Thursday, January 26, 2012

Secrets Of The Chill Master Revealed!

So where was that mystery passage from?

Guesses have included: Roberto Bolano, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Castaneda, and Thomas Pynchon pastiching one of the above.

Actually it was from Terevaldo Roberto Flechero L'unares' second novel.

Now Terevaldo Roberto Flechero L'unares is not merely an author of fiction, but (Borgesially enough) a fiction himself: an imaginary author whose work appears in the Vampires supplement for 2nd Edition of the horror RPG Chill.

Which is to say that passage was actually written by either Gali Sanchez or Drake Mallard, the authors of said sourcebook.

More to my point today, this passage pretty much encapsulates 2nd ed Chill.

On the one hand: it's kinda good, isn't it? Like it isn't maybe mad genius, but the ideas and execution are not just at "frustrated novelist" (which is like what you're called at 0-level if your class is Game Designer) but actually maybe even buzzing hummingbirdally up near "actual novelist".

I mean, it could give you genuine nightmares. And I love the bit about the transistor radios.

On the other hand: What the fuck does all this humid glitterball poetry have to do with a game, Chill Vampire Sourcebook?

And therein lies the glossy black vein of pre-White Wolf retropretension that is Chill 2e. Copyright 1990 and looking every inch of it. If, in looking through it, we can undeniably ascertain that it is not only Retro (now as it was not then) and Pretentious (as anything subtitled "A Scary Game For Scary People" could not hope to not be), but also Stupid, then we will know that Chill is perfect.

-Cover: Color pencil drawing of threatening version of masky Montreal opera clown in blue and orange instead of the traditional purple and pastel. Beneath ransom note.

-I like the layout of the table of contents: it reminds me of the menu for an upscale Washington DC restaurant where they have wrought-iron chairs out on the patio and an awning in racing green and all the drinks have olives in them.

I mean, fuck off if you want to know which of the 43 pages under "character generation" contains the 'taxi driver' career, but it looks nice.

-Quote from some made-up author named "Robert Davidson" who is not HP Lovecraft about the nature of fear. (Not-being-Call-of-Cthulhu is a major theme of Chill. As is Vampire The Maskthingy not existing yet.)

-Another aspect of Chill: artists who are almost Bill Sienkiewicz but not. More than one. Though one of them has a side of not-exactly-that-Hollywood-caricature-guy-who-works-his-daughter's-name-into-everybody's-face next to his Sienkiewiczwich.

-Beginning of the book: "If you've never played a roleplaying game, or if you haven't read the 32 page Introductory Insert in the back pocket of this book, you'd better stop reading now." (emphasis fucking mine). 32 pages is half of Vornheim. 32 pages is longer than Vault of the Drow. 32 pages could get you introduced to most of Western philosophy and all of Greek cuisine and still have room for house ads. Anyway fuck me because this pdf doesn't have it. But boldly I soldier anyhow...

-"Now that you’re ready to begin, you’ll probably want to know what’s in this CHILL book. Well, hang on to your. .. dice! We’ve got brain worms. We’ve got gorillas. We’ve got scientists, yetis, and monkeys. Thieves, mystics, and reporters. Gazelles, bears, and alligators. And, of course, flies, rats, mummies,werewolves, name it!"

First: "hang on to your...dice!" Hah, we fooled you! You thought we were going to say "hat"!


Second: Isn't this suddenly sounding like a Hellboy RPG?

-"The second section of this book contains the mechanics of the game: both the players and Chill Master (CM) should read up on..."
Yes, that's right, if you're running this game, your players have to call you The Chill Master. Which is ok by me because that's what everyone calls me anyway.

This guy is totally The Chill Master.

