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Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG – a GM’s review

Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG is published by Eden Studios and is based on the TV show of the same name created by Joss Whedon. The show was set in the fictional city of Sunnydale in California and followed the adventures of Buffy Summers, an otherwise normal high school girl who had been given the power to fight vampires and protect us normal folk from the evils that lurk in the night. In every generation a girl is chosen to wield the power of the slayer, super strength, lightning fast reactions and accelerated healing are all part of the package (as well as the ability to crack a wicked pun!). They are not alone, however, as they are helped by an ancient order known as the Watchers council. Each slayer gets a watcher who teaches them about vampires and trains them to fight them and use their powers correctly. The show ran for seven seasons and spawned countless spin-off novels, comics, another TV show based on one of the other main characters and, of course, an RPG.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG

I was a big fan of the show and so there was no doubt in my mind whether or not to buy this product as it could sit proudly on my shelf alongside my other Buffy memorabilia. But is it a game I would ever play? Would it ever come off the shelf and hit the table?

Well we played it once, but will it be staying on the table or returning to the shelf?

 

The System

This game uses Eden Studios Cinematic Unisystem, a very simple system, the standard roll being Attribute+Skill +D10(+/-)Modifiers, if it beats a 9 it’s a success. The skills are all very broad so it is not difficult for the GM to decide which attribute and skill to use for any given task. This keeps things quick and easy when you’re playing, and it is not hard to improvise when you aren’t sure of a specific rule. Combat is only slightly more complicated, instead of beating a 9, you have to beat your opponents appropriate “combat score”. NPCs will have a number of different combat scores, one for each manoeuvre, (punch, kick, parry, dodge etc) and the player must beat that score with their roll. This means if you want to punch someone, you roll D10, add your bonus to punch and see if you beat there parry score. When they are punching you however, you roll D10, add your bonus to parry and see if you beat their punch score. The observant amongst you will have noticed that in both those actions the GM did roll a single dice, something that seems a little strange at first, but once everyone is used to it, it makes combat extremely fast and simple.

Character creation is a simple process, you can chose between two different character types, Heroes and White hats (ordinary folk), each giving you a certain amount of points to send on attributes, skills and qualities. Qualities being little (or big) things that you can add to make your character unique, like edges in Savage worlds or Merits in nWoD. These are fun and are easy to make sense of for new players (“Hard to kill” makes you harder to kill) but it feels like there aren’t really that many and that after a few games played with a large-ish group, you would find yourself picking the same qualities time and time again. A possible problem further down the line but certainly does not affect the first time you play.

The other thing your character type decides is how many Drama Points you get. Drama points are player currency, spending a point gets you various bonuses, mostly mechanical but could be story related. Typically a point can be spent on any roll to give you a +10 bonus, but can also be used to heal damage taken, give you +5 to all your attacks in a fight or as a plot twist (some way of improving one’s situation e.g. the guard drops the keys to your cell by acident). This mechanic is designed to emulate the times in the show (and most other shows and films for that matter) when ordinary people do extra-ordinary things, a must in a world where average high school kids could come up against a 200 year old vampire. These add to the fast paced, not-too-serious tone of the game as spending a point pretty much guarantees success on a roll allowing characters to do things above and beyond their abilities. I wasn’t the biggest fan of drama points as players start with so many (up to 20 points) that they could use them whenever they felt like it rather than just at the dramatic points in the story. In fact, when playing a one-shot, players may find they can add a drama point to pretty much every roll they make, which can kill any tension the GM was trying to build up. I also almost immediately removed the “plot twist” as again, that seemed like the sort of thing that could kill a scene that was designed to advance the story. Of course, not everyone will agree with me, you may find drama points such a good idea you add then to all your games. It is a matter of personal taste and the type of game you are trying to achieve, grim and gritty it is not, but then neither was the show.

 

The Setting

This book shares the same universe as the show, I gave a brief introduction to the setting at the start of this review but there is so much more it could form the basis of a PhD thesis to talk about it all. If you are already a fan of the show you will be impressed at how well this book captures the essence of the show. The art work, the writing style, little wise-cracks and in-jokes make this book a joy to read for any fan of the Buffy-verse. However, if you didn’t like the show (and I mean actively disliked it rather than being indifferent or not having seen it at all) then you will most likely dislike this book as it will be more of the stuff you didn’t like, but then if you really didn’t like the show why are you even reading this?

For those not familiar with the show, it is the real world but with supernatural forces at work behind (and sometimes in front of) the scenes. Vampires, werewolves and other such creatures exist, unbeknownst to the general public, but so do heroes such as the Slayer and other, some of whom have their own supernatural powers. Magic users, demons with a conscience, vampires with a soul, agents of a secret government department trained to take on the sub-terrestrial threat are all possible characters that could work in Buffy. This book gives you a number of readymade characters that fit these archetypes so you can jump straight in to the action. It also provides the stats for all the main cast members of the show as well as information on how to set games during parts of the shows history and includes a new “episode” (adventure) to play through.

Personally, despite being a big fan of the show, the idea of playing as cast members has never really appealed. However, the format of the show has always seemed like a good one to use for an RPG; the main characters are all unique and have varying levels of power but all get spotlight time and play their part in achieving the goals of the group. Each episode (9 times out of 10) has its own self-contained story but there is an over-arcing plot that goes through the whole season. This is a good basis for your game, have each session have its own story but that feeds into the main story line of the campaign. The advice this book gives could be very useful for other games even if you are not planning to play Buffy. That said, if you want to deviate from this formula, this book does not give you much to play with. You could use this to play a game in another setting but you will have a fair bit of work to do.

 

Conclusion

If you are a fan of the show then this is a must have! Even if you are not planning to ever play a game, fans will get hours of fun reading about their favourite characters and comparing their stats. As a game for fans it is great, fast-paced and light-hearted, the cinematic unisystem fits the world and the tone of the show perfectly!

If you are not the biggest fan of the show, you may struggle to see the appeal, and if you want a more serious tone to your game then this is not for you. The game is fun and the world is entertaining but there are better options out there, I would recommend checking out the other games Eden studios put out to see if there is one that better suits your tastes.

This book requires two ratings, for fans of the show this game is Highly Recommended 5/5, however for everyone else it is just OK 3/5, good light-hearted fun but probably isn't gonna hold your interest for very long.

 3 Star Rating: Okay

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