Showing posts with label pacesetter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pacesetter. Show all posts

Friday, October 03, 2014

Classic Horror RPG CHILL Rises from the Dead with New Kickstarter

Before I get into the details of what my ideal new edition of the CHILL role playing game is, I'd like to take a moment to thank Matthew McFarland and Michelle Lyons-McFarland for taking the time to acquire the license to this classic game and put together what looks to be a very solid horror role playing game. 

If you are a fan of horror role playing games and want to help small press publishers succeed, then you should back the brand new Chill 3rd Edition Kickstarter. I'm a backer and I will be blogging about the game's playtest rules very soon.

Now that I've cleared the air and made it clear that I am excited about the game that Matthew and Michelle are putting together, I'm going to gripe. That's what we obsessives do when things aren't perfect, we gripe. But I'm not going to gripe in an non-constructive manner. This isn't about what I think Matthew and Michelle are doing wrong, it's about what I wish they would ALSO do.

If you were to ask me what my favorite genres of film are, I would without hesitation tell you that they are romantic comedies and horror movies. You are probably wondering what When Harry Met Sally and Hostel have in common that I would rank the genres of these two films so highly. I would tell you that I don't think Hostel is a "horror" movie. Being pedantic, I'd try to convince you that it was splatterpunk or back track and change the word horror to weird. When it comes to weird and fantastic tales, my heart has two great loves Ray Harryhausen and Hammer Studios. It is the horror of the kind that Hammer Studios made, and now makes again, that I love. Give me stuffy Victorian/Edwardian era investigators encountering terrors from the unknown with a skepticism that is fueled by emerging scientific discoveries, and you have warmed my heart to know end. If you add to that a romantic element - which can either be of the courtship or familial variety - and I'm all in. Films like Horror of Dracula, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and The Woman in Black are rich in mood and capture the imagination and are perfect for adaptation to role playing. The original Chill role playing game attempted to emulate this kind of storytelling, and I loved it because of it.

The rules for the original Chill role playing game were easy to learn and perfectly designed for new gamers. It was the combination of ease of play and Hammer Horror that I believe led to Rick Swan's negative review in The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games. Other publications like Space Gamer and Different Worlds gave the game much higher praise - I'll share those reviews in a future blog post - and seemed to understand that Chill was the introductory game in a series of games that became increasingly complex as their genre required. The Goblinoid Games blog has a great description of the original Pacesetter system and they are the publisher of some of the other Pacesetter System games. Goblinoid Games has also designed their own horror game inspired by the horror movies of the 80s which I blogged about at Blackgate Magazine.

When I read the description for the new edition of Chill, it was immediately clear that the game would not be my idealized version of the game. The description referenced the Mayfair edition of the game, a game that tried to be "edgier" in order to compete with Call of Cthulhu. I've also seen Matthew's Facebook discussion of the game and he mentions how his version will treat mental illness. I'll be the first to admit that Call of Cthulhu doesn't do a good job representing actual mental illness, but neither does the fiction it is emulating. Lovecraft's fiction is about a descent into a particular kind of madness as understood at a particular time. Having said that, my idealized version of Chill would have no rules for insanity. It would only have rules for fear and shock. Hammer stories aren't about protagonists who are slowly driven insane as their world view is shattered. Instead, they are about the success and failure of the rational to engage with the supernatural.

The new Chill's artwork hints that it is inspired by many of the horror films currently on the market, with no small touch of American Horror Story. This is not a bad thing. In fact, if one ignores the shifting of time period that's pretty close to the Hammer tone...and films like Mama have demonstrated that the classic Ghost Story has legs. That's my longish way of saying that I'd like Matthew and Michelle to release a Victorian/Hammer supplement for Chill and that I hope their game system is quick easy and intuitive. My first read through the quick start rules gives me reason to believe at least half of that will happen...the rules part.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

C is for Chill

You are about to enter the world of CHILL, where unknown things sneak, and crawl, and creep, and slither in the darkness of a moonless night. This is the world of horror, the world of the vampire, ghost, and ghoul, the world of things not know, and best not dreamt of. CHILL is a role-playing game of adventure into the Unknown and your first adventure is about to begin -- CHILL Introductory Folder

In 1984 a group of former TSR Employees -- including Mark Acres, Troy Denning, and Stephen Sullivan -- formed Pacesetter Ltd. Games and released the Chill role playing game. Chill wasn't the first horror role playing game, nor was it the best, but it has long held a place as a "cult" favorite in the role playing game world. Where other horror role playing games sought to capture the dark nihilistic material horror of H.P. Lovecraft, or the gruesome horror of many films, Chill tried to capture the tone of Hammer and AIP productions.

Because of its focus, and because its creators were former TSR employees, Rick Swan reviewed the game quite negatively in Dragon magazine and in his Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games. He described the game as, "A horror game for the easily frightened...While most of Chill's vampires, werewolves, and other B-movie refugees wouldn't scare a ten-year-old, they're appropriate to the modest ambitions of the game...Chill is too shallow for extended campaigns, and lacks the depth to please anyone but the most undemanding players. For beginners only."

Swan was correct that the game was simple, and appropriate for beginners, but he was far from the mark when he claimed that it lacked depth that could appeal to demanding players who want extended campaigns. The game has solid underlying mechanics that encourage a loose style of play that encourages storytelling over combat and reduces the dependency on die rolls that so many role playing games often overly promote. Like many Pacesetter games, Chill is innovative and slightly ahead of its time -- nowhere is this more the case than with their Chill: Black Morn Manor board game -- but like many things ahead of their time there are some flaws to the mechanics. Nothing too big, but definitely things that might make some gamers reject it out of hand. The game is simple enough that a group of players can pick up the rules and start to play within 15 minutes...from scratch.

Let me repeat that. This game, made in 1984, is easy enough to learn that a group can open the box and begin playing within fifteen minutes. Given how complex rpgs seem to the non-gamer, this is quite a marvelous achievement in and of itself.

The most comprehensive review of Chill -- during its era -- was the review in Space Gamer 75 by Warren Spector. In the article, Spector provided a balanced review -- not all of it positive -- but described the game as follows:

You won't find better, more consistently entertaining writing in any set of game rules...
Chill is the first to include an introductory folder advising players to begin playing that adventure before they've read the rules of the game! To begin, players have only to read a four page READ-ME-FIRST! introduction to the rules, pick up the 16-page adventure booklet and begin playing! And, sure enough, the cockamamie scheme works!

Spector's final word on the game is that it "falls somewhat short of the mark," but his analysis is clear and he seems to understand that he is looking at something new here.

There are many games from the 80s that -- mechanically and tonally -- seem extremely dated by modern gaming standards. Chill -- the first Pacesetter edition -- isn't one of them. It has a kind of classic feel to it, just like all the Hammer and AIP movies it was inspired by. It isn't a dark and serious horror game, but it is an adventurous one. If you want to experience existential horror, you can do no better than Call of Cthulhu, but if you want to pretend to be Peter Cushing's Van Helsing hunting Christopher Lee's Dracula you want Chill.

A hand touched his face, but he felt no warmth of human reassurance in that other hand, no sense of comradeship against the dark foes of the night. Boulton shrank from the touch. Then scrambled back. Then shouted. For now he could see the hand, rising like a pale, icy plant, from the churning soil of a grave. -- Chill Campaign Book