Good Horror Role-Playing

Stevethulhu

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Pennywise from IT could totally be a Changeling.
I don't know Changeling at all. Would it cope with Pennywise not actually existing and being a psychic manifestation of something completely different? I'm also not sure how spoilers for a book from 30 years ago should be handled...
 

Baulderstone

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Changeling is one of my favourite games. Its flawed but beautiful and at its best taps into a darkness of the soul beyond anything any other World of Darkness game touched. Unfortunately, it really needed a single vision, an overall direction of the line, for as it was it became a mishmash of contradictory ideas and the great stuff too often got buried under lackluster and mundane vanilla fantasy mixed with neopagan cliches.

But, its interesting you bring it up in this thread, as my initial introduction to Call of Cthulhu was pilfering the adventures to adapt for Changeling. I always found that Eldritch horror went hand in hand with folklore monstrosities quite well.
I really wanted to like Changeling. The Faerie book for Ars Magica 2nd edition had the interesting idea of Arcadia being a realm of stories with it's inhabitants playing out those stories over and over. They lured in humans of a creative bent as they could make new stories and break the stasis that Arcadia could slide into. Obviously, this worked better in a game where the faeries are NPCs, but I was still intrigued to see how the game would approach things. I'd been looking forward to the game since the first promotional brochure for V:tM. I mentioned that this was just the first of a series of games listing Werewolf, Mage, Ghost, and Faerie as future games in the line.

I agree there were good ideas in it, and it sounds like you made it genuinely interesting, going with a Machenesque approach to faeries. I had a very different idea on a way to make it interesting, but I never got around to trying it. Like all WoD game, it had the archetypes you could pick to gain willpower, but instead of being personality types, they were more along the line of fairy tale and mythic archetypes. I can't remember the list, but I seem to remember things like Knight, the Trickster the Ogre and so on.

I thought it might be interesting if you gained glamour from those archetypes, making the PCs like the living stories in Ars Magica. The idea of playing characters actively trying to live out fairy tale adventures in the World of Darkness was more interesting to me than vampirically harvesting humans for glamour. In retrospect, my idea was a narrative game where the "meta-mechanic" was entirely in-character.

I was a little burned out on WoD in general by that time, so I sat on the idea. A year later I got an unsolicited playtest draft of Unknown Armies in the mail. A friend had signed me up for the playtest without telling me. That was a hell of a thing to have just show up at work one day. At point I was truly done with WoD, so my Changeling idea never got used.

Well, later on I would come to really appreciate King's short story collections. The focus and streamlining of the format I think really causes him to shine and avoids most of the problems I've had with his novels (after "IT", I attempted The Stand, Pet Cemetery, The Shining, and Dragon's Eye over the years, and I got about two chapters into The Gunslinger). The one novel by him I am somewhat curious to maybe attempt is Needful Things, as I really liked the premise of the film.
I still periodically re-read his short stories and they always hold up. When I was a kid, I really loved long novels. If I liked the characters in a book, I would often get a sense of melancholy at the ending no matter how happy it was. Maybe it was because I moved a lot on my elementary school years, and books were my most reliable friends. That gave me a lot more patience for works like It.

In my mid-teens, I began a deep dive into the classics of science-fiction, fantasy and horror, and that involved reading a lot of short stories. A switch flipped in my brain, and I suddenly appreciated brevity. Why read a five volume fantasy saga with the same story stretched out over a thousand pages when I could pick up an anthology and get over a dozen complete stories in my head in a day or two? I also noticed that in many cases where a story was later expanded into a novel, the short story was often the better version.

Needfull Things was after I was done with King. I did come close to picking it up for a Halloween read when I was feeling nostalgic one year.
 

Stevethulhu

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A switch flipped in my brain, and I suddenly appreciated brevity. Why read a five volume fantasy saga with the same story stretched out over a thousand pages when I could pick up an anthology and get over a dozen complete stories in my head in a day or two? I also noticed that in many cases where a story was later expanded into a novel, the short story was often the better version.
The same switch flipped in my brain. I think it's why I prefer 60s and 70s Moorcock, Zelazny, Douglas Adams, Asimov et al to more modern writers who sell their books by the inch. That's not to say there aren't doorstep sized fantasy sagas I haven't enjoyed, but one thing I got from reading GRR Martin was this weird idea. I started to think, a chapter that doesn't move the story forwards was a waste of both my time and the writer's time.

That concept is why I can't go back and reread A Song of Ice and Fire.
 

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I remember reading Vance's The Dying Earth for the first time. On the first page, Turjan sets out on a quest to learn the secret of creating vat creatures from Pandalume. I settle in for the long story of how this happens. Instead, Turjan is back home again in a page or two and moving on to do other cool shit.
 

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CtD 1e is a total (glorious!) mess, just like In Nomine SJG -- which probably speaks to something about me as a GM and player. o_O :oops:

CtD a fascinating mishmash of competing themes which is frankly overwhelming and exhausting, like theater geeks. ;) So I totally get when certain themes I pick up are not picked up by others. Not to say I found the one true way of the text, but there's definitely overlooked playable gems in that dust storm.

Here's a fun 1e tidbit: Science is the most prevalent Attribute (skill) connected to Cantrip Realms than any of the artsy fartsy stuff like Crafts or Performance. It's connected to three specific Realm levels. Science is totally a source of wonder in CtD; hell, the Sidhe came back because of the Moon Landing.

There's this element of fighting back against modern life's numbing effect of too much, too fast. Basically the wonder and inspiration of modern life is not receiving its due appreciation because people are becoming traumatized by the Goth Punk nature of the world. The miraculous is becoming mundane to humanity in an effort to survive the assault. ("Dude, telephones! How do they work?" :confused: "Reach out and touch someone..." :eek: ) It's a surprisingly cool, yet buried, theme of modern connectivity creating dissociation and anomie -- and loopy, symbiotic monsters are there to remind you of its magic.

I like mindfuck shit like that. It's like an excuse to explore Videodrome, Dreamscape, or any dozen of cool movie or literature ideas lying about. And unlike a lot of oWoD you don't have to fight the setting too hard to spin out into some surreal, unsettling vignettes. :smile: It's badwrongfun!
 

opaopajr

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I don't know Changeling at all. Would it cope with Pennywise not actually existing and being a psychic manifestation of something completely different? I'm also not sure how spoilers for a book from 30 years ago should be handled...
That'd just be a nightmarish Chimera (Nocnitsa) messing with the Enchanted protagonists (they see what others seem to be ignoring). The actual creature can easily be either a Chimeric monstrosity with high glamour for banality resistance (creating its own chimera), a previously unknown form of fae, or a known fae of the Unseelie or Shadow Court nature corrupted beyond functional recognition (likely Bedlam). The majority of the special effects would be Chicanery Art, like Fuddle. Mostly unnecessary backwork, but it can be easily ported over surprisingly well.

Don't wanna sell anyone into the extra work that is CtD. Yet if you wanted to know... :grin:
 

opaopajr

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I was more of a A. Machen, Oliver Onions, M.R. James, LeFanu, A. Bierce, Saki (H.H. Munro) short ghost story fan as a child. And that was after I poured over as many ghost story accounts and Fortean Times-esque material in the Non-Fiction section. But all that was in an effort to make sense of the crazy shit I saw and experienced as a child. (Parents, listen to your kids regardless. Like animals, sometimes their senses are keener to things, and either way they'd appreciate a comforting cuddle. :eek:smile:

So in some ways I have an unfair advantage about what it's like to live with the deeply unnerving, sometimes petrifying 'other'. It's what I use to compare fictional stories to someone's encounter story. People who are normally not great storytellers get this weird self-hypnotic state as they relate their trauma in an uncharacteristic captivating manner. Authors, it's an extremely hard state to fake, let alone sustain -- they're too self-aware of their craft? (M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is a good example of captivating, as is Oliver Onions' "The Beckoning Fair One.") I know my limits, but I find mixing a little literary know-how from column A, and some traumatized humanity from column B, gets a fairly usable plaster to hold up a campaign.

Good rule of thumb, the explanable is safe. Horror moves you away from safe. So feel free to enjoy the inexplanable in your games! It drives your puzzle-solver tacticians NUTS! :cool: Mmmm, lingering questions... :eek:
 

Stevethulhu

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The more I think about this, the more I think L5R 1st edition is a decent horror game. Kind of like Warhammer 1st edition, where you think you're playing Katana and Kimonos, but between the body horror/creature feature double whammy of the Shadowlands, the existential Lovecraftian eeriness of Way of Shadow and the dips into Asian mythology, particularly movie mythology, that allows you to dabble with ghosts like those in The Ring and The Grudge with ease, it turns out you're in a very different place from the one you thought you were in.
 

opaopajr

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I will wholeheartedly endorse both L5R 1e Shadowlands books. They are full to the brim of great gameable seeds, especially on the margins.
 