-Like Cthulhu, skills are on an easy-to-grasp 0-100 scale. (Knowing you have photography at 45% tells you a lot more than having photography at +3. +3? Is that good? Is it like Lois Lane good or William Eggleston good?) Unlike CoC and its Chaosium Basic Roleplaying ilk it also has ability scores (strength, health...) on the 0-100 scale. While this has a pleasing surface simplicity and many a CoC or Runequest player mayhap has wondered why their system didn't do the same thing, the gears grind a bit when you do it this way, as we shall soon perceive...

-The basic abilities chosen seem pretty well picked for a horror RPG--Dexterity is like fingeriness and Agility is like jumpiosity and then Luck, Perception, Personality, Stamina and Willpower. You can instantly think of situations in horror movies where any of these things matters. No "intelligence", which I do hope is a nod to "player-skill-not-character-skill"

-Willpower is a depletable stat, like hit points. This is not quite as nice as Sanity Loss in CoC but the idea has legs.

-Some dipshit named 'Rax' who is, I believe, never identified is periodically quoted talking like Eddie from Iron Maiden and going on about lickspittle and mantasting and generally failing to scare me.

-The crippling late-Silver-Ageness of the system comes into play with skills: first of all, the base number for each skill is often some derived crunch nightmare of mixed ability scores (Climb is the average of your agility, perception, stamina and strength f'rinstance), second of all the system doesn't have just pass/fail, with fumble and impale for rolling really high or low, it also has a degrees of success system: Low Medium High Colossal.

Dig the madness--"T#" stands for "target number" (usually like 45 if the skill is at 45):

The following chart summarizes results of Specific Checks:
L result =T#through (T#-tens digit) +IM result = tens digit through (T# t 2) + 1
result = T#t 2 through tens digit + IC result = I through tens digit
And on top of that, the target numbers are variable to begin with. So you don't just go "you have to pass a check at minus 20", but "you have to pass a check at minus 20 and then get higher than an 8th of the tens digit plus a 4th of the twelves digit and fuck is this math really easier than just going HEY THE BETTER YOU ROLL THE MORE INFORMATION YOU GET OUT OF LITTLE SALLY ABOUT THE BAD DOLL THAT TRIED TO STEAL HER HAIR, JUST GM IT YOU FUCK"

-Oh and why is it bad to have the ability scores on the same 0-100 scale as the skills in this here modern skillheavy system?

"Using The Skill List:
The CM must be familiar with the following list of (like 80) skills to prevent players from using simple Ability Checks to allow their characters to perform actions that require skills"

So while yes, it is as crunchily satisfactory as a Snickers to have your Martial Arts score actually related to your Strength and Stamina scores (unlike in CoC)--actually getting all that math to work together is harder than it might seem. Either character generation is long and mathy (Runequest), skills are always higher than associated ability scores and quickly reach superhuman (any "+1" system), or some other weirdness. Skill-based systems claw at the soul.

-The lack of a straight-up Intelligence stat makes the ability-derived skill system a little wonky, too, like your Art Criticism skill is derived from Perception and Willpower. Though, honestly, having done a bit of it I can see that: must...look at..terrible...Felix...Gonzalez...Torres...sculpture before..deadli...zzzzzzzz.

-Almost every skill has a special spell-like mechanic attached to it. The bowfire rates are under the bow skill, f'rinstance. Explosives have an even-odd result on top of the degrees-of-success result. Okay, I like that one.

-So anyway point is clunky.

-The scariness advice in the GM section is excellent, though. Every Halloween somebody asks me how to write a scary adventure, it's all here: Isolation. Mystery. Reversal. Tease. Fuck with sensory information. Unexpected sound effects.

-(Well almost all, here's another tip: Find an emotion adjacent to fear--dislike, anxiety, disgust, confusion, etc.--and worm your way in from there.)

-Interesting/surprising highlights in the (basically unarguably classy and extraordinarily tasteful and loaded with stuff like Dracula and Rosemary's Baby) recommended reading/viewing section include:

Doom Patrol (and the rest of the DC Vertigo line--so maybe this was just because Mayfair was also publishing the DC Heroes RPG)
Grendel (the comic book)
Blood (Epic Comocs)
Creatures on the Loose (Marvel Comics)(notable to me because I have never heard of this comic. You know how I often I go "I have never heard of this comic?" Not often.)

