I have a long-running joke with a friend of mine. It basically boils down to mocking the way one creates characters in the Marvel Super Hero RPG. The version that I owned really pressured players to assume the role of the established heroes of the Marvel comic books (at least, it seemed to 12 year old me that it did). The trouble is, no one I know wants to do that in a super hero game. They want to make their own guys. It's more than half the fun.
Don't get me wrong. It's neat to bump into established supers from time to time. While powerful NPCs are vexing in D&D, in a comic book game it's a treat to battle Doc Ock or meet the Human Torch at Applebee's. As far as running those characters, though? Heck no! I want to make my own.
In Marvel Supers, at least the version that I owned, character creation was relegated to a back section. It was written as if the authors never expected you to actually use it. It was also completely random. Everything from how fast or smart your character is, to what powers he has, is determined by the roll of the dice.
That's where the joke came in. Whenever I would sit down and roll up a Marvel Supers character, it seemed that every time I'd come up with a guy with the stupidest combination of powers. Underwater Breathing, Electricity Manipulation, and Rotting Touch. It's Zombie Eel! Damn it, I wanted to play a guy with super speed!
I must say, my opinions have changed a little. I've become more a fan of purely random characters. Randomness in an RPG forces one to exercise the imagination, to roll with the punches that fate is throwing and try to bring everything together in a logical (at least comic book logical) fashion. One caveat, though. The random is much more fun as a GM. When you're behind the screen, rolling on charts can make you feel less like a referee and more like a player in the game, getting surprised by what the dice tell you and trying to make things work out.
The version of Marvel Supers that I played today was far more complete. Rather than devote a few pages of an appendix to character generation, the game put custom characters front and center. The GM gave us a set of house rules that let us game the probability a bit, picking powers here and assigning dice rolls there.
You know what? I ignored all that and let the dice decide EVERYTHING about my character. I was really happy with the results. It was a lot of fun taking these results and mixing them together, like a cook trying to make a gourmet meal of the stuff tossed to them by the Iron Chef. Say what you want about Zombie Eel, but I still talk about him 20 years after I randomly rolled him up, and I never even used him in a game.
If only Marvel had a faster, more intuitive system, I would probably rate it as a much better game. Still, I'll probably go back next Sunday. After all, there are bad guys out there that need to be stopped. I leave you with my completely random character. Ignore the stats you don't understand (unless you do) and just read the flavor text.
To start you out, keep in mind that I began by rolling my powers. I got Claws, Shape-shifting (Imitation), and Corrosive Missile. Huh. I wouldn't have chosen a single one of those powers. Here's what I came up with. Forgive the Comic Sans font but, well, I hope you can understand why I used it.
Into the Caves
It took John Doppler two hours, crawling on his belly through the mud and grime, to reach the end of the tight crawlspace. Spelunking was dangerous enough, but spelunking by yourself was borderline insanity. Still, John had to reach the other side. If his instincts were right, the crawl-way would lead to a vast network of caverns, perhaps the largest in North America. Althea Cobb would have no choice but to let John onto her land then, once he could prove the significance of his find.
When John finally emerged from the tiny space, what he saw went beyond his expectations. A vast domed ceiling, like the roof of a cathedral, stretched past the range of his flashlight. A narrow, slow-moving stream split the entire massive cavern in two. Beyond the water, a dozen side-passages split off in every direction.
John didn't dare go any farther alone. He turned around and began the arduous crawl back through the narrow tunnel. When he emerged, John was shocked to find the same large cavern that he had just left. How could he have gotten turned around in a claustrophobic tunnel barely big enough for a man on his belly? It wasn't possible. Slightly panicked, John again returned to the crawlspace. His heart beat with fear as he made his way, painfully, through the tunnel. Finally, he reached the end. He was still in the same vast cave.
Exhausted and covered in filth, John began to question his sanity. There was no way he could have gotten turned around twice. Something unnatural was happening. Swallowing panic, John walked deeper into the large cave. As he waded across the ankle-deep river that bisected the cave, John suddenly stopped. The cold water began to seep into his boots, soaking his feet. He stood rooted like a statue, the will to move leaving his body like heat draining from a man dying of exposure.
“Wouldn't it be better to just lie down and rest?”
The voice came unbidden into the man's mind. What was his name again? J...something. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the water. And sleep. And oblivion. The man obeyed the voice, dropping slowly to his knees.
Then the ghosts came. Transparent apparitions with hollow eyes and blank, smooth faces. They seemed to grow more solid as they approached, as if they took substance from the man kneeling in the river. Smiling hungrily, the nearest spirit reached out its misty hand.
Something deep inside the man sparked as the spirit touched him. A thought. A memory. A name. John. With all his will, John Doppler stood up. The ghost-thing recoiled in surprise and fear. Then it screamed in unearthly rage as John turned and fled down the river.
* * *
John Doppler emerged from the small cave behind Jakobs Field a changed man. His memory of the past week was hazy and jumbled. John vaguely recalled a pale man, a dark boat, and a pervasive, clinging mist. He couldn't remember how he had escaped the endless cave.
John was certain of one thing, though. He knew where he had been; Hades, the underworld of Greek myth. Somehow, the land of the dead had infected John and taken a piece of his soul with it. It had altered his body, leaving his skin gray and nearly featureless. John's hands were now sharp, boney claws. His eyes were empty black pools. All around him, a thin purple fog hung like an aura.
John Doppler had spent a week in hell. He decided that he was never going to back. Swearing an oath to every Olympian god that he could remember, John Doppler became a hero. He took the name Eidolon, a Greek word for a phantom that can appear as a living person. With hell at his back, Eidolon went looking for trouble.
CHARACTER INFORMATION SHEET
Hero's Name: Eidolon
Origin: Altered Human
Identity (Secret): John Doppler. Eidolon can use his Shapeshifting-Imitation power to disguise his altered appearance. As John Doppler, he is a an average-looking man with dark hair and brown eyes.
Fighting: Incredible (40)
Agility: Incredible (40)
Strength: Good (10)
Endurance: Remarkable (30)
Reason: Good (10)
Intuition: Excellent (20)Psyche: Incredible (40)
Health (F+A+S+E): 120
Karma (R+I+P): 70
SHAPESHIFTING (IMITATION): Monstrous (75)
Eidolon can channel a tiny thread of the life-force of any person he touches, mentally projecting it onto the mist that always surrounds him. Doing so creates a powerful illusion that allows Eidolon to duplicate the targeted person exactly.
CLAWS: Remarkable (30)
Eidolon's fingers end in boney claws, a side effect of his time in Hades.
FOG OF LETHE – CORROSIVE MISSILE: Remarkable (30)
Eidolon can project the purple fog of Lethe, the river of oblivion, whose condensation disintegrates matter.
Judo (Martial Arts A): Stun or Slam an opponent regardless of their comparative Strengths and Endurances.
Electronics: +1 CS on matters involving electronic devices, including their creation and repair.