Terror Stories

I’m currently working on creating a horror role-playing game from the ground up and I thought I’d document part of the process here. Obviously, I won’t be able to link this anywhere until I’ve finished and debuted the game to my players, but it’ll be useful to have this here for reference.

The first part of any good horror experience isn’t the creature, the victi-erm- players, the setting or even getting a really good names; it’s  understanding the medium you’re using. Visual horror and literary horror may play off similar fears, but they do so by pressing very different buttons. For something to be visually terrifying, a lot has to go into the proper deployment of its features, movements and contexts. Literary terror is steeped in proper wording and the right ideas deployed in the right way. You can make a cell-phone terrifying, but you have to understand that in a world like ours, a sentient cell-phone can only mess with your life in so many ways. However, make someone’s life dependant on that phone, make it their only source of contact and re-supply and you’ve got the right stage for some serious psychological mind-fuckery.

Role-playing games are particularly difficult beasts to tame simply because of the different levels of visual, auditory, physical and cognitive stimulation that can go into them. While this may be daunting, it can also make for an epic experience. It doesn’t matter how amazing a movie is, there’s no way you can always guarantee the proper ambience, medium or experience. The nice thing about role-play is that, as far as is possible, you can control the environment. And the players. It’s just as important that you find the right mix of individuals to make your game to be a success.

Role-play is an interaction between the players and the story-teller. It’s a synthesis of ideas and actions, with a healthy dose of randomness, that combine to make a unique experience every time. For this game, we’ll be using a room lit by nothing but 24 candles. The ambience will be chosen by me and stuck on a loop. Contact with the outside world will be severely limited until the end of the session. As the game goes on, the candles will get extinguished one by one, dimming the room. The action will get more and more grotesque and the plots will continue to thicken. Speaking of plots…

Narrative is extremely important, but when you’re dealing with the unknown, I like to have a concrete idea of its limitations and goals. No one is really happy with a story about completely random events. If your big-bad has certain limitations, then you’ll be able to make up its actions on the fly, predict when it will be the most desperate and subtly guide your players along the way. This is especially important when you have multiple super-naturals competing for the crown of most terrifying or, even, one creature attacking a party on many different levels, both psychological and physical. Of course, you can always do a bit of riffing when you need to. The nice thing about role-play is that you can make things up as you go along and change them on the fly when you get a spark of brilliance. Try not to mess with your plan too much, because you might paint yourself into a corner. Anyways, I’m going to get back to what I was doing… reading, writing and breathing horror.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: