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Spooktober Spotlight – Shiver: Roleplaying Tales in the Strange & Unknown

Already fully funded on Kickstarter (after just 24 hours!), and serving as an ideal subject for our Spooktober Spotlight, SHIVER is a new RPG of horror and mystery.

Rather than focusing on a particular setting, Shiver aims to be a more ‘generic’ (albeit horror-based) roleplaying system. I was drawn, not only by the distinctive art and design work, but also the potential of a system tailored to deliver one-shots or short campaigns influenced by my favourite spooky movies and TV shows.

In advance of the campaign launch, I picked up a copy of the quick-start document. Clocking in at forty pages, this covers the basic rules, a starter adventure, and all of the pre-generated characters and such that one would need to give it a go. The layout looks polished and the overall production values suggest the finished product will make a welcome addition to many a collection.

Rules of Play

Asides from a bit of preamble describing the game and introducing the basic concepts of roleplaying for newcomers, we more or less dive right in. I appreciate that some folks will approach this with completely fresh eyes but for me, the ‘what is a roleplaying game’ section in books is often glossed over. Ironically enough, I remember when I first started buying roleplaying books (not counting Fighting Fantasy and other chose your owns) horror movies were often referenced in these introductions. You are being chased by the crazed knife wielding maniac. What do you do? Run up the stairs or out of the front door? This was before Scream and its fantastic break down of the genre…

Anyhoo, my first impressions took a bit of a dip when I saw that Shiver would make use of custom dice. I’m always a bit wary of bespoke dice as they’re usually stuff with limited crossover use; far preferring traditional and easily accessible options whenever possible. Taking a bit of time to digest the system though, as well as some other considerations, reassured me that it’s not something I should be worried about.

Click to enlarge – image courtesy of the Shiver Kickstarter Page

The core system works around the ‘skill’ check. In Shiver there are two types of dice; the skill die and the talent die. The skill die, a d6, bears the symbol for each of the six core skills on its different faces. The talent die is a d8 and bears either Shiver’s talent symbols or strange symbols. When you make a skill check, the game master (or ‘Director’) will assign a challenge rating between 1 (easy) and 5 (darn near impossible) as well as the core skill. The player in question then checks their skill point total in that skill and adds that many skill dice to a ‘pool’. They do the same with talent points and talent dice and roll their pool. I should note that there are some additional considerations, but this is the gist of it. Success is determined by tallying up the number of talent symbols and corresponding skill symbols. If you have greater or equal to the challenge rating, you succeed.

As an example, you need to try and break down a bolted door that’s impeding your escape. The Director says that given it’s an old door but a fairly sturdy bolt, this is a hard (3) challenge. As the test requires physical ability, the Director says it’ll be a Grit check. You have 5 skill points and 2 talent points in Grit so you add 5 skill dice and 2 talent dice to your pool. By fortuitous rolling you get 3 Grit symbols and 2 talent symbols – the door is no longer gonna hold you back.

As I say, proprietary dice aren’t always my cup of tea, but I do like the symbols for each of the skills here; Grit, Wit, Smarts, Heart, Luck, and Strange. There’s an easy cross reference table if you want to stick with standard dice from your collection or, in this digital age, the team have a dice roller app which seems like a smart choice for those playing remotely at the moment.

Click to enlarge – image courtesy of the Shiver Kickstarter Page

We’re doomed. Doomed!

As well as a quick overview of the game’s combat and lifeline rules, a means to track your character’s physical and mental health, the quick start also gives some information on different ‘game modes’; survivor and nightmare. Essentially this differentiates what happens as your character starts to lose health dots. Survivor seems bad enough but Nightmare ramps up the fragility of the players and seems ideal for scenario or convention play.

In addition, Shiver also has a very neat mechanic in the Doom Clock. Represented by an old analogue clockface, the Doom Clock represents the ever-increasing threat common in the horror genre. When players roll their dice pools, a failure doesn’t just mean they don’t succeed at the task in hand, but that more sinister effects may occur. The clock ticks up based on things like failed rolls or failed Fear checks. At the quarter hour marks, something inevitably bad happens…

This mechanic will feel familiar to those who have played games like Blades in the Dark or similar and is, in my opinion, a great way to have a physical representation on the table which keeps the players focussed. For a horror game, I think this is really fitting and surprised we don’t it’s like more regularly.

A One-Shot Adventure

No quick start set of rules would be complete without a quick-start adventure and Shiver is no different. I won’t go into too much detail here for fear of spoilers but essentially players will have to navigate the underground research facility of the mega corp. Cornwell Consolidated. The story is well written and laid out such that even fairly novice Directors would be able to give this a pretty good stab (pun intended).

Shiver was one of those games where the art caught my eye, the premise got me intrigued, and the quick start kept me interested. With a number of systems on the market suitable for recreating those tv and film horror tropes, any new product needs a lot to stand out. In my opinion, I think Shiver manages that fairly aptly. Rather than focus on specifics like eldritch horror or slasher flicks, Shiver promises a comprehensive toolset which seems ideal for one off or short campaigns covering all your bases. I’ll be interested to see how the full rules tackles longer form campaigns though, as that seems to be a perennial concern of those less experienced with roleplaying horror.

If when reading a system it gets your creative neurons firing and coming up with adventure ideas, that for me is a win. Reading through this I could easily see it handling riffs of Friday the 13th through Halloween and into The Cabin in the Woods. Personally, I’m already envisioning a Crazies-esque scenario although you can’t beat Carpenter’s horror for inspiration.

Overall, Shiver seems like a fairly light, but robust, system which will appeal to both established horror gamers looking for their next fix, or newcomers eager to dip their toe into the genre.  Make sure to check out the Kickstarter for more details of how to get yourself a copy by CLICKING HERE.


The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster


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