Chill (Pacesetter Games, 1984) was a boxed roleplaying game of the 1980s style. Instead of elves or dwarves, the players are paranormal investigators, locked in a never ending battle against the forces of the Unknown, set in whatever time frame (Victorian, 1920s, or modern day) that they find appropriate and enjoyable.
I played this game in the eighties. Still have my copy. And I have told this story enough times that I think the time has come to write it down.
************************************************************************************** I can’t remember the name of the long ago comic shop. It went out of business after a couple of years, which was a shame because I loved the place; in addition to comics, they sold games and gaming stuff and science fiction paperbacks and collectibles and ephemera and cool stuff of all sorts; the manager was a charming and pleasant lady, and her husband used to hang out in the place and follow you around and make unsolicited comments about whatever you were looking at, which might have been a factor in the place going out of business, but I digress.
They had a “Used Game Box.” They’d buy your old gaming stuff for store credit, and then you could buy stuff out of the box at a discount. I found a LOT of fun stuff in that magical box (still have the copy of Metamorphosis Alpha I found in there)... but I remember the box mainly for the boxed copy of Chill I found in it. I walked in one morning to see if the latest Crisis On Infinite Earths was in yet (it wasn’t), and the manager’s husband immediately began trying to steer me towards the PROPER comics, and I was NOT in the mood that day, and I turned and walked away from him (prompting a snort of derision for my rudeness). The new item in the box was Chill. I think they were asking four dollars, and I paid it and walked out with the box in hand that day.
And that weekend, me and the boys decided to give it a spin. My roommate Bobo had seen me perusing it, and had generated a character, and by the weekend, the Troll had generated a Cherokee special forces veteran, a crack shot with his twin automatic pistols, and Rocket Boy had created an erudite college professor from Louisiana, steeped in arcane lore, and together with Bobo’s psychic insurance salesman, they were ready to go tackle a monster.
The boxed set, like I mentioned, was in the Eighties style, and came with a referee book and a monster guide and tokens and so forth. Regrettably, the introductory adventure, “Terror In Warwick House,” was pretty lame, with clues that were practically spoon fed to the adventurers, and I knew this group would not be impressed... so I decided to wing it. Reading the monster guide, I decided on a Doll Master, a sort of vengeful ghost who interacts with the real world by possessing dolls and stuffed animals, to inflict his rage upon the living!
The gamemaster guide suggested building the story first, and launching the adventure from there. I came up with a tale of a puppeteer who once worked for the local TV station, making and working puppets for the kid show host, and who had lost his job and fallen on ruin when the Cap’n Gus show was cancelled! Having got drunk and drowned himself in the San Antonio River, his evil ghost had possessed his puppets and murdered the kid show host, his director and producer, and was now merrily murdering anyone who happened to be within the radius of where his bones lay unburied, between the hours of sunset and sunrise... in modern San Antonio, Texas!
(Now, at this point, I’m gonna take a chance. Y’see, STORIES about RPG sessions are usually BORING. If you weren’t THERE, it’s just TALKING, and it’s DULL. Who wants to hear about your tenth level barbarian, anyway? So if you want to skim or skip the next part, I wouldn’t blame you. But I’ll hit the high points and try to keep it zingy, okay?)
The heroic S.A.V.E organization, alerted of possible supernatural activity, had dispatched our heroes to investigate the murders, and perhaps deal with the spooky threat.
The game, unlike Dungeons And Dragons, prioritizes investigation, and the first hour that evening involved no fighting, but some sleuth work at the local paper and the police station. The boys quickly determined that there had been six murders, noteworthy due to cause of death being knife wounds and pre-mortem bite marks... although the bite marks seemed VERY small, and didn’t match the dentition of any known critter. They seemed human, but ranged from baby sized (assuming the baby had very sharp teeth) down to what seemed like a human bite from a head the size of a ... golf ball? Furthermore, the first three victims had been associated with the local TV station, and all had worked on “The Cap’n Gus Show,” whereas the other three had been unrelated to television or each other. And one of them had worked at the toy store at the mall... across the highway from the TV station...
The guys were stumped. They’d been expecting vampires or werewolves, and they hadn’t read the monster guide. Still, this was obviously supernatural, and bore further investigating, and they decided to break into the mall after closing, and look at the toy store for clues.
The Troll, aka Captain Standing Deer, put his espionage skills to work, and circumvented the mall’s security system, and they were able to get into the back passageways of the mall, and into the Kay Bee Toy Store. Outside, thunder could be heard. A storm was brewing.
“All right,” said the Troll. “We go in the back door. What do we see?”
“Nothing.” I said. “It’s dark.”
“Come on, no lights at ALL?” said Bobo, aka Bob From Prudential Insurance. “Stores leave SOME lights on.”
“Dude, you’re in a mall, after dark.” I said. “Place is closed. No windows. No lights. Dark. There MIGHT be a night watchman or security guard. It IS a mall, after all. But it’s black in there.”
“I get out my flashlight and turn it on,” sighed Rocket Boy, aka Professor Boudreaux. “What do I see?”
“Ahead, there are long shelf racks of toys,” I said. “To your left, the back wall is full of doll accessories. To your right, the back wall is full of stuffed toys, teddy bears, and like that. What do you do? Note that with the three of you flashing lights around, if there IS a security guard in the mall, you guys are going to be as obvious in here as a roach on a wedding cake.”
The guys agreed to keep lookout, and to avoid flashing their lights out the front of the store, and moved into the darkened toy store. Bobo headed for the front register, to look for employee records and perhaps an office. Troll and Rocket Boy stood there, not sure what to do.
“Outside, you hear thunder, and there’s a flash of light from the front of the store,” I said. “There’s a big skylight in the main concourse, and when the lightning flashes, you get a big flash throughout the store. Rocket, make a Perception roll.”
Dice roll. “I make it,” said Rocket.
“You realize in the light from the flash of lightning? All the teddy bears and stuffed animals have their heads turned, like they’re all looking at you.” LONG pause. “Were they like that before?”
“You didn’t notice.”
Pause. “Okay,” said Rocket. “I... walk over to the OTHER side of the display.”
“Can I get to the front counter? Is there a manager’s office?” said Bobo.
“I go to the other side of the store from where Rocket is,” said the Troll. “What do I see?”
“All right,” I said. “Rocket, you walk to the other side of the display. All the teddy bears are looking away from you, towards the back door. Bobo, you get to the front of the store. You notice that the roll cage at the main entrance is about halfway up; that shouldn’t be, since the store is closed. All the OTHER stores outside have their roll cages closed. There is a door behind the counter, possibly a manager’s office. Oh, and make a Perception roll. Meanwhile, Troll, you go to the left back corner and look down the far wall. You see racks and racks of Masters Of The Universe, GI Joes, Go-Bots, and stuff hanging on the wall. Down at the far end of the aisle, you see Bobo standing near the counter. There is another bright flash of lightning, and a KRAKABOOM of thunder! Rocket, make another Perception roll.”
“WOO!” said Bobo. “Oh-nine on MY perception! What do I see?”
“Thirty-two,” said Rocket. “What do I see?”
Portentious pause. “Bobo, from where you’re standing, you realize there is a dark colored puddle spreading out on the far side of the counter from where you’re standing. You see a pair of feet wearing work shoes sticking out from behind the counter. Lying in the puddle.”
“I head up to the counter, NOW,” interrupted the Troll.
“Rocket,” I said, “You see the Troll suddenly head up to the front of the store; your view of him and the front is blocked by all the shelves. You realize that you are now alone in the back of the store. And in the flash of lightning... you see that all the stuffed animals’ heads are now pointed at YOU. Again.”
“DID I SEE THEM MOVE?”
“You didn’t notice. You just saw, in the brief flash, that all the animals are looking in YOUR direction now.”
“Um... guys....” said Rocket nervously.
“I look around the counter,” said the Troll. “What’s the puddle, and what do I see?”
“Blood, of course,” I said. “Man in a security guard uniform, slashed all to hell. A box cutter lies next to him in the puddle. You also notice that his keys are hanging from the key thingy that raises the roll cage of the store entrance; someone must have taken his keys and opened the gate, partly.”
“I check him. Dead?” said the Troll.
“Does he have a gun?” asked Bobo.”
“Quite dead. Still warm, not long ago at all. He has an empty holster,” I grinned.
“I get my shotgun out,” said Rocket.
“Everyone make a perception roll,” I said.
Dice were grabbed, and rolled, and numbers were shouted out. “You all hear it,” I said.
“Hear WHAT?” interrupted Rocket, a tad on the shrill side.
“A popping, crackling noise, with some tearing sounds,” I said. “Coming from the aisle the Troll just ran down.”
“Someone is in here with us making popcorn?” frowned Bobo.
“The sound is more like.... THIS,” I said. I reached under the table, and where they couldn’t see my hand, I began squeezing and releasing a plastic blister pack from a figurine. Crackle krinkle POPPLE crackle....
The Troll tumbled to it first. “I look at the wall racks where the Go-Bots and GI Joes were!” he snapped.
“Perception roll,” I said. He rolled. We both saw his roll. “Good enough, At first everything looks the way it did before. But then you realize that a lot of the little blisters the figurines were in? They’re torn open. Looks almost like they were burst open from the inside. And on the floor, you see a scattering of tiny rifles and machine guns and little toy weapons... left behind when they fell from the open blisters. The figures themselves are nowhere to be seen....”
“Um,” said Bobo.
“I keep an eye on those stuffy toys,” said Rocket, “And I also look around for GI Joes and Go-Bots.... ahhh.....” he trailed off, realizing that this would require him to be looking in two directions at once.
“You hear a sort of clattering sound,” I said to Rocket. “Did I mention that you’re all alone in the back of the store?”
“What kind of clattering sound?” said Rocket.
“I move up the central aisle, towards the back door,” said Bobo. “About how many figures would you say there were, with their packages torn open...?”
“I look around for the security guard’s gun,” said the Troll. “Is it near him? Behind the counter, maybe?”
“The gun is nowhere to be seen,” I said. “Bobo, you can’t see the wall rack from where you are, but there were hundreds of figures hanging on it last you saw. Flash of lightning. KRAAACKABOOOOOOM! Rocket? That last one was loud enough to make your ears ring... but you still hear the clattering sound. Clack, clack clack.... almost.... like little tiny hard plastic boots. A LOT of them. Marching.”
Pause. “Okay, I head for the back door,” said the Troll. “I think we’ve done all we can do here.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Bobo nervously. “Do I see any of those figures between us and the door?”
“I go back around the stuffy toys to the back door,” said Rocket. “I keep at LEAST THREE FEET between me and the stuffy toys. And I open the back door, and if you tell me it’s locked, I’m GOING to PUNCH you.”
“Troll did not say that he relocked the door, therefore the door is unlocked,” I said. “You open the door.”
As our heroes slipped into the back access corridor, I said, “Oh... just as you get out into the access corridor? You hear someone yelling near the front of the store... do you stop to investigate?”
“We kill the flashlights!” said Bobo.
“Fine. The access corridor is black as a coal mine at midnight. You are now standing in total darkness. But do you investigate?”
Pause. “We stop a moment and listen,” said the Troll.
“You hear yelling. Light flashes under the door in the total darkness where you’re standing. KRACKABOOOOOM! And then... gunshots! One, two, three shots... and then a scream. A LOUD scream, someone screaming in... agony! He screams again. And AGAIN.... and then... silence. All you can hear now.... is the distant roar of the rain on the roof.....” Pause. “It occurs to you that a mall might have more than one security guard... and that he might get suspicious if he saw the half open gate at Kay Bee Toys.” The guys all looked at each other. And at me.
“Well,” I said. “It’s eleven o’clock. Wanna shut ‘er down, pick up next time?”
The guys all looked at me like I was insane. “HELL, NO!” yelled the Troll.
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” growled Bobo. “Where do YOU have to be? I’m gonna order a pizza.”
“I’m gonna go get the beer out of the car,” said Rocket, rising from his seat. “Been on ice, should be cold now,” He walked over to the front door, and opened it. After a pause, he flicked on the porch light. And then stood there a moment, making no move to step outside.
“Everything okay out there?” grinned Bobo.
