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Tabletop Game / Villains & Vigilantes

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First put out by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1979, Villains and Vigilantes was the first complete superhero Tabletop RPG ever published (only preceded by Superhero 2044, a science fiction game with some superhero elements).

The game was somewhat unique (and to some, ludicrous) for its character creation system. Namely, values such as strength, intelligence, health, etc. for player characters were approximated by the GM from those values in the person playing the character. Powers were acquired by rolling dice and consulting a series of tables, sometimes resulting in bizarre combinations.

A revised second edition was released in 1982.

In 1986 FGU partnered with Eclipse Comics to release a four-issue Villains & Vigilantes mini-series that was largely a retelling of the introductory adventure "Crisis at Crusader Citadel" (which has the players applying to the Crusaders, the local hero team, but having to stand in for them when the Crusaders go AWOL just before a superhuman crime wave). Incidentally, a sourcebook for The DNAgents comic, run by the same company, was released for use with V&V the same year.

Publishing new content petered off by the late 80's. After a long hiatus, in 2010 Fantasy Games Unlimited began releasing new material for the game, including quite a bit that had apparently just been sitting around unpublished since the game's heyday in The '80s. A legal battle between Fantasy Games Unlimited and original designers Jeff Dee and Jack Herman over the trademark ended with Dee and Herman being awarded ownership of the game, and being able to license the trademark from FGU.

Over August-September 2016, Dee and Herman successfully ran a Kickstarter for a third edition, which was released in 2017 as V&V 3.0 Mighty Protectors.

