Horror RPGs

David Johansen

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Of a necessity, immersion is always incumbent upon the players. A good GM helps but if the players won't buy in, the GM is hard pressed to achieve whatever effect they are going for. Roleplaying games are largely a consensual activity. I'm sure we've all had the experience of the disruptive player who didn't want to be there and no amount of catering to their demands ever made anything better.
 

Lessa

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Does horror need that player character death be always on the table?

I'm tuning an upcoming horror campaign to be an horror drama kind of thing. The idea is doing it considerably less lethal, so we have more chance to see and play PCs' mental and social deterioration and how those can drive play. Death would still be in the table, of course, but hopefully less frequent.

I always found death the least interesting of failures in RPGs. Could the prospect of character change, be it physical (maimed, scarred, handicapped) or otherwise (mentally altered or traumatized), or of losing things valuable to him (like people, status or ideals) be as effective in this case?

Can this work?
 
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Lessa

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Thinking more about it..Imagine there's this dial in place.

To one side of the dial it's drama. Drama needs that lethality be low otherwise you can't develop the PCs, their personal arcs and relationships.

To the other side there's terror/horror which I suspect depends on lethality to some degree, otherwise you can't evoke feelings like dread or fearful anticipation that are associated with it.

Finding a balance here seems the key, in a way to not dilute these contrary aspects too much. Except if there's a way to reconcile them?
 

PolarBlues

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I'm not necessarily a horror gaming expert, but in my experience the "oh dear, my character is going to die now" is no more a factor in horror than it is cyberpunk or Pendragon. Sure, it can add an edge to the moment and make victories all that sweeter, but nothing about that is specific to horror.

Personally I've found the key driving factors for horror seem to be:

1. It's an aesthetic thing. Some players in horror games don't really expect to feel afraid but they enjoy horror creepy, unsettling atmosphere.It makes some people say "Cool" in the say pew-pew lasers , lost cities, piles of treasure go for others.

2. Horror games are often sought players who more interested in social interaction and playing in civilised settings. The horror the necessary adventure hook for someone who really just wants to play an Oxford professor or a Edwardian butler.
 

Fenris-77

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If by 'on the table' you mean at least somewhat possible, then yeah, it does, but I'd say the same thing about most RPGs. Dying isnt horrific though, although dying horrifically might be, but only briefly.
 

CRKrueger

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Death isn’t meant to be interesting. That’s why it’s a penalty, not a reward. Interesting without Death means, yeah the character obviously doesn’t like the things happening to them, but the player is psyched because now comes the Drama, the Tragedy, the Coping, the Revenge, all the OOC meta concerns to propel the narrative, just like nearly every author does to their characters.

If you’re talking about some form of Storygame or Narrative RPG where the question is psychological (Has the PC gone to Hell? Are they crazy? Are they in the Matrix? Are they the victim of someone in like the movie Gaslight?) then there doesn’t need to be Death as a result of what’s occurring, but taking it off the table completely means that something that should be possible for the PC to do or have happen to them can’t happen. As is being discussed in the other thread, at that point you’re leaving RPG territory.
 

PolarBlues

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Not sure what is going on here. I didn't start this thread. The original post all other responses have vanished leaving my orphanef reponse hanging in mid air.
 

Lessa

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Weird. I started the thread to discuss this point that diverged out of the "Is horror GM-driven?" thread. But apparently it vanished? :shock:

Anyway, here is the OP:

Silva said:
Does horror need that player character death be always on the table?

I'm tuning an upcoming horror campaign to be an horror drama kind of thing. The idea is doing it considerably less lethal, so we have more chance to see and play PCs' mental and social deterioration and how those can drive play. Death would still be in the table, of course, but hopefully less frequent.

I always found death the least interesting of failures in RPGs. Could the prospect of character change, be it physical (maimed, scarred, handicapped) or otherwise (mentally altered or traumatized), or of losing things valuable to him (like people, status or ideals) be as effective in this case?

Can this work?
 

Lessa

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I started a new thread to talk about the "Horror Drama" tangent, as it's a new point and diverges from the "Is horror GM-driven" focus of this one.

Please, let's discuss it there. :thumbsup:
 
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Lessa

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Thinking more about it..Imagine there's this dial in place.

To one side of the dial it's drama. Drama needs that lethality be low otherwise you can't develop the PCs, their personal arcs and relationships.

To the other side there's terror/horror which I suspect depends on lethality to some degree, otherwise you can't evoke feelings like dread or fearful anticipation that are associated with it.

Finding a balance here seems the key, in a way to not dilute these contrary aspects too much. Except if there's a way to reconcile them?
 

