Horror is no easy feat to do in a game.
One central pillar of horror is that the main character doesn't have full control over what happens or is happening. Less an agent of action and more a victim or subject of forces outside his or her control. This goes against most games where you're a player and thus an agent with reasonable control over influencing the world, right?
This to me is why conventional games such as Call of Cthulhu (By no means am I dissing CoC by saying this!) must walk a very thin line. As a player, you're invested in a character and want them to stay alive and succeed! That drives connection and establishes the stakes of the game. But often times these games require a lot of prep and careful planning by the GM! So much is invested and planned and expected in that circumstance. When it works, the prep pays off in dividends, however.
This past week I've been playing a lot of this game called Lovecraftesque which has been recently kickstarted
. There's a link in that kickstarter for a free copy of the basic, barebone rules for yourself to try. I first found out about Lovecraftesque from its kickstarter and was immediately intrigued. So what happens when you go GMless? Hell. Even prepless? Can you make a solid horror story?
So, theoretically, yes. Playing a game from less an actor/agent stance and more an author or director stance really allows one to feel more comfortable with the main character having bad things happen to them. This should alleviate that agency/victim conflict, certainly, but, also, having a central theoretical idea and should
is far different than whether or not actually playing a horror game like that is actually, well, enjoyable and fun.
What's also interesting about Lovecraftesque is that no one knows what the final horror is until the end! We only share responsibility of creating clues and hints to the final horror, but it isn't until the horrific climax at the end does someone volunteer to narrate the horrific reveal! It's a super cool take on the game and allows for less cliché Lovecraftian mythos monsters and more unique experiences.
The first time I played this game, it was online and it was a 2 person game. The second time I played this game, it was online and 3 player. The third time I played this game it was 4 player and in person.
That two player game ended up being about a remote US Army communications base in Alaksa during the cold war, the three player game was about a dying mining town in Utah in the wild west, and this past game was a modern game about the ancient city of Palmira in Syria.
I wrote up the story of last night's game (the modern Syrian one) as it was, perhaps, one of the best RPG experiences of my entire life. It's pretty long, so instead of copying it and formatting it here, I'm going to just link
to my blog write up of it.
If you're more interested in seeing a 2 person or 3 person play through, the online games were also recorded and can be found in embedded in this post here
My conclusion after these three games is that GMless horror is better than I could imagine or hoped. I strongly encourage anyone looking to scratch a horror itch to try this.
Thank you very much for reading and I'm sorry to have to link to my posts instead of copying them here.