This tabletop RPG provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: Used in a great many of the adventures (such as "Crisis at Crusader Citadel" and "Organized Crimes"), they provide the perfect place for a skirmish with supervillains.
  • Achilles' Heel: During character creation each character is given a weakness... which can be removed by surrendering one of their powers.
  • Animesque: Several of the more recent releases deal with Japanese villains and anti-villain agencies, and appropriately take their cues from both a story and artistic standpoint from anime shows.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The hero Blastar (the guy up there in the blue and yellow outfit) actually got his powers by doing this, then being judged that he wasn't quite worthy and being incarnated again. He's fighting crime to prove he's worthy enough to ascend permanently.
  • Attack Reflector: Adventure Devil's Domain. In the Scarlet Sphere (the home of the Devil) the Prison Room is made of Brytrithium, which will cause any attack made against it to rebound on the attacker.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Blastin' Butch from "Opponents Unlimited" loves to use his energy blast attack because it's so cool, even though it costs eight times the amount of energy per shot vs the standard power from the rulebook for the same amount of damage. The description of the power even makes note of this and how he frequently exhausts himself unnecessarily from overrelying on it.
  • Bad Guy Bar: One shows up in the mini-adventure "The Mad Scientist" from a 1986 issue of "The VIP of Gaming" magazine.
  • Bad Humor Truck: One of the solo villains in "Opponents Unlimited" is a killer ice cream man. It's to lure kids in so they can be sold to organ harvesters. He fights using gimmicked coins from the change dispenser on his belt, and unlike most villains with special weapons, they're not limited to charges per day but a cumulative amount of $1 per day.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: The villain the Beekeeper controls a swarm of mutated bees, launched from a hive-like weapon worn on one hand.
  • Big Bad: Many of the main villains of adventures qualify; examples of genre-specific baddies are Doctor Apocalypse (from "Death Duel with the Destroyers" and "The Island of Doctor Apocalypse"), the Purple Mask ("To Tackle the TOTEM"), and the Organizer ("Organized Crimes"). And of course there's the two-part adventure serial, "Devil's Domain" and "Dawn of the Devil", where the heroes fight the forces of the ultimate evil (that's what he says, anyway).
  • Bland-Name Product: The rookie heroes in the comic book tie-in have a "U-DRIVE" moving van.
  • Blob Monster: Adventure Devil's Domain. Slime demons are gigantic amoebas with the powers of Force Field and Power Blast.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Adventure "Dawn of the Devil" has the characters search a weird fantasy castle near the end, where they frequently explore rooms that show them weird and terrifying illusions. One is none-too-subtly supposed to be of the players' own gaming session.
  • Bull Seeing Red: In the comic mini-series there's a scene where several of the heroes are being menaced by the super-strong villain known as Bull. The heroine Evergreen uses a variety of plants to attack him, only to be warned that the red blooms on some of them are making Bull angry. She counters that bulls can't see red. This is true, but Bull's a mutant human and he is enraged by the color red, and as one of the team's archenemies it seems like she would've heard his story a long time ago
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • Proditor Capella from "Opponents Unlimited" is basically an evil version of The Greatest American Hero. Except, unlike Ralph Hinkley, Proditor Capella never lost his instruction book.
    • "Great Bridge", the game's supplement on Japanese supervillains, has some that are recognizable as evil knockoffs of famous anime characters, like Astro Boy and Ash Ketchum.
  • Character Level: Done differently than most games, with the levels set up around reflecting how experienced characters are rather than unlocking large bonuses, since comic book superheroes rarely get gradually more powerful over their careers. That is, a 1st-level character will find it harder to hit a 10th-level character than he will when he's built a few levels of his own. There are some minor stat bonuses to be had, but that's it.
  • Chess Motifs: Ranks within the Central Headquarters of Espionage for the Secret Service, basically the V & V-verse's version of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Circus of Fear: Especially the adventure Terror By Night, which is about a vampire creating traps and robot monsters to test the heroes, but also in Organized Crimes, where the villain goes to hide out at a circus where all the performers actually work for him after the heroes thwart his plan.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Adventure Terror By Night has a vampire among its prominent characters and addresses things like repelling them with crosses. The object itself would be meaningless...unless the person wielding it is doing so out of a genuine belief the power of God will protect them from creatures of evil. Something like a vampire being repelled by the arms of a windmill is right out.
  • Combat Tentacles: Adventure Devil's Domain.
  • Combo Platter Powers: The "official" way to roll up a character for the game was to pick a table of powers (like general powers, magic/psionic powers, magic/psionic items, and skills), and then roll percentile dice to determine what powers your character had. This could result in some strange combinations, which can also be seen in some of the characters, like Mace from Crisis at Crusader Citadel. As his name implies, he wields a tricked out mace, but for some reason he also has a superhuman sense of smell despite having a background that fails to suggest he's anything more than an everyday thug. It's even played up when he appears in the comic mini-series.
