Game: Blood and Vigilance
Review Dated: 21st, December 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
Vigilance was one of, if not, the first d20 superhero games to hit the market. It was Vigilance Press’ flagship product and it came out first as a PDF and then as a paperback. This is a review of Blood and Vigilance. Charles Rice, author of Vigilance, has been writing for RPGObject’s d20 “Blood and” line for some time now and he’s able to wear both hats at once as the author of Blood and Vigilance. The “Blood and” line includes such titles as Blood and Fists and Blood and Relics. Blood and Vigilance is, as you might expect, the merger of these two RPG lines.
Vigilance was written back at the time of 3.0. Blood and Vigilance is good with any d20 modern game, that’s a good upgrade. Further more – and all credit to Blood and Vigilance for this – this edition of the game actually reigns in the scope of the RPG. Normally new editions produce extra rules and expansions. Blood and Vigilance makes the call to concentrate on those superheroes born or otherwise organically gifted (accidents, experiments, etc) with powers. Appropriately enough, you can say these heroes have “in the blood powers”. We’re promised rules for hi-tech superheroes in a future PDF. Blood and Vigilance is able to concentrate its efforts entirely on its chosen superhero niche and it does this to good effect.
D20 Modern suits the superhero genre far better than fantasy d20 does. I could never quite work out when a superhero was a prestige class and when it wasn’t – after all surely all superheroes are a prestige class? In Blood and Vigilance you simply go with the basic hero classes inherent in d20 Modern. The classes have access to different powers. For example, the Smart Hero can elect to have the Danger Sense power. If you want to play a Strong Hero with Danger Sense then you’ll need to pick a suitable Origin, one that opens up that power to you. D20 Modern has, of course, advanced classes too. In Blood and Vigilance these advanced classes relate closely to the role of the superhero; are they a mentor, or a criminal mastermind? Perhaps their role is as the specialised energy protector (those heroes with blast’em type powers) or they might be known for their acrobatics. In addition since the (often mocked) D&D alignment system isn’t an issue here we can have mentors and masterminds (one normally good, one normally criminal) in the same section. Good luck to anyone who tries to work out Batman’s alignment in the fantasy d20 model or the Punisher’s or the Hulk’s. Later on and in the GM’s section we find rules for Epic heroes – those characters who’ve gone beyond 20th level. Once again this is just the sort of thing we need for a heroes game.
I think Blood and Vigilance just about gets away with its look and feel. Text is in three columns and pages are wider than they are tall. They’re in landscape rather than portrait. Heading text, in bold red and blue, is in the curly lettered comic font (Comic Sans, is it?). Tables are coloured red and the top and bottom of each page is decorated with a shaded blue area. It’s a layout style that just stands up and shouts, “four colour comic” to you. The printer friendly version of Blood and Vigilance doesn’t come bundled per se. Instead we’re told how to synchronise our RPGNow account with RPGObject’s own database and download printer friendly options from there. There’s also the suggestion of discounts if we decide we fancy having a professionally done print-on-demand copy. The advance of this (other than the discounts) is that you don’t have to download a huge zip file of PDFs at one go and can collect them at your leisure. The disadvantage is the extra fussing around.
I like the way powers work in Blood and Vigilance. For a start they’re easy to attribute to your character. It’s as simple as picking skills and this is a welcome sight for anyone who’s attempted the rather more formidable power building process of some of the older systems. I really like the Power Stunt option. At odd levels (starting at the first) your character enjoys a power stunt and this allows him to use a specific power more easily. The in-game benefits of power stunts should be obvious to any player. What struck me, though, was how that’ll encourage games to mimic what commonly occurs in comics. Heroes capable of a whole range of powers often have a favourite selection that they use again and again. Power Stunts encourage signature moves and powers. This is a natural result of the game mechanics simply being inline with the mood and feel of the game. Game mechanics that complement the mood and feel of the game are one of the most important aspects I look for in any roleplaying game. They’re surprisingly rare.
It’s worth looking at the feats too. Feats can be tricky in a d20 superhero system. A feat is supposed to be that added extra that a “mundane” person couldn’t do, it’s that extra special heroic ability and so runs the risk of clashing with the rules for powers. Blood and Vigilance does well to sidestep this potential tripwire. Lots of feats look at other-than-power benefits. The hero might have some henchmen, a sidekick, a network of informants or a bonus for defending his home turf.
Blood and Vigilance’s disadvantage rule system is also as agile. You don’t get any character generation points back from disadvantages. If you’re one of those annoying players who tries to pick disadvantages that are as unlikely as possible to disadvantage your character then you get your comeuppance here. Disadvantages in Blood and Vigilance add to the Challenge Rating of an encounter where the disadvantage came into play. Therefore if you succeed in the scene and don’t succumb to the disadvantage you get more experience points. The example in the RPG is easy to understand. Your hero has a secret identity. There’s an attack while your character is maintaining their secret identity but by tripping and falling strategically (how often do we see that in comics) you’re able to save people and your secret. Okay, you look like a clumsy oaf, but your secret is safe.
The Gamemastering chapter has the sort of rules that, I think, will add that superhero touch to the game. I’m a fan of the super powered knockback rules. When incredibly strong heroes slug it out – they go flying. Super heroes crash through walls only to leap through the rubble, snap in a kick and send their nemesis tumbling down off from the roof top (an embarrassment rather than a hindrance to many). The rules for collateral damage follow on nicely from the knockback rules!
Blood and Vigilance will appeal to many comic fans. As of yet the RPG doesn’t have the wealth of support that the HERO system has nor does it have the spit and polish of Mutants and Masterminds. I think Blood and Vigilance’s main attraction – in addition to being a solidly successful RPG – is how easily it can be slotted into any D20 modern game. You don’t have to learn a whole new set of rules to play Blood and Vigilance. If you want to play a superhero game for a little while and then return to your d20 fantasy campaign then Blood and Vigilance is the cost effective and quality hero game that you can turn to.