Tuesday, October 24, 2017
For the season: A free horror template for your rpg session
With Halloween fast approaching and folks gearing up for their horror themed rpg game nights,
I present to you this short template (generic) for a modern setting horror session.
Setting: suburban area, anywhere USA
RPG: Any with a modern context or close approximation, western, steampunk, etc.
What is going on:
Antagonist is preying upon people in suburbia. This can be a demented lunatic, serial killer, alien being, or supernatural monster depending upon your campaign dynamics.
Small, subtle clues gradually reveal the horror lying unseen to the rest of the world.
Beneath an abandoned house (this works well for the modern era of foreclosed and abandoned houses) the antagonist has been dwelling in secret. Here the "bad guy" drags his/her/it's victims where is torments/kills/eats them.
How the player characters get involved:
In a modern setting, the group may see something on social media where a scream was heard in the area.
In a super hero campaign, someone may have noticed something and now be living in dread of the place (somewhere near their home in this case) and called/emailed/texted the heroes.
In a western or steampunk campaign, small children dare a small boy to go into the spooky house. The boy is missing the next day and his parents accuse strangers or are pleading with anyone they can find to help them find their child
Any of these hooks are easily integrated in other rpg types as well.
How the story advances and the horror grows:
After learning of something peculiar going on:
1) if group takes no action to investigate... fine, no big deal, move on to next day
2) if group investigates then clues should be scant (I was on Baker court and heard a scream from over there.....), or (my dog ran off and I heard him barking.. then he yelped and cried for a moment... now I can't find him)... things like this... little bits of oddity that could mean nothing, and may seem like nothing
3) Another incident occurs: maybe the children who dared the small boy break into the abandoned house (and are missed by their parents the next day), maybe wacky Mr. Peabody swears he overhears alien transmissions on his shortwave radio, maybe Dr. Waller's car is found running in front of his home (door open, keys in ignition, he is just gone) and the police are investigating it as a kidnapping. You get the idea: something a little more significant that may on the surface seem completely unrelated.
4) Lead to the location of the house: Looking around in the area the player characters may notice that buzzard's perch on the house, or that a handful of dead birds lay in the yellowed grass, or that the neighborhood children always stick to the opposite side of the street when passing in front of the house... things like this. Again, little oddities that make the place seem somehow alien or unusual.
5) Investigating the scene: Leave a clue
Here the key is something that implies something frightening and conveys something of urgency.
So finding a child's Halloween bag of candy laying in the grass, a shoe with wet blood on it, or a flickering flashlight laying on the step or behind the bushes. These clues hint at humanity but also illustrate an absence of life. Give these descriptions the weight they deserve but keep your descriptions simple and to the point. (candy has spilled from the bag into the grass, the small white shoe is marred with a splatter of blood, the flashlight lies flickering behind the hedge then dims and dies)
6) Into the house: Make it different
A house without people is an odd empty place. Mar the walls with tears or painted gang signs, filth and debris from squatters, or otherwise make the place weird (to your players). Old furniture from decades past works too. The key is the place should be alien to your group.
Small clues are best here. Small bloody footprints in worn carpet, a torn toupee, a dead cell phone, these things your group can find and indicate an associating with people... just absent the people.
Here something happens that should alert the antagonist. A floor board creaks or old dishes fall from a cabinet the player character's search. Following that moment, everything should be still and quiet. Stress that tension. Its like the house holds it's breath, or some ancient evil perks up it's ears to listen. All is quiet, not a single sound to be heard.
Here you place something that should produce a bit of alarm. A wallet that is wet and sticky with drying blood is a good item for a missing doctor. A small pocket knife is a good item for a small boy or girl who came to explore the house on a dare (with a supernatural monster or alien antagonist, a sign of that being on the blade is a good idea.. i.e. covered in an oily blue substance that clings to the blade). This should be some THING that fits into the image of one of the missing people. For a missing pet, a collar with the pet's name on it fits the bill nicely.
10) Things start to go wrong:
This is where the evil that lives below the house reaches out somehow and does harm upon your player characters. This should NOT be direct combat unless the group splits up into lone actors (if they do that then they get what they deserve). Perhaps someone staying outside waiting for the police to arrive to help is attacked/incapacitated/killed. The key here is that whatever happens, there should be very little sign of hit occurring. Act swiftly and without mercy as that is what your horror villain is going to do. As for signs of this occurring, leaving a favorite weapon, a cellphone, or the hat the PC was wearing is a great way to hint at this. Any encounter should be resolved separately and apart from the rest of the group. Don't give the rest of your players any indication of the depth of opposition they are encountering.
11) Cut them off:
Cell phones make this difficult but not impossible. Make reception in the area bad anyway, and as the group investigates the house make signal unavailable. This will really peeve characters who are trying to live stream their "adventure".
As for other avenues, cue up the rain. Bring in a storm if need be, but you want something that cuts off the sound of the outside world and makes it unlikely that anyone will hear the player characters cry for help.
12) Pick them off:
Repeat of number 10, its time to get rid of someone else.
Let the player characters see the depth of the horror they are in. Maybe they find the missing doctor dying with some terrible evidence of what he has been through. Let him whisper out a frightening warning before he succumbs and dies. Use your darkest imaginations here.
In any group you should work to pick off at least one third of the characters before any final conflict. This remaining two thirds of the party should be the benchmark against which you measure the antagonist's abilities. In this confrontation the survivors face the horror of the house in the form of your antagonist. Survivors may be scarred for life.
15) Survivor moment:
For any survivor of something terrifying the "normal" world can seem a strange place. Set up your survivor moment so that safety is seemingly at hand, but the world itself now seems more strange and frightening. Halloween is a good theme for this as you can innocently or not-so-innocently narrate a zombie carrying a crying child into a house (is it a "real" zombie or is it just a parent... you decide)
Recommended antagonists by genre:
Super hero campaigns -- demented super villain (Kevin the super-cannibal), alien invader (Lovecraft, the Colour out of Space can be adapted here), serial killer, or supernatural entity (don't say ****walker).
Modern/mundane campaigns -- alien invader, serial killer/lunatic, or supernatural entity
western/ steampunk -- Lunatic (brilliant steampunk scientist like Frankenstein) or supernatural entity
Remember, have fun with your horror but know your players. While having spiders described may be tolerable for your friend who is terrified of spiders, depicting abused people may be intolerable to your friend who survived an abusive relationship. Keep this in mind. Role-playing is for fun, horror is cathartic, so keep your subject matter descriptions in those frightening areas that aren't personal.
Thank you for once again joining me on my journey into writing and publishing.
Remember that my first comic book, 47 Furious Tails is live on KickStarter so please do check that out and support the project.
Until next time, have a great game!