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Idea for a genuinely horrifying horror campaign...

I just got an idea in my head that it would be fun to convince my group to try an Old West themed RPG (which itself would be a challenge, in my group, but this is just a thought experiment).

Then a couple of sessions in, something a little creepy happens. Such as...they kill a bad guy, and 10 minutes later the corpse is gone, in a way that is hard to explain, but for which there's some plausible explanation. Like, they thought they were alone, and now they think there's somebody else.

Or, even better, they kinda suspect each other. Maybe it's a game where players have secret goal/motivations, and note passing between GM and players is part of the game. So when the corpse is missing, they all think that one of the other players is probably responsible. Because...that's the only possible explanation. Right?

Then things get weirder. And creepier.

Only some number of sessions in do they realize that this is really a horror game with supernatural forces, undead, etc.

The reason I chose Western is that I think it would work best in a genre in which the players expect nothing supernatural, and thus look for non-supernatural explanations of things.

I probably won't actually do this, but I just thought it would be fun to discuss.

Thoughts?
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Only some number of sessions in do they realize that this is really a horror game with supernatural forces, undead, etc.

The reason I chose Western is that I think it would work best in a genre in which the players expect nothing supernatural, and thus look for non-supernatural explanations of things.

I probably won't actually do this, but I just thought it would be fun to discuss.

Thoughts?


Deadlands is sitting right there, waiting for you, when you are ready.. :)
 

payn

Legend
I dont mind the players having secrets and/or agendas that might conflict with one another, but prefer it be something short in the 1-3 session kind of thing. Also, I dont really like being told the game is in one genre and then have a bait switch dropped on me. If framed as a short campaign id go with it, but a long term campaign would likely have me bailing.
 

Deadlands is sitting right there, waiting for you, when you are ready.. :)

That's what gave me the idea. The problem is, if I say, "We're playing Deadlands"....boom, the surprise is gone. So if I used Deadlands I would have to hide the name of the system, which would raise suspicions.

Again, I don't think I'm going to actually do this so it's just theory, but I think the only way to make it work is to hack an existing Old West game. It basically couldn't be an off-the-shelf "weird west" game.
 

I dont mind the players having secrets and/or agendas that might conflict with one another, but prefer it be something short in the 1-3 session kind of thing. Also, I dont really like being told the game is in one genre and then have a bait switch dropped on me. If framed as a short campaign id go with it, but a long term campaign would likely have me bailing.

And the other aspect to that is that eventually the surprise, which is the premise of this idea, wears off. So, yeah, ideally it would be designed as a short-term campaign, with the full denouement happening in the last session.
 



prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The problem is that folks are often not happy with bait and switch.
This is ... something of an understatement, in my experience.
They build a character and design for one thing, and then you stuff it into something else, they might not be too happy with you.
Depending on what you're after, you could ask your players to build fish-out-of-water characters, or something. At least they'd know they weren't optimizing for something other than the game they're about to play.
 


Offer up a second twist: All those creepy supernatural occurrences? They turn out to be completely mundane, after all.
Sort of a bait-and-switch-and-switch-back.

So...another way to do this is to pick a given system where they expect supernatural, and then repeatedly have mundane explanations until they come to expect it, and then BAM!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Start with a Western...

Turns out it's Horror! Zombies and curses!

But it turns out all the characters are in a VR program run by an evil corporation...

Which exists in a Distopian world...

Run by Time Travelers from the future!

A future world being taken over by Werewolves!

Who are... um... space pirates cursed by the moon!
 


MGibster

Legend
You can get around this bait & switch problem by telling your players. I ran a sword & planets game and gave my players instructions to make Greek characters either on the side of Athens or Sparta and we'll go from there. But please have faith in my because it's going to get weird. I know it spoils the surprise somewhat but it's better than just selling them one campaign and giving them another.
 

Deadlands is sitting right there, waiting for you, when you are ready.. :)

Leave Deadlands sitting right there. This is always good advice.

Run Tribe 8. It is seriously weird, seriously horrific, supernatural, and unlike Deadlands, not incredibly lame. It has a bit of a Western feel to the setting, which you can increase if you want.

I ran a year-long Tribe 8 campaign a decade ago, and the players still talk about how it seriously creeped them out.

For added horror, you can let the players discover for themselves that it is set in Canada. I know that seriously ratcheted up the horror aspect for my guys.

I'm thinking about running the setting again, using the Zweihander system.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
The easiest way to run a “surprise genre twist” is to start with some kind of toolbox RPG system. That minimizes the amount of work the player- and you- will need to do as the ground begins to shift under the PCs’ feet.

That also maximizes the flexibility of what you can actually do in the campaign. Starting the campaign off as traditional Western, but with the supernatural world beginning to reassert itself? You can do that! The players are in a Westworld/Dream Park setting when the tech goes kill crazy? Easy! Want the PCs to be amnesiac players trapped in a VR Western RPG? You can do it! Want the PCs to be self-aware videogame sprites who eventually escape from their Western-themed game into a arger digital reality? It’s perfectly possible.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
You could also give players a second chance to make characters after the big twist. So if their first character concept no longer fits the campaign, they get to make a new one. You could also do a second Session 0 at that point to gather player ideas and set the new mood.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Run Tribe 8. It is seriously weird, seriously horrific, supernatural, and unlike Deadlands, not incredibly lame.

If, in order to make your game sound cool, you have to tear down something someone else likes... your game isn't actually that cool.

And if you don't have to, but choose to anyway, you aren't exactly positioning yourself as the kind of person to take recommendations from, now are you?
 


If, in order to make your game sound cool, you have to tear down something someone else likes... your game isn't actually that cool.

And if you don't have to, but choose to anyway, you aren't exactly positioning yourself as the kind of person to take recommendations from, now are you?
If facts are important, than yes, I am the kind of person to take recommendations from.

Deadlands is cartoonish at best, childish at worst, a decent concept which has been corner-cut into an absurdity. I can go on in considerable detail if desired; the historical flaws alone can fill pages.
 

Dave Goff

Explorer
Huh. I must be odd. I totally don't mind bait and switch.
I mean, as long as it's done well, it's fine with me.
Of course, there would be huge potential for it to be done really badly and become annoying, but I really trust my regular group, so I don't think it would be obnoxious.
For a stranger group game I might be apprehensive.
 

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