For a great many gamers, horror roleplaying begins and ends with Call of Cthulhu and it's not difficult to see why. CoC established itself early as the leader within its genre and, while the game's focus is the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, since its initial release in 1981, the game has included plenty of support for more "traditional" horror adventures and campaigns featuring werewolves, mummies, and zombies.
At the same time, there have always been gamers who didn't like Call of Cthulhu for whatever reason -- too "literary," too bleak, too deadly -- which left room in the RPG marketplace for other takes on horror. One such take was Chill: Adventures into the Unknown. Its first edition was published in 1984 by Pacesetter, a gaming company founded and staffed primarily by ex-TSR staffers and whose brief existence (1984-1986) was, in my opinion, a glorious misadventure. Pacesetter's RPGs all possessed a certain zest to them, the kind of enthusiasm that can only be found in the young and naive who truly believe that their ideas can change the world. Nevertheless, they're very hit or miss, both mechanically and esthetically and Chill was no different.
Whereas Call of Cthulhu took its main inspirations from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and his disciples and imitators, Chill was, for good and for ill, inspired by monster movies, particularly those produced by Universal Studios and Hammer Films. Player characters were assumed to be professional monster hunters called "envoys" in the service of a secret society known by the faintly ridiculous acronym of S.A.V.E., which stood for Societas Albae Viae Eternitata -- "Eternal Society of the White Way" -- and whose purpose was to protect mankind from the dark forces that lurked in the shadows. As a framing device for an episodic monster hunting game, S.A.V.E. worked well enough, although, even as a younger person, I found it a mite unsophisticated.
The game's rules were unremarkable, being a serviceable, but not inspired, variation on the mid-80s fad for chart-based action resolution pioneered by Marvel Super Heroes. Character generation was a mix of weighted random rolls (for basic abilities) and choice (for skills). Skills all had a chance to succeed based on an average of two to three relevant abilities, with bonuses and penalties assessed to the roll. Combat involved comparing one character's "attack margin" versus another character's defense on the action table to determine both success and damage. Like most of Chill, it worked well enough, but was neither particularly innovative nor flavorful. Characters could also learn disciplines of "the Art," which was a kind of low-level magic appropriate the style of horror the game emulated.
What really made Chill work, though, was its attitude and approach. The game was not a doom-laden meditation on man's insignificance. Neither was it filled with angsty melodrama. Chill was unapologetically -- even gleefully -- a game about kicking monster butt in the name of goodness, just like Peter Cushing did back in the day. To call it a "horror" game is, in many ways, a mistake, because it was "scary" only in the same way that Halloween is scary. Chill was never intended to be soul-shatteringly frightening, a fact many reviewers missed when the game was first released. Its horrors weren't intended to shock or terrify; rather they were meant to be opposed and, ultimately, beaten.
Pacesetter released a slew of modules and supplements for Chill, many of which were quite good, assuming what one wanted was to run a campaign about professional monster hunters. This earned the game a "lightweight" reputation in many circles, which is probably why, when Mayfair produced a second edition in the mid-90s, they -- foolishly in my opinion -- made the game darker and grittier, turning it into a faux Call of Cthulhu by way of White Wolf. It's a shame, because I had a lot of fun with the original Chill and I'd hoped that Mayfair's revival of the game might provide the same kind of fun, "beer and pretzels" monster bashing I remembered so fondly. Alas, it was not to be.