Prologue & Chapter One: Introduction

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Okay, so. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is based off Unisystem, which means that it's pretty goddamn solid -- this falls squarely under obscure rather than mockable (I am still going to make fun of it when the opportunity arises). It also means that crossovers are possible with WitchCraft and All Flesh Must Be Eaten, which let me just say hell yes . I always felt that what survival horror really needed was a tiny blonde with superpowers, didn't you?

I am 100% serious about that. More zombie movies need a Slayer in them.

Anyway, it's not quite the Unisystem. Rather, it's a variant called Cinematic Unisystem, which streamlines the Unisystem and adds Drama Points. For, y'know, drama. Apparently the Drama Points addition was widely praised, but I don't think this is the first system that ever used them. Was it? I am not well-versed in RPG history.

We're going to be starting with the Core Rulebook , which was released in 2002. This means that it was written while Season 6 was still airing, so it only cover events up through Season 5. A Revised Core Rulebook was released in 2005, which covers all 7 seasons and does some fixes to bring the game more in line with the Angel rulebook, but where would the fun in that be? We'll get to it when we get to it, and see what changes were made.

Prologue and Chapter One: Introduction

We start off with a two-page short story about Buffy waiting in a graveyard by the grave of a girl she knew in high school. The girl was killed by some random asshole vampire who blew into town to see if all this Slayer hype was for real. It was and he's dust now, and Buffy's waiting for her friend to rise. When she does, they trade a few barbs and Buffy stakes her. Buffy is depressed and trying very hard to convince herself that that was just a demon in her friend's skin, not her friend. Poor Buffy.

Before we get into the content (there isn't much in this chapter), a word on the writing style: It is extremely informal. The writers are trying to match the chatty, slang-filled tone of the TV series, and they're not really up to the task, but they do try. It's not bad, but it can sorta grate, especially with long exposure at a stretch. They also sprinkle quotes from Buffy episodes liberally in -- at the start of chapters, breaking up subchapters, before every single Quality and Drawback (we'll get to those). Most of the time, the quotes have something to do with the topic. Good attention to detail.

So, the introduction. People who know what an RPG is are directed to skip to Chapter Two, but we're sticking it to the man and not gonna do it. This introduction seems to be geared towards a hypothetical BtVS fan who was attracted by the familiar faces on the cover and bought the book even though they don't play RPGs. This is a nice thought, but I somehow doubt the likelihood of that ever happening. I mean, what was Mr. I Don't Know What RPGs Are doing in a gaming store? This is a niche product, writers. But I hate to pour cold water on their optimism.

According to the writers, roleplaying is "shared storytelling", so we're obviously in for a non-adversarial and story focused style here, which makes sense given the setting. Everything gets a TV show-themed renaming. GMs are Directors, players are Cast Members, NPCs are Guest Stars, and big bads are Adversaries. Hey, that one doesn't fit!

New players are told what they're gonna need: d10s (the writers get in a jab about how d10s are very popular with people who prefer their vampires angst-ridden) and some form of counter, to track drama points. There's an explanation of what each chapter has in it and then they move into explaining the conventions they're going to be using. Most are standard enough: text formatting, dice, measurements. The explanation on gender deserves to be quoted in full, though.


You English majors know that the guy reference (he, him, his) is customarily used for both male and female. Lots of folks think that's part of the whole male domination societal thing, and don't like it muchly. On the other hand, saying "he or she" all the time is clumsy and way-too-PC for us. Given that this is a book about vampire Slayers -- you know "the one girl in all the world who..." -- we're going to use the gal reference (she, her) whenever a generic designation is needed. That ought to wig out some tightly wrapped grammarian somewhere.
See what I mean about the writing style? Still, I thought you guys might appreciate a book that goes "he or she is annoying PC crap" and then follows that up with "so we're just using she, deal with it fuckers".

We then get a brief recap of the Buffyverse cosmology and an actually fairly detailed recap of the events of the first five seasons, and that's it for Chapter One.

Next time: Character Creation!

Chapter Two: Character Creation

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Okay, introductions are boring shit and everyone here knows who Buffy is and what RPGs are already. I crave attention and would like to do something actually fun, so let's move on to something actually amusing, shall we?

Chapter Two: Character Creation

The chapter opens by offering some options: the Director can tell the Cast Members what sort of a cast he's got in mind, it can be freeform, people can play existing characters or make up their own, or any combination of the above. They're agnostic about it. Good for them. They also offer some options for dealing with players who want to play a Slayer, ranging from "you are not Buffy or Faith so no Slayers for anybody" to "magic happened and there are as many Slayers as we damn well please". Again, this book was written while Season 6 was still airing. That last option is retroactively much funnier.

Now let's get down to character creation! There are no classes or races in Buffy -- I'm not sure if this is a product of Unisystem or part of the trimming down they did for Cinematic. Well, that's slightly a lie. You can make your character inhuman or with special powers that'd warrant a class in most systems, but it all happens by purchasing Qualities. We'll get there. Instead, first we have to pick Character Type, which will provide the point pools that inform the rest of character creation. We've got three choices: Hero, White Hat, and Experienced Hero.

Hero : Heroes are the superstars, with powers and abilities well above the norm. Buffy-types. Heroes get 20 Attribute Points, 20 Quality Points, up to 10 Drawback Points, 20 Skill Points, and 10 Drama Points.
White Hat: The White Hats are normal people who have still decided to help in the fight against evil, probably because they're friends with a Hero. Scoobies. White Hats get 15 Attribute Points, 10 Quality Points, up to 10 Drawback Points, 15 Skill Points, and 20 Drama Points.
Experienced Hero: Along with classes and races, this is also a game without levels. Experienced Heroes are in for campaigns that want to start at a higher level, with increased point pools across the board to represent a bunch of previous levelling. Experienced Heroes get 25 Attribute Points, 25 Quality Points, up to 10 Drawback Points, 40 Skill Points, and 20 Drama Points. The rulebook tells you not to allow these in a game alongside Heroes and White Hats, and I agree. We won't be using them.

Yeaaaaah. Full disclosure time: I never actually got to run a game of this, so I can't spout off with any authority about how things balance out in actual play. We're going to discover that together! It'll be fun! (Please, let it be fun.) But I've always balked here. White Hats give up 20 points elsewhere to gain 10 Drama Points. Drama Points are powerful, but they don't regenerate automatically or anything; this isn't like later systems where it's a pool that refills itself. They can also be earned. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it's not hard either. You can count on a pretty steady flow of 'em. White Hats do get an exclusive way to earn Drama Points, but still. Is an early lead of 10 Drama Points worth the other sacrifices? We'll see, but I never quite saw the appeal in playing a White Hat. Go Hero, get better powers, leave the "supportive friend" stuff to the NPCs. But that's me.

Let's get character creating. I'm gonna roll up four characters. Sarah and James will be Heroes; a Slayer and a noble vampire, respectively. Alyson and Nick are our White Hats. Alyson is going to go for an expertise in magic to see if she can get good that way, and Nicholas will be good at nothing in particular, but an excellent friend. In case you have cracked my clever code and are wondering why David isn't the noble vampire, it's because I intend to get to the Angel Corebook eventually. Duh .

Attribute scores generally fall in a 1-6 range, where 1 is below human average, 2 is average, 5 is reasonable peak human potential -- not quite the maximum that a human being is capable of, but about as good as any person you're ever going to see -- and 6 is true peak human. At this level there is no human being who has ever been born who's better than you. 7+ is possible, and explicitly supernatural.

There are six attributes, which is nice and familiar. They are:

You'll notice that Wisdom's gotten a slight facelift and handed all its "knowing things" duties off to Intelligence, now acting solely as a measure of how well you can figure shit out. Willpower's the only real new one, and it does basically what it says. It's about self-control, and you'll be looking to that stat when it comes time to resist mental effects like mind control or fear. As for where Charisma's "looking pretty" duties went to? They live in Qualities/Drawbacks now.

Point buy for Attributes is pretty straightforward. Up to level 5, each level costs 1 additional point -- level 2 costs 2 points, level 4 costs 4 points, etc. After that, though, it's 3 points per level. Level 6 costs 8 points, level 7 would cost 11, and you could go on but you don't have that many points and your Director almost certainly isn't gonna let you do it anyway.

Oh, and you have to put at least 1 point in each attribute. They don't spot you any free 1s. That's mean.

Let's buy points! Sarah the Slayer is up first. She's a Hero, so she has 20 points to burn here. As a fighter she knows she'll want STR, CON, and DEX, and Slayers get up to some fairly mystical shit so WIL is probably a good idea too. She doesn't need to be smart and can dump-stat INT, but seeing what's going on in a fight might come in handy, so PER is needed too.

Sarah ends up with STR 5, DEX 4, CON 3, INT 2, PER 3, WIL 3. Sarah the Slayer is strong and fast and manages to keep nearly every stat above-average. She could have taken another point out of INT, but Sarah didn't want to be a stupid Slayer, just one who's not a very good student. Dumb Slayers don't live long.

Next up is James . He's looking at about the same stats that Sarah was, but figures that he'd rather be able to take a hit than dodge one. He's thinking of his vampire as a very canny and tactical foe, only most people don't see that side of him because he's always getting distracted and letting his emotions run away with him. He ends up with STR 5, DEX 3, CON 4, INT 3, PER 4, WIL 1.

Now our White Hats take their turn. They've only got 15 points here, so they're going to have to be a lot more careful in what they take.

Alyson sees herself as the nerdy, shy girl who spent a lot of time in the library, where she started reading the tomes of ancient powers, and it sorta snowballed from there. She's frail, but smart and perceptive and iron-willed. Alsyon takes STR 1, DEX 2, CON 2, INT 4, PER 2, WIL 4. Not much physically, sorta head-in-the-clouds-y, but crackerjack smart and utmost faith in herself. That'll do.

Nick , going last, just wants to make himself a regular dude. He throws 2s at every category, leaving himself 3 points to spend. He throws a point on STR and INT to represent being not that weak and not that dumb, and that still leaves 1 more point. What last thing is Nick good at? He decides that an average guy wouldn't live that long without knowing better than most when some shit is about to go do, and throws it to PER. Nick ends up with STR 3, DEX 2, CON 2, INT 3, PER 3, WIL 2.

Next time: Character Creation continues, as Qualties and Drawbacks are introduced!

Chapter Two: Character Creation 2: Qualities/Drawbacks

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

When last we left our fledgling group, we'd just finished up assigning everybody's attributes. Now we're going to move on to the real meat of character creation in the Cinematic Unisytem: Qualities and Drawbacks!

Chapter Two: Character Creation pt. II -- Qualities and Drawbacks

Before we get into Qualities and Drawbacks, we have to do some quick math. Now that everyone's attributes are set, we can find out how many Life Points they're going to start with. Luckily, the book has provided a handy table.

Sarah has 5 STR and 3 CON, netting 42 life points. Not bad!
James has 5 STR and 4 CON. He gets 46 life points. Damn fine, that.
Alyson has 1 STR and 2 CON, for a weakling 22 life points. She's fragile.
Nick has 3 STR and 2 CON. 30 life points puts him in better shape than Alyson, but not even close to either of the muscle-mass Heroes.

All of this -- simple enough, right? Well, this is just a first pass, so each character knows what they're working with. Now we are going to expose our four players to the part of the game where all the customization of your character lies: the Qualities and Drawbacks! Since they have the potential to change your Life Point total, we'll come back to the chart at the end and get final values.

Qualities and Drawbacks

So, y'know how whenever you see a system with drawbacks that give you extra character generation points, your very first thought is "man, I hope this isn't another one of those systems where the so-called 'Drawbacks' are a bunch of easily-overcome bullshit that will never ever come up again"? Tough fucking luck , buddy. Buffy is the fucking Queen of that. It's incredibly toothless and saved only by the "up to 10" limit.

What Drawbacks really are is this: They're a bargain the game is making with the players. Pick 10 points worth of interesting flaws that'll inform your roleplaying and maybe give the Director a few good ideas to key off of you, and you can get 10 bonus points to boost up your character however you see fit. And looked at it that way... I can't complain too much.

Anyhow. The book presents all the qualities and drawbacks at once, only sorted alphabetically. It's a bit confusing that way, so I'm going to seperate the Qualities and Drawbacks out. Oh, and in case you were wondering? You can only spend the Drawback bonus points on Qualities and Skills. No Attribute-shifting now that you've got more points.

Like I said, these are as a rule toothless, unenforcable, and sometimes extremely dumb. I'll put in a few of the boring ones just so everyone sees what I'm talking about, but otherwise am gonna just stick to the ones which need commenting.

Impaired Sense (2 points): One of your senses isn't working so great. Fixing it by use of, say, a pair of glasses drops the point gain to only 1, at which point there's absolutely no in-game effect. And if your Director is the sort of jerk who regularly makes you drop your glasses, the Rulebook itself recommends you just get contacts.

Addiction (variable): "Light marijuana use" is worth 2 points right here. Kick it up to heavy for 3 points. You can go higher, but at that point you're actually addicted to scary shit that will harm you, so why bother? Have a joint with friends sometimes and enjoy your 2 free points.

Adversary (variable): Adversary represents having someone always after you. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PEOPLE AFTER YOU, THIS IS A ROLEPLAYING GAME. MONSTERS WILL ATTACK. And you know what? The Rulebook admits to it!


Most Cast Members in Sunnydale should have a minimum Adversary 2, representing the local supernatural community
Minimum ! Minimum 2! An enterprising player could argue that between the local riff-raff, the nastier guys who blow into town every now and again, and the one big bad who's always after them, that's worth at least Adversary 5 or 6. They could win that argument, too. So there's anywhere from 2-6 free points for something that was gonna happen away.

By the way, the game mechanics note that killing an Adversary does no good; someone similar will just rise up in his place. This is a pretty elegant way of getting across Buffy's rotating cast of Big Bads in game mechanics.

Attractiveness (1-5 points): Here's where the "looking pretty" part of Charisma went off to hide in. I called this one out because it's got an actual game mechanic. If you've got negative levels of Attractiveness you subtract them from any persuade rolls, and add them to intimidate. Taking positive levels in Attractiveness turns it into a Quality, where you get the bonus on persuade rolls. You don't get them for intimidate, but no negatives either. It's easier being pretty. (The book, rather amusingly, notes that everyone in Sunnydale seemed to have at least Attractive +1. The strange influence of the Hellmouth, no doubt.)

Clown (1 point): You like to tell jokes. Free point!

Emotional Problems (1-2 points): Oh no. No no no no no no, Buffy Rulebook. We are not giving players an excuse to act like anti-social jerkasses and ruin everything. Let's just see what emotional problems you're offering... depression, emotional dependency, fear of commitment, and fear of rejection. Really. Wow. Those things seem about as difficult to you as having to wear glasses, do they? Classy. Super classy, right there.

Honorable (1-3 points): Ranges from "I'm nice to my friends" at 1 to "now I'm playing that paladin that everyone hates and is the worst way to play a paladin" at 3. Yikes.

Love (2 or 4 points): Romantic relationships, and BtVS RPG's unfortunate insistence on having them, first rear their ugly heads. I'm just going to say it: having your character dating somebody never works . Either you're flirting with someone you're not dating, which is creepy, or with someone you are, which is inappropriate. Either way it's a bad experience for you and everyone else playing the game. Does the source material have a lot of romance and teenaged hormones and characters fucking each other? Yes, yes it does. Should the designers have tried to put them off-screen as much as possible anyway? Yes they damn well should have.

Anyway, there's actual mechanics for this. The 2 point version means you're dating someone or will soon start to, and when put in a situation where the choice is between your loved one and doing the smart thing, you have to make a Willpower roll (not doubled) at -3. They haven't yet explained what this means, but take it from me for now that that's a pretty difficult roll to succeed on. So they've actually found a pretty good way to mechanically represent romantic ties to someone, kudos for that.

Yes, you can literally buy "I have a girlfriend" at character creation.

The 4 point version is identical to the 2 point one, except that now it's Tragic Love. Your relationships are guaranteed to end badly. Ha! This is a decent way to get yourself Drama Points, but like I said, they're not that hard to get. Take it if you're really into the doomed romance thing or you just like abusing your characters, I guess.

Mental Problems (1-3 points): God damn it, Buffy RPG! We talked about this! Your flavors to choose from this time are Cowardice, Cruelty, Depression, and Delusions. The strength of the problems determines how many points you get for this drawback. Mild (read: controllable) is 1 point, Severe is 2, and Deranged is 3. NO. BAD RPG. NO ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO PLAY CRAZY CHARACTERS. Also, depression was under Emotional Problems too! Was this a cry for help?

Minority (1 point): Oh what in the actual hell. Let's just note that this isn't a variable drawback, which means that according to the game it is equally as difficult to be Jewish as it is to be Middle Eastern and transgendered and then move the fuck on.

Misfit (2 points:) You're a nerd. -2 penalty to Influence rolls. Oddly, Nerd is a Quality. They've pretty much seperated out being a social outcast and being geeky, which is an interesting choice and pretty much has "Willow made us do it" written all over it.

Obligation (1-3 points): You belong to some organization that wants you to do something sometimes. You choose the specifics. The more hazardous and frequent the duty, the more points. I like this one, it's neat.

Physical Disability (variable): STOP THIS SHIT RIGHT NOW, I AM SERIOUS. It should be noted that you can take Quadriplegic here, which nets you 8 points and I'd very much like to see the player willing to take that and the Director willing to allow it.

Resources (variable): This is one of those that can be a Quality or a Drawback. It says 2 points per level but then details what you get going from -5 to +5 in steps of 1, so it looks like the copy editors dropped the ball there. Anyway, you can pick levels from homeless to the 1%, both of which I'm sure will come up equally often in-game.

Showoff (2 points): You like attention! Free points, hooray! Moving on.

Talentless (2 points): You are bad at anything artistic and get a -3 to your rolls when trying to make art. I'm not even kidding. When this would come up ever is beyond me. Then, out of nowhere, they decree that being unartistic is the same as being uncreative and if you're uncreative you're a bad liar, so that -3 penalty also applies to Influence rolls. Why is this the only inconsequential Drawback with actual teeth?

Teenager (2 points): You're not 18 yet, which for an RPG based off a series that started with all its characters in high school I'd think would be fairly expected. Free points again.

Yeah, like I said, fairly toothless altogether, but by the time you're done picking them out you ought to have a pretty good idea of who your character is. Qualities, which give you stuff, are a lot more fun, but this post is already long enough.

Next time: Qualities!

Chapter Two: Character Creation 3: Qualities

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Last time, before a power surge destroyed one of my RAM sticks and I spent an entire week figuring that out, we'd gone over all the Drawbacks I felt like making fun of. Now we get to their opposite numbers!

Chapter Two: Character Creation pt. III -- Qualities

Qualities are, in my opinion, way more fun and generally better put together than the Drawbacks. Since this is an extremely streamlined system, if you want your character to be good at anything , you're getting it right here and now. On the plus side, it's extremely modular. Not being locked into classes opens up a lot of possibilities. Let's get to the list, shall we?

Accute Senses (2 points): +3 bonus to any Perception roll that relies on that particular sense.

Right away a theme ought to become apparent, which is that quite a few of these are at least somewhat vague on how they work. They're banking very heavily on the Director to have common sense.

Age (2 points/level): This is for supernatural creatures. Old ones. Each level represents a century of experience, and gives you one point per level of Intelligence to put into skills, maximum 4. So if you have INT 2 you get 2 skill points per level of Age, and if you have INT 5 you get 4 skill points.

There's a drawback -- for every level of Age you take, you have to take a level of Adversary or Secret and gain no points for it.

Artist (2 points): You make art! +1 to any two mental attributes (Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution are the physical attributes; Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower are mental), which can't be stacked onto the same attribute and the normal human attribute cap of 6 still stands, unless you are not human. You also get +1 to your Art skill, but a -1 penalty on Willpower rolls to avoid crying or losing your temper.

Yes, seriously.

Attractiveness (1 point/level): We went over this in Drawbacks. This makes you pretty.

Contacts (variable): Knowing a guy who can help you out. At 1 point you get rumors and hints, 2 points buys actual info and some small help, and then 3-5 points is for actual allies who help in any way they can. The rulebook notes that the full force of the Watcher's Council would merit 5 points, and that most Watchers don't get that. Take from that what you will.

Fast Reaction Time (2 points): +5 on your Initiative rolls, and +1 on Willpower rolls to resist fear. Good deal!

Good Luck (1 point/level): Each point of this gives you +1 to any dice roll, after the dice is rolled , per session. You choose when. (There's a Bad Luck Drawback too, which gives a -1 and the Director chooses when it kicks in.)

Hard to Kill (1-5 points): Each level of Hard to Kill gives you 3 Life Points and +1 to your Survival Tests. Slayers and other non-humans can get more than 5 levels of this, by the way. This is pretty much the most important Quality in the game, to the point where the Rulebook tells you to put any leftover points you've got in it. Solid advice, since there's no other way to get your Life Points up other than getting more Strength and Constitution.

Initiative Commando (4 points): Ah, the first combo Quality. These are our pseudo-classes, your one stop shop to get a whole bunch of bonuses, Qualities, and Drawbacks at once to reprsent something fairly complex. You don't get points for the Drawbacks, by the way -- they're built into the cost of the Quality.

Initiative Commandos (commandoes?) get +1 to any two physical attributes, no stacking, Fast Reaction Time or Situational Awareness (player's pick), and 3 levels of Hard to Kill. Active members get a 3 point Obligation, while people who've quit get their choice of 3 point Adversary or 3 point Secret. You're still human, so no attributes over six and no more than 5 levels of Hard to Kill.

Jock (3 points): +1 to any two physical attributes, no stacking human cap applies blah blah blah I think we all get it now, 2 levels of the Sports Skill for free, with the player obligated to purchase at least one more, and -1 on all Intelligence rolls, except for ones using Sports.

Military (1 point/level): I don't get this one at all, personally. Point cost ranges from -1 (Private) to 9 (General), but the Rulebook has precisely nothing to say about what you actually get for this. Being able to call in the Army seems like something Contacts handles to me, and this isn't even a required purchase for Initiative Commando, so... what, exactly, is the point? This feels vestigal.

Natural Toughness (2 points): You can take a punch, and get 4 points of Armor against bashing attacks (slashing and bullets get through). We won't get to Armor for a while, but this isn't a setting where people put on full plate, y'know? Buffy fights in tank tops, nobody's really armored. So this is a nice thing to have.

Nerd (3 points): +1 to any two mental attributes with the usual caveats, +2 skill points to be added to Computers, Knowledge, or Science (your choice), and a -1 penalty to all rolls involving social situations. Note that you can take this and Jock at the same time, which I'm pretty sure gets you Finn from Glee. (It wouldn't be that hard to make the entire Glee cast, actually. That would amuse me. Sing! Sing about vampires!)

Nerves of Steel (3 points): This is a good one. Immunity to fear rolls, except in the most extreme situations (what those are is left for Directors to decide), and +4 to their rolls even then.

Occult Library (variable): As any viewer of Buffy knows, hitting the books is a pretty big deal. It's such a big deal that it gets its own game mechanic, which we'll hit in Chapter 3. This is the Quality that gives you books to hit. It's also pretty much crucial if you want to be doing magic, because you find spells in books. Magic books.
Minimal (1 point) -- You have one book. It contains 1d10+10 spells and research rolls are at a -3 penalty.
Good (2 points) -- A modest library. 1d10+30 spells and no research penalty.
Impressive (3 points) -- This is a decent collection with a rare book or two. 1d10+50 spells and +1 to all your research.
Amazing (5 points) -- Basically Giles' collection. You have all the books . Infinite spells and a +2 to research rolls.

Photographic Memory (2 points): Y'know how you, the player, are never remembering obvious plot hooks because you forgot that one guy's secretary's name, or the prime competitor of the company that hired you? If you have this Quality, the Director has to just tell you. No roll. You are entitled to be informed of any information your character would remember whenever it's necessary. Good deal!

There's also some more vague benefits. You get a +1 bonus to any skill "where memorizing facts is useful". The Rulebook suggests Knowledge and Science as options. Also, any roll "where memory plays a role" gets a +1 to +3 bonus, at the Director's discretion. I don't think that stacks with the skill bonus? It doesn't say.

Psychic Visions (1 point): The Director gets to give you foreshadowing whenever they want. Interesting that it's not part of the Slayer package, which suggests that Buffy was something special.

Resistance (1 point/level): You have to pick what you're resistant to -- poison, demonic powers, pain -- and then you get to add your Resistance levels to any roll involving that thing. We're in extremely vague waters here.

Resources (2 points/level): Another one we covered in Drawbacks, along with the fact that it appears to be 1 point per level.

Robot (5 points): The next combo Quality. Yes, you can be a goddamn robot. Hell yes. Robots are not human, so all caps are removed. You get +4 STR, +1 DEX, and +2 CON. You figure Life Points as normal, but you don't heal. Instead, you need someone with Science Skill 3 or higher to fix you. They make a Science roll, and each Success Level (all undefined concepts, so far) equals 1 Life Point per level of Constitution the robot has. You can do it multiple times, but each one takes an hour. Also, robots don't fall unconcious, they deactivate. Directors can choose if the robots reactivate on their own or need a Science/Mr. Fix It roll to get them back up. Personally, I'd say it depends on how harshly the robot got put down.

Slayer (16 points): Rolling right along with the combos, we get to the big one. Strap yourselves in, because this is gonna be a ride.

Slayers do not count as human, all caps are removed. Slayers get +3 STR, +3 DEX, +3 CON, +2 WIL, Fast Reaction Time, Nerves of Steel, and five levels of Hard to Kill (they're allowed to buy another five on their own). They get Adversary (Demons and Vampires) at 5 points and a 3 point Obligation (Slayer duties). Slayers further get +1 to their Kung Fu and Getting Medieval skills, with the player obligated to buy another point of each. They also heal fast; Slayers recover one Life Point per Constitution level per hour. Oh, and they can sense vampires within a 100 meter radius by concentrating for a Turn (five seconds) and making a Perception (not doubled) roll. Slayers are barred from taking Jock or Initiative Commando, because those skill bonuses are meant to represent intense physical training which Slayers already have, and also cannot take Watcher because of course they can't .

Situational Awareness (2 points:) You're aware of what's going on. +2 bonus to Perception rolls to sense trouble or detect someone trying to sneak up on you.

Sorcery (5 points/level): We're going to get more in-depth with magic later, but people who've watched the TV show know that in Buffy, pretty much anyone can do magic. You find the spell in a book, do the ritual, and magic happens. However, some people are naturally talented. They can do more difficult rituals and sometimes dispose of the ritual altogether and start combat casting. Sorcery is for the latter type of person. If you want innate magical talent, this is where you get it.

The Rulebook defers all mention of what this actually does to the chapter where magic gets explained, so I will too. Suffice for now that it makes spells easier, and if you ever want to use magic in a fight you're gonna need it.

Vampire (12 or 15 points): They're lying and I don't know why they're lying. It costs 15 points. The 12 point one is for normal vampires, who are unrepentant monsters and not PCs unless the Director is running one twisted game that goes extremely against the setting. The book even notes that, no matter the explanation for why your vampire is a nice guy, a noble vampire always costs 15 points. So, y'know... it always costs 15 points! 12 points isn't an option!

Anyway. Vampires are inhuman, the caps are gone. +3 STR, +2 DEX, +2 CON, two levels of Hard to Kill (out of a possible 10 -- is 10 the cap for non-humans? It never explicitly says so, but it sure seems like it). Vampires take one fifth damage from bullets and heal one Life Point per Constitution level per hour, except for fire damage, which heals at one Life Point per Constitution level per day. You also get the standard vampire package of weaknesses. Stake to the heart, beheading, sunlight, and holy symbols should all be avoided. There'll be more detailed rules on the weaknesses much later on, when the book details how to use vampires as NPC monsters.

Also, fans of the show might notice that something's missing here. Namely, there are no "game face" mechanics. In the show, young vampires tend to go around constantly in vampire-face, but older/more powerful vampires can relax back into having a human face. For those vampires, when they put their game faces on, you know shit is about to go down . They seem to give into the beast a little bit for a boost to their combat effectiveness, right? This'll get a token nod way later on in the NPC monsters section, but it's very badly handled there. I'm really hoping that's something that the Angel Core Book fixes.

Watcher (5 points): Watchers get +1 to one physical attribute, +2 to Getting Medieval, and +2 to research rolls.

Werewolf (3 point Drawback, or 6 or 12 point Quality): The last Quality sneaks one more combo pack in. In their animal form, Werewolves are inhuman and get +4 STR, +2 DEX, +2 CON, and a bite/claw attack which deals 2xSTR slashing damage. They also get Accute Senses in Smell and Taste, with the bonuses stacking if the player also took those normally.

As for the variable point cost: If the Director gets control of the Werewolf when they're transformed (they can't control the beast), it's a Drawback. At 6 points the player remains in control but only changes at the full moon, and 12 points is for full mastery of the beast. These werewolves can change whenever they damn well feel like it. That's got potential right there.

With Qualities and Drawbacks covered, let's do some further character creation!

Sarah takes Dependent, a Drawback I didn't cover. This means you have civilians close to you who are perfect peril magnets. Sarah decides that the Slayer will have a sister and mother, so she gets the 3 point version (one Dependent is 2 points, more than one is 3). She also takes Emotional Problems (Fear of Rejection) and 1 point of Honorable. Having been informed by the Director that the system works best if Heroes are drama magnets and the White Hats are more level and get to help the Heroes through their pain, Sarah looks over Love and realizes that Tragic Love would key wonderfully off her Fear of Rejection. That puts her at 9 points of Drawbacks, so she takes a 1 point Secret(Is the Slayer).

Sarah now has 20 Quality Points from being a Hero and another 10 from Drawbacks, which she can spend on Qualities or Skills. First things first -- she buys Slayer. She'd like to be good looking, so Sarah also buys Attractiveness 2 (she'd go higher, but we're already in a point crunch here). Being a Slayer means she's gonna get punched, and that sucks, so Natural Toughness is a good choice. That's 20 points already! Luckily, we have Drawbacks and there's not much left that Sarah wants. She grabs Psychic Visions for sheer cool factor and because if the plot's gonna run through her anyway, she wants to know what's coming, kicks Attractiveness up to 3 after all, and buys her other 5 permissable levels of Hard to Kill. That leaves 3 points to spend on Skills.

Now James is up. He grabs Addiction at 1 point, because vampires can smoke all they want, and Adversary 1 to reprent the various demons he's pissed off, knowing that he's gonna take Age later and that'll make it go up. He takes Emotional Problems (Emotional Dependency), because he decided back when he gave himself WIL 1 that he was gonna be the sort of guy who got carried away with his emotions. That's a 1 point Drawback. He also takes Clown and Showoff, figuring that he'll cover up his deep need to be loved with a surface of jokes and pretending to not give a shit. Driving the "love's bitch" theme home, James also takes Tragic Love. (He and Sarah immediately put their heads together and start figuring out ways for things to go constantly wrong between them. This will not end well.)

For Qualities, Vampire is James' first buy. He'll be a noble vampire, obviously, so that's 15 points. James decides he was sired in the 18th 19th century, and buys 2 levels of Age. He channels the required Drawbacks into Adversary, raising that to 3. He takes Natural Toughness and Attractiveness 2. That's 23 points spent, but those Age levels are giving James an extra 6 skill points, so he's got no need to save points for that. He spends his last 7 points on Fast Reaction Time and another 5 levels of Hard to Kill.

Alyson is up. She takes Adversary 3, representing the general level of nastiness that a Slayer's friend gets into. She also takes Honorable 1, Minority (Gay Jewish Wicca), Talentless, and Secret (Magical Powers). White Hats should be more stable, so she takes Love at its 2 point variety.

As a White Hat, Alyson only has 10 Quality points and she wants some pretty expensive stuff, so she'll have to specialize. She takes two levels of Sorcery and a 2 point Occult Library for the magic stuff, Nerd, and Attractiveness 1. That leaves 4 points, which she spends on Hard to Kill. She's a tough little witch. She spends her Nerd +1s on INT and WIL, and is starting to nudge against peak human potential on those attributes. The Director told her she'd need Willpower for spellcasting, and she paid attention.

Nick also takes Adversary 3 and Honorable 1, which works well as the "I'm the Slayer's friend" package. He figures that Mr. Normal is going to snark at all the mystical bullshit zooming by him and takes Clown. He decides that he came from a poor family and desperately wants to make something of himself and picks up Covetous (Ambitious) at 1 point and Resources -1. He also takes Love (he and Alyson take one look at how gleeful the Director looks at Sarah and James' plans to be horrible together and decide to date Guest Stars, thank you very much).

For Qualities, Nick takes Good Luck 3, Contacts 1, Nerves of Steel, Situational Awareness, and Hard to Kill 5. He also takes Attractiveness 2 because fuck it, he's not gonna be the only one here who isn't pretty. He gets to save 4 points for skills and is satisfied with the normal guy he's made, who's turned out to be a fairly likeable underdog who's gonna get by on charm and sheer good luck.

We need to redo Life Points now that Sarah and James have gotten attribute boosts and everybody's bought Hard to Kill levels.
Sarah now has 8 STR, 6 CON, and 10 levels of Hard to Kill. She has 96 Life Points, up from 42 previously.
James has 8 STR, 6 CON, and 7 levels of Hard to Kill. 87 Life Points for him, up from 46. You can see here that Sarah got a bigger boost from Slayer than he did from Vampire, since she started off with less CON than James and they ended up tied. Slayers are more powerful than Vampires.
Alyson has 1 STR and 2 CON, which hasn't changed, but she's got 4 levels of Hard to Kill now. 34 Life Points, up from 22.
Nick likewise hasn't seen a boost in his attributes, staying at 3 STR and 2 CON. With his new 5 levels of Hard to Kill, that jumps his Life Points to 45, up from 30.

The Heroes have now hugely pulled away from the White Hats. This is intended; White Hats are supposed to be in support roles and we're seeing the game mechanics start to kick in to enforce that. Sarah and James can mix it up in combat and take hits that'd send Alyson and Nick running for their lives.

Next time: Skills, and character creation finishes!

Chapter Two: Character Creation 4: Skills

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter II: Character Creation pt. IV -- Skills

The streamlining really hits full steam here. I'm going to list every single skill available, which is easy to do because as you'll notice, there aren't very many of them . I like this, actually. It fits the setting really well. Everyone in the TV show is a generalist, did you ever notice? If you're smart, you're smart about everything. If you can use a stake, you're equally good at a sword or a crossbow or a quarterstaff. This is, of course, because it's a TV show. Having only a few very broad skills keeps the same feel. Here, if you can do something similar to what you're trying to do, you can do it.

Skills cost one point per level up through level 5, and then after that each level costs 3 points. So, buying a skill to level 4 costs 4 points, but getting it to level 6 costs 8.

Sidebar Time!

That frigging pattern is behind all the text. It's mildly distracting.

Now that we know that higher numbers are good and vaguely what they mean, let's get to the list.

Acrobatics: The only defensive skill. It is the skill of dodging stuff. Very important if you want to not get hit in a fight. Also used for climbing, jumping, swimming, stuff like that. It can also replace Crime for sneaking around, if you want it to (in other words, if you've got more skill points here).

Art: Doing art! You do have to decide what kind of art you can do when you take it, though, so no being Da Vinci. You can also use this skill to judge other people's art, which is about as likely to come up as performing it is. Seriously, guys, I know Oz was a pretty great character but why is this here . The closest any artistic performance ever came to being a plot point was when Willow had nightmares.

Computers: Thankfully, the book notes straight off that you don't need this skill for basic computer shit. If you have ranks here, you can do cool computer shit. Hacking and fixing stuff.

Crime: Doing anything illegal falls here, but you're mostly gonna use it for sneaking around and possibly picking a lock or stealing plot-important things from people who don't want you to have them. There are two exceptions to the "anything illegal" clause -- hacking is Computers, and conning is Influence. Good to know if you ever want to run a "Leverage comes to Sunnydale" game. Incidentally, does anyone want to run a "Leverage comes to Sunnydale" game? Because I'm totally in. I call Elliot.

Doctor: Healing stuff. If you want to be a for-reals Doctor, it'll take at least 4 ranks. Anything under that is emergency medicine and, like, first aid.

Driving: Unlike Computers, if you don't have ranks here, you do not know how to drive. If you're wondering why they did that, Buffy was a notoriously poor driver and managed to live her entire life in California without ever getting a driver's license. So now you too can... not drive! Spend the point and move on, I say. Extra points are to make yourself a really good driver, which might come in handy if car chases are your Director's thing.

Getting Medieval: First of three combat skills. This one covers any weapon that isn't as technologically advanced as a gun. Yes, any weapon. Ranged, close combat, doesn't matter. All of them. We're going broad here, people.

Gun Fu: The second combat skill. This covers everything from guns on that can still be fired by a single person. Handgun, shotgun, rifle, rocket launcher, all just as easy to point and shoot. Make and model don't matter either.


...sorry, just wanted to savor the sound of all of TFR getting extremely huffy all at once.

Sidebar Time! I'm actually cheating and dragging this sidebar in from Chapter 3, during the rules about combat. Entitled "Gun Control", it lays out the case for why you just don't see a lot of gunfire in Buffy episodes. Basically, the case is this: Guns leave a forensics trail that's easy to follow, guns make a lot of noise that, especially when fired multiple times in the course of an ongoing battle, will get the good folks of Law Enforcement to descend upon you in all their wrath and they don't believe in monsters, and most importantly, they do a shitty fucking job . Vampires take 1/5th damage from bullets and most demons are no more vulnerable to a gunshot than they are to a nice, silent, not-going-to-draw-a-crowd sword in the gut.

And honestly, I'm convinced. Too many downsides, no real upsides. Sticking to the old ways is wise counsel here.

Influence: Trying to win people over to your side with your words. You've got options here based on what Attribute you're gonna run this one off of -- Willpower + Influence to intimidate, but Presence + Influence to seduce.


The actual goddamn rulebook posted:

All non-scientific disciplines are covered by this skill. History, psychology, sociology, and the like are part and parcel of this skill.
Yeah. The know everything skill. This is the skill you're going to run all your Research off of, which is an actual game mechanic, I promise. We're getting to it.

Kung Fu: The third combat skill, this covers unarmed fighting. All forms of unarmed fighting. All at once. You're equally good at all of them. TV, baby.

Languages: This works differently than any other skill. You don't take extra ranks in it to improve. Rather, having rank in language means you speak one language fluently. So if you go and buy another rank, you get to pick another language, and now you speak that language fluently too. The book never specifically says so, but judging by the character sheets they include for TV characters and sample Cast Members, you get your native tongue for free.

Mr. Fix-It: If it's broken, you can fix it! All repairs are now your domain. You have become a being spoken of only in legends. You are... THE HANDYMAN. (Sorry, it's a boring -- but useful -- skill and I make my own fun.)

Notice: Notice things! You can also make an Intelligence + Notice roll to try and remember something your character saw but you only realized just this moment was important.

Occultism: This is magic. Noticing it, knowing what's going on, researching it, and being able to do spells. A fairly useful skill just to have for doing research, and it's also used in doing spells, to represent just how likely it is that you know and understand the whole ritual that you're doing. Magic's one-stop shop for all their skill point needs.

Science: You can do science! You can do all kinds of cool science. Picks up where Knowledge left off, clearly.

Sports: Be good at sports! You can use this as a combat replacement skill in a pinch, as long as it's justifiable. Like, if Jock Guy picks up a baseball bat, he's got an argument to roll Sports on this attack rather than Getting Medieval.

Wild Card: Cut the brakes!

No, not really. This is a blank so you can fill in any skill you want to have, with the caveat that it can't be broader than the pre-existing skills -- you're not allowed to make up, say, Weapons, because that's Getting Medieval and Gun Fu. I strongly suspect they put this on because otherwise they had 17 skills and it'd look bad on the character sheet if they had one column of 9 and one of 8.

That's all of them! Everything left in this chapter is mopping-up duty. First off, we're told to notice that there's a part on the character sheet for Combat Manuevers, but we'll get to those later. You guys didn't have character sheets, so you didn't know that. We will get to them later. They're pretty neat. Drama Points are addressed, but only to tell us yet again that we'll get to those later, but for now just be aware that you have them, and they're important. The chapter then wraps up with some roleplaying basics -- name your character, at least sketch out the basics of what they look like, and try to get in their head a little bit. And with that, Chapter Two is finished!

Now that character creation is done, the game gives us 12 sample characters who're all statted up and ready to be handed out, as well as the character sheets for everyone on the show up through Season 5, in their Season 5 (or whatever season they last appeared in) forms. There are also guidelines for reducing each character in power to match specific seasons, by dropping skills and attributes down certain amounts per season. If you're dead-set on playing the cast but need to set your adventure during the reign of the Mayor, well, it's an option.

Anyway, looking at the cast's sheets, Spike does have the 15 point version of Vampire. Also, in case you're curious, Cordelia wins the Attractiveness sweepstakes with Attractiveness +4. Nearly half the cast is tied for second at Attractiveness +3, and Oz loses, not having the trait at all . That's a bit rude to Seth Green.

The sample characters are extremely complete. Each one comes with two pages. One is the character sheet, and the second page gives the character's entire background, motivation, a sample quote, and even instructs you on how to play the character. Even for something to hand out at cons or to newbies, this is too comprehensive for my tastes. Give the players some goddamn leeway to make the character their own, or what's the point?

Also, they didn't really go generic with these, instead making some very specific and sorta... quirky characters. Like, the New Slayer is really smart and sorta research-focused, at severe cost to her combat viability. She's only got 72 Life Points and 6 Strength. Not even superhuman! She's gonna get pasted by the vampires. The sample Watcher is young and actually tries to be somewhat good at combat, which, again, is playing against your strengths. There's also oddly specific stuff like the Former Vampire Groupie. That's not a generic archetype of a character, that is somebody's pet PC who snuck into the book. Also, based on the descriptions and the sample dialogue given, I sorta hate them all. Especially the Hacker. See, he's not just a hacker, he's a magic hacker who doesn't do magic, he does "reality hacking".

Oh my GOD I hate you SO MUCH

Let's finish up character creation with our four sample characters.
Sarah is a Hero, so she gets 20 Skill Points. She's got 3 points left from Drawbacks, and is obligated to buy at least one more level each of Getting Medieval and Kung Fu. That's 21 points left. Sarah buys Getting Medieval to 5 and Kung Fu up to 6. She also gets Acrobatics up to 5, and then spends her remaining points on Occultism 3, Notice 2, and Influence 2.
James has 26 Skill Points to spend, because of his Age. Turns out he should have saved some Drawback points or been older after all, because he can really only afford two combat stats at 5 and one at 6, just like Sarah. He takes Getting Medieval 6, Kung Fu 5, and Acrobatics 5. With the remaining 8 points he buys Crime 4 to represent years of being evil, Occultism 3, and an extra Language -- he decides on Latin. 200-odd years of being a vampire have taught James a thing or two about magic.
Alyson is a White Hat, so she only gets 15 Skill Points. However, from being a Nerd she gets 2 points in Computers, Knowledge, or Science. She chooses Computers, and then buys Computers up to 4 with two more points. She wants to be a nerdy witch, so she takes Occultism 5, Knowledge 3, Acrobatics 2, Kung Fu 2, and Getting Medieval 1. She's not very good at combat, but she can still do it. It's a crucial survival skill in Sunnydale.
Nick saved 4 points from his Drawbacks. He buys Driving 1 because somebody in this damn group has to know how to drive, and Influence 4 because he's sorta middle-of-the-roaded himself into becoming the moral heart of the group, so he'd better be good at pep talks. He also takes Notice 3, Mr. Fix It 3, Doctor 1, and Crime 1, giving himself an interestingly broad array of skills. That saves 6 points for the big three, and he goes Acrobatics 2, Kung Fu 2, Getting Medieval 2.

The gaming group is now complete, and they'll be brought back at the end to run through the sample adventure. See, there was a point to this!

Next time: We start in on the rules.

Chapter Three: Skills

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter III: Skills

Every chapter in this book has a subtitle that is, like so much else, directly taken from show dialogue. This chapter's subtitle is Rules, Borders, and an End Zone, taken from Xander's nervous babbling in his dream in Restless. I just mention that because I like it. It's the best pick of any chapter.

So, rule basics. The basic rule for the game is this: D10 + Attribute + Attribute or Skill. You use a doubled Attribute roll when skills don't come into it (say, double Strength for lifting something), and a Skill when applicable. Like everything else, there's a lot of leeway here for Directors and Cast Members to decide when a Skill should be used. If you want to Do A Thing, the target number is 9. For everything. Yes, that's insanely simplistic and also a really, really low target -- if you have an Attribute at 4 or higher, you literally can not fail at a double Attribute roll, and even at 2 it isn't that hard.

This is probably deliberate. The game wants you to be like the good guys on TV, and you might notice that the good guys generally succeed at what they attempt. It's also not quite that easy. First, that target number is only for times when nothing is opposing you -- in other words, it goes and hides under the covers when combat starts. Also, and this is pretty much the most important mechanic of the game, it only tracks a binary did it/did not do it state. For any time when how well you did a thing matters (hint: just about all the time), there are Success Levels.

The most important chart in the entire book.

In directly opposed rolls, which come up when you're doing something and someone else is actively working against you, success levels and target numbers both go out the window. Both sides make their rolls and the higher number wins, with ties going to the defender.

You may have noticed that we've worked in steps from suceeding, to learning how well we've succeeded, and now how to handle it when somebody's fighting back. You might be thinking that the game is very carefully building towards combat rules by slowly increasing the complexity, and you'd be... sadly wrong. They break off here to cover a bunch of disconnected other topics. That's an odd mistake, and I'm going to fix it and go straight to combat and then circle back around to the other stuff when combat's covered.

There's a Feng Shui influence here... or is it just the influence of their very similar inspirations?