Baulderstone

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I was more of a A. Machen, Oliver Onions, M.R. James, LeFanu, A. Bierce, Saki (H.H. Munro) short ghost story fan as a child. And that was after I poured over as many ghost story accounts and Fortean Times-esque material in the Non-Fiction section. But all that was in an effort to make sense of the crazy shit I saw and experienced as a child. (Parents, listen to your kids regardless. Like animals, sometimes their senses are keener to things, and either way they'd appreciate a comforting cuddle. :eek:smile:

So in some ways I have an unfair advantage about what it's like to live with the deeply unnerving, sometimes petrifying 'other'. It's what I use to compare fictional stories to someone's encounter story. People who are normally not great storytellers get this weird self-hypnotic state as they relate their trauma in an uncharacteristic captivating manner. Authors, it's an extremely hard state to fake, let alone sustain -- they're too self-aware of their craft? (M.R. James' "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is a good example of captivating, as is Oliver Onions' "The Beckoning Fair One.") I know my limits, but I find mixing a little literary know-how from column A, and some traumatized humanity from column B, gets a fairly usable plaster to hold up a campaign.

Good rule of thumb, the explanable is safe. Horror moves you away from safe. So feel free to enjoy the inexplanable in your games! It drives your puzzle-solver tacticians NUTS! :cool: Mmmm, lingering questions... :eek:
I like the definition of a weird tale being one in which things are never truly explained. Aside from the ones you listed, Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows" is a perfect weird tale. This is where most modern horror films go wrong. They always have someone exposit everything about the horror being faced before the final act. It may still be a threat, but it is a completely understood threat, which is a lot less scary.

That brings up an issue that RPGs have in dealing with horror. The instinct is game products is to clearly explain the world to the GM. Call of Cthulhu encourages the GM to make adventures in the spirit of weird tales. At the same time, it has every entity in the Lovecraftian mythos arranged in a taxonomy with clear defined stats. In order to play Call of Cthulhu, you need to go outside what is in the book to get it right. Kenneth Hite took a better approach in Trail of Cthulhu. Every mythos entity is presented as a long list of mostly contradictory explanations. You can pick one to be the definitive truth, or simply have them all be false explanations the players can come upon in play, all of which are too simplistic for what they are really up against.
 

opaopajr

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"The Willows" is amazing. How he sustained that over that many pages is a marvel. And his "Wendigo" is a similar triumph, even with the monsters-hero dialogue towards the end, and the expository Native American mythlore. I can't believe I forgot him... o_O

Yeah, there's definitely an allure to the CoC Creature Compendia that can dangerously defang the whole thing in the wrong hands. Sort of like how so much GM material back in the day said "For GM Eyes Only," it makes sense in retrospect as an adult. That's why I wholly support GMs editing monsters in setting preparation.

The explanable is safe. Familiarity is safe. Safety is a critical origin element for horror. But you can't stay in safety. ;)

edit: and slow down guys! i don't think i'v seen a more productive topic in years. one's tempted to "like" everything just to catch up. :smile:
 

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I suck at horror games. The genre continues to be one of my GM hurdles I've yet to successfully leap.

My horror games tend to start of pretty good. I can build suspense, introduce the mysteries needed to capture the players' attention, and set the tone for the upcoming horrorshow. Then it devolves into this.

This isn't entirely my fault. Guns and explosives might win some of the battles, but they shouldn't be enough to win the war. True horror can't be killed with a bullet to the head. I get that, and I adjust accordingly.

My players adapt. They prepare. It's something like this.

What it comes down to for me is trying to create an atmosphere of genuine fear while accounting for solid, smart, tactical thinking.

Part of the problem is, while I like horror, most of it just isn't scary. I have an entire, nerd-rage level rant about this, which I'll spare you. Instead I'll focus on what I think of as the fundamentals.

Most of you have already covered them, especially Opa.

For me, true horror results from two things: (A) a sense of utter helplessness against a truly malicious actor you can't comprehend, and (B) the corrupting elements said malice has on human beings.

This doesn't need to necessarily be supernatural in nature. To me, the motives of a vampire are a lot more understandable than the motives of some of the more repugnant criminals I've known. And with regard to the interaction between (A) and (B), a good model for this is the interaction on modern American law enforcement and how LEOs interact with professional criminals. There's a back and forth there. One tends to infect the other. Corrupt cops make local crime worse; organized crime corrupts cops. It's not dramatic, or supernatural, but it's just as horrifying to me as anything of a paranormal nature. And the thing is, both of these examples live in fear. Both of them end in tragedy.

Fear. Not understanding. A malice that, no matter how strong you are, you can't contend with. The process of being something safe, good, or human, and devolving into something cruel, malicious, and alien. These are the elements that truly frighten me.

I think V:TM and W:TA got close to this for me, but fell short. Call of Cthulhu does this very, very well. I consider it to be the best of the horror games. Tommyguns and dynamite will only get one so far. Magic's your best tool, but the better you are with it, the more you lose yourself to corruption and madness. If you win a major battle, you usually end up paying for it with your life. That's the best outcome. The others are worse.

It's not that the Universe is indifferent. I find that a comforting thought. It's that it's not indifferent, it's aware of human existence, and it only sees us as food. That's what I love about the Lovecraftian-style genres. God isn't dead. He's a Great Old One who used to have a great PR department, but now he's looking to show humanity his true glory.
 

TristramEvans

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The Faerie book for Ars Magica 2nd edition had the interesting idea of Arcadia being a realm of stories with it's inhabitants playing out those stories over and over. They lured in humans of a creative bent as they could make new stories and break the stasis that Arcadia could slide into
I've always loved this concept, which I'm pretty certain originated with Robert Holdstock, but even has some precedence to an extent in folklore, looking to the story of Arawn in Welsh myth and the Scottish pixy battles that would have to include a human on either side or the same battle would simply be fought over and over with no winner. Its a concept that I've adapted into my own gameworld, where humans are born with a certain amount of Wyrd (Fate), allowing them to alter the course of events and create new ideas. The Fae will steal this for themselves at any opportunity, by bargain ("I'll trade you this magic sword for your childhood memories") or more nefarious means (*cough* Ganconer *cough*). Those humans who have lost all Wyrd are The Doomed (Mortals in my game are divided into The Doomed, The Damned, The Forsaken, and The Lost), stuck living out the same lives caught up in a story not of their creation.

I also took elements from Unknown Armies in this regard, with its excellent Archetype rules and implications.

Speaking of, with those largely unsatisfied with CoC's SAN points system, Unknown Armies provides the best alternative I've ever seen.

I agree there were good ideas in it, and it sounds like you made it genuinely interesting, going with a Machenesque approach to faeries. I had a very different idea on a way to make it interesting, but I never got around to trying it. Like all WoD game, it had the archetypes you could pick to gain willpower, but instead of being personality types, they were more along the line of fairy tale and mythic archetypes. I can't remember the list, but I seem to remember things like Knight, the Trickster the Ogre and so on.
That sounds exactly like what I'm talking about in regards to UA's Archetypes.

I was a little burned out on WoD in general by that time, so I sat on the idea. A year later I got an unsolicited playtest draft of Unknown Armies in the mail. A friend had signed me up for the playtest without telling me. That was a hell of a thing to have just show up at work one day. At point I was truly done with WoD, so my Changeling idea never got used.
Ah, which you're already familiar with. LOL, I really should read through these posts in entirety before I start responding to them. ;)


I still periodically re-read his short stories and they always hold up. When I was a kid, I really loved long novels. If I liked the characters in a book, I would often get a sense of melancholy at the ending no matter how happy it was. Maybe it was because I moved a lot on my elementary school years, and books were my most reliable friends. That gave me a lot more patience for works like It.


I know exactly what you mean. There's still a little piece of heartbreak for me that I'll never be able to return to Prydain.

In my mid-teens, I began a deep dive into the classics of science-fiction, fantasy and horror, and that involved reading a lot of short stories. A switch flipped in my brain, and I suddenly appreciated brevity. Why read a five volume fantasy saga with the same story stretched out over a thousand pages when I could pick up an anthology and get over a dozen complete stories in my head in a day or two? I also noticed that in many cases where a story was later expanded into a novel, the short story was often the better version.
I don't think I was ever entirely one way or the other, I consider it the difference between going out on the town for a night and going on a big trip for vacation, if that makes any sense as an analogy.

Needfull Things was after I was done with King. I did come close to picking it up for a Halloween read when I was feeling nostalgic one year.
That reminds me, its worth noting there was a point that I was done with Barker as well. In the 90s, when he'd abandoned horror for his fantasy epics I tried getting into one of them. I think Imajika? The problem was, Barker's characers tend to be just generally miserable, horrible people. Which works fin for horror, but I find its a slog in any other situation. I know people tend to describe that as "realistic", but as exceptionally cynical as I am, call me an optimist but I don't think there's anything less "realistic" about a character who isnt a complete selfish, myopic waste of flesh purely motivated by greed and lust. Anyways, it made the reading somewhat of a chore in that I had no character to really care about. And then, a ways in, I had a great moment of relief when he introduced a character who was actually likeable, a nerdy young girl. Finally a protagonist I didnt mind following along with!

And then, like a chapter or two later, he had her raped and killed by a monster. I actually threw the book in the trash, with a "fuck you, Barker". And, that was the last Barker I read until The Scarlet Gospels. Which deserves its own epic rant, too large to go into here.
 