Not Present for Predictable But Still Kinda Funny Reasons:

H.P. Lovecraft

-But are the monsters good? Yes, here's the Mean Old Neighbor Lady:

If the child escapes and returns home, he finds to his terror that his parents do not recognize him and return him gladly to the neighbor lady who comes asking about her “nephew who’s visiting from out of town.” “I’ve been worried about the little tyke,” the creature explains, “because of that wild imagination.”
The creature keeps the child in the darkness of the cellar, taunting him with playthings that “you can’t play with because you’re bad,” starving the child, and threatening to send the dog down into the cellar if the child cries or makes any noise. The child’s Willpower sinks from fear and hunger, until at the equinox (mid-March or mid-September), the neighbor ladv completes it wicked act by using the Minion Discipline: the child becomes a gamin, and is released to wander into nearby homes, where it begins its evil game of “murder.”
-..1)Although the creature does not suffer normal
physical damage, it does take wounds from eggs
used as thrown missiles.

-And then there's Puppet People: made of wood, with a thin covering of flesh and they always hunt in pairs "The origin of these perverse creatures remains a mystery; all that is known for sure is that they are nasty and incredibly ignorant."
-And, of course Werejaguars. What a wonderful word. Werejaguar.

-CoC is a horror game and Chill is a horror game and any game can be played in any way but the basic form of conflict suggested in both the rules and modules for purist Cthulhu is: investigate investigate be confused investigate MEETTERRORYOU'REINSIGNIFCANTGoINSANeDIE. Whereas Chill 2e--while not as Universal Horror as the first edition, is much more cinematic than Cthulhu. It is about the PCs. They can win. They are interesting and maybe psychic. But then so are the monsters. It's a dance. It's more of Silence of the Lambs thing, more of a back-and-forth...
When I think about making a D&D character I think about a bundle of stats who will one day turn into guy I am going to have to learn to like, when I think about making a CoC character I think of someone who would be fun to see go crazy, when I think about making a Chill PC I think about how this guy is my fucking vampire hunter in my vampire hunter movie.
-(One could posit that the White Wolf products push even further in the DC-to-Marvel scale into it's-all-about-you-and-how-very-interesting-you-are-and-the-world-is-dull.)
-If I was going to play a Chilly game today here is what I would do: use the CoC system, throw in The Art (Chill's psionic-PC powers) (just let people pick or roll randomly for 1-2 powers) and call it done. The rest is just writing the scenarios. "Your car breaks down on an abandoned stretch of road"


  1. The Mean Old Neighbour Lady is amazingly cool as a monster.

  2. See, normally I would say "eh I got Cthulhu already" but the idea of a horror RPG including like an elaborate isabel allende parody pushes it enough into "rifts but in grad school" territory that i am kinda curious.

  3. Creatures on the Loose? I think that was a 70's title, one of those vaguely titled Marvel mags that drifted from one focus to another: Gulliver Jones (a pre-John Cart John Carter) kicking ass on Mars, Lin Carter's Thongor (a cheap Conan knockoff) and later Man-Wolf. I've not read much of it but my impression was that none of it was particularly any good. I'm a sucker for 70s Marvel in all its Disco Satan glory but I just don't see why this particular series recommends itself here.


  4. I love the writing and setting and "feel" of 80s Chill. 90s Chill? Despise it for the reasons stated by Zak. 80s Chill is like Universal Monsters time. CoC is Hammer Horror time. And 90s Chill is made-for-Syfy movie time

  5. "to prevent players from using simple Ability Checks"
    That kicked me right in the Old School. I really hate to say it, but GURPS has a better idea there: skills default to an ability check at some penalty, so it's the player's responsibility to remember they've got the skill, or they can try anyway, knowing they suck. Of course, then GURPS messed it up with a whole complex root system of how bad the penalty should be for knife vs shortsword and how you can't do nuclear physics on default from Int and on and on.

