All right, and now for something COMPLETELY different!
So, the first thing you’ll notice when opening this, is that it’s not just one file – it’s a ton of them! And there’s a reason for that! ViewScream is basically a rules-lite science fiction-horror game that fills a unique niche. This is a horror game, and as such, it features dark themes and is probably not for kids; while one could nominally call it a story game, there is a competitive edge and you CAN die, even if you don’t want to, so it’s not exactly what you’d consider that to be. Live action RPG probably describes it best. While the main rules-pdf clocks in at 56 pages, (1 front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page Playtester credits, 1 page ToC, 3 pages blank, leaving us with 49 pages, laid out for booklet-size), but fret not – it *really* walks you through everything, and you can explain the rules in under 5 minutes sans hassle. As an aside – there is a 24-page (22.5 pages of content) printer-friendly version of the booklet sans art etc. as well!
Know how groups sometimes can’t meet due to living in different places, being snowed in, etc.? Well nowadays, we have the almighty internet, and this game makes use of it. Specifically, google hangouts.
You see, ViewScream makes use of the communication software we employ to simulate a unique experience. The game is intended for 4 players, but there also are scenarios for 3 or 5 players. In ViewScream, you assume the role of starship crew members in a horrible situation of some sort…or a collective of hackers, or a similar scenario of folks that are not sharing the same space, but that are capable of connecting over long distance. The PCs never physically meet in a game – whether due to quantum anomalies, tentacle horrors from beyond or other reasons. Scrying and long-range communication could also work in e.g. a fantasy context as a reskin. One of the players take the role of Bridge – this would be the GM of sorts, though there is a crucial difference. Bridge can die. In fact, a crucial component of the tension of this game is that it is deadly. A PC with die. But who? Well, that depends on the scenario and the players!
ViewScream is, this, probably best described as a kind of live action RPG, and the game assumes a session to take about 60 to 90 minutes, which makes it surprisingly effective as a fill-in game, when real life got in the way. As an aside – the general horror vibe also can actually make flawed connections kind of conductive to tension, if you’re lucky, so that was an interesting observation. Character is NOT broken in ViewScream – out of character stuff is relegated to the chat window.
At the start of the game, all players mute their microphones, and Bridge reads the distress signal. This is a brief message on bridge’s character sheet, which provides context for the scenario that is played. During play, each character has two emergencies to deal with: Perhaps the character has been infected by a xenomorph, been exposed to radiation, or the like – and here’s the thing: You can’t solve them yourself. You NEED the other players. You have Solutions noted on your sheet – these denote how you solve the emergencies – but how you get other players to enact these solutions – well, that’s another thing. Here’s the thing – there are only so many Solutions, and in the end, a player may end up with unresolved Emergencies…which generally is something you want to avoid. This is further complicated by not all Solutions being actually viable!
Some Solutions are marked as “success”, while others are marked as “failures” – you are aware of whether your solutions work, but the other players aren’t! You can, thus, offer useless solutions. This adds a real sense of tension and bluffing to the game, it adds intrigue and risky gambits. If you end the game with an unresolved emergency, your character dies.
The Bridge has the responsibility to both roleplay Bridge, and to loop players into conversation “Engineering, do you copy?” – this allows the game to retain order and not devolve into competitive shouting. The Bridge also has general structuring guidelines and pace the game – basically what you’d expect there.
Each character sheet sports a description, the location you’re in, aforementioned Emergencies and Solutions…and a further complication, namely a Dark Secret. This is something you need to hide, but which WILL come out. Knowledge of the inevitability of it coming out (at the latest, in the end) also adds a stressor to the proceedings. To take an example for a Description from the game’s manual:
“> You’re out of pills, and you’re very nervous
> Burned-out and paranoid surgical attendant
> Trapped in the Morgue
> Cryo treats you like a child, but you still crave
> You fought in the war with Bridge, but Bridge
has changed since then“
This establishes a current state, personality, location, and relationships with other players – here, Cryo and Bridge.
Beyond all of that, this is a game, and during play, you may realize that some friends, foes, family, etc. survived whatever bad thing has befallen the place…and you’ll need to find out what happened…and you’ll have suspicions, which act as subplots. Refusing or accepting aid, requesting and denying it – there is a minimalistic, yet extremely efficient tension generated by this surprisingly simple set-up.
And that’s the core – beyond that, the pdf does mention how to handle technobabble, what may trigger confessions of dark secrets, and how ending, last words, etc. work. Advice for delivery, anecdotes and how to handle dialogue are provided – and looking directly at the camera and similar pieces of advice really walk you through the basics. Most roleplayers probably won’t even have to read a single page herein, but it won’t hurt either and improve the game, particularly regarding the helpful notes on social etiquette etc.
The game does not just consist of the rules-pdf, though – the game comes with a metric ton of different overlays that range from the expected science-fiction themes to even some fantasy-themed overlays. Oh, and the read-me pdf explains on how to use them. The game also comes with a list of 15 scenarios, all of which present the baseline, number of players and their roles.
Want an example? Well, here’s the distress signal of one of my favorites:
BILLIONS OF SCARS (4 PLAYERS: Bridge, Engineering, Helm, Sensors)
“Hailing on all frequencies. This is the crew of the Red Ghast. After exploring the surface, we discovered that the planet had once been the home of an advanced civilization. Their records indicate that they destroyed their bodies and uploaded their minds — billions of them — into a 4-EXA drive containing some kind of virtual reality construct. Without meaning to, we released them, and… It appears that while in that state, they went completely insane. They’re like ghosts… God, they’re digital ghosts, just hate-filled consciousness without a body… They’ve managed to take over most of the ship’s functions, and have butchered the crew. A few of us remain, and we’re being hunted. Please send help at once, but make no attempt to connect with our systems, or else they might take control of your vessel.”
Each of the 15 scenarios comes with its own folder: One pdf within these contains reference advice and a kind of cheat-sheet. That sheet actually suffices to play, just fyi. Beyond that, we get the different sheets for the respective roles the players take on, with bridge getting individualized advice on ending the game, on the fate of Bridge, etc.
And no, I am not going to explain them all one by one – I’d be spoiling them, and that’d help no one. Since they come as individual pdfs, it’s easy and painless to share them over google hangouts, btw.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no hiccups. Interior artwork of the booklet is b/w and neat, and layout adheres to a no-frills one-column or two-column b/w-standard, depending on the version of the booklet. The overlays provided range from rather cool and stylish to…okay. The booklets come fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Rafael Chandler’s ViewScream is a great change of pace for fast and tense roleplaying experiences. The scenarios are intriguing and unique, and I genuinely would love to see even more sample scenarios; there are some serious gems within. More than that, it’s a great example of how few rules you actually need, namely next to none, if the respective storytelling set-up is simply smart enough. This won’t replace anyone’s favorite game, sure – but it does make for a great tool to have. Oh, and it’s PWYW right now! I purchased this back in the day for $12.00, and it’s totally worth that price. For PWYW? Heck yeah – check this out right now – you have nothing to lose! 5 stars +seal of approval, easily given!
You can get this cool game for PWYW here on OBS! (Totally worth the tip, btw.!)