Ranting on Hunter: The Vigil

Okay, so, tonight we’re prepping characters for a Hunter: The Vigil chronicle.

Small group, something to play on the week nights for a little while. Players not involved in this game are involved in a casual weekend group for AD&D 1E.

It has taken me a long time to finally want to play this game. I’m a big fan of modern horror, and the “Hunter” aspect is my favorite to both run and play. I was a rabid fan of Hunter: The Reckoning.  One of my favorite role-playing experiences was a friend’s mini-chronicle using Hunter’s Hunted.  I was excited about The Vigil when I first heard about it. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting….I was looking forward to having something more than the Mortal rules to run hardcore monster hunters and paranormal investigators, but I wound up being disappointed in my first read through.

My buddy would run a chronicle of it after borrowing my book, and in the end we never left the “tier one” Hunters or bothered with the Compacts and Conspiracies. To be honest, we only took a few rules from the game and pretty much kept the whole thing driven by the core rule book instead. I think I took more out of Armory for fighting styles than all of the rules we took out of The Vigil together.

Now, I sit here with a Vigil chronicle written out and printing off the sheets for tonight’s character generation. I also sit here with a lot of conclusions, after finally reading the book honestly from cover to cover, to state my opinion of it as a game.

In a Nutshell:

  • The game is less “Reckoning” and more “Hunter’s Hunted.”
  • They cram a lot of ideological crap down the reader’s throat, and then present some factions that fail to represent those ideals.
  • There are a lot of good game play mechanics here, especially for running a modern Hunter/Occult Investigation themed game.
  • In the end, I’d say the new game mechanics, including the Endowment creations rules, are its saving grace. The rest is mostly garbage.

Compared to The Reckoning

Hunter: The Reckoning, from the older game system, was a game that many got into and others would criticized harshly for being “too super powered.”  Characters in that game were imbued by an ethereal, unknown force that was only referred to as “The Heralds.”  Regardless of belief, the universal truth was that these characters were chosen by something powerful and given the abilities to see the monsters for who they were. They were blessed (or cursed) with true vision, immunities to the illusions of the supernatural and, most importantly, some kickass little abilities like being able to supercharge hand-held items to deal righteous fury upon the skulls of the wicked.  It didn’t matter your character’s background, religion, belief system or political view….these characters were brought together because something chose them.

The Vigil, from what I gathered, has a lot of similar ethos to The Reckoning. Everyday men and women, suddenly aware of the truth to the shadows, take up the calling to sacrifice their normal lives for a lifestyle that, often time, involves breaking the laws, getting themselves hurt and putting them and their loved ones in danger. It is described as both the lone candle that burns watching in the darkness, or the torch fire that breeds judgment to the shadows. Except….that’s all it is, a fucking metaphor. Wizards of the Coast pulls this same feel good, bullshit stuff in 4E D&D.

Yes, in another reality they easily could have called this game Hunter: The Points of Light. Mind you, it’s the kind of feel good bullshit metaphor that I gobble up in gaming. I loved it in 4E, I love it in The Vigil, I loved it in The Reckoning and I fucking love it in games like Mutants & Masterminds, Hearts & Souls and any other 4-Color supers game I can think of. Why bitch about it here?  Because they write pages of this stuff, getting you all stoked to stand up for this movement. Only it’s not a movement. It actually doesn’t have any bearing whatsoever in this game. Like, in Promethean….they all had “The Pilgrimage” to become human. That was a very real element to the game, even if it wasn’t tangible.  It at least had a very strong literary role in the story, a very important mechanical motivator in the rules, and served as a great center to the game design.

The Vigil could easily be on par with the Promethean’s Pilgrimage, except for….

The Factions

In the old Hunter, The Reckoning was a driving force for the story. The character concepts (the Creeds) were built around that concept and ideology. The factions in The Vigil, however, come off feeling a bit too “Year of the Hunter” instead. Each compact and conspiracy is a different entity, with different reasons for hunting monsters. They try to imply that every Compact and Conspiracy has its own views of “The Vigil”, but reading through these and comparing them to that feel-good lecture at the beginning of what it’s supposed to be….I felt they missed the mark.

Don’t get me wrong….I think concepts like Network Zero, The Union and any faction that derive from a Christian background seem like genuine factions that have interest in what The Vigil is about. But Ashwood Abbey, filled with its Hedonistic history (that involves a founder jerking off on a statue Werewolves were drawn to) seemed like it deserved to just be a small chapter in some other source book about….something. Seriously, you give me the above mentioned feel good “save the world” type stuff and the first organization you introduce me to is a bunch of Goths who like to get their jollys either killing monsters or fucking them?

The division of “Tiers” of play annoyed me to no end. So, at Tier One we’re all Hunters on our own. Okay, that’s cool. Tier 2, we join an organization like The Union and coordinate our hunts with other allied cells (or Ashwood Abbey and schedule our orgies on the same night.) But at Tier 3, we’re part of vast global conspiracies that range from ancient societies protecting dark secrets to para-military operations with an arsenal of cool army gear. Or, we’re part of a corporation that grafts monster parts on us! Or we pray to Catholic Saints (or pacts with our Demonic blood lines) and have kewl powerz!

I’m sorry, Tier 3 organizations seem almost like THE OPPOSITE of what “The Vigil” stands for. To me, they’re corrupted factions that are just as much a threat as Vampire covens or councils of witches.

So what did I like? And why am I running this?

What I did like? First of all, it keeps the general strength of the new World of Darkness games in that it is a toolkit. Anything presented here is easy to rip off, take out or plug in. If I didn’t like it, it was tossed. One thing I did love, though, was the rules handling Professions.  It was a nice merit package that gives a bit more flavor to regular mortals than even the regular mortal rules presented in the core book.Second off, I love the piss out of the Willpower rules. They remind me a lot of Conviction from the old Hunter, yet it’s driven more be sheer human will than anything. Again, I eat that kind of shit up.

Matter of fact, there’s lots of game mechanics that I really enjoyed here. Tactics rules are awesome, and I think will add an exciting level of play. The concept of the “Practical Experience Points” that is pooled for the party in addition to the individual points also seems to add to the teamwork reward factor.  The Endowments system is also pretty cool. Let me state: I’m not a huge fan that they insist the Endowments are aligned with the high tier conspiracies. What I do like, though, is the system presented for designing these “kewl powerz”.  And the fact Endowment design is handled flavor-text free, so one person could easily design the ability to repel monsters through prayer and their holy symbol, while another player could design the same concept around a mechanical device or energy field. That’s the Savage Worlds fan in me going “Aaaah, trappings.”

And finally, The Vigil. Yes, even after bitching about it, I do fucking love that bullshit ideology. I only bitch about it because, in the end, it only served as wasted space and hardly felt like the theme of the game. A lot of the factions didn’t echo the sentiment of it, and in some cases even felt contradictory. I want The Vigil to play a part in my game, and I’m hoping I can motivate the other characters to follow it. But I want my players to come to that on their own, and not by me stating “This is what the game is about, damn it!”

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