Buffy the Vampire Slayer Role Playing Game
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Role Playing Game Capsule Review by Alex White on 05/09/02
Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)
Buffy will delight just about any enthusiast of the TV show but may not interest those who don't like or aren't familiar with the series.
Product: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Role Playing Game
Author: CJ Carella
Company/Publisher: Eden Studios
Line: Buffy tVS
Page count: 249
Year published: 2002
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Alex White on 05/09/02
Genre tags: Fantasy Modern day Horror Comedy Vampire Gothic Superhero Generic
Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
If you don’t know who Buffy is, then this game probably isn’t for you.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS RPG) is written by C.J. Carella of Witchcraft and Armageddon fame, and is produced by Eden Studios of All Flesh Must Be Eaten and Conspiracy X fame.
It is, unsurprisingly, a roleplaying game based on the television series of the same name.
Visually, BtVS is amazing. It is full colour, with a pretty picture of Sarah Michelle-Gellar as Buffy on the cover and portraits of all of the regular characters from the first five seasons. Inside, there are full page images of various characters from the show, as well as archaic and medieval style borders and a Celtic/fantasy font.
Frames from the series as well as poster and pose pictures fill the book- 90% of the pictures here are of this type. The other artwork is from rk Post and Christopher Shy and is of the highest quality. Seeing Shy’s art in colour makes you realise just how much his art in black and white sucks. rk Post’s art is a bit more dubious- you could love this or hate it. I love it, but I can see where some people may not like it. Shy does some portraits in the sample adventure and bestiary, and rk Post does the archetypes in the character creation chapter.
Again, the full colour here is amazing. Most of the stills are appropriate too the content of the page.
The book is divided into a number of chapters. The first is a short story that is quite angsty. Then there is the introduction to the Buffyverse. Following that is a summary of the first five seasons. The character creation section is next and is proceeded by the rules, then the magic system, a guide to Sunnydale, a sample adventure, a bestiary and then a guide to Buffyspeak.
Stylistically, CJ Carella has attempted to affect the conversational and witty style of the series; he succeeds and fails. The text is interspersed with jokes and pithy comments, some of which are funny, others of which are tired.
A useful and appropriate feature is the lacing of quotes from the show to either thematically link to the main text or to set the scene of the section. Most of the quotes are funny and reading out or searching for favourite lines from the show can be quite entertaining (as my SO discovered).
The introduction is fairly solid. It explains what roleplaying is, and what role playing in the Buffyverse means. It assumes familiarity with the series, but does not presuppose that the reader has an encyclopedic knowledge of the show. Unfortunately, the quotes and some of the pithy comments can have a lot of spoilers for someone who hasn’t seen all of the seasons (like me).
It has standard Eden stylistic formats throughout- with two different types of boxed text with two different forms of information, with different colours and designs. It is fairly clear to figure out. Each chapter is also colour coded.
I only read the first two season summaries, but my SO, who is a Buffy fanatic assures me that they are all right. The character creation is below, as is the system. I haven’t read the sample adventure. With regards to the guide to Sunnydale, once again, my SO informs me that it is pretty good.
The bestiary is a list of some of the series’ Big Bads, and some more memorable monsters. There are vampiric templates, such as new vampire, vampire minion and elder vampire. Most of the important vampires, like the Master and second season Angel get stated up here, using a simpler system from normal characters, rating the creature with Muscle, Combat and Brains; they get attributes though.
Demons (like the Mayor) and other creepies, such as the She-Mantis and werewolves are also included. Most of the main ones in fact.
BtVS uses the Unisystem- the same system for All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Witchcraft and Armageddon. It is entirely compatible, but it is streamlined.
Character sheets are in the book and can be found here:
At the same site, there are also sample sheets for Tara and Willow, which are in the book.
There are three broad character types, but no classes. You are not restricted in making your character other than a general indication of power level. This is a reflection of the types of characters in the show. For example, Xander is clearly less powerful than Buffy, but Angel and Faith are comparable, power-wise. The three levels of power are White Hats (normal people like Xander and Giles), Heroes (like Willow with magic and Angel) and Experienced Heroes (like Riley and Buffy). This division only affects the number of points you can spend in attributes, skills and qualities.
There is a clear difference in the power levels of different character types. Heroes and Experienced Heroes are always going to outshine White Hats in most areas, with the White Hats able to sparkle by using Drama Points (below). This is on purpose. If your group is uncomfortable with the different levels of power, then playing all heroes or all white hats is probably the way to go. Not everything in Buffy is fair.
There are six attributes, Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Perception and Willpower. There is no social trait- roleplaying and some Qualities (merits or virtues) are assumed to deal with that. Attributes are rated from 1-5, although higher scores are possible to non-human creatures. Buffy has a Dex of 9 for example, and Oz gets a Strength of 6 when in Werewolf form.