Combat is broken into Turns (about 5 seconds), and each Turn has two phases: Initiative and Action. In Initiative, the order everyone goes in is determined, and then --

Wait, no, stop. How is turn order determined, exactly? The book seems to want to make it an extremely fluid thing that's entirely at the Director's discretion ("Well, those three vampires that just came around the corner saw you first so they're going first, but that other one that went first last turn missed his attack and you hit yours, so he's on the defensive, so you'll go before him this round, and..." and so on, and so forth. After two columns of text about this, finally some player who'd taken Fast Reaction Time started making noise about "wait why did you make up a Quality that gives me a bonus to Initiative rolls if those aren't actually a thing", and so they grudgingly include a sidebar. In it, they say that okay, fine, if rolls are something you like instead of story (it is off-puttingly smug), FINE you can do D10 + DEX (not doubled) rolls, with Fast Reaction Time bonuses added. Jesus, was that so hard? Let everyone roll once to set order at the start of combat, and then you can still move people around in the order as the flow of the battle dictates it.

-- okay, so once order is determined, everyone declares their Intention: what their character is going to try to do this turn. The book doesn't say if you should go in any particular order here, but if you go ahead to the combat example, it's pretty obvious: Low Initiative have to declare their actions first, then high initiative gets theirs. I like it; high initiative means you've got the drop on somebody, so they shouldn't be able to plan knowing what you're doing.

With everyone's Intentions clear, we then move into Actions. Everyone does what they said they were gonna try to do, which can let you do fun stuff if you've got the drop on your opponent. A slow vampire can declare that it's gonna try and grab James, James can then say he's gonna spin the vampire around so its back is to Sarah, and Sarah can call a stake in the heart. The power of teamwork, and being fast! When it comes to Actions, everyone gets one Attack action and one Defense action per turn. Extremely fast characters can get multiple actions, at penalties, which we'll get to later.

Now we get to the Actions themselves. For each of your Actions, you're going to want to do a Combat Manuever. These got a brief mention at the end of Chapter Two, and are defined here. It's a very comprehensive list of things you might want to do in combat. I like these. They're not things you have to learn; your character knows how to do all of this automatically. What you're encouraged to do is just go down the list and write your favorite ones down on your character sheet, to save time paging through the rulebook every time you attack. But even if you didn't put, say, Slam Tackle on your character sheet doesn't mean that you can't tackle somebody to the ground, it just means you'll have to go and check the rules before you do. Lots of options in combat here, and the only limiting is up to the players, who get to decide their own style by writing down the moves they want to be their go-tos.

Like I said, it's a decently long list, so I'm just going to go through a few good ones:
Decapitation: Good for taking down vampires and really anything else with a head. DEX + Getting Medieval - 5, but you get a 5x damage bonus.
Feint: Psyching the other guy out. It's a Resisted Action, your INT + Kung Fu or Getting Medieval vs. their PER + Kung Fu or Getting Medieval (or just the Brains score, an NPC simplifying thing we'll define later). If you beat them, you get to add the Success Levels of your roll as a bonus to your next attack roll on that opponent.
Groin Shot: Ha! Do any other Combat Manuever with a -3 penalty. If you hit, a male victim has to make a WIL doubled roll minus double the Success Levels of your attack. If they fail, they drop to the ground and are incapacitated for the Turn. Girls just get a -1 to their double WIL roll, because it hurts less? I'm told? I dunno.
Kick: A basic attack. DEX + Kung Fu - 1. Athletes can sub in Sports here, and dancers can use Art (hey, a use for Art!) Base damage 2x(STR+1), bash type.
Punch: The other basic attack. DEX + Kung Fu, base damage 2xSTR, bash type. So basically Kicks trade a little accuracy for hurting a little more if you hit.
Stake: DEX + Getting Medieval, base damage 2xSTR, slash type. So it's a punch but with a stake. Makes sense.
Through The Heart: Another modifier. Your attack gets a -3 modifier, but does 4x damage if it hits on non-vampires. On vampires, you get 5x damage, but only if that damage will kill them. If they're not gonna go poof, you're judged to have just missed the heart and get no bonus. Ouch.

There's also Dodge and Parry, for defense:
Parry: DEX + Kung Fu or Getting Medieval, depending on if you're parrying with a weapon or your bare hands. Weapon attacks can only be parried by other weapons, and you can parry a barehanded attack with a weapon, which even causes normal weapon damage to your attacker, for being stupid enough to try and punch your sword (or axe, or whatever). Thrown weapons get parried at a -2 penalty, arrows and bolts at -6, and bullets cannot be parried. As written there's no real reason to not Dodge instead, so personally I'd make it so that if your attack gets Parried, your Initiative immediately drops below the guy who parried you.
Dodge: Any missile attacks (including bullets? It doesn't say not bullets) is at a -2 penalty. Roll DEX + Acrobatics, Getting Medieval, or Kung Fu, whichever's highest.



There is seriously no indication in the Skills descriptions that Getting Medieval or Kung Fu can be used for defense, and Acrobatics is explained as the skill you need to not get hit. They've misled the players, and that's an extremely dick move. Acrobatics is still good for jumping and climbing and getting around obstacles, yay, but it's not the defense skill any more, is it? Not unless you were focusing hard on it anyway, because otherwise there's really no good reason not to dump the points you'd have spent otherwise into your best combat skill.

My sample Heroes are pretty capped out anyway and both of them have legitimate reasons to be extremely mobile, but the White Hats spent points they couldn't afford in Acrobatics just to not be easy vamp snacks. I'm letting them re-spend those points. Alyson puts her Kung Fu at 3 and her Getting Medieval at 2, and Nick kicks his Kung Fu up to a shockingly respectable 4.

Okay, so, outraged derail aside, I'm going to keep skipping around in the interests of logical progression and get to damage. Damage is pretty simple: Base damage (either defined by the type of attack or the weapon you hit with), plus any success levels from the attack, minus any armor, with multipliers (either from the attack or the damage type) applied last. There're four types of weapon damage:
Bashing does normal damage, and is the only damage type you can use as nonlethal.
Slash/stab does double damage to humans. Non-humans, apparently, don't care so much.
Bullet does double damage to humans, 1/5th damage to vampires, and normal damage to non-humans.
Fire puts victims on fire, which causes 3 additional damage every Turn until somebody puts them out. It also heals at half the normal rate.

Let's do a quick example: Sarah is punching a vampire, ending up with a roll of 19. That's 5 success levels (nice punch, Sarah!), her STR is 8, and let's say the vampire has Natural Toughness, so it's got an armor of 4 against Bashing attacks. Sarah would do 2x8 + 5 - 4, or 17 damage. That's not bad. If she'd gone for a stake attack Through the Heart instead (and still gotten the 19), that'd be (2x8 + 5)x5, or 105 potential damage. If 105 damage wouldn't kill him, it'd only do 21 damage in that case, but 105 damage is gonna kill just about anything .

It's worth noting that the reason for the "if it doesn't kill the vampire, you don't get the bonus" mechanic on Through The Heart is that on the show, the heroes always soften the vampires up with a few punches and kicks before they stake 'em, and the game is encouraging you to do the same thing. Looks like my Slayer won't need to bother doing that with lower level vamps, which is... still quite a bit like the show, actually! Good job, game.

With combat dealt with, let's circle back to the stuff I skipped over. First off is multiple actions. If you have a DEX of 5 or greater, you can take more than the one free Attack and one free Defend every turn. At 5 you get 1 extra action, and then every two DEX above that gives you another action. They come at a penalty, though. First off, each successive action after the one freebie gets a cumulative penalty of -2, and you don't reroll your attack or defense. You're just stuck at that number, with it dropping by 2 every time. Also, if you intended to use multiple attacks, if your target defends against one of them you immediately lose all the other attacks. So, bringing back our example attack, Sarah has DEX 7, which gives her two extra actions. If she planned to use both of them as attacks, her second attack would be at a 17. If that missed, she wouldn't get a third attack. If she got the third attack, it would be a 15. Oh, and if you get attacked multiple times per round and either don't have extra actions or didn't budget them for defense? Every attack past the first one only has to hit the general target number of 9. Yeah, being ganged up on is bad.

Continuing right along with the "don't get ganged up on" theme, if more than one person attacks the same target, they all get +1 for each person attacking to all their rolls, to a maximum of +4 (the game says more than four people just get in each other's way). Combined with only needing to hit a 9 after the first attack, this is a really good way for White Hats to make themselves combat viable... and for Slayers to get themselves killed.

Next time: Research and all the other stuff I skipped!

Chapter Three: Skills (Schizo)

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter Three: Skills pt. II

As this is going to be just going over everything I skipped past to make the combat rules actually get put together in a way that makes sense, you're now getting all the schizo of a very schizoid chapter all at once. Just be forewarned that this is gonna jump around from topic to topic for no good reason.

Movement: They don't give a fuck about movement, and neither should you! No maps, no speed, nothing. You get where you need to go.

Research: Research on the TV show is a big goddamned deal. Any time anything happens, everyone goes to where Giles is, grabs a book, and starts flipping pages until the Plot Gods decide enough time has passed and they find the right page. Players are going to want to do so too, especially since it's pretty much an "okay, tell us what the plot is today" mechanic. Research is an Intelligence + Occultism roll, with the book noting that the Occult Library Quality matters here. A bad enough library and the Director might decide you simply don't have the right book, and send the Cast out on a subquest to go find it. Other than that, Directors are encouraged to keep research "off camera", i.e., let everyone make a few quips and then tell the group how long they spent researching and have them make their rolls.

Oddly, for something that's almost always presented as a group activity, there are no rules given for how a group effort works here. Instead, way the fuck at the end of the book during the sample adventure, pooling everyone's Success Levels is mentioned off-handedly like it was a mechanic they already presented. It wasn't, guys. Anyhow, yeah, everyone makes a roll, you pool the success levels, and (I'm taking this from the sample adventure too) give the group increasingly better information depending on how many they got. They also throw in rules for hacking and for actually going out and shaking down informants, which are just different rolls.

Ability Scores: These are neat. Cast Members have 17 Skills at varying levels, right? But for Guest Stars, as a rule, you do not give a shit for all that. All you need to know is how strong they are, how smart they are, and how good they are in a fight. Thus, instead of giving useless-ass mooks a whole character sheet and then doing rolls for them for a bunch of stuff, they just get three scores. Muscle, Combat, and Brains. Muscle is STR doubled plus six (you still stat out their attributes, because that takes ten seconds), Brains is the average of their mental Attributes plus six, and Combat is DEX plus the average of their combat skills, plus six.

Wait, weren't we doing this specifically to not have to bother with skills? Yeah, you just sorta decide what their average skill level would be. There's no word yet on actually balancing any of these scores, and actually, this whole section is sort of a lie. The actual generation method for each score is Whatever The Fuck The Director Wants, with some vague nods towards how to balance encounters.

One more thing: Guest Stars with these scores don't actually roll for anything. Their Combat Score is what they roll for every attack and the roll to beat to hit them every round. Apparently in BtVS RPG, rolling is the sole domain of players and, I guess, very special enemies.

Fear Tests: These are just a straight WIL doubled roll, maybe with some modifiers. Dull.

Some More Combat Stuff Oh, here's some combat modifiers I skipped over. Being attacked from behind or while prone gives a -2 to your defense, and you can go Full Offense or Full Defense. Doing so dedicates both your free actions to attack or defense, and you can't take the other kind of action if you're fast enough to have extra actions available. You get +3 to your defense on Full Defense, and +2 to attacks on Full Offense.

There are some dumb rules about being tied up, and some stuff about ranged attacks that, apart from telling us not to give a damn about range, just reiterate mechanics we already know.

There's a list of weapons and their base damage, which is useful in play but boring here, and a very brief writeup on armor that is basically "armor exists, there's a table for it in the Appendix". Let's just skip ahead to the Appendix, then.


Injuries: Something interesting! At 10 Life Points, all your combat rolls are at a -2 penalty. At 5, the penalty is -4. If you hit 0 or below, you have to make a WIL + CON + Life Points roll to stay concious. Note that your Life Points are always gonna be negative if you're making these checks, so you're basically taking how many negative Life Points you have as a penalty to the roll. At -10 Life Points and below, you have to make a Survival Test. Remember Survival Tests? They're those things that Hard To Kill gives a bonus for. Now we find out how they work. It's pretty much another conciousness roll, but with higher stakes. WIL + CON, with a -1 penalty for every 10 points below zero you're at, with any Hard To Kill bonuses. If you fail, you die. (This isn't as final as it sounds; you can use Drama Points to save yourself.) If you pass the test, you have to keep making them every minute, with a cumulative -1 penalty for every minute that's passed. You are bleeding the fuck out.

An INT + Doctor roll will stabilize a dying character, so they don't have to make any more Survival Tests. Also, if you fail a test and the Director rules that your injury is something that CPR can bring you back from, an INT + Doctor roll will also let the dying person try that Survival Test again. You can really see this game's priorities; in combat they avoid rolls whenever possible, but if someone goes down roll all the dice ! Make them live!

Healing: Standard heal rate is one Life Point per Constitution Level per day. The actual heal rate is "who cares, you're all healed up in time for the next session". There's also some stuff for dealing with specific types of injuries, but who cares about those too.

Breaking Stuff: If you wanna knock down a door, it's a STR doubled roll and it takes a certain amount of Success Levels, but they stick around and you can keep rolling until you total enough. Walls have Armor and Life Points; you have to attack them until they fall down.

Drama Points: Oh, this is important. We're finally gonna find out what we can use Drama Points for. They are, unsurprisingly, a pretty big deal. You can spend a Point to do one of several things:

Heroic Feat -- For when you absolutely, positively need to get something done. You have to declare you're using this during Intentions if it's during combat, but you get a +10 bonus to anything you want. A combat roll, damage, something outside of combat, whatever.

I Think I'm Okay -- Heal half the damage you've taken so far, rounded up. You can only do this once per Turn, but still. Very handy if you're, say, a White Hat who just got punched through a wall by a rampaging demon.

Plot Twist -- Once per session, you can spend a Drama Point to make things break your way. You get the clue you need, the vampires who surrounded you decide to take you captive instead of killing your dumb ass.

Righteous Fury -- This costs two Drama Points, and the Director has to rule that you're sufficiently motivated to get well and truly pissed off and go on a rampage. If it's okayed, though, you get +5 to all attack actions for the duration of the fight.

Back From the Dead -- You didn't die after all! Coming back next Season (we haven't gotten into this in depth yet, but Buffy campaigns are organized like a TV show, with multiple Episodes taking place in one long Season) costs one point. Coming back in the next Episode costs 5 points, and in the same Episode costs 10. If you don't have all the Points you need to come back, you can go into debt for it and all Drama Points you earn go towards paying it off until you clear the debt. You also have to make up a reason why you didn't die, but "magic" covers anything "I went to the ER" doesn't.

Normally I'd stop here, but all that's left in this chapter is earning Drama Points and XP, so let's power through.

Earning Drama Points: Like I said back at character creation, Drama Points don't automatically refill. You have to earn them. There are several ways:

Spending XP -- The simplest way. White Hats can buy Drama Points at a 1-for-1 conversion rate, while Heroes have to pay 2 XP per Point.

Being Funny -- Buffy the TV show had clever writers who worked long hours to think up amusing things to say. Players have to do it on the fly, without writers. Getting in an appropriately Buffy-ish zinger is worth a Drama Point, but you can only earn one per session this way.

Heroism -- If you go above and beyond the call of normal, everyday, what's-the-plural-of-apocalypse Scooby Gang membership, you can earn one or two Drama Points, at the Director's discretion, of course.

Unavoidable Bad Stuff -- Um. Look, I can sugarcoat this, but basically this one is payment for being railroaded. If the plot demands that something bad happens that the Cast Members can't prevent no matter what they do, they get 1-3 Drama Points as a tradeoff. That said, this isn't such a terrible thing, given the setting. The Episode/Season framework sorta demands railroading here and there, and this is a game that's extremely plot-focused and not as open ended and freeform as most games. The most benign example, and definitely the best way to use it, is that this does away with that old familiar DM's tale of woe: "I statted some guy up to be a recurring antagonist and my players murdered him at their first meeting!" In Buffy, no they goddamn didn't. That hit didn't kill him, I don't care what the dice said, and the Big Bad makes some threats and then gets away.

Drama -- This mainly happens to Heroes. If you decide (or, better yet, if they decide!) to spring some subplot on them that puts them through the emotional wringer, they get 1-3 Drama Points for it, as long as they played it well.

Fixing Drama -- This is an exclusive ability for White Hats. When a Hero is wracked with Drama, their friends help them through it. Playing through being a supportive friend and giving their upset buddy a shoulder to cry on is worth 2 Drama Points.

Earning XP: The book recommends 1-5 XP per session. Everyone gets 1 just for showing up, and then there's 2 possible points to be earned through thwarting evil and 2 for good roleplaying. They also recommend 1 bonus XP at the end of major story arcs and 1 bonus XP after Season Finales, which is a bit stingy, don't you think? Season Finales should be worth more. Everyone always gets a noticable power boost during the months off.

Spending XP: Raising Attributes costs double the next level, minimum 5 (so raising something from 2 to 3 costs six points). The book suggests that humans can usually only raise each Attribute once, which if it was me running the game I'd ignore, but that's what's in the text. Raising Skills costs double the next level, no minimum. If you want a Skill you don't already have, that first level costs 5 points. As previously noted, you can buy Drama Points with your XP. You can also buy Qualities by spending their point cost, but the book says that only the following Qualities are purchasable: Contacts, Good Luck, Military Rank, Occult Library, Resources, Slayer, Sorcery, Vampire, and Werewolf.

You might notice that this list is bullshit.

I mean, really. You can't buy more levels of Hard to Kill (and they want to limit humans to only boosting STR and CON once! What do these people have against White Hats gaining Life Points?), but if you saved up for a month you can become the Slayer? This made sense to them? Really? And, y'know what, it is bullshit. The Angel Core Book has no limit on what Qualities you can buy, just that the Director has to okay it -- so no silly shit like buying Werewolf when you're already a Vampire. The first edition-ness of this game really glares out at points, and unfortunately that was one of them. At least they fixed their mistakes.

And that's that for Chapter 3. Come back next time, when we all learn when it is and is not appropriate to speak Latin in front of the books.

Next time: Magic!

Chapter Four: Magic

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Chapter Four: Magic

We start off with a "magic in the Buffyverse" primer, which lays out the basics of how magic works in this setting (there's a sidebar on WitchCraft which is basically "this isn't WitchCraft , shut up"). They use a cake metaphor that's actually very apt. If you're baking a cake, you don't actually have to know how to cook, you just have to follow the recipe... but skill and experience helps, and if you deviate from the recipe you'll get a disaster. Likewise, if you want to make up some new kind of cake, you'd better be an actual baker. Otherwise, stick to what the people who knew what they were doing wrote down. Which is exactly apt, obviously. All you really need to do magic in the Buffyverse is a book with a spell written in it and the ability to follow printed directions. Skill and experience? Those help, and screwing up results in way worse than a ruined cake. They also make some vague threats about magic having a cost, and more powerful magic having more of a cost, but this is pretty blatantly not true in the source material (Willow suffered precisely no blowback for slinging around the sort of magical power that would make minor deities jealous) and will be dropped as quickly as it's brought up.

First we get some game terminology that will be used going forward. Every spell has a Power Level. A higher Power Level means a more powerful spell, and also means it's harder to cast. Every spell has Requirements, which are the rituals and/or materials needed. And every spell has an Effect, which is what it does.

Next, the book walks us through, in incredibly detailed and specific step-by-step directions, the process of deciding what spell you want, finding it, and doing it. Which is exactly as complex as it sounds. First, you need to decide on what you want the spell to do. Specifics are strongly suggested; the cited example is a spurned girlfriend casting a spell to "make my ex-boyfriend miserable" and them pointing out that could do fucking anything, including quite possibly killing her, since having a girl he dumped kill herself would make the guy pretty damn miserable. It's a great big flashing "penalize your players if they fuck this up!" sign to Directors combined with a great big flashing "do not fuck this up!" sign to Cast Members, and it's utterly appropriate, given the setting. How many times on the show did improperly-worded spells do exactly what they were supposed to do and mayhem ensued? Anyway, that's the only important part of this walkthrough. Do the research to find the spell, do the ritual for the spell, spell happens, good job you did magic. Minimal rolling here. Directors can make their witches roll for the research part, but that's optional.

You need to roll for the spell itself, of course. Spellcasting is a WIL + Occultism roll, and you need to get Success Levels equal to the spell's Power Level in order to make it work. If you don't even get 9, no magic happens. If you get a success but not enough Success Levels, magic happens, but not quite the magic you wanted. Your spell's gonna botch somehow (there's a table of suggested effects, but it sucks). Given the long and storied Buffy history of spells that didn't go quite right, you'd really have been better off with a total failure. No magic at all is way better than wrong magic.

If you're currently asking "wait, doesn't Sorcery come into all this somewhere?", then thank you very much for being such a dedicated fan and following along so studiously. If you weren't asking that, well, I bet you're wondering now. And the answer is that all of this was written to an intended audience of regular people who still wanted to do magic. Witches/Warlocks get their own version of the rules (hint: it's easier for them), but first we have two sidebars to get to.

Sidebar time! On plot-device spells: A Director might want to have a plot-device spell in his big Season-long story, something that'll provide a crucial blow against an otherwise unstoppable opponent, where getting the spell itself and all the components for it is the stuff of several Episodes. And that's great! Do that! But, the game cautions very strongly, Cast Members are not TV characters. They can not be trusted to conveniently forget that the plot-device spell exists after they use it once. So think very carefully about what power you're giving them . If the effects are going to be useless outside of the current circumstances ("this spell will blast Lord Horrificus back into Hell!"), that's one thing. If you are instead handing them phenomenal power that's omni-useful ("this spell will blast anyone into Hell!"), you need to make damn sure it's a one-shot. Have it require some insanely rare component that your players will never get their hands on again, or make it only castable when the stars reach a certain alignment which only happens once every 7000 years, but do something. Hanging over every word of this sidebar, but never mentioned, is the Merging spell from Season 4's finale. It just seemed to require some gourd. It granted an amazing amount of power. There was never any good reason why Buffy and the gang didn't pull that one out every time somebody posed a sufficient threat. Players would be using that baby on every monster you threw at them in the future, and would consider getting weird dream trips to fight the First Slayer afterwards a bonus prize. Moral of this story: Don't let your players break the game.

Sidebar time! On healing spells: There aren't any. On the show, there were very firm words spoken on the topic with no room for alternative interpretations. In Buffy, healing magic is too dangerous to attempt. End of story. (The comics piss all over this. It is one of the many reaons I hate them.) That said, the game recognizes that healing spells and RPGs normally go together like peanut butter and jelly, and that you might want some anyway. They give options for using the mechanics to do heals, and close with a final warning that you're making a sharp left turn and leaving the setting if you do it.

Okay, now we do magic for Witches and Warlocks (read: anyone who has levels in Sorcery). So, what benefits do you get for having innate power? First, you get to add your levels in Sorcery to all your spellcasting rolls, to a max of +5. Second, you get Telekinesis! Moving objects with the powers of your mind is done by a WIL + Sorcery Levels roll, and you get to lift things as though you had a strength of however many Success Levels you get (there's a chart way back when that defines how much weight you can lift by Strength). Picking up and throwing things requires no additional rolls, but if you want to do something precise you make a DEX + PER or Appropriate Skill - 1 roll. The -1 penalty is because you're manipulating it from afar, and that's tricky. Sorcerors can team up on this; they pool their success levels to get their effective strength. Very useful if you need to move, say, a snack machine across a room in a hurry. Thirdly, you get Quick Casting! Not every spell can be quick casted, but if it can, you can do it. There isn't even a difficulty modifier; you just get to skip the ritual and can cast the spell in a Turn.