TristramEvans

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I like the definition of a weird tale being one in which things are never truly explained. Aside from the ones you listed, Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows" is a perfect weird tale. This is where most modern horror films go wrong. They always have someone exposit everything about the horror being faced before the final act. It may still be a threat, but it is a completely understood threat, which is a lot less scary.

That brings up an issue that RPGs have in dealing with horror. The instinct is game products is to clearly explain the world to the GM. Call of Cthulhu encourages the GM to make adventures in the spirit of weird tales. At the same time, it has every entity in the Lovecraftian mythos arranged in a taxonomy with clear defined stats. In order to play Call of Cthulhu, you need to go outside what is in the book to get it right. Kenneth Hite took a better approach in Trail of Cthulhu. Every mythos entity is presented as a long list of mostly contradictory explanations. You can pick one to be the definitive truth, or simply have them all be false explanations the players can come upon in play, all of which are too simplistic for what they are really up against.

Yeah, there's a reason that in the many years I've been running Call of Cthulhu scenarios, I've only actually used an "official" Mythos creature twice in my games. Also the reason I think that while Lovecraft gets all the credit for CoC, the game owes much more to August Derleth, the guy who tried to create a Mythos taxonomy and divided up all the otherworldly creatures into categories based on the four elements (I've got a strong love-hate for Derleth; on the one hand he kept Lovecraft's works alive and available, on the other his own personal contributions to the Mythos were the equivalent of the Prequels to the Original Trilogy).
 

TristramEvans

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I suck at horror games. The genre continues to be one of my GM hurdles I've yet to successfully leap.

My horror games tend to start of pretty good. I can build suspense, introduce the mysteries needed to capture the players' attention, and set the tone for the upcoming horrorshow. Then it devolves into this.

This isn't entirely my fault. Guns and explosives might win some of the battles, but they shouldn't be enough to win the war. True horror can't be killed with a bullet to the head. I get that, and I adjust accordingly.

My players adapt. They prepare. It's something like this.
Why not ditch monsters entirely and see how your players deal with a sentient disease?
 

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I can't do horror. Mostly because my idea of horror and others' idea of horror are two entirely different things.

I mean, sure monsters and brain-sucking aliens are scary. But being locked in a room with a naked Richard Simmons sweating to the oldies? That's terrifying.
 

Baulderstone

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That reminds me, its worth noting there was a point that I was done with Barker as well. In the 90s, when he'd abandoned horror for his fantasy epics I tried getting into one of them. I think Imajika? The problem was, Barker's characers tend to be just generally miserable, horrible people. Which works fin for horror, but I find its a slog in any other situation. I know people tend to describe that as "realistic", but as exceptionally cynical as I am, call me an optimist but I don't think there's anything less "realistic" about a character who isnt a complete selfish, myopic waste of flesh purely motivated by greed and lust. Anyways, it made the reading somewhat of a chore in that I had no character to really care about. And then, a ways in, I had a great moment of relief when he introduced a character who was actually likeable, a nerdy young girl. Finally a protagonist I didnt mind following along with!

And then, like a chapter or two later, he had her raped and killed by a monster. I actually threw the book in the trash, with a "fuck you, Barker". And, that was the last Barker I read until The Scarlet Gospels. Which deserves its own epic rant, too large to go into here.
Imajica was the last Barker book that I actually enjoyed, but I agree that that the main character was kind of a miserable dick. Everville, his next book which was a sequel to The Great and Secret Show was where I stopped. It was aimless and didn't feel like a properly planned continuation of the previous book. It was supposedly the second part of a trilogy, although the third never came out. It was notable that Barker went in a completely different direction after it. I think he realized he was just going in circles at that point. I remember an interview from him a couple of years later where he said he wasn't the guy who wrote The Books of Blood anymore, so there was no point in trying.

My favorite of his "fantasy epics" was Weaveworld. The main characters are actually sympathetic in that one and it had the most solid plot of his novels. It's been over 25 years since I read it though, so I can't be sure I can stand behind my recommendation of it.

I stayed well away from The Scarlet Gospels. I couldn't see anything good coming out of that.
 

opaopajr

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I can't do horror. Mostly because my idea of horror and others' idea of horror are two entirely different things.

I mean, sure monsters and brain-sucking aliens are scary. But being locked in a room with a naked Richard Simmons sweating to the oldies? That's terrifying.
:smile: Changeling the Dreaming can run that. o_O:eek:

In fact, I'll glad be a victim, er, I mean player! in your demented Funhouse! ;):confused:

(just fucking around, guys. no fae needed, let alone naked Richard Simmons.)
 