Skills are also rated from 1-5, and include such things as Getting Medieval and Mr. Fix-It. They are basically meta-skills, broad groups of knowledge that reflect general areas of aptitude. Getting Medieval reflects the ability to use any archaic weapon, from sword, to crossbow, to stake. Like attributes, skills can go above 5 for supernatural characters or to represent mastery. Willow has Computers 7 for example, and Giles has Occultism 8.
Rounding out the character are the qualities and drawbacks. Unlike many systems with a merits and flaws system, in the Unisystem, they are an inherent part of the character creation. They include things like how attractive your character is, whether they are rich, or can cast magic or are lucky. Likewise, Drawbacks include things like being a misfit, having love problems or being poor.
The list of qualities and drawbacks is quite extensive (although not to the extent of GURPS) and are also fairly flexible. You could take Sorcery to represent general weird stuff, for example. Being a Slayer is a Quality-- yes, you can play a Slayer in BtVS, in case you want to diverge from the series.
In the middle of the character creation chapter, there is a section that has a number of archetypes- sample characters that are pre-made and generic. They include the New Slayer, the Hacker, the Former Vampire Groupie and the Watcher among others. Each gets a large colour rk Post pic, stats and a page of generic background and roleplaying hints. They are easy enough to use straight up for a quick one shot, if you don’t have the time to make your own characters up- they can be dropped into a game with ease.
Following the archetypes are character sheets for all of the main characters, from Buffy, Giles, Spike, Anya, Cordelia, Dawn, Oz and more. Each is full page.
The core Unisystem mechanic is stat skill 1D10 get over 9. The amount you roll over 9 reflects the degree of success. Some actions require a certain level of success to be effective (magic for instance), and the success level adds to damage in combat and can be used as a guide for descriptions.
Most rolls should only be for stressful situations- the book advises not to roll unless it is dramatically appropriate. For those who balk at having a flat target number, there are optional modifiers provided, that alter the roll depending on the degree of ease of the task.
The most interesting thing about this system is its Drama Points. Although not unique or innovative, it does allow a simulation of the cool, heroic stuff done in the series. Drama points allow characters to do neat stuff. More powerful characters get less Drama Points than the White Hats. Drama Points allow characters to activate plots, to return from the dead and to heal damage (“it’s not as bad as it looks!”).
BtVS uses a hitpoint system, but unlike similar games, the Life Points remain constant and are determined by your attributes on a table. Some qualities increase this number. Combat can be quite deadly for normal people, which reflects the show IMO, as Drama Points are used to avoid being killed by the demon or vampire.
There are a whole bunch of combat maneuvers available, like head-butt and groin kick (with the comment being “ouch”). The combat could have been simpler and could be reduced by simply getting rid of the complications, like prone attacks and ranged attacks.
The magic of the BtVS RPG is fairly freeform and has more in common with the first three seasons than the later ones. Magic is incredibly customisable and the emphasis is on ritual. Quick spells are possible but more difficult. There is also the problem of one use rituals- the show’s early use of magic is: “oh shit, a demon! Quick- research the banishing spell!” This is opposed by the average gamer’s desire to use the same spell over and over. The final decision is left to the Director (game master).
There are a number of sample spells, but the book really leaves you to make up your own spells, with a fairly simple system to do so. No doubt The Magic Box supplement will be filled with esoteric arcana. There are no magical items or artifacts though, which is an oversight.
Like the rest of the system, the magic is lightweight and fairly simple. It is slightly confusing in one place, but reading the chapter in order (like I didn’t do) should solve the problem
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a rip-roaring book. It is neatly summarises the first five seasons of Buffy into a single book and allows you to jump right in and play after less than 20 minutes of preparation. It is designed to be played by a newbie, and all of the core concepts are well explained. This is easily the type of book that someone who has never roleplayed before could pick up and learn without much or any help.
Visually, it is beautiful. Stylistically it is smooth, easy going and entertaining. The quotes from the series help to continually ground it in its source material. The system is simple, quick and intuitive. Something that isn’t covered can easily be dealt with by the general guidelines. There are plenty of ‘Director’s tips’ throughout, and plenty of story hooks. All of the main monsters are stated up, so you can fight the Master, Luke or Veruca. Important minor characters, such as Joyce and Principle Snyder are also given stats.
Missing though is Faith which is odd, but that’s about it.
As a part-time Buffy fan (I’ve watched a total of two-and-a-half seasons), I was incredibly happy with this product. It was obviously produced by people who loved the show and the care and consideration clearly shows.
It could be a tad more concise for roll formulas (such as magic) but more careful reading will generally reveal the answer.
Some could call the conversational style fluff, but it suits the genre and doesn’t get in the way.
I can’t think of a book I enjoyed more in recent times.
It give this book Style 5 (it should be 6!) and Substance 5.