I stood as if rooted to the floor as I tried to locate the origin of the guttural laughter that reverberated down my spine and chilled my veins with ice water. With an arm extended, the feeble cone of vision the flashlight provided groped hopelessly against the engulfing darkness ahead. Though I was unable to see anyone, or anything waiting beyond the glow, I felt as if I was being watched. Suddenly, a cacophony of voices all seemed to reach me at once, and in unison called out the phrase that would sear itself into my soul. “We know …”
Locus is developed by Cobblepath Games, a two person powerhouse operated by Jack Milton and Stephanie Williamson. Designed to be played with 2 to 8 people, Locus explores a different side of tabletop role-play than I am accustomed. Putting aside the familiar combat centric, skills based exploration style of play of games such as Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder, Locus takes the table on a journey through fear itself. And while other games have tackled the horror genre through TTRPG (I’m looking at you, Call of Cthulhu), it is the games emphasis on personal horror that sets it apart from its predecessors.
That theme of experiencing and exploring personal tension and fear rings throughout each aspect of the game, and is impressed upon both the director (the term used to describe the game master) and its players. While creating the character I was to use, it became clear that the person I was going to be could not be described as heroic. Rather than selecting between classes of battle ready adventurers and donning myself in glimmering chainmail, the creators of Locus tasked me with creating an “average Joe” that would be put through his own personal torment. Rather than spending points to strengthen my character, I instead assigned attributes to highlight personal flaws and weakness. My character’s backstory emphasized an event in their past in which they did wrong, their attitude toward the event, and a redeeming quality. As I played through the story unfolding before me, it became clear that I was not meant to fight my way out of each conflict, and the anxiety my character felt as they fought for their own survival was one I shared.
Playing the game itself was simpler than I expected after pouring countless hours into D&D. My “character sheet” was roughly the size of a playing card, and still contained all the information I would need. I did not need to memorize a long list of spells, feats, and effects, nor did I have to track a large inventory. Instead, I needed my player card, at least one set of 3D6 (three six sided dice) and a standard deck of playing cards. The rules we were expected to follow were also easy to remember, and encounters within the game were resolved quickly and cleanly. This was all expertly tailored to prevent the game from getting in the way of the narrative, and as a result I never felt pulled out of character as I occasionally have in other games.
Overall, I am looking forward to my next opportunity to experience Locus. Whether I play another game as the player or sit in the directors chair, I know that I will be entertained from the start to finish. The game is quick to learn, and doesn’t ask a lot of the player. As a result, this would make a solid first TTRPG for someone looking to break into the hobby. The themes of fear, tension and guilt echo throughout the game as it is played, but for those who may be concerned the written material do a phenomenal job of laying out expectations and outlining how to prepare players and discuss potential triggers. If you don’t mind being a bit scared while you game, Locus is expected to release digitally in January 2021. To keep updated and to join their mailing list, visit Cobblepath Games website.