Horror is a genre that evolves and expands in unusual ways. Whether unstoppable slashers, skulking body horror aliens, moody Japanese ghosts or bloody folk rituals, there always seems to be a new way for storyteller to scare their audience. The creators of Triangle Agency, now funding on Kickstarter, have coined a term for the unsettling feelings their game generates: corporate horror.
“Corporate horror is existential horror born from corporate, rather than cosmic, sources,” said Caleb Zane Huett, Lead Designer and Creative Director of Triangle Agency. “Many of the feelings we seek out in existential horror are already very present in the real world. Powerful, inhuman individuals fueled by human life hours to place themselves in the homes of the population in pursuit of an abstract representation of power? That’s a corporation, and it’s also an evil god in a fantasy story.”
“It’s living with the knowledge that your employer can revoke your ability to care for yourself and your family with no warning and for no reason,” said Sean Ireland, Designer. “It’s the pressure to replace your own priorities with the company’s profit motive. It’s life with its essence removed. It’s terrible, and we’ve all felt it, even if we’ve never worked for a company like the Triangle Agency.”
Players are employees of the Triangle Agency because they’ve bonded with extradimensional creatures call anomalies. The Agency’s mission is to keep these anomalies from destorying the world so they sent agents out to hunt down, capture or kill these forces. All of it is filtered through a rule book that shines a satirical lens on corporate handbooks and HR meetings that makes players laugh and grimace in equal measure.
“We use corporate horror as a title because we are drawing on that idea exactly,” said Huett. “But also because it describes the setting better than horror does on its own. Players will be dealing with things that appear in other traditional horror stories, but they’re likely to be wearing a business suit while they do it and visiting their office at the end. And finally, I think the most important reason we tie those words together is we don’t want players to come away from the game thinking the corporate aspect is just a fun flavor. It’s part of the horror, and players will often be working through their complicity in the Agency’s system.”
Characters are built through the ARC system which assembles a character’s weird abilities, job at the agency and relationships in the wreal world together that gives players huge power and huge responsibility right away for instant drama. This is a game where characters start with the ability to kill a tentacled beast with a pen but they also need to make sure to be home in time for their kid’s Little League game. There’s also an implied backstory to the Agency that the players can dig up.
“We use a structure inspired most by procedural TV like X-Files [or] Supernatural,” said Huett, “a world pulling similar threads as many other pieces of corporate horror/comedy [like] Control [or] Better Off Ted, and a method of telling the rules and story that’s built off of interactive media like ARGs, immersive theatre, and found-document stories like House of Leaves.”
“My biggest cultural touchpoint is The Matrix,” said Ireland, “by using multiple narrators, we ask players to question what they’ve been told; by offering players the ability to reshape reality, we empower them to tell stories that subvert the status quo. And by making players care about the people in their character’s life, we prompt them to consider which parts of Reality are most worth saving.”
The game uses a unique system which involves rolling 6d4 with threes being successes. Every dice that comes up with another number gives the GM a chaos poin they can use to inflict complications on the narrative. The GM can spend those points right away or save them for the worst possible moment, like getting a call from a character’s manager from their other job asking to come in to work a shift instead of saving Atlanta from being turned into an alien fortress.
“I like games because I like how the mechanics and story work together,” said Huett. “And really wanted to make something unique and specific, where every piece serves a purpose and supports the rest. If people figure out how to map Triangle Agency’s mechanics onto other settings and stories I’ll be excited to see it, but it’s designed to be perfect for this one.”
“We want every part of this game to support every other part,” said Ireland. “so everything has been on the table. In this case, we want to make it perfectly clear what players are doing when they roll: there are no DCs or other hidden information, so you can see right away whether you’ve succeeded in reshaping reality. And if you don’t like the results, you can use your character’s ability to change the outcome! But the amount of Chaos you accumulate is also public knowledge, so you have a building sense of tension as you decide whether to hand your GM more power to make your day difficult later.”
“And, of course, we were delighted to champion the long-derided d4!” Ireland added.
Players who want to try out Triangle Agency right now can do so via the playtest rules on the Haunted Table itch.io website. The Kickstarter ends on July 6th, 2023. The already funded project is currently slated for a July 2024 release.
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