Sunday, April 1, 2012

Villains and Vigilantes - Signs of the Zodiac

Themed villain teams in superhero RPGs have generally been more fun than the ones that are a bunch of disparate malcontents thrown together. And while this may only be my second favorite Zodiac-themed villain team, it’s a close second.

The Zodiac’s divided in half, with each the focus of a pair of ready-made adventures. The adventures were pretty good, and of an appreciable length to let the new villains shine both in combat and interplay. Mostly because what we’ve got in this supplement’s a beefed-up version of the Crushers; large, powerful, and dysfunctional.

Then again, that’s exactly the book says: Aries was having better luck finding thematically appropriate villains than psychologically appropriate ones. They’re a diverse bunch indeed, with a couple aliens, a time-skipping wizard, a mutated former Olympic hopeful, and a pair of mind-linked, knife-wielding psychopaths. Each with a unique suite of powers, and their own personal reason for agreeing to join a group.

In a touch that made me, at least, grin, several of the characters’ origins involve villains from other modules. Like Aztech from The Great Iridium Con, Stuka from Supercrooks and Criminals, several mentions of the Canadian Legion from Vigilantes International,  and a couple others from Opponents Unlimited. That’s even before you get to the tryouts sample adventure that suggests villains that could fill slots emptied thanks to your PCs. Although I notice those suggestions don’t include anybody from Most Wanted 1, like Leo or Crossfire. Maybe because they’re among the “few surviving members” of the original incarnation of the Zodiac mentioned at the beginning, or maybe because Leo’s the kind of villain who’d be running this outfit the day after he took an interest in it.

I suppose that’s a silly thing to find cool, but I cut my teeth on V&V, which only had minor mentions of characters from other material and then generally only ones written by the same author. By the time I discovered other superhero games like Champions, it was already releasing stuff like Classic Organizations where the first thing in the book is a massive battle between characters in that and seven or eight other books. And nothing need be said about games like Marvel Super Heroes.

In any case, the villains chosen to feature in each of the two full premade adventures seem to have been based on degrees of sanity and ability to get along with their teammates, because the first one got nearly all the relatively stable ones and the second got the chaotic and insane villains. Perhaps because of that, while both had interesting hooks and NPC’s, the second one was a bit more memorable. While on the whole, the first had somewhat better sequel potential, mainly thanks to the diverse cast of NPCs and corporate approach to supercrime prevention.

If the supplement has any problems, it’s that perhaps the Zodiac is a little too dysfunctional as a group. Any thorough group of PCs could pick up on their dynamic and work against them, especially since the most powerful sub-teams are the ones that function the most poorly as units. Maybe that was to keep them from overwhelming PC heroes, but if your players are paying attention the Zodiac seems like an especially easy team to derail. And given their size and the scope of their membership, that’s a lot of wasted opportunities if it’s allowed to happen (particularly with Aquarius, whose origin could be spun into an entire campaign all on its own).

Which is a shame, because a touch more effort than usual seems to have gone into detailing the team’s base, vehicles and other resources. They’re a fun team I could definitely see using on a longterm basis, but maybe with a couple of their suggested replacements already worked in.

Looking forward to seeing more from you, Mr. Tenor.

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