Sunday, September 6, 2020

Planning a New V&V / Mighty Protectors Campaign : The Dawn of a New Era, or Finally Burying the Past with Respect


Please forgive me my poor man's attempt at waxing poetic.

I had a realization last night, It may seem obvious to those of you reading these articles, but it wasn't so obvious to me. I have an unhealthy amount of nostalgia for the superhero campaigns of my past. Those campaigns were so entertaining and memorable they had me in an iron grip. As long as I was held in bondage by those memories I was not able to truly move on and make new and potentially better campaigns with all of the experience, and knowledge I've accumulated since they ended.

So the time has come to box up all the miscellaneous materials from the old days, and start fresh, to face the future with new and hopeful eyes full of wonder and excitement about a genre I love. To boldly face my fear that my best GMing days are behind me. To realize that I haven't even truly started to truly GM yet.

So now all the old NPC's are to be put away for good (literally). They will now live on only as stories of pleasant times that I shared with friends, no longer will they haunt me. No more will I waste time trying to recapture the past. 

From here on in I'm in terra Incognita, the undiscovered country that lays beyond the setting sun of the old campaigns moving towards the promise of a new dawn. It's time to step forward and see what Might Protectors & Vile Villains I might discover.

I cannot think of a better way to do this than to adopt and accept Villains & Vigilantes 3.0 : the Mighty Protectors as the worth successor and fresh start it is designed to be, all the while respecting its roots but not being hamstrung by them.

Again, Thanks for reading.

Erik a.k.a. Midnight

Friday, September 4, 2020

Planning a New V&V / Mighty Protectors Campaign : Sometimes New Does Not Equal Better


I still haven't made up my mind yet, but ....

A little while ago P.Michael created a character for Might Protectors. This was back when the idea of starting a campaign first germinating in my mind. I think the character was based on an old City of Heroes character of his.her name is Lady Psyche.

Well, in order to properly compare and contrast Villains & Vigilantes 2.x and Mighty Protectors. I spent time last night writing up the V&V version using our old method (well with a few amendments drawn from Might Protectors).. Let me show you!

First the Mighty Protectors version 

And Now for the Villains & Vigilantes 2,x Version .

Now I'm well aware that the Mighty Protectors sheet is very colorful and distracting, and perhaps has more visual appeal except for one thing. The teeny tiny illustration up in the right hand corner. You might say it's not THAT small, but it really is, especially when your used to an illustration 3-4 times bigger, like on the Villains & Vigilantes sheet. 

Both P.Michael and I agree that superheroes are the product of a visual medium. Marshal McLuhan's dictum that "the medium is the message" certainly seems to apply to superhero rpgs, So for me, the visuals of the character are very Important, thus the bigger the character illustration the better.

and I like the way that I can present the Information on the V&V sheet in a more narrative way. It lets me add details about the character and their powers that there just isn't room to do on the MP sheet, at least not in the same way.

If you read over the sheets, I know, I know "Too Long Didn't Read", but really, if you were to look at them, not the numerical stats stuff, but the descriptive text for the powers and such, I think you'll see what I mean. The V&V version just seem more like an entry out of the old "Handbook of the Marvel Universe" or DC's Who's Who Books. All the game information is there but its coated in a layer of yummy fluff that doesn't get in the way, yet alternatively expands on the characters powers and perhaps mindset in a useful way. and the corresponding sections of the Mighty Protectors sheet feel dry and clinical in comparison.

I think this is what keeps drawing me back to V&V, and makes it hard to embrace Mighty Protectors. Now mind you, I'm well aware that the way I do a character in Villains & Vigilantes is not the way most people do it, its just the way I've found that has traditionally worked for me. But it's one that I haven't yet found a way to replicate satisfactorily in Mighty Protectors ... Yet. 

Thanks for again for reading !

Erik a.k.a Midnight

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Comic Book Documentary : Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics



Seeing as I'm in a particularly Superheroic mood I went looking for Superhero Documentaries. As a result I found this one from Warner Brothers. It's actually pretty good and worth a watch .

The more I watch documentaries like this the more I love comic books as an art form.

