Inside Pulse 12

Tabletop Review: Chill, Third Edition

Chill, Third Edition
Publisher: Growling Door Games
Cost: $20 (PDF)/$50 (Physical)
Page Count: 290
Release Date: 04/30/2015
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com

So I’m a huge fan of Chill. No doubt you’ve seen me bring the game up as a reference point in multiple reviews. I still own both the first edition from Pacesetter and the second edition from Mayfair, along with a lot of supplements for both. Hell, I even own Black Morn Manor, which appears to have become something of a holy grail for Chill fans these days. It’s a great horror game and so when a crowdfunding campaign was announced for Third Edition, I was definitely on board. I was definitely a backer, although the campaign was not without its noticeable faults. The sample art shown was pretty terrible and there definitely seems to be an attempt to emulate other, more successful games rather than build on what worked in the past with Chill or to create something actually new for the game. Still, the passion of the creator was apparent and the game could only improve with both time and money. However, there were too many red flags regarding the quality of this piece and so instead of backing for the limited edition Box Set as I originally planned, I dropped my pledge down to just a digital copy. Now that I have the game and have read through it for a few weeks, I can honestly say I made the right decision because the new Chill is the weakest of the three editions so far and in the end, is actually the worse of the two Chill, Third Editions out there.

Yes, you read that correctly. There are actually TWO Chill, Third Edition games. One has the legal name to the rights and can use the world background for the game (Albeit very poorly), but it lacks the heart and soul that made Chill both memorable and fun. Meanwhile the other Chill, Third Edition doesn’t have the legal rights to the game but has the mechanics, a much strong narrative and explanatory style along with some of the original people behind Chill The end result is that this game, called Cryptworld is the spiritual successor to Chill in look, feel and tone, but is prohibited from using the Chill world background. What this means is that we technically have two Chill, third Editions out there. Unfortunately the one that actually pays proper homage to the game is also lacking the legal rights to it. So I would strongly advise that if you are interested in Chill and weren’t part of the Kickstarter to ignore Chill, Third Edition, because the game is reduced to a third rate Hunter: The Reckoning and instead go download both Chill, SECOND Edition and Cryptworld. You can get the two of them together for cheaper than Chill, Third Edition and you get a much closer vision to what both the Pacesetter and Mayfair writers wanted. Honestly, Chill, Third Edition is a disappointment in many ways and instead of getting a horror game that stands out from the pack as the first two editions did, we’ve gotten a game that looks and feels like one of many generic indie horror games that currently clutter the tabletop market.

So let’s start with the two biggest problems with the book. First up? The artwork. The artwork is pretty bad. The previous two editions of Chill had unified artwork that told a story throughout the books. With Chill, Third Edition , we have just a bunch of generic pictures of would be spooky things or scenes that could represent ANY horror game. It also doesn’t help that a lot of the art isn’t very good, as you can see throughout this review. I’ve tried to pick samples of the best and worst art to balance my commentary out, but in the end, the art has neither the depth nor feeling that fans of Chill are used to. I noticed during the Kickstarter that people either really loved or hated the art of 3e, which makes sense, as art is highly subjective. The biggest problem with the art is that much of it feels like a high school or college student’s classwork. It tries to be shocking or scary without having any depth or feeling infused into it. It also doesn’t help that there are too many styles, many of which clash with each other. The end result is a book whose art lacks any cohesion whatsoever and whose pictures are either unintentionally laughable, done in a style better suited to a non-horror game or just feel hollow. I HATE to keep going back to Cryptworld as an example of how much better Chill 3e could have been, but here’s a great example. Cryptworld uses not only some of the original artists from Chill (which allows the game to feel like the true successor product). So instead of really bad quasi-photos or a picture of a vampire whose eyes are going in two different directions, Cryptworld has freaking Jim Holloway! Even better, they allowed Jim to continue the stories he was telling in his original Chill illustrations. That is fabulous. Meanwhile Chill, Third Edition is a collection of countless missed opportunities with the artwork. Why didn’t Growling Door get better artists (I know they did have some problems with artists during the production phase). Why not get some of the original artists. Cryptworld was done by an even smaller publisher with less money than Growling Door, so it’s not like they couldn’t have gotten Jim Holloway, Joe DeValsco or others. I can understand wanting to make your own mark or your own edition of a game, but hell, even White Wolf goes back to Timothy Bradstreet from time to time. Again, one game is actually a continuation of Chill but lacks the legal rights to it, while the other has the rights, but lacks the heart and soul of the previous editions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the art. You could easily play a drinking game with picture of obscured faces pressing bloody hands up against glass or close ups of someone’s head being angsty. Again, opinions on art are completely subjective, but to me, this was the equivalent of the old dripping blood bar .gifs you’d fine on Angelfire or Geocities websites back in the mid 90s.

