Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chill: Adventures into the Unknown

Chill: Adventures into the Unknown 

To many role-players around my age their first introduction to Horror roleplaying was the venerable “Call of Cthulhu”, but not me. Mine was Chill. I had the Pacesetter version (1st Edition), which I remember quite fondly, even if I did not get much of a chance to play. The Mayfair version (2nd Edition) is of course superior, but it lacks some of the feel I associated with the game. Maybe it was the lack of the Jim Holloway art or the darker tone. Picking up a copy of the Mayfair version now I get the impression (true or not) that the makers of Kult saw it and thought, “yes this is good, but what if the world was much, much worse?”
Recently I started going through my Chill books (Chill Vampires for either version is a must buy if you are at all serious about using vampires as adversaries in any game) and started thinking about converting some of my characters over. It has been interesting because I never actually played. I ran some Chill games (I was a ChillMaster!), incorporated Chill into my AD&D games, but I never actually made any characters. It’s very odd…

I liked Chill also because it had Midwest sensibilities. Pacesetter was from Wisconsin; Mayfair was/is in Niles/Skokie, a suburb of Chicago than is not to far from where I live (and has one of my favourite pizza places). It was while playing Chill that learned that the best horror was horror close to home. I don’t know, or much care really, what Hollywood thinks is horror. How can a place that gets like 350 days of sunshine know what is horror? On the other hand East Coast horror (Lovecraft) has a completely different flavor. It’s almost alien. Chill may have had a global scope, but the horror is home grown. Chill remembers that there is simple horror in the haunted house, or the strange creature from the Unknown. It is not about the bigger-badder-more horror of some games, where every game has to up the ante on the last game.

Chill has influenced pretty much every horror game I have ever played.  Ideas in my game like "the darkness can be fought" and "the heroes matter" are from Chill, not CoC.

Converting Chill Ability Scores 
Conversions between any game is no easy task, especially between a point based game system like Unisystem and a random generation one like Chill 1st Ed. But here is a go at it.
The basic Ability conversion formula is to take the square root of the Chill Ability and then minus 4 to get the Unisystem Ability; to convert to Chill from Unisystem, take the ability, add 4 and then square.

So your basic Unisystem scores produce the following Chill scores

Chill  Unisystem
25        1
36        2
49        3
64        4
81        5
100      6

For normal humans Unisystem Abilities typically run 1 to 5 and Chill Abilities typically run 26 to 80 (10 to 90 for 2nd Ed.). Starting Unisystem characters are usually a bit tougher, but rarely does a starting character have any “6’s” before qualities. Sure there are Vampires and Ghosts and things like that in Unisystem that go beyond 6, but none of these are normal humans nor are they playable types in Chill.

The average roll you get with Chill is 53 for any of the eight scores, based on a normal curve. The average score for an Unisystem character is about 3 (based on a flat point distribution) so, they are about equal.
The biggest trouble is of course, using a normal distribution for one and a flat for the other. Squaring helps that, but it will never be perfect, at least not without some more math. This can be seen by comparing the max lift for each game at their converted Strengths. The distributions show the greatest differences at the extremes and coming close right around Unisystem Strength of 6. So characters in the 3 to 9 region will make the best conversions. This is assuming the Max Lift distributions are roughly equal, which they are not but they are close enough.

Not everything translates as well as strength. So here is a proposed Chill/Unisystem translation matrix. Use the math above to get the scores. In all cases the formula is
Chill = (Unisystem+4)2

Chill  Unisystem (qualities and/or skills) 
Strength  Strength 
Dexterity   Dexterity (missile combat; fine motor skills) 
Agility  Dexterity (melee combat; acrobatics) 
Personality  Charisma Quality* 
Perception  Perception + Notice 
Luck  Good/Bad Luck Quality* 
Willpower  Willpower 
Stamina  Constitution 

*For Qualities such as Luck and Charisma use the Unisystem Quality (-3 to +3) add 3 and use that number in your equations. So a character with a Good Luck of +1 has a Chill Luck score of 64 (1 + 3 = 4 + 4, 8 squared is 64).
In some cases in stead of adding 4 I added a skill, half the skill or the average of a group of skills. This is helpful when making a differentiation between Dexterity and Agility.

Again, with all conversions, math is only half the answer, the other half is decided what is the best way to portray the character in that particular system. This is why I use Willow and Tara (and another witch of my own), they represent a “golden mean” or a standard I can use.

2nd Edition Chill Abilities
This also works roughly for Chill 2nd Edition 10-90 point spread. Again, no conversion is perfect. The range of 10 to 90 is roughly equal to Unisystem’s 1 to 6, or in this case 0 to 6. Unisystem converted characters then will not produce Chill characters below 25 points in any attribute.

