Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Big Game Wednesday - A Super Second Chance

Yes, it's late, but still Wednesday.

So as old Dungeon Masters were leaving and new Dungeon Masters coming in, I decided it was time to take another shot at being a Game Master myself, and when I was visiting the game store, I ran across a couple of superhero RPG's that presented me with a fascinating dilemma.

On the one hand, there was Champions. I had read good reviews of the system, but when I looked at the book, I was less than impressed. The art and production values were crude. Even the typesetting looked cheap, almost as if the book had been typed up in someone's back room. And when I looked over the character sheet, oh my God. Fourteen stats. Fourteen.

On the other hand, there was the second edition of Villains and Vigilantes, with slick cover art by game co-designer Jeff Dee (and in a bit of subtle coolness, the heroes on the front of the book are much improved versions of the heroes on the cover of the first edition). I went back and forth for quite some time over this strange, ugly-looking game book that I'd heard good things about and this slick presentation of a game whose first edition I hadn't much liked. In the end, I chose V&V again.


Well, for several reasons. Number one, I figured it couldn't be too different from the old game, which meant I would be familiar with the way the game operated. And I might be able to more easily convert some of my old characters. And then there was the fact that new supplements were coming out, like Willingham's Death Duel with the Destroyers.

Basically, as far as I was concerned, V&V looked like it would be easier to learn, better supported, and simpler to run. And in the end, I think it was the character sheet that decided me, with only five basic stats compared to Champions' fourteen. It just looked a lot less complicated.

Ha. Little did I know.

So I bought the game and started playing with the new character design rules. And here's the thing: if you thought Hero was complicated, you never tried playing V&V. Yes, you only had five basic stats (and one of them was Charisma, so it was really like only having four). But every stat had multiple game effects.

Take hit points. Instead of rolling a certain number of hit points per level like the old game, in new V&V, your hit points were calculated from your stats and your weight. Your weight in lbs. divided by 50 yielded your basic hits, which were then modified by stats and powers.

Say I had a character who weighed 150 lbs. with Str 9, End 28, Agi 13 and Int 23. That weight would yield 3 Basic Hits. The stats give hit multipliers of 1, 3.4, 1.4 and 1.3. Multiply them all together and you come up with 18.564, or 19 hit pts.

Damage was even worse. Hand-to-hand damage was based on carrying capacity, which was determined by a freaking algebraic formula. Even worse, the formula was wrong. Here's the relevant section of the rules.

As you can see by the hand-written addition, the formula does not match the plain English description given below. For my character listed above, the formula as written in the book would yield a carrying capacity of 5,677.5 lbs, while the formula as described (and hand-written) would yield a carrying capacity of 264.7 lbs. For my 150 lb. hero of great toughness, but average human strength, which is the more believable result?

On the other hand, combat simplified a little. Now the power combat matrix only covered half a page rather than a full page.

Anyway, I gave it a valiant try. I ran several adventures in second edition, stealing shamelessly from X-Men and Teen Titans comics, among others. I ran a few of the published modules, but also several of my own adventures. An assault against a secret military base inside a mountain, taken over by a vampiric sorcerer who also happened to be a mad scientist. A battle against a cult called the Children of the New Sun, led by a deranged goddess named Aureole. A string of battles against a horde of insectoid aliens.

We had some fun, and I wasn't as horrible a Game Master as I'd been on my first try, but I still wasn't very good, and it was really frustrating. So I ended up quitting and letting some other guys take their turn. One guy I barely knew and the other guy was a big dork, so I wasn't expecting much.

But it turned out, both guys were really good Game Masters, and I learned a lot from them.

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