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I don’t especially want to think of Eden Studios’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an old role-playing game, but the game is more than ten years old now, it’s out of print — though not circulation, by some miracle of licensing — and the Buffy property seems to have become passé with the young peoples. But my loyalty for the game as a workhorse for whatever I want to run is indefatigable. I used it for a BPRD scenario when I first began running games at conventions, layered in elements for Scions of Time, and then recently switched over to using Buffy for my Ghostbusters games at Carnage. And during the playtest of Post-Diluvian Predators of Rochester, certain players snickered at the informal style of the writing, and its apparent lack of tables, so that’s where my sense that the game’s line into the gaming culture zeitgeist sunset some time ago.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its siblings Angel and Army of Darkness, has a few key qualities that keep me coming back to it as the engine to run my scenarios. First is ease of play. Like its classic Unisystem cousins, Buffy uses a single d10 plus skill and ability for most questions of resolution. On the GM’s side, it gets even easier: most non-player characters are rendered as a series of target numbers for the players to roll against. If you’re juggling multiple creatures with weird abilities, and trying to keep in mind the state of everyone else in the fray, not having to worry about rolling dice or adding up numbers correctly is huge. Cinematic Unisystem delegates that work to the players, and really, they were going to roll dice anyway. Why make the GM roll too, when you can get mostly the same result with a pre-calculated target number?
Secondly, it’s super easy to adapt material to fit a preexisting idea, or come up with something new. Buffy and Angel both have guidelines for roughing out new monsters for players to beat up. If that’s not enough, I can flip through WitchCraft books for more concepts already rendered in Unisystem terms. I did that with Post-Diluvian Predators, as well, actually, pulling some “Vampyre” abilities from Mystery Codex to simulate a variant I found in Night’s Black Agents that I wanted to be the default vampire type in my Ghostbusters world.
Thirdly, Buffy‘s Drama Points are something I wish more games offered. I get that the whole point of the dice is to introduce change and risk. But there should be room to stretch when a character is exceptionally motivated to succeed. Drama Points provide that stretch. I think maybe they’re too plentiful in a convention game — everyone could probably do with a fifth of what a starting character gets for Drama Points — but as long as they’re in short supply, players will value them as a resource to ensure that what they want to happen, will.
If you’re curious about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Cinematic Unisystem, check out the original quickstart, which is still available courtesy the BBC.