tremulus, the new horror RPG from Reality Blurs and Sean Preston, was recently sent out (in rough cut version, although it doesn’t seem particularly rough to me based on my read through) and – while I am certainly not ready to provide a full review yet (I haven’t gotten to play the game, for one), I figured I would share my first impressions with you. My initial, overall thoughts are exceedingly positive based on a first reading, which brings us to tremulus thought number one:
1. This is a exceedingly well-written book. Preston has hit it just right with this, which is in a nice conversational tone that gets you the information that you need while moving very quickly. The book is pretty long at almost 250 pages, but the actual rules portion is pretty light, leaving the rest to give you a pretty wide assortment of playbooks, hazards and creatures to play around with.
2. The players are probably going to lose. Seriously, tremulus is about people pushed to the edge of madness, or worse, because of the horrors that they uncover. I’m sure you could play it that way, but the tone of tremulus is not for those that want to tell stories about people overcoming the long odds faced in front of them. The game encourages a player that is eliminated to just grab another playbook and keep playing, so a high mortality rate shouldn’t stop the game, at least.
3. I still dig cooperative world building. The playset included in tremulus allows players to make choices about the playset at the beginning, but things get a little more in-depth from there. Each set of choices about what is believed and known about the town the players are inhabiting results in the generation of notes for the investigators (about what they know) and for the Keeper (what the hidden truth is about the town and what sort of hazards await the players). This results in playsets that, from the look of things, should have a ton of replay value. The other side of this, of course, is that playset building (which I intend to try my hand at) is going to be pretty intense, with 35 sets of coordinated investigator/keeper notes included in the default setting.
4. tremulus should make it a little easier to tell horror stories in an RPG, at least for me. There is something about ‘traditional’ RPGs (read: those I grew up playing) that always made it hard for me to wrap my head around horror games. d20 and earlier D&D versions were clearly made for heroic play which can result in some really fun games (I had some good times in Ravenloft), but nothing I would call horror. By using the Apocalypse World approach of saying ‘hey, Keeper, here are the things you can do to make things more miserable for the PCs’, I think tremulus may help me become a better GM, certainly when running horror, which has never been my strong suit.
So, on a quick first reading, those are the things that jumped out to me about tremulus. Hopefully, with Halloween around the corner, I can convince some people that might not normally give RPGs a spin to try it out. If you couldn’t tell, I came away exceedingly impressed with the book and look forward to digging further into it over the next few days.