  • Cosplay: Two of the adventures note  include visits to science fiction conventions where people in superhero costumes won't stand out, and the players can just go around as themselves (and, the writer notes with some amusement, nobody should believe they're the real-life heroes).
  • Darker and Edgier: Module For the Greater Good introduces a team made up exclusively of villains with controversial backgrounds (one's a white supremacist, one's a former porn star, one's a religious extremist, one's a intellectually disabled pyromaniac, etc.).
  • Deadly Force Field: In the original game, a character with the Force Field power can use it as a weapon.
  • Death Is Cheap: Since this is based on comic books where death is often only a temporary setback, when a PC dies it's usually only permanent if the player wants it to be. Even lampshaded in the comic miniseries. There are penalties to doing this, though, mainly in that a character who comes back loses all their levels.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: In the adventure Devil's Domain, when the Player Characters kill any of the Devil's demons, the demons explode in a cloud of noxious brown smoke.
  • Denser and Wackier: The book Opponents Unlimited has a selection of weird, comical villains and scenarios. One of the first the reader will see is a character who actually goes by "Prankster" and has powers that are strictly humorous in nature.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Gee, an embittered, antisocial guy with a name like Charles Malevolent couldn't possibly be a super villain, could he? (Not a spoiler, since the authorities are pretty sure he's up to something already and the adventure begins with the hero investigating his house at their request).
  • Dig Attack: Adventure Devil's Domain. The Sl'sssk demon's head is made up of eight long squid-like tentacles. The demon hides underground and sticks its tentacles up through the soil to grab creatures on the surface and pull them below.
  • Elephant Graveyard: In the adventure Devil's Domain, the devilope demons have one in the Coral Forest.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Pretty common for supervillains in general. The Great Bridge sourcebook had almost a quarter of the characters it included being embittered otaku who were changed into someone much more dangerous through contact with some kind of mystical artifact, though.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Oh boy. Over the years we got CHESS, FISH, GIANT, ASA, TOTEM, BAD, VILE, FIST, RING, MEDUSA, SKULK, CRIME...
  • Government Agency of Fiction: C.H.E.S.S., written at least originally to give a quick example of how to design a "good" comic book-style organization. Showed up in modules sometimes as a nebulous, S.H.I.E.L.D-style group that could give player heroes missions or show up to take supervillains into custody. Since there was no cohesive setting, apparently due to individual ownership rights, a lot of contributing writers would make up their own for these purposes in the modules they wrote. Thus also giving us F.I.S.H. (really, standing for Federal Intelligence Security Headquarters), G.I.A.N.T. (Government Investigation into the Application of New Technologies), the A.S.A. (American Security Agency) and more recently A.C.T.I.O.N. (the Allied Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Operations Network).
  • An Ice Person: Characters with ice powers seem oddly abundant throughout the various sourcebooks. The most prominent example is probably Blizzard, member of NPC hero team the Crusaders.
  • It Amused Me: In the book "Dawn of DNA" a group of villains have turned most of the people into zombies. Having done so, they decide to troll their victims by making them believe "Homosapien" by Pete Shelley is the best song ever and they should buy every copy in town and play it all the time. One wonders if this was the author voicing his own opinion of the song.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: "Enter the Dragon's Claw: Honor", the first module to include ninjas, also had news items echoing mid-80's fears that Japan would secretly seize economic domination of other countries, including the US.
  • The Juggernaut: A lot of adventures and villain roster books have at least one villain who's of the super-strong/really hard to put down variety. Like Bull from "Crisis at Crusader Citadel," Rocker from "Pre-Emptive Strike," Mongo from "Dawn of DNA", Sludge from "Secret in the Swamp", etc.
  • Legion of Doom: The Crushers villain team is supposed to be this to the Crusaders, but only a few actually have profiles that say which hero they hate.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: In the foreword for his "Danger in the Depths" module, writer Ken Cliffe notes he always liked seeing normally marginal aquatic heroes be put in their element and get the chance to dominate. Prompting him to write a double-length underwater adventure so aquatic player-heroes would have their time in the spotlight.
  • Magnetism Manipulation: The "Magnetic Powers" power allows the user to move metallic objects, including using the object as a weapon.
  • Master of Unlocking: The villain Pillager from "Escape from the Microverse" has a magic sword that can be used to unlock any "ordinary" lock or barrier (although it doesn't explain any further, leaving whether a high-tech computerized lock in a superteam's base counts as "ordinary" up to the individual GM, for example).
  • Ninja: These shadow warriors serve as adversaries in modules "Search for the Sensei", "Enter the Dragon's Claw: Honor", and "ClockWorks". In addition, Intercrime's Assassins are very similar.
  • One Super One Powerset: The rules specifically advised players not to significantly change their PC hero's powers, because comic book superheroes typically stay within the same defined list of abilities.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: Abomination demons in the adventure Devil's Domain.
  • People Jars: Adventure Devil's Domain. In the Science Room, the PCs will discover grisly looking mutant babies growing in glass vats. The Devil plans to use these mutant demonic monsters as his servants when they attain their full growth.
  • Plant Person: Evergreen of the Crusaders, who's part dryad and her powers involve controlling plants.
