Narrative Control – Episode 20 – Horror

Hi and welcome back to Narrative Control. This episode is a long one. Justin and I are talking about horror elements in stories and how to bring those into your games.

Hosts: Sean Nittner and Justin Evans

Length: 53:23 – Told you it was a long one

Show Notes

[00:28] Introduction: Horror in RPGs. Breaking down the horror genre, distilling the elements and then talking about systems that back up those themes
[01:33] Sean trying to scare Justin. Can you just make a fear check?
[02:10] Are we trying to scare the character or the player, or both?
[02:40] Call out to Rich, who asked us to talk about genres and the games that fit into them.
[03:30] What makes a horror story? Different types.
Definitions: Horror Genres.
[04:00] Splatter horror. Buckets of Blood! Going for shock value.
[05:35] Haunted House. Alien: A Haunted House in space. Suspense horror, hidden from the audience as well as the protagonists. Excitement of piecing the clues together and the edge of the seat suspense.
[06:50] Psychological Thriller. Getting into the mind of the killer. Warning: Spoilers. Looking into the protagonists. External conflict serves to spotlight the internal issues.
[08:18] Pimping the Dresden Files one more time!
[08:49] Monster hunter story. Action/Suspense vs. Horror?
[09:53] Survival Horror. Hunted by the monsters. The end is never certain.
Elements of a Horror Story
[11:27] Suspense. Will we make it out of here alive? Not a very interesting question. Only relevant in games where death is possible.
[12:30] Spiral into insanity. Getting into the mind of the killer. What happens to you?
[13:12] Investigation. Following the trail of clues.
[13:44] Paranoia. Who can you trust?
[14:50] Inevitable doom. The story is about the struggle.
[16:08] Hope and Despair. Balances the story, give the protagonists a reprieve or a allow them to accomplish something important.
Systems that support Horror Stories
[18:08] Justin’s game in the Fate System. This Modern Death said this wasn’t possible. How will Justin use Fate’s internal mechanics to tell a horror story? “Cuts himself to feel alive” is still an aspect!
[20:20] Making the story personal to the characters. Players handing out aspects to each other, using back story, etc.
[23:13] Sanity decks. A consequence for failing a resolve roll. The cards give an aspect that reflects you’re loss of Sanity. (Available at soon).
[25:29] Dresden Files RPG will be much grittier than Fate. There are fewer Fate chips and the GM is given license to really pound on the protagonists. Not quite horror.
[26:35] Call of Cthulhu. One of the first games to offer a mechanic around sanity loss. Sean has to get over his dislike of percentile system, but the sanity system was novel in creating consequences.
[29:25] Unfortunately Cthulhu became an inside joke. Ryan Macklin talked about this on Master Plan on his episode on emergent play.
[30:55] Gumshoe. A game system designed specifically to facilitate investigation. Each clue is found and then leads to another scene.
[33:32] Roanoke. Uses a Doom Counter to measure the final endgame. Allowing players to put nails in their own coffins.
[37:08] Dread. The “pull” created an increasing level of danger… for everyone. This makes the danger present visible to everyone. Also, allows for a brief reprieve after someone dies. Models survivor horror very well and creates a pacing system.
[41:18] Don’t Rest Your Head. Uses Despair to make bad situations worse, but that fuels Hope, which can buy a brief reprieve. Creates an economy of despair and hope.
[43:58] Don’t Rest your Head… again. Players also have the ability to bring in horrific elements: Exhaustion and Madness. Trading power for self destruction. Players have to balance success against risking their character’s sanity.
[46:55] World of Darkness. How unimpressed Sean is by the lack of Horror on WoD games. Very hard to create suspense. Can work when playing mortals, but much less so than when playing monsters. There is some support from the system: Willpower, Virtue, Vice, etc.
[52:00] Wrap up. Looking for other suggestions for shows. Email us or get on the forums.

Direct Download: NC_Episode_020.mp3

6 thoughts on “Narrative Control – Episode 20 – Horror”

      1. It was. I have some stylistic differences, and of course there is my big mantra of “manipulate the characters, not the players” (only because of one local GM who will manipulate the player and then rub their faces in it that he’s ‘won’ something), but I found it interesting.

        I’m still getting my thoughts together on it, though.

        One thing I think is that if you are using ANY game system that has easily found rules, you eventually have to make stuff up or not run that game. I prefer the former solution.

        Or just not describe exactly what is in the book. In Werewolf: the Apocalypse, I never said what gifts the Black Spiral Dancers used. I just described the green ichor falling from their claws and the smell of burning flesh that their gifts caused, rather than letting the PCs know that “Toxic Claws” and “Silver Claws” had been activated.

        That seemed to frighten them just a tad.

        Since I know I’ve successfully creeped people out or scared people (sometimes unintentionally) with World of Darkness, 7th Sea, and Legend of the Five Rings, I think GM description is more important than any rule or mechanic. But that’s just my experience.

        And you haven’t seen “SE7EN” yet? Yeesh!!! You need to correct that. It’s one of the best movies of its kind, and it does the horror by leaving it all in your head. (There is very little gore in the movie. Just suspense and your imagination.)

        Anyway, overall I liked the podcast. And it gave me stuff to think about, which is always what I want from anything in the first place. 🙂 Now I have to go back and listen to episodes I may have missed.

        You should address the superhero genre, eventually. It’s one that I think has a lot of room for discussion on how to do it properly.

        1. Since I know I’ve successfully creeped people out or scared people (sometimes unintentionally) with World of Darkness, 7th Sea, and Legend of the Five Rings, I think GM description is more important than any rule or mechanic. But that’s just my experience.

          Agreed, and one thing I don’t want to suggest or advocate is the “lazy GM” phenomenon that we discussed over lunch. I don’t think any system can (or should) do the GMs job for him, even if it comes off that way sometime.

          Mostly we were looking at which systems will help you do this but I think another entire episode could be made on what the GM can do to create/improve his or her horror game as well. Both of which I think would be valuable.

          And nope, haven’t seen Seven, SE7EN, er however it is spelled. I’ve definitely got to rectify that sometime.

          Superheroes…. You know I haven’t done much with Supers. I used to play a ton of Champions but that was in high school and since then I’ve only dabbled with M&M and T&J. Maybe if I had someone who owned a military grade arsenal of Superhero RPG books and has been running them for years the show would be improved… available anytime?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *