Justus Productions

B-Movie Inspirations: Blood Creek

Blood Creek, previously known as Creek and Town Creek, is a horror film directed by the famous (and infamous) Joel Schumacher, starring Michael Fassbender,  Dominic Purcell, and Henry Cavill.  Where else are you going to get Magneto, Heat Wave and Superman in one movie.  Written by David Kajganich, the film apparently had a limited theatrical release in 2009. I came across it in my streaming options, and it was highly recommended by a friends.  Dominic Purcell and Henry Cavill play brothers on a mission of revenge who become trapped in a harrowing occult experiment dating back to the Third Reich.  Yes, Nazis, Occult and Zombies in the same movie.  I am all in!

I would not qualify this as a B-Movie as much as a “under the radar” movie with limited release/straight to video production.  It has a great premise, a decent execution and so much potential for sequels.

In 1936, a Nazi professor named Richard Wirth (Fassbender) is sent to the West Virginia, US to be hosted by the Wollners, a farming family of German emigrants. The Wollners believe him to be a visiting scholar, but Wirth turns out to be a Nazi occultist who seeks a Viking runestone buried on their property.  He demonstrates occultic power on some dead animals, raising briefly from the dead, indicating a more sinister plan once he has tapped the full power of the runestone under their house.

Fast forward to modern day, the movie introduces Evan Marshall (Cavill) as a tired and hard-working paramedic who works 12 hour shifts, takes care of his invalid angry father and the children of missing brother.  Through several well-shot and interestingly scripted scenes, we learn a few things important to the story.  First, it’s Halloween and there is going to be a lunar eclipse that evening.  Secondly, the brother – Victor (Purcell) – is a war vet who disappeared sometime ago during a camping trip in rural West Virginia.

One evening, Evan is surprised when Victor suddenly appears. Victor explains that he has escaped some mysterious captors, and they quickly prepare to return for vengeance. The brothers arm up and head to the farm to confront what we learn is the Wollners, who have barely aged since 1936.  When they arrive to exact revenge,  the Wollners tell the tale of Wirth and his intentions.  Back in 1936, when Wirth revealed his intentions of occultic evil, the family bravely takes it upon themselves to save the world from this evil and trap him in their basement.  Using occultic runes they learned from his books, they bind and contain him on the property and out of the house.  Through rituals that requires frequent human sacrifices, they have been feeding him victims over the decades. Linked to Wirth, the family survive through the decades, operating as both captors and servants to Wirth, who they keep weakened and at bay.

Wirth then gets out of the cellar and begins his terror.  Wirth is now a zombie-like figure with occultic symbols carved into his gray hairless skin.  It is revealed throughout the story that Wirth has a plan to eventually awaken his third eye, which will mark the pinnacle of his power.  The fact that its Halloween night and a lunar eclipse works in there somewhere too.  Wirth’s terror includes killing and then subsequently raising horses and dogs into crazed zombie animals, as well as a few victims (reminiscent of Evil Dead).  Lots of blood and gore follows until things begin to fall apart.

I am going to avoid any further spoilers, but needless to say this movie ends with a occultic bang that is very satisfying.  By the end we learn that SS leader Himmler sent other Nazi agents to different locations throughout West Virginia. Evan finds a map that was under the farm and discovers that others like Wirth are at other farms. While Victor returns home to his family, Evan heads out to the other farms to stop the other Nazis, obviously setting up for sequels.  However, it ends with Victor ominously returning to the Wollner farm, now burned down, standing over the runestone, perhaps implying he is tempted by it’s power.

Not only is a cool self-contained adventure, it is a setup for a great campaign.    I fully plan to steal from this, advancing this into the future for a sci-fi adventure.  Imagine finding runestones on an asteroid! I can easily see this as a horror RPG adventure for something like Call of Cthulhu.  A group of players stumble across a bloodied young girl in the woods, with her back all shredded and sign restraints on her wrists.  They investigate her tale to find an old farm house with runes all over it.  What is to follow is a night of horror and death that would drive any party insane.

I highly recommend watching this movie for its inspiration (although I realize I might have spoiled it some).  It is very much worth a watch.


B-Movie Inspiration: Harbinger Down (2015)

Harbinger Down (2015)

I am a sucker for a movie inspired by Alien or The Thing.  Show a sci-fi monster movie and I am there.   I ran across this movie while browsing Netflix, not know anything about it.  The blurb interested me so I started it.  I found out later that this film was Kickstarted by a team that promised a movie with all-practical effects, with as little CGI as possible.  That is what drove me to watch it all the way through.  I am not sure I would have if I hadn’t found that information.

The movie starts out with a short background scene set in the 1980s. A Soviet space capsule is tumbling into Earth’s atmosphere with one cosmonaut on board.   He tried to gain control of the capsule but ultimately fails and the capsule is seen plummeting through the atmosphere partially burning up as it falls somewhere in a frozen tundra.

Cut to a team of scientist preparing to go on some kind of mission.  We find out later that they are studying connections between whale behavior and climate change somewhere near Alaska.  To keep things on the cheap, they are using a crabbing boat called the Harbinger captained by Graff (Lance Henricksen), who happens to be the grandfather of one of the scientists, Sadie.  We are introduced to the rest of the crew, which includes several distinct and interesting personalities, including the gruff Inuit, loud and funny African American, big and tall guy, Russian semi-sexy girl that might have a testosterone imbalance, and the obligatory handsome guy that has an interest in the granddaughter.

We meet the scientists as they set up their “complex equipment.” There are basically three – Sadie, the asshole lead from the university, and the another young student helping with the study.  The ship’s crew crab by night, and the scientists perform their study during the day.  One evening while looking over their data, Sadie spots something that leads to a very interesting discovery – the crashed remains of the Russian capsule.

Long story short, there is something else on board the capsule, which is surprisingly determined to be a moon lander.  They find the frozen remains of the pilot, which is reasonably intact and not burned.  However, it is infected with some kind of parasite and it eventually begins to infect the crew and take over the ship.  There is also a twist.  As it turns out, the Russian crew woman is more than just a fisherman – she’s a spy who knew they would come across the capsule somehow.  She set up bombs on the ship to destroy the creature that has no infested the whole ship and plans to escape by a nearby Russian sub she has been in contact with.  Synyster Russians!

I can’t write about this movie without going into the creative idea behind the creature.  It is like cross between The Thing  and Alien, more the former than the latter.  But it is a human creation.  Apparently in the 80s, the Russians were working on ways to create better cosmonauts through genetic and bio engineering, using DNA from various obscure insects – primarily a creature called a Tardigrades (also known as water bears or moss piglets). However, the radiation of space travel and its long imprisonment in ocean ice caused severe mutations.  This results in a ooze that liquefies the host and reshape into however it feels like, based on the DNA is has absorbed.  If one gets splashed by the goo in anyway, he or she become infected by the parasite, which begins to liquify their flesh and join it with the rest of the goo on the ship. This creature can reform into all kinds of wicked and horrific creature combinations that practical effects can create.

While investigating this creature with the science equipment, there is a great reveal scene that includes these lines:

Ronelle – “It is showing the DNA of more than one species.”