There is the added caveat that Chill has 8 abilities while Unisystem only has 6.

2nd Edition has some other minor differences, but nothing that should matter here except for maybe magic rules.

Skills run from 41 to 135 and have levels of Student, Teacher and Master. The easiest is to just convert the levels. Student = 1-2, Teacher = 3-4 and Master = 5-6. Rough, but it works well enough.

Fortunately to play Chill only requires only d10s. Something a Unisystem player should have in abundance. Course in Chill you need to roll a percentage less than your Ability. And there is the Action Table…but that is basically the same idea as Success Levels.

In Chill 2nd Edition the rules were expanded to include Edges and Drawbacks (still a somewhat new idea at the time) and the various skill levels were altered slightly. Also a big change was now Disciplines of the Art were now Schools of the Art and now could be rated at S, T and M levels.

New Unisystem Rules based on Chill
A lot of the rules in Chill can be found in one way or another in Unisystem. In fact one gets the feeling of seeing evolution in process when comparing similar rules in Chill and Unisystem. Successes, Fear Checks, even proto-Drama point usage (of a sorts) are all here. If one is more used to modern games, the Chill versions do seem unwieldy and even a bit primitive, but looking at them the other way, the Chill rules were a landmark for the time. Indeed there are a lot of rules in existence today that we take for granted that were still cutting edge in Chill.
But that is not to say that Chill does not have something to offer the Unisystem player.

1-Point Quality
You can use either hand as effectively as the other. You suffer no penalty in using your off hand in attacks or skill checks. This includes any writing, melee or other handiness skills, but not Disciplines of the Art (Magic). This quality does not increase the number of attacks you can make per turn.

4-Point Quality
You have the grace, the looks and the talent. You have even hired an agent and shortened your name to a single word. Being a professional model has its perks, and a few disadvantages as well.
Anyone with the quality automatically adds 3 levels of Attractiveness. Models typically have Attractiveness of 3 or better, with the best at +4 or +5. Unless the character is a supernatural creature (or descended from one) +5 is still the best they can be, any points above and beyond that are lost. The character also gains 2 levels of resources. This can come from work the character does as a model or in form of gifts that beautiful people also get.
The model has an Obligation to her job. This can be in form of a contract, or needing to be certain places at certain times, of being seen on the arm of the aforementioned gift giver. This is a 1 point drawback. The character must also choose 2 levels of drawbacks. Typically these will be the in form of various mental or emotional problems such as covetous, fear of rejection, fear of commitment, delusions (believes they are the most beautiful person in world), extreme vanity or even cruelty. Addictions are also not uncommon, with drugs, smoking, diet pills, and even sex being rather common. The character should not have any of these in excess, otherwise they become ex-models. One level of some emotional/mental problem and one level of an addiction is the most common combination.
Authors Note: Why Models?
It seemed to me that nearly every Chill book I ever owned has some model or former model as an NPC. Of course it also fits the role a S.A.V.E. envoy needs to serve. Successful models and ex-models are young, travel the world and have the money to spare. Plus it fits well with the early 80s feel of the Chill game.

S.A.V.E. Envoy
6-Point Quality
Prerequisite: Sense the Unknown (or better quality); Resources +4 or better.
You are an official S.A.V.E. Envoy with the rights and responsibilities thereof. You have been recruited by S.A.V.E. not just because you have the time and money to spare, but because you have a desire to investigate the Unknown.
With this Quality characters gain financial support for S.A.V.E. sponsored excursions, legal and medical aid. They also gain a worldwide network of contacts and access to S.A.V.E. archives. All in all this will add +2 to the characters resources when on S.A.V.E. missions, a +1 to their Occultism and Knowledge skills, and increase their Occult library by +1, and +2 levels of Contacts.
These benefits come at a price of course. Envoys have an obligation to follow the rules of S.A.V.E. and they gain a Secret to boot. Research must be turned over including any and all magical tomes. Characters violating these rules, or caught participating in what S.A.V.E. considers Dark Magics, will be removed from the organization.
Ex-Envoys may find their future explorations into the supernatural hindered or even completely blocked.

Sense the Unknown
1-Point Quality
Some characters are sensitive to the varied psychic emanations of creatures from beyond. All natural animals have this ability, and some humans can hone it with practice or training. This acts as sort of a limited sixth sense to paranormal or supernatural activity.
You can make a normal perception check to include things that might otherwise go unnoticed in the mundane world such as the effects of magic and the presence of some supernatural creature. When such things are viewed with the trained eye (use of the Occultism/Occult Knowledge skill) then this quality gives a +1 to correctly recognize or identify these phenomena.
This Quality is not required for magic using characters (Gifted, Magicians, Witches) or any supernatural creature (Vampires, Ghosts, Bast) though it will give them a +1 when making any Perception based check for anything related to the Supernatural or the Unknown.
The range for this ability is limited, only 30 feet.

