What makes Buffy Buffy?
A basic question that faces anyone that starts their own RPG series is
how to settle on a cast and setting which is different than the
series, and yet still retains the qualities that one likes and
desires from the original. Of course, everyone will probably have
their own opinions about this. This is just my personal thoughts on
The following is my personal list of what makes Buffy Buffy, in order
- Juxtaposing supernatural threats and normal life
A constant theme in Buffy is having a supernatural horror
reflect some aspect of teen life, such as the mother-daughter
conflict in "The Witch" reflected in the supernatural
possession and curses. A campaign where the PC's are
commandoes, professional agents, or seasoned Watchers will lack
- Empowering what is normally the female victim
The core concept of Buffy is taking the girl who is the typical
victim in vampire horror films, and making her a tough
superhero. I think the femaleness of the hero is pretty
important, and I was disappointed that 3 out of 4 of the Hero
archetypes in the core rulebook are male.
- Teenage problems
While Buffy eventually grew out of teen-hood, I think that
school and other issues of teens is central to the series.
Teen issues like career day, steroid use, mother-daughter
relations, dating, prom, and so forth are frequent themes.
With the latest season, this has become even more explicit as
Buffy returns to high school as a counselor.
- A new twist on old monsters
The show takes a lot of old monster movie premises and puts a
new twist on them. Besides vampires, there have been
werewolves, killer androids, snake-demons, mind-controlling
parasites, and more. Many if not most of these reference
classic horror movies (like the man-fish which resemble the
"Creature from the Black Lagoon).
- Circles around a central character
Some series have a stable of characters who are switched
between. BtVS is instead organized with a single character.
This doesn't mean that all the stories are about Buffy.
Rather, the stories revolve around Buffy as the center. If
anything, other characters are more developed than Buffy is
(i.e. perhaps more of a donut than a cookie :-). But Buffy
is the center which organizes their stories.
Obviously the order of importance is an issue of personal taste, and
also the list itself to some degree.
Alternate Series Concepts
The Buffy RPG Core Rulebook lists several series cast options, which
vary in their Buffyness to a fair degree. Note that there is
nothing wrong with an RPG series being less Buffy-like. A series
needs individuality, and there is nothing which demands that it needs
to exactly imitate the original series. However, it is worth looking
at how these concepts affect the Buffyness of the series.
- "The Chosen One and Friends"
This is obviously the direct parallel to the Buffy series.
However, I would say that one can vary a fair bit from this
and still be Buffy-like.
- "A Gathering of Heroes"
This is described as being un-Buffy-like, but I don't think it
is necessarily so. The important thing, in my mind, is that
the characters should still have lives with normal issues like
dating, tests, taxes, and what-not (i.e. for points #1 and #3
above). The series clearly functioned with at least three
hero-power types (Buffy/Willow/Spike, say). While Xander's
Zeppo-ness is cool, I don't see it as required.
- "A Gathering of Scoobies"
This I think is actually less Buffy-like. Powers like magic,
Slayerness, and vampire-with-soul-ness are important for the
sorts of allegory that make Buffy work. Hero power is
important for empowerment (i.e. point #2 above).
- "The Initiative"
This is one of the least Buffy-like ideas, I feel. If all the
PCs are part of a government organization, they will lack
many of the connections to normal life.
- "Watchers in Action"
This has a similar problems to the Initiative. The Watchers are
a hierarchical and largely unsympathetic organization in the
series. There are plot twists which could deal with this,
the real problem is that lack of normal life.
- "Slayer-less Series"
This is such a broad category that it says very little.
I think the key to Buffy-ness isn't in the specific details
of Slayers versus non-Slayer heroes. So there is a lot of
room for being Buffy-like, and a lot of room in general.
<<BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox
Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer
trademark is used without express permission from Fox.>>
John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Sat Oct 25 00:18:48 2003