BEYOND D&D: SPECTACTULARLY SPOOKY
Written by: Shrimp Fried Dice
It is October, and with that comes the inherent spookiness of Halloween at the end of the month. Here's how you can bring that spooky season into your games by stepping away from D&D and trying something new!
Now, despite not being a Horror film enjoyer, I am a horror RPG enjoyer. I love running games with elements of horror- building up tension amongst my players, sowing seeds of dread and pitting them against foes that present a sense of hopelessness. I do this with the support and consent of my players, all avid horror enjoyers, and this Beyond D&D is dedicated to some of my favourite horror RPGs to pull out over the spooky season. Most games mentioned have safety tools included within their rulesets, but it would not be amiss to familiarise yourself with tools such as The X Card, traffic light systems, or The RPG Consent in Gaming form (I enjoy this one personally)! Horror is a super fun genre to explore, narratively and mechanically speaking, but it’s even better when you and your players trust in each other to not cross boundaries and understand each other's limits.
What if the world was really against you?
Locus is a Horror/Mystery TTRPG with a heavy influence from the Silent Hill Series designed by Cobblepath Games. The game has a focus on flawed characters, navigating morality and ultimately being as scary as possible. The role of the Director (the game master) is to weave in the Cast’s (Characters) trauma to the wider world and enable them to either survive or succumb. The ruleset is flexible- it helps with creating characters with deep flaws,
personalised monsters and mystery seeds for your world. Locus is at its best when related to personal horror, its mechanics put players in places where they are constantly against their worst attributes, and fighting a seemingly losing battle- an essential for creating that horror atmosphere! It’s a game that uses a deck of cards, and a few D6 and enables your wildest imagination to execute really effective horror. It’s a game that works best as a short campaign, so definitely easy to do during the spooky season!
Keep your cool and your hands steady!
Dread by Epidiah Ravachol and Nathaniel Barmore, published by The Impossible Dream, is a horror game played with the use of a Jenga tower for its action resolution. It’s incredibly rules-light as it was originally designed for one-shot play at conventions, and features a low-detail way of creating characters, usually based upon some archetypes for ease of play. Dread is highly effective in its tension-making. When committing to an action, the player is asked to pull from the Jenga tower. The longer the game goes on, the harder this becomes to pull off successfully- and knocking over the tower is usually represented by your character dying dramatically. It’s always fun and games when the Jenga blocks come out, but playing around a table towards the end of a game of Dread is truly nail-biting.
Create a killer, Escape the Mansion
One Page Left is a solo roleplaying game about being trapped inside a strange mansion with a killer on the loose, just like the finales of horror slashers. The game is played on an A4/Letter size piece of paper- you generate your character, your killer and then you into the action. Your goal is to roll across some prompts and survive the night. If you run out of space on your paper? You die. If you run outta luck? You die. One Page Left is moreish - you find yourself trying to document your attempts to survive by using as little space on the paper as possible and challenging the possibilities of protagonists/killers in changing your playstyles. It's not the spookiest on the list, but definitely a fun half-hour game if you’re in the mood for it!
You wake with a disturbing sense of déjà vu.
Cage of Sand is a game about time loop horror, the inevitability of failure and the desperate acts to break the loops. The game can be played solo or collaboratively with multiple game modes outlined in the document. The bulk of the play uses a Tarot deck to determine scenarios and actions, and then the players fill in the gaps. In how it's written, when playing as a group you can elect one player to be the ‘avatar’, the one who is stuck in the loop, and everyone else are major characters in relation to the greater mystery. It’s a game that dwells on hopelessness, and the designer has made sure to embed safety tools within the game's design to keep players safe. It’s dramatic, frustrating and at times terrifying what a group of horror fans can pull together to make the loop feel scarier each time over.
There are a LOT more horror games out there, so this list doesn’t mention the classics- Vampire the Masquerade and Call of Cthulhu. There’s nothing wrong with these additions, but this handful of horror games always rotates in my head around this spooky season. There are a few more that I’m aiming to play this year so maybe they’ll be mentioned down the line! Turning off the lights and sharing spooky stories is an absolute must for me over October,
and I hope people who feel similarly enjoy this shortlist!