Erik a.k.a Midnight

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Planning a New V&V / Mighty Protectors Campaign : System Choice, or Pick your Poison


O.k. now its time to do an analysis to try and figure out which version of Villains & Vigilantes is the right one for me. As I said in my last entry part of me wants to go with the new shiny of Villains & Vigilantes 3.0 : Mighty Protectors, but part of my heart really wants to return to the simplicity of Villains & Vigilantes 2.x.

Choosing Mighty Protectors would mean supporting a "Living" version of the rules. By "Living I mean that it's still being produced and supported by the authors Jeff Dee & Jack Herman through Monkey House Games. Most of the support at his point is products that were promised through the Kickstarter campaign (4 years ago), and those are being released at what seems like a snails pace. Frankly I'm beginning to doubt if we'll see all of the material that was promised as part of the Kickstarter at this point. All that being said I completely understand why, Monkey house Games is a Small Company; I think technically it really just Jack & Jeff (and maybe Manada Jeff's partner) they rely a lot on freelancers for some of the products. For example the upcoming War Heroes title was, I believe written by Brian K. Adams. The art was most likely done but either Jeff and or Tod Allen Smith, and the layout is being done by Jeff. Now this is supposed to be a 300+ page book so that's a lot of work for so few people, and one has to assume that they have day jobs on top of at all this (Lets face it very few individuals can manage to live off producing rpgs on its own)

Choosing Villains & Vigilantes 2.x means that, for the most part, I'd be choosing a "Dead", Well maybe more like "Undead" version of the rules. Due to the settlement it seems like new material may be very sparse in the future. It seems that Fantasy Games Unlimited (the original publisher of the game) can't sell a version of the rules at this point (MHG still sells both the PDF and "dead tree" versions of V&V 2.1), but they have been putting out some interesting source books and adventures right up until 2018. We haven't seem anything new since then. The FGU website does list a product called Mystic Foes in their "coming soon" section, but no release date is listed. Up until this point Monkey House Games has also been supporting V&V 2.1 by making sure that all their Mighty Protectors releases are "dual-stated" for both systems, but I don't know much longer this will continue. I can't see them "dual-stating" War Heroes it's just too much work to write up all the character in both systems (if this is a N.P.C. Heavy source book). 

Seeing as I have 90-100% of everything produced for both system at this point, it does sort of become a moot point. It's not like whichever system I choose the "RPG Police" will come and take all my materials away if either version becomes truly unsupported by either gaming company. 

I freely admit that math and I are not the best of friends, and this may colour my perceptions. Now many superhero systems rely on a "point buy" character creation system. This is done to maintain what is commonly called "character balance". In other words it's so that all the player's character's are on an even playing field when it come to combat effectiveness. In my opinion this balance is completely illusory, and don't even get me started on the social implications of this need to make sure that the other people's characters don't have some sort of advantage over your character. The fact remains that even using a point buy character creation system it is possible to create characters that vary widely in combat effectiveness. Trust me I could easily create a character that would be ineffective in combat but hyper-effective in investigation or some other non-combat role-playing situations. I would still have a blast playing that character. I believe that this type of non-combat character, or as they're often referred to as "sub-optimal builds",  are just as valid a choice as their combat focused brethren, they just take more creativity to play.  So since point build system aren't a guarantee of balance, except on a purely abstract mathematical basis, why bother?

Mighty Protectors uses a "point buy" system, it isn't a "pure" point buy system as it does allow for a high degree of random generation, but it does try to be a "balanced" system. This means that all Stats & Powers are built from points, even if these are determined randomly. This allow for a great deal of customization-ability at the cost of turning character creation into an accounting like exercise. All you have to do is ask my wife and she'll confirm that I have a prejudice against accounting, not that I can't do it, it's just unpleasant...Blech.... 

Villains & Vigilantes 2.x pretty much uses a random / somewhat narrative method for determining Stats & Power. The powers are mostly pre-designed and act as a guideline on how powerful each power should be. This allows powers to be tinkered with on a gut instinct basis. In fact, the game actively encourages the players and game masters to work together to come up with unique power using the other powers as guidelines. This doesn't mean there is no math in Villains & Vigilantes 2.x.  Hell the math used to figure out a character's carrying capacity is infamous for its formula ((S/10)^3+(E/10)) x (W/2), but that calculation only has to be done once per character (in general), and I can easily do that with a calculator. 

