Favorite Horror RPG? To play fair, I’m not going to list anything I’ve worked on or are contracted to work on. Around this time, last year, it seemed that if there was a horror RPG in the planning stages, I was on it. Chill, Demon Hunters, and Urban Shadows come to mind. There’s probably another horror RPG in there I’m missing.
So for horror–hang on a second.
What is horror, anyway?
Would Buffy, the Vampire Slayer be classified as “horror”? Even though it follows the same steps as your Chill does — there’s a monster, and there’s some monster hunters and they track down whatever is threatening Normalville — the same can be said of Dungeons & Dragons with that game’s monster slayers.
No, it’s got to be something else.
Something about a modern setting and “dark forces” manipulating things from the shadows? Some sort of urban fantasy like the World of Darkness (which even the Hunter game with humans against monsters probably comes closest to “horror”, but I really have doubts it should be classified that way). But that way also leads to Dresden Files.
Maybe it’s something that involves scaring the players? Making them uneasy, the way Dread does. (Does Call of Cthulhu evoke that feeling?) I might go with that.
We played The Armitage Files, which is an excellent campaign for Trail of Cthulhu, a GUMSHOE-driven game, but GUMSHOE didn’t click with the group. While I loved the heck out of the campaign, the system didn’t work with us — I’m not sure if we missed something key in the game or not. While we had some neat spooky bits, I don’t think we had anything creepy as Lacuna, Part One.
Like humor, I think most horror comes from play. If a game is set up to facilitate that, all the better.
Lacuna was a great horror game when I ran it.
In Lacuna, you’re basically travelling into the land that everyone travels to when they dream. You’re hunting down serial killers in this dreamland — the murderer has already been caught and is sleeping right next to you — where you can cleanse his or her personality. It’s heavily implied that your characters were psychopaths who had been cleansed in the exact same manner. It’s also implied that the organization behind this rehabilitation isn’t reliable.
So, off to the city you go, where party balloons are filled with cockroaches, where the city’s spider-faced policemen hunt you down, where each action you take to survive might send your body in cardiac arrest.
As an aside, most horror games give crap advice for making a scary atmosphere. Turn the lights down low. Use candles. Use a soundtrack with scary music. No, no. What you want to do is turn all the lights on in the room. Then open the curtains and drapes to the night — all the windows in the room. It’s dark outside. Anyone could be watching. It’s a little unnerving. It’s a little unsettling. It puts your players in an uncomfortable spot. The unease comes in and that’s what you want. I did that in the Lacuna game we ran, and man, was it effective!