The Horror Game Book Excerpt: Chapter 1

This section is for people who have picked this game up because someone said “Hey, you should come play with us!” but has never been exposed to a Role-Playing Game (RPG) before.  By the time you finish reading this sentence, you will become known as a nerd.  Sorry, that’s just how it works – role playing people are those folks who dwell in their mother’s basements, wear thick glasses, and are socially inept people.

At least that is what I’ve heard.  Truth is; that is not what role-players are like.  OK, SOME of them are like that, just not most of them.  So forget anything you’ve heard.

This section isn’t really necessary in many ways – you could just pick it all up on the fly.  Everyone I have seen who games for the first time ends up being uncomfortable.  They aren’t sure exactly what they are supposed to do, what the etiquette is, or what all the terminology means.

Fortunately, most gaming groups are pretty helpful, although there is usually one guy who is a bit of a jerk around newcomers.  Ignore him.  Even after you’ve gotten familiar with everything, he’ll probably still be a jerk.  That’s just his personality, and there is always one in every group.

What is Role Playing?

I’ve fielded this question from non-role players several times in the past.  A quick and dirty to explain it is; it’s playing make believe.  But really that doesn’t cover it very well for me – it doesn’t explain stepping into a whole new mindset.

Pick a close friend that you know well, then imagine how they would react in a given situation.  What would they say?  What would they do?  That is role-playing at it’s simplest, and often a tool used in marriage counseling and therapy.

Now, instead of the friend, put a completely made-up person.  No longer do you extrapolate what another person that you know is going to do and say.  Instead, you create motivations for this fictitious person – called a character – and act according to those motivations.  The first couple of times you play a character you’ll end up putting a lot of yourself into the character.  His or her actions will be closely aligned with how you would act.

Eventually you’ll start to think outside of your own box.  You’ll begin looking at things through another fictitious person’s eyes pretty easily, creating a completely different type of character than you.  The possibilities become endless – evil, good, quiet, outgoing, brave, cowardly, any combination of attributes becomes possible.  You’ll also learn in some game systems to look at an impossible fantasy world through the eyes of a completely different race and culture.  You’ll also discover it’s usefulness in real life – writers and actors, for instance, frequently need the ability to look through the world through a multitude of characters that have almost nothing in common with themselves.

Fortunately in The Horror Game, you don’t have to do that.

WHY would you do it?  It is an interactive form of escapism.  Instead of sitting and watching TV, passively enjoying the actions of other people in a linear story, you get to be one of the people in the thick of it and your actions can actually change the story.

Another reason is it becomes another social environment.  When I was gaming frequently (usually once every weekend), we would sit around chatting, sometimes drinking, and joking and laughing the whole time.  It creates a fun environment where everyone has something in common – the enjoyment of playing a game together.

Some Terminology

I’ve already explained what a character is – every player in the game has a character (in rare cases, more than one).  There are also Non-Player Characters (NPC’s), and these are the characters ran by the Game Master.  Sometimes they are good guys, sometimes bad guys – it is up to you to determine if that lowly shopkeeper is actually a mass murderer waiting for you to turn your back so you can be placed on sale in the meat counter later.

Game Masters (GMs) are generally extremely experienced role players.  They no longer look only at the imaginary world you’re playing through one character’s eyes.  Instead, they have to look through the world through every non-player character you meet.  They also often create the imaginary world you’re playing in, sometimes spending weeks of research and development creating elaborate settings.  They design the plot line for the story you’re acting out – and have to react to the actions you and the other players make.

That’s a pretty tall order – usually only the most creative become good Game Masters (and a bad Game Master can quickly make a game unenjoyable).  Throw on top of that the fact that they have to be experienced with the rules that are being used to play the game, referee disagreements between players, and act as the final authority on any debates over rules and actions, you’ll see that it is not easy in some respects to be a GM but it’s a great deal of fun to do.

At most role playing sessions, you’ll end up seeing all types of dice sets.  Inevitably, someone will carry their dice in a Crown Royal or W. L. Weller’s “dead soldier”  – the felted bags that fine whiskeys are sold in.  In The Horror Game you won’t have to worry about it much – all you need is six sided dice, the same type used for Craps or any average board game.  They’ll still bring them.

