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General Unpopular Opinion?: D&D is a terrible venue for horror

Voadam

Hero
Non D&D games played with my current group: World of Darkness (Vampire the Masquerade specifically) and Shadowrun. Mutants and Masterminds might and might not count as it is a d20 superhero game (with no hp).

Vampire is designed as a horror system. The horror primarily comes from the premise, as a vampire to survive you need to prey on people. Blood you get from people is also used to heal and to power a lot of vampire powers. Also there is the humanity mechanic with possible loss of control in specific situations (hunger, terror from fire or sunlight or holy stuff, and anger). There are a lot of themes of lies, control, being a monster, being a person, and being exploited in a crappy world. Some of the themes are supported by mechanics like dominate and presence powers and blood bonding for the control theme. In my opinion a lot more is determined by theme and set up, so the elder versus younger generation conflict, clan versus clan conflict, other supernaturals, the theme and tension of being part monster part human. It can be played as supernaturally powered people by night (such as by abstracting feeding including by using the herd rules), or intensely personal horror. Lots of options.
 

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I have played many, many non-D&D games and all sorts of different editions and takes on D&D.

I have shelves dedicated to some of them and lists of hard drive space for others.

You can do horror fine via D&D. Other systems handle it better or worse with the basic system they present, but no reason why you cannot use D&D if the group wants to.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Other than the various D&D editions? Dark Heresy, WFRP, half a dozen spin off d20 products (Pathfinder, S&S, d20 modern etc), others in the group have extensively played Vampire, Cthulhu, Changeling etc)

If you look at any standard genre definition of horror fiction, Curse of Strahd firmly falls within that definition. You may apply your own standards to it but that’s on you.
  • Imprisoned by mist in a prison plane.
  • Witches selling narcotic pies for the children they bake in them.
  • A predatory vampire king who toys with the souls trapped in the prison with him.
  • A corrupted angel who stitches together the bodies of the dead trying to create a bride.
  • Druidic Wickerman-like human sacrifices that animate humanoid trees.
  • Werewolves capturing children to expand their pack and making them fight to the death.
  • A tug of war between a deranged baron and his devil worshipping rival.
  • A murderous mannequin.
  • Soulless husks formed from the mad dreams of the realms master.
  • A priest who’s locked his starving son in the basement.
  • A temple to knowledge that holds the imprisoned spirits of dark gods.

I’m sorry if you cant make a horror campaign from these elements. You’re not trying very hard.
 
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It was thinking about alien invaders as horror monsters, and Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks". Then I imagined a story where the monsters have got an Achiles heel, and this is practically a "glass canon". Then to kill the monsters they need that special weapon, chosen champion, an unicorn pokemon or relic with a blessed aura, and this isn't too vulnerable. Then to survive they have to protect the weak link.
 

I think you can use D&D, including 5e, as a venue for horror. I've played Ravenloft as gothic horror and run Age of Worms as cosmic horror and both have worked.

That said, I don't think D&D is particularly well positioned or mechanically inclined towards making horror a central focus of an RPG campaign. I think other games do the genre better. I'd rather play Call of Cthulhu, or even Savage Worlds as a horror game. Simply put, D&D 5e is built around making characters powerful and capable of enduring a lot. The game also, basically, doesn't simulate injury at all. I'm more interested in playing a game where the PCs feel fragile, and that takes a lot more effort in D&D, IMO.

I've run Savage Worlds sci-fi in an Aliens scenario. Gave the PCs as much gear as they wanted, sent them out to a planet where the colony had lost contact after a distress call, and then stranded them on the planet and slowly wore them down until they could escape. We never were able to finish that campaign. That means those PCs are still out there... fighting to survive in that dead complex... trying to stay alive long enough for their interstellar ship in distant strategic orbit to come back around....
 

Campbell

Legend
Most of games that people have mentioned having exposure to in this thread (including games like Vampire, Mutants and Masterminds, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and Savage Worlds) are what I would call kissing cousins to Modern D&D (late 2e going forward). They share incredibly play loops, GM and player priorities, and structural organization.
  • They are largely location or point crawls where players are tasked with group problem solving and providing characterization as they make their way through a predetermined adventure/story either designed or purchased by the GM. So much of this become encultured that the processes are just like an assumed part of play and not clearly communicated by most games.
  • You have characters that are mechanically defined by their capabilities and usually some form of rationed bits of awesome that players must effectively managed.
  • Part of character creation often involved covering the team with a range of skills so they can effectively surmount the games' challenges. Also niche overlap is usually discouraged.
  • Detailed slow motion combat and loose task resolution (consequences established after the roll by the GM) outside of combat.
  • Detailed setting material is fairly normal.
  • Open ended campaigns that are assumed to go for as long as possible.
These games make up the vast majority of play. They primarily differ in terms of technical details rather in terms of the structure of play. Playing or running any of these games share the same fundamental skills and expectations. They are also very weighty and require long term commitments to get the most out of. I play and run a fair portion of these games. I like them a good deal although I usually bring some techniques from outside the wheelhouse.

