October 11, 2015

From the Vaults - Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game

Thought I'd step away from Star Wars for a bit, and take a gander at an oddball RPG that came out during the 90's, one based on a fandom that I still enjoy even though I don't actively participate in it very much these days.  An RPG that is such an oddball that the parent company and it's more devoted fans will deny it ever existed.

That game is Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game published by White Wolf Game Studio.

Now to be fair, a large part of what sparked this bit of nostalgia was my stumbling across the low-budget fan-film Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist.  Said film (which was done with Capcom's blessing) covers the later part of Ken and Ryu's training under their master Gouken while also delving into the history of both Gouken and the sinister Akuma.  In contrast to the big-budget disasters that were the Van Damme vehicle (the only thing of any value was Raul Julia's hamtastic final screen performance) and Legend of Chun-Li, (which had nothing of value), Assassin's Fist is actually pretty damn good, has a coherent story that makes sense within the setting, and is actually faithful to the source material.  The actors do a great job of capturing the essence of the characters, and the fight sequences are faithful to the moves we see in the games without being dogmatically so.  You can find the entire film on YouTube, and if you're a Street Fighter fan, it's worth the watch.

White Wolf was still in their hey-day with the classic World of Darkness games, with Vampire: The Masquerade being their most popular game by far.  With their focus on telling a story as opposed to the combat-heavy approach of TSR's Dungeons and Dragons, it came as quite a surprise when White Wolf published an RPG based upon the setting of the wildly popular Street Fighter II video game.  Given that their in-house Storyteller system was well known for not being all that great at combat, a lot of folks were curious as to how said system would work for a setting where combat was the main focus.

At the time, I was big into Street Fighter, and had gotten pretty good at playing Ken, the flashier Shotoclone cousin to the more stoic original Shoto-fighter Ryu.  Since I'd also been a long-time RPG fan and generally liked the White Wolf games (this was before they started wallowing in existential angst that soured a number of fans, self included), I was intrigued and picked up a copy of the book from the local Waldenbooks, as there really weren't any gaming stores (friendly or otherwise) in my area at the time but Waldenbooks had a pretty good selection of RPGs that weren't D&D to choose from.
To say the combat system was unusual is probably a bit of an understatement.  To keep things from dragging on I suppose, the designers did away with the attack roll to hit, and instead went straight to damage, rolling a number of d10's equal to their attack's damage value less the target's soak, which was typically their Stamina.  I guess by deep-sixing the attack roll, they also made it so that big, lumbering fighters like Zangief and T. Hawk would have a chance to connect against the smaller and quicker fighters like Chun-Li, Fei long, or Cammy.

As was typical for White Wolf games, the players started as virtual nobodies on the Street Fighter circuit, being fairly fresh in terms of their martial arts training, while the various World Warriors (aka the fighters from the video games) were vastly more capable and powerful in their respective martial arts styles.  To put in D&D terms, the PCs were usually about 1st level while the World Warriors started out at 18th and went up from there.

To account for the variety of special moves that fighters in the video game possessed, White Wolf developed a variety of Special Maneuvers that accounted for a decent chunk of what you'd expect to see in SFII, ranging from the iconic Dragon Punch to Fireballs to Lightning Leg to Flash Kicks and everything in between.  Later supplements added more special maneuvers and new fighting styles.

And while a bit quirky at first, once you got used to how combat worked in this game, it was actually kind of fun, with initiative handled based upon the speed of the combat maneuver each participant was using, with the slowest fighter going first while faster fighters had the option to interrupt at any time with their action.  The RPG keeps the players and GM honest by use of combat cards, of which the PCs will have close to a dozen at the start of their fighting careers.  At the start of a combat round, each fighter picks a card for their chosen maneuver, lays it face down on the table while declaring the speed rating of that maneuver.  When I was running the game back in the day, I just had each player write their speed and maneuvers on a series of post-it notes and then reference the maneuver's full information off a separate sheet rather than fill out a slew of cards, which had the same effect as what the designers intended with the combat cards.

One thing to remember is that this was the 90's, and what information that Americans had about the background of the Street Fighter world was filtered through Capcom USA, so things didn't always line up perfectly with the information that folks over in Japan had available.  So where Japanese fans could learn that Ken and Ryu practiced a hybrid form of karate that was based upon ansatsuken (re: assassin's fist) techniques, here in America we were told that Ken and Ryu both practiced Shotokan Karate (thus the term "shotoclone" for any fighter in a video game that uses moves akin to Ken and Ryu).  It also lead to some humorous translation errors, such as Cammy being revealed to have once been Bison's paramour (in the actual storyline, she's his clone; long story) or lead to wild fan speculation such as Sheng Long being the name of Ken and Ryu's master based upon Ryu's win quote about how his opponent had to defeat Sheng Long (a person) to stand a chance, when really what he was saying was that you had to overcome his Dragon Punch (one of his three identifying special moves) to stand a chance.

