Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Review: Vigilante City (Core Rules)

This review is part of a series on thematic OSR games (as defined here). Also note that some of the links below are affiliate links (meaning I get a small percentage of the sale without extra cost to you).

Vigilante City is a superhero game inspired by the many animated series of the 90s. It uses the same basic system as Dark Places & Demogorgons, the publisher's previous game. This is going to be a rare 3-part review. First, I'm taking a look at the Core Rules; in the second part I'll create a few sample characters to showcase the versatility of the system; finally, I'll review the Villain's Guide, the game's GM's book.


System Summary
  • Attributes are determined by "4d6, drop lowest, arrange to taste". There are actually 7 attributes: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, and Survival.
  • Attribute modifiers follow the B/X model, albeit extended for the 3-24 range.
  • STR modifies melee and thrown attacks (but not damage rolls!); INT provides additional languages; WIS increases the amount of XP earned; DEX modifies AC, ranged attacks, and initiative; CON modifies HP/level; CHA is used when interacting with NPCs; while Survival forms a special pool from which points may be spent to re-roll failed checks (but they only return at a rate of 1/session!).
  • Attribute checks are made with "d20, roll under" (with a 20 always resulting in a failure, even if an attribute exceeds 20).
  • Everyone starts with 2d6 + CON modifier hit points. HP increases by 1d6 + CON modifier each level thereafter.
  • There are 6 saving throws: Courage, Critical, Death, Magic, Mental, and Poison. They are determined by 4d4 + CON modifier. Every level beyond the first 2 points may be distributed, but no saving throw value may exceed 18.
  • Saving throws are also "d20, roll under".
  • Alignment is only considered on the Law-Chaos axis.
  • There is an optional subsystem for mechanising reputation: PCs gain or lose Vigilante Points for certain actions, and at defined thresholds bonuses/penalties apply to social interactions.
  • There are optional background tables that confer certain bonuses (e.g. your parent is doing life in prison and you swore to prove their innocence, thus you gain +2 Knowledge - Law, or you were struck by lightning during an equinox, hence you gain +2 initiative).
  • Starting money is rolled on a 1d100 table: it gives you a number as well as some additional background (e.g. 51-55 results in 1500 money and establishes that your parents were paramedics, +1 to First Aid).
  • There are two "races": humans and MegaHumans (sic), each enabling a different set of classes. Each class has at least one illustration; human classes take 2 pages; MegaHuman classes more, due to their varied powers.
  • Classes have a level progression table up to level 10, describing the benefits they gain for each level (plus the HP gain noted earlier). These benefits might be anything from attack bonuses through skill bonuses to new powers.
  • Note that class descriptions take up the majority of the core book: they run from p32 to p209.
  • The following human classes are available: Archer, Athlete, Crime Fighter, Dark Avenger, Gadgeteer, Genius, Hardboiled Detective, Knight Nurse, Martial Artist, Mentor, Mercenary, Protege, Sharpshooter, Street Preacher, and True Vigilante.
  • And here are the MegaHuman classes: Anthropomorph, Borg, Mutant, Mystic, Powered Armor Pilot, Psion, Super Soldier, and Super Speedster.
  • Starting characters (unless otherwise noted) are proficient with 4 other skills, and further skill points are gained at each level (2 + INT modifier).
  • Most skills are fairly straightforward; some, like in Rifts, provide additional bonuses (Dancing, for instance, improves AC by +1).
  • Skill checks are "d20, roll over target number". Difficulty checks are 10 easy, 15 medium, 20 difficult, and 25 near impossible (as we learn from the glossary).
  • There are also skill packs that grant certain skill bonuses and other benefits that have their own level tables (thus if you opt into a skill pack, you will continue to reap its benefits).
  • XP is awarded for 5 things: (I) session survival (1 XP), (II) encounter XP (1 XP for each combat scenario, regardless of victory, up to 3 XP), (III) exceptional roleplaying (1 XP), (IV) discretionary XP (up to 2 XP for solving puzzles and such), and (V) vigilante XP (for selfless/valorous acts, can only be earned by a single player per session).
  • All character classes use the same XP table for advancement.
  • There's an optional rule to award 1 XP per hour of gameplay instead of the above categories (it has slightly altered XP requirements).
  • The game uses "ascending AC, base 10". DEX naturally modifies it, and so does armour, shield, helmet, and belt (one of each may be worn).
  • Protective gear may also provide Toughness (i.e. damage reduction).
  • The assumed procedure for combat scenarios is (1) determine surprise, (2) roll initiative, 1d6 + bonuses for each participant, (3) from highest to lowest result take 1 action each; repeat step 3 until the fighting ends - but there are two alternative procedures as well (of similar complexity).
  • Attack rolls are "d20 + modifier vs. AC"; equal rolls don't hit, apparently.
  • Taking 50% or more of max HP in damage from a single hit necessitates a Critical saving throw. On a failure, "all bonuses are lost" and all rolls are made with at −4 for 12 hours.
  • Reaching 0 HP takes on "out of action", rendering them unconscious until healed (at the end of the fight, a Death save is made). Resting for 4 hours heals 50% of lost HP; resting for 8 hours brings the characters back up to max HP.
  • Characters die instantly if reduced to negative CON score HP.
  • There are critical hit and fumble tables.
  • There are various situational rules (like falling, drowning, catching fire, grappling, outsmarting opponents, spotting hidden things, etc.).