Finally, you can create new spells! Guidelines are provided for doing just that. Basically, decide what you want the spell to do, run it by the Director (who is expected to veto anything that gives the caster an unfair combat advantage -- WHAT A REMARKABLE AND STRANGE CONCEPT), and if he says yes, there's a checklist to run the spell through to determine its power level. You check People Affected (ranges from Nobody to Bigger Than A Town), Effect Strength (from Minor to Awesome), and Duration (from Meaningless to Permanent). You then add on any Spell Requirements (a list of things that'd make casting harder, it's not a range this time). Add up the results, and you've got the spell's power level.

Let's do a nice, simple example. We're going to make a generic Magic Zappy Bolts spell for Alyson to cast. It'll only hit one person, so that's +1 Power Level. We'll make the Effect Strength Severe, which says in its description that it does damage equal to double the magician's Willpower per Success Level. +2 Power Levels. Duration is Meaningless, since the bolt is gone as soon as it's cast. +0 Power Level for that. I want the spell to be cast often and it needs to be quick-cast, so there are no Spell Requirements.

Added up, and the spell's Power Level is 3. Slightly difficult, but nothing Alyson can't handle. Can't keep calling it Magic Zappy Bolts, though. I name the spell Fury of the Vishanti, because nerd references are awesome.

Let's let Alyson cast it, to see what happens. Spellcasting for her is WIL + Occultism + Sorcery. She's got WIL 5, Occultism 5, and Sorcery 2, which means she's rocking a 12 before the dice even roll, so she'll always get at least a 13, which is three success levels. Huh, our little White Hat Witch literally cannot fail at casting spells of Power Level 3 or lower. Good to know. Alyson rolls a 7, giving her a 19 for that attack. If it hits the target (and a 19 probably will), those 5 success levels mean 50 damage (!) to the poor sap she blasted.

Oh, hi, what's up Caster Supremacy, didn't see you there. IS THERE NO ROLEPLAYING SYSTEM SAFE FROM YOUR SCOURGE?

Honestly, I don't know what do about this. Alsyon came by that 5 WIL honestly, and the book's descriptions of Sorcery 2 (just starting out) and Occultism 5 (extreme competence from lots of studying and practice) make them entirely reasonable for a young witch. Quick Casting has absolutely no penalties associated with it.

I went back and looked at the other stuff in combat to figure out what was different, and y'know what it is? Those damage things add Success Levels to the damage, they don't use it as a multiplier. So I'm going to house-rule it to be the same thing here, which would mean the zappy bolt did 15 damage instead. That's not at all shabby, considering that way back in Combat, our example punch from the Slayer only did 17 damage.

By the way, I can make that spell Power Level 5 by knocking the People Affected to 10 and the Effectiveness Level to Major, which does three times Willpower damage. So, as written, with that same roll Alyson could have 75 damage to up to 10 people, at once. And she could do it again next round. And she's a White Hat.

There's a supplement coming that's magic-focused, and good God do I hope they fix this there. Did nobody actually playtest with combat magic? Because I accidentally broke the damn game trying to give my Witch a useful alternative to punching dudes!

Wow. Yeah. So, didn't see that coming when I started writing out the example. Anyways, the rest of the chapter is an incredibly short list of six spells witches might want to use. The spell to revoke a vampire's invitation is in there, which is cool, and the other 5 are either useless or too highly situational to actually be used. I'm assuming a longer, better list will be in the magic supplement too.

Next time: Did you know Sunnydale was a place, and that it had locations in it? BECAUSE IT TOTALLY IS AND WE'RE GONNA SPEND A CHAPTER ON TELLING YOU THAT

Chapter Five: Sunnydale

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Chapter Five: Sunnydale

This Chapter is entirely fluff, and not even the good kind of fluff. Any fan of the show knows everything that's going to be presented, and anyone who isn't a fan is not going to get enough information out of the extremely brief descriptions. So, we're gonna run through this whole chapter really quick, which will be easy, because there's precious little content here.

Sunnydale has a conspiracy of silence among the adults who run the town. Nobody cops to the truth, partly because it would shake up the status quo and they don't like that, and partly because nobody who hasn't had direct experience with the truth is gonna believe them. This is a thing that goes on.

You can go to places! Sunydale High , recently rebuilt, sits directly above the Hellmouth . Those seeking higher learning can try University of California - Sunnydale , a lovely campus with surprisingly open-minded teachers. For partying down you can go to The Bronze , the only good club in town. People who don't want to go to a good club can hit The Fish Tank , a dive frequented by humans, or Willy's Place , a dive frequented by demons. If you want to buy magic stuff, The Magic Box is a place that sells it. There are also Hospitals , Sewers , and Graveyards , which, given your line of work, you will also want to visit. Well, you won't want to... but you will.

You can meet people! Here's a cool thing to bring up now. With the Brains/Combat/Muscle thing established for Guest Stars, the book developed a very concise sheet for them to get all the needed information across in a hurry. As this section introduces us to potential Guest Stars, we get each of their sheets.

Hi Joyce!

We are introduced to the following potential Guest Stars: Typical Sunnydale Student , Jonathan Levinson , a known maker of very stupid decisions who's yet to make his stupidest, and final mistake, Amy Madison , before she got turned into a rat, Harmony Kendall , post-vamping, Principal Bob Flutie , who learned that being a nice guy at Sunnydale High gets you torn apart by hyena-people, Principal Snyder , who did quite well as a weaselly little bastard until the day he discovered that giant snakes think weasels are snack food, Jenny Calendar , who thought Giles was cute and died for it, Joyce Summers , a super-cool mom, Generic Sunnydale Cop , and Generic Initiative Commando .

And that's it for Chapter Five.

Next time: Monsters!

Chapter Six: Monsters

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Chapter Six: Monsters

Grrr! Arrgh!

Just as a quick note, this chapter and the next one are Directors-only.

We get right into it with the book suggesting themes to build the monsters around. They correctly point out that a lot of Buffy monsters are metaphors for growing up (I'd argue that all the great ones were, but the Gentlemen would make me fucking wrong), and so you should definitely be thinking about what each monster represents as you build it. They offer four main concepts to choose from, though it's not intended to be a complete list: Cannon Fodder , The Archetype , The Hidden , and The Metaphor .

Cannon Fodder are, to borrow from Feng Shui, mooks. Don't put any thought into them, just give the Cast Members something to hit. Vampires are great for this. The Archetype is something iconic and mythical -- the Trickster, the Tempter, the Great Beast, the Dark Reflection. I am like 99% sure they're directly quoting Campbell here, mostly because of the capital letters. Also, the Trickster getting mentioned makes me wonder what would happen if the Scooby Gang ran afoul of Bugs Bunny. The Hidden are monsters that hide in the shadows, where the real challenge is finding the bastards. Finally we have Metaphors, those Buffy favorites. Something like "the guy who turns into a jerk the next morning" being personified as a boyfriend who literally loses his soul and turns evil after sex, y'know, just as a random example off the top of my head.

We are also instructed to sometimes let monsters come back as recurring threats. Yes, thank you book, that was something that needed to be told to us.

Next up we get Vampire 101, and oh my God they aren't kidding when they titled this section. Eight fucking pages on vampire mythology, their abilities, their weaknesses, popular conceptions that aren't true, and how they're created. It's all stuff that anyone who watched the show could tell you in your sleep. For those of you who didn't, I'll summarize real quick: Way back when, True Demons roamed the Earth. The last Demon to leave infected a human, and created the first vampire. To create a vampire, you have to be killed by one and then forced to drink its blood within a short period after your death. Vampires are soulless and aren't really the people any more; it's a demon wearing their skin with access to their memories. They are weak to crosses (the show is noticably mum on if other holy symbols would work), stakes to the heart, beheading, fire, and sunlight. They cast no reflection, but do show up on film. They need to be invited into a private residence that at least one living soul calls home, but have no problems with running water and do not need to sleep in coffins or with home soil. They cannot fly, shapeshift, hypnotize others, or turn into mist. Well, Dracula could, but he's special and those are apparently showy gypsy tricks. (Spike says so. Spike is not a trustworthy source when it comes to Dracula.)

Let's do some actual game mechanics. First, the "game face" thing I alluded to during character creation gets its optional rules here in a sidebar, and they are as inadequate as I promised.

What's amazing is that it reads like the concept of Cast Member vampires never even crossed their minds. Yeah, no, Angel and Spike fought in game face all the time and it was never a big deal when they vamped out, and also neither one of them ever wanted to pass for human because the people they were fighting might have extra issues about vampires. Sure. Looking ahead to the way future, the Angel Core Book is just as bad on this front, but you can use the rules to cobble together something better. That's for later, though.

Now for weakness mechanics. Vampires will dust if reduced to 0 Life Points or less by any of these means. We covered stakes in the heart and their conditional 5x multiplier back in combat. Crosses make vampires recoil, causing them to lose Initiative, and they can't attack anyone holding one. Knocking a cross out of someone's hand is a Disarm Maneuver. Touching a cross causes two points of damage per turn. A splash of holy water does 2 damage, 5 points for a glassful, and 10 points for a bucketful. If you can trick a vampire into drinking it, the damage gets a 20x multiplier and you probably get to see a really funny explosion. Beheading has no special rules, just that it'll dust a vampire if you kill him with it. Fire does no extra damage, but vampires heal from it slowly and only risk dusting at -10 Life Points, and they get Survival Tests as normal. Fire's pretty inefficient. Sunlight deals no damage on indirect contact and 2 damage for brief (i.e. less than a Turn) contact. Vampires in full sunlight take 20 damage per Turn -- in other words, your typical vampire has anywhere from 20 to 25 seconds to get the fuck out of the sun before you need an ashtray to pick them up.

They give NPC sheets for four varieties of generic vampire, in order of badassness. Brand new vampires, vampire minions, vampire veterans, and vampire lieutenants. We also get sheets for some vampires with names: Luke (a servant of the Master), Darla, and Dracula. Dead, dead, and actually pretty friendly as far as evil vampires go. Interesting.

Demon time! First off, a refresher on True Demons vs. normal demons. True Demons are... I'd say Cthonic in scope, but they definitely care about humanity (they actively hate it, but that's caring). Godzilla scope, then. Big, powerful, not to be fucked with, and thankfully not on Earth any more. If you want to make your own demons for the cast to fight, the book offers some possibilities, powers-wise. They might have natural weapons (doing anywhere from STR to 5xSTR damage), they can have an Armor Value of whatever the hell you want, and they might have special powers. They offer Hypnosis, Illusions, Telepathy, Possession, and The Wish as possibilities, which is a pretty anemic list. We're pretty clearly into "make it up yourself" territory here. You can also give them a weakness if you want.

NPC sheet time. We get a generic demon henchman, the Judge, a Sister of Jhe (they were the things everyone else was fighting during The Zeppo), and the scappy telepath demons from Earshot. These are odd goddamned choices so far.

Now we cover were-creatures. They're always predators and represent the bestial side of man. You don't say! They vary based on what animal they're based off of, but they all share in common the shape-shifting thing and the fact that they're stronger in the animal form. All they actually specify powers for are werewolves, and they just repeat all the information from the Werewolf quality. Super helpful there, guys.

Veruca the slutty werewolf (literally how they describe her) and Ms. French the She-Mantis are our NPC choices this time. So I guess you can figure out the Mantis-person abilities from that, at least.

Ghosts are up. Ghosts aren't corporeal, making them the rare Buffyverse problem that you can't deal with by punching it. You have to make them deal with their shit instead. Being incorporeal, Ghosts have no Physical Attributes, no Life Points, and no Combat or Muscle scores. Their possible abilities are hypnosis, possession, and telekinesis if they're poltergeists (they use their Brains Score - 2 to determine effective Strength). Unlike the other beasties we've seen so far, that actually seems like a pretty complete list. Oh, and there might be zombies! Zombies get +1 or +2 to STR but -1 to DEX. Buffyverse zombies, being generally corpses reanimated by magic instead of traditional pop-culture zombies, really only go down for good if you burn the corpse. It's generally easier to just break the spell.

For NPC sheets we get James Stanley and Grace Newman, the tragic teacher/student ghost couple from I Only Have Eyes For You, and Daryl Epps from Some Assembly Required, who was not a goddamned zombie he was a frankenstein! Those are different things!

Robots are up next, where they repeat all the stuff from the Robot quality and then give us Ted the Robot Boyfriend's NPC sheet. Man they did not feel like putting in effort here.

At least now we've reached Big Bads, who are interesting just because they are super powerful and generally fun to hate. The book doesn't give any guidelines for making them, which is okay by me because it's Big Bads, y'know? They're extremely unique and there's no pattern. They just skip right to the character sheets, giving us The Master, Drusilla, Angelus, The Mayor, Adam, and Glory. For the record, Glory's Combat Score is a staggering 23. She hits for six Success Levels on every swing (and a 23 is pretty much always gonna hit), and Sarah the example Slayer would need to roll a 10 to lay a glove on her. Do not fistfight the Hellgoddess, kiddies. And on that note, we close out Chapter Six.

Next time: Directing!

Chapter Seven: Directing

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Chapter Seven: Directing

This is a chapter full of advice for Directors. I feel like we need a sample Director to go with the sample players, to personalize all these choices. Director Joss! I am super clever! (Director Joss will not be making Joss Whedon choices. He will be making the choices I'd make to set up a game.)

First choice to make is Setting: Where does the game take place? Basically there are two main choices; Sunnydale or Not Sunnydale. If you choose Sunnydale, you have to decide what to do with Buffy and the Scooby Gang. Are they still around, operating in parallel to your group's adventures? The book cautions that it'd be extremely easy for the TV cast to overshadow the players' heroics. Is Buffy gone, for whatever reason? If so, how many of the Original Cast have remained behind, and what'd their reactions be to a new group of heroes popping up? This probably has a lot to do with how Buffy left. The Xander who got left behind when Buffy moved to LA is very different than the Xander who's mourning Buffy's death. Or maybe this is an alternate Sunnydale, where Buffy and the rest of the Originals never existed? It avoids all the other problems, but comes with its own: players who are fans are gonna know exactly what threats are waiting for them and will probably start moving pre-emptively against the Master and the Mayor, if not others. The book suggests making "subtle" changes, which is actually a better idea than just removing all familiar enemies. You could have a lot of fun setting up your players to fight the Master and, right when they make their move, an Initiative squad swoops in first and takes him down. PLOT TWIST, SUCKAS.

If you don't go with Sunnydale, your options are a lot more varied (naturally). We know from the show that there's other Hellmouths (apparently, you would not believe the shit that goes down in Cleveland). You can set your game on one of those, and build up a new town! You could also do the Wandering Heroes shtick, and have your players walk the earth from town to town, righting wrongs and moving on. Bit hard to build up a plot that way, though, and this is a pretty plot-happy game. There's one more option to consider: don't play modern day. Set your game in Wild West times, or the future, or whenever the fuck you like. This sidesteps a lot of problems, including the "but there's only one Slayer!" problem. (Again, between this and the remaining in Sunnydale stuff, it needs to be reiterated that this edition was written just after the fifth season ended.)

Director Joss has seen all seven seasons, so he's got solutions to the setting thing that the authors haven't considered. He figures that at least some of the fun of playing Buffy would be to run around Sunnydale and do Sunnydale things, so he just decides that the city wasn't wiped off the map in the finale, but Buffy and the Scoobies left anyway at the end. Ta-da, working setting.

Sidebar time! Most players of this game are probably fans of the show. What about the ones who aren't? The game points out that this can be a good thing -- they won't nitpick with show knowledge, because they have none. Then they basically say not to be dicks to them. Be nice, draw them in with the whole action/adventure/horror/comedy thing, and explain to them the things that need explaining.

Sidebar time! Why the fuck don't people who discover that Sunnydale is full of monsters just pack up and leave the next day? Well, quite a lot of them probably do. As for why your characters don't, the game offers some possible reasons. Either they've got a duty to do and can't leave (Slayers/Watchers/etc.), they're minors and can't leave because their parents aren't going anywhere, a supernatural force is preventing them from leaving (this is a seriously weak choice, you are bad if you pick it), or their heart is overruling their head on this one -- they care about someone and that person isn't leaving, so neither will they, or the monsters hurt them or someone they care about and they want payback, or they're just too damn stubborn to leave their home just because some fuckin' monsters are being assholes.

The next thing you have to decide is what your Cast makeup is going to be. This really should have been in the Character Creation chapter. Yeah, you can go with flat Director fiat here, but seriously, player feedback ought to be considered, and even if it's not the players need to be told this stuff before they make their characters, so they can plan shit out. Anyway, you've got choices here. You can do The Chosen One and Friends, which is a Hero/White Hat mix and obviously what the source material uses. All the books are assuming that this is what you're doing when it comes to examples and adventures. No pressure, just be aware. You can do All Heroes, which has got power to spare, so you might have problems actually threatening them. The book notes that by Season Five or so, the Original Cast has pretty much become this. (I glossed over it at the time, but they note in the Drama Points section that with enough leveling, White Hats become just as powerful as Heroes, and so at some point you need to consider reclassifying the White Hats and removing their 1-for-1 purchasing power.) You can do All Scoobies, which has the exact opposite problem, in that you're gonna need to work to not get your group slaughtered.

You can also do interesting themes. Maybe your players are an Initiative Commando squad, which changes the structure of a game quite a bit (your typical Buffy crew does not exactly make following orders a priority). They promise an Initiative-themed splatbook coming up. It was never made. You can do all Watchers, where your players go around doing Watcher business. The book sorta stumbles around trying to think of something cool for a bunch of Watchers to do, and whiffs on the really easy suggestion. Watchers do research on weird occult shit, right? It's a fucking squad of Indiana Joneses! That would actually be pretty fun. Go study ancient ruins, fight new species of monster, and figure out how to kill them. Finally they offer the rather broad suggestion of just thinking up any group that doesn't have a Slayer in it. Pretty sure the last three options you presented didn't have a Slayer, guys. Not as novel an idea as you maybe thought.

Director Joss does Chosen One and Friends, because he didn't think that choice was up to him and the players already made it when they picked their characters. He would have chosen that anyway.

Now that our setting and group composition are all picked out, we move on to planning a campaign. Warning: railroad tracks ahead.

Next time: Seasons and Episodes

Chapter Seven: Directing 2: Seasons and Episodes

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter Seven: Directing pt. II -- Seasons and Episodes

All right. I've danced around it here and there, but now it has to be said: this is a setting where you railroad your players. It's simply baked right into the game's DNA; drawing on a serial show that was all about the long term plot and not in the least concerned with people being able to watch episodes out of order means that you're going to get a game where the plot is set in stone and the players are expected to just go and do it. Still, it's really not that bad, and I think the #1 reason why is because it's baked right into the game's DNA . This is Buffy: The RPG. If you didn't give the plot to the characters this way, it wouldn't feel true to the setting and players wouldn't get the Buffy experience that they want. I mean, think about it for a second. If you got dropped into Sunnydale, met a Big Bad, and then were simply cut loose to figure out how to take him down and do it on your own, it might be fun, but would it feel like the show? It really wouldn't.

That's it for the personal disclaimers. Let's get into the planning. As I've alluded to before, Buffy sessions are broken up on the Seasons (macro) and Episode (micro) level. Each session doesn't have to cover a complete Episode, but personally I'd certainly shoot for that as a goal, just to give everyone a nice narrative arc for the night and come on, how fun is "okay you got into one meaningless fight and the plot demanded you lost another one, and you did some research, COME BACK NEXT WEEK"? And next week how much of what you researched are you gonna remember? The remainder of this chapter is basically a Best Practices guide to planning a game using this (rather unique, for an RPG) plotting structure.

When planning your plots, Directors should start on Seasons and then work downwards. This is solid advice. You need to have a direction in mind first, then you can start planning out the points on the way. If you don't have an end you're working towards, you get a directionless mess. So, Seasons first. And the first thing you should think about for a Season is its Big Bad.

Big Bads define their season, and their threat level needs to be appropriately... big. They're smart, they're strong, they've got goals, and they've got the means to achieve that goal if they're not stopped. If you're not hitting at least those four criteria, you need to go back to the drawing board. You don't need to stat up the Big Bad initially -- the chances of your players getting into a fight with them right away should be effectively nil. But you do need to understand them. First, figure out what they want. That's the most important thing. From there, you can figure out what they are. Figure out what powers they have. Their power level is gonna be high, so it's good practice to give them a limitation of some sort. With Big Bads, you need to address the "why haven't they accomplished their goal already" issue, so work the limitation that way. Sometimes the limitation and the goal are the same thing: The Master's goal was "get unstuck from the Hellmouth", and his limitation was being stuck in the Hellmouth. If you make a Big Bad so powerful that direct combat with them is suicide, make sure they have a weakness -- an Achilles' heel that'll take them out. In that case, finding the weakness is going to be the primary focus of the season.

So now you know your Big Bad, what they want, and why they don't have it yet. Next up is giving them resources, the things they'll use to achieve their goals. Big Bads usually have a small army of mooks, some more powerful lieutenants who can give our heroes a bad time, and they might even have one primary minion (these guys make great decoy Big Bads to give the heroes a sense of accomplishment right before they realize just how high the stakes actually are). Finally, you need to figure out a way to make it personal. Ending the world is all well and good, yay stopping that, but your players won't be really into it. Make them mad. Figure out what the Big Bad is gonna do to hit them where it hurts when the time comes (this action is usually what kicks off the march to the final battle, so you need to save it for relatively late). Seasons 2, 3, and 5 did a superb job of this. The sheer existence of Angelus sent Buffy over the edge, which he compounded by killing Jenny Calendar and generally trolling the fuck out of the rest of the gang. The Mayor turning Faith evil had the Scoobies furious, and he won no friends by taking Willow hostage and nearly killing Angel. Glory turned Tara insane and her entire goal revolved around killing Dawn. It is not a coincidence that those are the best seasons. Give people a reason to give a damn, or they won't.

With the Big Bad squared away (mostly -- you'll need those stats eventually!), we can move down a level, to Plots and Subplots. At this middle level, the railroad suddenly disappears and the Cast Members get a lot of agency back. Both Plots and Subplots are plot devices (duh) that carry across several episodes. Plots generally stretch out for an entire season, or at least a significant part of it. They are "important" -- that is, they drive a lot of the story. For example, in Season 3 we had two Plots: A new Slayer comes to town and it turns out she's a bad girl (in every way), and the Mayor is calling in his centuries of currying demonic favor in a plot to Ascend to becoming a True Demon. You may notice that these two plots intersected. They tend to do that, because all ongoing Plots build to a grand crescendo at the Season Finale. You can also use several Plots that feed into each other in a row. For example, "Some weird chick named Glory is in town for unknown reasons" became "Glory wants the Key, who is secretly Dawn, make damn sure she does not find this out" became "Glory is going to use Dawn to end the world".