Big G – “This is no good”

Sadie – “Seawater carries the DNA of everything that lives and dies in it, from bacteria on up…”

Ronelle – “These things have been basking in a DNA soup for who knows how long.”

Sadie – “They’ve absorbed the DNA of hundreds of species.”

They go on to say that the mutated tardigrades can liquify and replicate organs, blood  and tissue as well as recode DNA!  Very cool concept!

It gradually absorbs just about every crew member, as well as two tons of crabs the ship was carrying, creating some great creature moments on screen.  Some are very obviously homages to scenes from Alien or The Thing.  The movie proceeds as one would expect with a final survivor escaping death as the ship is destroyed and the creature rendered into a non-threatening state (for lack of a better description) … until next sequel.

This is an RPG adventure one shot waiting to happen.  In fact, I am writing something right now that will most definitely be heavily influenced by this.  Here are the potential plots and aspects of the movie I liked.

Cold War connection – Any connection to the Cold War or either World War can draw me in.  The aspect of the Moon lander really intrigues me and adds some good depth to the story. The Soviets secretly landed on the Moon?  Are there other cosmonauts with this parasite on the moon?  Did the establish a base?  Was it really the radiation that mutated it or something else on the moon?

Genetic Engineering of Obscure Creatures – Science is awesome! The things they are messing around with today can be a great inspiration for stories.  Just read into the science behind the tardigrade, and you will find what inspired this movie in part.  It takes a little work but digging into real life science theories can bring about great adventure.

Isolation – I have written about this before but I live that it is isolated in the cold arctic (a lot The Thing) onboard a crabbing ship (a la Alien).  You can not get more isolated than that.  A good one shot can take place in such isolation if designed well.



Kontamination, Achtung! Cthulhu Adventure

From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd
Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

Kontamination is a new RPG Adventure/One Shot from Modiphius Entertainment Ltd.

When I try to run a published adventure, I sometimes find myself asking if the adventure was written with the GM in mind.  For me, it’s important to convey the story of the adventure to the players in the most succinct and clear fashion with minimal page turning and book diving as possible.  However, not everyone retains the same information at the same rate and every GM is different.  So what is the way to best write an adventure?  Keep it as simple as possible in terms of wording and stat blocking, and make key aspects of the adventure easy to reference if at all possible.

Kontamination is an adventure with the intention of being a one shot.  It was written by a guy who admits he has never played a table top RPG.  Sam Richards is the writer and also the creator of Tweet RPG, a web site that has since changed to StoryMechs.com.  From the web site: “Tweet RPG is a free online role-playing experience, which utilizes Twitter to provide users with an innovative new way of enjoying text-based adventures.”  Kontamination was written using the Tweet RPG means of crowd-creation.  I only found this out after running it and found that very surprising and innovative.

This is also one of the few times I actually ran an adventure I am going to review.  I had 8 players (which was more than I really wanted) on a Saturday afternoon, and with that many, the game ran a little long. But I found it very adaptable.  The game itself was a great success.  I had also run the first adventure released for Achtung! Cthulhu called Three Kings, and Kontamination could not be more different in a lot of ways.

From page #3:
“What’s good need not be secret, and what’s secret is not good.” – Unknown

The adventure is a very contained and focused story that has a lot of flexibility in each encounter but is restricted in the confines of a specific mission.  In fact, the characters are taking on a secret mission within an actual historical mission.  The adventure boldly puts the players in the roles of German soldiers, and if you are using the pre-generated characters, the writer provides hooks into the adventure that act as manipulation points, giving the characters more motivation to accomplish the mission other than simply they are loyal Nazis.  The pre-generated characters are in fact not necessarily loyal Nazis but rather people trying to survive the horrible war.  The GM is encouraged to create characters in the same vein if he does not use the pre-generated characters.

It takes place during the Battle of the Bulge or from the German’s perspective, the Ardennes Offensive.  During this time, the Germans conducted a covert action called Operation Greif, where German soldiers dressed in Allied uniforms and using Allied equipment caused disruption and confusion behind enemy lines.  The Reich Main Security Office has gotten intelligence of a super secret operation within the Operation Greif was being conducted by a super secret group called Nachtwulf and not even the Security Office knew of them.  This concerns the lead of the Reich Main Security Office and the players are brought in to act as operatives to investigate.

This is where the adventure first gets a little challenging for the GM and the players.  Although it does not seem like a big thing, it can be confusing to those not prepared for it.  The players have a real name, an operative name within Operation Greif and then later they get their Allied soldier name.  The pre-generated characters smartly placed the name they were going to use the most as their primary name – the Operation Greif name.  The Allied name was rarely used when we played and their real name was never used.  I made up flash cards with the Allied names and ranks and randomly handed them out during the mission and took them back when it was not needed.

It is also gets a little challenging in the equipment department.  The group should start out with just the bare necessities but they switch between Allied equipment and German equipment throughout the adventure.  If keeping up with who has what gun when is important, I recommend making flash cards with game stats of all the available weapons and handing them out at the right times.  This also makes the quartermaster scene in the beginning a lot more fun.

From page # 3:
“The Second World War is drawing to a close, but combat still rages on.”

I won’t get into the detail of the overall plot beyond the intro, but it is well defined in three key episodes and those are broken down into a number of scenes.  The strict structure of the military mission does have the tendency to feel like the GM is railroading the players, but in playing it never really did feel like that.  I think the players felt like at any time they could take control of their characters and do what they wanted but the backgrounds and hooks provided in the pre-gens helped keep them on track.  They all stayed within character and stayed true to their motivations.

My only major complaint was the way the adventure was written.  Although well written with a lot of painstaking detail (which I enjoyed), it was not quite written with the GM in mind.  I found myself struggling at points to find the right stats for the bad guys, or the right text I needed to read to the characters.  I do not like to do a lot of reading to the characters, but in a one shot the key moments that might require reading is the intro.  Although they did provide that “Read to the characters” text for the Reich Main Security Office mission introduction, they needed to also do the same thing when given the mission instructions for the Nachtwulf mission (the mission within which they were to accomplish their own secret mission).  There are key aspects that needed to be clearly stated to the characters and I would have preferred to have succinct and precise text to read to them.

The creatures they end up facing are soldiers manipulated by a Mythos-based apparatus.  Instead of providing stats for the creatures, the creature was provided in the form of a template to apply to whomever ends up having the procedure applied.  Although creative and interesting, to run this as a one shot, especially if you want to run this as a one shot in a convention, time is of the essence.  In combat, I do not want to be referencing back and forth between the template and the character that was converted.  That slows combat down and in most RPGs, combat is slow enough.  What I recommend a GM doing is prepping a few typical “converted” bad guys ahead of time so they are ready for combat.

The characters also are part of an overall plot that basically treats them as expendables.  There is enough plot development before the final episode that the players may conclude as much before they get to the epic climactic battle that happens at the end.  In my case, the players smartly figured it out and took matters in their own hands, short circuiting the overall story.  The GM should be prepared for that if they have good players.  The intended battle at the end of the adventure that I never got to is absolutely epic.  I hate that we never got to it (although my game ended well) because it is set up very well.

