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The Horror Game: Introduction

Back in 2001 I began to experiment with writing a new role playing game system.  It’s something that seems to happen to anyone who is a Game Master – one who runs games for other players, or GM – for very long, you start to see the limitations of the system you’ve been using, and begin making designs on a totally new, totally unproven way of doing things.  For me, it was natural – I was writing video games at the time, so the leap to writing a role-playing game just seemed perfect.

Like most of the systems written by Game Masters, mine sucked.  It was overly complicated. It relied on rules that were supposed to encompass all possible scenarios but required exemptions for this or that.  Everything in the game was run with two 10-sided dice (percentile rolls).  My gaming group helped me test it, but all I could find were problems.

Fortunately, this is not that game system.

At the same time, I also had a concept for a “lite” gaming system – something that I could bring friends into who weren’t role players, that they could enjoy without spending a lot of time learning arcane rules or referencing lookup tables for skills.  Even better, it encompassed one of my favorite genres of movie – the cheesy 80’s slasher flicks.

I drafted the rules on one sheet of paper, and then drafted a prototype of a character sheet for players to use.  Satisfied that it would work, I called everyone up and explained my idea and how the game would run.  After experiences with my previous gaming system you’d assume that everyone would be leery about testing another one of my game systems.  Luckily that wasn’t the case – the idea of playing movie characters from a slasher movie was just way too tempting.

With my first gaming system, each game brought about massive tweaks in the system to improve it.  With The Horror Game, as it was dubbed, we played it the first time and it ran nearly perfectly.  The only real thing that was changed from the first run was the addition of a “Luck” skill to the official rule set.

Every month or two, I’d come up with a wild new scenario for the game, and we would play it out.  Unlike most games that required many sessions to play (the longest game I ever ran had gone on for years before I finally quit), this played from beginning to end in one night.  The was no need to gather up all the same players for the next time we wanted to play, and anyone could be introduced to The Horror Game at any time.

And it actually played out like it was a horror movie – the stupid things that players did, the choices the bad guys made, the order that people died in, all that stuff.  It really managed to fit the concept!

I then started branching out from the basic slasher film genre and tried some other horror-related concepts like haunted houses, deadly scavenger hunts, even Freddy Krueger style reality bending villains. Everything I threw at the system just worked.  There’s nothing really magical about it though.  What happened is instead of attempting to define every scenario, I defined a very loose set of rules that defined things that happened within a certain idea.  No tomes of skills and abilities to flip through – the Game Master and the players decided what worked for skills and what didn’t.

I lost count of how many times The Horror Game was run.  During the Gamer Zone days (see my book “The Story of Gamer Zone” to find out what that was) I even ran the game for people who normally wouldn’t touch role playing games – they heard what was going on, and had to find out more about it.  Then, they too were hooked.

After the fall of Gamer Zone (really, you’ll have to read the book) I became a hermit, and never ran The Horror Game again.  Then I wrote the book (oh come on, really, read “The Story of Gamer Zone!”  Fine.  You’re not going to read it, are you?  I’ll shut up about it now) and began the process of writing two more books, one fiction and one non-fiction business book.  One night about 5 AM, The Muse struck.  I pulled out my old documentation on the game – most of the game scenarios that I ran have long since been misplaced, but the core was still there.

The Horror Game was alive again!

This game differs from a lot of other role playing games in that only one book is necessary.  The first section is for anyone who hasn’t played a role playing game before.  The second section is for everyone to read – it covers the game mechanics in general.  The third section is for the players, then the final sections are for the people wanting to be a Game Master and run The Horror Game.

There is no artwork in this book.  Most role-playing games have a lot of cool artwork in them.  This one doesn’t for multiple reasons, the most important being that I figured some people would object to a book filled with decapitations, evisceration, exploding body parts, and mutant lemmings.  It’s called The Horror Game – verbal descriptions of gore are very different than actual depictions.  Plus I wanted to keep the size of the book as small as possible – small enough that someone could grab it along with a set of dice, then head for the local Denny’s or similar venue to run a game. And of course it would have cost me money for an artist to do twenty pages of artwork for the book.  I’m a tightwad.

Someday there may be a second book to supplement this one.  If so, it’s not going to be a book of more skills and abilities, or modifications to the rules.  Instead it will be a source book of ideas for Game Masters, pre-designed scenarios, unique bad guys, things like that.  The truth is; Hollywood has already researched everything you need – there are a ton of ideas on DVD’s, or even from just browsing through the Horror titles on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com).  There is no limit to the possibilities you can come up with.

I hope you enjoy the game – even when it was just one page of rules, this game was a hell of a lot of fun to run for other players, and every one of them always came back for more!

Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr

March 17, 2009

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