Welcome back readers. Anyone who knows me even halfway well knows of my love for all things superhero. My long term love of comic books and the worlds built in them. And this of course leads to superhero role playing games. The very first one that I played was the Marvel Super Hero RPG that was published by TSR back in the day. Next came Heroes Unlimited by Palladium. Then Champions by Hero Games/ICE. After those three I sort of picked up games all over the place. One of them was Villains and Vigilantes (V&V) by Fantasy Games Unlimited.
I was first exposed to V&V by Dragon Magazine. This was back in the 80’s when Dragon was not just a magazine that supported Dungeons and Dragons, but it also had articles that would support other game systems and game companies. I do not remember the issue number for the magazine but they had an article about powerful female characters in superhero settings. Marvel Super Hero got a bit about Phoenix, and for V&V they published a character called Maxima I believe. They gave her a great background and by reading over the stats I was interested in how the game mechanics worked. It would be a few years before I got my hands on a copy of the game itself. Now then for those who only know the modern online version of Dragon Magazine I suggest you look back at the old issues. There is a lot of interesting things for a lot of games that you can find there. Even in support of Steve Jackson Games Car Wars, Dragon magazine was the first place that had rules published for using tanks in the game… heh.
Now then while FGU claims on their web site that V&V is the first successful superhero RPG, I am not sure I can support that idea. V&V was first published in 1979, and did not see a lot of popularity (according to their wiki) until 1982. Meanwhile Superhero 2044 was published in 1977, making it the first superhero game that I know of. And when Champions was released in 1981 it sort of took things by storm if the distribution people I have talked with are to be believed. So I am not sure I can believe that it was the first successful superhero game. Also remember that the US is not the only place publishing role-playing games. MANY other countries publish games and I would love to get more of them. Especially things like Golden Heroes from the UK. There are also very very indie publications that may have only seen local distribution in a city, not even getting to a large audience. So the claim is tenuous that they have the first successful superhero RPG.
Now then even though I have doubts about the game being the first successful superhero RPG, I can say that it is very long lived. Even though it has been around since 1979, there are still new publications coming out for the game. And FGU is still soliciting for new things to come out. The only other game that I know that is still sporadically publishing is Heroes Unlimited. Champions has been on hiatus for the last several years due to, well lots of things. Marvel Superheroes has been licensed to other company and the original game engine is now running a completely different game. DC Heroes has been licensed to others and so on. It looks like Superhero 2044 is going to make a comeback, maybe, but it never had a lot of publications to support it.
Once I got the game in hand I quickly found it both very cool and very frustrating at the same time. On the frustrating side is the combat system. Instead of setting up skills the game engine uses the powers to govern combat. Making it harder or easier to fight based solely on the power you use. Defense is also governed the same way. So they made a table for it. Then you modify the table with other tables that govern experience and a few other things. Now then, to be honest, in most respects this really simplifies combat. However it makes it so generic that you will not be able to get much variety between characters with the same powers. On the positive side they had some really innovative ideas about things like character generation. You see in this game you are supposed to start with an honest assessment of yourself for your basic stats. That’s right this is one of the few games where you are your character. And one of the things that this means is that if YOU have a skill or a knowledge so does your CHARACTER. Brilliant really. When every other game system is warning players about the difference between what you know and what your character knows and the challenges of role-playing that difference, these guys just said shuck it and ran with the idea of you being your character. They do not kill the option of just randomly rolling stats, and they give options for it, but to cover skills they, well they dont really save to talk about taking on a profession and you can do those things. The second is experience. Now then with most level based advancement systems you are going to see very specific growth. In a point based system you have the option of doing whatever you want even if it does not make sense for the character. Well much like 3rd edition D&D and Pathfinder this game combines them. Once you start your character you select a mode of training. This training will give you advances when you level up. Every time you level up you can select a different type of training. They give a lot of suggestions but also have a little marker that says ‘Whatever’ (no, it literally says Whatever) because all of the training listed is suggested. You can come up with your own ideas and the GM can approve or not.
Now then please remember this review and my comments about the game are based on the 1982 Revised version of the game. There are newer editions and even alternate versions of the rules that were revised by other game companies during the life of this game. So if you know of alternates to the things I am talking about, that is cool. I know they are out there and I even have some of them, but this is where I got my start with the game and this is what I am reviewing.
Ok so background and flavor text in place. Lets take a look at the numbers I put on it.
Overall Fluff 2/5 – Other than the art by Jeff Dee, there is really very little you can call fluff in this game. There is no setting, there is no background. All that is up to you and the people you play with. I give it two stars because I really like Jeff’s artwork.
Overall Crunch 3/5 – I talked a bit about the rules above. One of the things that really caught me up in the game was that they also talked about the legal ramifications of superheroes. Citing actual laws and how they could be applied. Some might think of this as fluff, but I see it as a part of running the game.
Overall Mod 3/5 – This is a tricky one. You can mod within the rules, a little. But mostly if you want to mod it you need to get home brew and find ways to slip in changes that dont kill the system as it exists. Its not that easy really, but it can be done.
Overall Fun 4/5 – So with only twos and threes above how can I still call it a four for fun? Easy. In-spite of the challenges it is fairly easy to play and replay. It is one of the few games that tells you to play yourself and rewards you for it. It is inexpensive in a world of high priced game books and it lends itself to just about any super hero world you can imagine.
Total Score 12/20 – Ok so its only a 12 of 20 but it is still fun. I still like it and even have both digital and paper copies. Would I recommend it to others? Only on a limited basis. If you like supers and you enjoy the ideas above then yes, whole-heartedly. If you enjoy putting your own world into place and don’t need a background, then yes. If you want to play in a pre-made world or don’t have the time for building your own then no. So just like everything else I review, its going to come down to you and what you enjoy.
Ok so thats in the tank. 🙂 I will be back next week with more of… something. 🙂
Hope everyone out there is having a grand ole time and if you happen to be in the US and celebrate Thanksgiving or Native American Remembrance or whatever excuse you want to have family and friends over to binge on turkey and other foods then I hope you have a great time.
Now gimme the dice, I need to see if I can make a defense against feline mind control.