Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tommy's Take on Horror Show

Bedrock Games has put out a couple of games that I have been really impressed with, Crime Network and Terror Network...but when they announced their new horror game, Horror Show, I admit to being skeptical as to how the Network system would transfer to the horror genre.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: First off, I love the cover. It is my favorite cover for a Bedrock Games product by far. Currently available in PDF for $9.99, Horror Show is a standalone game based off of the Network Game system, which I have detailed in my Crime Network and Terror Network reviews.

To that end, I will be talking more about the modifications to the system, rather than rehashing the entire system, but the basic mechanics are a d10 based dice pool, where you roll 1 to 6d10 versus a target number and either fail, succeed or succeed spectacularly (by rolling a 10).

While the previous Network Games used three character types, Horror Show has six types: Soldier/Cop (emphasis on Combat skills), Athlete (emphasis on Physical skills), Leader (emphasis on Mental skills), Bookworm (emphasis on Knowledge skills), Scientist/Tech Expert (emphasis on Specialist skills) and Survivors (emphasis on Defense skills). Helpfully, the book provides examples of the Roles from various horror films (like Ash from Evil Dead as a Survivor and Jack Torrance from The Shining as a Bookworm). From there, you select an Occupation, which gives you a free Skill rank and Acquaintance, and there are over 30 Occupations to choose from, such as Police Officer, Assassin, Musician and Writer.

Shortcomings, from Crime Network, are also present here, such as Reckless Driver (a penalty on your Vehicle Skill Rolls), Luddite (penalty on Computer Skill Rolls) and the very genre appropriate Cursed. An optional rule exists for Motivations, which provide a bonus die when using skills in direct pursuit of the motivation.

Karma is used to get favors from Acquaintances, which work a lot like Connections from the other Network games, coming in Support and Information classifications and divided into Community, Scholarly, Authority, Industry and Unsavory.

The Skill List remains LARGELY the same, although the Vehicles group is condensced down into the Vehicle skill under the Physical group, and a few others are changed around (like Bully replacing Persuasion).

The game also adds the Horror Roll, where a monster trying to frighten you rolls its Horror rating against your Resolve defense. On a Success, you are frightened and lose one action. A Total Success means you are Horrified and lose two...and two or more Total Successes equals Phobia.

The Features chapter is an extensive examination of the genre (and various subgenres) of cinematic horror and how to apply them to the game, as well as vary the approach between a "story based" feature structure, an open exploration structure, etc. Definitely one of the best GM sections I've read in recent memory. Almost all of it is system neutral until the end of the chapter, where some optional rules are provided to tweak the system a bit (like restricting certain skills, for instance).

Five sample features are also provided to get you started or provide inspiration.

Bedrock Games didn't just provide a number of monsters, like vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghosts, atomic bugs, serial killers (undead and living) and more, they also provided an extensive set of monster powers in order to tweak the existing monsters or make new ones from scratch. Body Powers include things like Claws, Deadly Claws (like claws, but deadlier), Mimic, Night Eyes and Spikes. Mind Powers include Fly, Create (basic objects), Create II (living things of low intelligence), Create III (intelligent living things), Mind Read, Telekinesis, Teleport and more. Spirit Powers include Dream Master, Trap Soul, Dream Walk, Summon and more. In addition, a series of curses are provided, as well as Monster Defenses, which include Come Back From The Grave, Super Tough and Perfect Reflection (reflecting attacks back on the opponent). Finally, guidelines for Weaknesses and Dark Objects (the Hellraiser Puzzle Box is specifically cited here).

WHAT WORKS: A tested system that has depth without being too crunchy, combined with an obvious passion and knowledge of the genre. The book really shines with the Monster sections, where they provide both a number of ready made monsters as well as powers and guidelines to build your own from scratch. And yes, if you choose, you can use the Monster Powers section to make characters with special powers (like the psychic chick from Friday the 13th Part VII) or even play the game as a straight up Monsters game. Oh, and I love that cover so much.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: None of the provided Features did much for me, but they don't take up much room anyway. There are still a few places where they probably carried over a bit TOO much information from the previous Network system games, but that's a maybe.

CONCLUSION: Yeah, I doubted the guys that made me like both a mob-based RPG and a terrorist/Homeland Defense based RPG. I'll learn someday. Probably the biggest problem the book faces is that most groups probably have a go-to game for horror at this point, be it GURPS Horror, All Flesh Must Be Eaten (which is easy to mod for non-zombie horror with the genrebooks out at this point), new World of Darkness or what-have-you...and there's probably not anything in this book that just SCREAMS "ditch your go-to game in favor of Horror Show", other than being written with few, if any, assumptions in mind. For my part, even if I never actually use this to run a game with, I have little doubt that I'll constantly pull it up for inspiration when running horror games. Did I mention I really love the cover? Very strong recommendation if you like horror RPGs, and one of the strongest releases by Bedrock Games to date, in my opinion.