When diving into an adventure based in a setting like Achtung! Cthulhu – non-fictional historical meets fiction horror – I wonder what the author is going to focus on.  Basing something in something historical, you run the risk of turning your session into a history lesson.  And, although I am World War 2 history buff, I never assume all my players are too.  An ideal Achtung! Cthulhu would focus on both in a good balance, always remembering that the players are really here because of the horror, fantasy and fictional aspects and less about the history.  I honestly believe that Kontamination accomplishes an amazing balance between the two aspects of the setting.

In conclusion, Kontamination is well written from a content point of view but from a RPG structure point of view, I think it needs a little work.  The story is amazingly well put together and fluid and it was very fun to play.  The players all had fun.  I highly recommend this as a one shot at home or at a convention.  The GM needs to do a little more preparation beyond just reading it, but if he does that, the session will go very well.

For more details on Modiphius Entertainment Ltd and their new RPG Adventure/One ShotKontamination” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

From: Modiphius Entertainment Ltd
Type of Game: RPG Adventure/One Shot
Written by Sam Richards & Matthew Pook
Created using the Tweet RPG system (www.tweetrpg.co.uk)
Additional Material by Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden & Lynne Hardy
Edited by Lynne Hardy, Matthew Pook & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Number of Pages: 54
Game Components Included: One PDF adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG rulebooks
Retail Price: $11.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron W McClung



Rapture: The End of Days RPG

Rapture: The End of Days RPG
From: StoryWeaver Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Rapture: The End of Days RPG is a new RPG Core Rulebook from StoryWeaver Games.

The Rapture has been the subject of various books and movies and all have approached it from a similar fashion – portraying it as something in the near and foreseeable future.  No one that I have seen before this game has ventured out and asked the question “What if it happens way far in the future after man has found ways off this world?”  Rapture: The End of Days is a game about that very thing.

From page # 5:
“Welcome to the end of days … After centuries of war and strife, seven great nations arose to enter an uneasy peace.  Humanity was once again rebuilding, with science blossoming and a new discoveries heralding a true renaissance.”


The book opens with a focus on the rules system but to me, it’s the setting that really sells it for me.  So that is what I am going to cover first.  The game itself has a strong focus on storytelling and plot, and less on rules, so it only made sense to start wherethe story begins – the setting.

Players are characters called Mortals – human beings that were living or otherwise located in one of the disparate colonies spread out over the known worlds – called Human Occupied Space.  The year is 2645 and The Rapture happened.  The Earth went through years of war, rebuilding and finally prosperity under a new order and after colonizing many extra-solar worlds, God decided to fulfill his Biblical promise.  All the worthy souls on Earth (those that believed in God’s Word) were accepted into Heaven while the others were left behind, including all the souls on the extra-solar colonies.  Meanwhile, the gates of Hell have opened on Earth and demons are pouring out, claiming domain on humanity’s once beloved home.

Why, do you ask?  That was my first question going in and they have a very inventive and creative explanation that sits at the core of the game setting.  Heaven, Hell and Creation all sit in parallel dimensions.  For every location in Creation, there is an equal location in both Heaven and Hell.  Unfortunately because of their nature, demons never bothered to create space travel to traverse their version of space, so for now, Mortals on other colonies were saved simply by distance.  But demons can find ways around that and do so when they can – like entering Creation on Earth and finding a means to travel within Creation to the other colonies.  Also, a less-than scrupulous human could summon a demon from beyond to any world in space; however, that is a rather arduous task.

The book describes the stellar-political topography of a post-Rapture Human Occupied Space, giving the history of and general political structure of each of the major Earth powers that have colonized the known worlds.  These include the Sino Block (part of Asia primarily dominated by the Chinese), North American Alliance (a socialist alliance of the remnants of the US and part of the American continents after the collapse of the US Government), the Southern Union (parts of Southeast Asia and Australia), and the Democractic Russian Union (a Representative Republic Russia reborn out of the ashes of a chaotic Russia).  Along with these faction are the Corporate entities that dominate certain regions of space.  There are eleven corporations listed and all have very unique and interesting backgrounds.

There are several dozen colonized worlds, some Earth-like (Earth Analogues) and others terraformed.  The Earth analogues are not perfect copies of Earth but at least have the basis to minimally sustain human life.  Technology covers the rest of it in some way or another.  The terraformed planets are expected to take multiple generations to complete, and the results are not guaranteed.  There are also “orbitals” or space stations that maintain populations.  There are also abandoned colony ships called space hulks that are still being used by fringe groups.

Below the national or corporate identity, some characters might have an affiliation with a known faction.  Factions here are presented mostly as religious groups, like Xeno Retionalism (people that believe this “Rapture” is some kind of alien attack), Paganism (a blanket group that covers any non-Judeo Christian or Islamic based group), Biblical Inerrancy (groups that believe their version of the Bible is the true Word of God), and Humanist Emancipationism (a strange group that believe that God made a mistake starting the End of Days).

Technology in 2645 is not all that much different than what we are familiar with, to some degree, at least according to the writers.  The “cyberpunk revolution” never happened and the tech just got bigger (or smaller), faster and better.  Two major advancements help conquer the tyranny of stellar distances – Photonic Teleportation Arrays (PTAs – communication devices that allow for near instantaneous communication over stellar distances) and Gravity Drives (allowing for travel over stellar distances in relatively shorter periods of time while isolating the vessels from the effects of relativity and time dilation).

Man not only faces the danger of space and the alien worlds they live on, they face the new threats from the Rapture and from Hell.  The creatures are presented in the same style as the rules (see below) – rules light and simple.  They range from the generic Unclean Spirit, the fallen angels of Legion, and Zombies.  There are also alien predators like the Dragons of Brilliance, Shark Gods, and Cannibahls.  There are also more modern threats like Insane AIs.

Supernatural powers exist but are treated very Biblically.  Anything that is not of God is evil and thus much of the powers are routed in evil, hubris or Satan.  Man continues to latch on to the hubris of human science and rationalization, so not many humans have powers.  Many creatures; however, have them and they are expanded up in this book  The most a human can do is exorcism and that is not an easy task to do.

From the website:
“The legions of Satan are real… And they are coming for you.”


The designers of the system called it “rules light” and “a narrative system”, with a strong focus on story and character and less on combat, tactical and technical stuff.  They also say upfront that this is not a good beginners RPG.  I found that honest and to the point.  I admire a writer with that level of honesty.

Character generation system is usually where you get the initial feel of the system and this game is no different.  Creating a character in Rapture is very rules light and simple.  There are 3 primary stats (Mens or Minds, Corpus or Body, and Potentia or Soul) and the rest is content that the player makes up.  There is a real simple skill list where a player picks 3 to be good at and the rest are left alone.  In total, there are 10 easy steps to creating a character and much of it is like “Choose a Profession… Any Profession is fine” or “Write down a Personal Goal” or “Write down your Redemption Task.”

