Vigilante: Justified Revenge?

One of the games that came out of this year's Fastaval is the game Vigilante: Justified Revenge? by Kristoffer Apollo.

I did not get to play it at Fastaval but read it afterwards and is intrigued by the design. Kristoffer agreed to answer design questions about the game in this thread. But first - let's give room for the pitch:

What would you do if your girlfriend was raped by a gang of ruthless thugs? Would you spot the kitchen knife in its block, pull it out and let a finger slide along the blade as you fantasize about thrusting it into the belly of the assailant as an act of righteous punishment?

”Vigilante: Justified Revenge?” is a game about vigilantism, inspired by movies like “Death Wish” or “Ms. 45”. The goal is to adapt the vigilante genre to a framework which the players will use to define which kind of vigilante story they want to create, and then play out the story in bloody details and morally dubious actions.


The game is in English and is available for download from Alexandria: Vigilante: Justified Revenge?

Now, on to the questions:

Extreme, explicit violence is part of the genre convention. What were your design considerations in bringing this to the table for full effect while still respecting that different people have different boundaries?

The question mark in the title and the introductiory text in the player booklets makes the moral ambiguity of revenge quite explicit. What were your considerations in how explicit to make this element in the game?

Finally, I like that the Outrage score is very much "an eye for an eye" - seemingly it is possible to "settle the accounts" and have two wrongs make a right. Was this idea part of your initial thoughts?

Comments

  • edited April 2012
    Hi Frederik

    Well, of course I want to talk about my game. :-) Let me answer your questions one by one:

    1.
    I agree that extreme violence is part of the genre. A good vigilante story should include violence so appalling that you start reacting emotionally, sympathising with the vigilante when he/she decides to go for payback. I wanted to achieve that, creating the lust for vengeance, which I don't know if any game has successfully brought into play. About the boundaries, I agree, at least partly, that this is a risk. I don't think many roleplayers have problems with describing people getting shot or chopped down - after all, most of us have played fantasy heroes mowing down orcs and the like. It's when the violence turns sexual that the game becomes somewhat risky. What I did was include a pre-game phase where the players must discuss boundaries, aiming for establishing the necessary level of trust between the players, possibly agreeing on some kind of bail-out-of-play option. Since the game has no GM, the players must regulate this themselves. But it's a good comment - this is actually the one thing in the game that I would have liked to figure out some other solution to.

    As it happens, there haven't been any problems in actual play so far. On the contrary, people have commented that they really liked to play a game where they were allowed to go totally crazy and still stay within the framework of the game. So I guess roleplayers are pretty much used to extreme violence.

    2.
    I definitely wanted this to be explicit. Personally, I have this love/hate relationship to the vigilante genre. When I see a well-made vigilante film, I do get caught up in what happens and start to emotionally "think" that yeah, those bastards have got it coming. And then my brain kicks in and says, wait a minute, this absolutely won't work in real life. I wanted to create that ambiguity between understanding the lust for revenge but intellectually knowing that nothing good is likely to come from it. And of course let the players create a story that showcases the kind of desperation which can lead to vigilantism.

    3.
    Again, part of what I referred to in the previous answer. There is a die roll included, of course, but that's to make sure that neither side feels 100% confident about "winning" the game. My initial thoughts on the game centered on the Righteousness concept - the one that basically says that the more brutally you and your family or friends are assaulted, the more you get to hit back. It's genre convention. But then I thought that there should be something to balance that out, and that turned out to be the Outrage chart. Which also reflects the moral ambiguity of your story - the question whether society will accept "an eye for an eye", or the vigilante goes over the top in violence him/herself and becomes the true villain of the story.
  • By the way, the full pitch text is:

    What would you do if your girlfriend was raped by a gang of ruthless thugs? If they tortured her? And ended up killing her?

    Would you spot the kitchen knife in its block, pull it out and let a finger slide along the blade as you fantasize about thrusting it into the belly of the assailant as an act of righteous punishment? Would you do it if you had the chance?

    Does it make a difference if we switch gender stereotypes, and you are a woman watching your husband get assaulted and killed? Or your child?

    ”Vigilante: Justified Revenge?” is a game about vigilantism, inspired by movies like “Death Wish” or “Ms. 45”. The goal is to adapt the vigilante genre to a framework which the players will use to define which kind of vigilante story they want to create, and then play out the story in bloody details and morally dubious actions.


    It's kinda important to me that the game also supports stories with female vigilantes.
  • Sorry for truncating the pitch - I wanted to keep the OP short.

    Female vigilantes is an interesting aspect of the game. The game mechanics works the same whether the vigilante is male or female - thus the only difference is what the players put into the story they create. Do you have any feedback from game sessions where the vigilante was female? I am not familiar with the source movies you mention - do any of these contain female vigilantes? Did you consider making the game completely about female vigilantes?

    With extreme and possibly sexual violence present in the fiction, a talk about boundaries up front is definately well placed. The player booklets nicely instructs the players to do this. However, without someone to facilitate this process, I can imagine both that some players keep a good distance to the line in order to not cross it, but also that one player fail to bail out at this early stage.

    What were your considerations about including a game master or not, e.g. to moderate this?

    I'd also like to hear more about why you choose the no prep, no GM, game-in-an-envelope format (which is a format I personally love so I am very happy to see it used).
  • edited April 2012
    Oh, the genre films feature a good deal of female vigilantes. Ms. 45 is female. Jodie Foster played one a few years back in The Brave One. There are several others to choose from. But no, I actually don't remember talking to anyone who played it with a female "lead" - yet.

    Regarding the players' reaction to violent scenes, I think that they are much more likely to keep a distance, which doesn't ruin the game in any way. Maybe just sets a lighter tone. And I actually don't see how a GM would have helped, except to ask people "are you really sure you wanna play this?". Which some players would probably find condescending. If someone is going to get a negative backlash from a particularly nasty scene, having a GM present wouldn't help much, I think? In the end, it's all about the players trusting and caring for each other if needed.

    The no-prep format was a very easy choice because I wanted to facilitate stories with great variety - let the players create just about any kind of vigilante story, though typically in a modern setting. I now know that I succeeded on that one - I've heard very different stories from actual play. And of course, when the players are completely in charge of the game like that, what do you need a GM for?
  • Ok, now I want to play the game with a female vigilante :)

    Thanks for the answers. I will shoot one more questions at you, and then I will open the thread for other people to chip in with questions about the game. My last question is: The game was written to be played at Fastaval 2012 and is now available for download from Alexandria. This is the typical lifecycle for most Fastaval scenarios. Are you considering self-publishing the game and marketing it outside Denmark?
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