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

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
D&D is too gradual in nature for horror.
The Survival meter (HP) plinks down as you run from danger.
Except for Save or Die/Petrify/Paralyze, D&D gives you too many chances to fail completely. And if you are too low level to survive threats, it is harder to encourage people to go where there will be risks.
 

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Reynard

Legend
Aliens IS a horror movie. It’s also an action movie. But everything from Ripley’s nightmares, to Weyland-Yutani’s nefarious plan(s), to Newt’s capture and rescue are squarely horror.
Not really. Those are thriller elements. You wouldn't call Bourne Identity a horror movie but it's got equivalent beats.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I wouldn't say it's "a terrible venue" for horror games; I've run several creepy D&D games over the years and it never disappoints. If you're going for zombies, vampires, and other classic tropes or monster-movie staples, D&D is our favorite. But there are different types of horror, and there are different types of games...some games might be a better fit for certain types of horror.

For psychological horror, suspense, and survival-themed horror, I recommend Dread. It does a much better job of building tension than any other RPG we've tried, and it can force a "last man standing" scenario really easily.

For silly horror, or comedy horror spoofs along the lines of "Shaun of the Dead," I recommend Fiasco. It's a good, fun mix of slapstick and seriousness that lets you tell a really funny story, broken up by occasional bouts of nail-biting tension.

And for eldritch horror, sci-fi, anime, or just plain weird horror, I suggest Call of Cthulhu. It's a pretty good umbrella game for just about any kind of horror in general, in just about any setting.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Most fay games are about heroes and heroes dont generally work in horror because fear and dread dont make for bravado and fantasic action.

of course it can be done - hence Ravenloft - but
horror also needs a good GM to inject those elements of dread, shock and dismay into players just through words and atmosphere.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'll second (third?) the notion that the DM is VERY important here. I've only played in one successful horror scenario - the opening haunted house in the Curse of Strahd adventure. The DM managed to make it REALLY visceral and real. Totally creepy.

But, it's hard to do and certainly something I've never succeeded at. I can do the gross out, but, actual horror? Yeah, that tends to fall flat with players cracking jokes, not focusing, and generally being players.
 


Bawylie

A very OK person
Not really. Those are thriller elements. You wouldn't call Bourne Identity a horror movie but it's got equivalent beats.
Those are thriller elements. Yes. When combined with the revulsion and disgust of the H.R. Giger designs and the captured/farmed miners begging to be killed, etc., you get horror.

Nothing in Bourne is similarly disgusting or abhorrent.
 

I'm reminded of the tale of the round robin writing circle attempted by a number of pulp writers back in the 1930s. These were collaborative writing exercises where an author would write one chapter in a story and then pass in on to the next person in sequence. Well, this particular circle attempt included both HP Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. So you had a story where the protagonist ended one chapter cowering as a terrible monster beat on the door and then began the next chapter by summoning his grit, grabbing a chair, and clobbering the heck out of the monster.

The implicit genre assumptions D&D is built on are a lot closer to Howard than Lovecraft. That while there are great and terrible monsters out there they all have a fatal allergy to being stabbed repeatedly with a sword, even if you sometimes need a magic sword if you want to be efficient in your stabbing. There's a good argument for the essence of horror being powerlessness, and modern D&D is all about becoming powerful heroes who can defeat monsters and work their will upon the world. That while setbacks or defeats are possible, the PCs are never powerless victims of forces entirely beyond them.

You can do scares in D&D. The Monster Manual is full of scary things, especially if the DM sets the scenario right. But they're the scares of campfire stories, of the things that go bump in the night, not really horror as the genre is generally understood. And that's fine. D&D is not a neutral clean slate for telling every sort of story. It's a game engine for telling D&D stories, and if you want a horror RPG there's other games that specialize in that.
 

3. No lasting damage. Long rest instant restore.
4. Easy removal of conditions. You got the gold the FNC (Friendly neighborhood Cleric) has a spell for that.

Both things are not given.
You can easily drag the PCs into a realm where neither 3 nor 4 are true.

Let them have nighmares (there actually is a spell) that makes rests not work at all or just very limited. Or make it so that every time you rest, you lose a hit die until there is nothing left. That will have an effect on your players. Also just don´t have clerics around.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
I'll second (third?) the notion that the DM is VERY important here. I've only played in one successful horror scenario - the opening haunted house in the Curse of Strahd adventure. The DM managed to make it REALLY visceral and real. Totally creepy.

But, it's hard to do and certainly something I've never succeeded at. I can do the gross out, but, actual horror? Yeah, that tends to fall flat with players cracking jokes, not focusing, and generally being players.
I’ll second you on the idea that you also need player buy-in to get there.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Those are thriller elements. Yes. When combined with the revulsion and disgust of the H.R. Giger designs and the captured/farmed miners begging to be killed, etc., you get horror.

