In the last installment of this feature, I talked about the giddy accumulation of stuff which comes when one dives head-first into a new hobby. This week, I’m going to discuss a regrettable adjunct to that strain of over-exuberant consumption — the signal-to-noise ratio which causes the occasional jewel to get lost amidst the torrent of crap.
During the golden age of p2p file-sharing, I knew many folks who gleefully jammed that hose of legally questionable content straight into their mouths and turned the tap to full blast. “I downloaded five hundred albums last weekend,” they’d boast. I’d ask if managed to listen to any of them, and get a polite shrug in return. Acquiring meant more than experiencing.
This is the reason why I have a few dozen never-played PS1 JRPGs taking up space in a corner or my attic, alongside two crates of Heroclix figures. It’s acquisition as an end unto itself, and novelty as a narcotic. Once the initial thrill is gone, the items in question become redundant space-fillers.
I’ve grown older since those days. My amount of free space has diminished in direct proportion to my fanboy enthusiasm. The number of geek-related purchases has shrunk, but my appreciation for each one has grown — be it a hardback edition of Queen Emeraldas stories or a vintage Japanese robot toy or a 1980 Pat Benatar album. I no longer chase the “AAA” videogame train, but have come to content myself with a handful of proven favorites (Destiny, GTA Online, MGS V, No Man’s Sky) supplemented with the rare bargain bin find. Whatever my experiences have lost in breadth, they’ve more than gained in depth.
It has been one of the more valuable — spiritually and financially — lessons I’ve learned, though it arrived twenty years too late to do right by Chill.
Chill: Adventures Into The Unknown was a horror-themed role playing game released as a spiffy box set by Pacesetter Games in 1984, at the tail end of the early Eighties RPG craze and a only couple of years before the publisher closed up shop.
I’m not sure where I learned about the game, though “Dragon Magazine” and “the Games On Call catalog” are both safe bets. The subject matter dovetailed perfectly with my own adolescent interest in spooky stuff, and Chill’s more generalist approach to the genre gave it a leg up over the Mythos-focused and better-known Call of Cthulhu RPG.
The game focused on a mysterious organized named S.A.V.E. which had spent the past two centuries researching and investigating supernatural phenomena. The group recruited incident survivors and witnesses from all walks of life to serve as investigators, which functioned as a handy mechanic to justify why a fashion model player character would be exploring ancient tombs alongside one with an academic background. S.A.V.E’s long history allowed the gamemaster — excuse me, CHILLMASTER — to set the game in any period between Victorian times and the present day, with equipment rules covering everything from flintlock pistols to sports cars.
Chill‘s mechanics were straightforward and easy to grasp. Characteristics and skill were percentage-based, with the latter including tiers of bonus-granting “mastery.” Combat was fast moving and utilized a simple chart to determine outcomes. It also included simple rules for “the Art,” a list of supernatural talents that allowed for the inclusion of psychic detectives or Tarot-reading mediums as player characters.
The system wasn’t “casual” by any reckoning, but it had a consistency and clarity of purpose which set it apart from its patchwork predecessors. It was an evolutionary leap for RPGs, though one that arrived a couple years too late to spawn a paradigm shift in the industry. For a relatively minor publisher, Pacesetter put together a pretty slick package for a game that was clearly built from the ground up as a labor of love. It shows up in little touches such having an EC-style narrator — “the Raven” — add a gleefully ghoulish tone to the rulebook as well as the stellar gallery of Jim Holloway art which illustrated it.
Yet for all that, we ended up only running a single scenario. It involved zombies and demons taking up residence at a derelict house on 666 Main Street in our hometown of Woburn. The players loved it, and helped collaborate on a campaign setting based in and around our familiar haunts (no pun intended). I even wrote up a follow-up adventure where the players were snowbound at a northern New Hampshire rest stop that had been savaged by a Wendigo, but it never made it to the gaming table.
Part of the blame can be laid upon scheduling problems and a plethora of other distractions, but most of it fell on the steady influx of new games. There was a new purchase every couple of weeks, which made it impossible to develop an attachment to any of them. You read the rules, rolled up characters, ran a single adventure bogged down by a fresh learning curve, then moved on to the next game.
In hindsight, we should’ve stuck with the ones that seemed to work for our group, but that notion was utterly alien to our adolescent fanboy brains.
Chill has since gone through multiple editions and publishers, with the most current version released under a revived Pacesetter imprint. I haven’t bothered checking any of them out, though one of the college Sci-Fi Club kids once attempted — without any prompting on my part — to explain the 2nd edition’s setting changes to me.
I remember none of it because my brain activated its emergency protocols for dealing with geeks and began looping The Facts of Life theme to down him out.
(Go season one or go home.)