Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Mighty Protectors

"We believe in heroes because, ultimately, we believe in ourselves." - Jack "King" Kirby

I am spending some quality time with +Jeff Dee and Jack Herman's Supers RPG Mighty Protectors, aka Villains & Vigilantes 3.0.

Mighty Protectors (MP) is the update to the venerable supers RPG Villains & Vigilantes (V&V). In fact it is billed as the version 3.0 of the game.

V&V was the first supers game I ever encountered.   Jeff Dee got his start on D&D doing some of the classic module art and book art for the 1st edition game.   So the game has some obvious D&D roots.
V&V was unique at the time (and still somewhat in MP) in that in the game you play yourself.  You work out with the other players what your strength, endurance, intelligence and the rest are and then you roll randomly on a table of super powers.  It's a very interesting and fun concept that we completely ignored.  Back in the day we liked playing a "multi-verse" so our V&V characters were our D&D characters in a supers universe.  The stats were the mostly the same and both games had levels.  Plus it gave us excuses to have strengths of 50 or more (human max is 18).  I remember it being a very good time.

As typical of many old school games there are lots of random rolls, charts and a fair amount of math involved. I went back recently to make a character and was thrilled to see that Monkey House Games had an Excel character sheet pack.  The math isn't hard really, but Excel is still faster.

Even though we got a V&V 2.1 a couple of years back, V&V was itself in a state of limbo with a long, ugly legal battle between creators Dee and Herman vs. former publisher Fantasy Games Unlimited.  Last year everything got sorted out and Mighty Protectors was Kickstarted.

If you have played V&V in the past then there is a lot here that is familiar, but also a lot that is new, updated or revised.  Levels are gone, replaced with Power Levels that work like Power Levels in Mutants & Masterminds.  This is actually a big leap forward in my mind and gives you more flexibility. While you should start out with a "Standard" game (150 total CPs) you could do a "Low" powered game (100 total CPs) or even a "Normal" or "No Powers" game of 50 CPs. Or take it the other direction with "High" at 200 CPs.  There are mechanics in game, such as ability and power caps that make it so each character in each Power Level is roughly the same power.  Sure you can mix "Low" with "High" or even higher.  Also gone are the six attributes cribbed right from D&D.  Now you have four Basic Characteristics (BC) that you can randomly determine, point buy or assign.  These are Strength, Endurance, Agility, Intelligence, and Cool.  If you are translating these from V&V then the numbers have slight differences.  But more on that later.

Instead of talking about MP isn't in relation to V&V, I'd rather talk about what it is in relation to itself.

The book is 164 pages, softcover, with black & white art and color covers all from Jeff Dee himself.  I am reviewing both the softcover book and the PDF.  It is a nice mix of some classic V&V art, newer V&V art and even newer still MP art.  If you are a fan of V&V then it feels like V&V from the very start.


The book is set up to look like "legal code" rather than chapters.  So there is section "1.1 What is a Superhero" and section "2.1.16.1 Character Concept".  That makes it sound like it is very dry, but it isn't.  It reads more like a continuous document.

Section 1.0 starts us off with an introduction to the Mighty Protectors game and a brief overview of what is a Superhero.  I thin this bit is important because it sets the stage for what this game is about.  This is comicbook superhero emulation.  Not necessarily movies or TV Supers, but comic books in particular.  This goes back to the origin of V&V when Jeff Dee and Jack Herman were sitting around trying to decide who would win in a fight.  This late 70s/early 80s comic vibe is played out till today in this game.  My takeaway?  This is a game that predates the "Bronze Age" or even "Modern Age" of comics.  It was built with Pre-Bronze, late Silver Age tools.  Can it do Modern Age? Yes, easy. Can it do TV? Of course! I think back to the time when V&V was new and imagine what would it have been like to have these comicbook-based TV shows we have now.  But the game will work the best when the heroes are good, the villains are evil and superhero teams get along and fight for a common cause.  There can be (and are) shades of gray here. Heck even the original Bowhunter (from V&V and MP) a good guy had a villainess as a love interest.
We round out Section 1 with materials you (aka Dice) and support online.

Section 2.0 Character is huge. In fact, it covers the next 100 pages.
Here we cover Character Generation (2.1) which also covers randomly determining stats, point buys and the V&V classic, Playing as Yourself.
I am not going to lie to you. There are charts and there is math to do here. The math is not complicated, but it is part and parcel of the game.  For me this is part of the old-school charm of this game and I would not want it any other way.  If this is an issue for you there is the Excel Character Sheet pack. It does all the heavy lifting, but you do need Excel. Note: I got it and uploaded it to my Google Drive and it works just as fine with Google Sheets.

Section 2 is really the heart and soul of this game.
However you go about your character creation you are given (or implied to have on Random generation) a number of Character Points (CP).  I also have called these "Creation Points" since they are mostly used in Character Creation.  You can get them, later on, to improve abilities, powers and gain new ones.  But for now, we have a budget of points (described later 2.1.16.2 Ability CPs) to spend or use randomly.


