Role-playing reviews

Reviews related to role-playing games, with a focus on Gods & Monsters, and a bit of superhero gaming.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Mighty Protectors release: Villains & Vigilantes 3.0

Jerry Stratton, October 13, 2017

As of today, Monkey House Games is selling the new edition of Villains and Vigilantes: Villains and Vigilantes 3.0 Mighty Protectors. Since I contributed to the Kickstarter for the game, I have been able to read through it for a while now; I also played in an earlier version of the game last year at the North Texas con. It’s a worthwhile game, and a worthwhile update to V&V.

I really like how Villains and Vigilantes seems to create cool PCs against all odds. The Tenth Saint, who I wrote about while reviewing the 2.1 edition of the game, was a just a random creation for a review, but I thought it was so great I’ve kept it for actual play. Going through this rulebook for the first time, I created The Old Man of the Mountain just for review purposes, and now want to play him. It’s almost impossible not to create a cool hero in V&V.

The default character creation process remains random in the new Mighty Protectors edition.1 I started by rolling my birthplace, which turned out to be local. This meant skipping over the alien and other-dimensional birthplace charts and going to Species, where I rolled Monster, “a catch-all category for characters whose appearance or Abilities render them socially unacceptable…”

Most things have a default assumption of rolling, with choice allowed, but for Age and Gender the default is choice, with rolling allowed. “Non-human characters can be of any age, from a few hours to many aeons…”. I decided to be an ancient monster. I chose an even 1,000 years.

Earlier editions did not have a specific rule for rolling player character basic characteristics, that is, strength, endurance, and so on. It was assumed that you would play yourself and that your friends would stat you up. In Mighty Protectors the campaign’s power level determines your character’s five basic characteristic scores. In a standard campaign, characters have 18, 16, 14, 12, and 10 for initial characteristics. Randomness, rather than creating the score, applies the score to a characteristic. That is, every character has the same numbers (pre-powers) but in a different order. I ended up with:

  • Strength 18
  • Endurance 10
  • Agility 14
  • Intelligence 12
  • Cool 16

The next roll is for weight and “mass roll”. I ended up with 180 pounds and a d4 mass roll.2

Character background uses the same mechanism V&V always used for powers: roll three times and drop one result. I rolled Religion/Mysticism, Labor/Manufacturing, and Business/Sales. I dropped Business/Sales. I’m guessing he gained his powers at an ancient monastery which was destroyed, and then worked in labor-intensive jobs from then on. Careers can be combined into a single career (such as Travel/Transportation plus Business/Sales becoming Travel Agent) with a +3 bonus. So I could instead have been created by some Ancient Monastery as a slave creature, and my single career would be something like Minion at +3. Which has a certain appeal, but at the moment I’m leaning against it.

Motivation is next. I rolled Need to Know and Thrill Seeker. I went with Need to Know. On Origin Type I rolled Science Accident and Physical Training. I chose Science Accident. So these monks were probably Kirbyesque.

For powers, you roll two attack, two defensive, and two miscellaneous powers. This seems to preserve the happy accidents that are V&V characters. For offense, I rolled:

  • Mind Control
  • Vibration Abilities

Two defensive capabilities:

  • Invisibility
  • Shield

Two miscellaneous capabilities:

  • Super Speed
  • Mental Ability/Translation

And then, two weaknesses:

  • Reduced Endurance/Decrepit
  • Lowered Intelligence

You have to drop two, so I dropped Vibration and Shield. Weaknesses can be kept or dropped. I dropped Lowered Intelligence and kept Decrepit, which kind of fits with the way I’m going with this character. He’s a monster because he lives a long time but ages as well.

Where in V&V 2.1 you engaged with the GM to customize powers, the Mighty Protectors point system is a more formal process. Each power has a list of the things that can be gained by expending points (or the points that can be gained by weakening the power). Each power has 20 points by default. Some powers require choices; Translation means knowing lots of languages; I chose all earthly languages, costing 10 points3, and another 10 points to read all written languages. But I could have put 20 points into speaking and understanding all spoken languages anywhere, foregoing universal literacy. There are also Ability Modifiers that change how powers work; for example, giving a power an area effect, something that could be useful for Mind Control, for example.

