Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - You Can't Run Before You Crawl

So after the aborted Starships and Spacemen idea, I ran across another game from FGU, this one titled Villains and Vigilantes, (a game I've mentioned before). It was a game of superhero adventure by a couple of guys named Jack Herman and Jeff Dee. I've mentioned Jack Herman in Out of the Vault before, because of his scripting work on Eagle; he also did lot of scripting on Elementals. Jeff Dee was an artist who did some work for TSR and even took a shot at some comics work.

As soon as I saw the game, I knew this was the one I wanted to run. It was such a natural fit for me. I loved comics and superheroes, and I knew a lot of the history and background of both of the major comics universes. I had shied away from trying to run Dungeons and Dragons because I didn't have the encyclopedic knowledge of the genre that some of my fellow gamers had, but I would measure my comic-book chops against any of them.

So I bought the game and started reading through. Like Starships and Spacemen, Villains and Vigilantes followed the standard D&D pattern of rolling stats on 3d6. Instead of choosing a character class as in D&D, you would roll your origin type, which would determine what types of powers you could have. Then you would roll how many powers you would get, then consult another set of tables to roll the powers themselves.

If that sounds like a prime recipe for getting dice-raped, you're right. D&D's random stat rolls could leave you in the hole right at the start, but at least their character classes gave your character some balance. In Villains and Vigilantes, one guy could roll up a character with awesome stats who rolls a 6 for Mutant Powers and ends up with Form Change, Heightened Attack, Heightened Defense, Flame Powers, Regeneration and Force Field (so he can turn into a fire-breathing dragon or flaming demon or something cool), and another guy with crappy stats who rolls a 1 for Sponsored Powers and ends up with Radio Reception.

But at that point, I didn't know of any other way to do it. And really, though I've derided the Blank & Blank games as being simple copycats, at that time, the similarity to D&D was not a bug for me, it was a feature. If the stats and hit points fell in similar ranges, then I could easily adapt any number of things from Dungeons and Dragons for use in my V&V campaign, since there was precious little support material out there, as in none, apart from one sad scenario from Judges Guild titled "Break-In at Three Kilometer Island," published on cheap pulp paper with stats that seemed to reflect a rather... unconventional interpretation of the game rules, if I remember correctly.

Didn't matter anyway. I didn't want to run a pedestrian game of costumed crime-fighters. I didn't want to run Batman fighting crooks in Gotham. I wanted to run the X-Men versus the Brood in outer space. I wanted to run the Kree-Skrull War, or the battle against Thanos of Titan. I wanted Cosmic, man. With a touch of gritty Stephen King-style Firestarter thrown in.

I had a vague notion of a cosmic battle for all the planes of existence, Moorcock crossed with Kirby's New Gods crossed with King's The Stand. But of course, I had no idea how to get there. I had several ideas that I thought would make cool scenarios. I put down some notes for a secret government conspiracy the characters would run afoul of, and I had a list of neato gadgets and item loot that I wanted to show off to my players. But I had no idea how to structure actual adventures, which became obvious when we started playing.

The complex combat rules didn't help. Although the stats were generated fairly similarly to
Dungeons and Dragons, the combat ran on a completely different system. To attack someone with super-powers, you had to consult this freaking huge matrix table with every single attack and defense type listed, and you would basically cross-reference the power against up to five defenses.

So say I've got a Human Torch-type character who's attacking an Elongated Man type, with Stretching Powers, Heightened Dexterity and Heightened Senses. The base chance to hit with Flame Powers is 15*5, or 75%. But consulting the table, I see that Stretching converts one of those 15's to a 14, and Heightened Dexterity converts one to a 10. Heightened Senses has no effect on the chance to hit. So my base chance to hit, not counting Dex or level or range bonuses, is 15+15+15+14+10, or 69%.


The entire experience was painful, for the players and for me. I was lame, man. If you want to know the name of the worst GM I ever played with, it was me during those first painful attempts at running V&V.

I gave up on that first campaign pretty quickly. It was going nowhere I wanted it to go.

But I didn't give up for long.

No comments: