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Review of Slasher Flick

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Nanshork:


It's been over a year since my last review and I guess that means it's time for another review!

Slasher Flick is an RPG about running slasher movie styled games (SURPRISE!) published by indie company Spectrum Games.  The "indie company" part kind of shines through here because for some reason this book has two covers, the image at the top of this post is one of them which also happens to not be the one which is on the purchased pdf itself (and that one has some artifacts on it left over from whatever program was used to make it).  Spectrum Games publishes some other thematic systems (Sunday morning cartoons being one) but this is the only one that grabbed me enough to look at it.

This is not a blind review, although it has been a long time since I've read through this system. 

The pdf is 171 pages cover to cover and the table of contents goes as follows:
 - Chapter One: Introduction
 - Chapter Two: Slasher Films
 - Chapter Three: The Game Rules
 - Chapter Four: Characters
 - Chapter Five: The Players
 - Chapter Six: The Director
 - Chapter Seven: Quick Flick
 - Chapter Eight: "The Vault"
 - Appendix: Character Templates (Which is almost 60 pages long)

And then there's a warning about how the game is for grownup's and "is Rated-R" which should kind of be self-evident.


Chapter One: Introduction
Before I get into the actual words written on the page, I want to take a little side trip into the world of page layout.  Each page in this book (once the actual content starts) is about 3/4 actual content (width-wise) and 1/4 sidebar.  Many pages don't have a sidebar but the sidebar (in blood red with splatters at the edge for theme) is there anyway.  Basically they had a page that was almost standard 8.5"x11" but not quite wide enough so they slapped a sidebar on it and shoved the page numbers into the sidebar area so it wouldn't feel wasted.  It's not bad, but it does help keep the "indie" feel of the book.  Each chapter also begins with a quote from a slasher flick (Scream, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc) and there's indie quality art that once again isn't outright bad, I can honestly say that I've seen worse in more professional books.  Also I noticed a typo on the first page of this chapter so just be aware there are some rough edges if you decide to pick this one up.

Anyway, this chapter starts with "The Meaning of Fear" which is basically a section on why people generally watch slasher flicks.  We then move on to what is an RPG (in terms of this RPG) which in this case means that all players are the potential victims of the psycho killer(s) and that the players might die but that's part of the story you're telling.  Also, as player death is expected each player will control multiple characters.  There is an included sidebar about how the game isn't about winning or losing as long as everyone is satisfied with how it ended (even if all the players die).  That's actually a pretty good concept for a game which is not about larger than life heroes battling villains.

The dice used for this game are the d6 (also used as a d3), d8, and d10.  The Game Master is called the Director (which makes sense thematically).  Each game (or Adventure in traditional RPG terms) is called a Flick which can be made up of multiple sessions.  Sequels to Flicks (aka another adventure with the surviving characters and possibly the same killer) are also a thing that can happen.

We then move into the traditional "how to play an RPG" section although non-traditionally there is a sidebar about how a game board (aka battle map) is not needed.  One interesting thing I want to point out is that there's also an Important Terms section which includes "Genre Points" so we already know the game rewards people for doing the dumb things people in slasher flicks always do (like check out creepy noises).


Chapter Two: Slasher Films

This chapter is about real world slasher films (which should not be a surprise from the chapter title).  We got a basic overview of what slasher films are, what the killers in slasher films are like, tropes and cliches from slasher films (like how even when their friends are dying people in slasher films end up trying to have sex and then if they do have sex they get killed), and a list of "essential movies"  (each with commentary by the author of this book) and "almost essential movies", plus a list of just really bad movies.


Chapter Three: The Game Rules

Here are the crunchy rules bits.

There are four types of characters: primary characters (aka movie main characters), secondary characters, tertiary characters (aka minor background characters), and the killer.  Each player plays one primary character and they all share the secondary characters.  The director plays the tertiary character and the killer(s).  Secondary characters can either be assigned to players or just all in a pool and people play whoever.  Secondary characters allow the players to keep playing in different scenes (as secondary characters tend to die a lot), and also to contribute to scenes that their main character isn't involved in.

