The Scary Stuff – Part 2

“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.” – Alfred Hitchcock

…Continued from last month.

Vampire the Masquerade changed not only the wolf but it made YOU into the wolf. But let’s take a step back for a moment and give a quick shout out to another game that I actually bought and played (I believe 1 year or 6 months) before the whole Goth-Vampire-Bomb-shell struck.

Nightlife RPG was the first RPG I played where you reveresed the roles. Suddenly YOU were the monsters. You could play a vampire, a ghost, a werewolf etc. trying to a) fight bigger and nastier monsters and b) staying away from (including killing) monster hunting humans. Night Life was profiled as a “splatterpunk” RPG, where Horror was something to be displayed in all it’s graphic, gory detail. Basically doing what hardcore porn does to more subtle romance. It was loud, in your face and dripping with blood. Just like a lot of the horror genre was at the time as well. The Horror film industry had taken this rout already from 1987 up to 1990 Horror fiction and films had changed the tune to more and more detailed graphical depiction of violence. Going from cheap thrills and mystery to pure dread and maddening suspense. Nightlife RPG embraced this.

Vampire The Masquerade (VTM) came one year later and it was the same thing but refined. Packaged in a prettier cover and art, and also tagged along a strong Gothic theme. Together with all this came, music, clothes, attitude and style. It was spot on the nerve of my 17 year old heart and I was doomed to fail my will save on that one.

I played a lot of VTM. I mean A LOT. Question here is… was it really a horror game? I can argue for it being a horror game, saying that the real horror was internalised and the true monster was within you. It’s true that the mechanics of the game would support this, you had to feed your Hunger and had to keep your “humanity” in check if you did not want to lose control of your character. But… where was the fear? Where was the dread and horror? What started to develop over time was a sense of us playing superheroes with fangs. And our rpg-experience was pretty far from being scary.

That was about to change…

In 1993 Swedish game developers published KULT. And again my mind was blown away. Utterly and completely, pitch black, dark dreadful and very very scary. This game tapped into some of my favourite writers at the time. Imagine a game that was the love-child of Clive Barkers; “Great and Secret Show”, “Books of Blood”, “Hellraiser” etc. and Neil Gaiman’s; “Sandman”. It was fresh, it was contemporary, it was truly horrible, and sure you could play a monster if you liked, but did it truly matter? Did it make you feel safe? Nope.

Kult brought fear back into the players, and it also brought a large portion of mystery back. What it didn’t bring however… was a system that made sense. Mechanically speaking this game leaves a lot to want, and we had to house-rule just about everything. But the setting still blows me away when I think about it.

The important thing was… the “wolf” was BACK!

… to be continued in “The Scary Stuff – Part 3” but in the meantime let’s discuss:

  1. What scares you in RPG’s?
  2. Do you prefer Mystery over Suspense?
  3. The game Kult is a truly adult game, featuring; drugs, sex, torture, black magic & suicide, in all worst kinds of morbid combinations. How do you handle themes like that in your group?
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