Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes - In Broad Daylight

***This review of an RPG adventure is for GMs’ eyes only***

With the revival of Villains & Vigilantes, the game’s original creators have started to get back in on the action themselves. Jeff Dee and Jack Herman, who claim to have dreamed up the game as a means to settle which comic book characters could beat other comic book characters, also did some work for V&V’s early modules. With the V&V archives at Fantasy Games Unlimited being opened up again after all these years, Jack and Jeff are together again coming up with new stuff like an updated rule book and this, a new adventure that’s compatible with V&V, or the Living Legends game Jeff came up with after striking out on his own.

I was a little leery coming into this one, since the only module Dee and Herman worked on together was Crisis At Crusader Citadel, which gave us V&V’s iconic characters but also pioneered the “introductory encounter, fight with villains, track villains to lair for final battle” formula that defined a lot of V&V’s premade adventures. But hey, that was about thirty years ago, right?

Indeed it has been. Things start with the heroes being contacted by a modeling agency. It’s not what you’re thinking, though. One of their girls disappeared at the climax of a bungee jump off the Chrysler Building and they’re looking for experts in the unusual to investigate the matter. Gotta say, that’s a new way to get PC’s involved on me.

After that, the emphasis is on investigation of the disappearance and related unusual phenomena. It’s a well-constructed mystery, really, but has to be run with a group that’s good at keeping track of details. I usually haven’t had the privilege of gaming in groups like that. But come on, being a superhero isn’t about dealing out super-powered punches to the face all the time, and it’s good to see Jeff and Jack acting on that.

It does require super-battles every once in a while to keep things energetic, though, and In Broad Daylight doesn’t lag there. In fact between the villains, monsters, discovering the fate of the model, an unusual bank robbery and a secondary objective to save the life of a young metahuman, this a pretty busy module. There’s just enough going on for it to be fun and make the mystery that much more satisfying without being crowded, though. Although once again, it requires a certain kind of player to work right.

Ah, the villains. Overall, they’re a pretty solid team, but if I were ever to run this adventure you can bet I’d think of a better name than “Refuseniks” before I did. Even if it is rather appropriate with them having their secret base underneath a giant garbage heap. The concepts behind some of the…*sigh* Refuseniks are interesting, for all that. While a villain whose power is making killer toys is nothing new, the killer mermaid was a welcome surprise, as was the villain who’s basically an anthropomorphic disease.

Packed in with the module is a set of six pre-generated heroes, the Indestructibles, who as the authors are happy to point out appeared on early editions of the V&V rulebook.

They’re mainly intended as a ready-made group of PC’s, and they work fine for that. Tactically they represent a solid combination of powers, but perhaps more importantly, an interesting combination of personalities and backgrounds that could get good role players going off one another. The leader’s the son of another famous hero, for one thing, and another’s a Valkyrie on a search for a magic ring. Also, I liked that it mentioned the professional skills they have, which does something to answer a question about NPC heroes I felt V&V had been failing to answer for a long time: what do these guys do when they’re not saving the world? To my relief, books like this and Vigilantes International are bothering to think a little about that now.

But for all the cool possibilities they represent, I lost a lot of respect for the Gunsmith character because his backstory involves the most retarded thing I’ve ever heard in anything superhero-related: his father was shot in the groin and the bullet passed into a woman behind him, resulting in conception. I wasn't really that surprised to download the new rulebook, and see that in the example of play he got the crap kicked out of him (by, admittedly, a very formidable villain).

For that matter, the disparities in experience levels might cause some balking when the guy playing Blastar wonders why his buddy playing Armorman Jr. starts the game five levels higher than him.

The inclusion of the team heightens the feeling that parts of this adventure are screaming out to be expanded on in later material. For one thing, the Indestructibles are the heroes of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Did Shatterman and Condor from the comics apply to them before the Crusaders? When the players are summoned to New York to investigate the disappearance, the issue’s bound to come up of where all the local heroes are during this. The module even names the city’s main team (the Progeny) and explains why they’re not around (they’re in the middle of an annual “time out” where they focus on charity and solo work), pretty heavily implying harder details exist for these guys in the authors’ minds. Heck, if the players don’t manage to recover the means to save the metahuman child, the hero Axiom--who even showed up in insert art in the new rulebook--will fly to the other side of the planet and bring back a spare just in time. Could a universe book be in the offing?

They just know we're begging to hear more about this guy.

A lot of hard work obviously went into this adventure, and it’s plain how much Jeff and Jack have evolved since the 80’s (although I’ll admit there’s a part of me that misses the civilian names based on the hero names from their early stuff). If you know some players who wouldn’t mind more mystery than mayhem, this one comes highly recommend.

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