Wednesday, January 20, 2016

[Review] Quill: A Letter-Writing RPG By Trollish Delver Games

Sometimes in an RPG, your character's ability to swing a sword or pick a lock don't matter. In the world of Quill: A Letter-Writing RPG for a Single Player by Scott Malthouse, it all comes down to your PC's penmanship and eloquence.

In Quill, you take on the persona of a letter-writer who is trying to create the best missive to impress the letter's recipient. Do well, and the letter-reader might be impressed enough to reward you. Perform poorly, and the punishment could be dire. Everything that happens to your character comes down to your ability to write convincingly and with heart. (Although your real-life ability to write well is secondary to the gameplay, which will become clear during this review.)

In this unusually-styled RPG, you have six character classes to choose from that reflect professions with a literate background: Monk, Poet, Aristocrat, Courtier. Knight, and Scholar. Each class has three attributes reflecting their respective competence with the written word: Penmanship (how clean it looks); Heart (how heartfelt it sounds); and Language (how well it reads). Each attribute is rated Poor, Average, and Good, which reflects how many dice you roll when that attribute comes into play (1, 2, or 3 dice, respectively). So the Knight would write heartfelt letters (Heart: Good) but he would use commoner's slang when writing (Language: Poor). The Poet's turn of phrasing would be amazing (Language: Good), but his scribbles would be illegible (Penmanship: Poor). Finally, you can choose one of three skills (Inspiration (Language), Illumination (Penmanship), and Augmentation (Heart)) that reflect a one-time-use extra die roll when writing your letter.

Once you've determined your class, attributes, and personal skill, it's time to sit down and write to your letter which will consist of five paragraphs. To start, grab at least three 6-sided dice and choose one of the four scenarios in the rulebook. Each scenario gives you a profile of the recipient of your letter, and the subject you are writing to them about. For example, one scenario has you writing to the king informing him of your suspicions that someone in his court is a spy. Each scenario also gives you the Rules of Correspondence with special circumstances specific to the scenario that will give you a bonus or penalty if applicable. Finally, each scenario has an Ink Pot, a list of words -- both Superior and Inferior -- that you can use to increase your score. Roll well, and you may use one of the Superior Words in your letter, thus impressing the reader. Roll poorly, and you're stuck with phrasing that's a bit more gauche.

All Attributes and Skill checks allow you to roll as many dice as their value allows. If you roll a 5 or 6 on any of the dice, the check is successful. And that's the basis of the game.

To play, you begin writing your letter keeping in mind the information you're trying to impart as well as the profile of the eventual reader. Within each of the five graphs, you'll want to try to insert one of the Superior Words. When you reach that turn of phrase, you'll make a Language skill check. Succeed, gain a point and use one of the Superior Words in the Ink Pot. Fail the check, and blunder your way with one of the crummier words. Further checks are required anytime you want to try to impress the reader with Flourishes (fancy adjectives/adverbs scattered throughout) or by your Penmanship (make a check at the end of each paragraph to see if you're able to maintain your legibility). As you build your letter, you'll make checks versus your Heart, Language, and Penmanship scores, gaining points as you hit the high points of your missive, and suffering penalties as you fumble your way through the low points. At the end of the letter, you'll add up your total score, then refer to the scenario's "Consequences" section to see how the reader reacted to your letter.

So how does it play? Admittedly, most of the game is an exercise in narrative prompt writing with a scoring system tacked on. Whether you do well or poorly comes down to a roll of the dice rather than any real ability of the player to write well. (However, most RPG results comes down to a roll of the dice anyway even if the player can't swing a sword or pick a lock, so it's not a fair comparison.) Overall, I really like the concept of the game as it's a different kind of role-playing. As I sat down as a Monk tasked to inform a close family friend of the death of his son, I found myself pondering the best way to approach the subject. I mulled over the most tactful and somber way to let him know...when it struck me that none of this was real. It was a role-playing exercise that had drawn me in and THAT is the mark of a good game.

That said, I think I'd like to find some time to noodle around with the mechanics and add some new challenges to the game. For example, having to deliver some unpleasant bit of information in your letter may start the player off with a starting negative score that must be overcome during play. Or perhaps a scenario could come with some hidden background text that, if mentioned in the letter, would add to or remove from the player's score. For example, after the game ends and the letter is written, the player would turn to another page with more background info on the letter reader. Perhaps any mention of the letter reader's parents at any point -- whom he hadn't spoken to in years due to a bitter fight -- might give a penalty to the letter's effectiveness. Or mentioning gold or riches to a reader who is secretly a covetous miser would give the writer a bonus.

I would also like to see the game expanded to have some scenarios that are a bit more fantastical in a future supplement. Perhaps there could be a scenario where a knight is about to embark on a rescue quest who needs to secure a powerful magical talisman from a cranky magic-user. Can he sway the arch-mage to surrender his cherished magic item? Or perhaps a monk could try to convince a known rogue to join his crusade against a tyrannical overlord. Heck, how about a series of letters to 4 different recipients where the player is trying to recruit the various members of a dungeon-exploration party? The success of each letter would bring a new member into the party, resulting in a more successful quest. And if everyone turns you down due to your lousy written missives, the player could end up dying alone in the depths of an arch-lich's catacombs!

In summary, I found Quill to be an unusually effective role-playing exercise as I found myself immersed in the scenarios I played, even if I found the mechanics of resolution a bit too random and not contingent upon the letter being written. I think the game could be tightened up a bit with some minor tweaks and additions to the gameplay, but that's just some personal preference sneaking in. I can see myself cobbling together a few scenarios of my own to share with the Quill-playing public in the future!

Quill: A Letter-Writing RPG for a Single Player is available as a Pay What You Want item (so you can try before you buy, if you wish) at Drive Through RPG and RPG Now, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. Sniderman says "Grab your Quill and begin writing."

Monday, January 11, 2016

[Review] Evenings Of Terror For Chill 1e & Cryptworld

And now a review of one of my favorite supplements for any RPG system…

Evenings of Terror is a compilation of nine mini-adventures for the Pacesetter’s original Chill RPG. (By extension, this supplement is also backwards-compatible with Cryptworld.) Each of the horrific scenarios within this supplement are one-shots, designed to be played within a single session – the “evenings of terror” referred to in the title.

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of “microadventures”. (Heck, my Mutant Future supplement One Year In The Savage AfterWorld was directly inspired by the “quick hit” nature of the adventures in Evenings of Terror!) So this collection of Chill one-shots really scratches an itch of mine.

Each adventure is narrow in scope, taking place in a single well-defined locale, for example, a small town in the middle of nowhere or within the confines of a classic “haunted house”. There’s even one adventure that takes place in the confines of a single room! (It’s also one of my favorites Chill adventures to run at a convention.) Each of the adventures from Evenings of Terror is self-contained with a set-up and PC introduction, the adventure itself, and a resolution at the end. Each also has every NPC statted up, as well as the THING(s) lurking in the shadows. For the price of one adventure, you get nine separate horrific journeys for your players to investigate and…perhaps…survive.

Before I give you an overview of the individual adventures that make up the Evenings of Terror supplement, I need to warn those of you who may play in any of these that I might reveal the plots and twists of each one, so SPOILER SPACE FOLLOWS HERE:
The Epidemic – Animals are disappearing throughout DeWitt, Indiana, and the players are sent to investigate. As the PCs check out the little town, the animals return…changed, somehow. This adventure is a fun little romp as the PCs try to figure out where the numerous pets have gone. And when the townfolks begin to vanish as well, they’ll have their hands full!

Lanier House – A new twist on the classic “haunted house” tale, the PCs are sent to find out what happened to the last folks who entered the supposedly haunted house. Is it a ghost or poltergeist causing the mischief? Or is it something more malevolent? (Spoiler alert: Ever seen Monster House?)

A Little Room – One of my favorite scenarios. McClellan Manor in Ontario has a terrible curse. Anyone who enters the mansion’s Overlook Room on July 19 will find themselves trapped within. On the morning of July 20, the door will reopen and the victim will be found dead. It’s said that the curse will be broken if anyone can survive the night until sunrise. A great locked-room adventure that takes place over 8 hours in one room.

Animal House – People are missing in Chicago, and unusual pet behavior is reported. The link? A mysterious veterinarian all of the missing persons visited in the days leading to their disappearance. When the PCs get too close, they may share the victim’s fate! The weakest entry, as it’s a bit of a railroad for the PCs.

The House on the Hill – The townspeople whisper that strange and foreboding experiments are underway at the house of Dr. Frankenberg. His hunched assistant beckons the players to enter as lightning flashes in the sky. It’s a scene straight out of a 1950s horror movie, but it can’t be this straight-forward, can it? A classic bait-and-switch scenario that will cure the PCs of jumping to conclusions.

Still Life – A talentless painter is suddenly creating masterworks of artistic reknown. Any who criticize these work, however, are later found murdered. However, the artist always has an iron-clad alibi. What otherworldly “deals” have been made, and what can the PCs do to break the spell? A very unusual THING haunts this adventure, and it will give your players chills!

Rounded By A Sleep – Anyone who falls asleep in Room 1010 of the Devereaux Hotel never wakes up again as they die peacefully in their sleep. Is something killing people from beyond the realm of dreams…and nightmares? A tough adventure for the PCs as they must fight the THING on its home turf – the dreaming realm!

Crime Magazine – A private eye saw two people who were shot and killed get up and walk away. He’s invited the PCs (known to dabble in “weird stuff”) to help him investigate the seedy underworld when ghouls meet gangsters! Femme fatales and mob bosses are all after a cursed object that leaves death in its wake. An adventure with a 1930’s noir twist.

Haunt Thy Native Place – A stopover in the quiet town of Tall Rock becomes a fight for survival as a dangerous creature watches the players with interest…and hunger. How fast can the players get to the bottom of this supposedly peaceful setting? A pretty standard horror adventure but fun nonetheless. 

Oh, and what of Elvira, the Mistress of the Dark? How does she fit into all of these scenarios? She doesn’t. Elvira provides an intro and outro for each adventure written in the style of our favorite horror hostess. Her photos grace the pages throughout too, but those of you fearful that this was somehow an adventure series “starring” Elvira need not worry.

As a fledgling CM, Evenings of Terror taught me that you didn’t need a world-spanning campaign that takes months or years to complete. If you want to run a quick night of horror with a host of new and unusual creatures for your Chill/Cryptworld players, I recommend you pick up a copy of this great sourcebook. You can get it for less than $10 at Noble KnightGames.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

[Cryptworld] New Thing: Mirror Dweller

A Demonic Doppleganger for Cryptworld
STR: * --- WPR: *
DEX: * --- PER: *
AGL: * --- PCN: *
STA: * --- PWR: *
ATT: * --- WND: *
MV:  *
* = All attributes, abilities, and skills should be identical to the original.

Experience: 750

When someone suffering from intense negative emotions makes contact with a cursed or haunted mirror, that person could accidentally summon a mirror dweller. The mirror dweller is an exact duplicate of someone from our world. However, this doppleganger is twisted and evil of purpose, and its only intention is to replace its “positive world twin.”

Once the mirror dweller is summoned, the creature will lay in wait just on the other side of the mirror’s plane, waiting until no one on the "positive side" of the mirror is present. (In fact, someone could spy the mirror dweller lurking in the reflection “behind them” only to turn and see no one in the room with them!) Once alone, the mirror dweller will pull itself through the mirror's plane, entering our world as if through a window or doorway. The mirror dweller will then seek out its positive-world twin with intent to overpower, subdue, and replace its opposite. Once caught and subdued, the mirror dweller will hide their counterpart away, locking them up and keeping them alive as the mirror dweller steps in to take over their counterpart's life in the positive world. A mirror dweller will never knowingly kill their counterpart, viewing it as similar to "suicide." (They have no such qualms about killing family and friends though!)

Once the mirror dweller has taken over their counterpart's existence, it will set about sowing seeds of disquiet and destruction. Friends and family will see their "friend" acting inappropriately with ever-growing acts of self-destruction. The mirror dweller may commit crimes, up to and including murder, knowing that -- if discovered -- it can re-enter the mirror world and leave its positive world counterpart to take the fall.

For all purposes, a mirror dweller is nearly identical to the original individual. It has the same abilities and skills as the person it seeks to replace. Although it has its own sense of "identity," the mirror dweller will also have the memories of the original it seeks to replace, so it will easily blend in with its counterpart’s family and friends. However, a keen-eyed observer may notice slight changes in their friend's behavior, i.e., they're now left-handed, they don't recognize their new pet, they now smoke or bite their nails, etc.

If a mirror dweller is suspected, the thing will likely release its captive twin, then re-enter the mirror realm, leaving its counterpart to suffer the consequences. Killing a mirror dweller or breaking the portal mirror will banish the creature back to its own dimension. Mirror dwellers are always duplicates of their human counterparts – there has never been an encounter with an animal or thing.