Thursday, October 19, 2017

Villains & Vigilantes 3.0

I first played Villains and Vigilantes about 1983 after the second edition came out the year before. My group had discovered Champions the prior year and jumped into it pretty heavily, so V&V was a big change of pace. It was cool, and we played a short campaign with it, but Champions remained our standard for supers. Next year the TSR Marvel Super Heroes RPG was released and that pretty quickly became our "other" superhero game and V&V didn't get much attention after that. I've tried to dust it off and play it a few times over the intervening years but there always seemed to be another option that was more popular when it came time to hit the table.

The game had effectively been dormant for years with nothing more than uploads of the old system to DTRPG and nothing new really coming out. Then last year Jeff Dee, one of the two original authors and the main illustrator,  started talking about a new edition of the game thru an upcoming Kickstarter. Sounds good! So I backed it and followed along and received my PDF and eventually my hard copy of the book as well.

 First up: Jeff Dee - the guy has been active in RPG's since the late 70's early 80's with V&V and some memorable D&D illustrations. I've never met him but from some podcast interviews I've heard he sounds pretty enthusiastic about this new edition of the game and gaming in general. It's always a concern (for me at least) with guys who have been in and out of the industry over the last 30+ years as far as how involved or aware they are of current trends and tastes and events - see the current Frank Mentzer kickstarter for an example of why. After hearing Jeff Dee a couple of times I have no worries about him. He still reads comics, he is aware of other games, and comes across as in-touch and heavily involved in addition to the requisite enthusiasm. So I like the guy, I have good memories of his game, and I'd like to support him

As far as the actual game ... it pains me to say this but my tastes have shifted dramatically and nothing has made that more clear to me than reading through this game. It seems to have been infected by a terrible chart virus, to where I am pretty sure that if you distributed them evenly there is at least one chart for every page in this book. There are a lot of charts.

Also, terminology is very specific to this game. Your "stats" are your Basic Characteristics which are abbreviated BC's throughout the book. You build with Character Points which are "CP's" throughout the book. You're going to see those two terms a lot.

The rules are numbered like a wargame ruleset: 2.0 is Characters, 2.1 is Character Generation, 2.1.2 covers the Character Record Sheet, and covers Birthplace - which has a chart for Place of Birth. This is the same approach that Star Fleet Battles and Advanced Squad Leader use for organizing their rules and those are maximum detail very competitive games - as soon as I noticed this I started to wonder if maybe V&V and I were headed in different directions.

These two things mean you get sentences like "Each BC is worth (1) CP (see". You don't see that a ton in RPG's anymore. Not a deal breaker but not particularly reassuring to find on page 10 of the book.

Random Generation: One of the things V&V was known for when compared to Champions was random character generation and stats based on the player. That's still an option but the main approach is random - but it's not 3d6 like the old system. There's one chart with a list of 5 scores for each of the 4 recommended power levels in the game (basically street level up thru Avengers). There's a second chart that you roll on to determine which stat gets the 1st score listed, then you roll again for the 2nd score and so on. The five BC's are Strength, Endurance, Agility, Intelligence, and Cool. and the chart scores range from 6 - 14 for "normals" to 12 - 20 for the high end.  It's pretty much the 3-18 scale we know from D&D and older V&V with the top end expanded to about 100 to accommodate super-types. The prior edition had Charisma instead of Cool so we're already seeing some changes to the basics of the game.  Straight-up point buy using your CP's to buy BC's is also an option.

Then there is a giant chart that tells you what all of those scores mean in game terms:  carrying capacity, punching damage, your "saves" (a big part of the game system), your initiative, your hit points, and your healing rate.

Saves are a major concept. If you have a 10 in Agility you look at the chart and discover will need a 10 or less to make an Agility save or accomplish an Agility-related task. If you have a 50 you need a 17 or less, and if you have a 90  you need a 24 or less. This is the heart of how you do things in the game. I'm not as big a fan of roll-under systems these days but it's simple and it works and once it's on your character sheet it minimizes the need to look at a chart elsewhere.

"Power" is the endurance mechanic in the game. Add up your 4 non-Cool stats and that's your "Power". As you fire off various superpowers they each have a cost that comes out of this pool

Superpowers are called "Abilities" in this version and are still randomly generated: There are charts of course and you roll 2 Offensive, 2 Defensive, and 2 Miscellaneous abilities. Once you do that you get to choose 4 of the 6 you want to keep - this is to help have a more cohesive concept for a character and mitigate some of the wildness of random rolls. I like it. There is a second axis here in that once you roll up your options and decide which ones to keep you then spend points (CP's) on them as well so you can emphasize one power over another as best fits your concept. This is a nice change from the earlier edition and gives a player some control over an otherwise random character.

You also roll 2 Weaknesses (another chart) and can keep one, both, or none of them depending on how well they mesh with  your concept. You then gain points from the ones you retain depending on their severity.

This is all fairly understandable after a couple of read-throughs and seems decent enough.

The combat system looks like Pathfinder - lots of rules, lots of modifiers. The range modifier table has 14 entries. Size modfiers, mobility modifiers, target defenses, cover, visibility - all of them come into play in their own way. The combat rules are 15 pages long and cover a lot of details. Initiative is roll high. Saves are roll low. Damage is roll high. Task checks are roll low. It's not particularly consistent but it looks a lot like old school D&D which is where the game started way back when. This is where it shows the most.

The last fifth of the book is GM stuff - the law, running adventures, and the setting. It's good - V&V has always had pretty decent info here and this is significantly upgraded from the 80's version.

V&V's "Keep on the Borderlands"

So ... I really want to like this game. It's tricky though, as there is a lot more detail here than I want to deal with most of the time these days. It reads more like "Advanced V&V for V&V fans" than a game that's aimed at new players. One example is the vehicle chart:

I've fuzzed it up but there are 57 entries there, basically size/space/modifiers for potential vehicles. The corresponding table in M&M 3E has six entries. There's a sort of false precision that gets introduced to the game when you have lengthy detailed tables like this - it's a comic book game, not an engineering simulator. You shouldn't be agonizing over precisely which one of 57 levels of vehicle size class is bets for your Catmobile - it's so much simpler to just say "It's a car" and go with the "car" entry, especially considering it's probably not the focus of the game anyway - it's effectively a movement power! Keep it playable and relatively simple and move on! There's a lot of this kind of thing in various powers but I think most of them are manageable - this is probably the worst one.

So I'm torn. It covers more ground than the original and has some tuned-up mechanics but is very much an old-school game in others, probably more than I like.

  • Compared to ICONS, Bash! and Supers it's a lot more complex to create a character and to run a fight for a group of those characters, and is it more fun with all of that extra detail?
  • Compared to M&M the lack of a unified mechanic has me wondering if I want to keep up with all of the sub-systems during a game. 
  • Compared to its old foe Champions ... well if I was going to run a more old-school style game for an extended run I would choose Champions mainly because a lot of its rules are still burned into my brain.
All that said I feel like I need to give it a fair shake so I'm going to try and set up a one-shot with some of my players and see how they like it. If I cans string that together I will post a follow up and share some actual-play-based thoughts.