  • Power Pincers: Adventure Devil's Domain. The Sl'sssk demon has two huge crab-like pincers that it uses to grasp and crush its prey.
  • The Prankster: There's a supervillain by this name in the book "Opponents Unlimited", which is full of pretty silly characters and situations anyway.
  • Product Placement: "The Great Iridium Con" has a visit to a science-fiction convention where a booth is mentioned selling not only V&V, but several other games from the same publisher like Space Opera and Aftermath.
  • Rainbow Motif: From the adventure "Assassin": The ASA (American Security Agency) has a rank structure based on the color spectrum, which includes violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, in order of increasing rank. The book "Villains Unleashed" includes a color-motif villain team.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Adventure Devil's Domain.
    • On Easter Island a villain has 4 statues with eyes that "smolder evilly red''.
    • The powerful and evil Daven and Abomination demons have red eyes.
  • Remote, Yet Vulnerable: While a character is using Astral Projection their body drops into a coma. The body can be attacked while the character is gone.
  • Satan: Two adventures created to supply a desire for more challenging adventures and evil opponents were "Devil's Domain" and "Dawn of the Devil". The first has the players fighting to stop "the Devil" from escaping a hellish dimension, while the second has him destroying the world after doing so. Whether he's the true "fact behind the name" is left up to the individual GM, though.
  • Secret Government Warehouse: In "Dawn of the Devil", when the players finally manage to locate the CHESS repository that has the coordinates for the planet they need to visit to fix things, they also find a stash of legendary artifacts like Excalibur or the robes of Muhammad, along with other stuff like alien weapons. Seemingly to give players a chance to temporarily upgrade their characters, considering they're going to a planet completely infested with monsters, before having a final boss fight with the ultimate evil. Which are a little beyond everyday supervillains.
  • Shout-Out
    • Several via counters for the comic convention in "The Great Iridium Con". We've got two guys cosplaying as the comic book versions of Thor and Odin, a stormtrooper from Star Wars, and the Fourth Doctor.
    • Human-hating robot R.I.N.G. in "Battle Above the Earth" is named after the robot "monster" in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with the acronym altered just slightly.
    • The opening scenario in Terror By Night features a remake of the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space.
    • Kind of a subtle one, but the module "Enter the Gene Pool" has the title villains kidnapping the star of a 70's superhero show from a book signing event.note  From what details are revealed, it sounds a lot like real 70's superhero shows like The Greatest American Hero or The Secrets of Isis. Where, thanks to budgetary restrictions, the hero would usually save people in trouble and fight normal organized crime at most, instead of supervillains.
  • Speed Demon: The book "Vigilantes International" has a Canadian speedster hero who actually calls himself that.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Especially prevalent in the early characters of Jeff Dee and Jack Herman. For instance, Mirage's real name is Meryl Jordan, Bull is Bill Buckford, Mocker is Robot-MKR, Blizzard is Bob Ballard, Od is Omar Drokman, Leo is Leopold Linus, Samhain is Sam Haine...
  • Stranger Behind the Mask: With secret identities being common in the superhero genre, there are many cases of this. One notable example is the villain known as the Garrote from the adventure "Alone into the Night".
  • Superhero School: According to the setting details in the 2017 reimagining, the Crusaders from "Crisis at Crusader Citadel" have retired from active crimefighting to open one of these.
  • Superpower Lottery: Basically invoked if a campaign uses the randomized character generation method.
  • Tarot Motifs: The Tarot Masters villain team from "Opponents Unlimited", who are expanded on in "The Pentacle Plot".
  • The Team Wannabe: Character sourcebook "Super Crooks and Criminals" has Wonder Boy, a teenager with some marginally powerful gadgets, who's there to try to become a PC's sidekick.
  • Vortex Barrier: In the adventure "Devil's Domain", the Devil places a giant machine off the east coast of Florida. When it's activated, it creates an incredibly powerful weather system around it that is dubbed "The Vortex". It prevents any access to the machine by conventional forces: only superheroes are powerful enough to get through it.
  • Weakened by the Light
    • Adventure Organized Crimes. The albino villainess Black Empress takes double damage from light-based attacks.
    • Adventure Devil's Domain. The Pit Fiend takes triple normal damage from light based attacks, can be blinded by any light-producing attack on a special hit, and a blinding flash attack only requires one hit to blind it.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Averted in an issue of the comic series. The villains have captured the heroes and hit them with a coma-inducing vapor. New member Manstar asks why they don't just kill the heroes, and veteran member Mace explains that when a superhero "dies", they usually just come back with a vengeance, and the Crushers are actually saving themselves a bigger headache later.
  • World-Healing Wave: In the adventure "Dawn of the Devil," if the heroes vanquish the Devil, a primordial being they've made friends with along the way does this to Earth, undoing all the damage and raising everyone killed in the Devil's attack
  • Wreathed in Flames: Many instances of characters whose body is on fire exist, where they have the "flame on" version of Flame Powers. Examples include Laserfire (of the Crusaders) and Diablo (from "Pentacle Plot").
  • You All Look Familiar: A lot of times portraits for the counters in a module would be recycled after being slightly touched up with different hair or shirt colors or something like that.