Now, that isn’t to say all the art is terrible. I loved the idea of the comic book to start off this edition of Chill (again, cribbed from many other games, but new to Chill) and the art there is the best in the book. No, it doesn’t match the ton of previous Chill editions, but it works because it looks decent and it tells a story. That’s what the art in Chill has always done. Then once the comic is done, the next page has a piece where you have a badly designed dragon/dinosaur man thing apparently having sex with a tree. What the heck? So yes, there are some decent pieces of art amongst the comically bad stuff in Chill, Third Edition, but the lack of cohesion makes the book feel piecemeal.

The other big issue with the book is the flow. It doesn’t help that the narrative style is dull but the layout is extremely generic. Every page follows one of three formats. You have a two column spread with a piece of art that takes up a third of a page, one that takes up half a page, or a piece of art that takes up a corner of a page. It honestly looks like someone’s first attempt at using InDesign. After a while the pages just blur together because of the lack of layout variety. Couple this with a very dry writing style, a lack of sidebars and a lot of art that just doesn’t fit the game, and you have a game that was a chore to read. Now if you read the book critically, the mechanics are solid (if stripped down from the original editions) and the game is certainly playable, but the passion for Chill shown in the original Kickstarter pitch is completely absent in the tone and style of this book. Again, I had really high hopes for Chill, Third Edition, but this was a disappointment on nearly every level. I also hated how the book went narrative, mechanics, narrative, mechanics. Again, most well done rulebooks know to segregate the two as it provides a proper flow. The way Chill, Third Edition is laid out/written, the flow is constantly broken. You get into the fluff and then it turns into the crunch. Then the exact opposite happens. It’s weird to see the first chapter of the book being character creation before you have any understanding of what the game is or the world it takes place in.

So let’s talk about the actual chapters of the book. I know we discussed flow, but let’s do a quick overview of what you’ll find in Chill, Third Edition. First up is a wonderful foreword by Ray Winniger. When I first opened the book and saw this, my optimism rose back up because, this was one of the original Chill writers. The hardcover version of The Chill Companion remains on my bookshelf to this day. It’s a fun piece as he reminisces about first and second edition Chill. He even passes the torch so to speak to Growling Door Games. Unfortunately, that’s the only piece of “original Chill” in here. Even worse, you’ll see the title page and the Table of Contents lists this as the “Foreward.” How a typo in a font that big got past the editing team is a sign of a lack of quality control. There are quite a few other grammatical and typographical errors littered through the core rulebook, but to be fair, editing and proofreading in the tabletop gaming industry has been at an all-time low for the past few years. It’s too late to save the physical copies of Chill from these many issues, but I was surprised to see the project head say that “in theory” they might clean up the digital copies. Most RPG companies, even indy ones, make PDF cleanup an important part of the process. This is once again proof that Chill, Third Edition is a ghost of its former self.

After that we get a fun little comic book which again, brought my optimism back up, only to have it tumble down once I saw the reality of the game itself. The introduction is especially dry when this should be the exciting welcome convincing newcomers to plunge further into this mammoth tome. The atmosphere and tone are akin to Ben Stein in Ferris Buller’s Day Off. The introduction also makes the ghastly mistake of talking mechanics instead of the fluff. Who would think that’s a good idea? “Hi. Welcome to Chill. First up, Modifiers and Tokens? What? Monsters, history and spooky things? Why would we lead off with that?” This is a wonderful example of how NOT to layout a roleplaying book because instead of talking about ROLEplaying, the book starts off with a heavy emphasis on ROLLplaying. That’s a terrible first impression to leave people with, because that’s not what Chill is about – not even this new version. What’s even worse is that we haven’t gotten to the actual core six chapters yet.