Chill Bast vs. WitchCraft RPG Bast
Often times the hardest thing about converting games is when there is a concept that is so similar in nature and yet developed in completely different ways. For example the Bast.
In both games Bast are cat people relating to ancient Egyptian Goddess of Bast. But there the similarity ends. Chill Bast are women with cat heads and always evil, or at least agents of the unknown; which makes them more akin to the old Irish cat-head demons. WitchCraft Bast are shape-shifting felines that are neither good nor evil. So what can we do to work out the differences.
What I propose is that the Bast seen and recorded by S.A.V.E. agents are in fact Tainted Bast or


I single out vampires in Chill for a very good reason. All games before, and many after, dealt with vampires much the same way, little carbon copies of Hollywood Dracula. Sure, some made attempts at doing different things, but most were weak in implementation. But Chill (and to be fair a D&D article in Dragon about a year before) did something that no other game had done before, give us varieties of vampires. So it was not just pack your stake, holy water and crucifix, you had to know what species of vampire you were after. So that stake would be fine against a Common Carpathian and by luck the Macedonian Vampire, but completely useless against an Alpine Vampire. This played well into Chills other evolutionary concept, in game research.
Some of these vampires represented a type or species of vampire. The Common Carpathian, Macedonian and Oriental Vampires are of this kind. Others were most likely unique individuals with a specific vampirism curse, Elizabeth Bathory is a good example, she is most like a Common Carpathian with some things that are unique to her nature in life.

Chill Vampires in Unisystem
All of these are based on the base 15 point Vampire (or Vampyre) quality. Nearly all have some form of a Unique Kill Quality, though maybe not a full 5-points worth. So instead of one way to kill, there may be very limited ways to kill them. All Chill vampires also can assume two or more alternate forms. Wolves, bats, mist are common, but other odder forms such as cobras, snow drifts or even becoming extremely thin. In WitchCraft all of these could be duplicated with a proper invocation or supernatural quality. In addition all Chill vampires emanate the powers of the Evil Way. In game terms this means there is something just not right about them, even when they are guised as human. All vampires in Chill are soulless monsters. Soulless not that they lack a soul, but rather they are incapable of the things we hold the most dear. They live forever, but rarely learn anything from it. They can lust, but never love.
All in all, a Chill vampire type would cost anywhere from 20 to 25 Quality points. Players though should be reminded that in Chill, vampires are hunted, not played.

Common Carpathian
20-Point Vampire Quality (or 5 if purchased with Vampire/Vampyre)
The defacto Chill vampire. The Common Carpathian gets their name from the area they were first recorded, the Carpathian Mountains area of Eastern Europe. These vampires have many unique powers above and beyond that of the normal Vampire (Vampyre).
They can become wolves, bats, or even mist. They can cling to any surface like a spider.
A stake in the heart immobilizes it, but doesnt kill it; one has to also cut off their head. Garlic, holy water or a crucifix (but not a cross) will repel them, fire will kill them. They cast no shadow or reflection and cannot be captured on film or videotape.
Examples: Count Dracula, Elizabeth Bathory (with some modifications)

Final Thoughts
Chill was fun, but when I picked it up again to do these reviews/conversions I realised that the RPG world had passed it by. Percentile systems are not very much in vouge anymore and some of the concepts to seem dated.  I had high hopes for Chill 3rd Edition, but it never came to be.

Still though it was a lot of fun reading over the old books again and seeing the origins of things I still do today.


dicecipher said...

I much preferred the original Pacesetter version of this game. Enjoyed the tone much more than cross between WoD & CoC that the Mayfair version.

Pun Isaac said...

My first taste of "horror" gaming came from the original World of Darkness. At least the games were supposed to be horror games, more often than not they degenerated into "look how badass my supernat is" competitions. The one exception was Changeling, but no one really want to play it.

In some ways I'm a big Call of Cthulhu fan and in others I'm not. I love the mythos and its creatures and magic. However, I tend to take your "the darkness can be fought" mentality. That's why I use mythos in my games, but its never unstoppable.

I've heard of Chill, but that's about it. I have one book, Creature Feature (released by Pacesetter), that I picked up for two dollars at a Half-Price Book store a while back. From your description of the game it sounds like something I'd really be into. Being from Ohio, I think I understand what you're saying about Midwest sensibilities.

Brian I said...

With the release of Cryptworld, this article becomes much more relevant / useful :)