Friday, April 3, 2015

Tommy's Take on The Super Villain Handbook

There is currently a Kickstarter running for the Super Villain Handbook, written by the author of The Field Guide to Superheroes by Vigilance Press, Jason "Dr. Comics" Tondro. What is the Super Villain Handbook? Well, that's the point of the blog post...so read on.

ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I was provided a review copy of the Basic Edition of this book by the author. No money, store credit or other consideration has been given, and my only promise was a fair and timely review. Oh, and I once played in the author's D&D 5e game on Google Hangouts.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The basic book includes 40 premade villains, more archetypes than specific villains, and the big goal they are aiming for is the Deluxe Edition, which will double the size of the book. The key pledges are $1 (unillustrated version of the basic edition), $10 (PDF version plus stretch goals) and $25 (PDF + POD plus stretch goals).

As noted, the book is largely archetypes, with examples drawn to famous characters for you. All game stats are presented in ICONS rules, but if you have a favorite superhero game that's still in print, there's a fair chance that a stretch goal is coming to convert the book for you.

The format for each entry is pretty standard: You get the archetype name, a flavorful quote from an actual comic (or other media), a quick description of the archetype, a list of examples from actual comics, a list of related archetypes, a discussion of the archetypes Abilities, another on their Qualities, a third section on Stories related to them, and then a stat block.

The Crime Boss, for instance, covers "normal" crime bosses like Carmine Falcone of Batman fame, as well as superpowered moguls like Count Nefaria. Other sections provide a great primer on the difference between an Evil Twin, a Dark Mirror and a Nemesis...none of which should be confused with The Villain With All of Your Powers.

Heck, if you have the Field Guide to Super Heroes (and I still need to get the rest of those volumes), there's even a section explaining how several of those archetypes can be transformed into villains as well.

SIX POINT SUMMARY

- $1 can get you an art-free draft of this to read for yourself. It's worth spending that dollar, easily.

- The $4,000 stretch goal features support for running villain campaigns, which is awesome.

- This is not a book of villains for you to use...this is a book that teaches you how to use villains. Important distinction.

- The Abilities and Qualities sections will surely be rewritten for other systems, as they specifically reference ICONS powers, attributes and conceits, which will make them less useful for, say, a Supers!, BASH or Savage Worlds version.

- 40 archetypes is really impressive. I am genuinely curious as to what kind of ground he's planning to cover with the other 40 if the Deluxe Edition is funded.

- Honestly, as a GM of supers games, I found the book to be alright. As a writer of superhero comics, I found it to be super informative, and I will personally probably use it for that as much as I will a supers GM. Dr. Comics knows his stuff.

In short, if you are remotely on the fence, pay $1 to get the basic draft, available immediately, and see if it's something that interests you. That's all you have to do. As I said above, this isn't a list of villains to use, it's a guidebook on how to use villains: When should a Cult Leader strike? How often do you bust out an Heir to Lovecraft? Do you want to use a Fallen Hero, a Hero in Disguise or a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Pay the $1, read for yourself, then decide if you want to back it at a higher level. Honestly, I think you'll be surprised at the sheer utility.

CLARIFICATION: I totally misread the Kickstarter. They won't add 40 more archetypes, they will add 40 actual villains to the book. I totally misunderstood that.