Saturday, October 10, 2009

RPG Supplements I Like: Villainy Amok

A little shorter review in my series today, and a break from my series of reviews on Robin Laws' rpg products. Monday I hope to come back to that with a kind of overview of what I like about what he's done with rpg ideas. I hope to talk more generally about what games play like in that and perhaps some discussion of other game authors I like.

Unfortunately had to cancel my games this week- and probably a good thing we didn't go camping. Ill and still trying to figure out exactly what's going on with that.

RPG Items I Like: Villainy Amok

In general I think Superhero games reverse some of the normal considerations I have when it comes to games. Generally I like sourcebooks for ideas- backgrounds, NPCs, scenes, and details that I can add to my story. For most games I shy away from my mechanics-oriented materials. I'm the opposite with Supers stuff. I want to see adventures, I want the detailed character write ups, I want ideas for new powers, skills and advantages. Something like Freedom City or The Books of Magic for Mutants and Masterminds I would love with another genre, but for Supers they seem kind of useless to me. I'm not sure if that's because I have a fairly good grip on what I want to do setting-wise, if it reflects my uncertainty with games that have more detailed rules, or the nature of these games as more combat-oriented.

That being said, I really like Villainy Amok despite how general it is. If you're running a supers game you ought to buy this. I think it is really as simple as that. Villainy Amok is a collection of plot hooks and ideas, revolving around the most classic kinds of adventures and plots you find in a superhero game.

One of the reasons I think this works is that the genre conventions of superheroes are so well known and accepted. There's a certain amount of reveling in or commenting on those in these kinds of games. I'd like to see this kind of book for other genres of games-- if they were as interesting, well done and full of variations as this volume, that would be something I'd pick up right away.

The book's 176 pages densely packed with material. The art's a mixed bag, ranging from good to really rushed and weak. However that doesn't really detract from the package as a whole. My only quibble would be with the stiffness of the paper and cover. My copy immediately got that odd convex warping that makes holding pages open harder. I find that a little irritating when reading.

While written for the Hero System most of the material here can be used incredibly easily in other superhero games (of all levels of power). There's some reference to the Champions Universe in parts, but that can be adapted or ignored. Each chapter takes the core concept and lays out some of the implications involved, what kinds of NPCs, what kinds of locations, and how you might change up the usual plot hooks. Each includes a slightly more fleshed out scenario discussion and a list of ten unusual versions of the adventure trope-- as well as a nicely detailed random plot generator based on the ideas. .

Four of the seven scenario sections present classic plots which can be used a several times in a campaign in very different ways or can serve as a recurring arc. We begin with "Hands in the Air" covering bank robberies- a real staple of most supers games. Most of the ideas here can be, of course, be used for a variety of robbery situations. "The Threat Beyond" looks at alien invasions. It focuses on 'alien probe' or prelude plot hooks, since the full topic could be a book in itself (and has been in the Invasions: Target Earth book for Champions 3e). While some of the ideas here fall back to the expected, there's enough surprising material here to make it worth it. I can easily see riffing from some of the small ideas for weeks.

Probably my favorite section is "Ask Your Doctor if Metatron is Right for You." It gives a wide range of possible 'super-power drug' scenarios. It presents several different flavors of this plot (Psi-Boosters, Lycanthropy Serums and so on). I especially like the parts which look at running the long term consequences of these plots and how they might change up and recur. "It Came From a Mad Scientist's Lab" is probably the most broadly written section. You get plenty of interesting motivations and styles for your mad scientist villain and a discussion of how to complicate the classic breaking into the villains lair.

A few of the sections cover concepts with a narrower focus. These would probably work once or twice or serve as the backbone to a linked series of adventures. Chapter Four- "Burn, Baby, Burn"- talks about fires and fire-fighting. While a GM could make this the set-piece center to a game it could also be used in conjunction with a disaster relief scenario or any situation where an event or fight causes property damage. This particular chapter has the most mechanical approach, with additional rules and systems for handling fires in the Hero System. Despite that you still get eleven pages of good material and ideas which could be used for other games. Again, I think this is where Villainy Amok shines-- being able to riff a series of plot hooks and ideas from a fairly standard concept. We've seen fires as plot hooks in pop culture supers (The Incredibles, Batman: Year One, and the first Spiderman movie) so players understand some of the conventions.

"Honey, They Shrank the Superheroes" talks about the scenarios involving the tiny heroes, miniature villains and plots centering on this classic sci-fi premise. There's some nice mechanical and non-mechanical discussion of the implications of the smalls sizes to accompany the plot hooks. It also ties in the idea of the 'Bottled City' as a way of getting more than a single scenario out of this trope. "My Big Fat Caped Wedding" does a nice job of examining the various parts of this kind of adventure from pre-Wedding problems, to the ceremony, to the reception and finally the honeymoon. The options provided do a nice job of providing many more plot hooks than you'll ever need-- since you can probably only get away with one wedding per campaign (unless you were perhaps to use that as bookends for one...hmmm...).

The book ends with a lengthy "Plot Gallery". This gives lists of scenario and hook ideas revolving around certain themes. Each entry on the list has at least a paragraph laying out options, so these aren't just throw-away discussions as you get in other products. Instead the book takes time to give some shape and direction to these ideas. You get Campaign Set-Up Plots, Personal Dilemmas, Secret Identity Storylines, and seven others in twenty-one packed pages.

Portability: As I said earlier ideas here could be used in nearly any supers campaign, regardless of the system. I could imagine using it for a modern super-agents, conspiracy or spy game as well. There are mechanics and stats for some adversaries presented, but that's a small fraction of the material and can be easily reworked.