Lessa

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Posting the previous Krueger answer...

CRKrueger said:
Death isn’t meant to be interesting. That’s why it’s a penalty, not a reward. Interesting without Death means, yeah the character obviously doesn’t like the things happening to them, but the player is psyched because now comes the Drama, the Tragedy, the Coping, the Revenge, all the OOC meta concerns to propel the narrative, just like nearly every author does to their characters.

If you’re talking about some form of Storygame or Narrative RPG where the question is psychological (Has the PC gone to Hell? Are they crazy? Are they in the Matrix? Are they the victim of someone in like the movie Gaslight?) then there doesn’t need to be Death as a result of what’s occurring, but taking it off the table completely means that something that should be possible for the PC to do or have happen to them can’t happen. As is being discussed in the other thread, at that point you’re leaving RPG territory.
 

Lessa

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I'm not necessarily a horror gaming expert, but in my experience the "oh dear, my character is going to die now" is no more a factor in horror than it is cyberpunk or Pendragon. Sure, it can add an edge to the moment and make victories all that sweeter, but nothing about that is specific to horror.

Personally I've found the key driving factors for horror seem to be:

1. It's an aesthetic thing. Some players in horror games don't really expect to feel afraid but they enjoy horror creepy, unsettling atmosphere.It makes some people say "Cool" in the say pew-pew lasers , lost cities, piles of treasure go for others.

2. Horror games are often sought players who more interested in social interaction and playing in civilised settings. The horror the necessary adventure hook for someone who really just wants to play an Oxford professor or a Edwardian butler.
This is a good point, actually. That horror/terror can be an aesthetic thing and more related to the buildup of a strong and unsetllting atmosphere. I agree.

But where does PC death enters in this equation? Do you think it's a requirement in some way to mantain that atmosphere?
 

PolarBlues

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It say the risk of character death is not an essential ingrediant, it all about context. If the PC are investigators or exocrcists like in The Entity or Poltergiest (I am sure there are more recent examples) them they can still fail without the PCs being injured but resulting in the NPCs they were trying to help dead, damned or insane. If the player characters are horny campers at Crystal Lake or shopper in Dawn of the Dead, then you'd think PC death would very much be on the table.
 

Lessa

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It say the risk of character death is not an essential ingrediant, it all about context. If the PC are investigators or exocrcists like in The Entity or Poltergiest (I am sure there are more recent examples) them they can still fail without the PCs being injured but resulting in the NPCs they were trying to help dead, damned or insane. If the player characters are horny campers at Crystal Lake or shopper in Dawn of the Dead, then you'd think PC death would very much be on the table.
Makes sense.

I imagine this kind of 'horror drama" I'm aiming for would work like in Kult (more or less), where the game is obviously about terror/horror, and the dangers that result, but at the same time there's an expectation that the characters will live long enough for the group to appreciate their physical and mental and spiritual voyage toward the "truth".
 

Voros

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An interesting question, a lot of classic horror is as much about madness as it is death, although I think one could argue that the fear of madness is the fear of a loss or death of the self.

In literature and particularly film this fear of madness has been most often featured by a woman protagonist. That is because of the relationship between the woman protagonist and the gothic that I think this trope grows out of.

Examples include Let's Scare Jessica to Death, Images, The Haunting of Julia, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, a lot of giallos and many more films. It is such a common horror trope that Kier-La Janisse wrote a whole, excellent book on the subgenre House of Psychotic Women.

That's not to say there aren't films and stories about men going insane, Polanski's The Tenant and The Shining come to mind.

There's a fair bit of overlap here with the ghost story and haunted house trope.

So I would suggest that it would be possible if one shifted the game from fear of death outright to fear of losing one's mind.

A related and mostly more modern horror trope is body horror, which is closely related in its fear of a loss of control and loss of self. So many examples of course but early Cronenberg is the exemplar with Shivers and Rabid.

So ultimately I'd say almost all horror is still about a fear of death but the manner in which that fear can be manifested doesn't necessarily have to be outright death.
 

TristramEvans

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Let's keep it to one tthread on the topic at a time, please.
 

Lessa

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Let's keep it to one tthread on the topic at a time, please.
It's a different topic though. "GM-driven horror" vs "Horror drama". That's why I created a new one. It's make it easier to search the threads later.
 

Baulderstone

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@silva You want @Apparition to help you with that. He's the tech guy on staff. Something funny is going on here. I tried to reply to you and it came out blank. I tried quoting you as well, and that was blank as well, which is why I had to resort to just @ing you.

