By Tony Lee
Published by Time Out Diversions
PDF, 28 pages
Costs ya $3.00
Tell ya somethin' 'bout Tony Lee, B-movies and gaming: dude gets it.
See, anyone can "get" B-movies; they're not hard to figure out. It's not hard to count up the tropes, sprinkle 'em across a set of RPG rules and play. That's one thing. It's another thing to "get" B-movie rules, and to turn those into RPG rules. Either it's really hard to do right, or no one bothers trying, or both or something. Me, I blame the leprechauns.
But Tony Lee gets it. You can see it in 1997's Extreme Vengeance, a ridiculously fun paean to macho ass-kick movies. You can see it some more in 2010's Killer Thriller, a game of bloody schlock horror and, you know, that stuff.
For the new game, Lee brings back the gleeful genre emulation of EV, the sincere understanding (and love!) of the b-movie groove fused with solid mechanics, set to a loosey-goosey "let's have fun, ya bastards!" beat. Only trouble is, he brings back some bad habits as well.
Here, let me explain.
In its 28 pages, Killer Thriller (KT) presents to you a set of rules designed with one simple purpose: Get all your (multiple) characters, who have close to no chance at defeating the bad guy, killed off in gruesome manner -- that is, all your characters except for one, who will become a lone survivor who DOES have a chance at defeating the bad guy.
Yeah, I know it sounds weird. Multiple characters? Kill 'em all off?! What the Funyons, right? Dude, it's a horror movie. That's what they're about. The monster runs the show until there's just one person left -- and then the rules seem to change. Right?
|ESPECIALLY if armed with a cat.|
So it is in KT. Your characters are defined by negative traits -- not negative in ranking, but in purpose. In fact, they're called "Inabilities". Your characters don't have an intelligence score; they have an Unwise score, defined by the game as "the inherent stupidity of all b-move characters that compels them to follow a path of fresh entrails into a deserted mine shaft or some such". Your characters are Unlucky and they can come Undone. Rolls aren't made against these traits with success in mind; you're hoping for failure. Is Louie the Arrogant Breakdancer, who is fleeing a big damn monster, unlucky enough to slip on a pool of his late homey's blood? Roll and see; if you get less than his Unluck score, then...yeah. He's toast. Is Sheila the Virginal Babysitter too dumb to stay away from that pulsating door? Probably; to keep her from messing with it, you have to roll higher than her Unwise. These numbers are pretty high ones, by the way...
Characters also spend a while (that's a while) being Unharmed, until such time as they bite the big one. At that point Lee shows his cleverness: a dead character transfers his or her full amount of Unharm (aka "hit") points to another character, buffing up said recipient for The Final Showdown. Furthermore, the if the death is messy, there's a bonus amount of Unharm points to transfer -- and another such bonus for getting your characters killed without die rolls and so on. Here's where players are encouraged to endanger their characters and get them all pureéd so that one last holdout may live. It's in keeping with the genre, and it's aces -- mostly.
Oh, I'll come back to that.
Anyway. The game is dotted with beautiful, simple, elegant little rules like that. Guns, for instance, which would in a sane world work wonders against a psycho killer, in this jacked-up grindhouse reality work just fine...but their use penalizes further actions. Giving characters Stereotypes allows for an in-game bonus by playing to type. Your characters can even have creepy-cool powers -- for all the good it'll do 'em.
|Yeah, no caption required.|
The most brilliant rule, though, is the "Last Survivor" rule. See, all game long, the monsters don't make any rolls; they always succeed, and the characters are the ones who have to "save against" attacks and stuff. But when it's down to just monsters and Last Survivors, the rules flip over, and the monster has to save against stuff. It's beautiful, it's simple, it's elegant.
Okay, now here's the other shoe. Actually, there are multiple other shoes, but we're talking monsters here so, you know, having, like five feet isn't all that uncommon.
There's a big weak spot in KT and, sorrowfully, it branches from the very thing that drives the game: There's no incentive to keep characters alive. There is a famous horror movie axiom, credited to Joe Bob Briggs: "Anybody can die at any time". Who's next? When? In the movies KT seeks to emulate, it's a primary source of tension. Applied mechanically in the game, it's a convenience. This is, in my estimation, the game's deadliest mechanical weak spot. There's really nothing keeping players from having their characters stick their heads into wood chippers in the first scene or so, just to get buffs.
|Or to create iconic images.|
Well, the GM could stop them. But the GM section is more focused on establishing chaos than it is on capturing that b-movie feel. To a certain degree, that's expected; after all, b-movies aren't known for being character studies, or for having clever, immersive plots. But the GM section seems to encourage a "screw it, let the heads fly!" attitude a little too much. As I said before, Tony Lee gets this stuff. I'd love to know a little more about how he "gets" it.
You do, however, get to read a lot of his jokes. The tone of his writing is very informal, very friendly -- but sometimes it feels like Tony is just trying too hard, and it gets uncomfortable. What's worse is that it gets in the way of reading those swanky rules. Many times I found myself back-tracking over a passage to dig out the meat I'd missed before, and in some cases, I found basic, integral concepts explained to me after they'd been used, replacing a bunch of Huh?s with an Oh, NOW y'tell me. This tone was kind of a problem in Extreme Vengeance, and although I defended it there, here I will tut-tut and mention how many times I had to flip back through pages.
And speaking of pages: Page numbers are a little, tiny detail. No page numbers are kind of annoying.
Now...let me make a point very clear, here, as a reviewer. The only reason I'm railing on these details is because I see them as cringe-worthy flaws in an otherwise clever, outstanding and totally tubular game.
So. Is it worth your three bucks? Yeah, totally. Buy it, mess with it, play it. Have fun, damn it. Encourage Tony Lee and Time Out Diversions to keep on truckin'...
...and to keep sharpening the blade.
If you know what I mean.