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 using material from The DNAgents comic, run by the same company, was released for use with V&V the same year.
After a long hiatus, in 2010 Fantasy Games Unlimited began releasing new material for the game. 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 do it again.
- 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.
- Bee Bee Gun: The villain the Beekeeper controls a swarm of mutated bees.
- 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").
- 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.
- 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 (in fact he's one of a full third of the original Crushers to be named after an animal), and as one of the team's archenemies it seems like she would've heard his story already. Especially since he has no secret identity.
- Canada, Eh?: "Now, put on your toque, grab a brew and jump on the dogsled, we're movin' out."
- 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.
- Character Level: Done differently than most games, with the levels set up around reflecting how experienced characters are rather than unlocking large bonuses. 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.
- Circus of Fear: Especially the adventure Terror By Night, but also in "Organized Crimes".
- 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.
- 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.
- The Pit Fiend has six tentacles that can each do 15-78 Hit Points of damage to any creature hit.
- 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 also has a superhuman sense of smell despite having a background that fails to suggest he's anything more than an everyday thug.
- Cosplay: Two of the adventures include visits to science fiction conventions where people in superhero costumes will hardly be noticed.
- Darker and Edgier: 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.
- 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: Hardly unusual for supervillains in general. The Great Bridge sourcebook had almost a quarter of the characters it detailed being embittered otaku who were changed 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...
- And lately NOCK, CAPER, GALANT, and TIC-TAC-TOE...
- Government Agency of Fiction: C.H.E.S.S.
- An Ice Person: Characters with ice powers seem oddly abundant throughout the various sourcebooks.
- 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.
- Legion of Doom: The Crushers villain team is supposed to be this to the Crusaders, but only for a few of them does it say which Crusader they hate.
- 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 as opposed to a seal placed by a wizard, 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: It has specifically advised players not to significantly change their PC hero's powers.
- 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.
- 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 is a supervillain by this name in the book "Opponents Unlimited".
- Rainbow Motif: From the adventure "Assassin". The ASA (American Security Agency) has a rank structure based on the color spectrum. It includes violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red, in order of increasing rank. The book "Villains Unleashed" gives 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.
- 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".
- Tarot Motifs: The Tarot Masters villain team from "Opponents Unlimited", who are expanded on in "The Pentacle Plot".
- The Team Wannabe: "Super Crooks and Criminals" has Wonder Boy, a teenager with some marginally powerful gizmos who's there to try to become a PC's sidekick.
- 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?: Deconstructed lightly in an episode 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 they're actually saving themselves a bigger headache later. Lightly, because in the final issue the heroes are left to die when the building's set to explode.
- 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.