Any geek-friendly property will have a role-playing game created for it, whether the result is official or unofficial. Licensing, though, can be costly, the result being that some properties get a game when the work is laying fallow, such as what happened with the earlier Star Wars and Star Trek RPGs. Having a current property tends to be a coup. Such was the case with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game.
The TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer first aired on the WB and then UPN. Despite being on smaller networks, the show picked up a cult following, a following that was more likely to also purchase RPGs. Eden Studios published the Buffy RPG during the TV series’ sixth season in 2002 using a modified version of their house mechanic as used in their Witchcraft RPG. Cinematic Unisystem, as the mechanics were called, simplified the skill list and added a drama die mechanic called Karma Points. The core, which involved rolling a ten-sided die and adding attribute and skill levels, remained and easily faded into the background when not needed.
The core Buffy rulebook contained everything players and gamemasters (known as Directors) needed to play. The language in the book contained Buffy-speak without being forced or impenetrable. Character creation was point-buy, with different pools of points for attributes and skills, and advantages; players needing more points could get disadvantages. The game allowed for different starting levels of power for characters. The low end represented the Scoobies like Xander, Willow, and Cordelia in the first season. The next level up represented the White Hats like Giles and Buffy herself. The top level existed for experienced heroes, like the gang in later seasons. Mixing power levels was possible, as long as the Director remembered the differences in abilities. The game provided help here by giving the low tier characters the most Karma Points at the start and allowing them to by the Points at a lower experience point cost than the higher levels.
For players wanting to play the someone from the series, all the major characters and some of the minor ones got full character sheets that reflected both the character creation rules and what was shown on the series. People wanting to create original characters weren’t forgotten. The core rules included advantages that acted as packages, including everything needed to be a Watcher, a Slayer-in-Training, a Werewolf, a Vampire, or even a full-fledged Slayer. The Director and players could decide to play in a different era, or work out how a new Slayer was called based on events in the series. After all, by the fourth season, two new Slayers, Kendra and Faith, had appeared.
Since the game was already set for urban fantasy, Witchcraft‘s combat mechanics were easily brought over, with important maneuvers, such as Stake to the Heart, being added to the common list. Actual play was quick; between the simplicity of the die mechanic and the option for the Director to use the average value for non-player characters instead of also rolling, a fight wouldn’t take an entire session unless it was meant to be the climax of a campaign’s season.
Helping to maintain the feel of the Buffy TV series is the terms used, like season and Director. Individual sessions are called episodes, though Directors can have games with multiple ongoing plots without defined borders without breaking the system. The episodic nature of TV series gives structure to new players without alienating experienced ones.
As is appropriate, when Buffy spun off Angel and Cordelia into their own series, Angel, Eden Studios produced the spin-off, Angel Roleplaying Game. The spin-off RPG used the same system, but included details on how to create new advantages for the various demons that appeared in the series. Eden also used Cinematic Unisystem in another licensed RPG, one based on Army of Darkness. The differences in the games came from the different advantages available, each reflecting the source material, and the tone of the writing. Army of Darkness didn’t have the Buffy-speak, opting for a tone matching Bruce Campbell’s Ash.
Overall, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Roleplaying Game not only makes the effort to recreate the TV series, it succeeds, The game allows players to enter the Buffy-verse without having to worry about the mechanics, letting them jump right in. The presentation maintains the feel by sounding like it came from the writers’ room, mimicking the dialogue the series was known for. Eden Studios deserves full kudos for their work.