Good Horror Role-Playing

Discussion in 'Roleplaying Games' started by Tom K, Sep 10, 2017.

  1. Simlasa

    Simlasa Active Member

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    Our D&D GM likes to make that claim as well... which I think is just something he picked up on the internet and regurgitates.
     
  2. The Butcher

    The Butcher Well-Known Member

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    You might as well claim that all D&D adventures can be solved with fireball — which may well be true if your DM is an unimaginative slob.
     
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  3. Spartan

    Spartan Member

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    I've never dealt with a CoC scenario with dynamite. Usually, it starts with someone quoting Homer Simpson: "To the book repository!" And the library nerds save the day. Or fail miserably.

    Any good D&D scenario should have at least some parts that are solvable by fireball. That's why we take the damn spell in the first place. D6s are best in large groups. :cool:
     
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  4. Duskwight

    Duskwight New Member

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    As somebody who is very much in this mindset, let me clarify this a bit further. Heaven and hell being real is scary enough; heaven and hell being real and evidence of a morality that is, because of their existence, both objective and at odds with my own is the scary part. In some ways it feels like the reverse of Lovecraft in that it means going mad from the revelation that the universe really, really cares. It's why I think The Witch is one of the few horror films to really unsettle me of late because contrarian readings about it being how to escape from oppressive Puritanical societies aside, it is on its face a story about how witches are real evidence of the devil, they will ruin your day, and you will probably deserve it.

    Anyway, I've had few-to-no good horror sessions as a DM or as a player through a combination of being very jaded about horror tropes in games and playing with people who are similarly jaded and, really, would just prefer to dynamite things thank you very much. Trying to sneak horror into my games would just result in angry players.
     
  5. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    welcome to The Pub Duskwight
     
  6. Stevethulhu

    Stevethulhu Active Member

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    This is why Stormbringer and CthulhuPunk both appeal to me.

    In one, the horror trope is greeted with a cup of coffee and a chat to catch up on what you've been doing since you last met. In the other, flamethrowers and grenade launchers at the ready!
     
  7. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Well-Known Member

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    And that is the beauty of roleplaying games. Are you going to get a session where the PCs are shaken their core by an encounter by the uncanny, or will get one where the PCs decide to try and tactically bomb the shit out of that which is otherworldly and inexplicable. You can't know until you are playing out and either approach can be fun to me as a GM.
     
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  8. Simlasa

    Simlasa Active Member

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    I don't know if finding that stuff is true would scare me so much as piss me off. I'd be looking to find that god's stat entry and read up on its weaknesses... and get the dynamite ready.

    I'm not really convinced though, that the cold/uncaring/meaningless universe has lost it's oomph, its ability to disturb and dismay and horrify when brought face-to-face.
    The vast majority of folks I know are at least casually spiritual or superstitious and have a sort of back-pocket belief that there is meaning and value to their lives... that 'good' will prevail. Anyone announcing their sickness on Facebook gets an immediate torrent of prayers pledged to them. Whatever they might believe rationally is not how they live emotionally.
    Look at all the gamers clinging to their luck/fate/plot points and expecting their PCs deaths (if any) to be 'meaningful'. Casually being run down by a garbage truck is not on their menu. Neither is being stabbed by a random stranger on a train or being gutted by a cultist because they poked their nose where it didn't belong.
     
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  9. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    While some philosophical horror informs my stuff, its more just a natural bleed over from my own cynical worldview. I don't try to push "revelations" about the universe as such, I'm not sure if I could pull that off in an RPG. In that manner, despite using many concepts borrowed from Lovecraft, and ostensibly calling my games "Call of Cthulhu", I would not call my approach "Lovecraftian" in the strictest sense. I would say my approach to horror is more a blend of Clive Barker, Junji Ito, and T.E.D. Klein. I like to tread a fine line between disgust, absurdity, and obscenity. I think the phrase "what the fuck?" is uttered more often than any other by my players.
     
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  10. Simlasa

    Simlasa Active Member

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    Junji Ito's stuff is twisted... and his Uzumaki is VERY Lovecraftian IMO.
    Barker is more 'comfortable' horror to me... even though vile things happen there is still a human soul/afterlife/something... and humans are significant/important. Kind of like the Kult RPG, which is kind of anti-Lovecraft in its cosmology.
     
