Shiver is a horror RPG from Parable Games. It’s written by Charlie and Barney Menzies and illustrated by Ben Alexander. I backed it on Kickstarter, now have my PDF, am waiting on the hardback and regret not getting the dice.
Each roll of the dice in Shiver is significant because there are consequences for failure. Each dice is supposed to be decorated with symbols from the game, and while there is a look-up table to translate gamer dice into Shiver dice, it’s not the same. The online dice roller is a better experience.
I backed Shiver because I was hoping for something new, something indie, and I liked the atmosphere and vibe it projected. I’ve only had the chance to play over Discord, and it still passes those tests – it’s new enough to be different, attracts interest from the indie crowd (easier to find a game), and most importantly, it conjures up the shiver-down-your-spine atmosphere.
However, two observations. That shiver-down-your-spine atmosphere is more like the moments of dread in Alien. Doom feels inevitable in the game. I’d use Shiver for one-shots. Secondly, my instinct is that the game will be twice as good in real life, in the shadows, with whispers, a stiff drink and friends around a table.
Doom and Shiver
Shiver uses a Clock mechanic, but only one – the Doom Clock. Before each game, the GM/Director writes out four bad things that will happen. These are triggered as the Doom Clock progresses through its four phases.
The progress of the Clock isn’t arbitrary. It’s not driven by the story in that sense, but by the dice, although interacting with certain items, doing certain deeds, and some backgrounds will cause it to advance. In other words, if you open that arc in true Indiana Jones style, the bad will still happen.
Mainly, though, it’s the risk of failing Skill Checks and rolling a Strange symbol in their dice pool or failing a Fear Check that keeps players cautious and paranoid throughout the entire game.
The question, “Should I risk that?” is a pretty significant one in Shiver. This is not an RPG in which fortune favours the bold.
I’m reminded of the classic and appropriately highly regarded board game “Betrayal at House on the Hill”, with its omens counting slowly up to the dramatic event. The ever-present threat casts its chill across the entire game and not in a bad way.
The one catch is that sometimes the pre-written Doom events don’t fit the flow of the game. After all, how could the GM/Director know how events will pan out? You then decide whether to wing it and ruin the reveal of the pre-written BadThing(tm) or stick with it.
Shiver dice system
Looking back now, I don’t know why I didn’t immediately get how Shiver dice work. But I didn’t, and I suspect it’s in how Parable Games describe the system.
Now, when push comes to shove, and I’m attempting to do it in this review, I don’t think I can do it any better.
To pass a test in Shiver, you need to roll as many successes as the challenge rating for a scene. You get success for each Skill Dice you roll with a matching symbol for the test. So, if you roll three skill dice, and two are Wit symbols, and it’s a Wit test, then you’ve two successes.
You also get success for each Talent symbol you roll on the Talent dice. Some Talent dice faces have more than one Talent symbol on them. So you might roll that d8, show two Talent symbols, and get two more successes.
That’s the basics, but there are complications. Rolling the Luck symbol does things. Rolling the Strange symbol also does things, sometimes good, sometimes bad.
Furthermore, enemies in Shiver are generally categorised and react to dice rolls too. While the GM/Director doesn’t lose control of NPCs or encounters, the system suggests/advises how monsters will act based on the results of these deadly dice.
Characters in Shiver
Shiver uses Archetypes for characters. There are seven, and each has ten tiers;
- The Warrior
- The Maverick
- The Scholar
- The Socialite
- The Fool
- The Weird
- The Survivor
As characters gain in tiers, they gain in powers, and characters in Shiver can become significant powers in their own right. How powerful? You could run a Hellboy-level style game with Shiver. In fact, I wonder if I detect Mike Mignola influence on artist Ben Alexander.
A niggle; there should be more PC powers in the core rules. It gets a bit samey, quickly.
Nicely, you can mix-and-match these Archetypes if you want (and have the tiers to spend). So you can create a Maverick-Scholar or a Warrior-Weird, but there are penalties in the form of additional fatal flaws for these hybrid Archetypes.
No Shiver character is perfect; all have flaws.
The “building a character” section of the 226-page book begins on page 28 and concludes at 96. It’s a big chunk of the book due to all those Archetypes and tiers.
Look and feel
I’m a fan of the entire visual aesthetic of the game and cannot wait for the paper edition to arrive. The art is relatively simple, it’s not like, say, Kult, but it still manages to convey subtle touches and spookiness.
The dark is dark in Shiver.
It’s easy to find what you want, although my PDF copy doesn’t have bookmarks.
While the page backgrounds are coloured and patterned, they never obscure the text, and bold is used to emphasise precisely that rule you were probably scanning the page for. It’s well thought out.
There’s no setting in Shiver. That’s entirely up to you. The game suits sci-fi as well as urban horror or even alternative history.
After chargen, the other chunk of the book (pages 98 to 198) is spent on helping the GM/Director, and it is here that we talk about structuring a story, how to handle any sequels and even expanding a world. We’re encouraged to think about using a sanctuary in the game, running combat, and how to use maps. But we’re not told what to put in the world.
The sample scenario Corporate Risers shows how it could all come together.
I’ve died quite a lot on Discord during the pandemic. Some deaths felt cheap and pointless, mainly in overly hard online convention games. But not in Shiver. Each messy character end in this RPG was appropriately dramatic, and I’ve always had fun.
The opening article in Shiver states that we go to horror movies because it’s fun to be scared. Maybe that’s right.
But I had more fun running Shiver if all be it briefly. I’ve rarely had a game that works so closely with the GM to be the voice of doom in the players’ ears with the whisper of “Oh, are you sure that’s a good idea…” and the “But that sounds dangerous…”
My one niggle is that Shiver is best brought to life by experienced players or at least a group with considerate players. I’ve fortunately not experienced the game with people who mistake it for a dungeon crawl, but I imagine that’s an easy mistake or a bad habit. I predict it would undo all that lovely tension for everyone.
Overall? If you’re a horror fan, then Shiver is worthy of your vile consideration.
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