Back to the RPG, while the main focus of Street Fighter was combat, in particular one-on-one fights between skilled martial artists, the game setting was flexible enough to allow for a much broader scope.  There was a definite pulp adventure theme to the world, with strange mutants lurking in the dark corners of the world, and a wold-spanning criminal organization in the form of Shadoloo that was responsible for many of the modern world's ills, with M. Bison sitting at the top as the megalomanic in charge of it all.  Of course, this being a White Wolf game there wasn't a whole lot in the way of organized resistance to fight Shadoloo, with Interpol (or at least the Hollywood version of such) being about it, and most fighters frankly not really caring and instead being focused on their own goals.  So while Chun-Li and Guile are both actively trying to take M. Bison down for personal reasons, Ryu is off being a karate hobo and simply wandering around looking for strong fighters to challenge and Zangief wants to demonstrate to the world the natural superiority of Mother Russia.

The players in Street Fighter are typically part of a stable of fighters, often run by an NPC manager (whom the players have to invest points in if they want a capable one) who handles the day-to-day bookkeeping of running the stable and travel arrangements, thus freeing the characters up to follow the needs of whatever adventure the GM has laid out.   While the book presents Shadoloo as a shadowy yet ever-present threat, the campaigns being run don't have to center around taking down Shadoloo, and a GM could run campaigns where there is no sinister organization that's trying to take over the world from behind the scenes.  It is worth a re-mention that this game was released in the 90's, so there's a lot of things that modern society takes for granted that simply didn't exist back then, which gives the RPG a wee bit of an anachronistic feel to it.

However, as quirky and fun as this game was, it didn't last.  White Wolf fairly quietly let the product line drop, and the closest it got to any further mention was the World of Darkness supplement titled Combat, which was an attempt to take the Street Fighter combat system and make it fit their main Storyteller system games.  From what I recall, Combat was one of their less popular titles (possibly because of its origins), and so from White Wolf's perspective that was that.  I've heard stories that if you try to mention the Street Fighter RPG on the White Wolf forums, the poster is either ignored or flamed to the point of leaving in disgust, but since i generally avoided White Wolf back when they were actually producing RPG material, I can't say if that's true or not.  Though given how rabid a portion of their online fanbase can be, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some truth to that story.

Also, if you are intrigued by the idea of a Street Fighter RPG and are curious to check it out, it so happens that group of very dedicated fans took a page from Onyx Path Publishing and their 20th Anniversary editions of the classic White Wolf games to compile the material from the various materials from the long-defunct RPG line into a single volume titled Street Fighter: The Storytelling RPG 20th Anniversary.

Street Fighters Paradise - Street Fighter TSG 20th Anniversary

The PDF covers all the new crunch introduced in the various supplements and makes corrections where needed, with a chapter towards the end explaining the issues the author found along with the change made and what the reason for that change was.  Sadly, this compilation doesn't include the starter adventure "High Stakes" or the four pre-generated fighters that the original core book had, but given it's got all the crunch from several different supplements in one handy place, it's a fair trade-off.

I ran a one-shot for a few members of my Saturday gaming group as we opted to take a brief break from the SWFFG version of the Dawn of Defiance game we're in.  A couple players made their own characters (a massive Sanbo grappler that'd make Brock Lesner look puny and a feisty kickboxing rocker girl heavily inspired by Candy Cane of the Rumble Roses wresting video game) while the two other players used pre-gens (a Capoeira playboy and street-hardened karate punk) from the original core rulebook.  I ran them through High Stakes, which admittedly is pretty formulaic but still fun, and the group did have a lot of fun with it once they got the hang of the combat system, especially with the big tournament fights at the end.  The adventure as written has a fight take place between Guile and Balrog, but as I set the adventure in roughly modern times I figured those two would have retired and so instead had it be a semi-regular Las Vegas event that was hosted by a retired Balrog, with the main eventer instead being his top protege vs. another seasoned fighter (a knock-off of Guile that lost horribly) rather than a World Warrior match-up, along with a few other fights to give the PCs an idea of what some of the more skilled fighters could do.  Luckily I still had a lot of my old notes, including material for generic fighters of various styles to pit the PCs against for their tournament matches.  Luckily the adventure gives the players a chance to warm up to the combat system before their tournament matches, so by the time those bouts took place, they had a solid grasp of how combat worked and what strategies to employ.  There was talk of maybe my running a follow-up adventure at some point down the line, but we'll have to see how that plays out.

So that's my trip down RPG memory lane for this outing.  Like I've hopefully show, the Street Fighter RPG is a quirky yet fun game, perfect for the occasional one-shot to give a group a break, and works best if it's not taken too seriously.

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