This Halloween I've belatedly decided to look at Horror RPGs published in 2017. I like to wait until late in the year to see how the previous year's releases have shaken out (winning awards, ceasing publication, available for free). For this list I've focused on core rules, not supplements or modules. Some games more clearly offer horror than others. I've listed items if they have a printed version or, if they're pdf only, they're at least 100 pages or so. It's arbitrary, but the list would be crazy big otherwise. For each I've provided a small summary and in some cases minimal commentary. DTRPG has sale prices on this, the last day of their Spooky Games Sale 2018.
Arrghh Bottom Sound
I love the pitch for this game, "Being a game of pirates, Norse Deities, magic, Cthulhu and rum in the Southwest Pacific." These rules have a deeply unfancy presentation, but they're also available for free from DTRPG. Arrghh jumps in with a hodgepodge of resolution mechanics before you even get to character creation. It's very trad, with FRP-esque classes. The bigger problem is that it's blurb implies some horror elements, perhaps the supernatural of Pirates of the Caribbean or Tim Powers novels, but it doesn't provide much to shape or support that.
"A Depressing Role-Playing Game About Horrible People." A PbtA rpg taking inspiration from Lemony Snicket, Edward Gorey, and the Addams Family. You play servants in a decaying English manor after the Great War. It's a life filled with chores, toil, petty jealousies, and madness. Players seek to Maintain the House, Protect the Family, Overcome the Strangeness, and Improve their Station. In keeping with the tone your playbooks include: Your Hopeless Prestige, Cruel Move, Ghastly Attributes, Alarming Trauma, Expected Duties, and Pointless Move. Tyler, among others, has run sessions of this on The Gauntlet.
A PbtA game taking the classic fairy tale and turning it into a surreal game of psychological horror. When Sherri played this at Origins, she thought about it for days after. Though she would never tell me what actually happened in her session, she said BB spoke to her fears and socialization as a woman in a way no other game or media had. There's an interesting parallel between this and Delta Green. Where DG swept the 2018 mainstream ENnies, Bluebeard's Bride won attention with an IGDN victory and other awards. Trad horror with firepower vs. feminine horror.
Colonial Gothic: Third Edition
The latest edition of this long-running rpg. Colonial Gothic sets itself as more horror than action. It is a dark supernatural conspiracy game set on the eve of the American Revolution. Various forces work behind the scenes to manipulate events and control the destiny of this new land. The PCs are not characters trained to fight against the darkness, but instead have crossed paths with it and now understand the dangers facing them: American Revolutionary Hunters.
This rules-lite system for handling Lovecraftian investigations has become a go-to for the Gauntlet Community. We've seen GMs use it for published CoC adventures and new scenarios. It leans into the idea that the investigators are doomed, what Trail of Cthulhu calls a "Purist" approach. Includes short rules, a GM section on mythos and mysteries, and several settings (London 1851, Arkham 1692, Jaiwo 2017, and Mumbai 2037).
Dead for the Living
In this you play a ghost sent to police other ghosts. It feels a like a noir version of Beetlejuice with you acting as an agent of some kind of afterlife protection bureau. In Dead for the Living you carry out those duties while dealing with the societies and bureaucracies of the dead. In that it also feels a little like later Wraith. Dead for the Living has a clean layout and nice artwork. This one definitely goes on my wish list.
A PbtA game of 1950's home front zombie horror. I backed this Kickstarter and received the pdf version, but the printed version has yet to be released. They sold it on DTRPG for a time, but have since pulled it. It's a great concept, with some dynamite expanded setting material at the back. However in running it we found several problems and contradictions within the rules. You can see our sessions here. The designer, Elsa S. Henry, has appeared on +1 Forward to discuss the game.
One of the big winners in the 2018 ENnies. This revision of the "Government Agents vs. Cthulhu" rpg streamlines and makes it stand-alone. The publishers have supported the clean, two-volume core set with multiple supplements. Delta Green remains at heart a BRP engine game, albeit with some interesting takes on personal connections. But the new version feels a little sterile next to the crazy, grungy material of the original DG and its follow up, Countdown. I played DG extensively back when it appeared in an Unspeakable Oath article and I liked the grit and personal uncertainty. Despite that I'm looking forward to Pelgrane's ToC book, The Fall of Delta Green.