They won’t call them six sided dice.  If you peek in the bag you’ll see all sorts of strange and exotic dice that have a completely different naming convention.  A six-sided die is referred to as a “D6″.  If someone says, “Roll 3 D6″ it means to pick up three six-sided dice and roll them.

A quick rundown of dice, just for the heck of it:


D3 – It’s really a six-sided die that’s labeled 1 – 3 twice, instead of 1 – 6

D4 – The “caltrop.” It’s got four sides, and always lands with a point up.  Stick around a gaming group long enough and you’ll eventually step on one with painful results.

D6 – What you would think of as part of any dice based game.

D8 – Yep, 8 sides.  Good guess.

D10 – Ten sided.  But they always come in pairs.

D10 Control Die – They come in pairs because often one is labeled 1 – 10, and the other is 10 – 00 (or, is colored differently).  The 10-00 one is called a control die.  Don’t ask me why – I have no clue.  Roll them together and you get rolls of 1 – 100, or most importantly percentiles (IE, 1% – 100%.)

D12 – 12 sides.  You’re seeing the pattern here.

D20 – 20 sides.  The first couple of times you roll one it’s almost guaranteed to roll off the table, across the linoleum flooring, and under the nearest couch or large appliance.  After you get the hang of it, then you only have to retrieve the dice from under the couch every one in ten times you roll it.

D100 – Comes in two forms.  Either it’s two 10 sided dice, like mentioned before, or it comes as the most worthless die ever built that has 100 sides.  Good luck using this die – it typically causes fights because you can’t quite tell which face of the dice is exactly pointed up.

These dice come in more styles than you could ever imagine.I’ll give you a peek at my dice set to give you an idea.  I have dice made of brass, dice that are transparent and actually contain a second die inside of the first die so you’re rolling two at once, miniature D6′s that are only about four millimeters across each face, black dice, translucent colored dice, glow in the dark dice (I’ll not discuss what those are good for.  That’s a totally different gaming system), dice large enough that you can only fit two at a time in your hand, and a set of dice from the very original Dungeons & Dragon’s boxed sets.  They are all important.

Role players become enamored with dice.  In a way, it’s a type of sickness.  Players become very suspicious of dice.  Sometimes dice run cold, rolling numbers contrary to what the player wants, so they’ll change from one set of dice to another because of it.  Sometimes a roll is really important and they pull out a special die just for that roll – something from the person’s “lucky dice” pile.  (By the way – dice do sometimes have a bias to them, a tendency to roll one number statistically more often than another and existing dice can be slightly filed to produce less random numbers.  Yes, even in role-playing games there are people who feel the need to cheat.  Fortunately it’s very rare, and players end up not being invited back to play again when they are discovered.)

Here is something really important you need to know – your dice?  They hate you.  Seriously.  When you need your D20 to absolutely, positively roll a 15 or below, it will roll a 20, killing your character instantly.  When you need it to roll a 20?  It will roll a 1.  Just… get used to it.

Some GMs have house rules.  These are rules that are in addition to the ones printed in the book, or rules that override them.  Sometimes house rules are just one or two simple rules.  There are some GMs who have pages and pages of rules, which are often modified after every game.  If you want to play with that group of friends, you’ll have to abide by the house rules.  Though, my suggestion is if you’re new at role playing and the GM hands you a 10 page booklet of house rules, you might want to sit this one out and watch to see if the game is actually worth playing.  GMs like that tend to be rather controlling and can suck the fun out of any situation.

The Players

Within the gaming groups you’ll discover all sorts of player personalities.  For instance, one player in almost every group is the Rules Lawyer.  Rules Lawyers are the fastest way to slow any game down.  Be prepared to perform violent acts to prevent a Rules Lawyer from bringing a game to a complete standstill.  The Game Master is the only person who should be consulting the rulebook frequently, and anything the Game Master says is law.  Rules Lawyers will say they know the rules better, and fight any decision by the Game Master.  I believe this is the real reason D20s were invented – throwing D20s at Rules Lawyers when they begin grandstanding becomes a great sport.

Munchkin is a type of player that takes the acquisition of powerful items in fantasy or futuristic settings way too seriously.  Unfortunately, you’ll still see them in The Horror Game  – they are the ones trying to convince the Game Master that they should be starting the game with an AK-47 even though it’s an old west setting.

