Thursday, October 13, 2016

Villains & Vigilantes - World War II Super Soldiers (Real Review)

World War II seems like an awfully ripe topic for adaptation with Villains & Vigilantes lately. This, the second in a series of such material from Darren Tenor after the “Homefront” collection of mini-adventures, promises four more in the foreword alone, with the author noting it’s something of a personal mission to make a cohesive wartime setting for the game. Hell, Monkey House might not be aiming for the same number of releases, but they promise to match volume with one of the rewards of their recent Kickstarter campaign being a WWII sourcebook running three hundred or more pages (I’ll let you know when and if I get it).

Anyway, while I admit “Homefront” didn’t do a lot to fire my imagination, “World War II Super Soldiers” is a different can of worms.

First thing’s first, which is that the cover artist and the author apparently didn’t coordinate, so the supers depicted on the cover were just a bunch of generic WWII-style heroes complete with names and a basic idea of their powers. Meaning none of them are actually in the book at all. That did bug me, and that’s not the only place this happens. Some characters from included characters’ write-ups don’t show up either, like included character Blut Engel’s buddy Donnerhammer isn’t in the book. Personally I would’ve tried to keep these mentions to the second book as much as possible so all the characters I’m talking about are already out there, but…eh.

There’s a fair bit of mentioning guys who aren’t actually written up, unfortunately, as the characters who are included are, not too surprisingly, divided up according to what country they’re loyal to. In describing what each’s general attitude toward superhumans in its military was (Canada's was to brand a lot of theirs into those scantily-clad ladies painted on bombers) and how invested each country was in creating its own, it lists off some of the most prominent ones, and a lot of them don’t actually follow with their character sheets. Presumably these going to appear in the next WWII roster book this one already announces. Between this and the serialized adventure packed in with “Villains Unleashed,” seems like they’re really trying to incentivize their wares lately.

But are the characters themselves good, that’s what you really want to know. In general I’d say yes, though it doesn’t have any I think I’d use as ongoing campaign features even if I ever did run a WWII setting.

I think my favorites out of all the characters in the book were probably Gypsy Queen and Professor Grimm, both spellcasters, and while they certainly had some interesting assortments available to them I found myself most appreciating the outlooks and the possibilities to play them off the PC’s. Gypsy Queen for instance is a good person working for Italy during wartime, but is loyal to her country without necessarily being loyal to its government. Grimm is a century-old sorcerer and mystical mastermind, but the type to manipulate others to carry out his grand designs and probably gate out if a bunch of PC’s tried to corner him into a fight.
The level of detail on the spells used by those characters really shows the care put into them (I liked how Gypsy can magically paint her weapons to make them more damaging), as well as skills on the ninja-type character, Yami. That such detail has to be created to represent skills honestly makes me wonder, though, if it might not be time to overhaul the rules FGU hasn’t really touched in over 30 years.

Other particularly interesting characters from the line-up include the Outsider, a high-tech soldier from a dystopian future sent to alter a disaster but doesn’t realize he’s not on his own Earth anymore. Lightning Rod is likewise displaced from his true time, but was the big winner on a superhero reality show and longs to get back, even if his actual powers aren’t that unique. R, the robot who’s the only survivor of a survey ship and who’s now a double agent for Soviet subversives against their own country. Robyn and the Hoods, the female bandit who robs from the rich and gives to the poor, but in a society where the authorities aren’t all a bunch of corrupt brigands and it’s not as clean-cut as she’d like to think.

Sadly the book does fall prey to some of the worn out stereotypes of the era and the various countries. If you were wondering if one of Germany’s supers would be a Valkyrie, give yourself a cookie. If you thought there’d be members of the Communist party who used a hammer and sickle as weapons and one who controlled ice (especially connected to Siberia), a Japanese samurai warrior and a German powerhouse called Ubermensch, well…at least there’s nobody based on origami or geishas. Yet.

Although I did get the feeling that the reason there’s no water-controlled named Tsunami is the fact that the setting already has two… (“Enter the Dragon’s Claw: Honor” and “Into the Sub-Realm”)

Another thing I wish the book might’ve done better was being more consistent when it referred to stuff in other modules. Sometimes it mentions where you can find somebody specific like Master Zero from “Most Wanted #3” in referring to a phenomenon where certain characters got their powers, or how exactly a character from the Zodiac got their enchanted gauntlets. Other times it makes mention of characters and settings but you really need to be familiar with the other products to catch them.

For instance, the listing of prominent American superhumans includes Captain Crisis, Lady Liberty and Mr. America, who are already written up in published material. It does not throw in a parenthetical comment telling you to look in “Vigilantes International” for their sheets, though. Likewise there’s nothing about how German villain The Stuka is presumably the one written up in “Super-Crooks and Criminals” (which came out in frigging 1986). In Professor Grimm’s background it mentions worlds with magical inhabitants like Vine and Razer. Vine I’m pretty sure is referring to the alternate world from “The Pentacle Plot,” but I’d have to go reading through my other sourcebooks looking specifically for the name to know what the hell Razer is. Supposing it ain’t from something Mr. Tennor’s planning to release but hasn’t yet.

Probably the most entertaining part of all is the detailed support organizations included for a lot of the characters. Like wife of Golden Eagle and surrogate mother of Kid Kestrel (and real soon-to-be mother to Golden Eagle’s kid, not that she’s told him so he won’t think about leaving the front lines). All the details on the dystopian future Outsider comes from and the line of robots he employs as personal bodyguards were great, and a ripe setting for a campaign all by itself.

Carmine’s Concubine’s and the Hoods were pretty cool, basically being like the listing of minions like say, Od’s Avant Guards from “Most Wanted #1” but going a step beyond to give their names and a basic idea of their place in each operation and a brief idea of how they played off each other. I enjoy the classic stuff, but going that extra mile here was definitely a good inclusion.

One of the included supers being a Valkyrie means there’s also a rundown of Valhalla works, since that’s the place where Valkyrie take fallen soldiers to fight for eternity. While it explains exactly how the compulsion to battle there works in game terms, it says nothing in particular about the Norse gods or why exactly Valkyrie collect dead soldiers and bring them to this place that mystically enables them to fight forever (Valkyrie actually select the greatest warriors from battles and bring them to Valhalla so the gods will have an army of the greatest warriors who ever lived when a war that spreads across all creation comes, and they fight constantly to keep their skills sharp). Then again I suppose most people who know what Valhalla is already know what Ragnarok is too.

All this, along with a big collection of counters of various soldiers, adds up to a pretty pleasing package. Really my biggest complaint is how the references to other material were kind of spotty, but all in all, this is one worth having.

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