TristramEvans

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I stayed well away from The Scarlet Gospels. I couldn't see anything good coming out of that.
I was, naively, very excited for this. Whatever my misgvings regarding Barker's other work, I've always enjoyed his contributions to the Hellraiser mythos, both his contributions to the original Epic comic series, his writing for Boom! comics Hellraiser follow-ups, even the short stories he wrote for Mcfarlane Toys's tortured souls, the "not-Hellraiser" figure line they did because they couldnt secure the rights. The book of Hellraiser short stories, Hellbound Hearts, was one of my favourite horror short story collections of the last two decades. As much as the film series descended into unwatchable trash, the supplementary material maintained my love for Hellraiser in general. And so, when The Scarlet Gospels was announced, I was pretty excited. Its one of the very few books I've ever reserved a copy of before release. To top it off, that it was a crossover with Barker's Harry D'Amour character seemed like a recipe for an epic conclusion to the series.

I can't remember ever being more disappointed by a book. It was absolute trash. I still cant wrap my head around this being the same author, it was so badly written, ill-conceived, and amateurish. I've read better fanfiction. If someone told me tomorrow that Barker had passed it off to a ghost writer, I'd totally believe it, because there is nothing of him in that book. It had nothing to do with Hellraiser, it wasnt a sequel to the original novelette, it had nothing to do with the mythos expanded on by the films or the comics, it abandoned everything for a cliched judeo-christian world complete with "Pinhead" (who acts nothing like he acted in any of the films or she acted in the first novel) meeting up with a Miltonian Lucifer. Harry D'Amour is equally ill-treated , reduced to a Hollywood b-movie cliche faux-noir detective. I can't emphasize how horrible it was. Fuck that book. Fuck the complete lack of care, talent, or originality that went into it.
 

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Why read a five volume fantasy saga with the same story stretched out over a thousand pages when I could pick up an anthology and get over a dozen complete stories in my head in a day or two? I also noticed that in many cases where a story was later expanded into a novel, the short story was often the better version.
Very true. Not always, but very often.
 

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The more I think about this, the more I think L5R 1st edition is a decent horror game.
Hell yeah!

L5R1e does weird Asian flavored horror extremely well. PCs are glass cannons, magic is ubiquitous, but still strange and its effects aren't set in stone. Spirits are everywhere and they're not human and they have inhuman agendas. Oh, and there are rat people samurai fighting off bakemono in the shadows so human society can continue ignoring the fact the naga are awakening.
 

Spinachcat

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The explanable is safe. Familiarity is safe. Safety is a critical origin element for horror. But you can't stay in safety. ;)
Absolutely. If monsters become known stat blocks, they are useless for horror.

A fun exercise is to swap the powers/background/details of one monster with the picture of another.

AKA, an easy OD&D swap is Giant Spider and Ghoul. Now you have a fast-moving, wall-climbing, web shooting ghoul who bites with deadly poison and your giant spider gets 3 attacks a round with paralysis poison.

As for Lovecraft, I highly suggest going back to the original text. The Chaosium version is one interpretation of the description, and you can easily imagine another.
 

Stevethulhu

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Hell yeah!

L5R1e does weird Asian flavored horror extremely well. PCs are glass cannons, magic is ubiquitous, but still strange and its effects aren't set in stone. Spirits are everywhere and they're not human and they have inhuman agendas. Oh, and there are rat people samurai fighting off bakemono in the shadows so human society can continue ignoring the fact the naga are awakening.
I'm starting to think it does Asian flavoured horror better than it does Asian flavoured anything else. At least 1st edition. Later releases of the game became a snake, forever eating it's own tail and drawing inspiration only from itself.
 

Baulderstone

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I'm starting to think it does Asian flavoured horror better than it does Asian flavoured anything else. At least 1st edition. Later releases of the game became a snake, forever eating it's own tail and drawing inspiration only from itself.
I can see that. When I played the CCG, I usually played Crab Clan. Making a deck based on fighting evil by trying to use its tools against it was always entertaining in its potential for doom.
 

Necrozius

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Success stories:

I ran two game sessions in which I genuinely creeped out the players. I know this because they told me months or years later (on their own volition; I didn't ask them if I ever succeeded at disturbing them).

Interestingly, both were "Haunted House" exploratory dungeons.

The first was Dark Heresy. It was a smaller party, exploring a derelict spacecraft. Besides many creepy Thing-like abominations, there was a persistent monster that followed them around. It didn't do anything, just approached them slowly, reaching out, breathing heavily with a featureless, grey face. They shot it, burned it and blew it up and it just kept on re-appearing. When it finally showed it's true colors, it leapt across the room, its face opening into a maw of hundreds of spiny teeth and chewed on a PCs shoulder. The session ended with a retreat and a pinned NPC sawing her own legs off with a chainsword so that they could escape.