Chapter One is “Envoy Creation and Traits.” Again, we haven’t gotten to any of the explanation of the world or background of Chill. We started off with mechanics (in the Introduction!!!) and then it’s right on to character creation even though people new to Chill still don’t know anything about the game. Ugh. That said, what is here is a fairly decent explanation of how to make a SAVE Envoy. The character sheets (and corresponding portait) artwork are really bad. I know I’ve harped on the artwork, but the character sheets are little the most barren/non-descript thing I’ve ever seen in tabletop gaming. They’re inexcusably bad. It also doesn’t help that you are given TWENTY PAGES of pre-generated characters before any of the stats, attributes or jargon are explained. Again, a newcomer is going to look at these and go, “I don’t know what any of this means” in addition to “Man, these are ugly.” This, to me, is just one of many red flags in the book. You’ll also find that you are given a fraction of the profession templates previous versions of the game (This version also lacks any real description of the “classes” so to speak), had and once again, these are given before descriptions of what the stats are. At about page 48 you get information about what the three letter code for each Attribute means, but no real description for newcomers to understand things. This is understandable and most games do this. You tend to get character creation before a specific attribute breakdown. That’s not a problem. However, most games use Dexterity and Agility interchangeably, but they’ve always been separate stats in Chill, so that’s where the problem begins. Where are the Attributes explained in Third Edition? Well, guess what? It’s not until page 58 – after character creation has been done, so it’s not too far away. This is fine if you’re a veteran of Chill but it’s been twenty years since the last edition. For the vast majority of gamers, this will be their first experience with the product. Only because Chill has such a different set of attributes/stats from most games, would I have put descriptors of everything before character creation. This is because everyone is going to wonder what the difference is unless they have been playing Chill since the 90s. You’re given some vague step by step instructions for how to build characters without any knowledge of what the terms mean. Things like Skills, The Art, Edges and Drawbacks are discussed in character creation as if the person reading this has already had the options explained to them. They haven’t. At least each step of character creation features an aside to where to turn to get more information. Of course, had the book been laid out in a more user/newcomer friendly fashion…they wouldn’t be stuck flipping through the book fifty or so times just to make a character. Oh man, a complete reorganization of this book could have done wonders for it. Instead, we get a book that feels like it was written only for veterans of Chill, which really isn’t how a new edition of a game should be laid out. It should be newcomer friendly and unfortunately Chill 3e is anything but. For a different game, the flow and placement of this chapter works fine. V:TM, Call of Cthulhu and the like? Sure. The flow and narrative of those rulebooks allows for it to work. For this version of Chill however, I think it does more harm than good.