Now here you can go the Point buy route and buy BCs (2.1.7) and Powers (2.1.15). OR you can go completely random.  If random then you roll six abilities, two for offense and two for defense and Miscellaneous Abilities and keeping four. Also taking two random weaknesses.
There are a number of derived stats (Hits, Power, Base Damage) and ones that deal with origin (Gender, Age, Weight) and background (where are you from, your legal status, superhero license).  In general, this is easier than V&V.

The Abilities are covered under Section 2.2 Abilities.  In truth, this could have been its own chapter/section.   Abilities cover what your hero can do.  The abilities are described in terms of effects.  So there is a Power Blast ability, this can be any sort of blast that say in not covered elsewhere.  There is an Ice Blast, a Laser blast, a Fire blast, a Sonic blast...and so on.  The granularity of the system allows you to fine tune these abilities to a large degree.  While the default is 10 CPs per power you can break it down into increments of 5 CP or even 2.5 CP.  Each Ability is scaled with the others so a sonic blast at 10 CP should be the same a Power Blast at 10 CP.   Working with your Game Master and other players you can really fine tune a hero any number of ways. This also means that any given concept of a character can also be created multiple ways.  You can spend (and I have spent) hours creating all sorts of characters.

One thing the rules mentions is that if you are new to V&V/MP you might want to read over Sections 3.0 to 5.0 to get a feel for the rules and task resolution.  It's pretty good advice really.

Section 3.0 covers Saving & Task Rolls.  This is everything that is not combat related.
Every BC, except Strength, has a save roll.  These are noted as some number X-, meaning you need to roll X or less on a d20.  While I am not a fan of roll under mechanics (just my own prejudice) it works here.
Background (3.0.2.1) is a broad category of skills. So no one really cares how well Superman can drive a car or even if he knows what is going on in the Stock Market, save how it relates to his background as a Reporter or even growing up on a farm.  Clark will know the major crime families in Metropolis and maybe what is a good growing climate for a particular grain.  So we do not have the granularity of skills that we would in say Mutants & Masterminds or even Silver Age Sentinels.
Other interesting rules are include Opposition tasks and Inventing (3.1.3), or using your Inventing Points (IPs) to customize powers on the fly.  Something that is not really a new ability but the different use of an existing ability.  It's pretty clever and again fits with the comic book origins.  Think about how many times Superman used his heat vision for something other than setting things on fire. Rearranging the ink on a page comes to mind.

Section 4.0 is Combat.  This section is obviously quite important. I HIGHLY suggest using minis here. The rules imply this and recommend it, I am saying it is a must.  Here HeroClix or HeroForge is your new best friend.  Of course Legos, D&D minis or even pawns are fine too.  This is particularly helpful when dealing Knockback rolls in case you or a target are blown back by an attack.



The combat, once you get the hang of it, moves rather quickly.  Yes, there are a lot of options such as multiple attacks and two-handed attacks, sneaking and other things that can modify the rolls.  It's my experience though that most players will emulate a superhero and have a couple of signature moves.  These will then become second nature for both the player and the GM to roll.  Again we are rolling low on d20 where a "1" is a potential critical hit and a "20" is a potential critical fumble.  Another roll is required after that.  Even items that require a lot of charts say improvised weapons, become faster with use and a GM's screen.

Section 5.0 Physics handles all the ways you can break things or things can break you.  It's actually more than that, but that is a start.  It ends with an example of play.

Section 6.0 Being a Superhero covers the roleplaying aspects of playing a costumed superhero. This is a little more "in-Universe" than the other sections.  If you are using MP to play in another world you can modify this to fit your own needs, though the rules were written with these realities in mind.

Section 7.0 The Mighty Protectors Multiverse. Is very much In-Universe.   Jeff Dee has commented elsewhere online that early versions of V&V were fairly universe agnostic.  This setting described here has developed over the last nearly 40 years of gameplay.  Indeed, reading this book and see names like Maxima and Bowhunter made me happy.  I knew these characters back in the day and seeing them again is like seeing old friends again. What follows are 15 pages of groups, people, places and things in the MP Universe.

Section 8.0 Gamemaster Section covers Gamemastering advice and rules which includes creating your own adventures to creating your own world. If you don't want to convert your favorite comic book story (Hollywood has been doing it for years!) there are tables for random adventure creation.  This section also covers Experience and Wealth Rewards.  Finally, we get to section 8.6 Converting V&V 2.1 Characters. Good guidelines, but I have preferred to just rebuild them from the ground up

The game is a lot of fun, but it is not without it's own issues.
For starters there is no index in the book.  Minor thing in the days of PDFs with full-text searching, but it's not there on my softcover while sitting on my couch trying to figure out the stats of Arrow's Oliver Queen.
The game also took me a bit to figure out properly before it clicked.  Once it clicked everything else was easy.
The game is wonderfully old-school, but that can also be a bug (not a feature) for anyone coming from Mutants & Masterminds or other games with full-color interiors.

All in all it is a really great game that has all the old school charm of V&V.

If you are a fan of the original Villains & Vigilantes then I would check this out.  If you want a supremely flexible and easily modifiable game then I would also check this out. OR if you are like me and a fan of supers games it is worth a look.

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