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Buffy: the Vampire Slayer RPG Review

Posted on September 29, 2004 by Flames


Available at RPGNow.com

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Core Rulebook
Written by C.J. Carella
Developed by Eden Studios

“The graveyard is cold and still. Bright moonlight deepens the shadows. The silence is disturbed by a throaty moan. Breaking through the soft, recently packed earth, a claw extends, sharp and grasping. Desperate hunger is etched on its cadaverous face – a hunger for your blood!Buffy: Alright, I get it. You’re evil. Do we have to chat about it all day? – 3.10 Amends”

Are you a proud (or closeted) fan of the one of the guiltiest pleasures to ever air on prime time television? Do you love to role-play with your friends? Do you have a wit that only Xander Harris would love? If so, then Eden Studios has released something for which you’ve been waiting for, you just didn’t know it.

Presentation

This is one of the prettiest and best written game books I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across. The book is full-color, and chock full of pictures and quotes from the series. What truly makes the book stand out is the writing style. CJ Carella and his crew have written something that looks less like a rulebook, and more like a transcript of someone talking about the TV show, and how a game system for Buffy would work if he could just design one. The book is almost as funny and irreverent as the show it draws from, making this book an easy read.

Character Creation

Character Creation is a walk in the park. Even an inexperienced player can put together a Buffy character in about 15 minutes. There are two types of characters: Heroes and White Hats. Heroes get more points to play with in terms of attributes, skills, and qualities, and get 10 Drama Points (explained below), which cost more to buy with XP for them. White Hats aren’t as talented, but get 20 Drama Points to start, and they can buy more for half-price. This lets both the superheroes and the every-man-types to fight on the same battle field and be useful.

The key devices for Buffy characters are the Qualities and Drawbacks. Qualities are traits like the usual Merits we see in most games, but they also contain packages like Cop, Nerd, and, of course, Slayer and Watcher. These packages are a quick amalgamation of other Qualities and Drawbacks, as well as attribute and skill bonuses that help get your character where it needs to be.

Drawbacks are the other side of the coin. Only in Buffy will you find Drawbacks like Teenager and Showoff. Also, in keeping with the angst-ridden nature of the show, Love is either a Quality for those how live happily ever after, or a Drawback for its Tragic variant. Take a look at the character sheets of the Original Cast. Guess which version appears most often?

Want full-write-ups of Buffy and her Scoobie Gang? The book does provide full character sheets for all the main characters up through Season Five, with a section devoted to Seasonal Adjustments so you can use earlier versions of them if you wish. Also, the book does not skimp on example characters for an entirely new cast. My personal favorite is the Slayer who was studying to get into college for a medical degree before getting Called, and though still has trouble dealing with the concept of magic, is very comfortable doing her own research. The book provides an entire cast of characters that goes along with this Slayer as a cast of its own show.

Rules

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer Core Rulebook is another game for the Unisystem rules, originally created for Eden’s Witchcraft game. This version of the Unisystem has been altered for a more cinematic feel, making it less rules-heavy and more drama oriented. Rules Lawyers won’t be happy with this, but for gaming groups that are more like improve acting troupes, this is game designed with them in mind.

The system is a basic d10 system, with the standard attributes and some fun skills (Gun Fu, Getting Medieval, Mr. Fix-It, etc). Just roll d10 and add in your stat and your skill ratings. A total more than 9 is a success, with various levels of success above that. Opposed rolls are one by who has the highest level of success. Simple, no? Average NPCs don’t even make rolls. They have Ability Scores that are simple values for the PCs to roll against to determine success. Full-on skill checks and character sheets are only for the Big Bads of the series.

The use of Drama Points allows for even normal White Hat-types to stand up and fight the good fight alongside the more powerful Heroes. They not only grant bonuses to die rolls, they can be used to get clues from the Director (this game’s version of a GM), do a quick heal to keep the character standing, or even bring the character back from the dead. Be warned though, the exact method of return is left to the Director’s discretion, and like Joss Whedon himself, she will surely come up with something unpleasant.

Probably the best feature of the game is how awards of Drama Points can be used by the Director as a kind of payment for doing unavoidable bad things to PCs. Need to have someone abducted? Pay them a Drama Point or two, depending on how much danger the character will be placed into. Oh, and Big Bads have Drama Points too, so the playing field is always level.

Combat

The combat system is just an extension of the skill system. Roll 1d10; get more success levels than your opponent. What you can do in combat is taken from a list of combat maneuvers, from a simple punch, to the infamous Spin Kick. Damage is off a simple equation where you just plug in your Strength rating for base damage, and then add your success levels for a bonus. The character sheet has a section to keep track of the number you add to your roll, base damage, and any little quirk a certain move might have, so once you try a move once, just jot it down, and you never need look it up again, making combat after the first couple game sessions flow smoothly and rapidly.

What really sets the combat system apart from most other games that I’ve played is how it allows for called attacks, and one-hit kills with simplicity that doesn’t unbalance the game, yet keeps the flavor of the vampire slaying intact. Decapitation, Stake Through The Heart, and Groin Shot are all standard combat maneuvers. Simply make an attack roll with a penalty, if you succeed, you calculate damage. Instead of applying it, multiply it and if this number exceeds a vampire’s Life Points, welcome to the dust pan. If not, just deal normal damage. This keeps things simple, and explains why it’s a good idea to beat on a vampire first before going for the kill shot, like they do on the TV show.

Magic

The magic system of Buffy is where the game makes its biggest departure from the original Unisystem. For those familiar with Witchcraft and Armageddon, there is no Essence. Anyone can cast ritual magic with the time and proper texts and components. Flashy, D&D-style casting and staking vampires through levitated pencils are reserved for Witches and Warlocks. In game terms, these are the people who take levels in the Sorcery Quality.

Like the rest of the system, casting is just a simple roll. Sorcery adds a bonus to it. Each spell has a power level, which is how many success levels are needed to make it work. The real fun begins is when, you do get successes, but not enough of them. Something happened. Just not what the Witch intended. Once again, we get that Joss Whedon touch, where the Director gets to exercise his twisted imagination in an exercise of a Hellmouth-tainted version of the Three-Fold Law. Magic is quite powerful in the Buffyverse, but the risk of using it can be quite high for the arrogant or unprepared.

Setting

The final chapters of the book deal with Sunnydale and how to run a Season of Episodes for your new Series. This book takes the TV show metaphor and makes it work, and is one of the best written treatises on adventure design, that I’ve seen, Buffy-related or otherwise. You also get quick NPC stats for most of the major villains of the series, as well as generic NPCs for vampire grunts and lieutenants, cops, high school students, and other creatures of the night.

The book ends with a Season Premiere episode that introduces a creature called the Djinn, which will be the running theme for adventures presented in the various Buffy books. I own all 5 supplements, and you can use these as a core for a Season with the Djinn as the Big Bad.

The Appendices gives you a quick quote file of all things Buffy, to let fledging fans have an idea of how the dialogue of a Buffy game should go in certain situations. It’s a bit of fluff, but its good fluff, and always worth a quick read even by experienced Buffy-holics just for the trip down memory lane.

Final Comments

This is one of the best written and well-thought-out role-playing games I have ever had the pleasure to come across. The rules are simple and cinematic. Everything positively drips with a taste of the Buffyverse (okay maybe I should rephrase that…). If you’re a gamer and a fan of the series, this is a must-have. If you’re just a fan, consider getting it just to read from time to time. You may find a new hobby. It’s great for both long-time fans and newbies alike.

Reviewer: David Akers

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