Sometimes it’s hard to find something to say about a roster book for an RPG other “worth it” or “not worth it”. This time I can safely start with “they were really trying something different with this one”.
Main thing setting it apart is instead of just a block of bare third-person narration giving you each character’s background, it’s presented as the findings of a reporter writing a book about our nation’s supervillains. Mainly it’s to leave some villains who are particularly mysterious so you’ll have a complete character sheet ready for you, but the details of where the villain comes from and how they act are for you to decide as best suits your campaign. Plus with this approach there’d be an actual reason if the profile were to find it necessary to say, mention that a curvaceous female badass was in her underwear.
Besides the collection of loose villains the book also has a pair of “themed” villain teams. The first is based on colors, and while I think that’s an interesting idea, the members don’t actually stick to any particular scheme too hard, either having power effects of the relevant color, or for a couple just wearing a costume that’s the right color. Like Big Blue, whose power is being a super-strong colossus but that’s it, and Viridian who’s a mage but who it doesn’t even say anything about her magic have green special effects. It’s mostly typical stuff like astral projection, telepathy and precognition, too.
Which isn’t to say Spectrum isn’t a fun villain group and one I wouldn’t mind using on a semi-regular basis if I ever played the game again. My favorite’s the leader, Red Tide, whose power is red tide. You’d expect the red guy to be an angry powerhouse, and that was pretty original. I also like Indiglow, who even if he has kind of a dumb name is an evil second-story-man version of Green Lantern which is pretty cool. Respect also for having the first lesbian couple I’m aware of in an indie superhero RPG. Overall Spectrum is a fun group I recommend.
The other team is the Malevolents, and while they’re a decent villain group, “themed?” There’s Greyhawk who’s basically an evil Hawkman down to the mask, superhuman eyesight and archaic weapon of choice, Cerberus the wolf-guy who can sprout another two heads and breathe fire, typical giant strong guy Slab, vibration-emitting Pulsator and luck-manipulator Miss Fortune. They’ve got an interesting mixture of powers and I could definitely see using them a time or two in a campaign. But the only theme I see is them all meeting in jail and deciding to team up when they got out.
From there the collection of “loose” villains run the scale from good to lame as, they often do, but I think in this case it’s more of the good than the bad, partly because of the book’s idea of a framing device allowing the GM to just pick up a villain with some interesting powers and make them their own. I really liked Killshot’s build as a mysterious assassin, and Freeze-R-Burn with his mixture of powers if not exactly his name. Glamazon was cool if only because there really need to be more tough women in superhero stuff than She-Hulk and Wonder Woman. Quarry’s an okay super-tough rockbeast, but I think I’ll always prefer Terra-Rizer from “Super-Crooks and Criminals” as my rage-filled rock monster of choice, with his power to sorta-kinda turn invisible among other rocks and how different power attacks do different things to his durability.
Zeitgeist, the ghost burglar, was another especially nice idea. I also liked the Power Pirate, who as his name implies can temporarily steal the PC’s powers, though as-written I’m worried that outside of a string of critical hits the effects would be too short-lived to have much of a point besides beating the players down with their own attacks. Surely we can do better than that. Loonatics Unleashed did better than that.
I don’t really care how much of a badass he is, though (and he is that), I don’t think I’d ever be able to have my players fight a villain named Evil Jim with a straight face. It's nice the authors included how much EXP each villain's worth on their character sheet, though. Saves time for sure.
And there’s a couple new powers packed in the book too, although they seemed mostly to be a way of making invulnerability and force fields less impregnable.
Of course, “Villains Unleashed” tries to be more than just a source of ready-made villains by also having the first in a three-part adventure, to try to entice you to buy the next product with the next mini-adventure in it. But frankly, based on the first part whether I buy it or not’s probably going to depend a lot more on the book it’s packed in with.
This one evidently centers around a new Shadowy Evil Organization named Triskelion. Guess I’ll put that up on the shelf with Intercrime, TOTEM, The Dragon’s Claw, TIC-TAC-TOE, VILE, and Shadow of the recently released “Clockworks”. With all due respect to the author, their most distinctive feature is being made up of three main branches, three leaders. Not terribly distinctive.
The encounters are certainly solid enough on their own and if you buy this book, by all means you should run them. But they’re generic robberies, and deliberately so, with the authors saying to the GM, “We want your fingerprints all over it” and for you to be the one who comes up with the payoff for the theme running between what’s stolen in the pregen encounters. Yeah, the GM should definitely be prepared to do that, but they also split this adventure up over three books trying to make it more likely I’d buy all three books. I’m not saying I won’t, not at all, I’m saying it could’ve been incentivized better. If I decide to run a premade adventure I should definitely be prepared to personalize it some. But I should probably also not need to and be able to just run it right out of the box, at least if it's something I'm paying money for, and especially if it's supposed to make it more likely for me to buy the next two books in a series. The author can't possibly account for everything in every stranger's game, but why the villains are stealing what they're stealing is something I do expect them to tell me.
And it’s very serious about playing the adventure out as an ongoing campaign, reminding the GM to dole out experience after every encounter by mentioning it again after the description for every encounter. Even the encounter where the entire thing is the players literally magically being gifted with all known information about Triskelion. I’m sorry authors, I really am, but no. A wizard hands them a written history, practically a textbook deus ex machina; that’s not worth experience points, no matter how well the players turn in their roles, and could set a really bad precedent. If you guys think fighting NPC good guys shouldn’t be worth EXP, neither should that.
If you enjoy V&V, buy this book. But buy it for the premade villains.