Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tommy's Take on EPOCH: Frontier of Fear

At the beginning of the year, I reviewed EPOCH: Experimental Paradigm Of Cinematic Horror, an RPG that attempts to replicate, well, cinematic horror. This week, I'm tackling the first two scenario books for EPOCH: Frontier of Fear (sci-fi horror) and War Stories (er, war stories).

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Frontier of Fear can be purchased in PDF for $6, or in print for $8, but you'll also want the Frontier of Fear card deck, which is $8 and includes the cards you need for the four scenarios in this book.

All of the scenarios are sci-fi themed, set in the future after humanity has been forced to the stars due to pollution/overcrowding/etc on Earth. In that vein, 8 new Complications are included to throw a sci-fi twist into your tales: Alien Abductee, Android, Clone, Cybernetic Enhancement, From Another Time, Imposter, Latent Psychic and Older Than You Appear. There's also a little advice for using the scenarios linked together, one as a sequel to another.

Scenario #1 is called Red Gold and is set on Mars. A mining crawler reports a massive gold deposit before falling silent. The characters are all brought together by one of the three competing corporations to find out what happened. Everyone is assigned a mission specific role (like a Security Specialist, Medical Specialist or Engineer), as well as a random, hidden agenda. Of course, disaster strikes right away and the crew crashes, setting the crew up for trouble. Lots of facilitation notes are included to help you move the scenario along, including scene setting suggestions.

Scenario #2 takes place after Earth has moved on from Mars, exploring closer to the sun, with PCs on Space Station Icarus. Another Locked Box Scenario, this one has the PCs entering their last week on the station, when they find an alien artifact. This sets off a chain reaction of events that leaves the PCs in the fight of their lives as their home for the last several months turns on them. Everyone gets a Role (Scientist, Commander, Medical Doctor, etc.), as well as a hidden Circumstance (Last Mission Before Retirement - a sure sign of impending doom, secretly loving or hating another crew member, spying for another corporation, etc). This scenario "maps" out the locations of the station, and encourages the crew to customize it, which can make for a more horrific moment as their safe havens are violated.

Scenario #3 is Quintessence, casting the PCs as Corporate Marines sent to tackle a derelict science ship which has reappeared after being missing for 100 years, before other corporations can get their hands on it. The mission gets weird right away, when the Marines board the ship and find that it looks like the crew has only just left, and quickly throws the PCs in WELL over their heads. Each PC gets a Role card, defining their role in the Marines (New Recruit, Grizzled Veteran, War Scarred, and so on). Each one also gets a Desire card, which can factor into a huge turning point for the PCs. Easily the most nihilistic of the scenarios.

Scenario #4 is Hard Time, setting the PCs into prison. Each PC is a Prisoner, with a Crime(s) card and a Motivation for escaping (Family, Duty, Vengeance and so forth). After a "decompression event" leads to an evacuation order, but things are not that simple, of course. In some ways, this is the least horrific set-up, yet there are some truly chilling scenes that can be sprang on people.

WHAT WORKS: There are some scary scenes, for sure...and the book does a great job of demonstrating the scope of the game beyond that of the core. Two or more of these could easily be linked together, sometimes with the same characters and sometimes just thematically, as the sci-fi elements gradually build from one scenario to the next. The forethought in some of the scenarios (like customizing Space Station Icarus) really seems like it would boost the buy-in.

WHAT WORKS: The editing could have been tighter in some places, unless I REALLY need to brush up on my British English vs American English spellings (which I may, but Artefact and Vengence don't look correct to me, and one scenario lists the year twice...ten years apart).

CONCLUSION: I really like Quintessence and Hard Time, but any of the scenarios are worthy of playing through. I'm still intending to get this game to my table soon, especially since we played Fiasco, which has a similar (but certainly not identical) set-up and feel and that went over great. May even use Quintessence or Hard Time when I do. Excellent job establishing that there are scary things in space.