Villains & Vigilantes 2.x is an older game and uses a convention of its time, a look up table to determine target numbers for combat. This is a "feature" that particularly bothers my friend  Tim Knight of the Hero Press Blog and he has twisted himself in to pretzel knots trying to avoid, or replace it :). Mighty Protectors  is a newer game and has done away with combat look up table in favor of a much better system involving "to hit" numbers for each attack and a semi-static defense number. I'll admit this is a feature that weighs in Mighty Protectors favor. Another thing that Mighty Protectors does better than its predecessor is the way it handles skills / backgrounds, or rather how it explains their intended use much more clearly.than it was in Villains & Vigilantes 2.0. it's not the granular skill system found in many rpgs, but I think it is very flexible. 

Players wont be hearing "sorry Johnny you didn't buy / put points into that particular skill that you absolutely need right now, even though as a (insert occupation here) it would make sense that you would know it, so you can't do it. Now if your a (insert occupation here) and you have a reasonable chance of knowing something about a subject, or how to use a skill, you get to roll on a d20 against the relevant stat save as determined by your game master +3. If you don't have relevant training or knowledge because of your background and it qualifies as "common knowledge" you make a flat roll against your stat save value; otherwise your at a -3. If it requires specialist knowledge, your screwed, unless you have detailed instructions and you roll a 1 (lower is always better in V&V/MP unless its damage)

Then there's matter of "feel". This is a much more intangible quality, and unfortunately nostalgia may heavily color how each game is perceived. If I discount the nostalgia aspect, as I probably should, there isn't much to separate the two games . Villains & Vigilantes 2.x is renowned for the way in which it really emulates the super-heroic genre well, its often been sited among those that have played it, as well as other superhero rpgs, how much it brings the feel of comic book super heroics to the tabletop. I've also heard from V&V players as well as Champions players how MP is a great deal of fun and feels very super-heroic. In some ways the Mighty Protectors rule book goes further than it predecessor in helping generate that standard "4-color" feel. The chapters on the Mighty Protectors Universe feels really good, and it;s a wellspring of inspiration on how to build your own comic book universe; much more so than the pages and pages of legal code included in the V&V 2.x rule books. 

The last thing to consider is system familiarity, I have years upon years of experience creating V&V 2.x characters. In fact I have a binder full of potentially reusable heroes and villains from the old campaigns. So in someways I wouldn't be starting all over from scratch, as far a creating characters goes. But, frankly some of those heroes & villains have worn out their welcome, though overuse (at least in my mind), but that still leaves a lot of them to be exploited. With Mighty Protectors its all gonna have to be built up from the ground floor. That could lead to some really interesting developments and characters ...then there's that old building MP character feels a lot like accounting problem.

There is so much to consider, and  as I said I might, I think I've over complicated it ... again. If any of you have any Insight or feedback that might help please leave a comment. 

Next time I write should have a decision made. (Hopefully)

Thanks for reading

Erik a.k.a. Midnight

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Planning a New V&V / Mighty Protectors Campaign : What has Gone Before.


For anybody that knows me it comes as no surprise that super-heroic role-playing is my favorite genre to indulge in. It is also the one that causes me the most frustration. To paraphrase Khan Noonian Singh from Star Trek II: 

"It tasks me. It tasks me and I shall have it! I'll chase it 'round the moons of Nibia and 'round the Antares Maelstrom and 'round perdition's flames before I give it up!."

Superhero role-playing games (rpgs) were the third Genre of role-playing that I was ever exposed to. The first, as it was for many in the hobby, was the fantasy genre through the auspices of Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes edition) and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st edition). early on I played many standalone adventure and one-shots, but I never really engaged in what could be called a "Campaign" until much later under the dungeon-mastering of my friend Francois "Frank" Verpaelst  in his excellent "Thieves World" games. Fantasy is still my second favorite role-playing genre.

