What games do REAL horror/fear well?

edited November 2011 in Story Games
So, I've been thinking of how to ramp up my [Stage One] entry of Resident Evil+, and something that has me a bit stuck is the question of: how do I make it feel as scary or suspenseful as the video game?

There are several games that have some good ideas on how to make fear a physical part of the game, usually involving stacking dice or jenga blocks. That's all well and good, but I don't particularly want to steal their ideas (particularly when I don't want to needlessly exclude people with shaky hands or nerves...like myself).

One game that came to mind was the board game Arkham Horror, where you had a Doom Track ticking down when the horror of the week would awaken and destroy everything. Nothing like deadlines to get players motivated, and a bunch of failed rolls or Clue tokens getting wasted to add that tension.

But can anyone think of anything else that, without the GM actually having to weave some frightening narration, would actually put the players on edge?

Comments

  • 4 out of 7 cried

    A lot had to do with the GM's narration but a lot was his system changes to Unknown Armies.
  • Jenga Dread. It works!
  • edited November 2011
    It's not an rpg, but how BSG: TBG handles missions. Hidden resource allocation. It's pretty nifty. I think any situation where people are doing secretive things right in front of your nose, Stratego, Poker, Liars Dice, Werewolf/Mafia. It adds an element of anxiety.
    Also, the best game ever for creating fake fear beautifully is hide & seek. Ever.
  • +1 Nathan.

    I'm a huge fan of the Battle Star Galactica Boardgame hidden resource mechanic. I've used it in a mini horror LARP to good effect!
  • Hidden resources sounds imteresting, though I have no idea how that works. I'll have to see if I can find some resource online that explains it...as I am reluctant to buy a massive board game just to research their rules.

    But hey, keep the suggestions coming. So far, I've scoured Call of Cthulhu (in its many incarnations), Unknown Armies, Kult, Chill, Cold City, Hell For Leather, Trauma, Whispering Vault, Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Geiger Counter, Dead of Night, and even Zombies! In most cases, though, the sense of fear depends a lot on the GM giving appropriately disturbing descriptions, or having some abstract rule (like Horror Factor from *shudder* Beyond the Supernatural).
  • edited November 2011
    A few things that survival horror video games have completely forgotten about in lieu of making wacky "scary" monsters, and bigger guns:

    -- The real possibility of instant death.
    -- Having no or little defense against the bad forces.
    -- The bad forces are generally unseen and unknown, but you can clearly see the wake of damage it can cause, or there's an obvious foreshadowing of something that's coming.

    Really, most horror games should be about the avoidance of the bad things...but as a game player, "avoidance" is sort of opposite of what a player wants to do. We are sort of trained as players to go marching in, face those fears, and become heroes. At the start of the game, it should be made painfully obvious that that would be the worst thing they could do, and they are getting in way over their heads with that kind of action.
  • Posted By: doho123
    -- The real possibility of instant death.
    -- Having no or little defense against the bad forces.
    -- The bad forces are generally unseen and unknown, but you can clearly see the wake of damage it can cause, or there's an obvious foreshadowing of something that's coming.
    You know, these were some things I had been considering (particularly when I was originally going to 'port Dark Corners of the Earth to indie-game form). And it does bear some thought.

    Something I was considering was having the riskiness of character actions build up some kind of stress against the character, representing how much noise they were making, how little attention they may be paying to their surroundings, exhaustion, etc., which would count against them in future dangerous encounters.
    Then, to lower this penalty, they must either spend time hiding and biding their time until things settle down a bit (the safe option, but troublesome if there's a time limit), or throw caution to the wind and keep going with all guns blazing (which I envision as immediately relieving the character of his penalty, but at the same time giving the GM some advantage, like escalating the situation, alerting reinforcements, etc.)
  • edited November 2011
    You can download the BSG Boardgame Rules legally here as a PDF.
  • Posted By: jenskotYou can download the BSG Boardgame Rules legallyhere as a PDF.
    Dude, awesome. I'll have to check that at work tomorrow. You are a resource of resourcefulness!
  • I second the Battle Star Galactica plug. But I don't think it is the hidden resource element that brings out the emotion. Half the fun of the game is accusing one another of being a toaster. The paranoia that is based on a reality is what is fun. That comes from uncertainty about different players motives - just like video games have the uncertainty of what will pop up next.

    Chris Engle
  • The BSG boardgame is awesome indeed - the mechanics are great way of constructing a situation where all the players depend on another to survive, but at the same time, noone really trusts each other because one ore two of them must be traitors.

    However - I am not sure how well this would translate into the kind of horror game you are looking for. It creates more paranoia than horror and BSG is, after all, a tactical, GM-less, cooperative boardgame. Definitly a good inparation, but hard to translate into a horror RPG, I believe.



    ...another great ressource you should check out is Ryan Macklins blog. He recently ran a series of articles about horror in RPGs and how it works (or doesn't) with different kinds of rules. Lots of good stuff there!
    You can find all the articles here:
    http://ryanmacklin.com/tag/horror-week/
    Deadlines as a way to create horror are mentioned in the comments, too, and Ryan and several commentors mentioned that hidden deadlines (or other variables) are a great way to bring horror to the table, since it takes away the possibility to calculate the risks and play the game in a tactical manner... you are unsure about the remaining time or the odds of your plan succeding and that creates a lot of tension and dread.
  • Definitely read Ryan Macklin's blog!

    One thing that may not be obvious from reading the BSG rules is that you need to draw 2 random cards for the mechanic to work. Let me very briefly explain:

    - Something bad happens!
    - 2 skills are needed to overcome the situation (say First Aid and Crowd Control, not actual BSG skills, just examples).
    - The situation has a difficulty number, say 5.
    - You need 5 points of skill to overcome the difficulty.
    - Players contribute as many skill cards as they want secretly.
    - BUT if you contribute skills other than First Aid and Crowd Control, you increase the difficulty instead of overcoming it!

    Here is the part that I don't know how well the rules explain. You also randomly draw 2 skill cards before revealing all the cards. These cards could help or hurt you. They are super important because say every player genuinely wanted to help, but 2 cards are revealed to have hurt you... who did it? Maybe no one did, maybe it was those 2 random cards you drew. But, if you reveal the cards and have 3 bad cards, you know at least 1 players is betraying everyone.
  • Murderous Ghosts!
  • BSG is great for paranoia amongst players (one of my favorite games), but I never got a horror vibe from it.

    Anyway, here's a system that I came up with a while ago while working on a haunted house game that had a pretty good feeling of suspense. (it was the other aspect of the game that I wasn't happy with). It pretty much simulates a house-wide paranormal activity sensor.

    **************
    You have a map of the house with rooms and doorways. Players can only exist in rooms. But chits that define the amount of "paranormal static" can exist in both doorways and rooms.

    You have a bag of chits of three types -- silence, whispers, and haunts. The bag is 10% haunts, 55% whispers, and 35% silence.
    At some interval in the game, you draw chits from the bag, placing a new chit on each room and doorway. After placing, the following happens in this order:

    -- If you place a silence, all chits at that location are removed from that location.
    -- If you place a whisper, add it to that location.
    -- If you place a haunt on a doorway, it counts as a whisper.
    -- If you place a haunt in a room, a haunt occurs at that location with a "haunt strength" of all the whisper and haunt chits that connect to that room via doorways and other rooms.

    -- Haunts that occur in rooms with players are resolved based on the haunt strength. Haunted rooms without players can be simply ignored, or maybe some knowledge of something terrible has just happened if a player happens to be in a room connected to the haunted room: "I just heard the sound of a large object and shatter fall over in the bedroom."

    -- Once all haunts a resolved, remove from the map all haunt and whisper chits that are "connected" to haunt chits.