The main way to gain experience and grow is to die.  The experience stays with the player and affects the next character he brings in.  If a character dies in some glorious, biblical, self-sacrificing way or in a way that really drives the story, the group of players can vote on it.  If the death was voted to be suitably memorable, then the next character that is brought in gains an extra attribute point.  This is a very unique concept and a real differentiator to the system.

The system is basically a d10 dice pool system. One of the three primary attributes is always rolled and if a Hero’s Skill applies, add more dice to the pool.   The GM determines a Target Number between 2 and 10, and in most cases the Challenge will require between 1 to 3 dice to be equal or greater to succeed.  Challenges and Combat are very abstract and sometimes, especially in the case of combat, can be decided in one role.  Combat is very abstract and designed to be simple but deadly.

As the game has a horror component to it, there is a Fear system.  True to the spirit of the entire system, it is simple but it also interesting unique and creative.  Fear are points that build up during the course of an adventure, either through taking damage or experiencing something horrific.  But there is a good side as well as a bad side to them, thus there is no choice or test when a character takes Fear points.  As a character accumulates Fear, he gains extra dice in his physical stat.  However, the down side to Fear is the that it effects the other two stats equally in a negative way.  There are ways to overcome one’s Fear but it is difficult and has consequences.

Hand in hand with Fear is Madness.  What horror game would this be without some kind of sanity.  Madness in this game is caused by a specific type of Unclean Spirit called a Madness Spirit.  For those previously effected by such spirits, gaming Fear can cause manifestations of this madness.  There is a simple system and a table to consult and the players is asked to roleplay the madness in whatever manner moves the story along well.

Another aspect of this game that I find interesting is common to a lot of these rules light games.  The players have nearly as much control over the story as the GM.  In certain situations, the GM is encouraged to let the players describe situations after Challenge tests, etc.  This is not overly unique but it does make the game interesting and more attractive to those that like these types of narrative games.

In conclusion, my first impression of the game is that it was a little too “hippy” for me and I wasn’t sure about it.  Being a Christian, the subject matter did not put me off at all and in fact, drove my curiosity.  As read, the setting was very attractive and I kept on thinking of it in terms of other systems like Savage Worlds or True20.  But in truth, although those game systems would be interesting to try for this setting, it would be a totally different experience and certain aspects of the game would be lost.  The system itself fits perfectly for what the writer wishes to accomplish.  It’s elegantly designed for the setting and very simple.  It has a certain nuance to it that makes it engaging and I am already thinking of ways to run this at my next con.

For more details on StoryWeaver Games and their new RPG Core RulebookRapture: The End of Days RPG  ” check them out at their website http://www.storyweaver.com.

Codex Rating: 16

 Product Summary

Rapture: The End of Days RPG
From: StoryWeaver Games
Type of Game: RPG Core Rulebook
Written by: Joe Sweeney
Contributing Authors: Ray Duell
Game Design by: : Joe Sweeney
Art by: Kascha Sweeney, Mark Person
Number of Pages: 133
Game Components Included: 1 core rulebook (PDF)
Retail Price: $14.95(US)
Website: www.storyweaver.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is a new RPG Core Book from Modiphius Games.

Having reviewed the Investigator’s Guide, it is only natural to take on the next book in the series – the Keeper’s Guide.  For me, as a keeper or game master, this is where the meat of the story begins.  This is where the setting really comes out for me.  Included in this book, among other things, are Allied and Nazi forces & intelligence agencies, Occult organizations and Mythos-based missions, new tomes, secret weapons, artifacts & equipment, key characters & vile creatures, and new rules and strategies for World War II combat & survival.  Like the Investigator’s Guide review, I thought it best to go chapter by chapter and comment on each.

From page # ii:
“There’s a whole Shoggoth’s worth of Cthulhu villainy, enough for any Keeper to have his investigators dead, insane or running for their lives in no time!”

Chapter 1: From The Shadows seems like a very familiar chapter.  The Investigator’s Guide started out in the same fashion, with a timeline of key events in World War II.  However, in the Keeper’s Guide, this timeline contains key events in the Secret War, as well.  Some events actually happened and are re-tooled to link back to the Secret War.  I would not recommend just skimming this chapter.  There is an amazing amount of detail and inspiration in this.  This is where you can get your story arches and adventure seeds.

Chapter 2, entitled Inside The Reich, takes you into Nazi Germany – the people who suffered through it and key events in the Third Reich history.  Of course, chances are players in A!C will want to play Allied characters, but there is the off chance the players might want to play German characters instead.  It can be a difficult thing to wrestle with as a Keeper, but this chapter helps in a lot of ways to put Nazi Germany in perspective.  While it tries to give you a balanced view of the average German citizen and/or soldier, it makes no bones about the horrible atrocities the Nazis performed during the war.  There is a very well written portion by Kenneth Hite called Sympathy for the Devil that is a really good read.

“Man is a military animal, glories in gunpowder and loves parade.” – Philip James Bailey

Chapter 3: Might Makes Right? takes the reader into the organization within the various armed forces.  The A!C is set during of time of massive world conflict, where the ways of war rule the day in many parts of the world.  This chapter provides an amazing amount of detail (but it does not overwhelm you) about the common terms used in military structure, ranks, troop organization and military policy.  It also describes various things in the life of a soldier – supply lines and acquiring needed material and items, medical services and other essential aspects of life in the military.  Being captured is also a possibility in a time of war and can easily be a way to start out an adventure.  This chapter provides good insight into that side of the war.  The chapter ends with a series of military NPCs (in both Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Savage Worlds rules) helpful in the World War II military world.

Chapter 4: The Other Secret War looks at the history of the British, American, French, and German intelligence services.  Every war has its facets and layers.  The top layer of any war is the men and machines in places in the fields and the bravery shown as each side battles for territory.  Under that layer are the men and women that battle in the shadows searching for information on the enemy while seeding misinformation to the enemy, all in an effort to help the top layer do their jobs better.  It’s not always successful but it is an important role in the war.

This chapter deals in the complexities of World War II espionage.  All the major allies in the European theater are covered in fine detail.  The reason for this detail is because players will more than likely be working for or dealing with these organizations in their A!C adventures.  Adventures could easily start out as simple intelligence missions that explode into the world of Lovecraftian occult.

Chapter 5: Secret And Occult Societies, as the title implies, covers a wide variety of cults, cabals, and covens.  Traditionally, they play a pivotal role in many Mythos stories.  Throw the various motivations and twists of war time, and these secret societies explode with adventure possibilities.  In these pages are several secret societies and why they exist.  Motivations behind these groups vary, including protecting ancient artifacts, protecting the nation as a whole by use of their supernatural abilities, furthering a Mythos entity’s goals, and generally causing havoc because they hate a certain group or another.

If a good handful of twisted and dark cults, societies and factions isn’t enough, the book presents Section M, a special British-based multinational organization started by the British Section D.  It was formed after realizing there was more out there than just your standard challenges of wartime espionage.  Section M was formed to handle issues of a more supernatural nature.  The book describes the origins of this very important group and also gives a handful of important NPCs.  Also included is Majestic, the American answer to Section M.  The book includes similar information for Majestic as well.

