Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/17/tabletop-review-cryptworld/
When I was in middle school, I was mainly running Call of Cthulhu games. I liked the horror atmosphere and was better at GM’ing it than fantasy games like D&D or Sci-Fi games like Gamma World. In eighth grade, my friend Travis found a hardcover version of a game called Chill by Mayfair Games, the same RPG company that put out my beloved DC Super Heroes RPG. He couldn’t run games very well, so he asked me to, and we all had a lot of fun with it. It was similar enough to Call of Cthulhu that we all picked up the mechanics quite well, but different enough that it was more combat/action oriented and players were more proactive in fighting supernatural threats. I liked Chill enough that I picked up several supplements for it, the original Pacesetter boxed set, and eventually Black Morn Manor, a really fun board game Pacesetter put out for the setting. Eventually though, Mayfair Games stopped publishing Chill and DC Super Heroes, and we were all sad for a time.
When Pacesetter LTD was sold to Goblinoid Games several years ago, fans of the Pacesetter titles rejoiced, as their games had some very devout older fans. I was glad to see Pacesetter resurrected from the dead, but in my heart I knew it wouldn’t be complete, as my favorite game that they put out was not part of the buyout, and still in the hands of Mayfair Games (Until early 2013 when they sold the rights to some Canadian guy no one has ever heard of…) So what to do? Well, for a while Goblinoid concentrated on the Pacesetter licenses they now owned, like Timemaster and Sandman. Then they created a zombie RPG called Rotworld using the Pacesetter mechanics, which was fine, but I still preferred All Flesh Must Be Eaten. At the beginning of this month though, Goblinoid Games announced their workaround for the lack of the Chill license – Cryptworld. As a long time Chill fan, I was excited to hear about this, and it was only fitting that the game was released on Friday the 13th. I reached out to Goblinoid Games and asked for a review copy, and they were more than happy to send me a PDF version to peruse. As you can imagine, I devoured the book in one sitting and spent much of the weekend re-reading it with both my original Pacesetter and Mayfair copies to see what the differences were. I don’t advise doing so yourself unless you’re also a reviewer or just extremely anal retentive though.
So is Cryptworld Chill? I know that’s the question most Pacesetter fans want an answer to right off the bat. The answer is mechanically, yes, but no in terms of background, setting, story and the like. As Cryptworld uses the same Pacesetter system as Chill, everything is essentially the same in terms of playing the game and character creation. You have the same eight stats of STR, DEX, AGI, PCN, PER, WPR, and LCK. You have the same Skill levels, same dice rolls, and the action table. So in that sense, Cryptworld is the Chill, Third Edition you might have been clamoring for.
Where the game varies differently in terms of the background. In Chill, you had the organization SAVE which dealt with paranormal menaces across the globe. Players created agents of SAVE and had a world-wide organization at their disposal. Well, since Goblinoid doesn’t have the Chill license, all of that wonderful background, history and continuity is absent from Cryptworld. This actually isn’t a bad thing. For longtime Chill fans, you can just use what you remember about SAVE or have in the previous two editions and use that WITH Cryptworld. For everyone else, you are free to design your own horror based world and/or campaign. This means you don’t HAVE to make an agent of SAVE or use any of the metaplot Pacesetter and Mayfair have created. You don’t have to feel pigeonholed into someone else’s world. Indeed, you’re only limited by your imagination. Whether or not the lack of SAVE and the world it takes place in makes or breaks the game for you is going to be a deeply personal decision. As I’ve said, for me, it’s more the fun of having the mechanics back coupled with the freedom to use them however I want. Remember, Cryptworld is NOT Chill, and that longtime fans of Chill can’t get hung-up that “their” game is still long out of print. Cryptworld is the spiritual successor to Chill, and not a true third edition.
One other thing you will notice that is different is the brevity of Cryptworld compared to both versions of Chill. Clocking in at only ninety-two pages, Cryptworld seems a bit short, especially when you realize that that page count includes a full length adventure, the covers and a no frills character sheet. This is, again, because of the lack of the Chill license. After all, a lot of Chill was devoted to the background and setting description, and you don’t have that here. With Cryptworld, you are making your own setting, so Goblinoid didn’t need to devote an extra 100+ pages to a world that they designed. There is some truncation however, with Cryptworld offering less monsters and powers, in addition to briefer skill listings. The end result is a tighter read, devoted primarily to the mechanics of the game. Older gamers and especially those familiar will Chill will probably appreciate this more, although younger or more casual gamers might have found the more padded out hand holding descriptions in Chill to be easier on them.
The final sentence in the preceding paragraph leads me to perhaps the Achilles heel of the mechanics in Cryptworld, and that’s that they might come off as more complicated, indeed sometimes needlessly so, to more modern RPG releases. As a gamer who cut his eye teeth on older titles that involved me rolling dice and looking at a chart to see what the roll actually meant, or where character creation was a bit more intense than in modern releases, I’m fine with that. I mean, I cut my eye teeth on Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes by TSR, so none of the mechanics in Cryptworld had me batting an eye. Younger or more casual gamers, used to rules lighter systems, might be taken aback by some of the mechanics in this game. That’s not to say they are hard or extremely complicated to where they won’t want to play the game – just that it’s very different from more modern gaming mechanics, and so they’ll have to break their preconceived notions and paradigms about things.