Rocket grinned back at him. It was a real grin, albeit with a flicker of nervousness. “Yeah,” said Rocket. “It’s just... my car. The headlights. It’s like.... it’s looking at me.”
The Troll burst out laughing.
Eleven o’clock. We’d been playing for hours. Not a shot fired, not a blow struck. But no one was bored, and no one wanted to quit NOW! And Rocket was antsy about stepping out into the dark front yard. And that’s where I knew that this new Chill game was gonna be a hit.
Now, some of you might say, "That's a mighty pretty description of a roleplaying game session," and you'd be right. I'm describing a thing that happened in 1985, from memory, and I am certainly filling in some details that I don't recall perfectly.
But I do remember Rocket Boy hesitating and laughing nervously at the front door because he wanted beer, and his car was STAAARING at him.
We kept going that night, and I believe we wrapped it up in the wee hours of the morning. We did finish the adventure; the only way to put a Doll Master to rest (according to Dr. Boudreaux's research) was to find his grave and put a doll in it. They had to go find the guy's bones, DIG a grave, and put a doll in it, and the final battle was epic; thunder, lightning, and sheets of rain, our heroes sneaking into a graveyard with the bones (consecrated ground!) and fighting a horde of angry sharp-toothed dolls, GI Joes, and Go-Bots, to protect Bobo while he frantically dug a hole and put the bones in it, only to realize that the teddy bear he'd meant to bury with the bones had suddenly sprouted a mouth full of sharp teeth and sunk them into the flesh of his arm!
Rocket Boy blasted away with his shotgun, frantically jacking shells into the chamber! Each blast vaporized a stuffed toy, a Barbie, or a Chatty Cathy, but he only had so many shells... and the DOLLS KEPT COMING! How the hell many of them WERE there...?
The Troll was stymied; he had plenty of bullets for his twin automatics, but a GI Joe is a tricky shot to hit even at point blank range! They were tiny enough that one couldn't do a lot of damage with its little teeth... but there were DOZENS of Joes and He-Mans and Go-Bots, and at one point, he was reduced to standing there struggling with them, outlined against the lighting, clawing the tiny assassins away from him and flinging them into the darkness, but they climbed up his legs in WAVES...
.... and the climax came with a GUNSHOT, and an EXPLOSION of PAIN in Standing Deer's shoulder! "You take a Medium Wound," I said. "In the flash of lightning, you see, about forty feet away, four Go-Bots in a sort of Iwo Jima Flagraising pose... but instead of raising a flag... they're raising the SECURITY GUARD'S STOLEN REVOLVER, from the TOY STORE...."
"I GRAB A GI JOE OFF MY &@#$% CHEST AND THROW THE $&#^$%@ GI JOE INTO THE GRAVE! BURY THE @%#$& THING, BOBO!!!" roared the Troll.
"Um, your right arm doesn't work," I said. "It has a bullet in it. And the Go-Bots are cocking the revolver...."
"THEN I USE MY LEFT HAND!!!" "I THROW A SPADE OF DIRT ONTO THE GI JOE!" screamed Bobo. The teddy bear was on his back, teeth bared, climbing up his soaked shirt and trying to get to his neck. Lightning flashed!
"You're kind of distracted. Roll to see if you can shovel a spadeful of dirt. Don't roll higher than a ninety," I advised Bobo. He rolled.... a 56, as I recall. The dirt fell on the tiny figurine.
....and just like that.... the dolls all fell, like puppets with their strings cut. And our heroes stood there, bleeding and wounded, in the falling rain.
"Okay, I push DOWN on the dirt with the shovel," said Bobo. "I am careful NOT to uncover the GI Joe. In fact, I shovel MORE dirt into the hole, on top of the GI Joe. And when ALL the dirt is shoveled into the hole, I dig ANOTHER hole, and shovel THAT dirt onto the GI Joe. And I'm not gonna stop until the mound is TEN FEET HIGH!" Not every RPG session is a success. But the ones that are have a sort of narrative energy to them that reverberates LONG after you put the dice back in the bag. You REMEMBER those sessions, and those are the sessions that you want to TELL people about afterwards, and far too often, you just bore them.
I hope I ain't bored anybody with this one.