CHILL: Adventures Into The Unknown

“A Frightfully Fun Role Playing Game”

Pacesetter 1984.

Original Design Concept: Gali Sanchez, Garry Spiegle
Development: Mark Acres, Ethan Sharp
Written By: Michael Williams
Editing: Troy Denning, Michael Williams
Art Direction: John Ricketts, Stephen D. Sullivan
Illustrations: Jim Holloway


Chill box cover

9 x 11" boxed set containing

CHILL Introductory Folder (8 page folder)
CHILL Campaign Book (64 pages, saddle-stapled)
CHILL Horrors From The Unknown (32 pages, saddle-stapled)
Terror in Warwick House (16 pages, saddle-stapled)
The World of CHILL (27 1/4 x 21 1/2" map; the other side has a battle grid)
140 die-cut counters and range stock for combat on the battle grid
3d10 were originally included in the box.

Supplemental materials in the collection

CHILL 2nd Edition, by David Ladyman, with Jeff Leason & Louis Prosperi, copyright Mayfair Games 1990
Voodoo, by Nigel D. Findley, copyright Mayfair Games 1992
The Beast Within, by Mike Nystul, copyright Mayfair Games, 1993

CHILL materials, except for the 2nd edition rulebook, donated to the museum by Steven D Warble.

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CHILL was a game about hunting the monsters of traditional movie horror: vampires, werewolves, mummies, and so forth. Unremarkable for characters or setting, CHILL shone in its innovative game system, with a universal Action Table that could be easily used to resolve almost any situation. The rules were light and easy to read, supposedly narrated by an ancient raven who occasionally inserted attempts at dark humor. Luckily, the authors were wise enough to limit their use of this conceit.

The Setting

The game could be set at any time from the Victorian period up to the 1980s (the release date of the game), with the art definitely supporting the Victorian period. No matter the century, CHILL was set in the real world, with minor modifications. Obviously, monsters and horrors were real, and they entered our world from an unknown parallel dimension of some sort. The men and women who investigated these terrors determined that there was a cosmic battle between good and evil, and the Unknown, source of horror, was the side of Evil. These investigators formed a secret society, the Societas Albae Viae Eternitata, ("The Eternal Society of the White Way") better known as S.A.V.E., to serve the side of Good. The CHILL setting also included the carefully studied, yet largely mysterious paranormal powers called "The Art." S.A.V.E. considered the Art to be a science of unknown properties, and forcefully rejected the label "magic." Science or magic, the Art provided members of S.A.V.E. with valuable assistance in battling monsters.

CHILL was a black and white setting. Player characters had to be Good, and if they persisted in non-Good behavior, they were ejected from S.A.V.E., which meant a short life as a marked target for the Unknown.

 

Introductory Materials

Introductory Folder and Terror in Warwick House

The game was extremely well designed for newcomers to the hobby. Readers were directed to start with the Introductory folder, a fast and simple introduction to role playing, with instructions on using the dice and how to work the basic game mechanics. The outer four pages of the booklet were designed to be cut apart to provide character cards for eight pre-generated characters, and these were to be taken into the included Terror in Warwick House scenario. The scenario was a simple linear adventure with few choices for the players, and read-aloud text for the CHILL Master, or CM. A group could literally be playing their first game within twenty minutes or less of opening the box for the first time.

After introductions, the new CM could read the two rule books at his or her leisure.

Character Creation

Characters had eight basic abilities: strength, dexterity, agility, personality, perception, willpower, luck, and stamina. For each ability, players rolled 3d10, doubled the result, and added twenty, giving a range from 26 to 80. Players rolled the eight scores first, then assigned them as they saw fit. After assigning these abilities, players calculated their unskilled melee score by taking the average of strength and agility.

In addition to their basic abilities, players had a small number of skills, purchased with the 2 - 5 skill points players generated by rolling a d10 against a table. Most skills only cost a single point to obtain at character generation, but a few had pre-requisite skills (for example, a character needed to have the Medicine skill before taking the Police Forensic Pathology skill) and the Martial Arts skill cost double to obtain.

Skills existed at three levels: Student, Teacher, or Master. All skillls purchased at character generation had to be at the Student level; higher levels could only be earned through play. Skills generally began at a base score calculated by averaging two or more ability scores, plus a bonus for each level achieved: fifteen extra points for Students, a further fifteen for Teachers, and twenty-five for Masters. Thus, skills began a bit higher than ability scores, and could increase to much higher levels.