Chapter Two, “The History of SAVE” is another collection of mishaps. I’m glad they kept the history from the first two editions of Chill without mangling things too badly. Of course, when they get to where Mayfair left off and start inventing their own history, things go downhill fast. It’s not necessarily the story they want to tell that is bad. That’s purely subjective. However, when you are doing a game where the narrative is bonded to the mechanics (unlike D&D where the mechanics are separate and can be plugged into multiple options for non-homebrew worlds), you need to do your research. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of issues that come up that even a novice is going to catch. The more you run through the post Mayfair history with a fine toothed comb, the more the narrative falls apart and you find yourself viewing this as bad fanfic rather than a natural logical continuation of what came before 3e. Here’s a small example. The text says that in 1988 (yes, you read that right), SAVE was handing out laptop computers to their teams because it, “allowed them to more rapidly access the Archival files.” Like those of you with common sense, that didn’t make any sense to me for a multitude of reasons. Now I’m no expert on the history of computers, but I spent less than five minutes looking the history of laptops up via the Internet and found that my Spider-Sense was indeed correct that this wasn’t even remotely feasible. The first being that a decent laptop would have cost up to the equivalent of $20,000 USD in today’s money. That’s a lot of money to be throwing at an unproven technology at a time when the NES was a technological powerhouse. Not to mention the text talks about SAVE’s money problems at this time. Oh, they can’t afford rent but they can buy laptops that cost about as much as a car. Worse yet, laptops at this time period were just hitting VGA resolution and wouldn’t get color screens until 1991. Then you have to realize how SLOOOOOOOOOOOOW they functioned compared to today. As well, what were they doing, uploading a century of knowledge onto a system whose memory was in KILOBYTES and had a hard drive the size of today’s average Microsoft Word file? I hate to tell you, but you wouldn’t fit much on a 1988-1990 Tandy hard drive. God knows you weren’t going to connect one of these to the Internet back then. This is just one of the MANY obvious errors that come up in simply scanning “The History of SAVE.” I know this review comes across as anal retentive or just hate filled at this point, but it’s not. It’s just the book really does have THAT many issues and problems plaguing it. I seriously cannot for the life of me understand how this made publication in this state. I’ve never had to be this critical of a game before and I swear to god, I hope I never have to be again. Especially since I freaking LOVE Chill. The bottom line, is that this was terribly written and it feels like it must have been friends or family editing and playtesting instead of an impartial third party or skilled researcher because I’ve never seen a rulebook in this state. Even those put out by a single person. A good editor could have prevented so much of this train wreck.

Chapter Three is “The Art” and it’s one of the two chapters where Chill, Third Edition is actually quite good. Some people will probably get snooty about the reorganization of the Art into six categories and the breakdowns because it’s different from how “their version” of Chill did things, but honestly, this is the best chapter in the book. The rules for using The Art have a solid, thorough explanation attached to them, powers are clearly defined as are the “levels” you can get for each one. Yes, it’s still dry and the narrative style is sub-par, but what’s here works and more importantly, it’s mechanically sound and works well in play. It’s very odd to have this chapter after the bulk of the fluff though. I wish chapters two and one were reversed so the mechanics were all together. It would also make flipping back and forth during the character creation process easier.

Chapter Four is “Game Systems.” Again, this is going to be subjective. Some will like the new editions use of tokens to emulate the current trend of “GM Intrusions” or whatever process you want to call where the players can counter the GM (Chill Master)’s attempt to throw a monkey wrench into their plans. Some will hate it. I’m actually neutral on it save for the fact it could have been implemented better. Right now it’s too unbalanced towards the dark side. Both the CM and players are screwed when all the tokens are light or dark in terms of being able to do certain actions that could have been permissible in earlier editions of the game. It’s a good idea, but like much of 3e, it’s too limited and could have used more time on the drawing board. You’ll also find the mechanics are greatly reduced from previously editions although whether you consider things “streamlined” or “dumbed down” will depend on how you like your RPGs. Do you want something more like D&D, RiFTS or GURPS. Then you’ll probably find the rules of 1e and 2e more to your liking. Do you prefer a more rules-lite system? Then you’ll probably prefer what’s here. Because most of the actual rules were discussed in the introduction (sigh), you’ll find this chapter focuses more on damage and healing and Call of Cthulhu Ravenloft style “trauma” checks. Really this chapter should have been called “Combat” because “Game Systems” is too broad a topic for what is here. It is very light and short compared to most games, so again, your opinion on the quality of this chapter (and the rules for playing Chill in general) will vary wildly. For me, what’s here is playable and passable, but I’d hesitate to call them good. Decent or mediocre, sure.

Chapter Five is “The Chill Master” and it’s essentially the “DMG” of the core rulebook. Most of what is in here is a rehash of what you’ll find in any horror RPG, such as how to set a mood and examples of other forms of horror in media. You get some advice on how to homebrew your own adventure and also how to make sure the game is what your players want, not just what you want it to be. It’s an extremely solid chapter from beginning to end and it’s the only place where the book is especially welcoming and helpful to newcomers. It’s extremely solid from beginning to end and had the rest of the book been this tight, organized and well thought out, my review would be gushing with praise instead of damning with constantly examples of how poorly designed it is. There is a lot of great advice about how to DM, especially horror games, in this section. It’s just too bad it’s buried under the previous chapters of failed opportunity and missed potential.

