Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 37: How to Mechanically Enable Horror Games

Main Topic

As we’ve been discussing, Horror as a theme can be played in a wide variety of genres.  Accordingly, some of the more interesting questions are how to enable a horror game across different genres or systems.  Both narrative and mechanical systems can be used for horror, but the way they achieve that goal is different. Some of those games include:


Earthdawn – FASA’s fantasy setting is inextricably linked to horror.  One of the main themes revolves around The Horrors that torment humanity and that could not be fully defeated but only waited out.  Earthdawn explores these influences and story providing unique powers to Horrors and their spawn as well as an asymmetric stat line making the Named Horrors fearsome indeed.  We especially want to recommend the blog post from Earthdawn Line Developer Josh Harrison who addresses a lot of the issues we’ve been discussing.

Beyond the Supernatural – A Palladium Games book that began before RIFTS took over the Palladium universe.  Beyond the Supernatural was very clearly aimed at being a horror game in the late 80s and enabled that with the usual panache of a Palladium Game.  Players find their character limited in trying to learn things outside their “class” and the monsters or horror opposition includes abilities and qualities that most PCs will never see.

Rifts – Palladium’s entry into the blend of magic and sci-fi in the early 90s was in the form of RIFTS.  In a lot of ways, RIFTS was the game of this type in the 90s that was most influenced by horror. The post-apocalyptic setting and the use of MegaDamage created a real danger for a wide variety of characters.  The unpredictable nature of magic and the Rifts themselves created horror openings and the original cover included a Splugorth Slaver with the grotesquerie and challenge to humanity it entails.

Original World of Darkness – The OWOD is built entirely upon personal horror in different ways that we’ve been describing.  The fate of a vampire struggling to retain his or her humanity and the despair of a Wraith who is fighting a never-winning battle against his own literal shadowself are the fodder for horror.  The system is straightforward at its core, and the simple Attribute + Skill dice pool with a static target number is a style of system widely used still.

Little Fears

HERO System – Okay, stay with me here, the HERO system is the most flexible system that there is.  It is a system of mechanics that lets you tell the kinds of stories you want so it can be used for horror, but you have to be aware of what limitations there will be.  Because you can design powers, creatures, and the setting with the utmost flexibility, you can create the kind of horror you find anywhere, but you have to make sure that characters are limited in what they start with. By balancing the players limited resources against a potentially unlimited wealth of the antagonist, you can really effectuate horror games in HERO system.

Call of Cthuhlu

Nights Black Agents – If

Pathfinder Horror Adventures

Kult – The setting enables a horror setting – it is a creation of horror by it’s very nature.

Dread – Using a Jenga Tower instead of dice.  It’s the tower of terror


Stat Blocks



The Bumbles

Have you heard of the Bumbles? No, well sit back and try to not think about how even now they could be invading. As I fill you in on them.  

The bumbles as they are called hail from a distant star system. They are small, small enough to get into your body through any hole that is natural. While this is not unusual the things that happen once they get in, now that is unusual. Once in they wait until you enter a sleep cycle. Then they get to work. The next day things seem off you are a little clumsy you have a “butterfingers” day. THen the next you trip or fall a few times. Then things just continue to get worse. The drop things followed by slowly decreasing your overall movement. The whole time the bumbles have been weaving tendrils of some organic material similar to carbon fiber tubes. Anchoring it to points on the skeleton and shortening the lengths. As your movements decrease they start to reproduce at an accelerated rate. Continuing to grow fibers that slow your movement faster. Once you stop then the colony goes into overdrive till they erupt from you and float along to the next hapless victim of The Bumbles.


Joules- Earth’s Invisible Defenders

“Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us” – Calvin


The drake equation tells that that there should be many other civilizations out there in the universe.  The Fermi paradox brings up lack of evidence of extraterrestrial life. Why haven’t aliens visited earth?  The theories are infinite. But the truth is much simpler. Aliens are terrified of earth’s defenders, so they give it a wide berth.  But it’s not the humans that terrify extra terrestrials. Why would aliens be worried about impulsive and violent hairless apes with delusions of grandeur?  There is a race on earth that is rumored to exist on a higher plane of intelligence. Rumors of their strange thought processes, intelligence and technology terrify any extraterrestrial who has heard the tales.  And as such their technology has never been analyzed or reverse engineered.


While they’re not immortal, they are incredibly durable. They can survive temperatures of over 300 degrees fahrenheit, extreme dehydration, the vacuum of space (-272 degrees centigrade), and even deadly ionizing radiation.  It is said that after humans trigger the nuclear holocaust these creatures will still be around and taking bets on the cockroaches.


But why are the humans completely unaware of the potential of these creatures?  Scientific protocol of course. Interfering with an ongoing experiment would skew the results.  And the Tardigrades have spent thousands of years observing us.



The Continental Express Pocketwatch
It is alluringly simple; a reminder of times gone past.  The railroad watch on the dresser can barely be heard in the stillness of the night.  The open face design with it’s stark black numerals on a white field mark it as a remnant of the railroad era.  Slightly burnished, with a patina that comes from age, the pocket watch has a place in your heart. This beautiful piece of history evokes a warm and nostalgic glow from everyone who sees it.  The Continental Express, though, is a mystery. The engraving on the back of the watch shows it is from 1895 and the railway, The Continental Express. Try as you might, you can’t find a history of this railroad or even what route it took. How you came to find it in your possession … well, you don’t quite recall.  


In between the ticking of the seconds, the pocketwatch waits for you to wind it yet again.  While keeping time is what it does best, the crack on its face betrays a history you haven’t figure out quite yet.  You can’t shake the feeling that this pocket watch is something more than just a watch. All you can do, though, is wait.


This waiting drags on you, drains you, pulls your mind back to the watch.  What is it that the old conductor did with this watch? What secrets does it hold? The watch is just that – a watch.  What it does, though, on the second inset face, is track when the doors open. Doors to somewhere else. Doors something can come through.  Doors you haven’t seen opening.


What will the next winding of the watch bring and will you even notice before it’s too late.



Jabber   verb jab·ber  \ ˈja-bər \


Definition of jabber

jabbered; jabbering play  \ˈja-b(ə-)riŋ\


intransitive verb
:to talk rapidly, indistinctly, or unintelligibly


transitive verb
:to speak rapidly or indistinctly


First Known Use: 15th century


Origin and Etymology of jabber
Middle English jaberen, of imitative origin

Closing remarks

Zendead- Friday the 13th


Joules- Gloom




Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp


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And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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