The other was WFRP 2nd ed. Super cliché setting: a sanitarium overrun with chaos stuff reminiscent of Silent Hill (fleshy walls, doors that are grotesque orifices, warped human monsters representing Deadly Sins and human torments. It was weird and gross and they all still shudder at the memory of it. My favorite: a room full of papers and scrolls (like, knee-high piles of paper) with a shark-like humanoid "swimming" around in it: it was covered in thousands of papercuts and its blood was black ink (permanent stains on PC clothing and weapons).

This is not to gloat but to point out that maybe there's a pattern: "Spook House" modules with obvious limits might be some ingredients for success.
 

Baulderstone

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I was, naively, very excited for this. Whatever my misgvings regarding Barker's other work, I've always enjoyed his contributions to the Hellraiser mythos, both his contributions to the original Epic comic series, his writing for Boom! comics Hellraiser follow-ups, even the short stories he wrote for Mcfarlane Toys's tortured souls, the "not-Hellraiser" figure line they did because they couldnt secure the rights. The book of Hellraiser short stories, Hellbound Hearts, was one of my favourite horror short story collections of the last two decades. As much as the film series descended into unwatchable trash, the supplementary material maintained my love for Hellraiser in general. And so, when The Scarlet Gospels was announced, I was pretty excited. Its one of the very few books I've ever reserved a copy of before release. To top it off, that it was a crossover with Barker's Harry D'Amour character seemed like a recipe for an epic conclusion to the series.

I can't remember ever being more disappointed by a book. It was absolute trash. I still cant wrap my head around this being the same author, it was so badly written, ill-conceived, and amateurish. I've read better fanfiction. If someone told me tomorrow that Barker had passed it off to a ghost writer, I'd totally believe it, because there is nothing of him in that book. It had nothing to do with Hellraiser, it wasnt a sequel to the original novelette, it had nothing to do with the mythos expanded on by the films or the comics, it abandoned everything for a cliched judeo-christian world complete with "Pinhead" (who acts nothing like he acted in any of the films or she acted in the first novel) meeting up with a Miltonian Lucifer. Harry D'Amour is equally ill-treated , reduced to a Hollywood b-movie cliche faux-noir detective. I can't emphasize how horrible it was. Fuck that book. Fuck the complete lack of care, talent, or originality that went into it.
I think the difference was that you stopped at Imajica and I had pushed on to Everville. I'd already read one floundering Barker novel with an appearance by Harry D'Amour. It sounds like Everville might have been better in comparison though. It still had some of Barker's gift for imagery. It just was the Barker equivalent of an empty special effects movie, and being the middle part of an unfinished trilogy, it has no real beginning or end. It wasn't terrible, just disappointing.

Success stories:

I ran two game sessions in which I genuinely creeped out the players. I know this because they told me months or years later (on their own volition; I didn't ask them if I ever succeeded at disturbing them).

Interestingly, both were "Haunted House" exploratory dungeons.

The first was Dark Heresy. It was a smaller party, exploring a derelict spacecraft. Besides many creepy Thing-like abominations, there was a persistent monster that followed them around. It didn't do anything, just approached them slowly, reaching out, breathing heavily with a featureless, grey face. They shot it, burned it and blew it up and it just kept on re-appearing. When it finally showed it's true colors, it leapt across the room, its face opening into a maw of hundreds of spiny teeth and chewed on a PCs shoulder. The session ended with a retreat and a pinned NPC sawing her own legs off with a chainsword so that they could escape.

The other was WFRP 2nd ed. Super cliché setting: a sanitarium overrun with chaos stuff reminiscent of Silent Hill (fleshy walls, doors that are grotesque orifices, warped human monsters representing Deadly Sins and human torments. It was weird and gross and they all still shudder at the memory of it. My favorite: a room full of papers and scrolls (like, knee-high piles of paper) with a shark-like humanoid "swimming" around in it: it was covered in thousands of papercuts and its blood was black ink (permanent stains on PC clothing and weapons).

This is not to gloat but to point out that maybe there's a pattern: "Spook House" modules with obvious limits might be some ingredients for success.
 

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I can't do horror. Mostly because my idea of horror and others' idea of horror are two entirely different things.

I mean, sure monsters and brain-sucking aliens are scary. But being locked in a room with a naked Richard Simmons sweating to the oldies? That's terrifying.
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with that dream...erm...I mean, nightmare. :grin:
 

noman

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My experience with Barker is similar to what others have written here. I like him more than King, and the poor quality of some of his books notwithstanding, I do find much of his imagery and themes disturbing (but not frightening).

I've found it very hard to find useful source materiel from which I can model my own games.
 

Doc Sammy

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I might do a solo survival horror OD&D campaign very soon. Hopefully it will help flex my GM muscles in general, and more specifically help improve my skills as a survival horror GM.

