Users Guide: The Horror Genre

The following article is a continuation of the Genres in Gaming series of articles written to help players and GMs determine which games are available within the genres they want to play.  The lists of systems contained throughout or by no means exhaustive.  All game systems are listed within the sub-genre as I understand from the knowledge I have.  If they are improperly categorized, please post a comment further explaining what the sub-genre should be and why.

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Before getting into the details of the sub-genres, I’d like to establish a difference between the Horror genre and a horror-themed sub-genre like Dark Fantasy and Gothic Science Fiction. The difference is typically in the implementation of the setting, system, and/or mechanics. In the Horror genre, the system and mechanics are designed around the Horror theme while the setting is highly influenced by that theme. A horror-themed sub-genre contains implementations of Horror as part of the setting, but the system itself is based around the other, more prevalent genre. In other words, the Horror is a backdrop of the setting and not necessarily the main driving theme.

Modern Horror

Modern Horror is simply fictional horror either taking place in the modern age or within modern locations. The horrific and/or supernatural creatures are part of the design of the fictional setting as opposed to using creatures that are inherent to other popular settings or fictional publications. There is also a focus on the horror aspects of the setting and less on the characters ability to easily overcome the horror. This often results in a higher focus on a characters skills and cunning abilities rather than their brute strength and fantastic weapons. This doesn’t mean that the characters cannot be heroic, but it’s often less frequently found.

Another key to Modern Horror is that they may be based off of fictional publications during the Modern Era. Not the fictional setting itself, but rather published novels and movie productions. Modern could also be the styling of the Horror in that it is drawing influence on a modern fictional horror author, but is not basing the setting or system directly off that author.

The following systems are representative of Modern Horror and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), and publisher displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher).

Gothic Horror

Gothic Horror is not so much of a setting as it is a way of characterizing the characters and/or adversaries found throughout the system and setting. It could easily be placed within a modern setting, but the characters are those that are common to Gothic Horror fiction. This includes vampires, werewolves, and demons, although these types of characters are not bound to the Gothic Horror sub-genre. They are often found as adversaries in many Fantasy settings, but I’m not focusing on those. The Gothic Horror sub-genre focuses on the fact that these characters are the main focus of the setting, plot, and/or mechanics of the game.

The reason I add Gothic Horror as a sub-genre, is to differentiate between modern fictional characters and traditional Gothic characters. This is simply a better way of categorizing the games to give more focus upon their underlying themes and how they’re different from other games.

The following systems are representative of Gothic Horror and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), and publisher displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher).

  • World of Darkness – Vampire: The Masquerade (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Werewolf: The Apocalypse (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Wraith: The Oblivion (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Demon: The Fallen (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Vampire: The Dark Ages (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Orpheus (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Vampire: The Requiem (White Wolf)
  • World of Darkness – Werewolf: The Forsaken (White Wolf)
  • World of Darkness – Geist: The Sin-Eaters (White Wolf)

Zombie / Undead

Zombie or Undead systems are much like Modern and Gothic Horror except that all the characters (PCs or NPCs) are either Zombies or Undead or are trying to stave off a worldwide attack from Zombies or Undead. While many of these settings may be modern, once again I’m differentiating between the underlying themes of the systems and/or settings. After-all, combating a thousand mindless Zombies is not quite the same as taking on a being from the outer realms.

There seems to be a Zombie movement lately and the idea of these game systems and settings is regaining interest and becoming popular (again).

The following systems are representative of Zombie or Undead and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), and publisher displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher).

Fantasy Horror

Fantasy Horror is not the same as Horror Fantasy or Dark Fantasy. Fantasy Horror is a horror setting with fantasy elements like magic. Horror Fantasy (Dark Fantasy) is a fantasy setting with horror elements like demons and vampires. While some Modern Horror systems have elements of fantasy like magic, they are not as prevalent, more dangerous, and/or simply part of the background. Fantasy Horror contains more elements of fantasy and are much more common (although possibly still very dangerous).

Another key element of Fantasy Horror may be the lack of heroic characters or that the characters are the horrific beings and are performing horrific (although possibly heroic) deeds. In this case, the supernatural beings are often much stronger than the other characters in the setting and thus combating them may be extremely difficult.

The following systems are representative of Fantasy Horror and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), and publisher displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher).

  • World of Darkness – Mage: The Ascension (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Changeling: The Dreaming (Out-of-print)
  • World of Darkness – Mage: The Awakening (White Wolf)
  • World of Darkness – Changeling: The Lost (White Wolf)
  • Beyond the Supernatural (Palladium Books)
  • Nightbane (Out-of-print)

Science Fiction Horror

Like Fantasy Horror, Science Fiction Horror is not the same as Gothic Science Fiction. Science Fiction Horror is a horror system with a science fiction setting. Instead of battling the supernatural in modern Earth, they are being encountered on a spacecraft 300 years in the future. The basics is that the horror aspects of the system do not change, but the setting is wrapped around some type of science fiction element(s). But to differentiate from Gothic Science Fiction, Science Fiction Horror may not see the characters carrying very high-tech weapons that can easily combat these supernatural creatures.

Again, another possible element is the lack of heroic characters. These characters may be replaced with engineers or scientists that wish to stop the supernatural beings but cannot combat them. There is definitely a gray-area where both sub-genres float across from one to the other considering a particular adventure or campaign. However, the system itself is still written to embrace one or the other.

The following systems are representative of Science Fiction Horror and may have numerous published supplements. Each one is noted as the game system, game setting (where applicable), and publisher displayed as: System – Setting (Publisher).

Stay tuned for the continuation of the Genres in Gaming series of articles as I delve into the Historical genre.

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