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Thread: D&D is a Horror Game
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 03:53 AM #1
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
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 Melniboné, 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.
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Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 04:05 AM #2
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
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.
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 04:37 AM #3
The Great Druid (Lvl 17)
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.
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 05:10 AM #4
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
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.
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 06:12 AM #5
Lama (Lvl 13)
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.)
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 06:17 AM #6
Defender (Lvl 8)
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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.
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 09:13 AM #7
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 09:24 AM #8
Time Agent (Lvl 24)
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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.
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 10:09 AM #9
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
... 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.
Saturday, 25th April, 2009, 10:14 AM #10
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
This isn't a good argument at all.
You do know that Gygax listed HP Lovecraft as a prime influence on AD&D?
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.Originally Posted by Crothian
Elphilm sums up my point perfectly.