The Cult of the Black Sun is the feared cult behind the scenes in Nazi, Germany.  A sort of Lovecraftian version of Hydra (Marvel Comics), its origin is deeply connected to the Dreamlands and the sinister beings within.  Its tentacles reach as far back as the late 1800s when its founder explored the Dreamlands and found the Valley of the Black Sun.  From there was born the foundation of what is to become one of the most powerful and feared secret societies within Germany.  Secretly linked to Hitler’s Thule Society, the Black Sun uses the society as a front to accomplish its sinister goals during the rise of the Nazi party.  Once Hilter begins his journey to power, the Thule Society is forced to disband but the Black Sun remained in the shadows. As the Nazis seize power, the Black Sun integrates itself with other facets of the party, including the Ahnenerbe – Himmler’s Ayran think tank.  The Cult of the Black Sun takes up a considerable amount of this chapter with amazing detail, interweaving it with key events and groups of real history.  The Cult of the Black Sun is set up as the big bad guy in the setting, one that the players will more than likely face through a multitude of fronts, related cults and other secret factions.  The section ends with a series of NPCs that make up the Black Sun, including individuals as well as generic soldiers of the Black Suns, like the Canon, the Norn, and die Troten – lower level leaders and drones of the Black Sun.  There is some incredible art here as well.

I could go on because there is so much more in this chapter, but suffice to say this is one of my favorite chapters.  There is plenty of meat for a Keeper to chew on and come up with great horror and supernatural hunting plots.

Chapter 6: Planes, Trains, And Things That Go Bang is the chapter of travel and stuff.  The first half of the chapter covers travel and the various means to accomplish said travel.  It contains a comprehensive list of air and sea ports and describes the various ways people traveled across country.  Several of the more common land and air vehicles are stat’ed out in both Call of Cthullhu and Savage Worlds.  Following this is the common equipment for characters from each country – weapons primarily – as well as some improvised or custom weapons and equipment.

Chapter 7: Into The Fray takes the reader into the war from a Call of Cthulhu rule system perspective.  Previously published rules on various important aspect of war and combat are re-printed here.  Rules for aerial combat as well as tank combat rules are presented here “ … with the emphasis on roleplaying rather than number crunching.” (p159).

Chapter 8: The Rules Of Savage Engagement is similar to Chapter 7 with a little extra rules where needed, like Aerial Bombardment rules and other special battlefield rules.  Also contained within these pages is a very special part of the Lovecraftian world – Sanity.  This is the area that surprised me the most.

From page # ii:
“The Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War is the essential Achtung! Cthulhu wartime reference for any Keeper or fan of the Cthulhu Mythos.”

The first Achtung! Cthulhu product to be released was the award winning adventure Zero Point: Three Kings.  From the Savage Worlds point of view, the Three Kings adventure was written using Realms of Cthulhu rules set.  I thought when the Guides came out, they would stick with that rules set.  I didn’t really think was anything wrong with them.  To my surprise, they changed to a slightly different approach, at least where Sanity is concerned.  Both use the same derived Sanity stat but that is where the similarities stop.  There are three levels of Fear in Achtung! Cthulhu that creatures, tomes and spells have – Nausea, Horror and Terror.  Each has the potential of one or more levels of Dementia.  As they are gained, temporary insanities can become a problem for the character.  Gaining too much Dementia can result in permanent insanities and eventually total insanity. Horror and Terror have their own table and are referenced only when a one is rolled on the Trait die.  Dementia comes from these tables.

I am not a big fan of tables but they make it somewhat acceptable because you reference it only when a 1 pops up on the Trait die (no matter what comes up on the Wild Die).  If they make a Keeper screen, these tables would obviously have to be included.

Chapter 9: Artefacts And Tomes contains a wide variety of items for the Keeper to throw into his adventure to help or hinder the characters.  These include, of course, mystical items like Mi-go Bio Cloak or the Pyramids of Leng.  They also include items thought to be mundane but in truth have mystical powers.  The Die Blutfahne is one particular Nazi flag that, through some very dark and mystical events, has some very mystical powers to those loyal to the cause.  In total, there are 9 artifacts list here.

The tomes list several tomes that can be found in the Call of Cthulhu core rulebook and thus only have Savage Worlds stats.  There are also some original tomes that have both rules.  There are an additional 9 tomes here.

Chapter 10: Deadly Illusions And Cursed Knowledge expands on the aspects of magic using, learning spells and its effects on the human psyche.  The rules listed are primarily for Savage Worlds as most of the spells and rules surrounding spells can be found in Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition.  As Savage Worlds does not have Magic Points, so to speak, this system uses Sanity as the “cost” to cast.  Some cost a Sanity point directly while others require a Spirit roll.  There are a good many spells, some from the Call of Cthulhu line and some new.  Of course, the new spells have both Call of Cthulhu and Savage Worlds stats.

Chapter 11: Horrors And Monstrosities is where I thought they would have saved themselves a lot of paper by simply maintaining compatibility with Realms of Cthulhu, but because of the path they chose to take primarily in the Sanity rules, they had to republish many of the standard Cthulhu Mythoscreatures in Savage Worlds rules.  I am sure there is a reason for it.  The question is are they all that much different from the Realms of Cthulhu?  Browsing through both books, I do notice a significant difference between the interpretations of common creatures while at the same time, there are some that are in one book and not the other.  So neither are better or worse than the other.  I just think they are both configured for their own particular setting.

What most readers would find interesting are the new creatures they have added to the Mythos, especially created for the Achtung! Cthulhu setting.  Servitor races like the Bloodborn or the Cold Ones gives you new options to creep your players out.  Twisted created like die draugar or die gefallenen are also very cool new creatures added for the setting.

While the previous chapter covers the dark and twisted, Chapter 12: Allies And Nemeses covers the real life heroes of the time and the mundane everyday NPCs.  A short description of all the major figures of World War II is given and a variety of generic NPC stats are also displayed.

Chapter 13: Adventure Seeds is 4 pages of great adventure ideas for the Secret Wars, with ideas inspired from real events and gives a slight twist to them to fit the setting.  This is a must-read for Keepers.

Chapter 14: Quick Play Guide is a quick reference guide to Achtung! Cthulhu, for both Call of Cthlhu and  Savage Worlds players.  And the book ends with a great chapter of Suggested Resources.

In conclusion, The book is a phenomenal piece of work.  It is attractive, easy to browse, well written, intelligent and well thought out.  It has everything a Keeper needs to inspire and run his Achtung! Cthulhu game.  The hard back version is a gorgeous book that I am proud to have on my shelf.  To run A!C, I highly recommend this book.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Keeper’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type: RPG Keeper’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Bill Bodden, Alex Bund, Russ Charles, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Kenneth Hite, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook & Kickstarter Backers
Number of Pages: 295
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $44.99 hard back; $22.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung


Silent Memories

Silent Memories

From: Morning Skye Studios

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

When science fiction and horror are melded, space travel will often involve the passengers undergoing some form of stasis. This isn’t hard to understand. While characters in these stories are on ice (or however stasis works in the setting), who knows what might be lurking in the corridors. Silent Memories is designed specifically for enacting such scenarios.

