Published on October 30th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Top 5 Horror RPGs For Halloween
One of my favorite RPG traditions is when people put together a Halloween special session for their group. Some people play a totally different game that evening, while others take their normal game and give it the horror treatment. I’m personally a fan of horror themed tabletop RPGs to begin with, so I thought that today I’d share my favorite Horror role-playing games.
New World of Darkness
Let’s get this one out of the way first, because it’s the obvious one. World of Darkness is the most popular RPG after D&D and its derivatives, and many people who have played role-playing games have at least heard of White Wolf Publishing.
The World of Darkness is crawling with supernatural nastiness: from vampires and werewolves to soul-stealing mages and agents of the mysterious God-Machine. There are rules for playing as humans trying to cope with this weirdness, as well as a book on turning normal people into (capital-H) Hunters, like the Winchester brothers.
If that doesn’t sound like your jam, you could always play one of the monsters- most of the new World of Darkness game lines are about playing someone thrust into a supernatural subculture. Vampire is mostly about politicking within a city, Werewolf is about policing the line between the spirit world and the physical world, Mage is about being given awesome powers just to discover that supernatural power corrupts supernaturally.
The other game lines (Changeling, Geist, Promethean, Mummy and Demon) all offer their own thematic elements, from coping with abuse (changeling) to rejecting your upbringing and severing ties with your family (demon) or accepting the inevitability of death (geist). World of Darkness games are known for their potential pathos and angst, but it isn’t required if you want to have a more casual style of gaming.
World of Darkness is a great horror game because it lets you play at all different levels of the very wide horror genre. You can run emotional drama, action, investigation games, or all three in one. For more info on the World of Darkness, see the guide I wrote to both versions (classic/old, and new).
Sometimes you’re not looking to run a long campaign or chronicle of horror games. Sometimes you just want to run that one Halloween session and be totally done with the game and system afterwards. Dread is the prefect game for a one-off horror session, more so than any other system. Dread does just what its name says, it evokes a real sense of tension and emotion at the table better than most other horror games. It does so because the mechanics of the game are based entirely around a stack of Jenga blocks.
Yes, you read that right: Jenga blocks. Any time that you would perform a risky action in the game, you are tasked with taking a piece out of the tower and adding it to the top layer. Whenever the tower falls, that player’s character dies. This makes Dread great for running a game of teens trying to stay away from Freddie or Jason, or of a group of regular people trying to escape a zombie infested town.
Dread’s character creation is also great for making interesting characters. The book comes with a bunch of leading questions you can ask your players, to help them flesh out their characters. These are things like “why did your wife/husband leave you?” and “what was your favorite subject in college and why didn’t you major it in?”. These kinds of questions are great for almost every single roleplaying game out there and help people become emotionally invest in the characters they are running with.
I also suggest trying Dread with Giant Jenga blocks, though you may have to wait for a convention to try this great variation.
What started off as some variant rules, then as a supplement, for the Call of Cthulhu RPG is now a full fledged game of its own. In Delta Green players make characters who are government agents that have been inducted into a conspiracy that fights against Lovecraftian evils. This turns the usual conventions of Mythos tales on its head, with humans fighting handily against the monsters and things alien to life as we know it.
What makes Delta Green fun is the focus on the humanity of the characters you are portraying. As your FBI, DEA or ATF (and other abbreviations) agent eventually goes up against more horrible things, they start to lose their connections to the wider world. Your character stops coming home to their family as often, and they start trusting people other than hunters less and less.
I like that there is a horror game that gives the players a false sense of security by letting them have all these cool gadgets, but it just makes their inevitable slide into insanity a bit slower. It’s also nice to have an option for Hunters that aren’t all rural or working class folks. While I like that genre of low-rent monster killers, elite military forces are fun sometimes too. Essentially it’s the difference between Alien (where one monster takes out a bunch of miners) and the sequel Aliens (where a ton of aliens take out a group of space marines).
Delta Green is on the crunchier side of the RPG spectrum and as a spec ops game it tends to have long skills and equipment lists. I have found the rules to be well written, and if you are familiar with something comparable in complexity to D&D then you will be fine.
Don’t Rest Your Head
From Evil Hat Productions, the makers of Spirit of the Century and Fate Core, there is DRYH- the game of insomniac madness. You play one of the Awakened- people who are able to see Nightmares, but the Nightmares can see you looking at them and they don’t like it. If you go to sleep, nod off, they WILL come for you. Don’t sleep. Don’t rest your head.
You play as insomniacs who fall into the realm called Mad City, a dreamlike dimension that is like a metropolis gone wrong. The upside is that being an insomniac in the realm of twisted dreams gives you strange powers and abilities. But you’re so tired, it’d be nice just to rest a moment…
Don’t Rest Your Head is a game that reminds me of the Dr Who episode “Blink” (10th Doctor) where the characters are being pursued by creatures that can only attack when they are not being looked at. “Don’t blink; blink and you’re dead.” Characters in DRYH feel the same way, but like Frodo trying to get through Mordor, sometimes the toil and the exhaustion is just too much and you lose control- either to sleep or madness.
Little Fears Nightmare Edition
The horror genre, as a genre typically more for adults, tends to focus on adult fears and existential crises that we may face. Little Fears gets back to the roots of horror, and reminds you of why you were scared of the space under your bed or the darkness in your closet. Like Stephen King’s IT, Little Fears makes your characters children and pits them against the cthonic entities that inhabit the nightmare realms of “In-Between”.
What makes Little Fears great is that unlike Delta Green or even World of Darkness, your characters are obviously lacking in every way against the things that they are up against. Your WoD character may or may not know how to use a gun, but they can go buy one at least. When you’re playing an 11 year old, the best you’ve got is what you can scrounge out of the garage or wood shed.
Little Fears has a book that expands the premise of the game a bit to include children that were taken away to In-Between, like in Changeling myths. There is also a series of one-shot adventures that you can get if you want to have an episodic, Are You Afraid Of The Dark style game instead of an ongoing chronicle.