Today I released War Stories, the second scenario collection for the EPOCH survival horror roleplaying game. As the title suggests, War Stories features scenarios set during wartime, and covers conflicts which span more than ninety years – from the horrors of trench warfare in WWI through to the complexities of peace-operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
War Stories features the works of some very talented RPG writers including: Monster of the Week author Michael Sands, the co-author of Call of Cthulhu’s Monophobia Marcus D. Bone, Frontier of Fear contributors Andrew Millar and Liam Jones, and, of course, yours truly.
Each of these scenarios offers something different; a unique take on war and the role of the characters as soldiers and civilians in the context of wartime. I think there are hours of great gaming to be had exploring each of them – I certainly had a blast during the playtesting process.
The collection has been beautifully illustrated by talented artist Doug Royson. I think it’s evident that his art has gone from strength to strength with each piece in this collection, and the extremely evocative cover is truly outstanding.
Behind the Scenes
Assembling this collection was more time consuming than I had expected. This is the largest EPOCH scenario collection to date, and each author has put considerable thought and effort into their offering. The collection comes in at 155 pages and a little under 60,000 words, and it took a fair while for the authors to design, playtest, write-up and submit their work. Then each scenario was edited by me, which involved a fair bit of back-and-forth with the author, to ensure a level of consistency with other EPOCH scenarios, while staying true to their vision, and then a detailed edit was done by Andrew Smith, who also flagged any questions he had regarding content.
Writing an EPOCH scenario is both simple and extremely tricky. On the one hand, EPOCH allows a high level of flexibility which allows an author to adapt virtually any horror premise. The source of the horror (and associated effects) merely need to threaten the physical or mental wellbeing of the characters on 6 specific occasions, ideally culminating in a dramatic climax. As the players will apply and describe the suffering of their own characters during these challenges, there is no need for complex mechanical detail (stat blocks, skill checks and difficulties etc.).
On the other hand, EPOCH is about empowering the players to create any character they wish, and makes the development of these characters the core focus of the game. Therefore, it can never be assumed that characters will investigate explore or endanger themselves voluntarily – which is the central tension of most horror games. In EPOCH the source of the horror, and the scenario setup, must either be tailored to threaten the characters irrespective of their actions, or the characters must seek an escape which puts them into the path of the horror – or some combination of the two.
This character focus means that the scenario is actually more of a framework to provide ever increasing tension and drama to force character development, rather than a detailed story to be explored in-and-of itself, and I think this can be challenging to write – particularly if you have a strong vision for how you want the scenario to play out. So, although scripting an EPOCH scenario seems simple at first, creating a scenario with sufficient adaptability to suit a diversity characters can be a challenging undertaking.
War Stories brings the total of published EPOCH scenarios to 14, featuring the work of 7 individual authors. Needless to say, I am extremely grateful for the contribution of these talented folks to the game, and I hope you’ll take the time to check out their work.