A two-volume game (players and GM book) taking place in a supernaturally infused Elizabethan era. Looks fairly trad: ten stats, multiple die types, professions with sub-types, large skill lists. It has a dense text design, with full page watermarking. The players' book is entirely mechanics, while the GM book has advice, the world, ship rules, and an intro adventure. Despite being dense, it's clearly designed to be a toolkit rather than a fully described setting.
Glimpse the Beyond Second Edition
The original edition read like Mage: the Ascension vs. Cthulhu. This edition pulls back a little one that. It's a "secret war" horror game, with characters with special powers and talents fighting in the shadows against supernatural threats. That's approached more as general paranormal threats rather than Lovecraft-esque forces this time. Players take on the role of Magi in this conflict. Glimpse uses a die pool system, with the twist that you multiply your highest result by your skill level and compare that to the target number.
Horrors: The Scary Story RPG
In this, normal people investigate horrors while being stalked. Reminds me of Fear Itself, Dead of Night, and Epoch. It has a die step system (ala Savage Worlds). Looks pretty conventional, though I like the idea of the sanity tests being called "jump scares." The GM builds scenarios around a Big Bad (ala Monster of the Week) with the players investigating to find out its weakness.
I Love the Corps
At first I assumed I Love the Corps was just an Aliens rpg (which we actually had years ago). But the setting's broader, with the "Marines in Space" battling against a host of different horrors after the fall of Earth. It's a reasonably light resolution system, 1d6 + ability vs. task number but it adds a metric shit-ton of chrome to that. I Love... makes an interesting division between narrative and action scenes. The former lets PCs conduct large scale operation, like sweeping a facility in a single check. The latter comes when a threat appears. The actual rules come in two volumes, with a minimal text design. You can also check out the free QS which has complete rules and an adventure.
An Italian post-apocalyptic rpg with both fantasy and cyberpunk elements. Humans have mutated and horrors still lurk in the outside world. The fall comes in 2026 and the actual game's set 530 years later with significant rebuilding having happened.
Originally a Spanish game, Nocturnal Media ran a short, smart Kickstarter for this English translation. In it you play a child, approaching fears with young eyes and imagination. There's an interesting sub-set of horror games on childhood, many more now in the era of Stranger Things. ST protagonists are a little older than the PCs in Innocents, who range 4-12 years old. The system uses color-coded "knuckles" instead of dice for resolution. The character sheet's a fun mix of mad-lib fill-in and answering questions.
For this I'm going to quote Christo Meid's description: "Libreté is a gritty, Powered by the Apocalypse Game created by the French designer Vivien Feasson. The game is set in a miserable rainy world where there are only children, the abandoned city, and the horrible abominations that hunt children, the sirains. There will be drama, confiding of secrets, and desperate, often violent struggles to survive as our heroes search for the safe haven, Libreté."
Lights Out The Roleplaying Game
A game about children protagonists, aimed more at children players than Innocents above. In the city of Applewood the kids wake up to find all of the adults gone and each of them possessing strange new powers. That's seems cool until night falls and monsters appear. An interesting concept that mixes mysterious academy and survival horror stories, albeit toned down. The publisher's blurb explicitly talks about putting female protagonists to the center. They also have a series of books based on the setting.
A striking Italian game book with a medieval feel. I'm still not sure what the game's about. Here's a Google translation of part of the pitch. The game explores "Wanderers, or of men suffering from plague in the continuous search for their dream. An ancient curse has opened them the doors of a new dark world full of power, suffering and horror, but not without unthinkable opportunities." The same company handles Italian production for Werewolf, Vampire, Kult, and Ars Magica, so I suspect it's a heavier game.
An Italian rpg of a "nihilistic science fiction setting for the universal rpg MONAD System." Humans escape a dying Earth in eight ark ships. These arks weren't created by humanity, but rather by unknown forces. Ages have passed. After a crisis, each level of the ark cut itself off from one another. Now after generations those barriers have lifted and those independently evolving peoples will meet and clash. Looks more bleak than horrific. From the blurb I'm not sure how much the mysterious creators play a role.
Cakebread & Walton's take on Ghostbusters. I especially like the names for the rival companies: Ghostbursters, G6S, and Exorcisms-R-Us (endorsed by the Pope). Then there's Hauntaway's tag line: "We'll Bring Your Spirits Down." OneDice offers a super light-weight resolution system which is what you need for this kind of setting. I'll be curious if they add any mechanisms to support the tone or feel. InSpectres had the reality show gimmick which worked well and enhanced the system.
Oubliette Second Edition
And this is how I learned what oubliette means (noun: a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling). Oubliette uses Fate Core to offer a fantasy horror setting that feels like Castlevania, Innistrad, and Ravenloft, though leaning more towards the high fantasy side. Players can live in and explore the titular Castle Oubliette, a sprawling mass of buildings which have formed a massive city divided into districts and factions. Worth checking out if you're interested in a highly defined dark fantasy setting, especially for Fate.
A zombie game of survival horror. This doesn't take place in the immediate aftermath, but rather a few years down the road. You play vital members of one of the surviving communities. You work to protect it against zombies and worse things created by the parasitic illness that brought down civilization. The organization looks a little messy, and resolution requires cross-reference on a chart of difficulty vs. skill value. We haven't seen that many Z-Day games set this long after the initial outbreak, so I'm intrigued.
This presents a slight contradiction for me. On the one hand, the title harkens back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the 30's-40's pulp milieu which inspired it. On the other, the game's set in 1910 and echoes fantastic Edwardian and colonialist lit. Raiders uses OGL d100 rules, so it offers a familiar feel for BRP fans. Seven stats, professions define skill picks and a special abilities, multiple die types for damage. The game looks strong and professional, so if you're interested in the period, it's a good resource, particularly the full version with the GM & setting material.
Though initially the game seems to position itself as a generic Cthulhu rpg, it actually has a distinct and new setting. Play takes place in ominous 1980's Britain. Seven years earlier a cataclysmic incursion destroyed Midwich and created a zone of horrors. You play survivors within that zone, armed with an item allowing you to move between times and worlds. The system itself leans more trad, and the dense run-on text makes reading harder than it needs to be. But it's worth checking out since the full edition is currently PWYW on Drivethru.
This uses the Axiom system powering the publisher's earlier I AM ZOMBIE rpg. You pick and arrange five cards and build your character via connections between them. For tests you roll three d6, plus one per associated trait. 1-4's are totaled and compared against a target number. A 5 is Chaw and a 6 is Brainz, creating different effects and also tracked with tokens. This seems to be a throwback variant trying to capture an OSR feel. Toxicity does look super 1970s underground and the printed version is a cool artifact.
The third edition of this rpg of modern magical conspiracy. This has an amazing four-volume set, with striking illustrations. It remains a system with some strangeness in character creation and resolution which take some getting used to. This edition moves away from the "meta-plot" of earlier versions, instead focusing on the general world of supernaturals and how it grinds down any who interact with it. I love the campaign starters Atlas has provided. You can see my sessions of one of those, "Raiders of the Lost Mart," here.
The Vampire's Codex
A modern, gothic noir rpg that carries more than a little whiff of a Vampire: TM heartbreaker. The publisher blurbs don'tmuch to show how it breaks away from that, besides being percentile based instead of dice pool driven. Then there's the pitch line "This is not your typical #dungeonsanddragons or #?vampiremasquerade #game" the publisher used on forum. Despite a canceled Kickstarter the game released in 2017. The publicity text does two things that bug me: presenting the game as the newest edition of something that didn't have an earlier edition and advertising itself as set in the world of "J.A. Dohm's new and refreshing setting" as if it's not just some webisodes and a novel I can't find actually listed anywhere.
vs. Stranger Stuff: Season 2
There's been an explosion of "Kids on Bikes" games in the last couple of years (including a game using that name). This emulates that using Phillip Reed's VsM Engine- a super light-weight card-driven resolution system. The mechanics don't take up a great deal of space so there's room for campaign creation, plot ideas, and a fully developed setting. There's also an adventure included. Fat Goblin's released another version, a stand-alone with a trio of clown-themed modules (that's a big nope). If you're interested, check out the free version: vs. SS: S2 Easy Mode.
History of Licensed RPGs (Part I 1977-1983)
History of Universal RPGs
History of Post-Apocalyptic RPGs
History of Steampunk & Victoriana RPGs
History of Superhero RPGs
History of Horror RPGs
History of Wild West RPGs
For the full backlog of Age of Ravens posts on Blogger see here.