As an experiment, I just tried quoting Krueger's last post, and that worked fine. I'm not sure what is going on.
 

Lessa

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@silva You want @Apparition to help you with that. He's the tech guy on staff. Something funny is going on here. I tried to reply to you and it came out blank. I tried quoting you as well, and that was blank as well, which is why I had to resort to just @ing you.

As an experiment, I just tried quoting Krueger's last post, and that worked fine. I'm not sure what is going on.
Thanks. I see @TristramEvans apparently did it though.

I thought having another thread was a good idea as the topics are pretty differently (IMO). But if you guys think it's better having everything together in the same thread, cool too. We can continue here. :thumbsup:
 

TristramEvans

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It's a different topic though. "GM-driven horror" vs "Horror drama". That's why I created a new one. It's make it easier to search the threads later.
It's much easier to keep track of though if we hve a single horror thread, especially when a thread has only reached a page and half in length, as it is we have threads going to page 3 on the forums within the sme day they are created, so we want every topic to get a good amount of visibility. You cn feell free to ask any question or refocus the topic at any time and participants of the original thread will get notifications and ideas can be bounced off of and expanded upon.
 

TristramEvans

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@silva You want @Apparition to help you with that. He's the tech guy on staff. Something funny is going on here. I tried to reply to you and it came out blank. I tried quoting you as well, and that was blank as well, which is why I had to resort to just @ing you.

As an experiment, I just tried quoting Krueger's last post, and that worked fine. I'm not sure what is going on.

No it's me, I combined the threads.
 

TristramEvans

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In answer to the question, no ...fear at least (as opposed to horror) doesn't need to involve death. All it requires it players to care about their characters and have something to lose.

Consider the fear caused in classic D&D by the Rust Monster, when a party carries treasured magic weapons/armour.

body horror, torture, loss of loved ones, slavery, losing one's mental faculties, etc all are potent sources of horror that don't involve death - death if anything, is seen as a release.

However, torturing your players (characters) is something you're going to really want to vet with your gamegroup first as it can be very upsetting and not everyone is mature enough to handle it, or would even enjoy it in a game.

There's also simply keeping death off the table, but not letting your players know that. Since its the fear of death that is the root cause of most horror anyways.
 

TristramEvans

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An interesting question, a lot of classic horror is as much about madness as it is death, although I think one could argue that the fear of madness is the fear of a loss or death of the self.

In literature and particularly film this fear of madness has been most often featured by a woman protagonist. That is because of the relationship between the woman protagonist and the gothic that I think this trope grows out of.

Examples include Let's Scare Jessica to Death, Images, The Haunting of Julia, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, a lot of giallos and many more films. It is such a common horror trope that Kier-La Janisse wrote a whole, excellent book on the subgenre House of Psychotic Women.

That's not to say there aren't films and stories about men going insane, Polanski's The Tenant and The Shining come to mind.

There's a fair bit of overlap here with the ghost story and haunted house trope.

So I would suggest that it would be possible if one shifted the game from fear of death outright to fear of losing one's mind.

A related and mostly more modern horror trope is body horror, which is closely related in its fear of a loss of control and loss of self. So many examples of course but early Cronenberg is the exemplar with Shivers and Rabid.

So ultimately I'd say almost all horror is still about a fear of death but the manner in which that fear can be manifested doesn't necessarily have to be outright death.

Yeah, I think your response is more elaborate and better put than the same thought I had. There's lots of things we fear in life that don't involve death. Insanity and body horror both reflect, ultimately, I think, the loss of control. The issue when it comes to RPGs dealing with loss of control issues however is walking that fine line between fear and frustration, as players already often feel a loss of control from real life,, as they are essentially dependant on the GM for their senses - what they see, hear, feel (tactallyy), etc. Pushing this can easily lead to the player disengaging or breaking immersion as a defense mechanism, as opposed to willingly staying in the moment and experiencing the horror.
 

Paragon

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Of a necessity, immersion is always incumbent upon the players. A good GM helps but if the players won't buy in, the GM is hard pressed to achieve whatever effect they are going for. Roleplaying games are largely a consensual activity. I'm sure we've all had the experience of the disruptive player who didn't want to be there and no amount of catering to their demands ever made anything better.
Horror is just particularly hard, because even if you've got a whole group who has buy-in (and that's anything but a given even when they're all trying), people's sense of what works in horror can vary considerably, and what will work for one will lay like a dead fish for others).
 

David Johansen

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Horror is just particularly hard, because even if you've got a whole group who has buy-in (and that's anything but a given even when they're all trying), people's sense of what works in horror can vary considerably, and what will work for one will lay like a dead fish for others).
Character death needs to be used sparingly because there's nothing like fear of death to activate tactical dungeon mode in players.