Subplots are more low-key. They can disappear for long stretches of time only to show back up when you least expect them. They can go on for multiple seasons. Plots are story. Subplots are character , and as such, Cast Member input counts for a lot here. A relationship between two Cast Members is a good subplot. So is everyone's fear of what they're gonna do when they graduate from high school, or maybe one Cast Member's problem being bullied at school. Drawbacks are a great place to go looking for subplots to dangle in front of your players, but by all means let them come up with their own. Watch for things your players care about, and keep playing on that.

At this point we've got a setting, we've got Cast Members, we've got a Big Bad, and we've got the basic Plot that the Season will be following. We've got a pretty servicable world. Now it's time to populate it. This is the time to figure out any named Guest Stars your Cast Members are going to be interacting with on a regular basis. Get their names, some basic characterization, and make up Quick Sheets for them. In this case, Director Joss looks over his players and immediately sees Guest Stars he's gonna need. Nobody's playing a Watcher; they'll need one. Sarah took two Dependents, a mother and a sister -- they need to exist. So do the Loves of Alyson and Nick. (Joss is smart, so he will talk with Sarah, Alyson, and Nick about these loved ones first. Once they hash out what each person is like, Joss makes up their Quick Sheet.) Our heroes are gonna be going to school, so let's make up a teacher they like and the principal. They'll probably want to go to The Magic Box at some point, but Joss has decided that Giles is letting Anya (who didn't die SHUT UP) run that in his absence, and Xander stayed behind to be with her, so he can just grab their sheets. Just to be on the safe side, Director Joss also makes Quick Sheets for Generic Student and Generic Townsfolk.

You may have noticed that this is an awful lot of prep work! Buffy: The RPG is very much a believer in getting the work done now so you won't have to do it later. This stuff will pay off pretty immediately, too, because our Cast Members are going to enter a world populated by actual characters who'll be reacting uniquely to them.

We now get into how to stat up our Guest Stars, and like I said before, the method truly is this: Write Down Whatever Fucking Numbers You Want. Give them whatever Attributes seem appropriate, then just ignore even those and make up whatever Brains, Combat, and Muscle Scores you like. The book gives tables for all three scores and what scores in each range generally "mean". So Director Joss, when he goes to make Sarah's mom, doesn't have to figure out what sort of skills she'd have. He just has to know that she's not particularly strong, has never gotten into a real fight but knows how to throw a punch, y'know, in theory, and she's got a college degree. Checking the tables, and... Muscle Score 10, Combat Score 9, Brains Score 12. It's that simple. If you want to go back and check the Joyce Summers Quick Sheet I posted, you'll see that the game designers gave her 10/10/13. We disagree slightly on how well she could handle herself in a fight and just how smart she is, but using the chart provides pretty accurate results.

Sidebar time! But wait, don't players get pissed off when you railroad them? Well, yes they do, so the sidebar advocates the ever-popular Schrodinger's Railroad; wherever your Cast decides to go, that's where the next plot point happens. They do say that eventually players are gonna catch on that their decisions don't matter if you keep pulling that, so you might want to make wrong choices have actual consequences every now and again (they're not in place to stop an ambush, people die). Oh, and try to be "flexible" with Plots and Subplots.

The Season is all ready to be played, which means we can start working on individual Episodes. Each Episode should have a Setup, Turning Points, and a Climax. Setup is fairly self-explanatory: Something Has Happened that's going to set the Episode in motion. Once you're set up, you can move to Turning Points. These are actually badly named. From the name you'd expect them to be plot twists, but what they really are from a TV perspective is act breaks. They're dramatic moments that advance the story, and you should space them out evenly through the Episode. Stuff like finding a dead body, or sudden danger, or, yes, a plot twist.

Sidebar time! Other ways you can run a Buffy campaign. You can do The Quest, which is more traditional RPG style (Here is a Big Bad. Go kill it.), Soap Opera, which is heavy on the character roleplaying and light on the actual plot (LARPers! ), and The One-Shot, which is a one-shot and you guys know what that is.

We get a quick reminder that Episodes should have some subplots running through them and then are told about the Climax. This one's pretty obvious too. There should be a payoff to what you revealed in the Setup, and while not every Episode has to end in victory (and not every victory is without cost), most of them should. If your Cast isn't actually accomplishing anything tangible with all their hard work, then they won't have fun. The book gets in one more jab at the White Wolf crowd, saying that a Cast mired in existential angst is "a lot less fun than it sounds".

After that, all that's left is a few notes on special Episodes. Series Premieres should be sure to set the tone properly and to give the Cast a good reason to stick together in the future ("we all just fought a bunch of vampires" is a pretty good reason, historically), and you're advised to blitz past the whole "oh gosh vampires are real, what a shock" thing very quickly because blah blah blah your players know already that vampires are gonna be a thing that exists. Get the Cast up to the same speed as quickly as possible, and off-camera if you can. Season Finales should be sure to wrap up all still-running Plots, provide for the final defeat of the Big Bad, and generally not skimp on the spectacle or the drama. Season Premieres should be sure to pick up any dangling plot threads and start working them into new Plots and Subplots, at least hint at the new Big Bad, and give the Cast time to establish what everyone was doing over their summer vacations, so to speak. (This is where I point out again that their suggested bonuses for Season Finales are too low; you want people to have changed over the break then give them the goddamned points to do so .)

Final section, and it's a short one.

In conclusion: Have fun!

Next time: A Sample Adventure!

Chapter Eight: Sample Adventure

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter Eight: Sample Adventure

I like sample adventures an awful lot. I think every sourcebook ought to come with one; for one thing, after walking a group of new players through character creation for two goddamned hours, it's nice to have something short and pre-written to run them through so they can get a feel for the system and their characters. (Side note: The adventure in Paranoia is my all-time favorite. It contains setpieces specifically designed to teach people how to behave in Alpha Complex, and it's good fun.) So, Buffy having one made me happy.

I figured that having the writer just take his sample characters through pre-written adventures is only funny if the adventure itself is innately horrible. This one isn't. I've got issues with it, but overall it's solid and there's certainly nothing objectionable about it. So, I thought it'd be fun to head to IRC and recruit four players to go through the sample adventure as the characters I made.

Turns out, it was a lot of fun. They went above and beyond what I'd hoped for. Not only did I get to see exactly what happened when the sample adventure was exposed to actual players, but they got wonderfully into the whole setting and got off some great quips and really creative shit in combat. Speaking of combat, it's worth noting that despite the worries brought up when I described it, it actually flowed really well in practice. Everybody decided what they wanted to happen that Turn, and then we rolled to see exactly how well all that worked, and then it was time to do it again. Really smooth, and having everyone decide what's going down before any dice get rolled encourages the group to work together.

Before we start, I'd like to thank the players. mikan as Sarah the Slayer, Dedman_walkin as James the vampire, unzealous as Alyson the witch and MormonStarWars and Nuns as Nick the normal guy (MSW couldn't make it the second night). Thank you so much. Anything in quotation marks during the writeup comes directly from them.

Okay, writeup time. Before the adventure actually starts, we need to talk about the Djinn. Who's the Djinn? He's the Buffy writers' pet Big Bad. Making his first appearance (naturally) in this book, he'll also show up in Slayer's Handbook and Monster Smackdown . The adventure in the back of The Magic Box isn't a Djinn appearance, but they do devote a sidebar to giving you ways to work him in. A dude who's gonna be popping up so much deserves some explanation, and thankfully, they give it.

The Djinn is a super-powerful entity from beyond reality who's been sealed in the space between universes by an alliance of human and demon mages -- the fact that humans and various demon races were working together towards a common goal should suggest what sort of a threat he posed (apocalyptic). After a few centuries trapped -- wait, a few centuries ? When was this guy's last incursion, and why doesn't anyone seem to remember it if he was such a huge threat? -- he managed to open a tiny hole in the prison. Not enough to get out, but enough to project images of himself. He uses them to make deals with people. See, once he makes a deal with somebody, he can use his powers on their behalf to grant them a wish. He's not doing this out of altruism, naturally. Once somebody's soul is warped and evil enough through the power he grants, he can claim it. And once he claims enough souls, he can use their power to break free.

So they're pretty fond of this guy; in fact, the writeup for this adventure suggests that he'd make a pretty good Big Bad for your Cast's current Season. On that, I call bullshit. Remember our Big Bad Best Practices from Chapter Six? The Djinn falls rather short on those. He's got no resources. He's going the Master route of same goal and limitation -- "I am trapped and do not want to be" is a direct retread. He's limitlessly powerful and you can't fight him anyway, because if he ever appears on Earth that means you've lost. The endgame here is getting the spell on him recast. How is that any sort of proper climax, asking a bunch of more powerful people for help and then letting them do the work? I want a Big Bad you can punch in the face, and if you've done your job and made things personal, your Cast is going to want to punch his face too. With the Djinn, you can't. For all those reasons, I don't like him as a Big Bad. As a roving MacGuffin for having weird shit happen every now and again, eh, I guess. He's a Subplot at best.

Sidebar time! The adventure is written to take place in Sunnydale and involve kids in high school, but you can move it or age it up if that's what'll fit your Cast better. Neither would be particularly hard to do.

Sidebar time! You don't have to use the Djinn. This could be fueled by some other, already-established nasty in your campaign, or just be the result of a cursed artifact or dark spell.

Sidebar time! Remember to roleplay your NPCs and give them personalities.

Today's adventure begins on a lovely morning at Sunnydale High. Classes have yet to start, so our heroes are hanging around their lockers and chatting. (Yes, apparently 200-odd year old James is pretending to be a teenager in order to go to high school, which they hold in the daytime. Thankfully, it will soon become clear that he's doing this because he thinks it's fucking hilarious and to hang out with his friends, not to score jailbait, so that's okay then.) "James," Nick says, "you have to stop trying to correct the teacher about what happened in 1858. She'll figure it out!" And with that, the game begins. As the banter turns to the high mortality rate of Sunnydale High teachers (James puts the kibosh on the early theory that they're particularly delicious), something happens!

Brian White, Donny Ferrelli, and Diego Valdez, three football stars and all around 80s movie jock stereotypes, have started bullying Julius Desmond, short, pudgy, and all around 80s movie nerd stereotype. We're starting broad here, people. They keep on slapping his books to the floor, making him pick them up, and then slapping them to the floor again. The adventure is dangling this as an early invitation to get involved in the plot: mean jocks are bullying some poor nerd and catch the Cast's attention doing it. Most groups are going to take the obvious bait and go protect the helpless, but if they don't, the adventure says that eventually the jocks will have enough fun and go off to their lockers.

Luckily, our sample group is made up of good people who are also smart enough to know a hook when they see one, and they go over to break up the bullying. The adventure says that the jocks, when stood up to, will bluster like tough guys and immediately back down. For flavor, I decide that they're utterly stymied by the 5'3" blonde girl who's talking to them like she thinks she can kick their ass and it'd be really, really funny if they actually tried something, and a group of confident people telling them to knock off the bullshit is fairly outside their normal frame of reference anyway. Julius stammers out some thanks and gets out of there (pretty girls are being nice to him and that's way outside his normal frame of reference).

Then Brian starts screaming like a girl.

A moment later, Diego's screaming too. There's a headless corpse stuffed into Brian's locker, and the head's in Diego's. The adventure as written suggests a fear test here, but I don't like fear tests except in extreme circumstances, so I ignore it. Buffy heroes do not freak out that easily, it's unheroic! Anyway, the corpse is easily recognizable at a glimpse, no rolls needed. Usually, Sean Lowell, another football star and all-around jerk, hangs out with Brian, Donny, and Diego and joins in their "fun". The characters just assumed he was out sick or something today. Well, if he was, he's not sick anymore. Alyson starts off a trend of playing her Talentless Drawback by making a string of terrible jokes by murmuring "Oh, Sean, this is no way to get ahead."

So, it's definitely a good news/bad news situation. Good news: School is cancelled for the day, making it the twelfth day off for murder this year so far (the adventure specifically says so, which is hilarious detail work). Bad news: Somebody's been killed, and it will almost certainly be the Cast's problem.

I've gotta give it to the adventure writers. This is a pitch-perfect opening for a Buffy game, isn't it? You can practically see the camera cinematography in your head, how it'd swoop in on the gory lockers and then cut to Alyson making her very bad joke, and then off of the rest of the gang's reactions, it's time for the opening credits!
Why is it impossible to find the actual opening credits on YouTube?

This is running long and we've started the adventure with a bang, so let's take a commercial break and come back soon.

Next time: Dramatis personae, red herrings, dead ends, and some very inept vampires!

Chapter Eight: Sample Adventure 2: Investigations and Vampires

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter Eight: Sample Adventure pt. II -- Investigations and Vampires

With the discovery of Sean's body, the teachers swing into action (they've had plenty of practice at this). They start shooing students away from the grisly scene and calling the busses back to take everybody home. That'll take a little bit, though, so the Cast has a window to do some investigating. Sean's body is certainly interesting, and as for the living: Sean will be mourned by his girlfriend Donna Taylor, his other girlfriend Louise Baywillow, and Brian, Donny, and Diego. He will not be missed by any of Sunnydale High's collection of nerds, geeks, and outcasts. His particular favorite victims were Julius (who was being bullied in the opening), Peter Epstein, Keith Dicks, Danielle Pfeiffer, and any Cast Members with the Misfit Drawback.

The adventure as written simply presents this information and doesn't make any mention of the Cast needing to do something to know it, so I assume you're just supposed to tell your Cast Members those basic facts, which I do. It's all fairly public knowledge (Donna is pretty much the only person at Sunnydale High who doesn't know about Louise), and presumably any Cast not in the know could just ask random passers-by until they get the information. I decide that Nick's enough of a social butterfly (he's got Contacts!) to know the popular kids, and Alyson's Nerd Quality means that she'd be at least aware of the underclass who was suffering, even if she wasn't quite a member herself.

The players pretty much all leap at wanting to investigate Sean's body for clues. They've got to distract the teachers who are standing guard to do it, but that's easily accomplished -- Alyson breaks into large, showy tears right where they can see her, and during the distraction Sarah and James slip by to take a look. Anyone examining the body discovers that the murder weapon was a bladed or slashing weapon of some kind, and a very sharp one, because the decapitation was done with one single stroke. A Perception + Doctor roll will reveal some additional information, as will an Intelligence + Computers - 2 roll, if the Cast decides to hack into police records later. Sarah doesn't make hers -- PER 3 and no Doctor ranks. James makes the case that Crime ought to be applicable here too, which I find persuasive. He makes his roll, and gets the bonus information: The time of death was sometime between 9 pm and midnight last night. That's all anyone can discover from Sean's body.

With that information source tapped out, the players move to the next obvious step -- going through the list of people with names that I just fed them and seeing what each one's story is. They actually split up for this, with Nick and James talking to Sean's girlfriends and Sarah and Alyson talking to the nerds, which amused me. No in-game effect, though. Let's go through the list and see what everyone has to say in Act 1, shall we?

Donna is genuinely griefstricken. She didn't know about Louise and thought she had a fairy tale romance. Those don't usually end with Prince Charming stuffed into a locker with his head in another one.
Louise is... actually sort of a bitch! She's a friend of Donna's and was only fucking around with Sean because, and I'm quoting the adventure here, "she just wanted to increase her status with the gang by taking him from Donna." The adventure lays in a mild red herring by saying that apparently she told her friend Linda Robinson that she was afraid Sean might get hurt at some point. Linda Robinson is mentioned nowhere else and I have no idea how any group would concievably get this information.
Keith lives up to his last name by being an asshole to everybody he meets. Not even the other nerds like him. (Super not at all obvious secret spoiler: he's the killer )
Peter is a nice guy with no real personality defect beyond having the unfortunate tendency to act like he's the smartest guy in the room. He pretty much is the smartest guy in the room, but still. Manners, Peter.
Danielle is that overweight girl who tries to compensate for it by wearing a lot of New Age-y mystical bullshit. I've met, like, six different versions of her in real life, so she just makes me sorta sad. She's also our premiere source for red herrings in this act, because she is covered in mystical bullshit in Sunnydale, where that stuff sometimes works .
Mr. Xavier Welch is... wait, who the fuck is this guy? This is the first time he's mentioned and he only pops up in these "this is what each person you might want to talk to has to say" lists. He's got a subplot where he's suicidally depressed and the players can talk him out of it, which is nice except for how he's a total nonentity that nobody will ever meet, and also he has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. I'll leave him out from now on because he is Professor Not Appearing In This Episode.

Sidebar time! Get your players to the Bronze tonight, because that is where the next plot happens. Figuring out how to do that is entirely on you.

The players interacting with the guest stars sticks pretty close to the script, with a few things worth noting. Louise's basic not-giving-a-fuck nature seems to putting her in the players' crosshairs as a suspect, which I don't want because she and Donna are slated to pretty much disappear after this. Luckily, Nick asks a spectacularly stupid question with "You don't think whoever it is will come after you next, do you?" I take the opportunity to have Louise take that to mean Donna did it and is gonna come at her next for revenge, freak the fuck out, and go over to Donna to confess. Donna slaps her and then the two women collapse in each other's arms, crying their eyes out. Nick feels like he helped.

Keith is such a spectacular douchebag that Sarah invents some spontaneous backstory. "Okay, that's it. Keith, I've seen the IMs you sent to candygurl11. That's Nick and James. Play nice, or I'll post them all over school." I rule that this is hilarious and therefore totally happened, and Keith gets embarassed and scuttles off. The players judge him "too obvious to be a suspect", and I laugh very hard on the inside.

Plot-wise, the players bite satisfyingly at the Danielle red herrings, which I encourage by having her cheerfully confess to the murder (she found this amazing book at Barnes and Noble about entreating the dark sides of her moon-self and has been doing this really great affirmation from it and wow, Sean died! Good karma!). Alyson cannot believe her ears and James busts out laughing, but they come away knowing that while what she's doing is probably bullshit, she is at least trying to do dark magic. As for the Bronze, I have Louise say that she was going to meet Sean at the Bronze at 10 pm last night but he called around 8:30 and cancelled, and they had a date planned at the Bronze tonight to make up for it, and Keith makes a snide remark that he might have a party at the Bronze tonight to celebrate Sean's death, and Alyson and Sarah can come if they wear something slutty. (Keith is an utter asshole.)

Since they have come away learning basically nothing other than "the Bronze is a place that exists and people go there", the players decide to go to the Bronze tonight, and I celebrate because I did a good job getting the railroad tracks in front of them. Alyson closes out the scene with another terrible joke: "Hey Nick, why do vampires make poor investigators? They're horrible when it comes to stakeouts!" Sarah cracks up and we change scenes to the Bronze, later that night.

Waiting at the Bronze are a glorified cutscene and then a fight. Brian, Diego, and Donny are all there. Brian and Diego are extremely pissed off and scared. Donny, who didn't get any surprises in his locker that morning, is trying to calm them down. When nothing works, he slips away for a little bit and then comes back with a brown paper bag which absolutely does not have a bottle in it, why would you possibly think that. The trio head out through a side door to have a few drinks in the alley. Three extremely pale girls look at each other, nod, and follow them out. It's a Perception + Notice - 2 (the penalty is for trying to notice things across a crowded and noisy club) roll to notice the three pale girls, and with three Success Levels players will get the additional information that they're vampires (as if "pale" wasn't a dead giveaway). All four of the Cast get the basic roll, but only Nick, with his Notice 3 and Situational Awareness, gets three Success Levels. The players follow the jocks and the vampires out into the alley. James gets a girly drink from the bartender first, because he wants to use it to make fun of the jocks.

Out in the alley, the jocks are passing the bottle around, as Donny continues to try to cheer up his friends. Julius and Keith pick just then to walk by the sidewalk in front of the alley (looks like Keith did decide to have that party). Bad timing, boys. Brian and Diego decide that some nerd-bashing is just the thing to raise their spirits, and Donny is happy to see his friends acting more like their old selves, so he goes along. Just then, a gang of vampire girls emerges from the shadows deeper in the alley, turning things from jocks vs. nerds to vampires vs. humans. Luckily, that's the moment when our heroes enter the alley. The adventure says three vampires, but Directors should scale it up so that the vampires have sufficient numbers for one of them to get away. I decide on six; one for each Cast Member and two more to chase the civilians. One of them ought to be able to get away.

Combat time! Initial turn order was Sarah, James, Vampire Chicks, Nick, Alyson. I gave Alyson the generic zappy bolt spell I made up in Chapter 4 (the non-gamebreaking version), and she plans to use that. Nick's gonna kick a vampire, and I split the vampires up, going with my planned split of one for each Cast Member and two for the civilians. James goes multi-action to be hilarious. He's going to drop his cigarette into his girly drink to light it on fire, throw the flaming drink at a vampire, and then kick her into one of the ones chasing the civvies. Sarah's got three actions, so she's going to grab a garbage can lid, hit the vampire going at Nick in the face with it, and then hit Alyson's vampire in the face with it.

Sarah and James got creative, so I need to figure out their mechanics. I decide that garbage can lids, being flimsy, add no extra damage, so Sarah's just doing a fancy Punch with Getting Medieval instead of Kung Fu. James will be doing Throw Weapon, with the flaming drink dealing no damage but setting the vampire on fire, and a Jump Kick. Sarah's first attack hits but the second one misses, being at a -4 penalty and all. Nick's vampire goes staggering back with a broken nose, but Sarah's vampire then grabs the garbage can lid and flings it away. James rolls high and both his attacks land. End result, two vampires tangled up on the ground and on fire. I decide that they're gonna spend this Turn stop, drop, and rolling to get out the fire and next Turn getting up. This really shows the Cinematic Unisystem at it's finest, by the way. The Combat Maneuvers are versatile, and I've got tons of leeway to decide what happens. Do the rules say anywhere that one vampire kicked into another one will tangle them both up and drop them? Do they say that being on fire costs a Turn of action, and being dropped costs a Turn? No, they do not. They say nothing . It's up to me. It's really very similar to being in a fight in Feng Shui, really.

Anyhow, our vampire girls are up. Two are burning and down, and Sarah's punch did about half of that vampire's Life Points in damage, so I rule her staggered and not acting this turn. That leaves Sarah's vampire, Alyson's vampire, and one chaser. Sarah's vampire whiffs, which is unsurprising; they've got a Combat Score of 14 and Sarah's got 13 points towards Dodge before she even rolls the dice. They weren't gonna lay a finger on her without ganging up. Alyson's vampire has a better chance, but Alyson rolls a 10 on her Dodge. The last vampire sees her comrades being effortlessly taken apart and makes the wise decision to go after easier prey, running out of the alley and after the jocks and nerds. I spend a Drama Point to ensure that she gets away clean. Sorry, Cast. Director fiat is a game mechanic here! Nick hits his kick, getting the vampire right in her just-broken nose. Owwwwww. She drops. Alyson goes for her zappy bolt, and... rolls a 10. Are. You. Kidding. Me. Between the 10 on the dodge and now the 10 on the attack, Alyson deserves a prize. I decide that the punch was extremely ungainly and left the vampire wide open to a counter-attack, which Alyson exploited perfectly, so double damage on that attack and the vamp goes down.