    Fictitious authors with real works: William Ashbless.

  6. I loved Chill back in the day and every so often I get urge to play it again.

    I kind of wish the 3rd Ed had come out for it, but it was doomed in playtests really. The Post-Vampire world had changed horror games way too much for it to work.

  7. the Mean Old Neighbor Lady

    And people keep telling me there there's no market for a Law and Order RPG...

    1. Don't let them get you down Huth. If they do end up getting you down, sue them.

    2. That might be a good beer & preztels kind of game. Easy as firing up the browser to write for

  8. I was always amused by the complexity of their skill system's varying results idea. I rather suspect it comes from earlier editions from Pacesetter using a table, and then having to reveal the formluae behind the table. I always thought something like this was way easier:

    - Your skil's rating is 60%, so if you roll under 60, at some level, you succeed.
    - If your successful roll ends in a 1, that's a Low success.
    - If your successful roll ends in a 2, 3, 4, or 5, that's a Medium success.
    - If your successul roll ends in a 6, 7, 8, or 9, that's a High success
    - If your successful roll ends in a 0, that's a Collossal success.

    Quick, neat, easy to remember. And you can adjust the indicating numbers to monkey with the percentages allocated to the various grades of success if you want.

    N. Robin Crossby came up with a system like this for Harnmaster years ago, and I've always been surprised that other games that also used flat result curves (especially percentile rolls) have not adopted it.

  9. I bought Chill when I was a kid, and I remember the Mean Old Neighbor Lady. Creepy! I also remember thinking that it was unplayable. I couldn't keep the whole system in my head the way that I could AD&D 1E.

    I've seen Chill come up over and over in OSR blogs, but never gave it a second look. I know that I still think it's unplayable, though, because I eagerly bought Goblinoid Games' Rotworld, which uses the same mechanics. Totally freaking ineffable. I think I'll run it in the future, but will use D&D with non-weapon proficiencies or something. Or maybe Storyteller. Or /anything but that action table insanity/.

  10. That Art Criticism thing is hilarious. And Mean Old Neighbor Lady, wow, that's a fucking nightmare. Great 'review-ish' format. I wouldn't ask you to keep reading niche 90's RPGs for us - that can do a lot of damage to a person's Willpower UGH I couldn't stop myself from typing it - but I would enjoy it.

    Viktor, I've never seen that system before. Genius. Thank you.

  11. Must be something about the day. Exactly one year ago today I did massive post about Chill as well.

    90's Chill was influenced from all the "Monster of the Week" shows that were popular in the late 80s. The same sort of general paranoia that gave us "The X Files".

    Chill can still work today, but players expect to have the same sort of "kewl powerz" as the monsters. But at least Chill remembered that monsters were for killing.

  12. I kinda like Little Fears myself, but all of this reminds me that I need to work on my ability to cause fear.

  13. Thus Doth Chill Take Its Place beside World Of Synnibarr as a Paragon of Retro Stupid Pretentiousness. Damn, never would've known from the cursory glances I gave it at my local game store back in the day. I'm kinda intrigued now....

    Talk of a new version of Chill is always being bandied about, it seems. There was supposed to be a Third Edition as recently as ~2 years ago, but the Kickstarter project or whatever didn't generate enough cash. More recently, Goblinoid Games bought Pacesetter(and their ACT table and suchlike mechanics), the publisher/owner of Chill 1.0, but unfortunately doesn't have any rights to the game....

    In case anyone is interested, Chill 2.0's 32-page Introductory Insert is availablehere on RPGNow for free!

    Loved the review!

    word verification: saytine ;-)

  14. HOLD ON...did you just coin "retropretentious?" \m/