  11. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    The influence I take from Barker is more the brutality of the original Books of Blood mixed with exaggerated lusts and vices. I recall an interview with Barker circa Books of Blood where he talked about appetites, that his approach to monsters is to start with exaggerated appetites, making comparisons to the ogres and trolls of folklore and the distorted features of Tenniel's illustrations for the Alice books. While I enjoy the Cenobites and understand how you mean "comforting horror" in regards to them and Candyman, my monsters lack the eloquent refinement and not-subtle-at-all bdsm metaphors. More like Raw-Head Rex than Pinhead.
     
  12. The Butcher

    The Butcher Well-Known Member

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    This is a great recipe for WoD/CoD monsters in general, and spirits in particular.

    In fact, CoD (and, to a lesser degree, WoD) is my go-to game for this sort of "personified" horror. In fact I prefer to use "personal horror" not as a synonym for angst or body horror, but in opposition to the impersonal, cosmic horror of Lovecraft and the Mythos — Cthulhu will snuff you out like a whale gobbling up plankton, but vampire hunters (or Pure werewolves, or Banisher anti-mages, or changeling privateers) are out to get you because they actually, honestly (dare I say, relatably) hate you. They got out of bed just to ruin your day.
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
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  13. Stevethulhu

    Stevethulhu Active Member

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    This is why I don't like what I call the 'monster apologist' school of gaming.

    Vampires, werewolves and so on aren't things to empathise with. They're threats to the species, to be fought at every opportunity.
     
  14. The Butcher

    The Butcher Well-Known Member

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    And yet there is horror to be found in relating to the monster. When you gaze into the abyss, etc.
     
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  15. opaopajr

    opaopajr Active Member

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    That's one of my favorite things about Changeling the Dreaming. They are desperate for you, (ref.: humans, et alia,) to feel, to feel anything at all! Passion, terror, inspiration, dread... anything!, anything but numbed indifference.

    It's personal for them. It's an existential crisis. It's a panic beyond reason. And each one of you others are their flotsam to cling onto as they stave off the drowning.

    Now just add forced smiles (or grimaces) in a frenzied storm of glitter, gore, and dancing. :) Unpleasant dreams! (Love you, Elvira!)
     
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  16. Stevethulhu

    Stevethulhu Active Member

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    That's right. You stare into the monster so long that you become the monster. That to me isn't horror. It's romanticised and way too empathetic. Poor nasty beasts can't help themselves. That's why I call it apology rather than horror.
     
  17. The Butcher

    The Butcher Well-Known Member

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    C:tD is... not my favorite WoD game, to say the least. It's got some interesting ideas and fantastic imagery, but so much of the implementation seems to hinge on "children are special but grownups are boring" that I find it super iffy.

    Umm, I was thinking more along the lines of "OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE I AM NO BETTER THAN THIS UNNATURAL HORROR" than "awww poor widdle monster-poo" but whatever floats your boat, I guess? ;)
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
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  18. BedrockBrendan

    BedrockBrendan New Member

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    I think sympathetic monsters can work, for me it is mainly when its overdone, that they lose their horror (i.e. when too many vampires in the 90s became misunderstood creatures longing for its humanity). But if it is less about making every single monster sympathetic and just about making monsters fully realized characters, where some may be sympathetic, that can work in my book (especially since it adds a lot of weight to player choice). I think a good example of this would be a movie like A Chinese Ghost story, where the Tree Demon is extremely powerful and irredeemably evil, but one of the ghosts it controls is kind and falls in love with the protagonist. I find this works in play too. Some of my monsters fully embrace their evil nature, a few rebel against it, some may want to but the pull is too strong. I have found this works.

    I also agree with you that the idea of corruption is firmly within the bounds of horror. That is hard to do in a game though because it really comes down to the players choosing to go down a dark path or something in their battle against the threat (which can totally happen, but it is just hard to plan for in advance----unless you are planting obvious solutions that would also have morally questionable consequences).
     
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  19. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Well-Known Member

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    I also couldn't relate to the idea that the world of the '90s were somehow utterly devoid of imagination and feeling, not like the good old days when people lived in peasant villages with little education. It was a premise that didn't hold up to the slightest examination.

    Mage: the Ascension had a similar problem. It never made sense that a world shaped by consensual belief would benefit the Technocracy. As Simlasa said earlier, most people believe in religion and/or religion and even more would in a world where vampires, werewolves and mages were running around everywhere.

    It bugs me when playing monsters in an RPG automatically gets labelled as "monster apologist" play. I can play a monster without trying to apologize for it. Personally, I can enjoy playing monsters (I am a GM after all), and hate a lot of monster apologist art.