Finally we come to Chapter Six, “Creatures of the Unknown.” This is your “Monster Manual” so to speak. Monsters here are different enough that they aren’t compatible with previous editions of Chill but a conversion guide (blog post) is supposedly in the work. Chill veterans should be able to make the conversion with very little fuss though. What’s here is very much a paradigm shift for those of you used to monsters and antagonists having the exact same stat block setup as PCs. Some stats are similar but many are not. You really are going to need to read the beginning of the chapter to understand how monsters work. Just diving in and looking at a monster’s section is only going to lead to confusion. Many of the monsters here are the typical ones from modern horror. You’ll get your werewolves and vampires. You’ll also find things that are far less common like the Pied Piper, Gandarewa and Trundle. The section is much smaller than in the previous edition of Chill with a lot of unique monsters from that game missing. That’s another notch in the disappointment column from me. It also doesn’t help that the art is really laughable for most of the creatures here. The book really feels like someone binge watched Kindred: The Embraced but wanted more angst and bleeding eye sockets. It just doesn’t look or feel right to me. I mean, I play a LOT of horror games and I’m fairly forgiving, especially of the indies, but I laughed out loud at a lot of the art, especially in this chapter which is NOT the reaction I should have. This is B-Movie DVD cover art stylings here. I definitely think it’s bad art direction rather than a lack of talent for many of those commissioned. I will say that one of the artists does an amazing job with some kittens in here though. The ghost they are with is terrible but oh man, are those some adorable kittens. Art aside, “Creatures of the Unknown” is like much of Chill, Third Edition. It’s passable. It’s certainly playable, but it’s nowhere close to being good. I think a lot of people will be annoyed that monsters are sorted by “type” rather than alphabetically and then the type isn’t universal. Greater Zombie Master is under “Unique” but Lesser Zombie Master is under “Undead. It’s very unintuitive and again, lots of flipping back and forth where a better laid out book wouldn’t have you doing this. The sorting by type would have be a fine idea had their been more monsters, but right now the collection is too sparse for that. One thing that would have helped was have each type/class/cub-class start at the top of the page. For too many of these, they just kind of start willy nilly in a page, which is pretty contrary to how any “Monster Manual” tends to be laid out.

So, that’s your Chill, Third Edition. It’s a massive disappointment. That’s undeniable. The art, the writing style, the terrible errors that proliferate the book. This is not an end product to be proud of. This is perhaps the worst tabletop gaming product I’ve backed on Kickstarter and I packed Palladium’s, Robotech RPG Tactics. I can’t say this is the worst core rulebook release of 2015, because I haven’t looked through every core rulebook released this year. Plus, we have six and a half months to go. Hopefully something worse will come along. However as it stands, Chill, Third Edition is not only the worst thing I’ve reviewed this year, but perhaps the worst core rulebook I’ve ever had the misfortune to review (which sounds worse than it actually is). This is the same year Boston Adventures came out for Shadowrun and Chill still managed to be WORSE. HOW? There was so much wrong with this book, that it should be held up as a example of what not to do when you are creating a horror RPG, especially one you had to license out. I am still at a loss for how this happened because I outright LOVE some of the other projects the creative team behind Chill 3e made. Yes, I’m a huge fan of Chill, but I also don’t play Edition Wars. This was simply a truly terrible game whether or not you factor in the use of the Chill license. I feel really bad for people like myself who waited twenty years for a new chapter in the Chill saga and got….this as the end result. Like I said at the beginning, if you are a fan of Chill at all – just go get Cryptworld. If you’re new to Chill and curious about it, download the second edition of the game AND Cryptworld. It’s a cheaper option and everything about that combination is vastly superior then what we got here. I have hated writing this review because it is possibly the most negative thing I’ve ever had to write, but my god was this spectacularly bad on many front. If you enjoyed it, then more power to you. Every game is someone’s favorite. As for me, all I can hope more is that the third edition of Chill dies out faster than the first two edition and it hurts me to no end to have to write that.

