Image from (and by), which for once I actually was looking at for research

Image from, which for once I actually was looking at for research

Somewhere in the beautiful jungles of social media, or perhaps in the dappled glen that was Origins, some unheralded genius-slash-troublemaker asked me “so how would you drift Bubblegumshoe and Night’s Black Agents to play Buffy: the Vampire Slayer?” How, indeed, blithe spirit.

A couple of informational footnotes before we launch ourselves into that glorious void: first, Bubblegumshoe is the new teen detective genre GUMSHOE game from Evil Hat, by me, Emily Care Boss, and Lisa Steele; second, there is already a lovely B:tVS roleplaying game by C.J. Carella, apparently still available from Eden Studios unless George hasn’t updated his webstore. So this column is not actually about Buffy, because that would be tampering with the sacred gods of IP. This is about all the other sensitive teen girl vampire slayer series.

When Jason Met Veronica

The big problem, of course, is that Bubblegumshoe completely deprecates physical combat, while Night’s Black Agents completely celebrates it. This means you need to decide early on whether you’re playing “Night’s Black Agents with feels” or “Bubblegumshoe with stakeboxing.” Let’s play the second one, mostly because that way we only need to add one major system (fighty combat) to Bubblegumshoe instead of a whole bunch (Relationships and Cool and social combat and Thresholds) to Night’s Black Agents. But because we can, let’s see if we can add magic for your red-headed witch character to use, too.

As a horror drift, use the rules changes for Bellairs Falls (BGS, p. 187). Ritual magic works as in that drift, but “on screen” or tactical magic is a Cap ability. Most ritual magic probably turns out to be needed to stop a Big Bad of some kind, rather than break a curse, but who knows?

Characters with powers (Slayer, Magic, Psychic, Werewolf, etc.) take them as General Cap abilities (BGS, p. 21) but can raise them above 6. A Powered character will likely dump more and more of her experience into the Power; the GM may provide items (silver stake, crystal ball) containing spendable (even refreshable) pools of Power points. A scene spent practicing a Power in safety (working out katas, researching cryptic tomes) refreshes that pool. Powered characters can always spend Cool on Power tests, and even deflect the spent Cool onto a Relationship (BGS, p. 67) but at double the cost of deflecting lost Cool. It’s lonely having powers nobody understands.

The GM should set Difficulty 4 for Power tests to represent the level she wants the Power to usually function at: rip open a locked door, or find a stolen item, say. If it makes sense, a character can spend other abilities on Power tests — Athletics to rip open that door, for example — but she must spend at least 1 Power point if she spends at all.

Powers shouldn’t short-circuit the story, or at the very least should do so after a full Contest of the ability against a similarly-Powered vampire or other foe.

Monsters have Aberrance pools (NBA, p. 124), on which they draw for their fighting, fell powers, or whatever else awful they might do. If the GM likes, she can rename Aberrance to Vampire, Demon, Werewolf, or whatever. It works the same, and the key is the description of stuff. Use the vampire powers in Night’s Black Agents to calibrate costs and game effects. Most monsters refresh their Aberrance pool the next sunset, unless a specific game effect limits their dark healing. Non-fighting damage to monsters (sunlight on vampires, for example) comes off their Aberrance pool.

New Abilities

Fleeing (BGS, p. 188), Occult (BGS, p. 189), and Vampirology (NBA, p. 26).

Add Soap and Stakes

Player characters can take each other as Likes, Loves, or Hates; during character creation, the other player must agree to the tag (“Mimosa doesn’t Like Chandar, she Loves him.”). If one player’s PC wants to “make” another PC do something, and the second player is unwilling to allow it, the two players run a quick “auction,” bidding pool points against each other. Love and Interpersonal points count for 2, Like, Throwdown, and Cool count for 1. (In this auction, they can only spend from each other’s Relationship.)

Players can always deflect Cool damage onto other PCs without a test; as with NPCs, the player should roleplay the way her Sleuth hosed her friend in the scene.

This layer of PvP mechanics should produce the isolation and social drain effect seen in your better teen vampire slayer dramas.

Fighty Combat

Fighting works as in Bubblegumshoe, except: a character with a Power that could plausibly keep her alive in a vampire fight doesn’t go below Scuffed until her Power pool is empty, be it Slayer, Magic, or what-have-you. Once she’s spent hollow, she starts taking real damage.

Vampires (and probably most monsters) come in two kinds: mooks and proper villains. Any hit by a Slayer (or similarly puissant Powered character) using Power or Fighting dusts a mook vamp. An unpowered character who hits a mook vamp can dust it by spending 1 point from her Relationship with the Slayer. The GM may want to allow this at a considerable price jump for hits on villains with their true bane, for the occasional “normal human proves that human pluck is the key to goodness winning” type story, but the unpowered Sleuth should ideally have done something very clever indeed to set up such a hit, or at least succeeded in an almighty Preparedness test.