Mind if I post the campaign logs here once it gets going?
 

Spinachcat

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Interestingly, both were "Haunted House" exploratory dungeons.
Haunted House / Dungeon / Space Hulk is a fabulous framework.

The session ended with a retreat and a pinned NPC sawing her own legs off with a chainsword so that they could escape.
Damn!

My favorite: a room full of papers and scrolls (like, knee-high piles of paper) with a shark-like humanoid "swimming" around in it: it was covered in thousands of papercuts and its blood was black ink (permanent stains on PC clothing and weapons).
I'm gonna steal that!! That's an awesome visual!
 

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I always kinda think that expecting horror isn't experiencing horror. Horror is the unexplained, the unexpected and the inneffible. It is fear, loathing, and possibly Las Vegas. It's the unheard, the unseen, and the undead. It's the invasion or warping or metamorphosis of mind, body, and soul. It's the stray thoughts you didn't know you were capable of having, the fickle finger of fate that cares nothing for love and life, the never-ending cacaphony of modern life, the never-ending drudgery of ancient life, and the ultimate knowledge that we are not immortal.

Game mechanics just don't cut it for me and never have. Walk into a game expecting horror and all you'll really get is the hollow echo of it.

Like comedy or satirical games, it's hard to pull off and depends greatly on the right alignment of time/people/events and/or mood to get right. Then that alignment might never happen again...at least until the stars are right.

Horror in gaming for me is the bits we put into the gaps left by the cold scientific data of the game mechanics. As such, my ultimate thought is that any game system is ripe for horror gaming and that no horror game designed for the genre is important in creating a horrific game.
 

CRKrueger

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I always kinda think that expecting horror isn't experiencing horror. Horror is the unexplained, the unexpected and the inneffible. It is fear, loathing, and possibly Las Vegas. It's the unheard, the unseen, and the undead. It's the invasion or warping or metamorphosis of mind, body, and soul. It's the stray thoughts you didn't know you were capable of having, the fickle finger of fate that cares nothing for love and life, the never-ending cacaphony of modern life, the never-ending drudgery of ancient life, and the ultimate knowledge that we are not immortal.

Game mechanics just don't cut it for me and never have. Walk into a game expecting horror and all you'll really get is the hollow echo of it.

Like comedy or satirical games, it's hard to pull off and depends greatly on the right alignment of time/people/events and/or mood to get right. Then that alignment might never happen again...at least until the stars are right.

Horror in gaming for me is the bits we put into the gaps left by the cold scientific data of the game mechanics. As such, my ultimate thought is that any game system is ripe for horror gaming and that no horror game designed for the genre is important in creating a horrific game.
Bravo!
 

Johnny Blade

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Actually Scaring your players in a Horror RPG

Did You ever manage it? I did a couple of times but beyond realizing that atmosphere and suggestion are everything, I can't articulate exactly how I did it and I'm not confident I could do it again reliably.
One time It was litteraly a mix between my descriptions and the fact that, outside, rain was downpouring like crazy. Thunders, bolts, and the sounds of the "forest" (I was still in Italy at the time; I lived with my parents and our house was out of hand, next to the woods but not that far from the city -Italy is VERY urbanized- We used to meet boars and deers all the time) plus my description of the unsavory remains of cultic activity made the perfect mix.
Later I Joked We should have played that campaign only when it rained.
 
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Shipyard Locked

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Johnny Blade said:
Actually Scaring your players in a Horror RPG
Ran Ravenloft for a few years and never pulled it off. The players expected 'horror' because of the setting, and thus were braced against it.

Ran some bog-standard vanilla D&D one time and had a random encounter with a troll stalking them through a dense jungle that they talked about for years afterward as the scariest tabletop experience they'd ever had. I wasn't even trying to get that reaction! I've never managed to repeat it either. Whatever.
 

Johnny Blade

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It's freaking hard and never works when It's supposed to.
I think it works better with oneshots. I've had this one in wich I was a player, We were astronauts exploring ruins under the famous "face" on mars. The place was empty except for us and I suppose it was some kind of ghost? Perhaps it was just hallucinations due to Carbon monoxide poisoning. It was haunting.
But then We had a follow up session and the magic wasn't there anymore.
I later discovered the gm browsed /tg/ and took inspiration from a post in there.
 

Ronin

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Atmosphere, and description helps a bunch in my opinion. For example dont say a werewolf jumps out of the bushes. But say something like, "a great shaggy beast slowly emerges form the foliage. Its fur slicked with gore, dragging a ragdoll corse from its jagged snout."
Build up tension, don't let the players know what to expect or when.
 
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