26 March 2011

Games I Wanna Play, Part 3a: Horror

So I covered the World of Darkness in my last post, but I haven't really touched on the horror genre of gaming yet. That's where this post comes in. Now, for one reason or another, my horror library is fairly limited. I'm not sure if it's because I've never really explored it, or if it's because there's not much in the way of horror games out there (outside of the obvious titles). But even with my limited access to different horror-themed games, I tend to have a pretty extensive library of pertinent supplements and sourcebooks.

The first horror game I ever ran was Mayfair's Chill, and the only reason I bought it was because I thought the cover and graphic design were cool. Even though the system was somewhat... unique, I still loved that game (and I still do!). I had a tradition where I'd call together my gaming friends and run a Chill game on Halloween night (though it was typically the weekend before Halloween, and given the seasonal time change, we usually got an extra hour of gaming in). We'd run from just after dark until the game ended or the sun came up.

I certainly don't have the stamina for that kind of endeavor these days. I'm too old and I value my sleep too much. But damn, those were good times. But more about the specifics of those games when I cover Chill in full, below.

I was introduced to the horror genre of tabletop by a friend of mine who liked Call of Cthulhu. I wasn't all that literate in those days, and I'd never read HP Lovecraft or his contemporaries. Blasphemy, I know, but I was all of 14 or 15. I was more interested in the less cerebral aspects of gaming. You know: blowing stuff up, shooting bad guys, and looting their rapidly-cooling cadavers.

Those initial sessions (which were most often done on local bulletin board systems... that was what we had before Al Gore invented the interwebs, don't you know) piqued my curiosity, but I didn't really get a true taste of Mythos horror until well after I'd met my wife-to-be. In fact, my current CoC gaming library is comprised, in large part, of books that she brought into our marriage.

My wife ran a number of awesome CoC games in those days. I still recall with fondness the exploits (or, rather, the depredations) of Sheridan MacDonagh and his brother, Grady, as they blazed a trail of violent crime across the American Midwest; or Caleb Tucker, my intrepid G-Man, who had to "do the hopscotch" in the course of his investigations of an odd little girl that had disappeared some twenty years before. Amy doesn't run games anymore. She's far too shy to sit behind the GM screen. Maybe she'll get over her self-consciousness someday, and I'll be lucky enough to play in her games again. We'll just have to wait and see.

But enough of that. Let's talk about the games and why I'd love to run and/or play them again.

As far as horror games go, Mayfair's edition of Chill was my first true love. At the time, it was a game none of my friends had ever heard of. This meant that all the juicy bits of fluff and story belonged to me and me alone. There was no expectation from the players as to how the setting operated. For example, players with any experience with the WoD will have certain expectations about the world when playing in a Vampire game. I didn't have that baggage with Chill.

I never used the stock player organization, known as "SAVE," in my games... at least not as a player resource. When SAVE appeared at all, it was as an NPC organization, and they weren't always acting in the best interests of the player characters (more on that later). When I ran it, Chill was less about the players fighting evil than it was about the players (as everyday folks) being exposed to the Unknown.

The game was really creepy, especially given the fact that I tended to run it after dark, by candlelight, with soundtracks to scary movies playing softly in the background. The soundtracks to the Hellraiser movies were particularly effective. Plus, I seemed to have a knack for describing just enough to make the players worry, but not so much that they'd know what exactly I had in mind. Of course, I could be ascribing powers to myself that I never had, but at the time it seemed to work fine.

So every fall, I start to get that itch to drag out ye olde Chill books and run a Halloween game. I've been stymied in recent years by lack of time, lack of energy, lack of players, and (this last Halloween) by pestilence. So I'll get there someday, I just don't know when. I hope it's before I'm in the rest home, because I'd hate for my geriatric players to suffer from cardiac arrest if I still have a knack for creeping people out.

Those original Halloween games were pretty fun. Generally speaking, they involved a group of pre-gen PCs. One of the most memorable scenarios involved a group of college-age kids in Colorado, driving up to a mountain cabin for a good bit of Spring Break fun. They get up there, start to get settled in, when some scared stranger, bleeding, knocks on the door and forces his way in. He's got a gun, so they humor him. He's yelling, "Lock the doors! Board the windows! They're coming!!"

"Who's coming?" they ask.

Just then, the zombies attack. They break down the door, bust in the windows, and swarm in. The guy opens up with his pistol, but it doesn't do much good. Before long, the entire group has been wiped out.

They wake up the next day, bruised and battered and not feeling particularly well. The guy is gone, as are the zombies. It takes the next hour or two of game time before they realize that they, too, are dead. The humorous thing was, one of the kids had sustained a broken neck during the zombie attack, but he just assumed that he'd been mildly injured. So they went to an urgent care center for x-rays, which is when the doctor reveals that, wow, he ain't got no vital signs.

From there things got progressively weirder. One of the kids, who's taking psychology and parapsychology courses at their college, goes to his professor for help. The professor calls his contacts at SAVE and schedules a meeting. Little do the kids know that SAVE has already written them off, and sends a kill team in to put them out of their misery... with a LAW rocket. End of game.

But it was a fun ride, anyway.

There were other games, too. Like the one based on the novel The Night Boat by Robert R. McCammon. It's about a U-Boat that is buried by an aquatic avalanche caused by depth-charges in WWII. Just as the sub is going down, a voodoo priest curses it, and turns the German crew into zombies. Flash forward to the modern day, and the sub gets freed by an old underwater mine, floats to the surface, and the Nazi zombies come out to play. I realize it's all very silly when you think about it, but it was a good game anyway.

So... yeah. Someday, I'll break out those Chill books again and do another proper Halloween game, from dusk 'til dawn. Candlelight, creepy music, the whole shebang.

(To be continued...)

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