Sunday, April 7, 2013

Vigilante RPG

So, this is a crosspost from the Black Hat Writing blog, but since this blog gets a lot more traffic, I thought I'd mention it here as well. This is an attempt to do a more formal writeup of what the Vigilante RPG is all about than my last post on the subject. See the original post, or sign up as a playtest GM at Thanks :D

The Beta rules for Vigilante are complete! With this milestone, I am now actively recruiting playtest GMs to read, run, and make every effort to break my rules. I'm planning on releasing in November, and I want to make every reasonable effort possible to make sure that the ruleset is prepared for the wilds before I release it.

One of my prospective playtesters asked me, "What kind of game is it?" Well, let me explain...

Vigilante is a simple but firm system designed to tell stories in a modern, realistic setting. It uses an innovative, 'blackjack-style' core mechanic that is designed to minimize calculations in your head, relying on number comparisons rather than arithmetic. The core rules are designed around building vanilla mortals and playing in a totally mundane world. That said, there are optional rules for various supernatural elements which may be included, and the fact that the players don't know what's actually going on allows for real tension in a way that other games don't support. You could find that it's a ghost, or you could find that it's just the guy who runs the water slide. Only the GM knows for sure.

One of the things I love about Vigilante is that it supports making realistic human characters from any walk of life. A PC could be a gun-toting assassin, or a coffee shop barista who paints in her spare time. It's about bringing the world to life, not trying to fit all characters into some sort of mold. Character creation uses Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences for the statline, and there's a fairly deep skill system that can represent just about any possible skill set. When people look at the character sheet, a common first response is, "Well, Music is clearly the dump stat." To which my response is, "Sure, if your character is not musical." The game isn't about making a badass. It's about making a person.

In Vigilante, normal humans are at the heart of the entire story. Maybe there's something else going on... or maybe not. Most games open with the players in the dark. As far as they know, their characters live in a world just like ours. Because mundane reality is so strongly established as the standard, if something supernatural does come up, it's that much more powerful. In my own Vigilante game, the first time a fae lord appeared and started growing long teeth and claws, the look on my players' faces was priceless. Jaws dropped. My own girlfriend whispered, "I didn't even know that was possible..." If I'd called them together for a game of Changeling, I never would have gotten that response.

Before I leave you, let me address the system briefly. First, it's a firm system. By this I mean that if a PC wants to leap across a crocodile-infested river, the result is determined by considering the width of the river and his skill at jumping, not by considering the arc of the story and whether it's his turn for a success. Beyond that, every effort has been made to keep the system simple, realistic, and easy to use. The core mechanic relies on the easiest of mental functions: number comparison. It's a blackjack system, so higher numbers on the dice are always better, but if the result exceeds your skill number, then it's a failure. In contested rolls, there's simply two comparisons: compare your result to your skill; if you succeed and your opponent does as well, then compare your respective results. Whoever has the higher number wins. Done. No shenanigans. As for difficulty, difficulty is increased by using larger dice, rather than modifying the target number. The target number is always equal to your character's skill. It's a little different, but it works smoothly. And there's almost no math involved.

In a few words, Vigilante is a system designed to get out of your way and let you tell a story. It solves the problem of trying to figure out what happens when A wants to shoot B and B doesn't want to get shot, but it doesn't take up too much of your time while doing so. Combat moves quickly, guns are lethal as all hell, but characters don't have to be combat oriented to have a place in the story. It's focused on the mundane, normal world, because that's where we all live. Somewhere in our secret hearts, we all want to believe there might be monsters lurking in the shadows. When you play Vigilante, there might be.

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