Enough with the pretentious literary analysis this page has devolved into. If only for a brief interlude, THE GEEK WANTS OUT!
So the other weekend some of my friends and I got together to play one of the many tabletop role-playing games I’ve collected but have never been able to use: Killer Thriller. It was an absolutely excellent gaming experience, one of the best I’ve ever taken part in. Killer Thriller is an extremely rules light game that has as its aim to replicate primarily the mood established by classic slasher movies, in the vein of the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises.
I called my scenario “Death of the Authors”. The story goes that at a small arts college somewhere in New England, the faculty and students were preparing for a yearly festival celebrating the famous 19th century poet Flickerton, with most of the proceedings to be held at his newly restored home, Harrow House. Little did the organizers of the event realize that this year, someone else would be stopping by the campus, a crazed killer with the sobriquet of “The Deconstructor.” Would a small band of professors, students and the campus drug dealer be able to make it through the night? Or would the psycho killer finally have his revenge on the oft-sleazy world of academia…
When I noted that the game is “rules-light”, I wasn’t kidding. The victims … I mean Player Characters, are defined by four stats and a Stereotype, and that’s it. We used note cards as our character sheets, as you can see above, and character creation was an absolute breeze. After choosing a name comes the Stereotype, a short phrase of description that serves as all this game needs in the way of characterisation. Things like “slutty cheerleader”, or “creepy janitor” replicate the one dimensional characters found in the source material, but there is a material benefit to be found here as well, as once per game every character can succeed at something they’d be good at. For instance, the cheerleader could potentially cartwheel over an obstacle in her path, or distract someone by taking off her shirt. The janitor might know all the good hiding spots in the school, or set up a “Caution – Wet Floor”-based trap for the rampaging killer.
Unlike most RPGs, characters in Killer Thriller are defined by their “Inabilities” rather than their abilities. These four stats are Unwise, Unluck, Undone and Unharm, and during chargen, the numbers 7, 8, and 9 are attributed to the first three (Unharm is derived by a die roll afterwards). A successful 2d6 roll-under on one of the first three inabilites means that the character, in true slasher movie style, either does, respectively, something reckless and stupid, has some really unfortuitous event happen, or just loses their shit after seeing something. It is the Director’s job to ask the players to roll as these situations arise.
The last statistic, Unharm, is a measure of how much punishment the character can be dealt before their big death scene. What is great about this mechanic is that after one of your characters dies (the game suggests each person run a stable of three), you get to add their full Unharm stat to another one of your characters, beefing them up for a potential run at taking out the monster that has bedevilled them all movie. Even more ingeniously, you get to add a bonus to the passed on Unharm if you play the character as stupid, horny and nonsensically as they would have been in one of the films!
Once my players cottoned to this idea, the game basically ran itself, as they were continually putting themselves in mortal peril for a chance at big point rewards, not to mention big laughs. You can also get a bonus for describing in as over-the-top a fashion as you can how your character left the mortal coil. This resulted in some of the most gut-wrenching, gore-splattering and just all around awful descriptions of death that it has ever been my pleasure to hear.
The monster, for most of the game, is essentially a force of nature, cutting a swath of carnage through the PCs until a certain condition is met: once the players start getting down to their last characters, the slasher must also begin to make rolls against his Inabilities, emulating the late-game mistakes that seem to bedevil even the greatest killers on film. This works marvelously, as by the end, both monster and surviving players are on an equal playing field with an uncertain outcome. It makes for a very tense and entertaining end to the session.
I would really recommend Killer Thriller to anyone who doesn’t want to take things too seriously at the gaming table. The characters came alive off the page as everyone really got into their roles; I would argue that the perceived “lack” of characterisation embodied in playing a Stereotype is actually a gateway to real free-form role-playing, unbound by things like “backstories” and “motivation.” Everyone got really inventive with their descriptions of death, riffing off one another and setting up awesome scenes that no one sick person could have done all on their own. The set up was laughably easy, as I figured out the basic idea and then wrote down three lines on a piece of paper. Done! It was a bit confusing to refer to die rolls against “inabilities”, as it’s counter to every other game I’ve played, but we got the hang of it by the end.
We’re definitely going to play this game again, I’m thinking of running a Comic-Con themed one once we get back from San Diego this year. Who knows, perhaps the Deconstructor didn’t die when the bomb attached to a lawnmower went off as his face was getting chewed off…
Go buy this excellent game here: http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=85898 It’s only THREE BUCKS, what do you have to lose, honestly?