Villains and Vigilantes

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1979, Villains and Vigilantes was the second superhero RPG ever published (after Champions).

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 for the person playing the character. (At least for the player's first character—subsequent characters were not required to be based on the player.) Powers were acquired by rolling dice and consulting a series of tables, sometimes resulting in bizarre combinations.

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).

The game and many of its adventure modules can be purchased online. FGU has even started selling PDFs of new modules, and ones that were probably written a long time ago but kept in the pipe due to rights issues. Said rights issues were finally resolved in 2013, with all ownership of V&V and its trademarks restored to its authors, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman. As of Fall 2017, a new edition called Villains and Vigilantes 3.0: The Mighty Protectors (funded by a Kickstarter campaign) is now available.

Tropes used in Villains and Vigilantes include:
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: "Animal/Plant Powers" is one of the most desired rolls on the powers tables, because it inevitably yields several more powers, including the chance for recursion into itself with especially lucky rolls. May be seen as a subversion because a super with Animal Powers is in no way required to use them as the basis for his codename or costume.
  • Bad Humor Truck: One of the solo villains in Opponents Unlimited is a killer ice cream man.
  • Bland-Name Product: The rookie heroes in the comic book tie-in have a "U-DRIVE" moving van.
  • Bull Seeing Red: In the comic 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. The problem is Bull's a mutant human who was born with his powers, not a real bull. He has a criminal record dating back to his childhood, and as he's one of the Crusaders' archenemies they'd probably have that information readily available. Not to mention that he was in fact one of four villains named after animals from the module (Hornet, Vulture and Shrew). Point being that maybe the situation's different if we're not talking about what the old myth talks about.
  • Canada, Eh?: "Now, put on your toque, grab a brew and jump on the dogsled, we're movin' out."
  • Cast from Hit Points: Characters normally spend their Power Points to use their superpowers, but if you run out of Power Points (and manage not to pass out), you can continue fueling powers with hit points... until you do pass out -- or die.
  • 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 Alignment: There are only two alignments in the game—Good and Evil. Since player characters cannot be Evil, that means there's effectively only one alignment.
  • Character Level: As a first-generation RPG, V&V closely follows the model established by Dungeons & Dragons only a few years earlier. Heroes and villains both increase in levels; in addition to improving combat effectiveness, each level provides a "training bonus" which by default is a one-point increase in an attribute of choice, but can also be any of a few other improvements to the character's game mechanics.
  • Chess Motifs: Ranks within the Central Headquarters of Espionage for the Secret Service.
  • Circus of Fear: Terror By Night
  • Cosplay: Two of the adventures include visits to science fiction conventions where people in superhero costumes will hardly be noticed.
  • Damage Reduction: The Invulnerability power, which allows the character to simply ignore a certain amount of damage every turn, only subtracting hit points after it has been exceeded.
  • 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 mentally-handicapped pyromaniac, etc.).
  • 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. If they come back from the dead they lose all their levels, though. Even lampshaded in the comic.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: In 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?
  • Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: On a grand scale. Every possible attack power is cross-referenced against every possible defense power on a table that takes up half a page in the second edition; at the intersection of each pair is a bonus or penalty for the attacker's roll. Some of the defenses are not even strictly powers, such as having a higher Intelligence than the attacker for most mental attacks.
  • Elephants' Graveyard: In Devil's Domain, the devilope demons have one in the Coral Forest.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Oh boy. Over the years we got CHESS, FISH, GIANT, TOTEM, BAD, VILE, FIST, RING, MEDUSA, SKULK, CRIME...
    • And lately NOCK, CAPER, GALANT, frigging TIC-TAC-TOE...
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Theoretically every character. All heroes have "inventing points" gained per level based on their Intelligence score, which they can expend to build new powers. By default this is a gadget, but can (based on the hero's theme) also represent magical spells or other native abilities; however they are required to be somewhat weaker than the powers the hero originally rolled.
  • Go Look At the Distraction: See Idiot Ball, below.
  • A God Is You: Always an option for your character background.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: C.H.E.S.S.
  • An Ice Person: Characters with ice powers seemed oddly abundant throughout the various sourcebooks.
  • Idiot Ball: One published module demanded the entire team pick up the Idiot Ball simultaneously in order not to disrupt its plot: during a bodyguarding assignment, the villains stage an incredibly obvious distraction—and the module itself insists that any hero who does not immediately abandon the NPC they are guarding to respond to the obvious distraction is a bad hero and should be penalized by the GM.
  • Imagination-Based Superpower: Solid energy illusions.
  • Intangible Man: The Non-corporealness power, AKA "Non-corp". Subverted slightly in that a sufficiently-skilled attacker can actually hit a non-corporeal target.
  • Knockback: Being a comic book game, V&V of course has knockback rules -- every point of damage a character takes which isn't absorbed by armor or invulnerability, and isn't "rolled with", knocks that character back five feet (one scale map square).
  • Legion of Doom: The Crushers villain team is supposed to be this to the Crusaders, but only for a few of them say which Crusader they hate.
  • Missing Episode: The Most Wanted series went straight from #1 to #3.
  • Multiple Life Bars: The "Armor" power is essentially a separate pool of hit points which has a chance equal to its current level (on d%) to intercept incoming damage (reducing its level, and its ability to intercept damage, accordingly). In practice this works out to two parallel sets of HP, one of which can be depleted without harm to the character but rarely reaches that point before the character starts applying most incoming damage to his "real" hit points.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: Abomination demons in Devil's Domain.
  • Plant Person: Evergreen of the Crusaders.
  • Product Placement: A sourcebook for using The DNAgents comic book with the game was published.
  • Random Number God: As a first-generation RPG with random character generation, V&V is notoriously subject to this.
    • Made worse by the large number of powers (such as "Insect/Animal/Plant/etc. Powers" and "Armor") that can include a random number of other randomly-rolled powers as part of themselves, making it possible to get caught a near-endless loop of powers begetting powers begetting powers begetting powers... Real-world example: Looney Toons' wife, while rolling her second V&V character in 1988, got caught in one such loop and ended up with nearly 20 powers, including rolling "Armor" as one of the subpowers of "Armor", which then had subpowers of its own. (She very willingly discarded a dozen or so which made no thematic sense.)
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Several examples in Devil's Domain.
  • Self-Insert Character: Enforced by the game -- your first V&V character is always explicitly you plus powers.
  • The Six Stats: Averted -- V&V has five basic attributes: Strength, Agility, Endurance, Intelligence, and Charisma. (It then derived another half dozen or so stats from them.)
  • Sizeshifter: The Growing and Shrinking powers.
  • Slap-On-The-Wrist Nuke: The default nuclear weapon in the game does a mere 2d100 points of damage -- meaning even an unpowered normal can smother a nuclear explosion by jumping on the bomb and walk away under their own power afterward, if the dice roll is low enough. And since the game has no rules for radiation poisoning or other side-effects, the raw hit-point damage is the only thing he'll suffer.
  • Squishy Super: The vast majority of the sample characters in the rules seem to have suffered from consistently bad die rolls and barely qualify as unusually skilled normals. The average honestly-rolled first-level hero from a real campaign could wipe the floor with them. All of them. Simultaneously.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Especially prevalent in Jeff Dee's early characters. 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...
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Explicitly codified in the rules, almost exactly word-for-word.
  • Tarot Motifs: The Tarot Masters villain team.
  • We Help the Helpless: By definition the ethos of all player characters.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: A roll on a weakness table is required for all PCs; the weakness can be discarded if a power is discarded, though.