Alyson points at her vampire threateningly, her finger crackling with magical energy, in a clear "you stay down" sign. Nick takes off after the vampire who got away, the last vampire standing takes a furious swing at Sarah, and James is gonna spend his turn staking the two helpless vampires and then lighting a new cigarette on their smoldering ashes. Sarah gets creative again, deciding she's gonna grab the fist coming at her and use it to pull the vampire onto a conveniently broken-off sharp piece of wood that just so happened to be in the alley. (Feng Shui again. It's an entirely plausible thing to be in an alley, and the players need it to be there, so it was always there.) I decide this is a Grapple and then a Stake Through the Heart, but it doesn't much matter. Sarah, recognizing that she's trying something somewhat out of the ordinary, spends a Drama Point. I don't care what modifiers you throw at her, a Slayer spending a Drama Point is gonna do whatever the fuck she wants. The move works perfectly and the vampire goes poof. James stakes his two (they're prone and defenseless), and Alyson's holding hers motionless.

Six vampires attacked two Heroes and two White Hats. Three are dusted, one is beaten within an inch of her unlife, one has been taken prisoner, and one got away by Director fiat. Elapsed time: ten seconds . I call combat over right here, because c'mon, this fight is over. They've got two vampires totally at their mercy and with no fight left in 'em.

Players jumping the rails count: 1 . The book does not, for a moment, entertain the notion that the players might take one of the vampire gang prisoner and start questioning her. I didn't see it coming either! This is why I wanted real players; I never would have anticipated something like this. After staking the badly wounded vampire as a demonstration of how prisoners are gonna be treated tonight, the players start questioning their captive. "Have you fine young ladies decapitated any gentlemen tonight?" asks Alyson. Sarah cheerfully responds with a "Yes!" before deflating. "Wait, you weren't talking to me", she pouts. The vampire chick forcefully denies decapitating anyone. Well, not lately. There was that one guy in Minneapolis, but that was at the all-you-can-eat buffet and there was already a chocolate fountain, so they thought it'd be hilarious. Nick takes this opportunity to re-enter the alley, having been unable to find the jocks, the nerds, or the vampire who went after them. The players quickly confer and, deciding that the prisoner's no more good to them, stake her too.

Then Donny staggers back into the alley, clutching at his chest. "Help me," he whispers. Then he falls down dead.

Aaaaaand scene. Each player gets a Drama Point as a consolation prize for not being able to save Donny, and we cut to commercials.

Next time: Fruitless investigations, silly pop culture parodies, and the unsatisfying climax!

Chapter Eight: Sample Adventure 3: Solving Murders By Process of Elimination

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Chapter Eight: Sample Adventure pt. III -- Solving Murders By Process of Elimination

So when we left off, Donny had just staggered back into the alley bleeding out from a chest wound and then died. And a vampire had definitely gone chasing after him! COINCIDENCE? (Yes.)

First thing any players with their heads screwed on straight are going to want to do in this situation is, just like with Sean, check the body. PER + Doctor again. Cast Members who make the roll will learn that Donny got done in by a heavy blade, either an axe or a sword, most likely the same one that killed Sean. With the entire group free to examine this body without busybody teachers and students around, somebody's going to make that roll. In this case, Nick gets it first, and they get to go from "it's a slashing or bladed weapon" to "it's an axe or a sword". We're slowly narrowing down possibilities. This is good plotting for an Episode that is, for now, a murder mystery. It won't last. Donny's body's been examined, so the players decide to follow the blood trail back and see where the attack happened.

Players jumping the rails count: 2 . Surprisingly, the idea that a Cast might want to keep playing detective after they don't get any leads from Donny isn't covered. The players are entirely correct in pointing out that gaping chest wounds leave blood trails, so thinking on my feet, I have the trail lead across the street, down about 50 feet, and then going into another alley. Unfortunately, that alley was a dead end, and that's where Donny was stabbed. The players look for footprints. I decide that they find none, and I'm still not sure on if I flubbed that call or not.

Here's the sequence I made up: Donny runs from the alley, hooks left, and goes down the street. He dodges into the second alley and finds it's a dead end, but luckily, the vampire wasn't following him. He stays in there for a few minutes until he's sure the coast is clear. Before that happens, the killer arrives and gets him. Because the killer is a magical construct (Keith is not acting directly), it promptly vanishes after the fact, so no footprints. You tell me what clues that should have left.

Anyway, the vampire gang is an intended red herring, but the players as a group are not believing for one second that they're responsible for this. Sarah's player demolishes them as suspects in four words: "Not vampires. They'd feed." And... yeah. Both of the corpses have been bloody. Neither's been killed in a way vampires usually kill. The only real reason to believe it's the vampire gang at this point is that they're the only monsters anyone's seen so far. My players, bless their hearts, seem to be pretty familiar with this detective work thing. The jocks are a target, therefore it's not them. The vampires are a red herring. They're starting to focus in on the nerds.

They want to look into the nerds. Right now they're thinking that one of them physically did the murdrers, so they want to know if any of them have anything to do with SCA, kendo, or any other nerdly persuit that would give them training in combat with bladed weapons. I nudge them about Alyson's computer skills and they retire to Alyson's house so she can do some cyber-sleuthing.

Alyson hits her INT + Computers roll easily and gets basic web activity of each of our cast of nerds. Julius is big into gaming, but he pirates his games. Bad Julius. Alyson suggests,, and for Danielle and I shrug and say "pretty much". She's also poking around the edges of actual magic stuff. So far, all she's really discovered is that The Magic Box exists and is a place to buy things. Keith frequents several fan-boards for campy old TV shows, and Peter loves to argue on wiki sites. The cast makes general noises of disapproval, and we transition to the next day, at school.

Another day at school means another day of investigations. This time, instead of conversations the Cast might have with the Guest Stars, there's a list of clues to possibly uncover.
Julius and Keith have a whispered argument which ends in Julius shoving Keith and walking away. Keith shakes his head and looks sad. Neither will give any explanations.
Peter has been checking out a lot of books about magic from the library. Turns out he does it because there's pictures of naked women in those. Peter. You are a smart guy and this book was written in 2002. There's easier ways.
Danielle has been buying a lot of black candles and occult paraphernalia from The Magic Box. She is trying to do a spell -- to make herself look pretty. She also has no fucking idea what she's doing and her "spell" is total bullshit.

Sidebar time! Play out the red herrings for as long as your Cast is having fun, just be sure to keep them aware that two jocks are down and two are left; in other words, they need to know that Brian and Diego are marked men. You might also want to have the Cast notice a funny mark on Keith's hand right around now. (This is literally the only clue that points to Keith in the entire adventure, and it's optional . Argh.) The book acknowledges that this is blatant as fuck and any Cast worth their salt will realize that "funny mark on this guy" = "he's the bad guy", so you'd better be ready to put funny-looking marks on all the other suspects too. I throw my hands up in despair and skip it, only clue or not.

My players are pretty fixated on Danielle by now (I actually gave them her clue during the computer searches), and she's the only person that they talk to. Danielle stays true to form and goes on about all the awesome mystical knowledge she's gaining. She brought her book to school because Alyson expressed interest yesterday, and is glad to show it to Alyson upon request. Alyson needs about ten seconds to see that it's about as magical as a phone book. Keeping the sidebar in mind, I decide that Brian and Diego are seriously impressed by the gang's heroics last night. They come up to the group and say that they're going to be barricading themselves in Brian's house tonight, and they will pay the Cast $20 to act as bodyguards. They're scared. The players want some time to think it over.

The adventure path actually splits off here. If the Cast Members have bit on the vampire gang bait, they can go after them. Research rolls will reveal that they're called the Chicas (1 success level), their leader is named Gabby Blades (2), and Gabby likes using swords in combat (4 levels). Finding where they hang out is an INT roll with several possible applicable skills -- Crime, Computers, Mr. Fix It or Drive (they're a biker gang, see), or any other skill your cast has that they can convince you would yield up the information. There are five possible locations, and each Success Level over the first eliminates one wrong choice. With the pooling success levels mechanic, this is trivially easy, which is sorta the point. They're red herrings. They're meant to be found. A Cast who hunts them down will get into a very satisfying fight with a vampire gang (Directors who think Gabby has potential can have her escape, otherwise she gets dusted with her gang). Then they find out the next day about Brian and Diego's horrific murders. Oops.

That's not going to happen here, obviously. What the players do instead is actually pretty interesting. First, they go to the Magic Box to check on Danielle's purchases, which means I get to have an Anya cameo and am super happy about that. Anya remembers Danielle and happily confirms selling her black candles and mystical thingies. The black candles are marked up the most on price and the "artifacts" are mass-produced crap with similarly high profit margins. Finally realizing that they're tapping a dry well when it comes to Danielle and having no other leads, the Cast... splits up. Alyson and James, the two cleverest characters with the most ranks in Occultism, are going to go do research in the hopes of digging up a lead. Nick and Sarah will take the jocks up on their bodyguard duty offer.

Players jumping the rails count: 2.5 . I didn't see the Cast splitting up coming, but luckily everything they're doing is covered. I cover the researchers first. Alyson and James total up seven Success Levels between them -- they are good at research! I tell them that what Danielle's doing is emphatically not magic, and give them all the possible information on the Chicas. Since they've still got Success Levels to spare after that information, I give them the opportunity to ask any other questions that they might have, but they don't have any. They're gonna turn to researching Chicas locations, but since I know that what Sarah and Nick are about to experience will render all that moot, I do a scene switch to them.

Sarah and Nick are in the middle of their sixth game of Madden against Brian and Donny when the TV suddenly goes weird. The signal flickers, cuts out, and is replaced by static. Then, out of the static, a woman steps out. (Nick: "Oh, God, we didn't even watch the damn tape.") It's Dara of Neo Atlantis, wielding her signature twin axes. Dara, of course, is from the campy Saturday afternoon show of the same name, sister show to Journeys of Odysseus. (Yes, she's Xena.)

We have now reached the point of tonight's Episode where things get very silly, very fast.

Combat time! Turn order is Dara, Sarah, Nick, Jocks. The jocks are going to go Full Defense and try not to die. Nick decides to spend his turn hustling them out of the room and locking them in the bathroom -- it would take several turns to move all the furniture they have blocking off the doors. Sarah's going to grab the Xbox and get one of the axes buried in it. She's still mad at the video game (it didn't let her kill anybody! ) and doesn't entirely believe this is real, so apparently her plan here is that destroying the console will make the magic lady go away, and if it doesn't, at least she takes away an axe and gets her revenge. Dara is very real, and this is just a well-described Disarm action. Sarah spends a Drama Point, apparently expecting it to be a little more difficult than it's gonna be. Meanwhile, Dara is going multi-action with her axes to slash each jock once. The adventure doesn't have anything specific to say about her behavior, but I figure that as a magical construct with "Kill Brian and Diego" as her prime command, she's gonna go at them single-mindedly unless and until somebody gets in her way.

Dara's Combat Score is 19 to the jocks' 11. It's not even a contest. Each axe slash does 26 damage and the jocks only have 34 each. They are in bad shape. Without assistance, Brian and Diego would have been massacred in two turns, but luckily they've got the Slayer on guard duty. Sarah gets the Xbox in the way of the next axe stroke and then wrenches the axe out of Dara's hands. Nick gets the jocks out of there and locks them in the bathroom. For the next turn, Nick's going to call Alyson and James to come help and then asking the jocks where they keep the booze -- he's planning on making a Molotov cocktail. Sarah's using both her available extra actions, spending one action to get the axe out of the Xbox and the next two to slash Dara twice. She's spending yet another Drama Point to do this. Dara, meanwhile, has taken notice of Sarah when she lost her axe. She flips the other axe around in her grip and then swings twice at Sarah, once with the butt of the axe and once with her fists. (It's two punches. Dara wasn't commanded to kill anyone but Brian and Diego, so she's not going to.) Sarah dodges the first attack handily, but she's being attacked twice and didn't budget any extra dodges, so the second one lands. Solid punch from Dara. Sarah is taking years of frustration with video games out on Dara, who she is still convinced is some sort of 3D video game. Both slashes hit. Dara doesn't react, but they still hurt. The jocks tell Nick to look in the dining room.

Nick spends his turn running to the dining room, Sarah's going to grab Dara and pin her to the floor (a Slam Tackle), and Dara's going to try a Jump Kick followed by regular Kick combo. Dara whiffs on the jump kick and loses her second attack, and Sarah rolls a 10. Dara goes down. Nick finds the bottles. Since Sarah's got Dara at her mercy, I put Sarah ahead in the turn order now. Nick's going to spend his turn making a Molotov Cocktail. Dara's going to try and headbutt Sarah, who takes offense at that and decides to headbutt her first. Three times. Spending another Drama Point to do it. Wham, wham, and WHAM, all three headbutts connect. On the third one, Dara runs out of Life Points and promptly disappears. Nick comes running back into the room with his newly made molotov and is sorta disappointed.

Just then, Captain Steel of the Starship Intrepid teleports into the house, blasts the bathroom door apart with his laser gun, and uses his teleport ring to beam himself and the jocks away. Told you things were gonna get silly.

The players get three Drama Points -- one each for saving Brian and Diego, and one for having them captured anyway and not being able to prevent it. Sarah's back to even for the night; not bad. Once the group reconnects, they head back to the library for some more research in an attempt to figure out what just happened. They're good at research and have no problem making the rolls. They learn that Dara and Captain Steel were magical constructs, but a bizarre form of construct merged with technology and apparently using television sets to travel from place to place. The power level required to do something like this is reality-warping; in other words, a wish granter.

The players picked up on the clue I laid in about Keith's love of campy old TV shows (which is not present in the adventure as written) and correctly peg him as the culprit. For the record, going to Peter and Danielle's houses would yield nothing, and going to Julius' house would reveal the Eternal Gael attempting to murder Julius. We're never told just what Julius did to piss Keith off so badly.

So, yeah. After all that mystery stuff and the clues and the red herrings, you solve the whodunnit by going to everyone's house and seeing which one isn't currently being murdered. Disappointing, really.

Anyway, the players travel to Keith's house, where the door is answered by his alcoholic and abusive father. They only have time to register that he's being a surly jackass before he gets a sword through his chest. The Eternal Gael then turns and walks back into the TV set, his work complete. Keith is not at home. So, where is he?

According to the adventure as written, it should just naturally "occur" to any player who can make an INT + Science or INT + Mr. Fix It roll that Keith is using some sort of transmitter. No word on what you're supposed to do if nobody makes their roll, and come the fuck on, that is not a logical conclusion. "Keith has somehow come into possession of impossible magical power! Surely it must obey the basic laws of physics!" Anyway, once somone makes that roll, an INT doubled roll is needed to provide the "most likely" place -- an abandoned TV station just outside of town. HOW THE FUCK IS THAT LIKELY, WHY WOULDN'T HE BE AT A FUNCTIONING TV STATION AND WHY THAT ONE IN PARTICULAR AND AAAARGH, THIS FALLS APART SO BADLY. In retrospect it's deeply stupid and I should have ignored it, written out Keith's dad, and had Keith just be at home. Unfortunately I realize how stupid this all is after I've killed the dad and am calling for the initial rolls, so instead I just tell them "yeah he's at this TV station and you all show up there". God damn it, sample adventure, we were doing so well before Act 3 started.

At the TV station Keith's house, Brian and Diego are chained up and begging for mercy. Keith's having none of it and flips channels until he finds an old movie rerun. One button press later and he's summoned the Cyborg Defender, who he orders to kill the jocks. That's just when the heroes arrive, and he promptly changes his mind and sends the Cyborg at them instead, going back to flipping channels.

The Cyborg Defender, by the way, is not beatable, and certainly not in six rounds. He's got a Combat Score of 19, 120 Life Points, and Armor Value 20 . The Cast is meant to realize that fighting him is an exercise in futility and look elsewhere to stop Keith once and for all; how they're supposed to realize that is not mentioned. The only ways to actually stop Keith are to either destroy his magic remote control or kill him.

Combat time! On the first turn, Sarah takes a nasty hit, and everyone's attacks either miss or get soaked by the Cyborg's insane AV. (Hilariously, Nick kept his Molotov cocktail from the Dara fight and has been toting it from scene to scene. He finally gets to throw the damn thing here, and... misses. Badly.) I have some fun with trying to get across that he's not taking any damage, saying things like "Zat deed not hurt" and "Your efforts are inseegneefegant. I am za cyborg defenda." At the end of the round, Keith sees an advertisement stating that the Japanese monster movie marathon will continue shortly and cackles triumphantly. "I'm going to unleash Gadjeera on your asses!" The adventure says that the Cast has six turns before Keith gets his giant monster and, presumably, everyone dies at the hands of a rampaging atomic monster.

I'm actually sorta desperate for the players to realize that the Cyborg is a distraction, and so I have Keith specifically gesture wildly with the remote as he boasts about his incoming monster. Thankfully, Sarah picks up on my oh-so-subtle hint and decides to see if there's anything interesting about the remote. It's a Perception + Notice roll, which she barely makes. There's an optional -3 penalty you can apply if Keith is "across the room", but that's dumb. You want the players to notice the remote, and it's painted all over with glowing mystical runes. Shit's noticable. So, Sarah notices the runes all over the remote, and everyone quickly figures out that the remote is the key.

Unfortunately, before she can throw something at the remote, the Cyborg Defender grabs Sarah and holds her in a bear hug. Fortunately, there's more than one good guy present. James just grabs Keith, snatches the remote away, and presses the Stop button, making the Cyborg Defender disappear. Then he smashes the remote on the ground.

As soon as the remote's destroyed (or if Keith had been killed), Keith immediately disappears and then reappears inside the TV screen. He's on the set of a game show and frantically pounding his fists on the screen, trying to get out. The host of the show, with mock sympathy, tells Keith that sorry, he didn't win the Grand Prize... but they have a lovely parting gift for him! With that, the female assistant sweeps back a curtain, revealing a firey pit in some Hell, where a massive, shadowy figure is moving in the background. The figure reaches out one giant hand, which grabs Keith and drags him screaming into the pit. The host turns to the Cast. "That's all, folks. See you real soon." His eyes flash an unnatural shade of red for a moment, and then the TV set explodes.


Next time: We start in on the Slayer's Handbook, and I get mad at it.

Also, I'd like to know, was this experiment in getting actual players to run through the sample adventure and relating their experiences worth it? Every Buffy book to come has an adventure at the back. If you guys liked this format I'll be glad to keep doing it, or I can just give a writeup of the adventures as they're written.

Slayer's Handbook, Chapter One: Slayers

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Our first supplement to cover is the Slayer's Handbook. I bought this fucking thing at retail, new, for cover price. $30 for 156 pages. It is a goddamned ripoff. I was expecting something players-focused, going from the obvious Player's Handbook pun. What I got was a jumbled mix of the writers going on about what it might be like to be a Slayer, precious few actual new mechanics, some alternative settings, and another sample adventure. Come, join me now as we go through probably the worst first impression the Buffy supplements could have made.

Slayer's Handbook, Chapter One: Slayers
Or, Let's All Think Real Hard About What Being The Slayer Is Like

After getting the introductory stuff out of the way (formatting, gender, etc. -- it's all a repeat from the Core Book), the book starts off by speculating on what the actual Slayer's Handbook would be like. They imagine that, like the Watchers who wrote it, it'd be fairly dry and stodgy, and full of Watcher propaganda all about how Slayers should be good, obedient girls who never ever would ever possibly think about disobeying the Watcher's Council. This will not be that book. Too bad. That book would at least be interesting to have, as an in-game artifact you can hand to your Slayer.

So much of this chapter is just tedious backstory creation bullshit. What's your character's motivation? What was their early life like? What drama happened to them then? What was it like when you became the Slayer? What was your motivation then? What drama happened when you became the Slayer? What training did you do? What was your motivation for training? What drama blah blah blah blah blah shut up we get it holy shit . Then they bring up "the job" -- in other words, day-to-day Slayer duties. Then it's the Handbook. (Yes, they ask for motivation and drama from reading the fucking handbook, I am not kidding, I hate this book so much .) Then we do the Cruciamentum. For those of you who don't watch the show, it's a test the Watcher's Council imposes on the Slayer's 18th birthday where they strip her of her powers and make her fight a vampire without them. Motivation, drama, blah blah blah. Then they jump to when a Slayer dies, which... what? This isn't going to come up unless the player's sick of the character, guys, and we know that killing off a PC ought to be dramatic. God, whatever, at least they're done with this pedantic repeating of the same three things over and over again. I swear, this section reads like a college freshman trying to pad out a term paper.

There is one really cool idea that they introduce and promptly move on from, though. We know that the Watchers took in Potential Slayers, presumably from less developed countries where "hello, we're from an ancient secret society and there's an off-chance your daughter might one day get superpowers, we'd like to train her" wouldn't get the cops called on you. We also saw just how many Potentials there were. What happens to all the girls who get trained to be the Slayer, but their number doesn't come up? The book suggests that at least some of them just become Watchers themselves. This is a great character concept, especially post-Season 7. You got plucked away from your family when you were 5 and trained for all this shit, but you don't turn out to be the Slayer, so you join the Council... and then a few years later, when you're too old and not a Potential any more, every Potential in the world gets activated at once. Oh, and most of the Watcher's Council is dead now. You've got no support and you get to train a girl who had everything you ever thought you'd be dumped in her lap. You'd tear your hair out, wouldn't you? Plus, the Watcher/Slayer dynamic would be way different when the Watcher's only a few years older than her Slayer and spent her life training to be one. If I was ever in a Buffy campaign I'd totally do that. How fun!

Anyway. The book moves on to "A Brief History of Slayage". Did you know that women's rights is a fairly new concept in history? Or that living in one historical culture would have been different from living in an entirely different one several hundred years later? WELL NOW YOU FUCKING DO. They make some cogent points about making sure your Slayer keeps the whole "I'm a girl who fights" thing fairly secret if you're playing a game set in the past.

Moving right on: The First Slayer! This book was apparently written before the show explained her origins, because they're admittedly guessing. They guess at a demonic source for the power, and it turns out they were right. We get her Quick Sheet (Combat Score 22, on par with frickin' Glory), and also some guidelines about invoking her presence. This is "four or five" Power Levels all by itself, and it gives the Slayer +3 to every Physical Attribute while the spell is in effect. Side effect here, though. If the Slayer tries to act in a fashion that the First wouldn't approve of (like, for instance, not slaying a particular vampire), she's got to beat the First's Brains Score with a WIL (Doubled) roll to do it. The First Slayer has a Brains Score of 20, by the way. You'd need WIL 7 to have a realistic shot at that. Yiiiiikes. Also, Directors are advised to make any spell that invokes the First a one-shot (covered back in Core Book Chapter 4), because that is a fuckton of power to be throwing around and it should be a big deal. Oh, and they make it a game mechanic that every time you invoke the First, you have to deal with her in your nightmares. Probably a very good idea to make those spells hard to cast, then -- I'd guess that a lot of groups would start casting those spells just to have fun dreamscape adventures.

Slayers through history now. There's Lucy Hanover and an unnamed Chicago Slayer, both of whom were apparently mentioned in passing during the series premiere. There was also a Korean Slayer, based off some line in The Puppet Show (S1E9 if anyone wants to go check). No stats for them. We get Spike's two Slayer kills, the Boxer Rebellion and New York Slayers. They get Quick Sheets.