Characters have four main stats: Brawn, Finesse, Brains, and Spirit.  Stats are rated Poor, Normal, or Good, and there can also be positive or negative qualities to stats which make people good/bad at a specific area (like being good at sneaking of unperceptive).  For a stat check you either roll four d10 for a Poor stat, four d8 for a Normal stat, or four d6 for a Good stat.  Rolling two or more identical numbers is a success, two pairs out of the four dice equal an effective four matching numbers.  Positive or negative qualities can add or subtract dice to the pool (as can task difficulty modifiers).  Sometimes (but not usually) rolling matching numbers of the highest number you can roll has an extra benefit. 

There are optional rules for character vs character fighting which follow the general rules.  All opposed checks are a stat check vs stat check (because everything falls under a stat).  If one character is better at a stat than another character, the better character gains dice and the worse character loses dice from their dice pool.  Honestly this seems really punitive but killers don't have stats (it says so right here) so I don't know if it's really as terrible as it sounds since it purely impact character versus character conflicts.  There are also rules for helping someone else on a roll but only one person can help another person.

There are also rules for "freak-out checks" (aka you just opened a door and see your friend's dead body so you roll to see if you freak out) which results in a combination of roleplaying restrictions as well as situations with the director gets to make decisions for you (and then you get to do stupid things just like in the movies).

Then we get a side-bar with optional rules about what to do if your players are conditioned by other RPGs to just attack the killer every time it pops up.  Any scene involving combat with the killer is called a Kill Scene.  Instead of health, players have Survival Points.  Kill scenes are places with players gain/lose survival points depending on how they roll and what actions are taken.  1's are bad here, but having good stats also makes it easier to roll 1's so there really are some math issues with this game.  Then again, pretty much everyone dies in most slasher flicks that come up against the killer so this very well might be intentional!

Here's how a kill scene works.  First, the character and the killers involved roll Finesse checks for initiative (unless someone gets the drop on the other).  Second, everyone declares what they're doing in order (the person who won initiative gets to pick if they declare first or second).  Third, the director determines what stats are used and what modifications to the dice pool apply.  Fourth, the player rolls.  Fifth, the director narrates the results of the roll.  Sixth, the character adjusts their survival points based off of the results of the roll.

Matching results gives you extra survival points (with bonus points if you match the highest number you can roll).  No matching results means removal of survival points.  Rolling 1's as secondary/tertiary characters negates a match for each 1 rolled.  Four matching numbers of the highest number you can roll immediately ends the kill scene in the player's favor and four 1's ends it in the killers favor.  If the character's survival points reaches a certain number (which is usually 8) the kill scene ends favorably for them and if the character's survival points reaches a negative number it ends unfavorably for them.  All pretty simple.  There is also an optional rule for faster kill scenes if the dice end up making them go on for too long.

1d6 survival points are retained between kill scenes, and there are some other rules but that's about the gist of it.  Primary characters get some advantages to keep them from dying as quickly as the secondary/tertiary characters.  There is also an example of a kill scene written out to see how it works out during play (which unfortunately is incorrectly written with explanations saying that rolls were different from what the example rolls say).

Next we get an explanation of Genre Points.  Genre Points are gained when you do things particularly appropriate for the genre no matter how stupid the action might be.  They can be spent in the following ways: re-roll dice on a stat check, reduce survival point loss, make a minor alteration to a scene (such as getting your car to start when it won't start, but the director has final call), pull another character into a kill scene, make a secondary or tertiary character lose survival points instead of your primary character.

Lats we get some rules on the killer.  Slasher flick killers are generally more tropey than standard bad guys and the rules reflect that (including how hard to kill they are).


Chapter Four: Creating Characters

Primary and secondary characters are made using these rules, tertiary characters and killers are made using rules in chapter six. 

All of the players sit in the order that they choose but once you're settled in people aren't allowed to change the order during character creation.  The director decides how many secondary characters are created (usually one per player) and defines requirements for character concepts (like everyone must be college-aged friends).  Then everyone gets character sheets, one for the primary character with the secondary character sheets divided up as evenly as possible.    Everyone is in charge of making the characters that they are holding the sheets for.