From page 2:
“You awaken from a cryogenic sleep aboard a spaceship with no knowledge of who you are or how you came to be here. You have no knowledge of your mission, or even where you are going. All that remains is your training, and the impending sense that something is very wrong.”

As indicated in the above quote, the game premise bears a more than passing resemblance to the movie Pandorum. Each player takes the role of a particular specialty, like medical officer or engineer. Initially, this is all that they’ll know. It will quickly become apparent that something has gone wrong and they must fix the problem before irreversible disaster strikes. Along the way they’ll encounter a variety of signs of the ship’s deterioration. The manner in which these manifest depend largely on what sort of scenario the GM chooses to run.

From page 1:
“A roleplaying game about finding out who you are before you die.”

One of the more unique aspects of Silent Memories is how task resolution is handled. Instead of the usual dice, a Jenga tower is employed. Depending on the nature of the task, a player makes one or more pulls. If the tower stays upright, the task is successfully completed (though at the GM’s discretion there may be a complication of some sort). A successful pull also provides the player in question with a Memory. These are slips of paper the GM prepares beforehand containing 1-3 sentences. These can range from crucial hints about the mission to complete non-sequiturs, or perhaps a realization by the character of an item on his person. To help build paranoia, the player does not reveal the contents of the Memory to the other players. The first time the Jenga tower collapses, the player responsible learns the Truth. This is a document providing details (not necessarily complete) of the mission. If the scenario calls for it, the player who learns the Truth also becomes a traitor. The tower is reset and any further collapses result in the character death for the responsible player.

While the use of a Jenga tower is an excellent method for building tension, it can easily put some players at a disadvantage. Dice have always been the preferred method of determining task resolution in RPGs due to their randomness. A Jenga tower on the other hand is purely skill based, giving players who possess a steady hand a clear edge over those who don’t. If abilities at making successful Jenga tower pulls are especially unequal among the players, it could potentially result in considerable ill will.

In conclusion, if the Jenga tower mechanic or the potential backstabbing is going to be an issue with one or more of your players, you may want to give this one a pass. Otherwise, it can make for an intriguing change of pace for game nights after your regular campaign has concluded, or you wish to take a break from it.

Rating: 14

Product Summary

Silent Memories

From: Morning Skye Studio

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Chad Wattler

Edited by: Adam Gottfried and Chuck Wills

Number of Pages: 20

Game Components Not Included: Jenga tower

Retail Price (PDF): Free


Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a new RPG Player’s Guide from Modiphius Games.

Two of my passions are H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos and World War II history.  When these two are combined, I will dive into it head first every opportunity I have.

I started my journey into Achtung! Cthulhu with running their first adventure, Three Kings. At the time, the Three Kings adventure, from the Savage Worlds side of things, was written for the Realms of Cthulhu.  It also could be run in classic 6th Edition Call of Cthulhu, but because of the more tactical nature of World War II, I felt that Savage World fit it better.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I found the Investigator’s Guide and the Keeper’s Guide both using a different system in Savage worlds – one of their making. I suppose that makes sense to some degree.  They would be beholding to two different licenses, I would think.  I am not 100% sure how those licenses work.

The first thing you notice about the book is that it’s absolutely stunning.  Layout, art, and everything is top notch.  It makes you want to dive into the book right away. The book is 154 pages hardback or PDF, with ten chapters.  It had a very successful Kickstarter, one that many took part in and are kindly thanked by Lynn Hardy in the Forward.

From the website:
Achtung! Cthulhu is a terrifying World War Two setting, fully compatible with the Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition and Savage Worlds roleplaying games. This is the Investigator’s Guide, with everything players need to create and run character’s in the late 30’s and 40’s.”

Chapter 1: Welcome to the Secret War is made up primarily of a timeline of real world events during World War 2, primarily focusing on the Western Front.  It is noted in the book that there will be future supplements covering other theaters.  This timeline is by no means complete, of course, but it does cover some interesting aspects of the war.  What I like a lot in this section especially are anecdotal pieces of trivia that are interspersed throughout the timeline’s events.

Chapter 2: Keep the Home Fires Burning handles information on how things were on the British and American home front.  From jobs, the work force, consumer goods, and rationing to fashion, music and movies, this chapter has enough information to get a good feel for things at home.  Chapter 3: Home, Sweet Home is a timeline of events that effected the various home fronts – Britain, France, and the Unites States of America.  Even though there was a war going on, there were still significant things that occurred at home that are worth noting.  From political actions to inventions, things still happened in other parts of the world.

Chapter 4: In the Service of One’s Country details the various ways people serve their country – military services, intelligence service and others.  Achtung! Cthulhu gets your character not only deeply involved with Lovecraftian investigations but also the war, so he or she is more than likely going to be involved in one of these services one way or another.  The military services of Britain, France, the US and Germany are covered here, as well as the various intelligence and national law enforcement agencies.

Chapter 5: Your Country Needs You! takes all the previous information and connects it up with the character generation system of both Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition and Savage Worlds.  What is interesting on the CoC6 side, the character generation system is a little more detailed and structured than your standard CoC6 character generation. In this chapter, the writers dive into a detailed and extensive character generation process for Call of Cthulhu. Perhaps more key to a World War II setting than in normal 1920s Call of Cthulhu, this book spends a considerable time on nationality.  Characters are more than likely going to play a British or American character but this guide provides a means to add more detail.  Characters also choose an occupation like in classic CoC, and Achtung! Cthulhu provides a table listing the more appropriate occupations for the setting.  Additionally, it provides options for Covert Occupations – things a character may be doing secretly in a time of war.  Occupations are slightly different in Achtung! Cthulhu.  Bonuses are added to them as additional differentiators and are a nice touch.  Of course, there are also military occupations available, which are much more detailed then just “Soldier” from the classic rules.  They go into considerable detail on how to build a military character with the various branches, ranks and skills.

What I like a lot is their addition of Mythos Background Seeds, which collectively are a means to hook the character into the Secret War – the Mythos war being fought behind the scenes of World War II.  They provide a nice set of tables of options that you can either roll on or choose from or simply use as inspiration for your own ideas.  This is presented as an option, but I highly recommend using it as part of your character creation process.

From the website:
“Discover the secret history of World War Two: stories of amazing heroism, in which stalwart men and women struggle to overthrow a nightmare alliance of steel and the occult; of frightening inhuman conspiracies from the depths of time; of the unbelievable war machines which are the product of Nazi engineering genius – and how close we all are to a slithering end! The Secret War has begun!”

Chapter 6: Getting Your Hands Dirty extends further into the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition. This chapter expands on many of the relevant skills to fit in the World War II setting.  It also adds a few new skills for the setting.

In Chapter 7: The Savage Practice of War, as the title implies, are the Savage Worlds rules for Achtung! Cthulhu.  Although I have had a lot of experience with Call of Cthulhu, I have spent the past year running Achtung! Cthulhu in Savage Worlds.  In many cases, it references the previous chapters’ tables and other generic, non-game system specific information – a smart use of space and information.  Like in CoC, Achtung! Cthulhu adds a few extra things to the Savage Worlds character generation that a new player should pay close attention to.  Along with the obligatory Sanity stat (which is pretty much the same as Realms of Cthulhu), it adds a little more structure to a character’s skill selection especially if they go into the service.  Like in the CoC section, it provides structured guidelines for many career choices available in the setting.  Additionally, it provides a good number of new Hindrances and Edges for characters to choose from.

