Cryptworld RPG — I’m Getting Chills and They’re Multiplying

Cryptworld

Chilling Adventures into the Unexplained

Designers: Daniel Proctor and Tim Snider
Artists: Jim Holloway, Brian Thomas, Tim Tyler 
Publisher: Goblinoid Games
Published in: 2013
Page Count: 92
Available Formats: PDF and print
(DTRPG) PDF – $7.95  —  (DTRPG) Print – $18.95

Cryptworld: Chilling Adventures into the Unexplained is an investigation horror roleplaying game, a retro-clone of Pacesetters 1984 classic game Chill: Adventures into the Unknown. Players take on the rolls of paranormal investigators outfitted with mental powers and supported by a private organization. The stories are set in the real world and can take place in any time period. The rulebook lists primitive and a couple of futuristic weapons, modern-day vehicle rules, and horse riding rules, but no space ships. The Crypt Master or CM, the term for the gamemaster in Cryptworld, is responsible for scaring the pants off their players, while characters try to thwart the unexplained. Cryptworld resurrects this out-of-print game in flavor and feel.

Character Creation
The first step in building characters in Cryptworld is, to begin with, a brief background. Each character’s backstory should include a personal encounter with the unknown. Something that drove them to seek out opportunities to investigate strange occurrences. This helps tie the characters together by forming or joining a group to investigate paranormal activity. Players can start out with no connection if they wish, it’s not required but suggested. The introductory scenario provided at the end of the rulebook is set-up to give characters this background element if they don’t start with a connection.

Next, players choose their character’s occupational professions. There is no list to choose from so players will have to use their imagination. The game uses the real world in any era the CM chooses, so any professions are good. Since the game involves, a lot of investigation, professions with good personal skills and scholarly knowledge are helpful as are brute strength and medical knowledge. Once a player has their profession it’s time to choosing skills that compliment it. Players must choose at least one skill that matches their chosen profession.

The number of skills a starting player gets is randomly determined on a chart with a d10 roll. Characters will have between three and six skills to start with depending on the result. Skills fall into two categories: combat, and non-combat. On the skill list, the various Combat Skills make up the largest portion of the list. Most combat skills are usable unskilled even if a player does not select them. All non-combat skills are exclusive skills and cannot be used unskilled. Exclusive skills are professionally trained skills that can only be attempted by someone with the proper training. The base value of a skill is derived from a character’s basic attribute or a mathematical equation of multiple basic attributes.

Skills have three levels of expertise: Specialist, Expert, and Master levels. All chosen skills start at Specialist level which gives that skill a +15 modifier and increases with each level. Starting players can sacrifice a starting skill to raise any chosen skill one level to Expert level.

Once players have established their character’s backstory, profession, and chosen their skills they are ready to roll up their basic attributes by rolling 3d10, adding the results, multiplying it by two, and adding 20. This should give players a number between 26 and 80. Players follow this method to generate their eight basic attributes with them choosing where to place each result. Characters with three results under 40 may roll again so they don’t have an inept character if the CM permits it.

Characters have eight Basic Abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Agility, Personality, Willpower, Perception, Luck, and Stamina. Strength gauges the character’s physical strength and the feats of strength that they can perform. It also factors into a character’s Unskilled Melee score and their ability to penetrate armor with physical attacks. Dexterity covers hand-eye coordination and how good the character is with their hands. Dexterity helps characters in combat with thrown or ranged weapons. Agility represents the characters swiftness and range of maneuverability. It directly applies to a character’s sense of balance and combines with Strength in the Unskilled Melee skill. Personality is a character’s charisma; how well they relate to others. As investigators, good interpersonal skills are vital when conducting interviews or hiding the truth from others. Willpower is a character’s mental fortitude and ability with paranormal talents. A character’s willpower steadies them when taking damage and gauges their resolve when frightened. Perception is the character’s ability to take notice of the world around them. This helps them in searching for clues or picking up on visual cues on a persons face. It also helps them from being surprised. Luck represents the supernatural force that brings good things to people when they don’t expect it. Luck in Cryptworld helps characters cheat death and reduce the damage sustained. There are also a few optional luck rules that further the character’s luck. Stamina covers the health of characters. It gauges how much damage they can sustain, and a what rate they can recover.

After distributing the basic attributes, players can start calculating, the Unskilled Melee Skill, Armor Penetration bonus, Stamina’s recovery rate, the number of wounds the character can sustain, a paranormal talent if the character qualifies, calculate their skills, and add their skill level bonuses.

Dice Resolution Mechanic
The main mechanic of Cryptworld revolves around the Action Table. Most gamers, who are familiar with Action Tables, remember the colorful Action Table from TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes. Cryptworld used a similar one, but instead looking for colored boxes, each result among the rows and columns have a letter that represents the level of success.