True enough, for some the fear of helplessness is the pure stuff, for others it's just annoying and dull. I think supernatural horror has lost a lot of its edge in this rational age, hence the popularity of slasher flicks.

Character death needs to be used sparingly because there's nothing like fear of death to activate tactical dungeon mode in players and nothing kills atmosphere like reducing everything to stats and rules lawyering.
 

Lessa

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I liked the "lose of self" as @Voros put it, and @TristramEvans extended, which can mean sanity as much as body parts or friends or stuff the character cares for.

A question building on this (for you two and everybody else):

Would you enjoy a terror/horror game that was upfront low on lethality but big on stuff to lose? Would you think this could be as fun as, say, a good CoC game? Or do you think that in practice, while also a terror/horror game, this is a different thing for a different crowd?

Thoughts?
 

TristramEvans

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Honestly, I have a hard time seeing that as something that can be accomplished via a system - you have to make the player's themselves care about what they are going to lose. The requirements to create that situation don't, to my mind, translate into rules. If anything having that upfront seems to me like it would largely prevent player engagement - if they know a game is about losing one's sanity, it's going to be very hard to get them to enter the game caringmuch about their sanity...
 

TristramEvans

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OTOH, the opposite works much better I think - as with the RPG INSYLUM ....where you start the game already having lost your memory and sanity and trying to slowly gain it back. This makes the accumulation of memories and an understanding of the world as it comes up in play much more precious to players.
 

Lessa

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That's a very cool idea. Tell us more about this INSYLUM!

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing that as something that can be accomplished via a system - you have to make the player's themselves care about what they are going to lose. The requirements to create that situation don't, to my mind, translate into rules. If anything having that upfront seems to me like it would largely prevent player engagement - if they know a game is about losing one's sanity, it's going to be very hard to get them to enter the game caringmuch about their sanity...
How so? Isn't that part of the appeal of CoC/DG/etc, knowing the game is about the lose of self in some degree and buying-in on that premise?

Also, system here doesn't need to mean actual mechanics. I like @ffilz favorite definition that says "a system is whatever the group agrees to abide", so consider the low-lethality thing as a gentleman's agreement that everybody chooses to follow, if you wish. Do you think it could dilute the terror/horror experience?
 

TristramEvans

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That's a very cool idea. Tell us more about this INSYLUM!
It's free online

How so? Isn't that part of the appeal of CoC/DG/etc, knowing the game is about the lose of self in some degree and buying-in on that premise?
Not anymore than D&D is about losing hit points. Call of Cthulhu doesn't assume the players are going to lose.

Also, system here doesn't need to mean actual mechanics. I like @ffilz favorite definition that says "a system is whatever the group agrees to abide", so consider the low-lethality thing as a gentleman's agreement that everybody chooses to follow, if you wish. Do you think it could dilute the terror/horror experience?
A game designer is incapable of transmitting any form of system that isn't actual mechanics, except in the way of "advice" (even if it's ridiculously phrased as a demand)
 

Lessa

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Not anymore than D&D is about losing hit points. Call of Cthulhu doesn't assume the players are going to lose.
Huh, part of the appeal of CoC/Kult/UA/etc for me and my group is seeing (and playing) our PCs selves disintegrating. So I think we'll disagree here.
 

Lessa

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Character death needs to be used sparingly because there's nothing like fear of death to activate tactical dungeon mode in players and nothing kills atmosphere like reducing everything to stats and rules lawyering.
Interesting take. Makes sense. Thanks.
 

TristramEvans

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Huh, part of the appeal of CoC/Kult/UA/etc for me and my group is seeing (and playing) our PCs selves disintegrating. So I think we'll disagree here.
I'm not arguing that you can't find that appealing, but whether that's what you enjoy using the game for, that's not what the game is about, as written.

Just as you could get enjoyment watching your characters "disintegrate" in D&D too. But compare that to a game like The Farm or The Tower, where misery/harm to the characters is the point of the game.
 

Lessa

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not arguing that you can't find that appealing, but whether that's what you enjoy using the game for, that's not what the game is about, as written.
Well, I would argue that any game that tracks characters descent into mental or social breakdown is about those things to some degree. And some games will focus on this aspect more than others.

I think you're right in saying CoC probably is not about that. But it seems an important aspect in the new edition of Delta Green with it's downtime and bonds and suggested family interludes, etc. and even more so with the new Kult and the way PCs dark secrets and disadvantages drive play.
 
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