Unleashing Horror Adventures

Thursday, July 21, 2016

At PaizoCon's "Horror in RPGs" seminars, in products like Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Rule of Fear, and pretty much wherever else I'm given the chance, I've talked quite a bit about how to run unsettling Pathfinder games(—you're all coming to our Horror in Pathfinder event at Gen Con, right?). In writing Chapter 6 of Pathfinder RPG: Horror Adventures, Running Horror Adventures (and in the book's section on "Playing Horror a Hero"), I've compiled some of my creepiest techniques and gaming philosophies, sharing them to help all you GMs out there make your Pathfinder games truly frightening.

But creating a truly unnerving game isn't as simple as choosing the scariest monsters and dreaming up spooky plots. To that end, the chapter starts by asking what you're trying to accomplish by running a horror game. A horror game is—obviously—meant to be "horrifying," but who are you as the GM trying to horrify? The characters or the players? And, in either case, are the players cool with that? The GM and players being of the same mind regarding the experience they're sharing is one of the most overlooked but most important parts of running a horror game, so we cover all that right up front.

Once we're certain everyone's in for horror, the chapter delves into a discussion of several popular horror genres—like cosmic horror, ghost stories, gothic horror, and others. Beyond just the themes and plots associated with these genres, each explores tools in the Pathfinder RPG that can help you affect these specific modes of terror. Want to know what monsters work best for slasher horror? No prob. Want some basic and advanced plots for running psychological horror games? I've got you covered. Not sure what a body horror game is? Oh boy, do I have some stories for you.


Illustrations by Mariana Fernandes and Chris Knight

But even the best rules and plots are only stepping-stones to creating unsettling game experiences. Therefore, a meaty chunk of the chapter provides some of my favorite tips for steeping your game in an ambiance that lets fear flourish. These go beyond just tips for lighting and sound, providing simple and reasonable theatrics GMs can employ to keep their players engaged, as well as ways players can contribute to a sense of fear and mystery. Maybe even more useful, there's also a solid list of things NOT to try.

One of the most important elements of building a game's atmosphere, though, is to keep up the momentum. There's nothing creepy about interrupting the game to flip through rulebooks for 10 minutes. So, to help avoid that, the chapter's final section covers rules ad-libbing. These are things you can do to use the rules you know (or have on hand) to roll with whatever crazy scheme the players come up with. Beyond just telling you what every veteran GM already knows—that you can tinker with the rules as much as you want—this section gives you a step-by-step process on how to think like an ad-liber and how to kit-bash whatever rules you need on the fly. As a result, it walks you through how to run situations like being buried alive or burned at the stake using bits from the rules toolbox you already have.

Overall, the chapter is designed to be a guide to running horror games, but there are a ton of tools here to add to your bag of GMing tricks. Chapter 6 of Horror Adventures helps you learn what sort of story your players are up for, assists you in setting the stage, and then gives you techniques to make PCs dread what's to come. Those skills are handy for running a horror game, but, in my opinion, they're vital to any Pathfinder game you want to make truly memorable.

Pathfinder RPG: Horror Adventures debuts in just a few short weeks. Look for it here on paizo.com, your local game store, or at the Paizo booth at Gen Con!

F. Wesley Schneider
Editor-in-Chief

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Tags: Chris Knight Mariana Fernandes Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

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I ran a Chill 2nd ed. game for a number of years and I can tell you that getting the atmosphere right even with a rule set designed for horror role-playing is the key to the whole thing.

Kudos to you Wes for making this a priority and recognizing the importance of the separate sub-genres of horror. There are wide gaps between Night of the Living Dead, The Blob, and The Omen.


I heard there were spell clarifications in Ultimate Intrigue, and now Ad Lib guides here... I can't help but feel there should have been a GMG2 or some such that had these instead, rather than using space for broader stuff in books with a narrower focus.

Editor-in-Chief

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Derek Vande Brake wrote:
I heard there were spell clarifications in Ultimate Intrigue, and now Ad Lib guides here... I can't help but feel there should have been a GMG2 or some such that had these instead, rather than using space for broader stuff in books with a narrower focus.

Pathfinder hardcovers regularly feature GM-focused content relevant to the book's topic. Discussing spells from an "intrigue friendly" point of view in Ultimate Intrigue is relevant to Pathfinder players running "intrigue" games. Exploring the importance of game pacing and improving your ad-libbing game to maintain a creepy atmosphere is relevant to Game Mastering a horror adventure (more so, I'd argue, than to other sorts of adventures).

We could squirrel such material away in a separate product, but to date we've preferred to keep like information together.

That said, if folks would like to see a GameMastery Guide 2, hit up the general discussion board and let us know!


That section of the book will be almost as entertaining to me as the parts with the new templates, weird character options, etc.

Heck I wish some movie directors could read it. Like every single one doing a "horror" film for the SyFy Channel.


Thank you Mister Schneider! I was already stoked for this book, but with the stuff you wrote AND that lovely art piece with the Reaper, I'm ready to go full on horror.


Seltyiel seems very concerned about those tentacles...


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Eric Hinkle wrote:


Heck I wish some movie directors could read it. Like every single one doing a "horror" film for the SyFy Channel.

I'm sure not EVERY one from SyFy needs it. They've had a couple gems. Not many to be sure, but a couple. Manticore (aka Manticore WMD) Reign of the Gargoyles, and Sasquatch Mountain (aka Devil on the Mountain) were really good. (I can't believe I am defending SyFy :) )

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 8

It's shaped like a tree, it's got branches on it!


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One minor problem: The thing under the title says "Friday, July 21, 2016" -- Friday would be July 22, 2016; July 21, 2016 is Thursday.


I remember when the SyFy channel was called the Sci-fi channel and was actually good.


God I miss those days. (But this is not the place to rant on the exec that thought Sci-fi was holding the Sci-fi channel back.)


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The section the Tyrant Lizard King was most enthused about when I asked him...

Yeeeeeeeeesssssss.

Silver Crusade

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Yeah, I hope there's a section on how to get a game that's scary for the characters, but easy on the players.
I have one player in particular that is on the fence about us running through Strange Aeons to the point of quitting. The others are fine with horror, up to a point.

So, I hope 'light horror but only ingame" is somehow an option.
(How we can keep that atmosphere through the campaign I don't yet know, but a possible start for Strange Aeons is some weeks or months away.)

Silver Crusade

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OmegaZ wrote:
Seltyiel seems very concerned about those tentacles...

Hmm, Seltyiel being harassed by some very large tentacles... I wonder who commissioned that? :3


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Rysky wrote:
OmegaZ wrote:
Seltyiel seems very concerned about those tentacles...
Hmm, Seltyiel being harassed by some very large tentacles... I wonder who commissioned that? :3

If I didn't know any better, I might've thought that was from a different kind of book.

Neat detail with Lovecraft's version of the Elder Sign on the grimoire, though.


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Fantastic!


"being buried alive or burned at the stake" <--Take about some serious examples lol.

Oh man, I just want the book already /cry.


Demiurge 1138 wrote:
It's shaped like a tree, it's got branches on it!

It's shaped like a star with a little flame inside it!


Leo_Negri wrote:
Eric Hinkle wrote:


Heck I wish some movie directors could read it. Like every single one doing a "horror" film for the SyFy Channel.
I'm sure not EVERY one from SyFy needs it. They've had a couple gems. Not many to be sure, but a couple. Manticore (aka Manticore WMD) Reign of the Gargoyles, and Sasquatch Mountain (aka Devil on the Mountain) were really good. (I can't believe I am defending SyFy :) )

True enough, though it seems that for every movie that you mentioned they do half a dozen of Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus.

Getting back to the actual book, I do wonder what sort of monsters would work best for slasher horror. Wouldn't a slasher 'monster' normally be an ordinary if strong and tough human with levels in barbarian or slayer?


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Stone Dog wrote:
Demiurge 1138 wrote:
It's shaped like a tree, it's got branches on it!
It's shaped like a star with a little flame inside it!

I can almost hear a shoggoth on the roof.


Eric Hinkle wrote:
Getting back to the actual book, I do wonder what sort of monsters would work best for slasher horror. Wouldn't a slasher 'monster' normally be an ordinary if strong and tough human with levels in barbarian or slayer?

Paizo seems to like Bugbear's being slashers.


Stone Dog wrote:
Demiurge 1138 wrote:
It's shaped like a tree, it's got branches on it!
It's shaped like a star with a little flame inside it!

Use the star sign, and you'll be fighting the Old Ones off with your bare hands. It's a tree!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber
Eric Hinkle wrote:
Leo_Negri wrote:
Eric Hinkle wrote:


Heck I wish some movie directors could read it. Like every single one doing a "horror" film for the SyFy Channel.
I'm sure not EVERY one from SyFy needs it. They've had a couple gems. Not many to be sure, but a couple. Manticore (aka Manticore WMD) Reign of the Gargoyles, and Sasquatch Mountain (aka Devil on the Mountain) were really good. (I can't believe I am defending SyFy :) )

True enough, though it seems that for every movie that you mentioned they do half a dozen of Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus.

Getting back to the actual book, I do wonder what sort of monsters would work best for slasher horror. Wouldn't a slasher 'monster' normally be an ordinary if strong and tough human with levels in barbarian or slayer?

Well obviously humanoid in shape, but quite a few would probably count as undead or unique outsiders. Ogres, Ogrekin, and bugbears can also slot into the role pretty effectively. There are probably some weirder types too. The Leprachaun and Chuckie movies would count as slashers but feature a fey and constructs (although Chuckie gets a bit weird in that he stops turning real)

I am curious on how they recommend setting up a slasher style horror game as well, since slashers usually focus on a single or pair/trio of antagonists. The exception being the "redneck hillbilly" variation of slasher movies, where you can have entire clans or even towns of slasher-folk (which is again emulated in Pathfinder with Ogres/Ogrekin)


My copy of Horror Adventures just shipped, can't wait to use this with the up coming adventure path


looked through my pdf today, I have to say this book was well worth the buy, just for the extra monster temples and magic items. they are really awesome as well as flavorful.

We can easily make Alien Xenomorph style game with hive, or make Halloween/ Friday 13th style adventure with some of the other templates and magic items. I am really considering add Friday the 13th dungeon Way of the wicked game, because even bad guys can be stalked by a killer.

I love the barb archetype that lets you emulate lycanthrope with out giving you the actual curse. A friend of mine has been wanted to do this for years. there is also magic items that do this for barbs, this is great for 13th warrior/eaters of the dead style game.

Kryton stuff add nice hell raiser elements, expect the magic puzzle box in this is rather umm, may have been copyright problem or they really did not want to make the hell raiser box. Kryton the template is almost identical to half/kyton template I made. I did this for a friend for his sorcerer/rogue, After I had him find a puzzle box of my making. I may add this template to way of the wicked game also, as I giving my players a chance to pick up templates at cost of one level per cr+.

I like some of the feats too. Good job with this book

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