Monday, May 19, 2008

Crisis at Crusader Citadel - A V&V fanboy remembers

I recently purchased "Crisis at Crusader Citadel" at a Hobby Shop for $3.

Its over 25 years old - and I am a kid again reading it.

For those who don't know, this was a starter adventure for kids who played Villains and Vigilantes, a venerable yet beloved superhero RPG put out in the early 80's. V&V, as we called it, was fun: you randomly rolled for superpowers, ditched a few you thought unwise, calculated some hit points, created a name and in minutes you were a superhero.

Sure the game had its flaws, but it had such good creative freedom and opportunities that you couldn't help but love it. It was created for artists and writers, not accountants. Jeff Dee and Jack Herman wrote the rules and said, in so many words, "Your [hero] is Good. Neutral is for non-sentients and robots. Evil is for the bad guys."

Oh, how I loved that oasis of morality in the aftermath of the standard AD&D party! "I'm playing a Chaotic neutral thief. May I join your party so I can lie and steal from the Paladin?" "Sure! 'Cause everyone knows, being Lawful Good means being accepting to selfish and greedy players!"

Argh! Where was I? Oh, yeah. The module. It was cool.

I skimmed it, older now, reading what I did not read thoroughly before as an eager 17 year old, and I was amazed at how well it captured the comic book feel of the early 80s. I also caught some "Sleight of Hand". I suggest you look at Manta-Man's powers, level and Intelligence score. Uh-huh.... that ain't possible by the rules, Jeff and Jack.

But I thought the character was cool. Very cool. How can Flying-squirrel Wings and a Lightning Control Device be cool? Well, it can be. Just look at the pic, read the origin and say "Yeah. I can see it."

And then, darnedest thing, I began thinking: "Whatever happened to the Crusaders?"

Answer: they faded away.

Oh, Jeff and Jack made a brief attempt at a comic for them in the 80's, but it was WAAAY below par. Strangely, Jeff's work suffered as he grew older. It became rigid and stiff. It lost its wild and over-the-top edge.

Later on, I discovered Jeff Dee was an atheist. And not your average one, either. A devout, call-in radio show "I'll show you how foolish this faith stuff is" atheist. The anti-evangelist.

Was it overnight, this change? No. We who are creative saw it happen right before our eyes.

Crisis at Crusader Citadel as I said was the intro module. Everyone played it to test out their new Player Characters - or PCs for short. In there, there is even a phone number to call to reach these heroes: 1-800-CRU-SADE. It was in EVERY boxed set.

Know what happens when you call that number today?

You get Pastor Greg Laurie's church in California. How about that?

Know what happened when you called that number WAAAYYY back in the 1980's? I don't.

But I have a guess: you got Billy Graham's Organization or something like it. That's right. You would call for free someone who'd want you to know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. An evangelist.

Of course, I don't think it was intentional.

Except, ironically, Jeff lived in a suburb of Chicago and the Billy Graham Telephone Ministry has a location in Wheaton, another suburb of Chicago. And the main headquarters of this evangelistic organization is north of us in Minnesota. In other words, it wouldn't be hard to discover what happens when you call that number.

Still, I think it was an unconscious decision. Jeff had more that one source of inspiration. Maybe his dad was a pastor, I dunno. But here's the kicker - as time went on, the flavor of the adventures changed.

Guess what the last adventure published was about? Or should I say the last few adventures published were about?

The evil of religion. The Devil himself.

In angry response to the Moral Majority, Fantasy Games Unlimited began publishing the most anti-faith books one could imagine. The opposite end of the spectrum. If you hated "religious folk", you had a friend in them.

What happened? Why did such talented writers and artists grow in their hatred of Christianity?

The same reason we all can we aren't careful.

I'll call it the Crisis of Lordship. We are asked to place our faith in Christ.

We instead put our faith in people or ourself. The elders and deacons, the pastor and petitioners who show up. And they can royally mess things up.

Its endemic, and every generation to say, "No - follow Jesus, not the pastor, not the priest. Trust Him -we're only beggars leading other beggars to bread!"

There was a Crisis at Crusader Citadel for Jeff Dee: but the citadel was his heart, not his head.

He got angry, and slowly and surely his art died. Look at his early work and then look at his later.

No, I'm not being harsh. Compare the following covers:

This is Jeff's work in 1980. The front cover of V&V 2nd edition.

The inside has other great poses and dynamic anatomy. Jeff knew his forms. His work in TSR products was just as good or better.

We were wowed. Many of us bought the rules simply because of his art!

Now look at his latest venture, Living Legends.

No action except that which I can find in any contemporary church's praise and worship team.


As a Writer and Artist, there has been no greater personal loss in my estimation than the loss of Jeff Dee to the Dark One. Oh, he would spit and argue with me on that, but Rationalism is the box of a strict Materialist. He's still admired, but not for his later work. (I didn't buy those later published adventures. I couldn't. Soon, FGU stopped producing them. Thank God.)

I wish Jeff understood. I wish someone had told him how much power and love is in Christ. How superheroes are a Biblical archetype, not merely a Greek fantasy.

I wish he understood his greatest art was done when he was closest to the Truth. From Handel's Messiah to the Michaelangelo's Pieta, I think God is nearest our hearts when our art honors Him.

God bless Jeff Dee, my old friend who gave me such goodness before the darkness set in. Who knows how many people he accidentally brought to Christ by having 1-800-CRUSADE in our first adventure?

And may you who simply desire the truth and love find both in Christ today.


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