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Phantasm: Competitive Horror Roleplaying

Started by mearls, August 15, 2002, 04:08:11 PM

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Unlike other RPGs, a game of Phantasm ends with a definitive winner. Either one character remains alive and the GM is out of dice, or all the GM has won by killing off the characters. This is a competitive RPG that follows horror movie genre conventions.

Die mechanic: All rolls in Phantasm are opposed. Players start with X dice each, with the GM beginning play with a total of X * 2 dice. Players spend their dice to gain bonuses to skill checks and to create events in play. The GM spends his dice to build direct physical threats against the players.

The game's name, Phantasm, comes from a set of metagame mechanics used to build suspense, mistrust, and uncertainty in the player environment. The GM takes 10 or so index cards and writes down a short sentence or two on each. The sentences all describe events or effects that one character notices, but none of the others see. For example, a card may read:

"You hear rustling in the bushes behind you and see a figure lurking in the woods."

The player has a choice to make. He can either share this information with the other players, he can act upon it in a manner that does not draw suspicion but allows him to avoid the threat, or he can lie to the other players and try to expose them to danger. Remember, just like in a horror movie the last person alive wins. Lying is a big part of the game, since it can be used to split up the characters and force others into dangerous situations. However, the cards is ALWAYS truthful. If a card says a monster is sneaking through the door, the monster is actually there. What the players do about that is another story altogether.

The GM has enough dice to easily overpower one character, but not enough to take down many at once. Task resolution works like this:

Every character or creature starts with a base number attribute number (exact definitions forthcoming). To test an attribute, roll a number of dice equal to its value and count the number of even dice that come up. In an opposed test, the higher total even dice wins. Ties result in a draw; neither actor succeeds. Unopposed tests must beat a static target number.

Players and the GM can spend their dice to gain a bonus to any test. Bonus dice are spent AFTER a skill check and each player has the option to spend more dice until both have passed. A player may also opt to spend bonus dice on ANY action, not just his character's. Thus, if the GM's monster leaps on a character, the other players can spend their dice to help the character or the monster. Furthermore, at any time any player (including the GM) can spend dice to create a threat for another player. For instance, a GM could spend three dice to force a character to roll an opposed test against him to avoid tripping while a monster chases him.

The play environment is always a closed, static area. For instance, a game could be set aboard a space ship a la alien. The players have a floorplan of the complete play area to work with. Each area of the map has different threat ratings that limit how many dice you can use to "attack" a character. The one exception to this is the monster the GM controls, which can wander into any room to menace a character.

Thoughts? This is rather rough at the moment and is in dire need of playtest, but I like the basic concept.


I like it. It might be interesting to have the players help set up the hopeless situation, like the "In The Crapper" mechanic from Metal Opera.

You could even have each player write one of the index cards, so each player starts out with two facts: The one they wrote and the one they're given. Nothing like the additional paranoia of wondering who knows what you know.
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I like it. Are there any website where we can expect to see an update version?

Ron Edwards


You know, this is just the Gamist twist that I think Human Wreckage needed to nail down some of its shaky aspects. Mike, have you seen HW? I reviewed it, and I think the link at the review is still active. It's a very different game from what you're proposing, but there are some sibling-type similarities that you might find interesting.



This post sucks.

The site with Human Wreckage is down for the count.  

And, my word docs for the game are locked up on another hard drive which I can't access, at least not at the moment.  

I know a few folks around here played the game, and if anyone has it, I'd appreciate it if they could e-mail me a text file.  That way I could send Mike a copy if he wanted.

Otherwise I'll be rewriting it from scratch.  Which isn't so needed it anyway.

- Scott


Quote from: hardcoremooseI know a few folks around here played the game, and if anyone has it, I'd appreciate it if they could e-mail me a text file.  That way I could send Mike a copy if he wanted.

Hi Moose,

I know this comes a bit late but I do have a copy of it. PM me if you still need it.

With respect,

Joe Llama

Doc Midnight

I like the players with index cards thing that was brought up a few posts ago. In keeping with the horrow movie theme, players should have issues. Maybe they get bonuses for discovering and exploiting those issues.

This seems like the sort of game where folks aren't gonna be sticking together anyway.

Or does this take too much away from the GM vs. Player feel?

Doc Midnight
Doc Midnight
I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Jeremy Cole

Why wouldn't players lie to each other?  If a player's only objective is to hose other players, then won't players end up ignoring each other's advice completely.  If a person may have a reason to tell you the truth, then you get that classic paranoia frame of mind.  I think players having secret motives may be the key to this.

Perhaps rather than sole survivor, some players may be charged with keeping some people alive, or some people dead, or ensuring the monster gets z kills, no more, no less, or that they reach the church while everyone else wants to escape the small town, whatever.

A person may be a secret cultist, leading the party to the demon feeding grounds, or he may really know the way out.  When he says "down this way to safety", you get said paranoia moment.

Perhaps the GM could subtlety cause players intentions to misfire, so that if they do end up in the demon feeding grounds, you still may not know if he is a cultist, or if the GM is just a bastard.

I'd be interested in any thoughts on this.

what is this looming thing
not money, not flesh, nor happiness
but this which makes me sing

augie march

Doc Midnight

I think that the players having agendas can be fun but in Horror movies, only one character tends to have the agenda while every one else just has issues.

I have in mind a twist in whick players can conspire to make sure a certain character buys it first. That way the obnoxious guy can stick around until a particularly nasty end befalls him.

This would make it Player vs. Player though and sort of remove the GM.

The bidding mechanic in Universalis comes to mind for me.

Doc Midnight
Doc Midnight
I'm not saying, I'm just saying.