Tis the season for everyone who loves candy, the dark, and horror. Fans of tabletop RPGs are always looking for an excuse to get a group together, and Halloween is a particularly good time to break out some horror-themed games of the medium. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some Halloween picks.
Slasher films are a staple of the horror genre, but they can be, ahem, a tad predictable. The shy nerd? The arrogant jock? Normally they wouldn’t stand a chance in a standard genre piece; their fate is sealed from the moment they crossed paths with the intrepid protagonist. Final Girl, a tabletop RPG by Brett Gillan changes all that. In this game, you and your friends are essentially directing your own slasher flick. The final survivor is uncertain, and anyone can stack the odds to help their favorite character make it out in the end.
Final Girl is pretty easy to pick up. All you need are the rules, some index cards, a few pencils, and a deck of cards. Unlike traditional tabletop RPGs, players do not have a single character to control throughout the game. Instead, you collectively build a whole mess of aspiring protagonists and swap out playing them in different scenes. A character will die nearly every scene, so you’re going to burn through them pretty quickly. An average game only lasts two hours or so, plus ten minutes to learn the rules, so it’s an ideal party game for a Halloween night.
Maybe slashers aren’t your thing. Maybe you’re looking for something a bit more atmospheric this season. If you love yourself some Lovecraft, Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley, Kathryn Jenkins, and Helen Gould is an ideal way to celebrate the 31st. The game evokes the delicious mounting terror of realizing that things were not as you thought they were, the geometry is not Euclidean, and that behind the tissue-paper thin fabric of reality is endless screaming horror. You have come too far, it is too late, and furthermore, it has always been too late. The characters have a chance of surviving death and insanity, but they can never win against the eldritch horror, and that is the fun of the whole thing.
Cthulhu Dark is an excellent party game, especially if you make use of one of the pre-built scenarios that appears alongside the rules of the game. The game supports a flexible number of players, which this game refers to as “Investigators”. Investigator-side rules are a quick and easy to learn dice-pool system; you can pick it up in ten minutes from the quick-start guide. The facilitator, in this game the “Director”, will want to spend some time getting familiar with the rule ahead of time. Cthulhu Dark is not a game about making bold, empowered decisions, but rather getting a vivid and gripping experience of what it’s like to be a person caught up in one of Lovecraft’s great and terrible works.
Dungeons and Dragons by Wizards of the Coast remains one of the most well-known tabletop RPGs out there, so I’d be remiss not to point you in the direction of some D20 fun. Dungeons and Dragons as a genre is less about running from nightmare-monsters and more about punching those nightmares in the face, so plan accordingly. It’s a great choice if you want to be able to nip away from the table at regular intervals to answer trick-or-treaters at your door without spoiling the mood. You can, of course, build your own adventure for the night, but you’re looking for an excuse to pick up a shiny new book, Curse of Strahd is a good place to turn for your Halloween aesthetic. This gothic-horror flavored setting features the forbidding castle of Ravenloft, powerful brooding vampires, and honest-to-goodness wereravens. Friggin’ wereravens.
Curse of Strahd is designed for a campaign play, so if you’re not willing to commit to playing in this world from now until next Halloween, consider grabbing one of the encounters and paring it down into a one-shot. Have your players come with pre-built characters, and then drop them straight into the action. Curse of Strahd requires a good bit of prep work on the part of the DM, but there are a number of prebuilt maps and tools available for free online to help make your halloween game a critical success (ba dum tss).
If you’re looking for something less traditional, check out Dread, a game “of horror and hope” by Epidiah Ravachol and Nat “woodelf” Barmore. Rather than burying the lead, I’ll skip right to the coolest mechanic of this game: that Jenga tower gathering dust in the back of your closet. At the start of the game you assemble the tower, and build characters. Any time a character wants to do something they might not be able to, they pull a block from the tower. If the tower falls, the character is removed from the game, usually by dying (I mean, come on, it’s a horror game). In terms of tone, this is a story less about jump-scares and more about impossible, delicious, drawn out tension. It’s about, y’know, dread.
Dread is recommended for five to six players, making it an ideal party game. The rulebook comes with several pre-built, ready-to-run stories as well as all the tools you need to make your own tale of horror. Among the pre-builts are options for first-time players as well as experienced ones. Dread is great for all manner of horror stories: supernatural, suspense, gore, and more. The game is simple to learn so it’s the perfect way for long-time horror-lovers to enjoy a new facet of the genre.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk poltergeists. It is always a good night for a ghost story, and that goes double for All Hallow’s Eve. Murderous Ghosts by Vincent Baker and Megeuy Baker is an RPG that features a cool choose-your-own-adventure style of play. The story centers around an urban explorer lost in an abandoned hotel. Pitted against them is a whole mess of deadly poltergeists driven mad by the anger, guilt, fear, and betrayal of the past. Whether the explorer escapes or joins the ranks of the dead, the story is always chilling and satisfying.
One of the big advantages to Murderous Ghosts as a Halloween game is that it only needs two players, the rules, and a deck of cards to run. You can learn the rules in ten minutes or less, so it’s very easy for a group of friends to pick up and play. It’s also one of the few games that can be run with just two players, so as long as one other person is down for telling ghost stories, you’re set.
Whatever game you settle down to, may your Halloween celebrations be a story you recount for years to come.
Happy gaming, everyone.