First, all sheets in your possession must be given a stereotype (there is a big list in the sidebars here).  Then all players pass their secondary character sheets to the player on their left.

Next, all sheets in your possession get their stats.  All stats start at Poor.  Primary characters get four stat boosters (Poor > Normal > Good) and all secondary characters get three.  Then, once again, all secondary character sheets are passed to the player on your left.

After that all characters get positive qualities.  Just like stat boosters primary characters get four and secondary characters get three.  There are sample qualities listed and the director gets final say on all of them.  The game of musical character sheets continues.

Negative qualities are next, give your sheets one no matter what they are.  Each is assigned to a stat just like the positive qualities and you get some examples of these too.  Round and round the character sheets go, when they'll stop nobody knows.

Now we get to make alterations to the sheets.  Primary characters get two, secondary characters in your possession get a shared pool of all of your secondary character sheets minus one (minimum one).  These can be used to increase a stat, gain a positive quality, gain two genre points, or gain a special ability (primary characters only) that you can use genre points to activate.  To the left, to the left.

General items are given here, characters need a legitimate reason to have weapons in order to have weapons (aka you're a cop, a street gang member, etc).  Pass secondary character sheets to the left again, I'm out of jokes.

Last, all character sheet details are filled in.  Things like their name, how they are linked to other characters, tidbits about their personality or past, etc.  Now everyone has helped create all of the secondary characters as a group (and made their primary character all by themselves).


Chapter Five: The Players

This is the "how to play this game" chapter.  Tip #3 (out of 5) is to "Accept Death!".  There are some actual rules here, mainly around genre points.  First, genre points are pooled on a player basis, not a character basis.  This means that you can have your secondary character do stupid things to get genre points in order to spend them on your primary character.  Some general tips about how to gain genre points are also listed (although the only sure fire way to get them is to have a character you control die which gets you two).

There's also some information about how to play secondary characters (which involves treating them as more than just a sacrificial pinata of genre points), and how to pay primary characters, how to play into the group archetypes that exist within slasher flicks.


Chapter Six: The Director

As expected, this is the "how to run this game" chapter.  Both pre-game and in-game responsibilities are listed (although it does explicitly say that just making up the flick as you go along is okay so don't feel like it is roping you into anything).  I'm not going to dig too deep into this one because you might end up playing the game and I don't want to ruin it, but this chapter does go in depth about how to prepare and run a flick in a way that is both helpful and also genre appropriate.

There are also rules for creating tertiary characters as well as the killer (and the killer is built completely different from a character because in the movies they're generally portrayed as larger than life and able to do things that other people can't).  There are rules to be able to portray pretty much any killer from any slasher flick you can think of, supernatural or otherwise.  There are also some example killers to give you ideas or just use wholesale.

Then we get into more running the game tips.  It can be run as a serious horror game or a campy B-movie schlockfest.  There are also tips on how to narrate (including how to deal with sex scenes which are a staple of slasher flicks), how to adjudicate rules (including giving genre points), how to play tertiary characters and the killer, and how to embrace the different sub-genres of slasher flicks. 


Chapter Seven: Quick Flicks

Quick flicks are basically one-page adventure ideas with a killer concept but they aren't really fleshed out.  Savage Worlds has a similar concept in their books.  There are three listed here.


Chapter Eight: "The Vault"

The Vault is a full flecked flick for up to four players (with a specified number of total primary + secondary characters) to use if you want to run a game.


Appendix: Character Templates

Here is a huge list of character templates usable as primary/secondary/tertiary characters based off of the stereotype that they portray.


Final Thoughts

I like it for what it is.  The rules are a little fast and loose and probably not mathematically sound but it's simple and easy and works from a thematic perspective.  This isn't a game to sit down and have a long campaign with, this is a game to run short sessions with if you don't have a group that can get together regularly or just want something different. 

If I want a long drawn out horror game with tense decision making (and most/all of the characters dying) I'll run Alien.  If I want something shorter and quicker with people leaning into the idea of a slasher flick type game specifically (with most/all of the characters dying) I'll run this game.  It definitely has its place in my library.

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