Saturday, August 6, 2011

Villains & Vigilantes: Second Edition

I've been rather neglectful of this space for quite a while now, and I feel it's high time I rectified this. This summer, I somehow successfully completed another orbit around the sun, achieving the age of 29. To commemorate, I feel it's time to tackle a similarly aged game system, the venerable and somehow still readily available Villains & Vigilantes, 2nd Edition, first printed by Fantasy Games Unlimited way back in 1982. The purpose here will be a brief review of the system, and hopefully, the generation of a playable character sheet.

V&V, for the uninitiated, is the original super hero pen-and-paper roleplaying game, its first edition dropping in 1979, two years ahead of the immensely popular Champions. In my initial reading of the V&V rulebook and marketing materials, one mechanic stands out to set the game apart from Champs, Heroes Unlimited, and any other competitor: players are encouraged and expected to design heroes based on themselves. While D&D, Rifts, and basically every other roleplaying game I ever encountered during my impressionable youth set itself clearly in a world of imaginative fantasy with no connection to your real life, here is a game that gives you, the player, a secret super-identity. The appeal to a teenage, outsider nerd should be immediately apparent.

Beyond just being fluff, however, the players' identities are an intrinsic part of the character creation mechanics. Stat generation in V&V is highly subjective, and appears to be the one and only time the game allows you to play fast and loose with its mechanics. The game includes five stats: Strength, Endurance, Agility, Intelligence, and Charisma. These stats are generated and assigned to each player-character in the game by the GM, rather than by the players themselves. These scores are not generated by random die rolls or carefully designed point purchases, but rather by the GM's subjective observation and questioning of each player involved in the game. If a player is on the school football team and lifts a lot of weights, his character would then be assigned a numerically higher Strength score, while if a player suffers from asthma, he would receive a lower Endurance score. Scores should normally range from a low of 3 to a high of 18, with 10 being considered a baseline human average. In a pinch, scores can also be randomly generated by rolling 3d6, though this is recommended only for NPCs.

Once stats have been assigned, the players take up their dice and roll to generate their super powers. The number of powers each character gets is randomly determined by a roll of 1d6+2, resulting in anywhere from 3 to 8 initial powers. Once the number has been determined, each player picks a category for each power (Psionic, Devices, Magic, generic "Powers," etc), and rolls 1d% on the associated table. Players can freely mix and match categories, but are encouraged to keep a theme in mind. Once all the powers have been filled in, each player rolls a final d% on the Weakness table to determine an inherent flaw in their powers or abilities, and then chooses a single super power to discard (with the goal of keeping powers that thematically fit together).

Get used to tables, by the way. V&V relies heavily on meticulously crafted tables to flesh out its powers, combat, movement, and just about every other mechanic you can think of. Calling the game "thorough" or "rigorous" may be an understatement. The word "exhaustive" comes to mind, but even that doesn't encompass the scope of V&V's table-fu, which borders on obsessive compulsive. In combat, the game tracks damage from gunfire for each individual bullet, every slug receiving its own die roll and accuracy modifier. Accuracy penalties are incurred for fighting at range, with distances measured in inches, from 30" to 983,040". Super powered combat involves a rock-paper-scissors-like interplay of attack and defense powers, with penalties and bonuses based on the interactions of seventeen attack categories with twenty-six defense categories. Essentially, every opposed action a character can take is governed or modified in some way by a quarter-page table.

Lacking a current group to run V&V with, I can't comment further on how effective and fun the combat and challenge mechanics are. Having said that, onward to chargen!

First, I filled in my weight on the sheet, and assigned some ability scores based on my best guesses about myself. After a little fumbling with 3AM mathematics, I worked out Hit Mods and Basic Hits, and finally my actual, in-game Hit Points. Rolling 1d6+2 for powers, I got lucky and scored an 8. Playing into what I believe to be my best state, Intelligence, I decided on Magic/Psionics for my first power table, and made my first 1d% roll and hit 34, Magical Spells. Per the Magical Spells description in the rulebook, the player and GM cooperatively discuss the nature of the first spell the character will learn, along with its costs and ranges, etc. I came up with the spell "lock opening touch," ganked mercilessly from D&D, and assigned it a PR of 4, the same as one hour of intangibility. Further powers will be shown below.

Roll 1: Magic/Psionics: 34: Magical Spells: Lock Opening Touch, PR 4
Roll 2: Magic/Psionics: 38: Magical Spells: Force Field as described in rulebook, pg 12
Roll 3: Magic/Psionics: 96: Willpower: Type A, 1 PR/turn, described on pg 19.
Roll 4: Magic/Psionics: 42: Magic Spells: Arcane Bolt: Range: 2 x XP, dmg: 2d8, PR 4
Roll 5: Magic/Psionic Items: 66: Psionics: Psychometric Ring: When worn, allows user to absorb knowledge and memories from residual psychic energy associated with inanimate objects.
Roll 6: Magic/Psionic Items: 58: Natural Weaponry (roll 1d6 for attack bonus): 4: +3 to hit and +6 to damage during unarmed HTH combat
Roll 7: Magic/Psionics: 98: Willpower: Type B, permanent +1 increase to Intelligence
Roll 8: Magic/Psionics: 39: Magical Spells: Summon Spirit: Summons a noncorporeal ghostly companion with the following statistics: Weight (178), Agility 18, Ferocity 18, Hits 20, Accuracy +3, Damage 2d8, Power 56, Move 100.

With those decided, I make a final d% roll on the weakness table and come up with 8, Diminished Senses. Surprisingly, the rulebook does not include a secondary table to roll on to determine exactly which sense is diminished, but provides a few guidelines to work out the exact nature of the weakness with the GM. I decide on the following:

Weakness: 8: Diminished Sense: Extreme Photosensitivity: Reduced vision under normal lighting conditions due to squinting and perceived glare, must wear prescription, tinted glasses at all times.

Under the rules I must now delete one super power, or can chose to delete my weakness and two super powers. I opt to delete Roll 7, Willpower Type B. So, no boost to intelligence. For the rest of V&V's fiddly mathematics, I decided to use a spreadsheet found on a fan's website, which handled most of the relevant calculations for me, and then scribbled the numbers onto my photocopied sheet.

Going along with me on this magical journey through character creation, my long-suffering bride-to-be asked for a sheet and attempted to follow along. After scoring some pretty impressive weather manipulation and energy blasting powers, she rolled for her weakness and scored Lowered Intelligence. 3d6 later, she wound up with an Intelligence score of 1.

"I don't like this game," she told me.

Despite the cludgey system, self-insertion-promoting character design, and occasionally, incongruously vague super power rules, V&V proved remarkably popular. Dozens of adventure modules were produced, along with a supporting comic book line which included additional character sheets for inclusion in players' own adventures. The idea that your character is, indeed you - only better - probably helped boost its appeal as an escapist fantasy back in the day, and has allowed it to keep enough momentum to warrant a re-release in the 21st century.

Cover image, blank character sheets, and spreadsheets used in this post were sourced from The V&V Emporium.

Animal/Plant Power Table was sourced from the Villains & Vigilantes 2nd Edition rulebook.

Fantasy Games Unlimited, the original publisher for V&V 1st and 2nd editions, still has several modules and support materials for the games 2nd Edition available for sale.

Cubicle 7 has print editions of the current, 2.1 edition of V&V, published by Monkey House Games. PDF editions can be purchased at RPGNow.

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