Skills were divided into three groups: Combat, Professional, and Common. Combat skills generally permitted more attacks per round for each level of skill. Some also had extra effects, like Boxing, which allowed characters to knock their opponents out with a sufficiently good attack roll. Professional skills implied both knowledge of a subject and the ability to search for more information. Players could roll against their character's knowledge to see what they knew about a situation (for example, "What do I know about the Severn Valley?") and depending on how well they rolled, the CM might provide one, two, or three pieces of information. Players could also roll for research with degree of success indicating how many pieces of information they could find, how many sites where it could be found, and how long it would take to find it. (For example, a character could know she could find out about the Severn Valley in either the local college's department of Anthropology or in the civil records in London, and the CM would know it would take two hours of research in either location to learn a piece of valuable information, with the character ultimately able to discover two important clues.

Character Advancement

Characters earned Insight Points in play, which were used to buy new skills, increase levels of known skills, or to boost ability points. IPs were mainly earned by destroying monsters, with lesser amounts for defeating them without destroying them. Players might also earn a handful of points from good role play.

Game Mechanics

CHILL used a simple d100 system with some clever twists. In general, players tried to roll less than or equal to their skill or ability score. This was called a "general check," and it served for basic actions. In most instances, however, players needed to know their degree of success, and this is where the Action Table came into use. For a "specific check," players subtracted their basic ability or skill score from the die roll to determine the margin of success. Players then looked up the result on the Action Table to obtain a letter code: L (limited success), M (medium success), H (high success), and C (colossal success).

The Action Table is crucial to understanding the CHILL game mechanics, so we have reproduced a portion of it here. The color coding was perhaps the opposite of what one might expect, with a red result meaning greater success for the active character. Notice that the higher one's governing score was, the easier it became to obtain a high margin of success, because there was more room to roll a success far from the ability score. Also, the further right the column was, the weaker that margin of success score became. Players rolling a test against a character's basic ability scores (column 2) had a slightly easier time than for rolling tests against their character's skills (column 3), but because skills provided a bonus and could be more easily improved, this difference was more than compensated for.

CHILL managed to use the letter codes to describe successes in just about any situation. In addition to the basic codes noted above, if a character succumbed to a disease it might be Limited, Mild, Harmless, or Controlled; an animal's reactions to the characters might be Limited fear, Menaced, Hysterical, or Crazed.

CHILL printed this table on the back of both main rule books, so that both CMs and players could have a table for easy reference. The system was so basic and intuitive, it's surprising that it never really became popular, even when it was used in several different games.

Attack Margin

 

1- 15

1

Ability Checks

16 - 30

2

Skill Checks

31 - 45

3

0
LK
L
L
1 - 4
M
M
L
5 - 9
H
MK
M
10 - 29
C
H
MK
30 - 49
C
C
H
50 - 69
CK
CK
C
70 - 89
CK
CK
CK
90 - 94
CK
CK
CK
95 - 99
CK
CK
CK
100 +
CK
CK
CK

Combat

Combat in CHILL used the same mechanics as everything else, but it followed a strict procedural order. All CM controlled characters announced their actions, followed by all player characters. Both sides rolled 1d10, with the high side going first. The side with initiative first used the Art, then conducted missile attacks, then moved. The losing side could fire one shot of defensive missile fire, then the winning side could execute melee attacks. The sequence then repeated with the other side becoming active.

Attacks used the specific check mechanic, with the attacker cross-indexing their margin of success with the column matching the defender's skill with their own weapon. (As defender skill increased, the column was moved right, so higher skilled defenders were less likely to be severely wounded.) Each round was supposed to last for five seconds, and figures might get multiple attacks based on how many levels of skill they had with their weapon.

Damage

The damage system was based on both loss of Stamina and checking off wound boxes. Wounds were classified as Scratches, Light, Medium, Heavy, or Critical, and characters had two boxes of each type. When hit with a weapon, the result generally indicated a wound: the matching box was checked off, and an associated number of Stamina points were lost. If Stamina reached zero, the character fell unconscious. If both wound boxes at the required level were already checked, then the character sustained a wound of the next higher level instead. Should a character fall unconscious with a Critical wound, they were dead. Dying characters could make a Luck roll to see if they fell into a coma instead of dying.

For unarmed combat, the Action Table codes referred to the amount of stamina damage inflicted, and defenders might take wounds of lower severity: where a C result from being hit with a weapon meant a Critical wound and 6 - 60 points of Stamina loss, the same result from a punch meant a Light Wound, plus 6 - 60 points of Stamina. (It was a strong punch). Thus, hits from weapons were more severe. Additionally, stamina was also recovered at different rates depending on whether the loss had been from a weapon or not—which required some additional bookkeeping.

CHILL combat permitted called shots, where if a player achieved a C result, the attack hit where the player had designated, but otherwise it missed. The K result on the Action table provided an additional effect in combat, knocking the target figure down. Notice that combat could be quite deadly, with figures possibly felled in a single shot. Also notice that there were no real differences between weapons: somebody with a sword did the same damage as somebody with a knife. (Missile weapons such as guns and bows differed in their range and number of shots permitted in a round, but damage was the same.)

Recovery

Stamina might be lost through mild, non-wound injuries (such as from a punch), or through wounds (generally from weapons). Non-wound stamina losses could be recovered by simply resting for a round: characters recovered a small number of points (one to ten) based on their original stamina score for each round. Actual wounds and the associated stamina losses were recovered much more slowly: for each day of rest, a character healed one wound box, and recovered stamina at half the amount they would for non-wounds: one to five points per day. With medical treatment, stamina recovered at twice the speed.

 

Fear

Some horror games have a mechanic to force player characters to react in non-heroic ways to the terror they should feel. In CHILL, this was represented by a Fear check. A Fear check was a specific check against the character's Willpower score, and it was easier to fail than most checks: the character needed an H or C (Courageous) result to avoid negative consequences. In general, a failed Fear check meant the character lost some Willpower points and fled for one combat round. While running in blind panic for five seconds isn't that harsh an outcome in an encounter, the degradation of Willpower meant the character would be less and less valuable in a given encounter, and any characters who passed their Fear check would be left more vulnerable to the monster for that round as their companions fled the scene (plus the round they would need to return).

The Art

As noted above, S.A.V.E. did not consider the Art to be magic, but a science that operated on unknown principles. To be eligible to use the Art, a character needed a Perception of at least 60 and a Willpower of at least 50. If these requirements were met, the character could choose the ability to use one discipline from one of three forms: communication, restoration, or protection. The Art was otherwise essentially a skill, although one that cost Willpower to use. Players could use Improvement Points to buy more disciplines. While the Art took the place of magic or other psychic powers for the game, it was fairly limited by both the short list of disciplines and their generally weak effects.

Creatures did not have access to the Art. Instead, they had equivalent powers called The Evil Way, and as might be expected, The Evil Way had a wider variety of powers. Speaking of creatures, the Horrors from the Unknown book provided CMs with a sparse list of ten monsters (not counting the various normal animals), with teasers for more powerful creatures that might appear in later supplements.

 

In its basic form, CHILL was suitable for creating traditional horror adventures: haunted houses, vampires, werewolves, and mummies. The game offered a bit more than this in wispy hints about the perils S.A.V.E. emissaries faced. The sparse history provided for the organization showed that many expeditions ended in disaster, and that the world had many mysteries to explore, even if the basic rules had no details on them. This was changed somewhat in the second edition.

 

The Second Edition

The first edition of CHILL was a light game that didn't take itself too seriously. The second edition was more grown up. The game stopped referring to itself in capital letters, the cheesy humor of the narrating raven was removed, there was a lot more material provided in the rulebook, and the tone was definitely grimmer and darker. The basic game system was the same—roll less than your skill on percentile dice—but the second edition eliminated the Action Table, instead using a formula to apportion L, M, H, and C results. If the success was less than half of the target number, it was an H result, and if more than half of the target number, it was an M. An M was downgraded to an L if the success was within ten percent of failing, and an H was upgraded to a C if it was in the bottom ten percent of the target number. (We note that this essentially moved all rolls up to the two hardest columns on the first edition's Action Table.)

While this is clumsy to describe, it shouldn't have been too difficult once players got used to it. The main advantage of this new system was to give the CM more flexibility in adjusting target numbers. Instead of choosing columns based on the difficulty of the task, the CM could simply modify the target number up or down. The system also permitted opposed rolls: both attacker and defender could roll their skill level, and the figure who acheived a better success prevailed (ties went to the defender). Skills could also go well over one hundred, which served to increase the probability of a C or L result. Practically speaking, the system made things more difficult for low and mid-level characters, but increased the relative power of very high skill characters.

