The life of an adventurer has never been safe or comfortable. Terrible dangers lurk around every corner and the threat of death is a constant companion. Despite such grim realities, far more horrifying fates await those who find themselves facing off against true darkness: nightmares that thirst for the tears of the innocent and hunger for the flesh of the living. Adventurers who find themselves in a horror game must be prepared to face terror, madness, and threats to their very souls.
This section contains advice for players in a horror-themed game.
To run an effective horror-themed adventure, the GM has to think about her game in a different light. In the same way, to get the most out of their characters, players in a horror game should consider their characters anew. This section is aimed at the player, and provides tips on how to create suitable characters for horror-themed adventures. It also touches on how you, as a player, can participate in horror-themed games in ways that make the story more unnerving for everyone at the game table.
First and foremost, understand that horror games are meant to be creepy. If you don’t want to risk being actually frightened, you don’t have to play. If you do want to play, make sure you’re familiar with the Horror Games and Consent section.
Aside from their macabre themes, many horror games involve a different, intentionally darker sort of storytelling than other games. In a horror-themed game, the GM is juggling her story and the game’s rules to not just tell a story, but to create an atmosphere of dread within the game. Joking around out-of-character and getting distracted can wreck the mood the GM works to create. Laughter relieves tension, which might be exactly what the GM is trying to foster. At the start of your horror game, point out this section to the GM and have her answer the question: How serious do you want the game to be?
Characters in horror-themed campaigns are usually no less skilled or powerful than those in other campaigns.
The GM might also have special guidelines or expectations for the game’s characters— particularly in the cases of supposedly fearless classes, like paladins—so make sure that you and she are on the same page regarding character creation before you get to work.
During the process of creating your character, also keep this question in mind: What is my character afraid of? This isn’t something that’s going to come back and make your character weaker; it’s a consideration to help you get into your character’s head. Probably the biggest difference between horror adventures and other games is that they encourage you to have a more intimate understanding of your character as an individual, not just as an assemblage of numbers. Take a look at the sidebar and consider working some of those elements into your thoughts about your character. These story elements will help your GM involve your character more deeply in the story, and help you as a player understand what your character fears and how your character might confront or avoid those fears.
Characters who aren’t afraid of anything—or who are incapable of emotion—are the worst characters to play in a horror adventure. If the slasher bursts onto the scene and no one’s startled or frightened, that’s a bad sign for a horror game. Fight-or-flight responses, instant reactions, and expressions of revulsion are key components of a terrifying scene. In horror adventures, it is the GM’s job to set up grim scenarios, and it is part of your job to consider how your character would actually react to these situations.
That doesn’t mean your character needs to be a shrieking coward, though. Your character likely is skilled with weapons or has the power to magically manipulate reality. By the same token, your character should also be a person. In the face of a terrifying encounter, consider how your character would respond. If you’re not sure, think about your own reactions when to being frightened or unsettled in the past.
If you decide that your character would probably have some sort of startled reaction to a scene, consider expressing that. Your character’s actions might even intersect with specific game rules. As such, here’s a list of reactions to frightening situations common among characters. Sometimes your reaction will be strong or important enough to warrant flight or a moment of shocked paralysis, but in other cases you just want it to be flavorful and not impede a more strategic response.
Cast a Protective Spell: You gird yourself with magic.
Draw a Weapon: Usually done while taking a step back, you both prepare for and distance yourself from danger.
Gape: You hold your ground, but look on in shock.
Guard: Moving into position between the threat and an ally, you try to prevent another from seeing the scene.
Pray/Swear: You call upon the gods or verbally express shock.
Retreat: You seek escape if the situation is overwhelming. Screaming might also be an obvious reaction, but that tends to be the domain of victims, not heroes (though, everyone has the occasional less-than-heroic moment). Retreating also seems distinctly unheroic, but in a horror game, that might occasionally be the prudent choice, especially if it is clear that a threat outmatches your group.
Remember that in horror games, combat is not always be the surest path to victory.
When your character confronts a shocking scene, ask yourself what your character would do, what you would want to do, and what you would really do. These questions often have different answers. Let those answers influence how you react. Alternatively, you might hang on to the first thing that comes to mind, emulating more instinctual reactions to horror. Frightened or distraught people don’t make the best decisions, so don’t be afraid to make a snap judgment, act rashly, or react without consulting the group. In any case, your choice of action should usually be whatever you think will be the most fun or interesting for the entire group.
Sometimes, your choices might mean playing along with the GM. The GM is not your opponent—she’s the conductor of a symphony in which you’re a star performer. If she seems to be hinting hard toward a course of action, consider going along with it or mentioning to the whole group why you don’t want to. The GM might also use any number of “special effects” during a horror game, such as providing certain characters with information only they know or asking to roll your dice for you in a specific situation. If that happens, oblige your GM. It could mean nothing or it could portend terrible things, but whatever the case, your GM isn’t trying to cheat you. You’re all just trying to make the game more fun.
The GM is telling a story and wants to include you in it.
Consider including one or more of the following aspects and let your GM know so she can work them into her stories.
Have a Goal: Strive to be the best at something, to create something, to see a place, to get married, or to achieve some other goal. Whatever it is, have something you want above all other things.
Have a Reputation: Maybe you’re a great juggler, or maybe you slipped on the stairs in front of the whole town. Whatever it is, it’s something locals remember about you.
Have a Friend: Whether a friend from school, a coworker, an army buddy, or someone you saved, have someone you’re close to and whom you wish well.
Have a Home: It might be a neighborhood you love, your parent’s house, or a room you rent; in any case, it’s the place you call home.
Have a Problem: Maybe you don’t have any money, a member of your family is sick, or you’re trying to get home. Whatever the issue is, you’re doing your best to solve it.
Have a Secret: Maybe you can’t read, left your crewmates to die, or made your long-lost sister run away. This should be something that would embarrass or endanger you if others found out.
Have a Reason to Be Brave: Maybe it’s to be like your hero, maybe it’s to repay a debt, maybe it’s for your child, but have a reason to occasionally face your fears.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Horror Adventures © 2016, Paizo Inc.; Authors: John Bennett, Clinton J. Boomer, Logan Bonner, Robert Brookes, Jason Bulmahn, Ross Byers, Jim Groves, Steven Helt, Thurston Hillman, Eric Hindley, Brandon Hodge, Mikko Kallio, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Alistair Rigg, Alex Riggs, David N. Ross, F. Wesley Schneider, David Schwartz, Mark Seifter, and Linda Zayas-Palmer.