  • Stacy Forsythe

    I can’t argue against your preferences in matters of art or mechanics, but there is one of your complaints you should probably retract.

    The 1988 timeline entry about the issuing of laptops for easier access to the SAVE archives is present in my copy of the Second Edition rulebook. If there was a lack of research into the prices and storage capabilities of laptops, it was committed by the writers and editors actually living in 1990, not by the Growling Door Games team. All GDG did was to keep the pre-1990 SAVE timeline intact, a choice you otherwise praise.

  • Alexander Lucard

    You’re exactly right. That was in the timeline of the Mayfair version of Chill. I’m glad someone caught that. I chose that example purposely in case some decided to comment and accuse me of trolling or being bitchy for the sake of being bitchy, which I promise you I wasn’t. Nor do I think you are accusing me of either.

    I chose this example because it continued two very important points for me. The first is that much of my review goes back to the same thing: Editorial did a very bad job with their part of the book. Some things from the timeline were retconned and revised while others weren’t. More importantly, some times the stuff changed grossly affected the perception of what was left in. In Mayfair and Pacesetter’s version of Chill, SAVE wasn’t near destitute as they are portrayed to be at the same point in time in GDG’s version. This is why the laptops were acceptable in Mayfair’s Chill. In that version of the timeline SAVE was doing good for itself as a secret society of monster hunters. In the revised timeline of 3e, SAVE was not financially well off. This recon/revision drastically affects the handing out laptops to its locations/envoys willy nilly.

    So you’ve helped to make my point even more and I thank you for it. Had GDG’s staff done the research, they would have realized that in changing SAVE’s financial history, it also impacted things like the laptops. However, things got sloppy. It’s understandable to a degree. Hell, it could have been multiple people working on the same section and not communicating or looking over each other’s bit. The problem is the end result is Chapter Three is full of mistakes like this one. Things that could have been avoided with a closer eye to detail and some research.

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  • Matt Quevillon

    Also a 25 year player of this game. Loved the other 2 iterations so had high hopes for this one.
    Even the quick start guide was a trainwreck, decent story with 20 plus pages of mechanics that made no sense or took no direction.
    For 2 days my group of experienced gamers couldn’t make the combat work with the assistance of the rules pdf… then I realized the actual combat rules were only 50 pages further along in the rulebook! Wtf!?
    Why even have a chapter that explains game mechanics and then sight the real pages for those mechanics somewhere else!?
    I’m still gonna make this work. I’m determined, and I know I’m a better DM than this book leads me to believe…lol
    The token thing is pretty cool as is the lethality of the system. I don’t agree with how they basically make your character unable to be heroic.
    Artwork is all over the place! Looks like a combo of a few really good ones, some bad camera angles and stuff my 10 year old son whipped up… that mummy.?! Ughh!

  • Stephen Rider

    One thing I really noted is the thematic/tonal shift from one edition to the next. 1st ed. was all about mood, and was actually consciously a bit light in tone. It was an homage to old B horror flicks, and campy in just the right places (note a supplement featuring Elvira on the cover!)

    2nd Edition went to opposite extreme and tried to be extremely serious. I think they were trying to emulate Cthulhu in a way, and to an extent missed (or ignored) the point of the original.

    3rd edition, as you noted, has become a poor man’s Hunter: The Reckoning. It’s very focused on the hero aspect of the game. It’s hopeful, in a way that’s oddly inappropriate for a horror game.

    The single best illustration I can give you is this: read the book (box) back of each edition. First edition is this moody “something in the dark” schtick. 2nd has the unearthly ravings of the ghostly “rax”, dripping with menace. 3rd edition is all about “we’re going to beat the monsters.”

    Also notable is that the first expansion for 3rd edition is a book about SAVE. ::facepalm:: No, guys. SAVE was meant as a tool (crutch) for DMs to have the same characters keep running in to the supernatural beasties. It’s not the point of the stinkin’ game!