Director's Cut Survival Horror (Roleplaying Game Core System & Modules)
Illustrated by Elijah Braidwood
Published by Crispy Zombie Productions
During the 2012 Texas Frightmare Weekend, I came across this booth in the vendor room and was pleasantly surprised. Horror cons are full of t-shirt and memorabilia vendors, artists, authors, even a carnivorous plant gardener. Crispy Zombie was there showing off Director's Cut, an all-new and original horror-themed tabletop roleplaying game and card game. (The card game will be reviewed at a later date.)
Husband and wife team David and Amy Claxton have built a from-scratch RPG system designed around survival horror. The system is called Director's Cut because the game master is called the "director" and the player characters are the "cast". Add-on modules are called "movies". It's all very cleverly designed to appeal to horror fans and gamers alike.
Director's Cut is what most would call a Dungeons and Dragons-style tabletop roleplaying game. Played with six-sided dice and character sheets, the game itself takes place almost exclusively in the minds of the players. DC does have some game maps to use so players have some idea where their characters are, but that's as close to a "board game" as DC gets.
My first thought on approaching the booth and talking with David was, "Oh crap; I know very little about tabletop games." I'm a video/computer gaming guy. I've played THOSE RPG's for decades, since they were invented, but I've never owned a 20-sided dice. Thankfully, my buddy Mitch the Viking was coming with me on the last day of the con so I had his priceless assistance with this review. Mitch was basically born with multi-sided dice in his hands, having played nearly every major system out there and a few obscure games I'd never even heard of.
DC utilizes a D6 system. Those are standard board game dice, for those of you not familiar with the RPG gaming gear. You'll need a handful of those, but nothing else exotic or "game-y" to play the game. Compared to D&D and most other tabletop games, the DC system is very lean and slimmed down. The reason for this is the intended length of a session, or "campaign". In traditional games a campaign can take days, weeks, or even years. A standard session of DC is designed to last an evening, at most. Just like a slasher movie, you're just not gonna live long enough to wander around the settings for more than three or four hours. That's okay because the system is built for that kind of speed.
Creating enough characters for a "movie night" only takes a few minutes. Same for generating enemies and any other tweaking a director would need to do. The game play, the setup, everything about this system is designed to get in, get killed, get out.
The system is strong because it's flexible. While the core book and the movies (modules) provide a director with a great deal of detail to add to a film (campaign), they aren't 100% detailed like most D&D modules, where every single thing is fleshed out and no imagination or creativity is needed. Rather, from the second you finish reading the core rules, you're hit with the urge to create your own module/campaign.
Each of the movie books are really just fuel for the imagination of the director. While Zombie Hospital contains a metric buttload of stuff to work off of, you could still easily take what you want, use it, and leave the rest for another campaign or even tweak it to be your own. Slasher Camp is a little more cut and dried, but the traditional Friday the 13th-style setup could still be altered by a creative director to suddenly become The Cabin in the Woods, The Home Game.
Cannibal Mines is the one standout here because it seriously needs some work. It's the most open-ended of the modules and the smallest. Crispy Zombie also used a different artist than the one they used on the core book and Zombie Hospital. The art is just really sub-par, and that's an unfortunate combination with the one module that feels incomplete. Inspired by The Hills Have Eyes, the setup is threadbare, and then the characters wind up in the mines. And that's that. Compared to the detail in Zombie Hospital, it's just not worth the price of admission.
Other than Cannibal Mines as a whole, my only complaint is that the text needs some polish overall. Grammatical errors show up fairly frequently, and there is the occasional structural problem where things become too conversational to follow well. None of that deeply impacts the game as a whole, however, or the first two module books. Director's Cut is an original and well-designed gaming system that's finely tuned for horror fans.
As someone new to tabletop gaming, I didn't have a hard time following the core book or the module books. In fact, by the time I'd read through them all, I wanted to create my own movie with a dark carnival theme. (I do so miss my own...) Even if you haven't played before, this is worth checking out if you're a horror fan. The system is designed to amp up fear and adrenaline while you create your own horror movies. Everyone has sat through a slasher flick and yelled at the screen as the characters engaged in braindead moves...well, now it's up to you. I don't know a horror fan that wouldn't be attracted to that setup.
I look forward to more from the Claxtons, who say they have several more "movies" on the way. I know I'm wanting to put together a gaming night with friends so I can run a film with them and see how they measure up when they're on the run from a slasher, a hospital full of zombies, or a desert town with redneck mutant zombies.
4 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
3 1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5