Nothing in Bourne is similarly disgusting or abhorrent.
I think we're in the fuzzy genre discussion. Aliens has some horror tropes, surely, but not enough, I think, to be a horror movie. It's listed on IMDB as an action film.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
When it comes to genre

Horror is about horror. The scare or the reveal that shooks you and makes you want to run.
Thrillers are about triller or terror. The scare is longer with more assaults, thus less dangerous and disgusting.

Horror is about the "jump" and the revulsion after.

D&D does terror very well.
D&D does horror very poorly.
 

MGibster

Legend
I think we're in the fuzzy genre discussion. Aliens has some horror tropes, surely, but not enough, I think, to be a horror movie. It's listed on IMDB as an action film.

We most definitely have reached fuzzy genre discussion. While I consider Alien to be solidly in the horror genre and think of Aliens as more of an action movie, I've got no beef with someone who considers it horror as they have plenty of supporting evidence. It's not like genres always have delineated lines keeping stories in tight little boxes. That's more the job of marketers than it is of writers. But I can tell you, in the 1980s plenty of people thought of Aliens as a scary movie while Commando or Rambo III were not.

So my advice is that we skip past discussions on whether or not Alien/Aliens is horror. There are fuzzy lines and such discussions are rarely productive.
 


Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The reason I was questioning Alien(s) is horror is because the definitions are so fuzzy. Are there other games specifically designed for a style of game? Sure. But the definition of horror is so nebulous that saying D&D "can't" do horror is kind of meaningless.

Anyway, carry on. :)
 


If you want to introduce horror into D&D, you have to include the Sanity Score. This allows the DM to use various thriller/horror tropes with actual mechanical effects. As someone else said, you can do horrible things to a character, but it's hard to scare a player. Sadly, one of the most terrifying things I recall in D&D was a critical hit chart during 2E, because dismemberment was very common, (including the head). Having a character die sucks, but having your character crippled horrifies a lot of players.

Roleplaying games in general aren't that great for creating a sense of horror. D&D is no exception.
Call of Cuthulu would like a word.

It's funny that Alien was brought up as a horror movie because I think of it more as a creature feature.
I'm a huge fan of horror movies (which sadly never scare me, but I love them anyway), and the creature feature is a sub-set of horror. You also have slasher, gothic, supernatural, black/dark comedy, and found footage (ugh). They often overlap with other genres, as was pointed out the Alien franchise is sci-fi horror, but Aliens also dabbles a lot into action. The slasher can mix with mystery and thriller with an unknown killer. Technically Found Footage shouldn't be a sub-set of horror, as you can do the same technique with other genres, but I'll admit I find it distasteful and unappealing in any form.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
If you want to introduce horror into D&D, you have to include the Sanity Score. This allows the DM to use various thriller/horror tropes with actual mechanical effects. As someone else said, you can do horrible things to a character, but it's hard to scare a player. Sadly, one of the most terrifying things I recall in D&D was a critical hit chart during 2E, because dismemberment was very common, (including the head). Having a character die sucks, but having your character crippled horrifies a lot of players.


Call of Cuthulu would like a word.


I'm a huge fan of horror movies (which sadly never scare me, but I love them anyway), and the creature feature is a sub-set of horror. You also have slasher, gothic, supernatural, black/dark comedy, and found footage (ugh). They often overlap with other genres, as was pointed out the Alien franchise is sci-fi horror, but Aliens also dabbles a lot into action. The slasher can mix with mystery and thriller with an unknown killer. Technically Found Footage shouldn't be a sub-set of horror, as you can do the same technique with other genres, but I'll admit I find it distasteful and unappealing in any form.
On found-footage:

Dracula is written as found “footage.” So is Call of Cthulhu. Documents rather, but still.

It can be done. It can be done well. Really well. I think there’s a KS or something where Dracula is recreated in a trunk/box set as a series of newspaper clips, articles, letters, and journal entries. So you actually experience it by piecing it together yourself.

I want that thing badly.

Now, like anything else, it can also be done very poorly. Some of it is unwatchable due to cinematography alone, even where the narrative and story are excellent.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
On found-footage:

Dracula is written as found “footage.” So is Call of Cthulhu. Documents rather, but still.

It can be done. It can be done well. Really well. I think there’s a KS or something where Dracula is recreated in a trunk/box set as a series of newspaper clips, articles, letters, and journal entries. So you actually experience it by piecing it together yourself.

I want that thing badly.

Now, like anything else, it can also be done very poorly. Some of it is unwatchable due to cinematography alone, even where the narrative and story are excellent.

Good point about found footage essentially being the film version of the epistolary novel, of which Dracula using its various letters, journal entires, ship logs and newspaper clippings is probabaly the most famous literary example.

Im reminded too that the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole is also in this form

Im also away that Disney also did a found footage movie in Earth to Echo
 
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