Monday, December 1, 2014

'Tis The Season

It’s been a busy time as EPOCH celebrates its 21st;  that’s 21 scenarios of character-driven survival-horror published over the last two and a bit years.  These 21 scenarios have been written by 10 different authors and collaborators, and each has featured stunning artwork from Doug Royson, been carefully edited by Andrew Smith, and been fitted into the excellent layout template created by Marcus Bone.  I am very grateful to have worked with such talented folks, and I think the quality of the finished product is a good reflection of all the hard work that’s gone in behind the scenes.  Thank you all for helping to spread the horror.
Recently I published The Experiment Continues the companion to the EPOCH roleplaying game which has some new rules, more advice and also includes 4 new scenarios.  The companion had been in development for most of the year, and collects a variety of things drawn from my experiences in playing and facilitating the game, reports from others, and a collection of formal reviews.  Mostly this is in the form of advice, although one particular innovation I’m quite proud of are the Twist cards.  When I was first designing EPOCH there was some feedback that there should be more variety in outcomes for the characters, a degree of randomness which had a mechanical effect beyond the core outcome process.  At the time I stuck with the core idea of balance – that every player has an identical chance of  character survival, and that eliminations would be solely determined by collective decision making. 
However, the Twist cards add a layer on top of that mechanic, and have really enhanced the games in which I’ve used them.  There have been some extremely memorable plays of ‘Die Hard’, ‘Big Damn Hero’ and ‘In League With The Horror’.  One of my favourite plays was in a scenario which shall remain nameless. Igor had been dealt and then chose to play the ‘insight’ card.  Insight  lets the player look at one of the face down Horror Track Cards.  The card Igor peeked at read “Determine the entire town is gripped by homicidal mania’.  The look on his face was priceless, as were his characters, largely fruitless attempts to convince the others that they were in danger.
The scenarios are pretty fantastic as well.  My player were initially luke-warm about the premise of Donna’s scenario  The Tribute as they felt that playing characters in Ancient Greece would be tricky, but within a few minutes of getting started, they realised it was much more familiar setting than they had initially thought and they made it their own, invoking gods, heroes and pirates and having a great time.  Perhaps the best thing was hearing glowing reports of Donna’s run of the scenario at Fright Night, and seeing just how big the differences were between our respective facilitation of the scenario, but how both had delivered a gripping and entertaining experience for the players, despite being very different.
Mash’s scenario of gangster horror has an immediate and compelling setup, and I think it’s a scenario that will develop some very memorable experiences.  Our playtest was a lot of fun, and, as ever, the player stories were very memorable.  I was struck by just how many people have played some version of Death on the Streets when compiling the list of playtesters, it’s like a mini convention all by itself – which goes to show just how much thought and effort Mash puts into his craft.
Then there’s Liam’s scenario Slaughterhouse, which is deceptively simple, as the title would suggest, yet entirely perfect for EPOCH where character stories should be in the fore.  I had a great time playtesting the scenario, and I think Doug’s illustration perfectly captures one of the most dramatic moments.  Liam’s accomplishment is all the more impressive when you consider he wrote the first draft on an i-pad while overseas on a work trip in order to meet my deadline.
In addition to the Companion, I also recently released  White Wedding, the 2014 EPOCH Christmas Special.  Andrew pulled together this incredible scenario at short notice, which was amazing, as I was buried in editing the Companion for most of that time.  Andrew had a very clear vision of the scenario he wanted, and I think he’s created a really compelling and engaging piece.  Then there’s Doug’s stunning cover and fantastic interior art.  All in all, the twenty first published EPOCH scenario is one of the best yet.  If you haven’t yet, you should pick it up, and donate whatever you can afford to help children in need.