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Horror Campaigns

Playing Horror Games

Source Starfinder #10: The Diaspora Strain pg. 48
A horror roleplaying game is not a horror movie or a novel. Differences among mediums warrant special attention. Chief among these are the players and their characters.

When you consume horror media, you can envision yourself in the characters’ place and sympathize with their plight. You can feel terror through them. Or, you can distance yourself by insisting you’d never make the mistakes they’re making, never fall for the traps they fall for, and never behave as selfishly or repugnantly as they do. You can even make this decision unconsciously as someone’s fate changes during the tale.

As you play a horror game, however, you are responsible for your character’s actions, thoughts, and behavior. Since you are the creator of these aspects of your character, you can’t make unconscious decisions about how you relate to them. You must make conscious ones.

Before you play, answer the following questions about how you prefer to play. Keep these issues in mind as you play, as well.
  • Who’s afraid? Is it the player, the character, or both?
  • Who’s the focus? Are PCs witnesses, victims, or both?
  • How can you opt out? If you find a boundary you didn’t expect, how can you retreat back across it?

Who’s Afraid?

Source Starfinder #10: The Diaspora Strain pg. 49
When playing, whose fears are you addressing? They could be your fears or your character’s. The two can align, but in many cases, they won’t.

If you wish to be scared, help the GM out. Offer up fears you’re willing to face. Place your character in situations where these fears must be confronted. Be honest about your reactions to these fears, even if they aren’t your character’s. Accept the disadvantages that might occur in the game due to the horror.

Many reasons exist why someone might want to feel frightened, including the desire to witness someone overcome that fear. This form of pretending can be very effective if you play a character who doesn’t share your fears, who wanders into a dark room despite your grave misgivings. Similarly, you might wish to revel in your terror and play a character with the same fears, who flees when you would, intent on staying whole and safe.

If you want only your character to be scared, help the GM and the other players out. Offer up the PC’s fears and play to them when they show up in the game. How does your character react? The way a character reacts to a fearful situation might be contrary to what folks would expect in a typical Starfinder game. Make sure your fellow players know when a decision is your character’s decision and not yours. As your party plans the next move, your frightened character might argue against actions that you, as a player, think are strategically or narratively favorable. You can work with your fellow players to find a way to convince your character, or the group might agree to let your character make a dangerous or unhelpful choice.

Who’s The Focus?

Source Starfinder #10: The Diaspora Strain pg. 49
It’s also important to consider, with the GM, whether the PCs are to be witnesses of horrors affecting those around them or they are themselves the victims of that horror. They could also move between these roles, which is usual in most horror stories.

Starfinder PCs are ready-made to be witnesses to someone else’s horror story. They can step in and apply their ample will and might to the situation. If you can adjust your expectations to such circumstances, it’s still possible to have creepy and unsettling adventures. Odds are, the PCs are unlikely to remain passive witnesses for long, but the shift in focus can be on your terms.

If you chose for your PCs to be potential victims, expectations must again be adjusted. Your character might not remain a passive victim for long, but you should spend some time relishing the terror. Embrace the fear, even if it comes with mechanical disadvantages in the game. Find small victories, and steel yourself for what’s to come. When your PC is a victim, elements that might seem unfair or unbalanced, especially in a non-horror context, can instead serve to create the horror.

Opting Out

Source Starfinder #10: The Diaspora Strain pg. 49
Despite your careful planning and setting of boundaries for your horror game, you might run into a situation in which a limit is reached, whether known or previously unknown—no one can be expected to realize all their boundaries before the game. Therefore, it is vital that players are free to end a game situation that’s too much for them at any time, without having to explain and without questions or judgment from fellow players or the GM.

Before beginning play, agree on a way to allow someone to opt out as quickly and wordlessly as possible. Quickly, so the game doesn’t continue to cross a boundary, and wordlessly, so no explanation needs to be given. Each player, including the GM, might have a token they can hold up to silently indicate opting out.

When a player opts out, stop what’s happening in the game immediately. If you, as a GM, need clarification on what needs to change before the game can continue, take the player aside and talk. This conversation takes place only so you can understand what bothered the player and what the boundary is. The player doesn’t need to explain why they feel the way they do. After clarification, as with other limits agreed upon for the game, don’t cross that boundary again.