Game mechanics were further modified to give the second edition more grit. A Fear check in the first edition usually meant a character would be out of action for a single round, but in the second edition, players had the choice of either fleeing for a number of rounds or they could stand their ground and lose Willpower points instead. A character could only completely avoid the effects of a Fear Check with a C success, which as noted above, was a relatively rare event.

Character generation became more complex and created more powerful characters. Where first edition had characters roll for their abilities and buy a few skills at the student level, the second edition used a full point purchasing system, where players spent points to determine abilities, skills, and edges. Characters could purchase skills at higher levels than Student, and edges were extra talents that were neither ability scores nor skills, such as better night vision or improved wound recovery. Players could also buy drawbacks to get extra points. Recognizing that the freedom of the point build system would make character generation unwieldy, the game provided eight fully developed characters and encouraged players to modify them to create new characters. Finally, the second edition provided fifty two character templates which provided characters with an occupation and a set of skills at a fixed cost, with the player able to use his remaining points to purchase other abilities.

Combat

Combat in the second edition was a bit more complicated than in the first. Where the first edition based damage entirely on the degree of success of the attack roll (weapons all doing the same amount of damage), the second edition introduced Strike Ranks. The player rolled an attack, and the degree of success was converted to a strike rank: an L result was a zero, up to a rank of three for a C result. Then, the weapon's strike rank was added: from one (for untrained unarmed combat) up to eight (for a rifle or shotgun fired at point blank range). The higher the resulting rank, the more stamina loss and wounds were applied to the victim.

Wounds worked a bit differently as well. In the first edition, wounds were differentiated as scratches, light wounds, and so forth, and characters could take two of each before it advanced to the next level of damage. In the second editon, characters simply had a large number of wound boxes (stamina divided by four). When a character had five or fewer boxes left, they were critically wounded and at risk of dying.

The second edition had more Evil Way disciplines and a much more extensive list of monsters. It updated the book to the early 1990s, where things are not going so well for S.A.V.E., and provided some excellent advice for beginners on how to run an effective horror game. The book ended with a nifty short summary of the rules and a table that broke out the percentages for LMHC results; essentially, the old Action Table in a much more difficult to use format.

The Beast Within

Not exactly a supplement, the Beast Within was an alternate game using the Chill system. Essentially a shortened rewrite of the second edition rulebook, the Beast Within presented a world where the ruler of the Unknown, RAX, has turned his attention to Earth. Essentially, the Unknown has won, but humanity doesn't know it, as the horrors are invisible to most. People continue their daily routine, not realizing that youth gangs are run by werewolves, or that a mummy openly runs their city. In this campaign, S.A.V.E. is still fighting, but the player characters need to be doubly cautious, as agents of the Unknown are everywhere. The main twist is that players may take monsters as characters, agents who have turned on RAX and have joined S.A.V.E. and thus have command of the Evil Way disciplines and powers normally forbidden to player characters. However, each use of these powers puts the character at risk of falling prey to its evil nature, and being removed from player control (and the game). Since the book was essentially a re-print of the second edition rules, it stands alone as a game.

Conclusion

Chill still stands as a basic, solid game of standard horror, without the pathos of the World of Darkness, the sanity-blasting of Call of Cthulhu, or the humor of Ghostbusters and Bureau 13. In its own way, however, Chill may be as nihilistic as Call of Cthulhu. The forces of the Unknown are portrayed as quite powerful in both the first and second editions, but neither posits any counter-balancing force of Good beyond that represented by S.A.V.E. itself. The Unknown is strong, and capable of overwhelming the Earth should it choose. The second edition goes further down this path than the first, and The Beast Within supplement embraces this scenario. Second, the standard setting does not permit players to make moral choices: one is either Good or one doesn't play.

The first edition was fast moving, simple, and basic, and still stands as an excellent introduction to roleplaying. Player characters started out weak and inexperienced, but advanced nicely if they survived their early challenges. The second edition was more ponderous and elaborate and harder to read, but offered more sophisticated characters and many more opponents, requiring fewer supplements to feel like you got a solid game. In play, it was probably somewhat slower, and some of the monsters were not only extremely vicious, but also very difficult to defeat.

Chill has aged well. The mechanics are not intrusive, and the second edition is not too difficult to find. Fans of the first edition may not like it, but we find both versions appealing enough for those seeking a basic horror RPG.

—RAD
9/19/09

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