As a sort of compromise, the tweedy mentor character (if he’s a PC) might have a Cap ability in Crossbow or Kendo or Escrima that allows him to dust a mook vamp with one hit without spending from his Relationship with the Slayer.

Proper villains are like Powered characters; until their (usually large) Aberrance pool is gone, the Slayer can’t quite stake them. Narrate the exciting kickboxing sequence, describing momentum shifting and gory but nonfatal hits as Slayer and Aberrance pools get spent down. Some outré monsters have banes that kill them instantly, or are immune to normal fighting damage. (A PC with the power Werewolf, e.g., might have a similar bane — any hit with a silver weapon knocks them down to Dead, or perhaps to Gonna Be Dead Unless the Witch Can Heal Them.)

A Slayer (or other Powered character) can always make a Power test to block a hit on an unpowered character after the fact (“Bunny saved me just in the nick of time!”) at a Difficulty equal to the final result (roll + spend) of the monster’s attack die  on that hit. The GM might want to restrict this only to characters with whom the Slayer has a Relationship.

A Slayer or other fighty Powered character can use the various maneuvers, special attacks, etc. from Night’s Black Agents with the GM’s permission, with one caveat: any maneuver such as Technothriller Monologue (NBA, p. 77) that allows a refresh (of Fighting or Power) for narration must be accompanied by a spend of the same number of points from Relationships or Cool. Justify it with the narration, or play out the damaged Relationship in one of the next two scenes.

Know Thy Enemy

Mook or villain, a vampire can kill any character without Vampirology with one hit. (Any monster can kill any NPC with one hit if the GM decides it makes the drama better or scarier.) Any Sleuth with Vampirology knows enough to at least have a chance; hits act as normal for them. Really strong vampires can spend 3 Aberrance to blow through one layer against an unpowered Sleuth with Vampirology: a hit can skip Scuffed or Injured, but not both.

A character can spend her experience to give an NPC with whom she has a Relationship 1 point of Vampirology. This automatically burns out the Relationship to 0: coming out as a slayer/witch/Riley is never easy.

The GM may want to use a similar caveat for other monsters and Occult, or just combine both Vampirology and Occult into a single Lore ability for a more Supernatural-flavored “hot monster hunter” game.

Her Stupid Broody Vampire Boyfriend

Build the stupid broody vampire boyfriend as a Sidekick (BGS, p. 209), with 4 points in Cool for free. A Sidekick vampire doesn’t need to spend the initial 5 points on their Cap Power ability, which is probably Vampire.

Buffy vs. Dracula (2000)


Director: David Solomon

Dracula: Rudolf Martin

Television being a writer’s medium, it’s probably best if writer Marti Noxon takes the credit and the blame for this, the premiere episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s fifth season. Following series creator Joss Whedon’s idea to use the actual Dracula instead of “some cool vampire on a horse” (Langella alert!) Noxon had to cram the entire Dracula plot, plus jokes, plus Giles’ (Anthony Stewart Head, alternating Van Helsing and Harker moments) return-to-Watcher arc, plus the debut of Dawn, into 42 minutes. Something had to give, and it’s essentially the story balance; the episode see-saws tonally even more than the normal Buffy run. That said, it winds up pretty economical, if not elegant: Dracula is worked into the Buffyverse mythology and she is worked into his via a celebrity crush that slowly becomes scary mesmerism … and an insight into Buffy’s darkness that would pay off for the rest of the season and series. How the cast all react to Dracula allows moments of personality to emerge and crystallize (spy shows usually do this in the usually tiresome polygraph episode) even if, like Xander (Nicholas Brendon, giggly Renfield butt-monkey), they reject what they find. Consider this revelatory “clarity through stress” story beat when Dracula guest-stars (or suddenly appears for the first time …) in your campaign.

This episode is another strong confirmation that the casting of Dracula makes or breaks the piece, be it movie or TV episode. German actor Rudolf Martin had played a romantic lead (and later enemy) opposite Sarah Michelle Gellar on All My Children, and played Vlad the Impaler in a cable movie, so he would seem to be the perfect choice. Let the record show that I did not find him so, although plenty of Buffy fans, like Anya and Willow, considered him dreamy. He’s too lanky (Dracula should be tall, but not skinny), and his pale makeup looks like something Buffy would normally mock. As goofy as his cape looks in modern Sunnydale, his “waistcoat and shirtsleeves” look is even worse. His final fight scene is more ferally effective than most Buffyboxing, and Gellar acts genuinely tempted by his offer of knowledge — but all ends with quips and dust and in the final analysis, he’s just a “Eurotrashed” monster of the week who “wafts in here with his music video wind.” Buffy’s words, not mine.

The 31 Nights of Dractober is a daily preview of a “first cut” essay on a cinematic Dracula. Molded into mythology (and gazing into your comments and responses), it will appear in my upcoming book Thrill of Dracula, part of the Dracula Dossier Kickstarter. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the excellent spookiness that is hard copies of The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook and Dracula Unredacted from your Friendly Local (Bits & Mortar participating) Game Store or from the Pelgrane store and get the PDFs now!