The end of the year that is. It’s mid-September now and fall is approaching fast (at least in the northern hemisphere). Perfect time to start a horror RPG campaign! So, why should you start a horror campaign now?
Especially fall and winter are perfect seasons for horror campaigns. The days are getting shorter, the shadows are growing longer, it’s cold and uncomfortable outside and oustide activities become less and less attractive. Usually when you try to run horror campaigns in summer and spring you encounter several problems. For one it’s usually easier to pull off a horror atmosphere when it’s dark outside. Most people have fear in the dark or at least feel slightly uncomfortable which definitely helps to set the mood. I also noticed that people are usually more willing to get into the right mood for horror when it’s cold and rainy outside. Your mileage may vary of course.
There are a few games I am considering right now. I am already running a Rippers campaign for quite some time now, but it’s not as horror-laden as I wished, but that’s something I can easily change. But my players are currently happy with the campaign’s style right now, so I consider offering them to run a second/alternative campaign over the fall/winter months.
As an alternative I could run a horror solo game with my girlfriend as I planned a long time ago. Alas this plan never left the development stage, but since the "stars are right” this idea may see the light of day (or the darkness of night) after all.
One of my all-time favorite horro games is Call of Cthulhu. Most of you are probably familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, so I don’t have to go into details about the setting here. Especially on a rainy winters day nothing is more fun than to fighting a losing battle against old gods, aliens and insanity. This time I am actually considering purchasing one of the classic CoC campaigns. I have run self-written Call of Cthulhu adventures before, but I just don’t have enough time to properly research, write and prepare an epic Lovecraftian horror campaign right now. So just using a tested campaign may be the best way to go.
Instead of using the Call of Cthulhu rules by Chaosium I actually consider using Trail of Cthulhu, which is using the Gumshoe system. The Gumshoe system was created for campaigns where the focus is on investigations and less on combat. And that is exactly what I am usually aiming for in any horror game. Pelgrane Press’ another horror roleplaying game Esoterrorists could be an alternative to classic Lovecraftian horror. As Trail of Cthulhu it uses the Gumshoe system, but this time the players have actually a chance to make it through the campaign alive (and somewhat sane).
Especially if your players are well versed in the Cthulhu mythos, Esoterrorists could be a welcome change. Instead of “just another Byakhee” or “not Nyarlathotep” again, they are confronted with new and original adversaries. Esoterrorists also allows you to run a campaign reminiscent of the X-Files, with federal agents investigating all kinds of mysterious events all over the United States (or wherever you want to set your campaign). If you haven’t done so, you should at least leaf through the book in your local game store. There are already a couple of supplements and adventures available including a full-blown campaign and even a soundtrack!
If you want some more action in your horror game, I would have a look at Hunter: The Vigil or its predecessor Hunter: The Reckoning. I recently acquired a copy of the latter in a garage sale and I enjoyed reading it very much, but from what I’ve heard, Hunter: The Vigil is a better game in all respects. First and foremost the updated World of Darkness rules are in my opinion many times better than the old ones.
The new setting in Hunter: The Vigil finally allows players to play real humans. In Hunter: The Reckoning the player characters had special abilities which made them just another kind of monsters. The updated setting of Hunter: The Vigil allows for a three-tiered game, where GM and players decided which power-level they prefer. Especially a tier 1 game could be a great basis for a horror campaign.
Ok, you’ve decided you want to run a horror game, you’ve chosen one of the many available settings and perhaps you have even prepared a campaign. Now you really should think about music and props. In my opinion both may not be vital for a good horror game experience, but if used right, they can contribute a lot.
As I’ve pointed out in many posts before, music can help to set the mood. And especially in a horror game mood is everything. Horror movie soundtracks usually work pretty well. I have also used candles for lighting in horror games in the past which usually works great. But beware candles on the game table can be a distraction, too. So, if your players are playing with candles wax instead of focussing on the game you should consider using electrical light instead. 😉
If you ask me, handouts are a must in any investigative game. If the players find a newspaper article, a scrap of paper in the clenched fist of a dead man or some strange runes on the wall of an desecrated church, make sure you have an appropriate handout ready. If you have any artistic skill, a sketch of the monster they encounter or perhaps even a small statue may be pretty cool.
I believe these tips should help you jumpstart your horror campaign. As always I am keen on hearing from you. What horror roleplaying game is your favorite? And what do you use to set the mood? Please post your thoughts in the comments below!