For example, let’s look at character creation. For each of your eight stats, you roll dice to determine them. Again, that’s not a big deal, especially if you’re an older gamer where you have played many a title with randomly generated stats. Here you roll 3D10, add them together and then multiply the result by two. After that, you add twenty to all that and you have your stat. That’s a lot more complicated than, “Roll 3d6 and add it together.” Four steps to generate a single stat seems like a lot. You could cut the steps in half and get the same exact result by saying, “9d6 +20,” but that still seems like a lot, no? In truth though, the description is far worse than the follow through and it’s quite easy to make a Cryptworld character, but as I’ve said, the description and steps will probably seem daunting to a newcomer when they first lay eyes on it.
Another area that might throw newcomers is the difference between general and specific Ability Checks. You’ll have a big Ability Check chart in the back. To use this chart, you roll your dice trying to hit a number determined by your stats. If you succeed, you subtract what you rolled from the goal, and then check that number on the Ability Check Chart, cross referenced with the column you want to use for it (usually the second one). The result on the chart gives you your degree of success and what happens. Again, this probably sounds needlessly complicated compared to just rolling a percentile die, and if you make it, you succeed. The truth is, it IS needlessly complicated, and unless you are a longtime fan of the system or have some serious Pacesetter nostalgia going on, it’s hard to say why you would want to do this over a regular straight percentile roll. It also doesn’t help that the Cryptworld rules are written in such a way that the use of the chart is arbitrary and completely at the CM (Crypt Master)’s discretion. My advice is to play your first game of Cryptworld without the Ability Check chart and just do straight percentile rolls until you really get to know the system. Then, once you know it, at least TRY the chart and see if you like that mechanics style. Again, it’s really going to come down to age I think. Longtime Chill/Pacesetter fans won’t have a problem using the chart and might even love the needless extra steps to determine success, while newcomers probably just won’t “get” it and may look to play something similar with less mechanics, like Call of Cthulhu.
Most of Cryptworld is quite dry, focusing on sheer mechanics and character creation for much of the book. That all changes with “Chapter 8: The Crypt Master.” This chapter takes on a more narrative tone in an attempt to help fledgling CMs design their own Cryptworld setting and/or campaign. It’s only eight pages long, but this section does a wonderful job of helping to set the groundwork for a personalized Cryptworld adventure (or more!) and gives nice examples of things a CM can do to set the mood and determine the direction of their homebrew pieces. I should point out that Cryptworld does tend to emphasize a more late 70s/early 80s movie monster style of horror in the pages, but also freely gives up other options and ideas. I really like this twist, with the focus being on 80s style horror, as so many other horror games tend to do the Lovecraftian thing (which I obviously love and adore), and so it is nice to have an option other than that. I’m really hoping Goblinoid Games follows up with this via an adventure compendium to really help get CMs to start thinking outside the box from the useless nameless dread or eldritch horrors.
Cryptworld ends its content with a full introductory adventure known as Red Eye. At the start, players are completely new to the supernatural (but they don’t have to be) and by the end, they’ve had a chilling encounter with a popular folkloric creature, 50,000 feet above sea level, trapped on a commercial flight in the wee hours of the night as it goes from Hawaii to Los Angeles. This is a really fun and frantic adventure and does a great job of highlighting the differences between Pacesetter horror adventures and those written for other systems. Being stuck in an airplane with a creature that could be hell bent of killing every last living creature on the flight is damn creepy, especially when you realize that even the most seasoned monster hunter had to check their silver bullets, wooden stakes, antique cold iron swords and what have you when they boarded. Carry-ons are unlikely to have these sorts of things. The end result is a really fresh adventure that should hopefully make your friends and fellow gamers want to keep playing Cryptworld, and perhaps even pick up some old Chill adventures to use with it until Goblinoid Games makes their own.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention he amazing art in Cryptworld. One of my favorite things about the Pacesetter version of Chill was the art by Jim Holloway. The highly detailed and creepy drawings just really made the game for me. I especially loved the cover art to the Box Set/Campaign book, which is a first person view of a werewolf about to pounce on a hapless would be monster hunter in a graveyard at the dead of night. It’s always stayed with me over the years, and I wish he’d do a print of it. Well, needless to say, I’m happy to report Goblinoid Games not only got Jim to do the cover to Cryptworld, but it’s also a wonderful homage/tribute to that classic Pacesetter cover art. The internal art is done by Jim, along with Brian Thomas and Tim Tyler, and it all looks great. The end result is a great looking set of art that helps to not only make Cryptworld come to life, but also puts any old school gamer that flips through this book into a nostalgia nosedive. Seriously, I felt like a kid again just from looking at the art, and it’s one of the many high points of Cryptworld.
All in all, I really loved my time with Cryptworld. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, but it’s great to have another horror themed RPG out there, especially one that isn’t zombies or Cthulhu related. You’ll have to pick up a copy of Cryptworld to really determine if it’s for you. After all, I’m heavily influenced by my formative years with Chill, so it’s no surprise that a quasi-remake/homage of a game I’ve always enjoyed is going to get a fairly positive review from me. That said, the PDF version is less than seven dollars, and that’s an insanely good deal. Seven bucks for a full system and an adventure? How can you say no to that, especially one with the pedigree of Chill? While I can’t say I’d pay the twenty or thirty dollar price tag for the Print on Demand version, that’s due to the cost per page count as well as the fact I like digital copies over physical ones these days. It’s great to see Goblinoid keeping the spirit of both Pacesetter and Chill alive, and I really enjoyed my time with Cryptworld. Here’s hoping you will too!