Key to the character in any Lovecraftian role playing setting is Sanity and I always thought that Realms of Cthulhu handled it well in the Savage Worlds rules set.  You don’t get a clue of it here in the Investigator’s Guide, but Achtung! Cthulhu takes a slightly different approach to it.  See our review of the Keeper’s Guide for that.

Chapter 8: The Tools of the Trade is what one would expect from a equipment chapter.  Starting with standard equipment, primarily military, items are fully stat’ed out for both CoC and Savage Worlds. Also included are a number of covert items to be used in the Secret War by the players.

Chapter 9: Quick Play Guide is a section that gives you a quick reference to everything presented in the book, from character generation to important combat rules.   Page numbers and/or chapter numbers are given for this book as well as Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition, and Savage Worlds Deluxe or Deluxe Explorer’s Edition.

Chapter 10: Suggested Resources is easily overlooked by the reader, but I highly recommend going through it.  There is a good variety of helpful resources to help a player and a keeper to capture the essence of a World War II Lovecraftian adventure.

In conclusion, Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide is a brilliant book, gorgeously laid out and full of useful player information to play in this setting.  I love the setting and I love this book.  I plan on running this regularly at the convention I attend.  What I like most about it is that it is intelligently put together and written, and that you can see that the writers and creators have a true passion for the setting.  It’s an enjoyable read and very inspiring for players and game masters a like.

For more details on Modiphius Games and their new RPG Player’s GuideAchtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide” check them out at their website http://www.modiphius.com/.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Achtung! Cthulhu: Investigator’s Guide to the Secret War
From: Modiphius Games
Type of Game: RPG Player’s Guide
Written by: Chris Birch, Dave Blewer, Alex Bund, Adam Crossingham, Lynne Hardy, Sarah Newton & Matthew Pook
Edited by: Lynne Hardy & Michal E. Cross
Cover Artwork by: Pintureiro
Interior Artwork by: Dim Martin
Graphic Design, Layout & Cartography by: Michal E. Cross
Produced & Art Directed by: Chris Birch & Lynne Hardy
Proofreading by: Richard Hardy, Matthew Pook
Number of Pages: 154
Game Components Included: One PDF or hardback book
Game Components Not Included: Core RPG book (Call of Cthulhu or Savage Worlds)
Retail Price: $32.00 hard back; $14.99 (US)
Website: http://www.modiphius.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Interview with Jack Reda

Jack Reda is self-publishing Black Forest, a horror-themed worker placement game.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’m 45, and I’ve been gaming since I was about 10. The 4-year middle school I went to had a class in Dungeons & Dragons, which I took every year. Around that time I picked up Cosmic Encounter, which is my favorite game of all time. I have a website called The Warp that has chronicled the different editions of Cosmic Encounter, along with all the many custom variants and expansions fans and players have contributed, many by me. Because of my high octane enthusiasm for Cosmic Encounter, when Fantasy Flight Games republished it, I got to consult on the new edition. I’ve contributed to the base game and first three expansions. I’m also one of the designers who worked on the upcoming fifth expansion, Cosmic Dominion.

When I discovered BoardGameGeek.com (BGG), I found an terrific outlet for my ideas on custom expansions and variants for many of my other favorite games, like Pandemic and Galaxy Trucker. Most of those are available on BGG. I also started using The Game Crafter to make some of my original ideas available through their Print on Demand storefront.

Describe Black Forest for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Black Forest is a board game where players seem to be working together to develop their village, but one player is secretly a werewolf, bent on the village’s destruction.

Were there any particular works of fiction which helped inspire Black Forest?

As a long time fan of horror literature and movies, the setting for Black Forest was an easy decision. There are many folktales centered around that part of Germany, and it’s rich with the fables from the Brothers Grimm. Just the name, “Black Forest,” conjures up images of dark and foreboding trees and atmosphere. The Schwartzwald (as it’s called in Germany) is really quite charming and beautiful, and having that idyllic locale juxtaposed with menacing werewolves is a very interesting concept to me. Of all the “classic” monsters, I’ve been drawn more to werewolves than any other. I have a terrific anthology of werewolf short stories called The Ultimate Werewolf, that includes tales by Harlan Ellison, Philip José Farmer, and Larry Niven that I read every couple of years. It has been very important for me that the art work for Black Forest help convey a spooky, Gothic atmosphere, and I’m thrilled with how well it’s turned out.

What aspects of Black Forest do you believe cause it to stand out from other worker placement games on the tabletop game market?

One of the things I’m most pleased about with Black Forest, is how the worker placement mechanic unfolds. Typically, players compete with each other when taking turns placing their workers on a board. In Black Forest, they are ostensibly working together for a greater good. However, with one player trying to covertly slow progress or disrupt it altogether, everyone has to pay close attention to the moves each player makes, and try to read intent into their actions. The level of suspicion in the game is high, and the non-werewolf players are looking for any clues as to the identity of the werewolf. And of course, as the game progresses, players begin losing their workers, making progress even more difficult.

If Black Forest proves to be successful, are there any expansions you would like to publish?

While developing and playtesting Black Forest, I had a lot of fun and interesting ideas that I had to start scaling back so that the published game was manageable from the point of cost, weight, etc. Thus, there are quite a few things that are ready for an expansion, and a few more that I’ve been working on in the last several months. The game can be expanded to more then 5 players, but it can also accommodate some new modes of play, including teams (as well as teams where the teammates don’t know each others’ identities). I’m also keen on introducing more aspects to the game that involve difficult decisions for players to make, and the “Village Elders” expansion will focus quite a bit on that.

Killer Thriller: A Dark and Stormy Night

Killer Thriller: A Dark and Stormy Night

From: Timeout Diversions

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

As I noted in my Betrayal at House on the Hill review, seeking shelter in a Creepy Old House when stranded in the middle of nowhere is a well worn standard in the horror genre. Seeing as how Killer Thriller is all about reenacting cliché-riddled horror stories, it should come as no surprise that an adventure employing this chestnut was written.

From page 2:
“Have the driver make an Unwise check; otherwise he will leave the keys in the bus, figuring they’ll be safe there. The fortune teller will have a sense of impending dread.

A Dark and Stormy Night involves a touring bus getting bogged down by a massive downpour and the passengers seeking shelter in the first structure they encounter. This set up helps make the wide range of victim types included with the adventure more plausible (not that plausibility has ever been a huge concern in schlocky horror). In this particular instance, the edifice is inhabited by a wealthy eccentric of the sort who would probably be portrayed by Vincent Price if the movie’s budget could afford him. After the victims settle in, their host warns them not to go above the second floor. This is a decree which practically begs to be disregarded, but there are dire consequences for those who dare ignore it.