This also means that where V&V tied just about every power to a basic characteristic, Mighty Protectors puts most of that into character points. This means that weak characters can have strong powers, something that required vague customization in the earlier rules.4

Weaknesses provide up to twenty extra points, for an assumed ten points per weakness. As a monster, I also got an extra ten. So, for Decrepit, I decide that five points seems reasonable. This drops my endurance by 3 (to 7) and my intelligence by 2 (to 10). Along with being a monster this means 15 extra points.

  • 2.5 points to bring the cost of Mind Control down from 8 to 5 per use.
  • 2.5 points to bring the bonus to hit when using Mind Control from +3 to +6.
  • 10 points to bring the cost of invisibility from 1 per round to 1 per five minutes.

The intelligence loss from decrepit is unhelpful to the Mind Control attack roll and to the character’s PR, but I like the term decrepit as this character’s weakness. I now have the idea of an immortal Monk who doesn’t die but still ages. After a thousand years, that could be monstrous.

Character points also formalize character development. Experience points go straight into the same system. I expect I would apply future experience to further decrease the cost of mind control, or make it area effect to more quickly and cheaply deal with evil minions. And increase Cool or Intelligence to increase the chance of success at Mind Control, as well as bring the character’s PR above 50.

Inventing Points also make use of these costs, which is really quite cool. It provides a means for characters to differ slightly across game sessions. Just like in the comics, different powers might have different abilities from adventure to adventure.

Inventing Points also make intelligent characters more versatile: inventing points are half intelligence. I have five inventing points which I might use to, in one session, increase what Mind Control can do, and in another, decrease the cost of Super Speed. Or become Fluent in all earthly languages. Not an unlikely thing for an old man whose memory comes and goes.

One interesting use of weaknesses is that they can be tied to a power. They give the same number of points, but the points must be used on that power and the weakness will disappear if the power disappears, such as being temporarily siphoned off or suppressed by enemies.

My biggest complaint about V&V in play has been fixed. In the old game, if you were faced with a choice between a long fall and a nuclear blast, you’d take the blast. You might survive a nuclear bomb, but a long fall was pretty much a death sentence. I’m glad this relic of the Great Falling Wars is gone. The new system basically looks up momentum on the carrying capacity chart for damage.

The other big change from V&V is the loss of custom to-hit rolls depending on the attack and defense used. The table lookup is gone. I’m conflicted on that change; it made for a more interesting system, but it required cross-referencing every time an attacker changed target. It was basically a simplified version of AD&D’s weapon vs. armor table. I always thought that was interesting in AD&D, too, but I never used it.5

Character creation in the new book is more poorly organized than the original. Running through the rules to create a character meant jumping all over the character sheet. And there is a lot of stuff on the character sheet, so some things were hard to find.

Other than that, though, the new rules don’t change much, and I think overall the changes are positive. My complaints from previous versions appear to have all been dealt with: falling damage, and also the emphasis on high basic characteristics.

I would definitely choose to play this version over the earlier one, and definitely over the other superhero games I’ve seen.

Tithonus is a monster.

In response to Villains and Vigilantes at Monkey House Games: The best superhero game of the old-school, and possibly still, V&V is an easy game to read and play.

  1. Non-random creation is given a couple of paragraphs and assumes, as far as I can tell, that you already understand point-based creation.

  2. The mass roll affects knockback and a few other things.

  3. If I had put 15 points in, that would mean speaking all earthly languages without an accent.

  4. Combined with the near-necessity of having a high PR, it was for all practical purposes necessary that at least one of your basic characteristics be enhanced; that is, that one of your powers be Heightened Characteristic A or B. Obviously high basic characteristics are still desirable and always will be, but the effect is lessened enough to make it less of a problem.

  5. The V&V version also meant equivalencies whenever a new power was created that didn’t fit existing categories, though I don’t recall this happening often.

  1. <- Psychosis of the Tenth Saint