As you should know by now, i'm a big fan of horror games, and I have a surplus of them in my closet. There are horror games that stand well on their own, while others either come up short in delivering a truly enjoyable and horrifying experience.
With my vast amount of experience on the subject, I can tell you that the best horror rpgs are those that deliver a great experience with a system that is both different and transparent enough to stay out of the way of the horror. With this in mind, I am glad to be able to review Epoch.
I had downloaded two of the free adventures for Epoch a few months back (Fever Pitch and Road Trip)
in the hopes of running them using Dread. However, is I read them, I became interested in the actual Epoch ruleset. I managed to get a copy through the creator of the game, perused the book, and I was happy with what I saw.
Epoch is a system that delivers one shot horror experiences and emulates a cinematic style of play in which the gamemaster and the players share a responsibility for the content of the story. In other words, everyone is equally invested to make an interesting game.
First off, the book is over 100 pages, and that was a bit unexpected. A pleasant surprise for sure. The book is divided into three sections, which set aside the rules to play, the rules to run the game, and all of the theory of horror and how to make your own terrifying scenarios.
The book is well written and sets a mood for serious storytelling it sets up the mutual investment in the game, points out the flaws and faults of certain disruptive behaviors at the gaming table, and exercises options and to help remedy these problems. Following these general rules and guidelines help to set the mood and atmosphere for the entire game.
The Ruleset. The scenario is set up in phases. There is a introduction section of a game in which the general problems and tone of the scenario. The remainder of the game is split into Tension Phases and Challenge Phases. Each Tension Phase allows the characters to have “screen time” and deal with the circumstances of the scenario. As the Tension Phase reaches a crescendo, the Challenge Round begins. A Challenge Round consists of some struggle or obstacle that can become a life-threatening situation. These situations can be either physical or psychological in nature, and it is up to the characters to attempt to overcome these challenges by playing one of four cards that the players use throughout the game. There are four cards in general: three of them are mental/physical injury cards that range from slight, to moderate, to severe. There is also the dreaded Zero/Hero card, which can either help out another character, or allows the character to “throw someone under the bus” in an attempt to save themselves.
Each time a card is played, it is discarded from the hand. If you have no cards to play, and it comes to a challenge round, you are dead/insane. Knowing that a game of Epoch is at least five Tension/Challenge phases long, someone will die.
So how do you avoid premature death? Well, at the end of every challenge phase, once all cards are played, there is a secret ballot for who the “audience” thinks is the most interesting character of that “scene”. Whoever is voted the most interesting is allowed to return any card from the discard pile back into their hand. Those who were not voted most interesting are given a Flashback Token to use in the next phase to help out their character.
The key thing to remember about this game is the mutual investment of both player and gamemaster, because even if a player is eliminated, they are still at the table and participate in the voting as an audience member.
The gamemaster has to do a little paperwork, keeping track of the horror track, which gauges how the game will end. There are three options: Total Victory, Hollow Victory, and Defeat. These are obtained by how many key points of the scenario were discovered.
Wrap up: Epoch is a horror game that will test your role playing skills and your mental capacities. It is serious roleplaying in which it is imperative to be invested in both your character and the story. It will make you uncomfortable at times and force you to make the hard decisions. In the end, it delivers what it promises. You will get a unique horror experience that you will remember, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters.
Thanks to Dale Elvy for supplying Epoch for this review. Follow Epoch news at