Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Horror Gaming: A Defense

I enjoy GMing and playing in horror themed rpg games.  In fact I have become "that guy" in the bard circle whose games have a reputation for dark content and soul destroying scenarios, which is not totally untrue.  But I think that people assume that I am merely a sadist behind the screen, living only to see the characters whole existence be ground into a fine paste, that will then be fed to their future characters unknowingly.  This is only partially correct.  I do enjoy a good character thrashing but what I really love about horror gaming is two things: the mystery and the stakes.

Horror games perform better at just about any other genre at creating games that revolve around some type of unknown aspect.  Of course a straight mystery rpg would probably do it one better, but I would argue that horror rpg's are really just mystery rpg's with horror elements.  In Call of Cthulhu you are called an Investigator.  At the heart of horror rpg's is a mystery to be solved and this investigation of the unknown blends exceptionally well with the supernatural because of its very nature.  At the heart of a mystery a supernatural aspect can lend a larger punch than just discovering the mystery was old man Jenkins in a rubber mask.  A supernatural element can keep some of the mystique even when smaller mysteries in the story are solved.  The investigators may figure out and stop the occult ritual but the greater mystery of what the thing they were trying to summon is yet to be solved, if an extra-dimensional monstrosity can ever be understood or solved.

When people think of high stakes storytelling in rpg's they undoubtedly think high fantasy, think Lord of the Rings or any other larger than life drama involving elves, orcs, large eagles, etc.  The fate of the known world is on the line and there are epic battles to be fought, and lots and lots of enemy blood to be spilled.  This can be a lot of fun roleplaying this out in an rpg setting but I would argue that the stakes at the table are never personally that high for the characters.  When a character is casting epic spells or ripping into wave after wave of enemy there is eventually a loss of character tension and drama and the story becomes a power fantasy.  Where is the tension when even death can be avoided by a trip down to the local temple.  This is all fine and is the bread and butter of role playing games.  In horror games the power dynamic is inverted, the characters are now on the opposite side of awesome powers threatening crush their very existence.  The stakes might not be epic in the traditional fantasy sense, but they are high, especially for the characters.

Plus people tend to go crazy and get eaten a lot



  1. I've been playing with this group for 8 years now, I can honestly say that the most memorable experiences all come from horror gaming. You are absolutely right in that higher stakes really draw the player in. Either I'm a glutton for punishment, or there is more to gaming than surviving! Also we need to start an official We Hate Bards Graveyard to keep track of our demised characters.