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Reviews - Killer Thriller
by Demian Katz

Killer ThrillerKiller Thriller: The Goriest B-Movie Horror RPG Undead or Alive!
Published by Timeout Diversions (2010)
Designed by Tony Lee
25-page PDF document
2 or more players

Horror movies have been adapted to role-playing games before with varying degrees of success. As a general rule, the best offerings have been light, fast-paced games that don't waste too much time trying to shoehorn traditional role-playing features into a genre that doesn't need them. Killer Thriller heeds this lesson, then distinguishes itself from the crowd by focusing in on a particular subgenre – the body-count or slasher film – and providing mechanics that help motivate the players to create a story appropriate to the subject matter.

Most RPG characters are defined by their abilities, but Killer Thriller characters are defined by their failings. How else can you rack up a good body count? Players have several attributes, called Inabilities: Unwise (the character's likelihood of doing stupid things, like wandering off in the dark); Unluck (the probability of things going horribly wrong, like encountering a sharp obstacle while fleeing) and Undone (the character's chance of becoming unhinged with terror). For most in-game situations, players roll against their Inabilities and hope to "fail" their rolls, thus momentarily becoming competent. Keeping with the "Un" theme, the game's hit point equivalent is known as Unharm, while characters can be customized with "Unreal" special abilities and "Unthinkable" failings. Each character is also defined by a stereotype, and characters get one free success per game when attempting an action appropriate to their stereotype.

As game systems go, so far, so good... but pretty conventional. What makes things interesting is the way slasher movie mechanics have been imposed on the game. Each player starts with not one but three (or more) characters. Whenever a character dies, its Unharm points get passed along to a different character. Bonus Unharm may be rewarded for particularly creative deaths or for voluntarily putting characters in harm's way. It is in a player's best interest to kill off their characters, since by sacrificing some, the rest grow stronger... until it's down to the equivalent of a slasher's "final girl". Final characters change the nature of the game. When a player has multiple characters, they are all at the mercy of whatever murderous threats are loose in the world. Monsters and murderers are automatically successful in everything they attempt, and character skill checks are used primarily to avoid death. However, when facing a player's last character, the tables start to turn. Villains need to succeed at their own Inability rolls to attack these powerful player characters, and thanks to a special exploding dice rule, last characters can potentially roll higher than normal characters. The system encourages the formula of bizarre deaths leading up to a last desperate confrontation in which good has at least a chance of winning... until the sequel, at least.

Killer Thriller isn't going to win any awards for graphic design. There only illustrations are clip-art pieces on the cover, and the bulk of the text is in standard Microsoft Word default Times New Roman font. However, that does not mean the game is completely without flair. The text is wisely peppered with appropriate and amusing horror movie quotes, and the writing style is light and humorous (though sometimes grammatically awkward when it tries a little too hard). The lack of design elements has the side benefit of making the game easy on the eyes, and apart from the distraction of a handful of typos, you should find this a quick and easy read.

Killer Thriller has a very narrow scope, but within its target area, its design is clever enough that it has the potential to practically run itself (there are two sample scenarios provided, though they're hardly even necessary). Not everyone is going to appreciate a game whose main purpose is to inflict gruesome, gratuitous death on a series of two-dimensional characters... but for the right group of like-minded players, this could be highly entertaining. If you're looking to host an RPG on Halloween with little or no preparation, this is a perfect choice. If things go well enough, you just might find yourself with a new horror franchise on your hands....


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