The Real Man is just as stupid as it sounds – this is the guy who will, no matter how bad the odds, throw himself in the fray against the bad guy.  Then he will tell everyone else they aren’t a Real Man because they didn’t die along side of him.  Place a D4 on their chair when they leave the room.  A Real Man wouldn’t have screamed when they sat on it.

The Loony doesn’t really take role playing seriously.  Instead of telling the Game Master that he should be starting with an AK-47, The Loony will be the one convincing the game master that yes, he’s a mime and his character should be starting the game with twelve feet of rubber hose, two marshmallows, and a bottle of corn syrup.  Yes, he WILL make use of those items, though it’s even odds if they are used on the bad guy or himself.  Be prepared to throw D20′s at The Loony.

The Story Teller has been playing role playing games for… well, according to them they were around when chain mail was first introduced. (Chain mail is one of the first role-playing games, released in 1975, which lead to the development of Dungeons & Dragons – the granddaddy of all popular role-playing games.  There’s the entire history lesson you’re going to get on role-playing games, and probably the only history you’ll ever need to know about it anyway.)  Anytime there’s a break in the action, you’ll end up hearing long stories of great epic battles, amazing traps, and encounters with gods in gaming worlds.  Prepare the D20′s.  At first the stories are entertaining, but eventually the whole thing goes into re-runs and you’ll be hearing the same stories over and over.

There are other more “normal” players too – but these are the ones to watch out for.  I’m only half kidding about the D20′s and D4′s – they don’t help things any, but it feels good to perform assault on players like this when they start to get annoying.

Game Masters are just as diverse as players are, although they tend to be closer to sane.  You’ll run across Game Masters that are strict, some that are completely bowled over by the players, and Game Masters that just completely rock.  But since it takes so much effort and experience to be a successful Game Master, you won’t have to assault them with dice since they’ll probably do a great job.  Plus it’s a bad idea to assault them anyway – remember, they control if your character lives or dies.  And bribery rarely works, so don’t bother trying.

Potential Gaming Problems

Something that most of the character types mentioned above have in common is the ability to bring a game to a halt.  An interesting game can suddenly become a boring chore when playing with a Rules Lawyer.  Game Masters and players both should watch out players who disrupt the flow of the game.  Laughing and having fun should be a part of the game, but long debates on the rules shouldn’t.

There are other situations that can break the game too.  The first problem is Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge.  Here’s a good example:

None of the players know where the bad guy is currently.  Mark’s character is a cheerleader.  The bad guy, The Plumber, strangles her very quietly in the school gymnasium.  Bill, who’s character is currently hiding in the restroom down the hall suddenly has an idea – he runs out, grabs a book, and blocks the gymnasium doors, at least temporarily slowing The Plumber down.

So what’s the problem?  Bill is acting because Mark’s character was strangled.  Seems logical – except Mark and Bill’s characters are isolated from each other (one in the restroom, one in the gymnasium), and Mark’s character was killed quietly.  There was no way for Bill to know that Mark’s character died, let alone that The Plumber was even in the gymnasium!

That is one an example of players using Player Knowledge.  There are more possibilities – for instance, sometimes players might use their expertise in chemistry to construct a bomb, regardless of the fact that their character is a jock with low intelligence ability!  It’s something to watch out for.  A certain amount of player knowledge sneaks in from time to time, but for major changing details, characters are ONLY supposed to know what someone in that character’s shoes would know.  If you are a master electrician, for instance, you character probably isn’t unless there is a good reason for it.  Therefore, you can’t use what you know about electrical wiring to set up traps for the bad guy.

Jerk Characters are another example of problems player that can occur in a group.  For some reason, players will turn against each other.  Sometimes it’s just that someone had a bad day, and wants to take it out on someone due to a perceived insult even if the other player didn’t mean it.  Sometimes the player is just a disruptive jerk.  With a few exceptions, player vs. player combat is highly discouraged in The Horror Game.  It’s already a mean enough game setup without people turning on each other.  Game Masters are encouraged to discourage it, and players should keep in mind that the easiest way to discourage in-game fighting is for the Game Master to target their character!

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