Kendra and Faith each get their basic histories related (Faith's ends with her turning herself in for her crimes after her guest stint on Angel , so that's the last the authors saw of her). They each get full character sheets.

And that's the end of Chapter One! We got one decent idea, two Quick Sheets, and two Character Sheets. Hoo-goddamn-ray.

Next time: Actual content!

Slayer's Handbook, Chapter Two: New Stuff

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Slayer's Handbook, Chapter Two: New Stuff

Hooray for actual new content! First up, we get some new Qualities and Drawbacks. In a nice touch, all the Qualities are combo packs -- our psuedo-classes that tend to be something you can hang a character concept on.

Cop/Ex-Cop (5 or 4 point Quality): Be the law! Both versions get +1 to any physical Attribute and +1 to their Crime, Driving, and Gun Fu skills. Cops also get "the full force of the law". In other words, you can search people, arrest them, fun cop stuff. Ex-Cops don't get to do that, but on the plus side they don't get paperwork to fill out every time they fire their gun. Also, if you remember the guidelines for making your own custom combo Qualities from the Core Book, you can see that apparently a bonus with no specific in-game effect is worth +1 points. Good to know.

Criminal (2 point Quality): Break the law! Criminals get +1 to any Attribute, +1 to their Crime Skill, and +1 to any other skill so long as it relates to what you do when you're breaking the law. A safecracker could take Mr. Fix-It, a getaway man could take Drive, you get the idea. However, when the opportunity to make a fast buck arises (especially when doing so would conflict with your more heroic duties), you have to make a WIL (doubled) roll to avoid the temptation, or else you go for it. That's one of those drawbacks that will never come up until one day your Director realizes it's never coming up, and then he'll utterly fuck you with it. Also, we can see the other side of the coin from what we learned in the Cop Quality -- drawbacks with no specific in-game effect are worth -1 points. I don't know why they buried this information and made you go digging for it, but now people who want to get a little more creative with their combo packs know the rules.

Mental Problems (Phobia) (1-3 point Drawback): We did Mental Problems in the Core Book. This is just adding Phobia as a new option to the drawback.

Nosy Reporter (5 point Quality): April motherfuckin' O'Neil comin' to Sunnydale, bitches. What up. Nosy Reporters get +1 to INT and PER, +1 to Notice, +1 to a Skill relating to the type of thing they usually report on, and a 2 point Contacts Quality. Their drawback is that when they have a chance to learn something but try to resist it (because maybe that meeting with an unnamed source in a graveyard at midnight is a bad idea), they've got to make a WIL (doubled) roll to do it. And can I say, I love Nosy Reporters getting a mechanic that is basically Easily Kidnapped so goddamned much .

Occult Investigator (4 point Quality): This is sort of the "Lovecraft character comes to Sunnydale" Quality, an impression that's reinforced by the introduction saying that the Buffyverse is full of things "man was not meant to know" and that investigators who try to know it anyway tend to end up "in mental asylums, dead, or worse". Those who survive, though, become pretty knowledgable! Occult Investigators get +1 to any two mental Attributes, +2 to Occultism, and +1 to Fear Tests. Apparently we're handing out WIL (doubled) roll drawbacks like candy today. The Investigator's temptation of choice is the opportunity to learn something supernatural.

Slayer-In-Training (4 point Quality): Remember those Potentials we talked about in Chapter 1? These are the ones who were trained by the Watcher's Council since childhood. Slayers-In-Training get +1 to any two physical Attributes (they're still human), and +1 to Kung Fu, Getting Medieval, Acrobatics, and Occultism. They have to take a 1 point Obligation(Watcher's Council) and 1 point Adversary(Various). You can, of course, combine this with the Slayer Quality. If you do, the attribute bonuses stack, since S-I-T's bonuses are for intense physical training and Slayer's are for purely magical superstrength, but the skill bonuses do not, because they represent the exact same training and studies. Taking the two together at character creation costs 18 points, and if you start as a Slayer-In-Training, buying Slayer later will cost you 14 experience points and also one heck of a good explanation for your Director as to why you're suddenly the Slayer now (in games where their numbers are limited, anyway).

Totem Warrior (12 point Quality): Oh boy. Okay, maybe it's not as bad as the name makes it sound. Oh, look, they've got a picture here, I'm sure it won't be...


Okay, really bad name and picture choice aside, they're actually not racist. They're people gifted with the power of animal spirits in order to fight the powers of Darkness. I'm just not sure they fit in well with the setting. There's a sidebar that straight-up admits they made these dudes up out of whole cloth, and when we get to Chapter 4 you'll see that they're tied in pretty strongly to this one particular alternate setting. They work well there. Anywhere else? I'm not so sure.

Totem Warriors get a total of 8 points spread among their Attributes, exact spread to be determined by animal spirit. It never specifically says that Totem Warriors count as non-human, but +4 bonuses are pretty common in these spreads and if they couldn't bust 6, that'd be sorta silly. So let's just assume that they are. They get Acute Senses, sense determined by animal spirit. Regardless of animal, all Totem Warriors get Fast Reaction Time, 3 levels of Hard to Kill (and it says you can take up to 10, so yeah, they're non-human), and 1 level of Kung Fu. Drawback-wise, Totem Warriors get a 3 point Adversary(Wendigos). Wendigos are a big deal in that setting we'll get to. They also take a -1 penalty to all rolls related to any mental Drawbacks you might have. If Werewolf at full control of the transformation wasn't 12 points, I'd be hollering bloody murder right now about game balance, because this is a lot of power for no real cost.

You have to turn to the writeup on the setting these guys are designed for to find out the specific bonuses for each animal spirit, but that is bad design and also stupid. I will list them now. Turning to this list reveals that each animal spirit also grants a special ability, which they didn't mention in the Quality description. Whee, more powers!
Bear : +4 STR, +2 DEX, +2 CON. Acute Smell, and +1 bonus on rolls to resist fear, domination, or intimidation.
Coyote : +2 STR, +3 DEX, +1 CON, +1 PER, +1 INT. Acute Smell, and +1 bonus on any Crime, Influence, or Notice roll dealing with deceit.
Eagle : +1 STR, +4 DEX, +1 CON, +2 PER. Acute Vision, and +2 bonus on any roll involving jumping. LEAP TALL BUILDINGS. BE THE EAGLE.
Owl : +1 STR, +3 DEX, +1 CON, +2 PER, +1 INT. Acute Vision, and night vision. As long as there's any light whatsoever, they suffer no low-light penalties. (Are those a mechanic in this game? I haven't seen anything. I guess it's one of those common sense things where they just expect you to slap on modifiers at need.)
Puma : +3 STR, +3 DEX, +1 CON, +1 PER. Acute Hearing, and +1 bonus to rolls involving fear and intimidation. These dudes really seem like the Bear Spirit's wussier younger brother.
Raven : +1 STR, +2 DEX, +1 CON, +1 PER, +2 INT, +1 WIL. Acute Smell, and +1 bonus on Occultism rolls involving magic. It sounds like that'd be all Occultism rolls, but you use Occultism to research all sorts of stuff that isn't magic, so that limitation would come into play.
Wolf : +3 STR, +2 DEX, +2 CON, +1 PER. Acute Smell, and +1 bonus to any roll involving teamwork -- including combat and research, so long as you're being a team player. That is a fucking spiffy bonus.

That's it for Qualities and Drawbacks. Next up, they finally define rules for working together. Which is good, seeing as how I had to go looking in the sample adventure to find them in the Core Book. Everyone rolls and you pool your Success Levels is the official mechanic, but that's for when time isn't a factor (i.e., research). For when time matters but you want a group effort, this is how you do it: one person is designated the Leader. That's who'll actually be doing the main effort. Everyone else rolls the task first. For each Success Level they get, the Leader's roll gets a +1 bonus. If anyone fails their roll, however, the Leader's roll gets a -2 penalty for each failure. So, be good helpers.

New combat maneuver: Fast Draw. Dex + the appropriate combat skill - 3 to draw and use a weapon on the same action. Handy for gunslingers who're dueling at noon, and Slayers with a stake in their purse.

We also get a bunch of new weapons and equipment, and they're so clearly deliniated by time period that I keep expecting the book to pull a Feng Shui and start listing appropriate junctures for each one. There's Old West stuff, modern stuff, and cyberpunk future stuff. To take two examples from each category -- Gas Lantern, Six-Shooter, Flamethrower, Taser, Optical Replacement, Smartgun. You get the drift. Generally cool stuff, though.

Finally, some new Archetypes (pre-generated sample characters). Four Slayers: Former Runaway, who's got some trust issues but is basically cool. Reluctant Slayer, who's rocking a Strength and Constitution of 6, a weakened version of Slayer without Nerves of Steel, and Cowardice. She won't last a week. Dark Slayer, a seriously fucked-up sadist who could be interesting in the right player's hands. Heiress Slayer, who'd be a lot of fun except her designer utterly fucked up her physical attributes, leaving her with a 6/7/6 STR/DEX/CON. Personally, I'd steal the concept -- spoiled socialite Slayer is potentially hilarious -- and reroll her to not be vampire chow.

Apart from the Slayer sampler pack, we get Archetypes to show off new Qualities, and for once they're actually properly generic. Slayer-In-Training, Paranormal Expert (he's the Occult Investigator), Intrepid Web Journalist (Nosy Reporter and clearly written before "blogger" became a word), Night Shift Cop, and Redemption Seeking Criminal. No Totem Warrior, go figure. Coming in last in "why are you two here" place are Adventurous Teacher, who is gonna get his dumb ass eaten the second his luck runs out, and Slayer Poseur, who's actually pretty funny. She's a White Hat with the Jock Quality and Severe Delusion: Anyone Can Become A Slayer. Might be better as a Guest Star who keeps on needing to get saved, because I imagine her shit would get real old real fast if you had to keep teaming up with her every week.

Next time: Two chapters for the price of one, and no Sunnydale!

Slayer's Handbook, Chapters Three and Four: Alternate Settings

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Slayer's Handbook, Chapters Three and Four: Alternate Settings

I know we briefly touched on this in the Core Book, but did you know that there are other places to possibly set a game than Sunnydale? It's true! Chapter Three is gonna tell us all about it. Chapter Three is also twelve pages long. I'm not sure, but there might be a correlation there.

Anyhow. If you're going to make up your own totally orignal location, they give you some helpful guidelines to think about. Your new town should have Places to Go. In other words, locations, falling generally in these broad strokes: a home for the characters, work/school for them, good parts of town, and bad parts of town. It should have People to See. These are the people who live in it, who can fall into one of the following broad strokes: regular folk, regular folk who are annoying and can hinder but not threaten the Cast (like a nosy neighbor, if you want to get sitcom-y about it), law enforcement, and shady types who aren't actively malevolent. And there should be Things to Do: normal stuff, holidays, and generally changing over time.

But, you might be saying, Sunnydale has a Hellmouth! Surely there is no mystical shit going down anywhere else in the world! To which the book says, no sir! In fact, there is mystical shit going down everywhere . They get in a clever reference here by suggesting that maybe the plains states have been visited by a strange meteor shower that "changed" the residents and could have even deposited a new one. I admit, that one snuck by me a couple of times before I finally caught it. Anyhow, yeah, duh, there's other Hellmouths and general weirdness is happening everywhere.

You could also set your game in a different time! They suggest some actually pretty cool options: Medieval times, where the populace at large is going to have absolutely zero problems with your group claiming to be a bunch of knight errants and wizards out hunting montsers. The 1930s, which they even call Pulp Slayage, just to make sure you know the tone they're suggesting. Fuck. Yes. Vampires kidnapping dashing strangers! Spies! Nazis! Yessss. You can also do the future, which can't compare in coolness to the idea of Pulp Buffy. The future they suggest is also extremely derivative cyberpunk (they mention cyber-ronin and my eyes threaten to roll right out of their sockets), but I dunno. Maybe it's a solid concept and it's just not for me, but it seems like if you start moving into bio-augs and shit like that, the monsters lose a lot of their edges on humanity. Then again, an augmented vampire has possibilities.

Finally, you could always go to the alternate reality well and present your players with something that's gone off the path of canon before they even got there. Three suggestions, and we'll get one more (much more detailed and the coolest of the four) next Chapter. First off, remember The Wish? If you're a fan of the show, sure you do. Good episode. Things go really badly in the Wishverse right before the spell gets broken, don't they? Like, "the entire cast dies" badly. And it was a seriously fucked-up world before that. You could set your game in the Wishverse, after that. Buffy just died, which means another Slayer has been called up and will surely be sent to take care of the threat that just killed the last one. Good starting point.

Or, what if 1898, Angelus is about to feed on a particularly beautiful Romani girl when Drusilla gets a bad feeling and stops him? No murdered girl means no curse, no curse means no soul, and no soul means no Angel. What could go down with him missing? Did Buffy get killed? Angel saved her ass plenty of times, after all. Or maybe not, maybe the Master gets dusted on schedule. And then next season, Spike, Drusilla, and Angelus all blow into town looking for some revenge. This one's got real meat on it so long as you've got a Cast who's willing to play the TV characters. The book suggests that a Xander who never has Angel to be compared to is a Xander who's got an outside chance at romancing Buffy, but I think his odds are rather better than that. I actually think you could do a hell of a cool Phantom of the Opera riff with dependable, nice, boring, good guy Xander vs. dangerous, exciting, dark, handome, psychotic evil murderer Angelus.

Or, what if Riley wasn't such a good soldier when the Initiative came crashing down? What if, instead, he got pissed off and leaked the existence of demons and magic to the media? The resulting scandal would make Watergate look like a momentary lapse of judgement, and probably provoke one fucker of a witch hunt. Literally. Now the Initiative's an official government agency, the First Amendment's been suspended and anything potentially "dangerous" is banned... and a lot of demons have had their plots exposed and been destroyed, and vampires are practically an endangered species. The new regime is un-American and oppressively heavy handed, but they're getting results. What are you gonna do? And what if the Initiative's been using the "the only good HST is a dead HST" party line as a propaganda smokescreen while they quietly recruit the good demons/witches/whatevers? Life on the Initiative Black-Ops Magic Squad could be real interesting. And when something inevitably goes wrong and your existence goes public... that'll be even more interesting, won't it?

Okay, so now on to Chapter Four. This is where we get the more fleshed-out alternate settings, with NPCs and plot hooks and even a few Archetypes each. I'm going to skip the first one, because it is huge . It's a major labor of love, to the point where if this wasn't the author's custom setting, it should have been. It deserves its own update. That setting is the "canonical world, modern times, but not Sunnydale" option, so let's move right on to our second option: changing the time period!

Oh, Riley. You are... well, not a constant delight, but certainly a frequent one.

It's Old West Buffy! We get introductory fiction in a sidebar, wherein two vampires see a man and a younger girl alone cooking a meal by campfire and plan to ambush and kill them while they sleep. It turns out that's the Slayer and her Watcher, and she sneaks up on the vamps. Western Slayer gains a bunch of immediate style points by then announcing her presence by putting on a helpless little girl act and asking them for directions to Tuscon. Then she stakes 'em.

Stakes and Six-Shooters takes place in the charming little town of Apocalypse, Texas. Founded by holy rollers who mysteriously disappeared, it's been re-energized by the railroad tracks being built right next to the town. Catering to the needs of railroad workers has turned it seedy and lawless, the sheriff is easily bribed, everyone's packing a gun, and a nice young woman and her older "uncle" have just bought the old Apocalypse Church and set up house in it. Yee-haw!

Places to Go: El Dorado Bar and Hotel , with dancing girls on stage who can do more than dance if you pay extra and cowboys playing poker. You know the type. The proprietor is one Jacob Damon Weaver, an unsavory sort who can get you what you need. Sheriff's Office and Jail , sheriff frequently not included (he's at El Dorado). Prayer Hill , a hill marked by a particularly large and unpleasant-looking tree. Legend has it that the town founders first started holding open-air services under the tree, then they started praying to the tree, and then they disappeared. These days, the townfolk hang criminals from it. Brigitte's Coffee House , where the coffee is terrible but the "waitresses" more than make up for that. Customers tend to leave the next morning feeling satisfied, weak-kneed, and a little anemic. Not all of them leave. K-Bar Ranch is our standard largest ranch in town, which has a nasty habit of settling land disputes with violence. Its owner, Dale Cunningham, is (of course) the richest man in town. The Railroad Camp houses the workers building the railroad. A large contingent of them are immigrant Chinese workers, because goddamn it we're gonna hit every Western cliche possible here. Conditions are harsh, especially for the Chinese. Apocalypse Church has new owners, and the Badlands outside town are unremarkable apart from the wild rumors of snake people who live in the wild.

People to See, each one of whom gets a Guest Star Quick Sheet: Typical Cowboy , Gambler , Gunslinger , and Girl of Easy Virtue (ahem) are our generics. Sherrif Norman Barlow isn't a bad man, he's just lazy. If you absolutely force him to get off his fat ass he can probably round up a posse, but odds are far higher that he'll end up being a minor irritant to the cast in the Snyder mold. Jacob Damon Weaver of the El Dorado is not actually human. He was, once, but as he lay dying at Gettysburg, he prayed to some dark power to save him, and he was saved. Now he's a demon and he's got wish-granting abilities (which, naturally, he uses to play Asshole Genie with to corrupt people's souls). He's a potential Big Bad. Dale Cunningham 's only flaw isn't his fault. He's being groomed by the Demon Tree to be the town's new High Priest, and it's slowly corrupting him. Brigitte de Rais is, obviously, a vampire running a brothel as a scheme to get money and easy blood. Any hopes of her being the nice sort of vampire are quashed by the rest of her history, which is a shame. She was a follower of Gilles de Rais in life, and losing her soul actually made her nicer . She's also a Witch, and moved to Apocalypse because the Demon Tree is a source of huge mystical power and she wants to tap it. Oh, and she's employing some demon girls and even a Snake Girl for the kinkier customers. BAD BRIGITTE. BAD VAMPIRE. She's another potential Big Bad. As you might have noticed by my two references to it previously, the tree on Prayer Hill is in fact the Demon Tree . Way long ago, a True Demon tried to force its way back into the world, fucked it up, and got stuck in a tree. It's still there and still trying to get out. Those original settlers? Tree ate 'em. Oh, and every time the townsfolk lynch another criminal on it, they're performing unwitting human sacrifice to the demon and strengthening it. It's a more behind-the-scenes Big Bad, but a definite contender for the title. It can create Demon Tree Simulacrums , which are made of wood but look like people. They act to carry out the tree's will, which right now is just fucking with the railroad (the tree doesn't want it built) and helping Dale Cunningham.

So, y'know those wild rumors about snake people living out in the desert? They're true! I know, you're shocked. The Snake People are a demon race, who lived back in demon times. They had a vast empire, but were stupid enough to try and rumble with a much stronger demon race. They got their asses kicked and nearly driven extinct, to the point where the paltry few survivors cast a spell to exile themselves from reality for a few millenia. Spell's worn out now and they're back, in a world without demons. That's good! They're also a shattered remnant with only one mostly ruined city to their name. That's bad! They divided up into tribes during their exile, and one tribe led by a snake named Hassel used ancient artifacts to pass themselves off as human and visit Apocalypse. Contact with humans taught them what guns are. Now Hassel's tribe has them and is using them to dominate the other tribes, taking total control. Hassel wants to figure out how the ancient weapons work, and then use them to wipe out humanity.

There's a whole bit on Snake People life and society which I'm going to skip over, but it's got decent details. Since "renegade Snake Person" is a viable character concept, they introduce a new Quality: Snake Person (3 point Quality) . You get +1 to DEX and CON, a poisonous bite (poison rules are buried in the Core Book; the poison's Strength makes a contested roll against the target's Constitution. Snake Person poison has a Strength equal to the Snake Person itself), and the ability to cast an illusion to diguise themselves as humans at will. They can impersonate someone specific with an INT (doubled) roll that gains five Success Levels, but no matter what they do their voice is always gonna sound funny. Drawback-wise, apart from the voices they also don't much like sunlight. It hurts their eyes. -2 DEX in direct sunlight and -1 DEX if it's indirect. Guest Star Snake People also have all of these abilities and drawbacks, naturally.

We get some Snake Person equipment, and Quick Sheets for Typical Snake Warrior , Elite Snake Warrior , and Hassel , who is of course yet another potential Big Bad. It's not a nice town!

We also get some cool episode ideas. A ghostly gunslinger picking out one person a day and dueling them at high noon (he's out for revenge on the people who killed him... and their friends and families), Dale Cunningham and J.D. Weaver's feud (Weaver is the second richest man in town) heats up into actual warfare and the Cast has to settle things back down, Brigitte hires a new girl who turns out to be a demon who inspires fanatical infatuation in all men who see her (Brigitte will help the Cast get rid of her; customers killing each other is bad for business), and an old prospector comes into town raving about tens of thousands of sleeping lizards -- he's found the Snake Lords' last army, kept in magical stasis. Hassel is gonna want that army. They also provide Slayer Gunslinger and Victorian Watcher Archetypes, who are both pretty cool.

Stakes and Six-Shooters was the different time period. This is the alternate reality, and it's a doozy. When Glory used Dawn's blood to open the portal to her native Hell dimension, Buffy and the Scoobies fought her and defeated her. Only here, they didn't do it in time. Hordes of demons poured through the rift. Only Xander is known for certain to have escaped with his life. Five years later, and the time of demons is back. Billions are dead. Cities are husks, crawling with demons. The few humans left are grouped in small, scattered communities, using scavenged military weaponry or magic (or both) to keep the monsters at bay... or offering up sacrifices to demonic overlords for protection. Inhuman kingdoms are being rebuilt and warring with each other once again. The survivors call that day five years ago the Apocalypse. It's as good a name as any.

Introductory fiction sidebar: In one of those small communities (not the human sacrifice kind) called the Enclave, a bar falls silent as a man walks in. It's not because of his face -- half burned away to the bone, a milky orb where his left eye used to be, his lips pulled back in an eternal grimace. They see worse every day. It's not the small arsenal he's carrying -- the sawed-off shotgun, the two-handed sword, the gloves with spiked knuckles, the knives, grenades, and pistols dangling from his belt. In the Enclave, everyone goes armed 24/7. It's the expression on his face, and the look in his one good eye. There's no mercy or compassion, just the expression of a man who has become a monster in order to fight monsters, and the look that tells you he's seen everyone he ever loved or cared about die, and he sees those deaths again every time he closes his eyes. The bartender asks him if he wants his usual, and the man nods and smiles.

Alexander Harris' smile is a terrible thing.

So! On that cheery note, welcome to the Enclave. A small bastion in California, it was a survivalist colony until the Apocalypse. Now the Council of Thirteen, powerful witches, hold off the monsters, and they send out scouting parties every day to look for food, ammo, medicine, anything they can scavenge. Most of them come back empty-handed. Some don't come back. In this rather grimdark place, one random girl living in the Enclave has just become the Slayer. Whether she's there to turn the tide or just help humanity go down fighting is in your hands.

