and this gave an option to take Sound Generation to fill another slot. The third roll provided us with Life Support. Hmmmm. Thankfully the dice came up trumps with his talents, giving both Blunt and Guns Weapon Skills to augment his meagre combat ability, and Chemistry (thanks to his Reason, at Amazing rank) giving us one possible route to origin. Nice. I decided he’d have a public ID, boosting his Populatiry to 20. No mask for this fella!
Now, to turn this into a character………

The Shroud


Dr Geoff Goodwin was a man obsessed. He knew that chemical reactions in the air would produce sound, but turning theory into reality, and finding a viable use for such technology meant that he was constantly ignored and derided at Viachem. Even super-computers lacked sufficient power to repoduce anything more than simple noise. It needed that spark of creative intelligence. Viachem threatened to shelve his research until Artificial Intelligence development reached sufficient levels. As Dr Goodwin left the meeting that could end his lifes’ work, armed thugs raided Viachem, killing several of Dr Goodwin’s co-workers. He fled for his lab, locking himself in as the thugs raided the place for usable (or saleable) technology.

When his lab door opened, mist shrouded the floor, the reek of noise and fear and insanity filling the air. Bathed in his own chemicals, Dr Goodwin put fear in the hearts of the thugs with sounds of gunfire, explosions and defeat. The mists snaked around him, a wan yellow vapour that appeared to possess a life of it’s own. Dr Goodwin faced the thugs, first flooring them with bolts of raw noise before picking up their guns and batons. They felt right in his hands as he stalked the corridors, a Shroud avenging the deaths of his friends and allies. He would not be denied again.

Viachem was saved that day, though at a price. The media frenzy amid Dr Goodwin’s actions revealed corruption at the heart of one of the US’s largest techno-chemical companies. The company was immediately closed pending investigation. Dr Goodwin, the hero of the hour, faced redundancy. Worse yet, the chemical change was permanent, his body infused and synthesizing the mists. He no longer has to eat or breathe (though he does both, out of habit), the mists providing for all his needs.

It was then he was approached by The League. They offered him a job, a purpose and a place he could call home.

Quote: “I’m just a chemist.”

Not a bad origin, even if I say so myself :) The Shoud is one-part The Shadow one part Sandman; an avenging hero who uses his intelligence to solve crimes and his powers, guns and batons to mete justice. He’s not a patient guy, and believes that the judicial system is far too slow to act and that punishment should fit the crime. This makes him popular with like-minded people and many tabloids. He hasn’t yet killed (though his new-found allies believe it only a matter of time), usually leaving the criminals and villains badly injured and scared out of their wits.

Note: In the render above, the overlapping fog banks produced an unexpected pixelation – probably a bug when rendering flat planes in DAZ Studio. I kinda like the accidental effect – it implies the sound and electric intelligence of the fog – so left it in rather than move the planes to fix it.


I gave the game set of powers to my boys, and they suggested Shriek, an undead ghoul-like banshee who uses her unearthly voice to attack her foes. Which I gotta admit is an even better rationale than mine :)

Which just goes to show – the same abilities and powers can be interpreted many, many ways!

Why not grab the Marvel Advanced RPG yourself and give it a go?

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