Cryptworld uses two types of checks to adjudicate skills, attributes, and paranormal talents. The first type of roll is the General Check. It’s used when characters are performing difficult tasks that result in a yes or no answer. It’s a simple percentile roll with the result falling under or equal to the checked value for success. The other type of roll is the Specific Check. It’s used to find out a specific result with various degrees of success. Specific Checks begin like General Checks with percentile result lower or equal to succeed the check. If successful the player subtracts the percentile result from the skill, attribute, or paranormal talent used. They then take that sum and find it on the “Attack Margin” column on the Action Table. The “Attack Margin” falls on the far left of the table and separated into ten rows ranges from 0 – 100+. The player finds the row in which the results falls in. Next, the player locates the proper Defense Column at the top of the Action Table depending on the type of check. The rulebook or CM will tell the players which column to use. Cross-Reference the “Attack Margin” row with the Defense Column and the player will find a letter code that is then used on the “Result Key” which relays the level of success for that check. It sounds complicated, and to modern roleplayers it is, but given time to get used to it players will find it runs smoothly.

Skills
There are a lot of skills in Cryptworld, but characters only get a few to use; 34 Combat Skills and 25 Non-Combat Skills. All Non-Combat skills are Exclusive Skills as mention above. Within Non-Combat Skills, knowledge and research orientated skills use a special letter key to denote the level of success; the same found on the Action Chart: “C” (Comprehensive), “H” (High), “M” (Moderate), “L” (Limited). “C” is the highest level of success and “L” is the lowest. The result table for knowledge skills is left vague, denoting only some of the information is available to the player, leaving it up to the CM to decide how much information to hand out. Research descriptions of success are more definitive. They outline the amount of time spend and how many clues the character uncovers. Result keys for Non-Combat Skills that aren’t knowledge or research base have their own keys in the skill description.

Paranormal Talents
Paranormal Talents are special mental powers that characters with the right Personality and Willpower rating can use. Characters can start with few Paranormal Talents at the CM’s discretion. The base values for Paranormal Talents use the same metric as skills, with each talent outlining the basic attributes combined and calculated. Using talents costs Willpower points, which recover over time with restful sleep. The amount of Willpower needed varies by talent. Willpower is gone no matter if the talent activates or not. Players roll a General Check or Specific Check to see if a talent activates depending on the talent used. Extra Willpower points, up to 20, can add to the overall target number to help the roll succeed. Characters with Willpowers that have or will fall under 21 from using Paranormal Talents cannot activate their powers. Once a character drops below 21 they are too frightened and run away or hide in a corner. Characters need complete concentration to perform a Paranormal Talent and can’t take any other actions while in use.

Animals & Things
Cryptworld separates adversaries into animals and things, from normal animals to classic horror monsters all the way to weird science fiction creatures. A CM has a large choice of both to use in their adventures. Both have stated basic attributes like characters as well as these descriptive characteristics: Power, Wounds, Attack, and Movement. Certain things have an extra talent called Unsettling Powers, at the CM discretion. These Unsettling Powers are similar to characters’ Paranormal Talents but are evil. They help to enhance the atmosphere of play as well as scare the pants off the characters, draining them of Willpower. Things are not restricted as player characters are when using their powers, but each Unsettling Powers does require Power to be spent like Willpower for the characters. Cryptworld provides 48 animals and things to choose from. Goblinoid Press publishes a supplement called Monsters Macabre which adds 71 more, and co-author Tim Snider offers an extra 21 in his freely distributed Sketchbook of Grotesqueries at his blog “The Savage Afterworld”.

Basic Actions
Cryptworld has a lot of crunchy rules in it. The “Basic Action” chapter of the rulebook has various types of combat situations and a plethora of modifiers for environmental conditions. A lot of these rules are similar in fashion to most RPG games though some may differ in execution. Each rule is usually brief, easy to understand and carry out if you can remember them. I’m going to skip over the most common ones and call out the unique ones. The first one is an optional rule to Cryptworld, Fear.

Fear is a characters’ reaction to encountering things or paranormal activity, much like the sanity checks in Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG. When characters encounter either they roll against their Willpower score against a Specific Check. Failed checks cause immediate loss of Willpower points and they must flee or hide. Lesser rates of success still cause Willpower loss but not as much and may cause the characters too still flee. At higher rates of success and the characters overcome their fears and stands fast.

Another unique element to the “Basic Action” chapter is the use of armor. Now common in RPGs, but for an investigative roleplaying game it isn’t. Since Cryptworld is not era-specific the authors have included rules for wearing modern and archaic armor. Armor helps characters resist damage at the cost of draining Stamina points for wearing it. Rules further restrict it usefulness when damaged.

Not seen in many horror investigation RPG, Cryptworld provides extensive rules for various modes of transportation: horses, automobiles, motorcycles, helicopters, and tanks to name a few. The vehicle section covers vehicles in action and in combat. It also includes everything in between with extensive modifiers for several types of operating situations and weather. A CM can really add a lot of crunch to their games with the “Basic Action” chapter if they wish.

Interaction with NPCs
Cryptworld is an investigative horror game that requires interaction with NPCs to gain information. The rulebook dedicates a whole chapter to dealing with NPCs and their reactions to the characters. Like the “Basic Action,” it has crunchy rules. There are charts to gauge a NPCs reaction to the characters, which is generic enough to use in other RPGs. This section also provides a chart helping the CM decide which NPC’s basic attribute is appropriate to check against direct actions from the characters. Yet another chart that could be lifted and used in another system with a little modification. The last section provides rules for bribing NPCs; rules that I haven’t seen in an RPG since TSR’s Top Secret RPG.

Damage, Healing, and Death
The loss of one’s life force comes in many forms in Cryptworld. As briefly mentioned in Animals & Things, when characters become frightened they lose Willpower points. Willpower is a character’s resolve in tough situations. When Willpower drops below a certain threshold the characters flee in terror or crumple into a fetal position. This can lead to physical damage resulting in death.

Characters sustain damage in two ways, stamina loss, and wounds. Stamina loss can come from physical attacks or characters over-exerting themselves physically. When characters lose all their stamina points they become unconscious. Players may revive unconscious characters in the traditional manner, smelling salts or a slap in the face, awakening them with one stamina point. Characters regain stamina points at their stamina recovery rate by “taking a breather”, resting for a few rounds.

Physical attacks that do more than bruising and drain characters stamina cause wounds. The amount of wounds characters can sustain before death depends on their stamina ability; between 11 and 15. The most damage characters can receive in a single attack is five wounds. When characters have less than three wounds left they are critically injured and suffer constant Willpower checks to continue taking actions. Once all the character’s wounds are gone they are mostly dead. They have one last chance of survival if they make a general check of their luck. If they succeed they don’t die but slip into a coma that could last days.

Characters heal their wounds with rest. It takes one day to heal two wounds or four if being treated successfully by someone with medical skill. There is no magic healing, just bed rest and time, so be careful.

Character Advancement
Characters advance in Cryptworld by gaining experience points (XP) for defeating things. Each thing has an associated XP rating that the CM awards at the end of a scenario. Players can use XP in several ways to improve their characters. First, they can spend points to raise the characters’ basic abilities scores which affect the values of their skills. Second, players can opt to gain a new skill, paranormal talent, or raise the level of an existing skill. A chart breaks down the cost for each improvement.

The Crypt Master & Red-Eye
The rulebook finishes off with a section for the CM called “The Crypt Master” followed by an introductory scenario titled “Red-Eye”. “The Crypt Master” section offers CM advice on running Cryptworld; setting the tone, themes, legal matters, handling investigations and research. In Pacesetter’s Chill, which Cryptworld emulates, characters belonged to a secret society that investigates paranormal activity called S.A.V.E. (Societas Albae Viac Etemitata). S.A.V.E. is proprietary to the Chill Licensees. Goblinoid Press did not have rights to use anything from Licensees so the authors developed a few organizations of their own that characters could belong to. They also offer advice for CM to create their own.

Finally, the last item in the rulebook is “Red-Eye” an introductory scenario, which puts the characters on a long flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles. A few hours into the sparsely filled flight one of the passengers is found dead in a forward lavatory; their throat ripped out. The plane is high in the air and still has a few more hours before it lands in Los Angeles. It’s up to the characters to discover who or what is behind this murder before the plane lands and the killer gets away or they become victims themselves.

Final thought
Cryptworld does a great job at bringing back Pacesetter Chill. It very much has the look and feels of the game that it clones. The rulebook even mimics the format to some degree of the Pacesetter edition. Both use three columns of text with black and white art on their pages. The three artists did a great job in recreating the feel of the original. Jim Holloway is responsible for the cover art and a full-page line drawing past the title page, while Brian Thomas and Tim Tyler fill the rulebook with their creations.

Cryptworld is not perfect. It suffers from poor design choices throughout. All the text in the rulebook is justified with no hyphenation and no adjustments to the H&J (hyphenation and justification) settings, leading to wide open spaces between words, creating rivers that disrupt the eye’s path across the page, making it difficult to read. Their type choice for their headline, Hammerhead Bold by TypeArt Foundry or the like, provides a great spooky feel. But their choice to uses it for all their subheads diminish the display typefaces impact along with poor spacing when used between paragraphs, where the subhead is noticeably closer to the previous paragraph than the paragraph it’s introducing. The rulebook also follows the similar flow of information as the original Chill Campaign Book which could have used better organization and presentation, especially the character creation section.

Despite the poor design choices the game holds up very well. It is compatible with Pacesetter’s Chill adventures with a little adjustment. It’s also interchangeable with other Pacesetter and Goblinoid Games products that use the Action Table like Timemaster and Rotworld. Modern roleplayers may find the Action Table and utilizing their math skills at the table a little clunky. But once players get used to the system they will find that it plays as quickly as any other RPG. Back in the 80s Pacesetter’s Chill was the only horror roleplaying game to give Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu a run for its money. With Goblinoid Games bringing Pacesetter’s Chill back from the dead time will only tell if it rivals the great old ones again.

~ Stephen Pennisi

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Tim Snider says:

    Thanks for the review! Also, “Burial Plots” adds five new Cryptworld adventures to torment…er….entertain your players with! https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/229468/Burial-Plots

    Liked by 1 person

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