The bulk of A Dark and Stormy Night is what could be called an enclosed sandbox. The adventure is designed to allow the victims to wander about as they please. However, there are various deterrents in place to discourage them from leaving the house. Though, if the players are getting into the spirit of the game, these shouldn’t be necessary to employ. Each room in the house gets a description of what’s there as well as details on what events can be triggered in that location and how. The featured monsters also receive similarly broad overviews.

From page 4:
Have all adult female characters (except the fortune teller) make an Unwise roll to see if they want to take a shower. Then have them make opposed Unluck rolls to see who gets there first.”

While the details are overall quite thorough, there are a few instances of confusion. As noted in my review of Killer Thriller, Inability rolls possess an Alice in Wonderland logic, in that a “successful” roll is a failure in practical terms and vice versa. But when the text describes situations which call for an Inability roll, this is not always consistently applied. Ordinarily, I would regard this as a minor irritant and let it pass. However, there are a couple of instances where the author’s intent is rather ambiguous, and you can’t be sure if “success” means success or failure.

In conclusion, the confusion over the Inability rolls mars what is otherwise a top flight adventure with an immense amount of flexibility in how it can be played out. Even so, a director should be able to come up with his own interpretation of the text to implement a satisfactory fix.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Killer Thriller: A Dark and Stormy Night

From: Timeout Diversions

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: David Creighton

Number of Pages: 23

Retail Price: $ ?

Number of Players: 3-4

Website: http://www.timeoutdiversions.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Killer Thriller

Killer Thriller

From: Timeout Diversions

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

There are several horror RPGs on the market, most of which involve you playing a reasonably competent investigator of the unknown. But is this sort of thing truly reflective of the horror genre? If you think about it, the answer is, “Not really.” This is because, to paraphrase from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, people in horror movies are idiots. They go about doing inane things like checking out sinister noises without letting anyone else know where they’re going or investigating a dark basement without so much as a flashlight. And if the character in question happens to be a nubile female, through contrived circumstances she’ll likely perform these actions while nude (or at the very least in just a towel or her underwear). It’s this style of horror story which Killer Thriller seeks to model.

From page 3:
“Wilder than Killer Klowns From Outer Space! (Gasp!)
Scarier than Cannibal Apocalypse! (Arghhhhh!)
Bigger than The Blob and twice as ugly! (Eeeek!)”

The PDF itself is quite minimalist, with vitually no artwork. For the most part, this is a non-issue. However, some of the chapters end less than halfway through the page, leaving a huge blank space which some sort of illustration could have been used to fill up. A particularly egregious instance occurs at the end of Chapter Two, where there is a total of six lines of text (two of which are footnotes) on the last page.

Chapter One covers the details of creating characters (referred to as Victims), as well as how their stats work. Chapter Two goes into further detail on playing the game and provides a list of common weapons. Chapter Three goes over the basics of creating monsters, listing a wide variety of monster types to offer inspiration. Chapter Four provides some director (i.e. GM) tips on running the game. Chapter Five wraps things up with a double feature. The first is an abandoned town scenario which provides considerable flexibility for the director regarding the motivation of the monster. The second one involves an invasion by gullible aliens whose idea of what Earth is like comes from B-movies shown on cable. The invasion involves faithful duplicates of famous movie monsters with the serial numbers filed off. The text is peppered with plenty of examples of how the rules work, doing away with what little ambiguity there may have been. Each section is also headed with an appropriate quote from a horror movie in the style of A Certain Other RPG.

In schlocky horror movies, most characters will have the life span of a fruit fly, so rather than each player designing and controlling one character, everyone gets a minimum of three victims. With having to manage multiple victims, their stats are fairly simple. As the victims are supposed to be incompetent, they possess what are known as Inabilities. These are Unwise (reflecting how likely the victim will do something stupid), Unluck (reflecting how likely the victim will be visited with misfortune), and Undone (reflecting how prone the victim is to panic). Among these Inabilities, a seven, an eight, and a nine are assigned as desired. Victims also have 1d6+6 Unharm, which act as hit points. Finally, each victim receives a Stereotype, which sums up the basic characterization of the victim. Besides providing a cardboard personality, it also serves as the basis for the Free Pass. Once per game, a victim may automatically succeed at a task if it’s somehow associated with the Stereotype. For players who wish to get more fiddly with their victims, they can also take Unreal and Unthinkable. These roughly correspond to Advantages and Disadvantages respectively which are commonly seen in point build-style RPG systems. They are primarily used in adjusting Inabilities and Unharm, as well as gaining extra Free Passes. The only restrictions are that no more than two Unthinkable may be taken, and Inabilities may not go higher than ten.

So how do you go about using these Inabilities? Whenever the director calls for you to test an Inability, you roll 2d6. No modifiers or other such crunchy bits, just a straight roll. You succeed if you roll lower than the Inability and fail if you roll higher. However, since these are Inabilities, success is actually failure and failure is actually success. You may have noticed that I said nothing about what happens if the result is equal to the Inability. When that occurs, the victim experiences an Epic Fail. This means that the Inability succeeds (or in practical terms, fails) in such a way that the victim is injured, taking Unharm damage equal to the Inability.

As you can see, death comes easily in Killer Thriller. But one victim’s gory dismemberment is another victim’s power-up opportunity. Whenever a victim dies, the player assigns another one of his/her victims Unharm points equal to the base amount of the dead victim’s Unharm. At the director’s discretion, bonus Unharm may be awarded if the player gives a spectacular description of the victim’s death or walked into his/her demise without being prompted into it with Inability rolls. Should this enhanced victim get knocked off anyway, the recipient victim gains Unharm equal to the total Unharm accumulated by the previous victim. So when a player is down to one victim (known as the Last Survivor), he/she is going to be incredibly buff.

From page 18:
“It’s a Monster’s duty to oblige when a victim affords the opportunity for massacre, whether by taking a bath, doing the nasty, being exceedingly obnoxious, becoming startled by a cat leaping out of the attic, or daring to utter the phrase ‘I’ll be right back’… It must show up according to the laws of cinema and fulfills its role as the cleaner of the gene pool.”

Of course every horror story needs a monster. In Killer Thriller, they come in two varieties, Minion and Boss. Minions are relatively wimpy and any victim should be able to take them on. Boss Monsters are a completely different matter and initially don’t even have stats. Whatever task it attempts, it is successful as long as the targeted victim succeeds at the relevant Inability roll. Note, however, I said initially. You may have noticed how, when the cast of a schlocky horror movie has been whittled down to the last few you know are going to survive, the Big Bad suddenly becomes less capable. Well, when a Boss Monster goes up against a Last Survivor, it will possess Inabilities just like everyone else.

In conclusion, though there are some editing issues with the PDF, this has absolutely no effect on actual gameplay. The simple beer and pretzels mechanics make for a smooth playing out of a cliche-riddled horror story and can handle anything from rubber-suited monsters that would be at home on Mystery Science Theater 3000 to Eighties-style slashers.

Rating: 19

Product Summary

Killer Thriller

From: Timeout Diversions

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Tony Lee

Number of Pages: 28

Retail Price: $3.00

Website: http://www.timeoutdiversions.com

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck