D&D is a Horror Game





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  1. #1
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    ° Ignore JimLotFP

    D&D is a Horror Game

    (cross-posted from the ol' blog)

    Undead, curses, ancient tombs, forgotten civilizations, demons, devils, fell magic, bizarre monsters that turn you to stone or paralyze you or spirit you off for a year or kill you just by viewing them, etc.

    Sudden death potentially behind every door.

    Of course the players don't get scared, but if they don't get worried for their characters, I'm thinking that's a classic and true case of a referee not doing it right.

    I consider most of the classic fantasy, and certainly the pulpy stuff, to effectively be horror as well. Or at least it would be if you remove the plot immunity of the protagonists. Lord of the Rings becomes quite the macabre tale if the Riders catch Frodo before he leaves the shire. Or the hobbits don't trust Aragorn at the Prancing Pony and are murdered in their sleep. Or if the Watcher eats Frodo before the door of Moria. Or if the Balrog snuffs everyone out. (or if Gollum just murders Bilbo on contact several years earlier...) Or... Or... Or...

    Never mind The Frost Giant's Daughter if Conan had been any less a swordsman. Black Colossus? Iron Shadows in the Moon? Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser could have easily ended up as bloody stains on walls in Jewels in the Forest, Goodwin and O'Keefe and the rest might not have been as cordially received in Muria.

    But if you're playing the scenario out without any prodding or predestined conclusion or narrative immunity, as if it's really happening, all of these things would be very possible outcomes to the situations encountered. In a game, you don't know whether you're playing the daring rogue in an adventure story who snatches riches from the jaws of death, or a victim destined to rot unburied in a morbid tale of greed gone bad and evil powers run amok.

    And even when the situation isn't horrific, it's tragic. King Arthur, Elric of MelnibonÚ, Skafloc...

    Every character who goes on any adventure worthy of the name risks an end such as Liane the Wayfarer suffered. Every treasure-seeking expedition risks the fate of Satampra Zeiros and Tirouv Ompallios.

    I remember this when creating my adventures, my situations, my encounters. Exploration is one classic part of the game, but the discovery of the Dark and the Deadly is invariably the outcome of this exploration.

    Adventurers in role-playing games aren't special because they are gifted, they are special because they are fools who have no regard for their own lives - else they'd do something far more sensible with their lives.

 

  • #2
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    If D&D was horror, they'd never have had to write Call of Cthulhu. Like Buffy, D&D has the trappings of horror but isn't. The PCs have far too many successes, there are lots of monsters and they mostly die. To make D&D horror you have to do away with the standard dungeon, make the game more like Cthulhu - each adventure would have only one monster, which should be powerful enough to win even if the PCs do everything right.

    Quote Originally Posted by JimLotFP View Post
    I consider most of the classic fantasy, and certainly the pulpy stuff, to effectively be horror as well.
    Well you're wrong.

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    It can be horror if the DM runs it that way. I know I've rana lot of horror based D&D games. But it doesn't have to be horror, just like traditional horror games don't have to be horror. I've done CoC one shots that were meant to be funny and silly.

    The book examples you use don't work that well though because those plots and actions are all there to serve the end game of the book and the writers vision. Sure if we complete change things Lord of the Rings can be horror. But we can also change things to make Lovecraft be like the Care Bears. Knowing we can do that for any book doesn't really get us anywhere.

    For that matter knowing we can change how we play any game doesn't really get us anywhere either.

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    OP has a point. A point of light that is...points of light seems to lean in the direction of horror. You're safe in the village and maybe as far as the creek, but go out too deeply in the woods and you're an adventurer.

    So maybe it isn't horror for the PCs, but the NPCs are probably all a bit scared.
    James Garr

  • #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    If D&D was horror, they'd never have had to write Call of Cthulhu. Like Buffy, D&D has the trappings of horror but isn't. The PCs have far too many successes, there are lots of monsters and they mostly die. To make D&D horror you have to do away with the standard dungeon, make the game more like Cthulhu - each adventure would have only one monster, which should be powerful enough to win even if the PCs do everything right.
    Survivalist horror is a legitimate sub-genre.

    And in OD&D you can see more 1st level characters biting the dust than the latest teen slasher flick. (And note the edition tags on this one.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    If D&D was horror, they'd never have had to write Call of Cthulhu. Like Buffy, D&D has the trappings of horror but isn't.
    This. Saying that D&D is pure genre Horror is like saying that Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein or The Hobbit are pure genre Horror. Yes, D&D absolutely has elements of Horror in it, but it's not composed entirely of such elements — nor do such elements compose the largest part of the game (the most prevalent genre contributions come from Fantasy, obviously).

    Now, this doesn't mean that D&D can't be run like Horror, but that assumption isn't the default. Declaring that D&D is a "Horror Game" requires that one take extensive liberties with both the commonly accepted definitions of literary genres and the English language. That said, I've found that most gamers don't understand the former at all, so this kind of 'inventive' redefinition is pretty commonplace.

    [Edit: Just caught that the OP doesn't consider Fantasy to be a genre but, rather, to be Horror. This is the kind of misunderstanding and subsequent redefinition that I allude to above. Fantasy and Horror are two completely separate genres in their pure forms.]
    Last edited by jdrakeh; Saturday, 25th April, 2009 at 06:30 AM.
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  • #7
    Quote Originally Posted by jdrakeh View Post
    This. Saying that D&D is pure genre Horror is like saying that Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein or The Hobbit are pure genre Horror.
    James is talking about the literature D&D was originally based on. Is anyone going to suggest that, for example, Clark Ashton Smith's stories are not equal parts fantasy and horror? What is "genre purity" even supposed to mean in the context of fiction written before the genres of fantasy, horror, and science fiction were ever formalized into the neat categories of today? I sincerely doubt James' statement was meant to be taken as a piece of, say, structuralist genre theory. His point, I think, is rather that (O)D&D subverts expectations about what fantasy roleplaying is supposed to entail, and that actual play may very well turn out to have more in common with fantastic horror than heroic fantasy. Even if the characters should survive through enough levels to rival pulp fantasy superheroes such as Conan, the former never have the plot immunity of the latter. In other words, the element of uncertainty that roleplaying games by design entail makes it likely that a given gaming session will turn out horrific instead of fantastic for the player characters. Provided that the referee remains impartial during play, the D&D universe is far more uncaring and inhuman than is commonly expected of fantasy fiction.

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    To be fair- SF, Fantasy and Horror all sprung from the same roots, and many of the best writers of those genre's early years wrote in 2 or even all three forms.
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  • #9
    ... or if Gollum fails to keep Frodo from becoming a Hobbit Dark Lord ...

    More seriously, horror in literature is an affect. It is one of many responses a work of fantasy (or a D&D game) can evoke, and I do not think Jim meant to suggest otherwise.

    Cannot the mood shift to other tones within a work clearly situated in the "horror genre"? Cannot the "heroic fantasy genre" likewise encompass episodes of horror? I would say that it can even embrace a theme of horror, in what might be called "dark fantasy".

    Again, Jim may correct me if I misunderstand, but I do not think the suggestion was that old-style D&D is only a game of horror.

    Level-draining undead can put a bit of "fear" in players, whether of their characters perishing or of taking years to regain lost levels.
    Last edited by Ariosto; Saturday, 25th April, 2009 at 10:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    If D&D was horror, they'd never have had to write Call of Cthulhu.
    ... and if D&D was fantasy, they never would have had to write Runequest. Or Tunnels and Trolls. Or Chivalry and Sorcery. Or...

    This isn't a good argument at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    The PCs have far too many successes, there are lots of monsters and they mostly die.
    The success of the PCs and the deaths of monsters is certainly not hardcoded into the game. Especially at low levels, a roll on the provided random encounter tables results in an absolute slaughter more often than not if the PCs don't run.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    To make D&D horror you have to do away with the standard dungeon
    How is the "standard dungeon" not horrifying? Every single one is a death-hole.

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    make the game more like Cthulhu - each adventure would have only one monster, which should be powerful enough to win even if the PCs do everything right.
    ... whoever came up with that way of playing Cthulhu must have ignored a whole lot of Lovecraft, where the monsters often were defeated.

    You do know that Gygax listed HP Lovecraft as a prime influence on AD&D?

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug McCrae View Post
    Well you're wrong.
    Well that's certainly conclusive. Anything to back that up besides your saying so?

    Quote Originally Posted by Crothian
    The book examples you use don't work that well though because those plots and actions are all there to serve the end game of the book and the writers vision.
    That's my whole point. There is no "writers vision" or predestined end game in traditional RPGs. The dice determine success and failure and fates. If you apply that standard to fantasy fiction, it all gets very nasty very quickly.

    Elphilm sums up my point perfectly.

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