The second was post-apocalyptic role-playing through TSR's Gamma World (1st ed). My time spent playing Gamma World under my friend P. Michael Hodge could most certainly be considered a campaign in the classic sense, we had consistent characters that progressed through as series of interconnected situations and adventure. P.Mikey's Gamma World campaign was definitely a precursor to the genre that would later occupy the Lion's share of our early role-playing "careers". I say this because one of the major background features of his campaign was a secret society he created called "the Church of Mar-Vel". A group of cultist that had based their religion and philosophy on an incomplete archive of Marvel comics, and had begun to breed / engineer mutants with the powers and abilities of the gods from the holy books. I'm sure you can guess where this is leading .

An finally during a summer lull in gaming (most of our gaming revolved around school, both high school and C.E.G.E.P, which in Quebec is a bridge between HS and University) a friend called together a group of us he knew to be comic book / superhero aficionados to try an new rpg that he'd gotten his hands on. It turned out to be the boxed set of Villains & Vigilantes 2.0, and when we saw it I seem to remember we were all pretty excited about it.

We rolled up characters and our friend Carl ran us through the Intro module "Crisis at Crusader Citadel". I think most of were hooked at that point, I know that I was, and I'm pretty sure that P.Michael was too. not long after his Gamma world campaign wrapped up and he plunged head long in to V&V. Technically I started my V&V campaign first, but mine didn't shine as brightly or last as long as the campaigns run by PMikey. 

For over 20 years I've had a plethora of characters in P.Michael's campaigns. In order of appearance: from the Champions of Peace (C.O.P.s): Firebird (who was Erik Menard's super heroic Identity), Will-o-wisp, and The Magi (yes I know I accidentally used the plural in his name instead of the singular Mage), from the Pantheon: Midnight (perhaps the character that is most associated with me, Duh), From U.N.I.T.-M: Psi-FireGhoul (a reworking of my original character form Carl's game), and finally Midnight once again. 

Virago II
Since the U.N.I.T-M Campaign wrapped, and before that, I started searching for a replacement for V&V. Over time I think I became personally disenchanted with V&V as a rule set / mechanic. as the search progressed I found that I was judging all the replacements by the standard of Villains & Vigilantes 2.0. and after about 10 years I realized that all of the systems I investigated fell short of V&V in my estimation. Under my suggestion / insistence (but maybe I'm remembering it completely wrong) we ventured into the waters of Mutants & Masterminds 1st edition under PMikey, we even nominally play-tested M&M 2nd ed (our names appear in the play-testing credits) P.Michael seem to really like the system, it scratched an itch for him as a GM  that apparently V&V did not. Eventually the Intoxicating "New Game Smell" of M&M wore off for me sometime after M&M 3rd edition was release to the public, and our character of Virago II was release as an officially vetted PDF (made possible by backing the Kickstarter at an absurd level)  by Green Ronin, and the search started again.

Then Jack Herman & Jeff Dee, the original authors of V&V released Villains & Vigilantes 2.1 a cleaned up and reformatted set of V&V 2 rules, and began their battle to regain the their rights to publish their game. In the end they achieved a complicated compromise victory and began the process of getting Villains & Vigilantes 3.0: The Mighty Protectors Kickstarted and eventually out the door. This chain of events reawakened my interest in V&V and I began to reexamine it.

In the end I've come to the conclusion that It wasn't so much the rules / mechanics that I had become disenchanted with all those years ago, but rather I was beginning to rapidly lose faith in my abilities as a game master; my ability to tell an Interesting and compelling story. It took years to hit rock bottom, but I did hit it, and have been slowly rebuilding it ever since. so now I think I'm finally ready to pick up my GMing hat, dust it off, set it squarely on my huge melon and jump back in to the game. 
So, as I have discovered over the years, V&V really is my game, my only remaining question is whether to choose V&V 2.0 or V&V 3.0: Mighty Protectors. I'm concerned that I will of course unnecessarily over-complicate this decision. I want to go with the new shiny of Mighty Protectors, but part of my heart really wants to return to the simplicity of Villains & Vigilantes 2.x.

I will have to make a decision on this matter very shortly, as I have promised PMikey that I WILL run a Superhero campaign for him to finally play in, and after all the years enjoyment he's brought me as a player over the years (hell a lot of us). I think I owe him that, ... nay, I know I owe him that, and its time I paid up. 

Erik a.k.a Midnight