Horror isn’t the most common genre in tabletop role-playing games. Rather than fantastical adventures in magical lands or daring adventures among the stars, these games tackle darker subjects. Like other horror media, it seeks to elucidate specific anxieties or fears, whether on an individual or societal level.
Horror games can be dark and brooding or gruesome and gory, and each approaches the genre differently. Since role-playing games are a collaborative experience, it’s important to set boundaries and expectations, especially when playing horror games. These games all feature strong themes wrapped in the dark and sinister trappings of horror.
ten Carter Richmond’s Anomaly features a secret organization and a dangerous anomaly
This GM-free storytelling game uses tarot cards to generate a story about a sinister organization investigating a supernatural anomaly. Players take turns drawing cards and performing actions. Actions are informed by card suits, with Pentacles introducing new characters and Cups signifying the gain or loss of something important. Anomaly is heavily inspired by works like Annihilation and The Magnus Archives, perfect for inquisitive and curious horror fans.
9 Jay Dragon’s Sleepaway Takes The Horror To Camp
To sleep plays with one of the most famous horror tropes: haunted summer camp. Players take on the role of camp counselors in a summer camp “besieged by a strange and ominous cryptid”.
They are tasked with protecting the campers from the Lindworm, a shape-shifting horror that is bent on hurting people. To sleep sets up summer camp as a haven for marginalized and alienated youth, the Lindworm being a force of trauma that must be resisted at all costs.
8 Chiron’s Doom by Nick Bate features an unknowable monument
“There is a monument at the edge of civilization, an enigmatic object known as Chiron’s Doom.” These are the words that first greet the reader when they open this storytelling game. Inspired by films such as cube and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Chiron’s Fate sends a group of explorers to a beautiful and terrible monument to find out the truth about it. It’s full of evocative prompts, generated using a standard deck of playing cards.
seven The Man and the Stag by Beau Jagr Sheldon pits man against magic
Folk horror takes center stage in this two-player game about an encounter with a magical entity in the form of an animal. Both players draw cards from a standard deck to guide them through character encounters.
The story unfolds firmly in a mythical and magical space, with a spiraling timeline leading to non-chronological storytelling and strange happenings. The Man and the Deer is perfect for fans of mythological or folk horror.
6 This discord contains ghosts by Adam Vass and Will Jobst puts ghost hunting online
This innovative game takes the classic haunted house horror structure and translates it into the digital world. Players divide into two groups, one of ghosts and the other of investigators. The game takes place in a pre-created Discord server depicting a haunted house. Investigators can talk in a shared “walkie-talkie” voice chat, while ghosts can type descriptions of various hauntings into the rooms, or chat channels, of the house. This Discord contains ghosts is like a hybrid board/rpg game and is great for a large group of horror fanatics.
5 Tim Hutchings Millennial Vampire Covers a Centuries-Long Life
This contemplative single-player game guides the player through the life and unlife of an ancient vampire. Each journal entry advances in time a certain amount of time, setting different challenges and events in front of the vampire. Millennial Vampire uses an interesting system to keep track of the main character’s memories, which can be earned or spent as if they were resources. It really helps to underline how many things slip through the cracks in such a long life.
4 Sage La Torra’s Catch The Devil Focuses On The Horror Of Everyday Life
Some horrors are about the pits of hell or terrifying aliens from outer space. But other horrors are a little closer to home. catch the devil is “a game of suspense at the end of the Anthropocene”. Rather than being powerful heroes, the characters of catch the devil are normal people caught in an incomprehensible situation informed by a kind of societal anxiety. This event, called The Rot, could be representative of ecological collapse, the global rise of fascism, or growing income inequality.
3 The Name of God by Alessandro Piroddi is a dark and heartfelt experience
Neil Gaiman’s works dominate the name of God, who quotes Nowhere, American gods, and Anansi Boys among his influences. Each player chooses an incredibly evocative “fetish”, a symbolic representation of divine power. The characters are those confined to the margins of society, each hiding a secret and magnificent beauty.
Each fetish has a set of ritual actions that the player must perform throughout the game. After completing their rituals, they “transcend” by casting off their mortal forms in death and moving to a different location. The Name of God is beautifully written but has a heavy content warning for suicidal ideation.
2 Jolene by Adam Dixon and Thryn Henderson is a dark take on the classic song
What at first appears to be an ironic reference quickly turns out to be a deeply horrifying board game in Jolene. A player plays Jolene, who has come to a town to take some of her men as a tribute. The other players have a man close to them and they have to plead their case in front of Jolene, much like Dolly Parton does in her hit song. Jolene can choose at any time not to be moved by a plea and take that player’s man. It’s a great game to play with a large group of people ready to get in front of Jolene’s mighty power.
1 Sand Cage by Luciella Elisabeth Scarlett is the horror of endless time
This game follows the story of a person stuck in a seemingly endless time loop. Each pass through the loop consists of three phases. The character, or Avatar, goes through a consistent set of actions that begin to waver and change over the loops. Players draw tarot cards to create interactions and events that change each loop. In the end, some kind of disaster befalls the Avatar and the whole process begins again. sandbox can be played solo or in a group, and the slowly rising terror is perfect for horror fans of all kinds.
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