This article originally appeared in Pyramid #14
Published by Chameleon Eclectic
Designed by Charles Ryan and John Fletcher
$15.00You're a scientist involved in the development of the atomic bomb living in Los Alamos. Suddenly, you realize that you aren't a scientist at all you're Robin Hood, and you and your outlaw band are gallantly struggling to throw off the tyranny of the Normans. Then you wake up from that dream and find yourself walking alone in the corridors of a deserted spaceship. Far off noises and mysterious shifting objects suggest that you aren't alone, but you can't find anyone. Invisible hands shove you into a metal chair and zap you find yourself in the middle of a Saturday morning cartoon. Sound like you're losing your mind? You are. And getting it back is only part of the focus of Chameleon Eclectic's Psychosis adventure Ship of Fools.
Reviewing an adventure like this one can be tricky. I want to say more than "cool game, go buy it," but I don't want to give away the plot. In Psychosis, characters must complete an adventure which is challenging enough on its own merit. There's a rub, though they've all got bats in their belfries. So when in the "real" world characters are, for example, engaged in combat, they may believe that they're playing a video game, or arguing with their parents. The fun of playing Psychosis is in trying to figure out what's real and what isn't. Players have to determine the common themes behind each of their shifting lunacies and try to reach the end goal of the adventure. Robin Hood, for instance, represents something to their clouded minds, as do the Normans he's trying to defeat. Or maybe the player really is Robin Hood, and a painful breakup with Maid Marian drove him nuts.
Mechanically, Psychosis is simple and innovative. The game uses, of all things, Tarot cards. At the beginning of the game, players each draw five cards from the minor arcana (the suits: swords, coins, staves, and cups.) These cards are used to decide the result of "challenges," which could be anything from firing a blaster to climbing a cliff to playing a chess game. The different suits correspond to the traits of dexterity, intelligence, strength, and intuition. The major arcana (the "name" cards: Death, The Tower, Judgment, and so on) are used for special effects, often causing the characters' psychosis to shift.
A variety of different psychoses, and their relevance to the adventure, are described in the book. They come in three different levels of reality, from the slightly neurotic (you perceive reality accurately, except that you can't see or experience any other people), to the totally gone ("I'm a dinosaur!"). The various shifts between psychosis and from level to level are kept track of by the guide (game master) on the "Psychosis Wheel," a card that can be removed from the back of the book.
The rules work, but be warned: this is not a game for realists. If you want to know how much damage you took falling 73 feet into a five-foot deep pool of motor oil, play something else. The best you'll get from your Psychosis guide is, "You're wounded. By the way, you seem to have become a rhesus monkey."
Also be warned that the game can be somewhat tightly scripted in places. I think this works just fine, but it's best to know it going in. As a player, you have no choice of skills or stats or that sort of thing. Your memory is gone, and all you know is what you see around you and even that is probably wrong.
The game's simplicity makes it, in my opinion, a great diversion for a group of players that need a break from their regular game. As a guide, there isn't much that the book doesn't walk you through in the course of the adventure. As a player there's even less. Five minutes after deciding to play Ship of Fools you can be actually playing.
If Ship of Fools has a weak point, it's in its appearance. The cover is nice, conveying the mood of the adventure without giving anything away. And the interior layout is okay, it's just so darn repetitive. Every page has the same little strip of art at the top and the bottom, with another piece of art in the center. The art is good enough, but even the center pieces are recycled occasionally within the book. The effect is that when flipping through Ship of Fools you get the impression that it's boring, which is far from the truth. Don't be fooled. Ship of Fools is a great adventure, one well worth picking up and playing.
Article publication date: August 1, 1995
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