Basic history of the Enclave: It was built in the 1970s by survivalist whackjobs with more money than sense. A sprawling underground complex of bomb shelters, wells, storage spaces, and enough guns to fight a small war, it was a goddamned stupid thing to build... until the Apocalypse. They held off the monsters with military might for a couple of months, but only a handful of them had survived. At the same time, a coven of witches that had been in the California wilderness for a solstice festival had been wandering the wastelands since then, using their powers to defend themselves and anyone else they picked up along the way as they looked for a defensible place. They found the Enclave. The founders weren't real thrilled about about teaming up with "heathens", but there was really no other choice. The thirteen most powerful witches cast a spell that created an energy shield around the Enclave, one demons couldn't pass. The survivalists -- redubbed the Rangers -- could concentrate on sending out forage parties. The Enclave is not a democracy. The Council of Thirteen and the Rangers make all the decisions, and then you do what they say, and if you don't like it you're free to take a walk outside and look for a better deal. There are currently about three thousand inhabitants of the Enclave, and that's a problem. The valley can't produce enough food to support that many people, and while right now they're living off of stored and scavenged food, it won't last. The Rangers are well aware that in a year -- two, at the outside -- they won't be able to feed everybody. It's a bad scene all around.

Sidebar time! On the fates of the rest of rest of the Original Cast. It's all rumors and hearsay, since asking Alexander about his friends is a good way to lose some teeth. Each one can be summed up as "probably dead, but ".
Buffy : Fought through to Dawn's side and fought heroically, dying when overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Rumor says she's not dead, she was dragged into a demon dimension and if she can be found and rescued, she will lead humanity to victory.
Willow and Tara : Used their powers to hold off a horde of demons and evacuated a lot of Sunnydale in the chaos that followed. There's a ton of eyewitness stories of "two angels" who would appear out of nowhere and save people from demons. Eventually they stayed too long and fell in combat. Or there's another version of that story, where Willow survives and goes crazy at her lover's death. Now Willow is biding her time and building up dark power to destroy all of demonkind.
Anya : Torn apart by monsters while Xander helplessly wached. Or maybe she made a last-minute deal to become a vengeance demon again in return for Xander's survival.
Giles : He died in the battle at the gate. He survived that battle and eventually made his way to LA, where he fought alongside Angel and Wesley and died when the Hyperion was overrun. There's a lone hunter in the night even now, taking down demons with a combination of magic and modern weapons and calling himself Ripper. One of these stories might be true.
Spike : Almost certainly fought his way to the Slayer's side and died with her and Dawn, his last words being a declaration of love for Buffy. However, someone calling himself William the Bloody is running a vampire gang in Oregon now.

Places to Go: The Council Chamber is guarded at all times by six armed guards. Inside, every hour of every day, a powerful witch sits at the center of of a magical circle decorated with pentagrams and other mystical symbols. This is all that keeps the Shield active. The Hole is the bar. It's up on the surface and mostly caters to Rangers and other fighting types. Beyond the Pale is Hell. Get in, get what you need, and get out quickly.

People to See: The Council of Thirteen doesn't give much of a fuck for anything beyond keeping the Shield up, but they do act as the justice system. Break a rule and the council will convene a jury of ten witches to decide on your punishment. Eight of the original members remain. The other five are replacement witches recruited from the Enclave, who aren't as powerful. The Shield suffers for it. The Rangers keep the peace and do the foraging missions. The core of the Rangers are the few living original survivalists. Everyone else has signed up since. Rangers get access to weapons and ammo, eat and drink better, get plenty of respect from non-Rangers, and, y'know, are the law, which means they can do as they please (another Ranger will step in if someone takes that too far. It's rare). Downside is, they don't live very long to enjoy it. Enclave Citizen and Ranger get generic Quick Sheets, and our only named Guest Star is Alexander Harris . Don't call him Xander if you want to live. He's a very well respected Ranger and could be a powerful leader in the Enclave, if he wasn't so crazy. Unfortunately, he's really goddamn crazy. A few random demons get Quick Sheets, too.

Episode ideas: Going "shopping" is the basic mission type in this setting. Go out into Hellworld in search of supplies, try to get them, get assaulted by demons, try to get home. Fun city. They also offer a possible endgame: A Watcher comes to the Enclave bearing the ritual for a powerful exorcism, one that would destroy or banish all of the greater demons on Earth and most of the lesser ones. It needs the Slayer, and several incredibly rare artifacts. Preparing this spell to be cast would be the work of a Season. Oh, and one more thing to think about : A Slayer rising in the Enclave is going to be a big deal, and most citizens will be thrilled. Just what will Alexander's reaction be? (I'll throw in one suggestion of my own here: The search for Anya. All of this can be undone with one friendly demon with wish-granting abilities who's willing to grant "I wish the Hellgate never opened". If Anya's really back in the vengeance business -- and that's a big if -- and if Xander could be persuaded to ask -- and that won't be easy either -- she'd do it.) Archetypes provided here are Grim Slayer and Road Warrior , who are both about what you'd expect from this setting.

Next time: Grizzly Peak, Oregon! Home of the Fightin' Wendigos, and also probably a football team

Slayer's Handbook, Chapter Four: Alternate Settings II - Wendigos and Totem Warriors and Hippies, Oh My!

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

Slayer's Handbook, Chapter Four: Alternate Settings, pt. II -- Wendigos and Totem Warriors and Hippies, Oh My!

Introductory fiction here isn't very good. Some trucker gets eaten by a bunch of wendigos. Oh well. Welcome to Grizzly Peak, Oregon! It's a quaint little town surrounded by forest, and has a small college campus, the Boyd Logging Company... and a Hellmouth.

Who wants a history lesson? The area where Grizzly Peak now is was originally inhabited by a Native American tribe called the Diroc. The Diroc were shunned by other tribes as magicians and shapeshifters, so they lived on their own until the 1860s, when the white people moved in and killed the fuck out of 'em. A logging camp was set up there, because, y'know, trees all around it. In 1872, all nineteen men at Logging Camp Number Seven were killed in a bizarre combination of animal attacks and murder. Six men were dragged off into the woods by bears and torn apart, and then fighting broke out among the remaining 13, who shot, stabbed, and clubbed each other to death. (No, of course it wasn't really bears. We'll get to that.) The Boyd Logging Company sent out hunting parties into the woods, who killed every bear they could find. The incident resulted in the area being named Grizzly Peak.

In 1909, the Boyd Logging company moved its headquarters to Grizzly Peak. Logging baron Dale Townsend founded the Townsend School of Forestry Sciences in 1923. The growing town took a big hit in the Depression, as hundreds of people disappeared -- presumably going elsewhere to try and find work. Some people were so eager to find work that whole families left without telling anybody they were going, or even turning off the lights or stoves in their houses! The town grew quickly after World War II, despite higher-than-average rates of disappearances and murders. The Townsend School of Forestry became Townsend College in 1964, and today the town has a population of over 30,000. Still, strange events do sometimes happen. The most recent one was in 1989, when six environmentalists protesting Boyd Logging were found with their bodies torn apart. A state investigation concluded that the deaths were the result of a fluke animal attack.

Now for the secret history of what's really been going on in Grizzly Peak. The Diroc were exactly what their enemies claimed they were. A tribe of powerful shamans and Totem Warriors, they were charged with guarding the Hellmouth. They managed it until the settlers came, at which point they simply couldn't handle a two front war with guns on one side and monsters on the other. When the Diroc were destroyed, evil started to spread. The gifts of the Diroc were given to several neighboring tribes and they were able to curb the spread, but Grizzly Peak itself became pretty infested. It's now a land of ghosts, vampires, demons, and wendigos -- malignant spirits that bond themselves to evil humans to form cannibalistic monsters. Oh, and Hubert D. Boyd, founder of the Boyd-Townsend family? Demon worshipper. He forged a pact with the powers of darkness for wealth and power for his family, and his family continues those dealings today. Finally, in case anyone was wondering: the massacre at Logging Camp Number Seven was caused by a demon summoned by Boyd, the population decline in the 1930s was the result of rampaging vampire gangs who were only barely beaten back by the Totem Warriors, and the hippies were eaten by a wendigo.

Slayer's Handbook posted:

The Hellmouth is waking up -- and it's hungry.

Places to Go: Boyd Manor is an architectural monstrosity the size of a city block that sits atop a hill overlooking the town. It was built in the 1930s, and the construction work basically saved the town. There have been plenty of fatalities there, both during and after construction. In the 70s the Boyds moved out and converted it to a hotel. A gruesome murder in 1975 ended that idea for good and now it stands, silent and empty, overlooking the town. Sometimes, strange lights and sounds seem to be coming from inside.

Stephen King fans should have their antennae going wild right now -- it's the Overlook combined with the Marsten House. GMs who know their King should have just had about nineteen Episode ideas to base in or around it.

George Washington High School provides a notably exceptional learning experience for a public high school. This is because the Boyd-Townsend family insists on sending their children to it instead of a private school. They'd have to build the private school themselves, so this is probably cheaper anyway. Townsend College has a well-regarded Forestry and Environmental Studies program and a mediocre everything else. It's widely regarded as a party school where rich spoiled kids go to get a diploma between partying. Gee, I wonder if those lovely Boyd-Townsends could have something to do with that rep. And if you're noticing a strong theme of "as go the Boyd-Townsends, so goes Grizzly Peak", well... yeah, it's there.

Boyd Logging Company is huge. They've got facilities all over town, from sawmills to warehouses to vehicle parks to offices to... well, a lot. Protestors are frequently on-hand to clog things up and be an irritant. These protestors are generally 50/50 college kids and "outside agitators". The Forest is huge, and easy to get lost in, and full of all sorts of beasts that don't much like human beings. Be careful.

Sidebar time! There's a Hellmouth in Grizzly Peaks. Where that Hellmouth is located is up to you. Boyd Manor -- giant, sprawling, clearly evil, clearly haunted -- is the obvious choice. The downside to that is that it's the obvious choice . Your players are gonna immediately assume that's where the Hellmouth is. Still, if it is there, getting to it will be pretty rough. The place is heavily haunted, with ghosts who don't like people and are capable of hurting them. There are extensive networks of caverns underground. Oh, and the Boyds still own that particular property, and they're a clan of demon worshippers, sorcerors, wendigos, and general rich and spoiled bastards, none of whom will be pleased to see a bunch of teenagers poking around their property.

You could put the Hellmouth out in the woods -- a cavern to stumble upon during a nature hike, or something like that. Not a bad choice. G.W. High... well, a Hellmouth under the high school has been done . Don't do it again unless your players are so utterly sure you wouldn't dream of being that cliche that the high school's the last place they'd look. Then... probably still don't do it. If you're just dying to stick the Hellmouth under a place of education, well, Townsend College sure qualifies. You could do that instead.

People to See: The Boyd-Townsend Family gets their own section. You might have noticed in the history that the Boyds and the Townsends were mentioned seperately, and then all of a sudden in Places to Go they were the same family. The answer for that is "they started off rivals and eventually intermarried". Simple. There's about two dozen of them, with four kids in high school and five in college, all attending G.W. High and Townsend College, respectively. Madness seems to run in the family -- six members are currently locked up in an asylum. Bad luck and short lifespans also run in the family; this might have something to do with the whole demon worship thing. They are terrible, terrible people. The book advises GMs to just check out any given soap opera for ideas on how they behave.

Warren Townsend IV is the current head of the family. He's 63 and looks at least ten years younger than that, with "the kind of presence and self-confidence one finds in world leaders and actors in the better kind of coffee commercials". (That line made me laugh.) He's also a powerful warlock (Sorcery 5!) and is trying to take control of the Hellmouth, and is fighting the Dweller for control of it. He's a potential Big Bad, one who might be able to sneak under the Cast's radar by seeming so trustworthy and acting directly against the super-evil Dweller. Of course, this assumes that the Cast won't pick up on the whole "this is a family of utter bastards" thing before he has a chance to snow them. Mark Harrison-Boyd is a senior at G.W. High, the star quarterback, a solid student, handsome, and a serial killer. He's killed over two dozen people in the last four years, and became a wendigo last summer. He's currently serving the Dweller but plotting to overthrow him and take the Hellmouth for himself. Oh, and the police are nowhere near catching him. Mark is legitimately smart and covers his tracks; he's the truest, scariest form of sociopath. The press is calling him the Oregon Trails Slasher, but nobody suspects him -- it helps that his extremely rich and powerful family, while not knowing what he's up to, deflects any police investigations that get near him just as a matter of general principle. The book then says that only "six of the thirteen" murders Mark has committed have been linked to the OTS, literally a paragraph after putting his kill count at 24+. Whatever. Anyhow, he tends to go after random strangers (mostly women) for his prey, but sometimes strikes closer to home. Two "missing" classmates are, in fact, victims of his. He's suggested as a subplot villain, one who might romance a Cast Member before choosing her as his next victim. Or maybe he'll just bully and torment the Cast, which would leave them blind to the really bad shit he does.

Sidebar time! Hubert D. Boyd, founder of the Boyd family: He's still around as a ghost. Remember that deal he cut with a demon for wealth and power for him and his family? There was fine print on it that he didn't notice. Neither the wealth nor the power will keep his family from leading unhappy and/or short lives. Boyd's ghost would very much like to transfer that curse to some other, unsuspecting family.

I needed to break up the giant wall of text, and I always liked Tammy's portrait. Girls with glasses... too bad she's nuts.

Moving on other groups, first we have the Safe Earth Alliance (SEA for short). They're the local eco-rights group, mostly well-intentioned college kids and hippies, but there's a fringe element of genuine eco-terrorism in there. On the other hand, Boyd Logging employees have gotten violent with them more than once, so... yeah. Grizzly Peak: Not A Nice Place. Tammy Firestone is the face of the organization. She's got actual magical power (Sorcery 2), is devoted to the environment, and is unfortunately convinced that humanity is going to destroy the world unless forcibly stopped -- or eradicated. She's looking into magical ways to cleanse the world of humanity's taint, and this is a setting where giant, all-powerful demons roamed the earth before getting crowded off by humanity. BAD IDEA, TAMARA. Tammy will probably end up causing at least one disaster that the Cast has to fix.

Let's talk monsters! First up is the Berserker Demon . It is a demon bear. It is, in fact, the demon bear that Hubert Boyd summoned way back in 1872. It got banished and is now incorporeal, but it retains its power to inspire homicidal rage. If it gets enough people to kill each other, it can manifest again. The Professor is a 300 year old vampire living in a bomb shelter underneath Townsend College but is otherwise not special.

We've covered the Totem Warriors already, and I moved the bulk of their information up to cover along with their Quality, so this'll be fast. The Dweller, who's up next, managed to wipe out all the existing Totem Warriors in the 70s. One of them, Nathaniel Shadow-Dancer , stayed behind as a ghost to wait for the next generation to rise so he could train them. Any Cast Members who took Totem Warrior will be part of that generation, and get their very own ghost mentor. Good deal.

Finally, we have the thing that Totem Warriors are created to fight: Wendigos. Wendigos are a lot like vampires; demons inhabiting a human body. However, the host body is alive, and wendigos only possess evil, murderous humans, and the humans must accept the possession. The creature that results is a blending of all the worst aspects from both demon and human. They get their own game face (red eyes, sharp teeth, claws), and can only be killed by breaking their spinal cord (decapitation counts). We get a sheet for a Typical Wendigo . There's also The Dweller , who is a shameless ripoff of the Master. He serves darker powers but got his fool self trapped in the Hellmouth, and is currently scheming to get out. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

And that's Grizzly Peak. We've got some episode ideas. First off is a good outline for a Series Premiere -- everyone meets up in school, the Totem Warriors get their powers and meet Nathaniel, they are kidnapped by wendigos, everyone follows them to the Dweller's hell dimension, where they fight the Dweller and learn that he can't be killed, so they flee. A good introduction to the setting and sets up a nice Wendigos vs. Totem Warriors plot for the first Season to run on.

Next suggestion comes with another suggestion built-in: Make sure someone in the cast is friends with at least one Townsend/Boyd family member. Generally good advice, that. Anyway, due to their connections, the Cast gets invited to the Boyd family Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, a freak snowstorm strands everyone in Boyd Mansion and cuts the power. Oh, and there's a horde of zombies advancing on the house -- the restless spirits of everyone the Boyds ever killed are on the march, and it's a long list . And they're not too picky -- anyone inside the house is friends with the Boyd/Townsend family, and therefore fair game.

Here's a fun one: Some SEA activists go missing after heading out into the woods to protect a particularly old growth in the forest from the loggers. Then they show up again, stronger than normal, launching homicidal attacks on the loggers, and... made of wood. Yup, evil trees got 'em. Bring a chainsaw.

There's another one about a group of idiots throwing a party in Boyd Manor and it killing them, but we were already told in no uncertain terms that the Boyds would notice unauthorized visitors, and seriously I don't think "idiots decided to party down in the house famed for being haunted by spirits who actively hate everybody" falls under the scope of Things The Slayer Needs To Fix anyway. Forget that one.

New archetypes: Rebel Without A Clue is a Totem Warrior (Puma), and Wannabe Shaman is... a warlock. He's got Sorcery and some Occultism levels, there is nothing special about this. I guess maybe it works as an example of doing magic in this setting, but meh.

Next time: Another Sample Adventure!

Well! God damn , that was a long wait, wasn't it? Sorry, life got in the way and this section has a hell of a lot of content. I'll start setting up the next IRC sessions for playing through the sample adventure, but that's a pretty time consuming process too. Still, coming soon... Slayers! The Djinn! Save-or-dies! BE THERE OR BE SQUARE

Monster Smackdown, Chapter One: Introduc... Wait, Where'd This Content Come From?

posted by CapnAndy Original SA post

I didn't disappear or get bored and abandon my writeups or anything! I got a job! Not having 16 empty hours a day that desperately needed filling took some getting used to, and I still haven't worked out where "hang out on IRC and get another game going" fits in. I want to get back on the horse, though, so we're going to skip the Slayer's Handbook sample adventure for now and go straight to the next supplement: Monster Smackdown!

Monster Smackdown, Chapter One: Introduc... Wait, Where'd This Content Come From?

Monster Smackdown is, naturally, all about monsters. It never comes right out and says it, but this book is pretty much just for Directors. We'll get a few Qualities at the end of the book that can be used for making player character monsters, but that's it. Everything else is all about knowing what kinds of monsters there are, using them, making your own, and things in that vein, which Cast Members tend to not care about.

Chapter One is oddly jarring, actually. It starts off with the now-boilerplate stuff about formatting and gender and so on, and then goes into a brief overview of what vampires, demons, and other monsters are, and just as my eyes start to glaze over, BAM! All of a sudden and with no warning they're giving out plot seeds. I'm not kidding, there's literally no transition. From brief recap of what monsters are to brief recap of what the Hellmouth is to five possible cities to set a game in. There isn't even a section break or a new subtitle or anything. What the fuck , guys? A little warning next time!

So, now that we've started on actual content, let's get into it. They don't really provide much here, which is understandable because we're technically still in the introduction. There's a very Cthonic town in Massachusetts where the townsfolk are suspicious of outsiders and fiercely protective of their secret, which is that the town is under contract to a demon -- 200 years of prosperity, and then... they don't actually know "and then". (The demon comes to Earth with an army and kills everything. But they don't know that.) There's a site of a slave revolt that's now a pleasant suburb in Louisiana. It's severely haunted. There's a gothic city in Bavaria that's ruled by a vampire who lives in a castle and I am not kidding, that's in the book, they wrote that. Tell me you don't wanna set a game there. There's a place in Australia where some dark evil is being held at bay by some sort of ward, but that is literally all the book tells us so thanks book, that was super useful. And then there's Kovalensk, Siberia, AKA Science City X.

Oh yeah, you heard me. Science City X.

Science City X was a center of Soviet psychic research during the Cold War. When the Cold War ended, they slaughtered everyone and everything inside, demolished the facility and built Kovalensk on top of it. It's sitting on a Hellmouth. It's got potential for horribly mutated test subjects, demons, zombies, and ghosts. And the locals say that at night, sometimes they see strange lights in the sky. I am utterly in love with it and have plans to transplant it to Nevada or something.

With Hellmouths covered, we next move to Demon Dimensions. In the Buffy vernacular, these are "hells". They're not Hell; there doesn't seem to be a Hell in the Buffyverse. They're alternate dimensions. Some of them house deceased souls, but not all of them. Time may or may not move at different speeds in them. They range from torturous to merely strange to wonderful. The book gives us five sample Demon Dimensions, and they're all actually pretty cool. The Burning Dimension is your stereotypical non-Euclidean realm of fire, stuffed full of demons and ruled by a big demon king who wants to destroy the world blah blah it's another dime-store-Satan, moving on. Leviathan is genuinely creepy; it's the corpse of some titanic True Demon and the demons living inside it are all horrible scavenger things that are feeding on the corpse. Oh, and Leviathan might not be quite dead. The Laboratory is a very small dimension that's about the size of a real-world laboratory complex. It's dedicated to the study of humanity, with "study" here meaning "kidnapping, torturing, and vivisection".

Hell Mall amuses the fuck out of me, because I read Dante in college. If you've read Dante (or absorbed enough through sheer pop culture osmosis), it will amuse you too. Hell Mall is one of those Demon Dimensions that tortures damned souls, and this is a very unique one. It is a mall. Specifically, it is a nine level mall, with an ice-skating rink taking up the bottom two floors and plenty of escalators and elevators to get people around. See, the levels themselves don't torture anybody. That's what the shops are for. Gluttons suffer at the Food Court, where the food is terrible and the portions are too small. The vain are taunted by clothing stores where nothing's quite in style and everything you like doesn't fit. The other sins are left up to the reader to determine (for Wrath, I'd suggest an arcade where if you win enough tickets you can leave, but there's only one working Skee-Ball machine that everyone has to take turns on... and every so often, it eats your quarter ). The ice rink is goddamn hilarious. The ruler of Hell Mall makes his home there, partially frozen in the ice. He has three heads. One is Santa Claus, one is the Easter Bunny, and one is a big yellow smiley face. He continually tosses screaming children into his mouths, all the while asking them what they want for Christmas, offering Easter eggs, or telling them to have a nice day. Hell Mall fucking rules.

Finally, Fairy-Tale Land is very cool. It's the easiest Demon Dimension to get into -- make the wrong turn in a dark forest, explore the creepy old house at the end of the road, talk to a certain peculiar stranger. You're there. As for what it is? Well, it's exactly what it says on the tin. It runs on pure fairy tale logic and by fairy tale rules. Oh, it's running on the original dark and scary versions of the stories, but c'mon, you expected that. The thing is, it enforces the rules. You cannot kill the witch with a stake, or magic, or whatever else you usually use. The witch must be pushed into the oven. Once you've wandered into Fairy-Tale Land, there's only one way to survive and only one way to leave, and they're the same way: Know what story you're in. All you have to do to leave is resolve the story in your favor. This is not to say that you need to look for clues to figure out what literal story you're in, and then play a part. It's not that easy. Rather, you have to figure out what type of story you've been thrust into, and then start extrapolating out the rules you've got to follow. It's got potential for at least a one-shot, and if your group has fun you could make it a once-a-Season event or something. The fairy tale episode; I can see that being popular, can't you?

Next time: Vampires! (Soul not included)