Last Friday evening, I got some of my group together to run a one-shot of Hunter: The Vigil. This is White Wolf’s New World of Darkness version of Hunter: The Reckoning, which never really inspired much love in me. Hunter: The Vigil, on the other hand, really intrigued me once I bothered to take a look at it.
My main problem with the old game was that, instead of playing normal humans confronting the supernatural, you played normal humans with funky powers confronting the supernatural*. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but I felt it ignored a large area of interesting story by not letting one play a normal human thrust into a paranormal world.
Also, I found that the basic assumptions of the game really tried to force one to play a very specific type of game, with very specific types of characters and plots. Not enough freedom readily available in the basic design, is what I’m saying, though of course every game can be expanded beyond its core assumptions by a dedicated GM.
The new version of Hunter really did a lot to fix that. It provides a much more open matrix of story than the previous game, and is designed to allow the GM to pick the style of game he wants to run. It’ll readily support stories told in the vein of the Supernatural TV series, stuff out of Poltergeist: The Legacy and X-Files, and full-blown gun-bunny Delta Force raids on vampire nests. You can pick the level of play in a manner very reminiscent of Unknown Armies, choosing how much the characters know about the weird of the world and what resources they have at their disposal. There is also a very nice section at the end telling you how to build your own creatures, so you’re not tied into the standard World of Darkness mythology, which I think is a good thing**.
Well, of late, we’ve just been playing D&D, so I think we were all hungry for a non-fantasy, non-d20 game as a change of pace. I downloaded one of the quick-start adventures available from White Wolf – The Hunt. It uses the characters from the in-game fiction in the rulebook***, and picks up their story about a week after the events described in the fiction. I invited five of my group to play, and they all said yes, so we set a date, they picked characters, and we got to it.
Overall, it was a success.
There were a few hiccups, though, in part because this was a first run for all of us, and in part because the intro adventure is very bare bones without a lot of depth to it. Not surprising in an intro adventure, but it showed its holes when confronted by experienced players.
A couple of negatives really stood out to me (I’ll try to avoid spoilers):
- The timeline for the “mystery” really railroads the characters. There were a couple of points where the adventure basically says, “This is all you can do. Now you have to wait for things to happen.” Sure, that’s very reflective of reality, especially in a police investigation, but I prefer more active avenues be available for players and characters to explore.
- The main villain, who is given a fairly rich backstory, is barely onstage at all. There is little to no interaction set up in the adventure beyond trying to shoot him.
- Far more engaging and compelling than the main character is a red herring introduced about midway through the adventure. This really sidetracked the investigation a fair bit.
- The combat stats were not really well-balanced. Five PCs, three of them tough cops and one of them a gang leader with a bodyguard, could barely handle four stock, run-of-the-mill gang members. The relevant stats were too out of whack for the cops to have had much of a chance unless they pulled their guns. When they ran into some of the supernatural threats, it was even worse.
And now the positives:
- The SAS structure was quite easy to follow and use on the fly.
- There was an interesting mix of things to do in the adventure, giving pretty much everyone a chance to shine.
- Some of the ideas were great, such as Rag Man.
- The quick-start rules that came with the adventure were handy, easy to follow, and gave us all the basics.
- The write-ups for each of the pre-gen characters were wonderfully complete and easy to use.
- It was fun.
In the final analysis, it’s really that last point that makes all the difference, isn’t it?
We liked the game enough that we’re going to run another one-shot available for free from White Wolf: One Year Later. If that one goes well, I’m considering starting an ongoing campaign.
We’ll have to wait and see on that, though.
Final verdict? Hunter: The Vigil is a fun game.
*I freely admit that I am oversimplifying, and indeed may be downright wrong about this. I haven’t looked at the game since it came out in 1999, and that’s the impression I came away with after reading it. Or at least that’s what I remember my impression to be.
**Especially considering the long-running Vampire: The Masquerade campaign that ran in my group for somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten years. A lot of the backstory and basics of the World of Darkness got explored in that time. Granted, it was the old World of Darkness, but still.
***Which is one of the creepiest bits of in-game fiction I’ve read in a White Wolf product.