    I can still remember the bitter disappointment of Coppola's Dracula movie. "Sure, Dracula is a deeply unnatural monster that has murdered thousands over the centuries to preserve his sick facsimile of a life, but he loved a girl once, so he isn't that bad."
     
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  20. BedrockBrendan

    BedrockBrendan New Member

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    The older I get, the more of an impact the Barker approach has on me. He tends to lean on body horror and I think as the body declines, body horror, and even gore, can provoke a deeper reaction.
     
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  21. Necrozius

    Necrozius Active Member

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    Yeah I'm in that boat right now (mid-thirties) with a bit of a hang-up on body horror (pre-mid-life crisis?).
     
  22. BedrockBrendan

    BedrockBrendan New Member

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    If the director's commentary track is to be believed, I think he is just as disappointed with it in hindsight as you (though I have to admit, I love the feel and mood of the 92 Dracula even if it isn't really that scary).

    When it comes to playing monsters, I think I prefer playing the bad guys like Vincent Price (a little hammy and tongue in cheek).
     
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  23. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Well-Known Member

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    Yes, you make a good point that sympathetic monsters can work. It is just done in a lazy way too often.

    I suppose the current Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate campaign of yours that I am playing in borders on being a monster game, as we are all playing evil characters. I'd say none of us are particularly playing them for sympathy though. In retrospect, having watched a lot more wuxia since this campaign began, I wish I had tapped into more of a demonic vibe for my character rather than just being a kung fu guy who is a selfish jerk.
     
  24. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Well-Known Member

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    Barker has been a huge influence on me for horror. I discovered him in my teens just as I had run out of Stephen King books to read. It was the mid-80s, so there weren't quite so many back then.

    I think Simlasa is generalizing a bit too much when he calls Barker comfortable horror. He does have stories that fit that model, but he has plenty of stories that don't, and you can't fit everything he wrote within an overall mythos.

    I remember some comments from Barker on body horror from interviews. He said he had a nightmare about his teeth falling out, and a friend was trying to psychoanalyze it. Barker rejected the symbolic interpretation. He felt having your teeth falling out is primal enough. He didn't need to dig deeper. The idea of parts of you falling enough is the root of the fear.

    I also remember him talking about the movie The Thing. He saw it in a theater, and the part where people were getting their fingers pricked for their blood tests was really making people flinch. He realized that while the movie was full of outrageous gore, having your finger stuck with a needle was a simple little pain that everyone can instantly relate to.

    The mood is great, which is why I am really annoyed with the ways it went wrong. If it wasn't close to a masterpiece, it would just be yet another crappy vampire movie on the pile.
     
  25. Simlasa

    Simlasa Active Member

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    Well, I did say, "to me". He's not nearly as 'comfortable' (or sentimental) as Stephen King though, I'll give him that.
    Dennis Etchison is another horror writer who had a big effect on me, though he's less prolific. His stories have a sort of bleakness that I find un-'comfortable'.
     
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  26. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    I was never much into Stephen King growing up, or rather, I really enjoyed his short stories but found the novels a slog. I've been thinking about "IT" a lot recently after seeing the new film, both the book and the 90s miniseries. It was the first book by King I was introduced to, by a classmate in first grade. He showed me the cover, and then described how the kid made a paper airplane that went down the sewer tunnel and the creature grabbed him and pulled him through. The way he said it, I pictured the creature grabbing the kid and literally pulling his body through the grating, a mental image that was so powerful it stays with me to this day and in the moment created a fascination with the book causing me to get it from the the local library (I recall having to put it on reserve and wait for a tortuous three weeks for a copy to get returned).

    Unfortunately, the scene in the book was not as I pictured it. But moreover, as I mustered through the huge volume (daunting, but by that point I'd already made my way through LOTR for the first time so I was tenacious), I found the book incredibly disjointed, a hodgepodge of ideas, some clever, some just off the wall bizarre, but all of it informed by what I later came to see as King's particular fascination with 1950s culture. The dialogue seemed like a cross between a Hardy Boys novel and a soap opera. There was some fascinating worldbuilding, loved the stuff about investigating Derry's history (which I ended up also loving in the mini-series), but juxtaposed with weird stuff like magic extraplanar turtle gods (still have no clue what that was about, I get the impression it was probably explored in The Dark tower series, but I've no inclination to read those). And then the adolescent gangbang, which went into just a bit (read: WAYWAYWAYTOO much) detail. In the end, I was left unsatisfied, dissapointed, and like I had wanted a sandwich and had instead been taken to an Old Country Buffet and forced through 3 courses.

    Anyways, this is just a rambling way of saying that I didnt come to horror, or Barker in particular, by way of King, rather, most of my literary horror was ghost stories and folktales. I had a big collection of MR James Ghost stories that resided permanently on my nightstand for several years. I loved the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series (granted, mainly for the art). And I specifically recall a generically-named book called "Haunted Houses" by something-Hurwood that had some amazing stories, one based on a Japanese folktale featuring a group of demonic ghosts who drop by an inn, another the story of a boy who falls in love with the ghost of a girl who commited suicide in the room of the house his family just bought, and ends up attempting suicide to be with her.

    This was juxtaposed with the slasher films I devoured from an early age. I loved the rich mythology that unfolded in the course of the elm Street series, the ongoing Vorhees saga, the weirldy comical horror-fantasy of The Gate, Troll, and Fright Night. But "movie horror" I always found amusing rather than scary. It was entertainment, it didnt draw me in the way a good Arthur Machen tale did. And so I thought of these as a child as distinct genres...stories, which were scary, but subtle and suspensful, and movies , which were gory and violent, but not scary.

    Clive Barker's Books of Blood bridged this gap. His early stories had the visceral brutality of a slasher film, combined with the literary ability to unnerve and create suspense. It was like a revelation to me that these could exist in tandem.
     
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  27. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    This leads me to an unrelated thought on the nature of horror in RPGs. A lot of horror has to do with the loss of control, as I think someone mentioned earlier in the thread. And the nature of RPGs is actually incredibly suited to this, in that a player relies on the external (GM or Dice) to define everything about the world around them for them. I tend to think of being a player character as like being deaf and blind, relying entirely on the GM's description to create a mental picture of the world around you. Anything I can do to counteract this, I will, hence my big push for the important of music and the use of art, pictures, and handouts to create a tangible sense of the world for players.

    But what this leads to, I find, is that horror becomes a deft juggling act between fear and frustration. If a player feels no control, its not horror so much as annoyance that prevails. So instead, my preference is towards the horror that comes from choice, the consequences of actions. the best horro games, to me, play out as the players sealing their own fates entirely through the choices they make. Not railroading, where there choices have no importance and they are at the mercy of a predetermined fate, rather, the complete free will to dig themselves perfectly into their own hell.
     
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  28. Doc Sammy

    Doc Sammy Active Member

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    You know, if you really plan it out right, Original Dungeons & Dragons works well as a survival horror game when you really consider the implications of the game.

    If taken at face value, the world of OD&D is a bizarre realm that is vast in scope, with an almost post-apocalyptic feel to it. This is especially true if you go with the "Implied Setting" that is discussed on Initiative One's blog (the Implied Setting is based on the materials found in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures and using the Outdoor Survival board as a map).

    As an OD&D Referee, be sure to play up the sparsely civilized and vast world and how anything can kill you, especially at the lowest levels. Combat may not always be the best way to gain XP. Award XP for finding treasures, successfully defeating or evading monsters, or even just surviving to see another day.

    Honestly, if you start at Level 1 and take the base game's implications at face value, Original D&D makes for an excellent horror game, blending survival horror and sandbox gameplay. Sort of like Day Z or Resident Evil meets The Blair Witch Project.
     
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  29. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    Yeah, I think that was brought up earlier, and I was thinking a blend of D&D with concepts from Kingdom Death's Monster, House of Leaves, and maybe a bit of the Beserk manga, could make for an amazing survivaal horror game.

    I've not really explored Lamentations of the Flame Princess yet (love the art, but really wish I was able to buy the rules with the original cover art), so I don't know if it gets into this territory at all.
     
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  30. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Well-Known Member

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    I got more enjoyment out of King than you did as a child, but it was certainly a qualified enjoyment. When King was trying to be cool, it was in a Boomery way that registered as extremely uncool to me. Machen and Lovecraft were old, but they they had a timelessness that King's pop culture references didn't. I also quickly became savvy to his moves, able to tell with almost perfect accuracy that a character was going to die within a few chapters of their introduction. Tip: People with alcohol problems are really fucked in a King book.

    I discovered Barker right after having read Tommyknockers, which I knew would be the last King book I ever was going to read. I had the same reaction. Barker also had a gift for amazing imagery. I'd have pictures in my head after reading Barker like nothing I had ever seen.

    Speaking of that, one night in 1990, I was up late watching David Letterman, and I dozed off. I woke up during a commercial, and I was seeing all these monstrous images on the screen. In my half-awake state, I knew I had never seen them before but I knew them. It was like I was watching one of my dreams show up on TV. Then the commercial ended and a title came up: Nightbreed. It suddenly clicked and I realized it was a movie adaptation of Cabal.

    I kind of miss the days when one of my favorite authors could make a movie out of book I read and I could be completely surprised by its release.

    This ties in well with Sammy's post about D&D as a horror game. D&D can be horror, but it might not be. You can push it towards horror with trappings and monster choices, but sometimes it just becomes horror. When the party suffers a near TPK and the sole survivor is trying to to get back up through 2 levels of dungeons, wounded, praying to avoid wandering monsters. The best horror is when not even the GM knew he was going to be running horror that night.
     
  31. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Well-Known Member

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    If you want to get a feel for it, the Referee book is free. It's a good read for anyone running early edition D&D.
     
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  32. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    Changeling is one of my favourite games. Its flawed but beautiful and at its best taps into a darkness of the soul beyond anything any other World of Darkness game touched. Unfortunately, it really needed a single vision, an overall direction of the line, for as it was it became a mishmash of contradictory ideas and the great stuff too often got buried under lackluster and mundane vanilla fantasy mixed with neopagan cliches.

    But, its interesting you bring it up in this thread, as my initial introduction to Call of Cthulhu was pilfering the adventures to adapt for Changeling. I always found that Eldritch horror went hand in hand with folklore monstrosities quite well.
     
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  33. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Moderator Moderator

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    Well, later on I would come to really appreciate King's short story collections. The focus and streamlining of the format I think really causes him to shine and avoids most of the problems I've had with his novels (after "IT", I attempted The Stand, Pet Cemetery, The Shining, and Dragon's Eye over the years, and I got about two chapters into The Gunslinger). The one novel by him I am somewhat curious to maybe attempt is Needful Things, as I really liked the premise of the film.
     
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  34. HorusArisen

    HorusArisen Active Member

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    I haven't read the whole thread but for my 2p worth the best horror roleplay sessions (and films for that matter) are achieved when it's out the corner of your eye.

    The monster is there but not there, you turn and it's gone but the bloody victim remains. Give the players an opponent and it moves straight to fight scene.
     
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  35. Spinachcat

    Spinachcat Active Member

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    I prefer to start at 3rd level. It gives the players a false sense of security which makes the inevitable descent into survival horror even more fun for me.

    OD&D is a sword & sorcery game which easily translates into survival horror. It's all high fantasy fun when the dice favor the PCs, but if the dice and decisions go bad, then OD&D slides quickly toward the horror spectrum. Which, for me, is excellent.
     
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  36. Spinachcat

    Spinachcat Active Member

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    On the topic of SAN as mental HP, I must agree. SAN is just another game resource, unless the player chooses to roleplay it.
     
  37. opaopajr

    opaopajr Active Member

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    We're just the horror weirdos in the corner, sprinkled with glitter, gore, and a mad twinkle in our eye. ;) :p
     
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  38. opaopajr

    opaopajr Active Member

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    That to me is part of the Surprise digging into the Safety again. You have the 'unforgiveable' coming off sympathetic to the romantic, and now you are newly sickened by the exposed flaw in an ideal's safety (particularly for that time, as Romanticism was a response to Rationalism's previous violent excesses). Suddenly a Secret is revealed: Romanticism has its own perversions. The heart is a monster, too, ready to betray you. And thus the Suspense becomes about the descent into corruption, whether external moral character can fight against such a sick "love-death" spiral.

    And then at the end you get a transcendent mystery because truly the love-death spiral is a power out of the active, external moral characters' hands. In the end Mina succumbs willingly, she must go through. Even better, later it is a transcendent power outside all characters' will, including Dracula's, that has domain over all. It even goes down to the frightening intimations that reincarnation may be right. Thus we are all pawns of even greater powers, dipping into even more loss of control, secrets and surprises destroying even more mental safety...

    But we take a lot of Eastern cosmological thought for granted nowadays, just as much as we do atheism or nihilism. Horror is always a product of its time. It is a fantastic time capsule of a society's self-reflection. It's a sort of reassessment through one's fears in their temporal lens.
     
  39. Necrozius

    Necrozius Active Member

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    Pennywise from IT could totally be a Changeling.
     
    Spinachcat and Baulderstone like this.
  40. The Butcher

    The Butcher Well-Known Member

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    In Lost he'd be Gentry, or a very powerful Privateer.
     

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