Edit: There is also a Smallville Pathways-style group character creation method that’s less crunchy, more playtested, and probably more fun at the table here.

I picked up the new Cortex-based Marvel RPG last week (review probably starting next week, after Savage Worlds concludes). One of the immediate oddities of the game that seems to have leaped out at everyone was the lack of a systematic character creation method. It comes down to “pick an existing Marvel character and give him or her whatever stats seem reasonable.” Maybe there’s a plan for a more in-depth system in a later book or maybe Marvel put its foot down that their last system got a lot of flack from people like me about how easy it was to minmax and break the system and that wasn’t to happen again. Either way, the lack is palpable for players (who make up the majority of players that I know) that want to make their own heroes.

The system below is a first tinkering on my part to retrofit points onto the system. Costs for things are largely based on how much system utility a given power or SFX seems to have: that is, if the power die or SFX could conceivably be used more often in dice pools, it’s priced more expensively. Even with the points, you’ll want to have a pretty in-depth discussion between GM and player about each hero and make sure elements are added because they’re thematic to the hero the player wants, not because the player has spare points and wants to pick up something useful. GMs are specifically encouraged to assess additional point cost to “unrelated collection of useful powers” characters and may even provide a few bonus points to characters that take situationally-useful but highly in-theme powers.

All that said, the points below do get within spitting distance of the existing datafiles that I priced. For reference:

  • Local: Armor
  • Regional: Colossus, Cyclops
  • Regional +XP: Human Torch, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Shadowcat, Thing
  • Global: Beast, Black Widow, Invisible Woman, Mister Fantastic
  • Global +XP: Captain America, Daredevil, Iron Man, Spider-Woman
  • Cosmic: Emma Frost, Spider-Man, Storm, Wolverine

Power Level

Starting characters in this system are rated by power level. This is basically the frame of the game that the characters can play from the starting session. If you let experience persist across Events, characters will likely upgrade levels every few Events.

  • Local characters are either just starting out or have profoundly limited powersets. They will most frequently deal with small-time criminals (“Street Heroes”) or be in training for higher-powered teams (e.g., X-Men trainees). Local characters start with 20 points to spend on Power Sets and 4 points to spend on Specialties.
  • Regional characters are entry-level with a pretty good power range, have extensive pre-game training, or are experienced heroes with a limited power range. They will either handle problems all over a major city or may pursue specifically relevant stories all over the world (common for mutants). Regional characters start with 30 points to spend on Power Sets and 6 points to spend on Specialties.
  • Global characters have had pretty extensive experiences before the start of play and commonly have a broad selection of powers to match. They deal with crises all over the world and may periodically go to other worlds or planes. Global characters start with 40 points to spend on Power Sets and 10 points to spend on Specialties.
  • Cosmic characters have reams of backstory, extensive powers, and tons of training. They frequently have to spend substantial amounts of time off-planet to find threats significant enough for them and/or are solo heroes that often deal with threats that would stump whole teams of less experienced characters. Cosmic characters start with 50 points to spend on Power Sets and 16 points to spend on Specialties.

Affiliations and Distinctions

Characters of any power level arrange Affiliations and Distinctions normally (i.e., match d10, d8, and d6 to Solo, Buddy, and Team and then pick three Distinctions). At the group’s discretion, Local and Regional characters may start with fewer Distinctions and the intention of gaining more related to character development in play.

Power Sets

Characters start with one Power Set for free. If the character has a second Power Set, it costs 2 points extra per Power Trait in that set (e.g., a secondary power set with three Power Traits costs +6 points beyond the costs of its traits and SFX).

Each Power Trait has a cost that is multiplied by the die step (d6=2, d8=3, d10=4, and d12=5) to find the cost of adding that Trait. For example, a cost 2 Trait at d8 costs 6 points and a cost 3 trait at d12 costs 15 points.

Special Effects (SFX) have a flat cost to add to the Power Set.

Each Power Set must have at least one Limit. Additional Limits do not generally provide any kind of bonus (other than that the character now has an additional way to recover Plot Points or drain the Doom Pool). If both player and GM agree that a Limit is unusually restrictive or powerful (like Sentry’s “The Void”), the GM may choose to award a small number of bonus points. However, be wary of awarding one player bonus points for a limit that will provide problems for the whole team.

Power Traits

A Local character can only have one Trait at d8, and the rest must be d6. A Regional character can have one Trait at d10, the rest must be d8 or less. A Global character can have one Trait at d12, the rest must be d10 or less. A Cosmic character can have any number of traits at d12. At GM’s discretion, particularly compelling rationales may bypass this restriction.

  • Attack Powers: 1, 2 for a particularly unresisted energy type
  • Durability: 2, 3 with no major weakness
  • Elemental Control: 3, 4 for powerful elements (e.g., Cosmic) at GM’s discretion
  • Intangibility: 1
  • Invisibility: 2
  • Mimic: 2
  • Movement: 1, 2 for flight
  • Psychic Powers: 1 for animal and plant control, 2 for mind control and telepathy
  • Reflexes: 2
  • Resistance: 1
  • Senses: 2
  • Shapeshifting: 2
  • Size-Changing: 1
  • Sorcery: 3
  • Stamina: 2
  • Strength: 1
  • Stretching: 1
  • Teleport: 2
  • Transmutation: 2

Special Effects

  • Absorption: 2, 3 for extremely broad (GM’s discretion)
  • Afflict: 2
  • Area Attack: 3
  • Berserk: 1
  • Boost: 1
  • Burst: 2
  • Constructs: 2
  • Counterattack: 2
  • Dangerous: 2
  • Focus: 1
  • Healing: 1
  • Immunity: 1-3 depending on broadness (GM’s discretion)
  • Invulnerable: 2, 3 if weakness is rare
  • Multipower: 2
  • Second Chance: 1
  • Second Wind: 3
  • Unleashed: 2
  • Versatile: 2


Any remainder of points for Powers can be halved and applied as additional points for Specialties. Any remainder of points for Specialties can be spent on Powers directly (but are not multiplied).

A d6 Specialty costs 1 point, a d8 costs 2, and a d10 costs 4. Characters above Local level aren’t encouraged to have d6 Specialties.

A character cannot have more d10 Specialties than d8 Specialties (e.g., if a character wants two d10 Specialties, he must have at least two d8 Specialties as well).


GM and player should work together to come up with relevant milestones. In general, all PCs should have milestones that are likely to happen with the same level of frequency (e.g., one character should not have a 1 XP milestone that can easily happen over and over while another has a 1 XP milestone that can happen only once).

An updated way to do this with pathways-style creation is here.