Do not get me wrong. The technical details of mainstream games absolutely matter, but structurally they are so similar that many people feel they do not get enough of a different experience for the juice to be worth the squeeze. I think this where most people's sense of system not mattering comes from. Most experiences of roleplaying games come from games where system matters in exactly the same way.

For me personally that focus on group problem solving and finding the right clues makes it more difficult to feel empathy for the characters because there's a mystery to be solved and an adventure to be won. The character sheet with limited resources to manage and turn by turn combat saps the tension away that's necessary for the pacing to feel right for horror to me. The open ended nature of campaign play also means we are probably not focused on personal stories as much as I prefer particularly for horror. The adventure play loop wherein I take cues from the GM as to what my characters goals should be is not conducive to the type of character driven stories that make for the best horror stories in my opinion.

Soon I will do a post looking at the structure of Quietus more in depth.
 
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Scott Christian

Adventurer
I think around minute 50 or a bit before of Relics & Rarities does a pretty good job at setting a horror mood.


I know it borders on the mysterious, but it does that for entertainment purposes. If this were just a group, in the moment, and not being filmed, I have a feeling half the adventure would cross the horror definition line.
 

MGibster

Legend
If you look at any standard genre definition of horror fiction, Curse of Strahd firmly falls within that

I agree with you. In truth, I don't find it very useful to quibble overly much over whether or not something fits into a specific genre and that is especially true when we're talking about something so broad as science fiction, fantasy, or horror. And we've all been around that guy who insists Star Wars is science fantasy and gets bent out of shape whenever someone says sci-fi instead of science fiction. I am perfectly comfortable with labeling Ravenloft and its derivatives and adaptations as horror.

And Curse of Strahd did have at least one terrible encounter that made some of my players uncomfortable.

The priest who trapped his son in the basement of the church after Strahd turned him into a vampire hoping to find a cure. When I ran the game, I had the son pleading with his father to set him free, asking what he had done to deserve such abuse, and complaining that he was so hungry. The son wasn't at all hostile until the PCs went into the basement to kill him. If anyone doesn't react with horror to a situation where you're killing someone's son in front of them you've got ice in your veins.
 

D&D is not so terrible for horror games, neither as suitable as others with specific game mechanics about this. We can agree a high-level PC could face hundreds of undeads, but you can do the same in the videogame Dead Rising and this still can be a terrifying story.

The true question is how to add a new module with new rules about humanity and sanity-madness.
 


cmad1977

Hero
I agree with you. In truth, I don't find it very useful to quibble overly much over whether or not something fits into a specific genre and that is especially true when we're talking about something so broad as science fiction, fantasy, or horror. And we've all been around that guy who insists Star Wars is science fantasy and gets bent out of shape whenever someone says sci-fi instead of science fiction. I am perfectly comfortable with labeling Ravenloft and its derivatives and adaptations as horror.

And Curse of Strahd did have at least one terrible encounter that made some of my players uncomfortable.

The priest who trapped his son in the basement of the church after Strahd turned him into a vampire hoping to find a cure. When I ran the game, I had the son pleading with his father to set him free, asking what he had done to deserve such abuse, and complaining that he was so hungry. The son wasn't at all hostile until the PCs went into the basement to kill him. If anyone doesn't react with horror to a situation where you're killing someone's son in front of them you've got ice in your veins.

Jeez. Not to mention the child stealing/baking witches who serve kid muffins to barovia. Among other things!
 


Aldarc

Legend
Most of games that people have mentioned having exposure to in this thread (including games like Vampire, Mutants and Masterminds, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and Savage Worlds) are what I would call kissing cousins to Modern D&D (late 2e going forward). They share incredibly play loops, GM and player priorities, and structural organization.

Do not get me wrong. The technical details of mainstream games absolutely matter, but structurally they are so similar that many people feel they do not get enough of a different experience for the juice to be worth the squeeze. I think this where most people's sense of system not mattering comes from. Most experiences of roleplaying games come from games where system matters in exactly the same way.
I would also be interested in reading a post where you compare and contrast TTRPGs that lie outside of this normative form of play.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Jeez. Not to mention the child stealing/baking witches who serve kid muffins to barovia. Among other things!
Actually, I don't find that to be all that remarkable. It's shocking, but all it does in game is give PCs carte blanche to destroy them. The only true horror is off a PC partakes in eating one before knowing the truth.

Now, if the witches were perhaps the only source of meat to a starving village and the PCs had to face the consequences of killing the witches and watching the village starve to death, you have some bonafide horror going on. As it is, it's just a good excuse for the paladin to smite for right!
 


TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Actually, I don't find that to be all that remarkable. It's shocking, but all it does in game is give PCs carte blanche to destroy them. The only true horror is off a PC partakes in eating one before knowing the truth.

Now, if the witches were perhaps the only source of meat to a starving village and the PCs had to face the consequences of killing the witches and watching the village starve to death, you have some bonafide horror going on. As it is, it's just a good excuse for the paladin to smite for right!
Most adventures arrive at a village at the start of an adventure and get given a quest to help them out. In this campaign the villagers are selling their children for addictive dream pies if it’s played properly it’s a great backdrop. We had eerie music box music playing as she pushed the cart. Anyone who finds the situation unremarkable is very jaded.
 



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