Monday, October 24, 2011

Shocktober Day 13 - Horror Gaming Fodder - The One Shot

Perhaps there is no better genre of gaming than horror to choose for a one-shot game for a Friday night. The genre lives and dies (excuse the pun) with disposable characters that get torn to shreds physically or metaphysically beyond repair. While many of the greatest horror movies are actually franchises full of monsters and a lone protagonist who simply refuses to die, there are countless others where one movie is all you need. In these one-shot stories, they can often be more satisfying than a long, drawn-out struggle of a seemingly immortal serial killer and his perennial almost-victim. There's real resolution, an ending, and completion to one-shot movies, and the same applies to one-shot tabletop games.

There are exceptions, but some of the best horror games published are keyed in specifically to present a perfect system to run a one-shot game. The exceptions are notable - the World of Darkness games, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Unknown Armies - but for the most part, games like Dread and Call of Cthulhu don't care so much about otherwise important role playing mechanics like the silly idea of advancing a character and leveling up. No, these games focus on entropy and the eventual/inevitable loss of life, limb, and/or one's mind. What does hitting level 2 matter when Cthulhu is CL Infinity?

The one-shot game is a standard for horror gaming, and for good reason. For starters, it's just plain easier to plan a single night's worth of story complete with introduction, rising action, climax, and falling action. For another, it's pretty darn satisfying to play a one-shot because, unlike I would guess most campaigns, one-shot games actually finish. One-shots for horror specifically also mean you can raise the stakes to an appropriate level to really raise the tension and show your players that anyone can die (a necessary evil/joy to get across when GM'ing horror).

The big thing about horror one-shots is that they allow you to try really weird stuff in your games. You can be as far out as you want to be when planning a one-shot because the worst you've done is waste one game night and the best you can do is truly surprise, confuse, and disorient your players with new, weird mechanics or horror concepts they've never seen before. I chose In the Mouth of Madness for the image for today's post, because I think it represents this ideal perfectly. If you've never seen it, go watch it on Instant Watch right away. John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite directors, and I believe Mouth of Madness is a cinematic version of Carpenter trying some weird shit just to see if it would work. In my opinion, it does, but it goes way out there before the credits roll. Carpenter took a chance with futzing with the narrative to tell an interesting Lovecraftian story, and the result is a disorienting series of creepy coincidents that turn out to weave a much larger tale.

This time of year always comes with people asking for recommendations for one-shot scenarios to play for some good old-fashioned Halloween gaming. Last Friday we played a Halloween themed Call of Cthulhu game in modern day which was a ton of fun. Beyond that, I would really recommend using Dread to run your game and introduce some new players to the hobby. There is no simpler game to bring new people in, and you can explain the game in a manner of a minute or two. You can download the quick version of the rules here on The Impossible Dream's website, but I would encourage you to try to find a copy of the book or download the pdfs of their two scenario books which work just fine with the downloadable free version of the rules - Dread: Tales of Terror - Wastelands and Dread: Tales of Terror - Precious Illusions. Otherwise, go read my review of the game to see if it's for you.

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