Things I Liked
  • The font size is very generous (cf. 70,266 words over 294 6.25*9.25 pages).
  • The text is fairly informal without lacking clarity (although sometimes it does get a little convoluted for no reason).
  • I appreciate that Good/Evil alignments don't exist; this encourages all sorts of villains and heroes of moral ambiguity (or rather, the degree of ambiguity can be decided for each campaign).
  • The inclusion of both human and MegaHuman classes makes it easy to set a suitable power level for the campaign.
  • Between the fuckton of classes, skill choices, skill packs, and background rolls, character customisation is way deeper than in most OSR games (comparable to Perdition and ACKS).
  • The rules of the game are very simple (pp262-277). They should probably be presented at the beginning of the book, though, for easier reference.
  • There is a dedicated action to defend someone else (granting bonus AC and a chance that you two split incoming damage).
  • There's a simple index and an Appendix N at the end of the book.
  • The entirety of the book (sans artwork, logos, and titles) is Open Game Content.

Things I Disliked
  • Many typos are left in the text (a few of them being the same ones from Dark Places & Demogorgons). Fortunately, none of them hinders the understanding of the rules.
  • The fact that CON modifies starting saving throw values isn't mentioned in the attribute's description.
  • It's never specified when one must roll on the "out of action" table (although context suggests it happens on a failed Death save).
  • That the amount of skill points gained every level is modified by INT is also not noted in the attribute's description.
  • Bonuses gained from skills (in Rifts style) are easy to forget, and it makes character creation a little more heavy on the bookkeeping, especially because those bonuses are obviously not reiterated in the class descriptions.
  • Skills are roll over, while attributes are roll under. Also, no note on how to handle unskilled rolls.
  • I'm not a fan of damage reduction, especially since it stacks so well in this game. On the other hand, I guess it fits the genre. I'd need to crunch some numbers to come to a fair verdict on this one.
  • The idea to collect game terms in alphabetical order is a good one, but it's called a glossary. It doesn't really substitute for a logically ordered explanation of the rules, even if the rules themselves are super simple.
  • The fact that characters are supposed to have a Move value only comes up in this glossary.

The game, although it presents many options, has very simple rules, and most common situations are addressed in way or another (and since the chassis it's built on is so straightforward, it's trivial to extrapolate), which I like. The book communicates a very distinct flavour through its character options and artwork, but I just cannot look over the poor editing and proofreading (somewhere there's a "superhero game we need vs. the superhero game we deserve" joke in there). I'm way more interested in superheroes than DP&D's premise, so it might actually make it to my table at some point. Unless, of course, the Villain's Guide turns out to be a disappointment.

Vigilante City was created by Eric Bloat and Josh Palmer (and helped written by a bunch of other people) and published in 2019 under the flag of Bloat Games. It is available in PDF on DriveThruRPG and in hardcover format on Squarespace.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, thanks for reviewing! I'm still looking for my "ideal" superhero game. In terms of crunchy games I like Mutants & Masterminds 3e, but I'm not really into crunch anymore; FATE and Cypher or really any fairly rules-light or generic system can work, but not specific to supers; I like character creation and the general logic of FASERIP but the roll table was imo cumbersome and not fun (although I only played it once); still haven't played the PbtA game Masks which seems really good for teen superhero stuff, but not good for anything else.

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