Publisher: Goblin Archives (@goblin_archives)
Our fans know I’m an admirer of Into the Odd and Knave, having done reviews and/or actual plays of each. When I heard that someone put out their own game combining elements from these amazing games, I was beyond excited. But this isn’t a review of Yochai Gal’s excellent game, Cairn! This is a review of a game based on that game!
Liminal Horror (LH) is built on the scaffolding provided by the Cairn SRD but, rather than offering a system for telling classic fantasy stories, Liminal Horror is for telling…well, you’ve probably guessed by now that it’s for horror stories. Specifically, modern horror in an urban setting, though honestly there’s no reason you couldn’t move it to any setting/time with a few changes to the equipment and backgrounds tables.
Much like its predecessors, character creation in LH is simple and consists of a handful of easily-mastered stats and flavorful tables. Horror games or games with high lethality that have onerous character creation rules make no sense to me. If you expect folks to die, make it easy for their players to jump right back into the action. This is precisely what LH does, though it cautions about making character death random or unexpected.
As characters traverse the world, exploring mysteries and understanding things which mortal minds aren’t meant to understand, they risk suffering both mental harm (Stress) and physical harm (Damage). Whenever I see a game deal with mental health, I become instantly suspicious. I can’t think of a game that handles this topic well or with sensitivity, but LH does an admirable job of it.
If a character suffers too much Stress, they will have to roll on the Fallout Table. Unlike other games which tie real world conditions and maladies to game mechanics, Liminal Horror gives rich, otherworldly results for players to experience. For example, a character might be convinced that an ethereal crown hangs above their head, invisible to all but a few select people. See? Interesting, exciting, and unproblematic. It can be done!
Character advancement is also tied to this table. In addition to explaining how the character suffers, each result is also tied to a boon. For example, the ethereal crown result can yield a bonus to a stat. There is no other way for your character to get “stronger”, which is great. This is a horror game. We want flawed, vulnerable characters who are susceptible to the world’s darkness.
This book has so many wonderful things packed in 34 pages that I’m running out of room to discuss them all in 500 words. The magic/spell creation system is superbly fun. The facilitator advice is helpful regardless of what game you’re playing, though it’s especially helpful for creating mysteries. The bestiary is great. The Spark Table for inspiring threats is, well, inspiring. Oh, and the included adventure is brilliant, too! I had high hopes when I picked up this book and I can say, without qualification, it has succeeded in impressing in every way.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this book, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. And yeah, the PDF is more than $5 but you know what? There’s a free web-based version so it still counts as a game under $5! But hey…splurge a little and support a great indie author.