Monday, October 14, 2013
The Many Days of Horror! - Cryptworld
I could almost call this month "The Many Days of 80's Horror Memorabilia" and pretty much be about right. Cryptworld owes its existence to a gutsy publisher in the 80's called Pacesetter, which was founded by people who thought the best way to tackle the RPG market was in the same manner as TSR, by publishing accessible games in boxed sets aimed at mass distribution. They produced Timemaster, Chill and Star Ace, with many supplements for each. Oddly their lineup did not include a direct competitor to D&D.....no fantasy Pacesetter game, in other words. Instead they were competing with Star Frontiers, Call of Cthulhu and (apparently) nothing because outside of Man, Myth & Magic I don't think anyone was crazy enough to aim at some sort of historical time traveling game back then (or now for that matter....)
Chill survived its founding company, to return in a second edition through Mayfair Games which was a late 80's/early 90's icon of gaming for many (myself included) with both Chill, DC Heroes and a plethora of Role-Aids adventures and source books designed for unofficial use with AD&D. Eventually Mayfair succumbed and shrank to whatever sort of board game company it remains (board gamers probably can speak much more on this than I) and Chill died with it. Rumors and website suggesting a revitalization lurk in the woodwork, but meanwhile Daniel Procter went and did one better: can't get the Chill license? Who cares! Buy Pacesetter whole cloth along with the core mechanics. Boom: first Rotworld, a zombie survival game and now Cryptworld, a Hammer Horror simulator are back on the scene and the Pacesetter game system is officially a thing again. I eagerly look forward to the not-Star Frontiers-alike that is hopefully in the near future! Did Goblinoid Games get the full Star Ace license, maybe? That would be cool.
So what is Cryptworld? I liken it to a classic movie monster and Hammer Horror simulator. It can reasonably do any horror, sure...but the game's monstrous roster is slanted toward the classics --and before any young'uns ask, no the Mythos aren't really considered a part of this camp. Think Bram Stroker, Bela Lugosi, the Swamp Man, Frankenstein and all that. Cryptworld moves the horror dial slightly ahead as well by including some noted cryptids and a few other analog monsters representing a myriad variety of contemporary threats from film and fiction, such as cannibal hillbillies, the chupacabra, "criswells," and more.
How does Cryptworld play? If you're the target audience then you probably have fond memories of checking off circles/boxes for stamina and tracking percentile-based stats while referring to an action table. This is the same game system, and the action table has only been modified to reflect gray scales for differing degrees of difficulty/success. The game system is really very simple and straight-forward. Its more suited to short stories and campaigns of a few sessions in length (imo) but character advancement rules are an option, in which you accrue lots of XP and spend it to gain incremental bonuses in your stats.
The Cryptworld/Pacesetter system is skill-focused and you wont find any feats or special abilities here, just normal people against the tide of evil. Rules are included for paranormal talents, which largely consist of abilities you'd see in genre fiction and film prior to 1979. There are optional rules for handling fear as a mechanic, too.
The rest of the game mechanics are no-nonsense and can simulate a variety of contemporary or historical genres easily enough. The art throughout the book is good. There's a nice little section on running horror games. The whole book comes in at 90 pages, but its absolutely everything you could want to run a fun session or ten of macabre horror adventures, simulating anything from schlock Hammer Horror films to something more modern and X-Filesish.
Cryptworld will appeal greatly to fans of light but robust game systems that come entirely in a single tome. It's fully compatible with Rotworld, so you can use one to enhance the other as well. The core mechanics are solid and function well for their intended purpose. If you already have a default go-to system (i.e. BRP) for such games I'm not sure Cryptworld will sway you away from using them (though it might inspire you), but if you've been looking for something like a dedicated non mythos horror system that also eschews the weirder contemporary horror tropes in favor of classic takes on the theme, then I think you ought to investigate Cryptworld further.