    Anyway, this system does a good job of building up suspense levels in random rooms, and giving a really good sense of some event that is about to occur "bleeding" out into other rooms. Nothing like seeing a large swath of connected rooms with stacked whispers, you are really like "OH CRAP! something big is going to happen in this part of the house. Time to get out of here!" hoping a haunt doesn't come up.
  • Posted By: MartinB...another great ressource you should check out is Ryan Macklins blog. He recently ran a series of articles about horror in RPGs and how it works (or doesn't) with different kinds of rules. Lots of good stuff there!
    That is pretty good stuff. Lots of things I knew, but needed to be reminded how effective they could be.
    Posted By: FelanMurderous Ghosts!
    Murderous Ghosts is pretty damned cool. Not quite the feel of Resident Evil (people prepared for shit going down...just not THAT prepared), but more of a Ring or The Grudge feel. I actually hope to play Murderous Ghosts some time in the near future.
    Posted By: doho123BSG is great for paranoia amongst players (one of my favorite games), but I never got a horror vibe from it.
    Yeah, after reading through that rulebook, it is definitely more of the war-time paranoia, as opposed to horror. There are definitely some points in it that I may have to steal if I ever get around to doing a Cold War spy game, or that I may use if I ever hack...well...Paranoia.
    Posted By: doho123You have a bag of chits of three types -- silence, whispers, and haunts. The bag is 10% haunts, 55% whispers, and 35% silence.
    At some interval in the game, you draw chits from the bag, placing a new chit on each room and doorway. After placing, the following happens in this order:

    -- If you place a silence, all chits at that location are removed from that location.
    -- If you place a whisper, add it to that location.
    -- If you place a haunt on a doorway, it counts as a whisper.
    -- If you place a haunt in a room, a haunt occurs at that location with a "haunt strength" of all the whisper and haunt chits that connect to that room via doorways and other rooms.

    -- Haunts that occur in rooms with players are resolved based on the haunt strength. Haunted rooms without players can be simply ignored, or maybe some knowledge of something terrible has just happened if a player happens to be in a room connected to the haunted room: "I just heard the sound of a large object and shatter fall over in the bedroom."

    -- Once all haunts a resolved, remove from the map all haunt and whisper chits that are "connected" to haunt chits.
    This is a pretty good idea for, like, a grittier version of InSpectres. Definitely a board-gamey feel, but an interesting concept.
  • Fear Itself is good!
  • Posted By: jenskot+1 Nathan.

    I'm a huge fan of the Battle Star Galactica Boardgame hidden resource mechanic. I've used it in a mini horror LARP to good effect!
    Hey, John, any chance you could tell us more about that? Maybe in its own thread?
  • I don't have any direct answers for you, but this talk by a developer of Amnesia: The Dark Descent is almost certainly worth your interest.
  • I definitely recommend playing Murderous Ghosts. It's the closest thing I can think of to the experience of playing Resident Evil.

    One thing that I think real fear derrives from is... tightly constrained choices that are all kinda bad. Like, if I was going to make a game based on the Saw movies, it would all be about getting characters to do terrible things to each other (cf. Poison'd, but a bit different) by giving them only bad options and forcing them to do something. In Resident Evil, this isn't about cutting off your friend's arm with a hacksaw, but like...

    DO YOU (choose 1):

    -- abandon your partner and chech out the upstairs by yourself (mmm, splitting up sounds like a bad idea...)
    -- hang around here and examine the bloodstain on the carpet (mmm, yeah, and wait for the thing to come back.... nah, don't think so....)
    -- check out the crunching, wet noise that's coming from down the hall next to the window (uh, yeah, nope...)

    You see how that works? It creates anticipation because you know something bad is going to happen. It's just not clear when and how. And you have the illusion of choice, right? Even if they're all bad, you can choose the particular type of bad that it is, which gives you some hope that you might be able to get out of it. But, as in Murderous Ghosts, the deck is stacked against you, so probably not.

    I want a Resident Evil game where you're likely to die many, many times, from the terrible horrors, before you figure out how to beat it. Maybe if you die and try again, you can get a leg up, but it should only help you with the thing that killed you, not with whatever's lurking around the corner.
  • Unknown Armies does horror the best I've ever seen a game do it. I love the horror genre... I've never seen a game replicate it very well. Usually, it's the GM and the players getting reaaaaaaally into it.

    So, Unknown Armies does the uncanny horror thing really well. Like, that Clive Barker weirdness of "you thought you knew what was going on, but you just scratched the surface of how horrific this is" horror. Frex, in Candyman, when you think the Candyman is the badguy, but really it's his ability to possess the main character that's terrifying. And with that comes the fear of madness, and the unknown... losing control of your body.

    The thing I find most scary in horror tales? The unknown. Leave things a mystery for as long as you can. Don't reveal the monster. Classic tricks like that. It's when you don't understand something that it's the most frightening. And of course, make it about the players, and their weaknesses and fragile human desires.
  • edited November 2011
    Theres a game I'm working on, which isn't a horror game, but is intended to create existential dread in the players. One of the ways I think the game successfully manages this is by having some of the rules secret and only known by one player. The goal of each scene is to figure out the goal of each scene and the goal of the game is to figure out the goal of the game. Putting players in a situation where they aren't sure what their expectations are or whether the person running the game can be trusted to be on their side creates some very interesting anxiety. So I think fear of the unknown is definitely something that adds to a feeling of horror.

    Another idea I've been considering toying with in that game that I think applies to horror games is that some games might be hindered by the use of lines and veils. A lot of games are designed to make players feel comfortable socially with the other players, but if you really want players to be scared you are going to be trying to make them feel uncomfortable. Now, actively trying to make your players uncomfortable in a game gets into sort of a moral grey area that films don't have to deal with. Horror films have a tradition of using exploitation and the cheapest tactics possible to try to push our buttons, going over the line of decency. So if we made a game with the same intention, we'd be reversing the concept of lines and veils and actively be trying to push player's emotional buttons. That sort of game might even want to mislead it's players into a false sense of security and subvert transparency as well, avoiding full disclosure to hit players where it hurts when they least expect it.

    Because that approach borders on sadism I think theres a neccessary but uncomfortable question that has to be asked; where is the line and how far would we be willing to go to create a real feeling of horror in our players? I think the line is crossed when the players stop having fun. When I played murderous ghosts, we played it in the dark and that helped lend the game a creepier atmosphere, but afterwards I thought about how terrifying it would be to travel into the depths of an actual abandoned factory in the middle of the night and playing the game there. What if the game actually told you in the rules to play it in the most frightening place you could think of? It might just be a reccomendation, the players could ignore, but it approaches a little closer to that line. I heard about another game that tells you to put a knife in the middle of the table, which I think would cause me a certain level of anxiety as well just knowing it was there.

    Oh and one last thought. (edit: Ryan's blog already covered this. Oops) When I gmed D&D I could create tension by rolling player's perception rolls secretly behind a screen. "Make a perception check. Actually wait, I'll roll it for you... Oh, you don't notice anything." I'd do this when There was actually nothing for them to notice, so that success would mean they saw nothing, and failure meant they saw something that wasn't there. It would become the elephant in the room, everyone waiting for the other shoe to drop as they wondered what they didn't notice. And eventually it would make the players wonder whether they could trust the GM or their characters own perceptions. Maybe a similar tactic would work in a story game. I've always really like the idea of an unreliable narrator.
  • Walton, I see MG as more of a Amnesia: The Dark Descent than a Resident Evil. Resident Evil is far more of an action game. I can actually only think of one time I ever was surprised by something in a RE game, and thus scared only one time. Ever.
  • Posted By: UserCloneWalton, I see MG as more of a Amnesia: The Dark Descent than a Resident Evil. Resident Evil is far more of an action game. I can actually only think of one time I ever was surprised by something in a RE game, and thus scared only one time. Ever.
    I tend to agree with that. Personally, I hate that any video game that has mutants/ghoulies in them suddenly becomes SURVIVAL HORROR!!! regardless of the fact that you are a trained mercenary, and/or you've got a backpack load of awesome weapons to easily contend with the monsters. The games are more about the artist coming up with wacky monster designs.

    The first two Fatal Frame games have probably the best "scares" I've seen in console video games. Plus the way the Fatal Frame games handle combat is pretty unique (using a 1st-person Twilight Zone-ish camera that essentially captures souls, and the damage it does to ghosts is calculated by how centered the ghost is in the picture and how close it is to the camera...so you have to optimally wait for ghost to lunge at you) and did a good job of freaking out my wife when she was watching me play them.
  • edited November 2011
    Posted By: UserCloneResident Evil is far more of an action game. I can actually only think of one time I ever was surprised by something in a RE game, and thus scared only one time. Ever.
    Then you are psychologically far better prepared for the coming zombie apocalypse than some of us.

    I think the whole thing about "survival horror" as a video game craze really isn't so much that what you "see" scares you, but that you know that there's going to be something nasty and resistant to your pistol lurking around the corner, and you're trying to figure out if you a)have enough high-powered weapons b)enough recovery items and c)enough time to kill it before the next one comes. But this is the same "horror" as presented in most modern zombie movies. We've seen zombies up the wazoo by now, and they've lost their fear-factor to the point of being a pop-culture thing. People watch them not because the zombies scare them, but because they're seeing who ends up dying and how...with the occassional surprise thrown in. It still has that tinge of fear to it, despite that the audience is already anticipating that everyone will die, because they'll be going "Is the zombie going to pop up out of the sewers here? No? Maybe around the next corner? ARG! It dropped from the ceiling!"

    And, of course, some of the monster designs may be wacky in these games (as mentioned by doho123), but sometimes they can be pretty damned creepy. And their designs make them more challenging (and therefore, more concern on the part of the player about how to defeat them without being weakend or having supplies depleted before the next monster). I mean, I have four of the Resident Evil games, and have never been able to finish a single one because I chicken out (...and I'm not really good a video games).

    True, if I were really going to play a "freakishly scary" video game, or emulate one as an RPG, I'd being looking more at the original Silent Hill (because, unless you read the guides and cheats before-hand, really, there's something freaky about walls turning into skin-strewn chainlink fence and being chased by demonic ash babies), or CoC: Dark Corners of the Earth (where the combination of insanity and injury effects, not starting off with a weapon, being faced with things that may make your character KILL HIMSELF, and having glimpses of freaky shit when you don't expect it makes it hard for me and most of my friends to play for long periods).


    ...anyway.
    So, at this point, most of the things I'm seeing suggested fall into one of three categories: creepy ambiance that depends on either the quality of the game writing or GM description; some sort of insanity or fear mechanic that determines how nutso your character becomes; or a combination of the two. That doesn't include the aforementioned-at-the-top games where you have to deal with towering stacks of dice or jenga blocks, which, again, depend a lot more on the player's reflexes more than anything else.

    Are there any that do things differently? I just feel there's gotta be some sort of different direction horror can be treated in RPGs, to really make the experience more palpable. Or maybe I'm missing something in the rulesets that have been recommended?
  • Both depending on the GM and "insanity/fear" mechanics are crap. Did you see my post? It's all about having the game setup situations.
  • Posted By: J. WaltonDid you see my post? It's all about having the game setup situations.
    Yep. Sorry, I forgot to include that in my summary-so-far. I see that as more "idea not really seen in horror-genre games yet" as opposed to "been done in horror games so far." In fact, I am actually thinking of integrating it into the revisions I'm working on for Resident Evil+ (which I still have to rename to something not licensed).

    Essentially, as I mentioned previously, characters will earn stress, probably for fighting and engaging in loud or dangerous situations, which will make it more difficult for them to succeed.
    To reduce stress, (and this is where I'll probably integrate the hard-choice idea) they'll either need to hide and bide their time until the coast is clear, or they can discard all stress by choosing some foolhardy option, such as: splitting up; using comrades as a distraction (so the zombies focus on them and not you); "disappearing" from the area (you run away or find a secret passage without telling the others, and give your Stress to them instead); revealing a secret connection to the zombie outbreak (thus giving the GM a bonus because of your complicity); going out all-guns-blazing and being an easy target, etc.

    But anyway, this is still in the mental brewing stage for me.

    I would still like to see if there are other ways horror has been done in RPGs that work. At this point, more for my own curiosity than anything else, I guess.
  • Here's something else I just thought of, kinda Bliss Stage-inspired.

    You have 4d6 to start. They represent things. Skills, gear, relationships.

    Anytime you want to do something, you have to roll the appropriate assortment of dice and assign one to each thing you want to do. 1-2 is failure, 3-4 is not much progress but it doesn't get worse, 5-6 you do it. You could also use Fudge dice.

    In the beginning, your list of things is probably like:

    -- check out a new part of the mansion
    -- don't attract attention

    So, with four dice, you're probably good for a while, yeah? But then you attract the attention of some zombie so it's:

    -- run away
    -- shoot a zombie
    -- don't let it bite me
    -- don't attract more zombies

    Or, if shit really goes down it's like:

    -- shoot as many zombies as possible
    -- keep them from biting me
    -- keep them from biting my partner
    -- keep them from biting this creepy little girl we found
    -- slam the door shut
    -- make sure there aren't any zombies in this room
    -- block it with something heavy

    So, by that point, let's hope you've earned more dice from new gear, relationships, etc. Otherwise, you have to make choices. Even if you have enough dice, you're going to have to assign some 1-2's to some of these, most likely.

    And like you say, maybe you can avoid making some hard choices by doing other things that are dangerous: telling other folks to leave you behind, blocking the hallway so other folks can get away, splitting up, freaking out...
  • Y'know, that is a really good way of doing things, and a lot along the lines I was originally working towards with my first draft. Very much in the vein of an Otherkind-type game (which comes easily, after having hacked Ghost/Echo for doing Men In Black).
    I was originally intending to use Fudge dice too, but worried that it might not be available to as many people as the plucky standard D6.

    ...hmmmm...
    That may be the way to go, though I kinda like keeping my base 5 dice. I have my reasons (I had a small, beat-up guidebook to the first Resident Evil game...aka Biohazard...from Japan, and they rated all the damage, reload times, etc. with a 5-star rating...and I always kinda wanted to do something like that with an RPG).

    We'll see how it mutates...er, I mean, evolves, over the looooooooooong Thanksgiving weekend.
  • Maybe I am, Gremlin. But like you said, the original Silent Hill scared me a lot, and often. Just that creepy static alone often freaked me out (though that'd be next to impossible to imitate in a tabletop game). Anyhow, the one moment that nailed me in RE was when you come back from getting the shotgun and you are trapped in that tiny room where the ceiling is crushing slowly down towards you, and then just when you think you're good and truly fucked, the door slams open and bam! There's your savior! Cue the Indiana Jones dive through the doorway as the door itself gets smashed by the immeasurably heavy block of stone behind you. I found this an amazing use of dead space in the game map. There would never be any reason to go back down that particular track, so instead of leaving it open, they scare the crap out of you, make you think you've done something wrong, and then suddenly save you just at the edge of death.

    The scariest moment in the series as a whole (for me, and also the only RE2 moment that scared me at all) was the scene that introduces the Licker. The reason wasn't the creature itself, really, as much as it was the fact that when it jumps through the mirror, there is a moment of utter shock because you were just in the room that it pops out of, so there's this violation of the expectation that once you've cleared a room, it should at least be safe for a while.
  • Posted By: UserCloneThe scariest moment in the series as a whole (for me, and also the only RE2 moment that scared me at all) was the scene that introduces the Licker. The reason wasn't the creature itself, really, as much as it was the fact that when it jumps through the mirror, there is a moment of utter shock because you werejustin the room that it pops out of, so there's this violation of the expectation that once you've cleared a room, it should at least be safe for a while.
    I need to remember to have that as an option for the GM. "What was safe is safe no more."

    Also, just in case, I wasn't trying to sound critical at all before. More like, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I'll be handing YOU the shotgun, and I'll hide in the closet with the heavy oak door prepping the recovery items.
  • You had better be Jonny-on-the-spot with my damn ammo then. ;)
  • Good stuff to be found here.
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