I managed to finally fulfill a long-running goal this week, and I ran a horror-themed one-night RPG session for Halloween. And better yet, it served as a test-run (and a very successful one) for an RPG that I wrote! Sort of. I’ll explain.
I really like 1d4chan. Once you dig through the worrying amount of slash-fics and memes, there’s some really good gaming resources on there for tabletop gaming. Their Warhammer and 40k tactics pages are excellent and often hilarious, and there’s plenty of good reading like The Guy Who Cried Grendel, Old Man Henderson, and Humanity, Fuck Yeah!
Because 1d4chan is lovingly maintained by a stable of creative grognards and neckbeards (or elegan/tg/entlemen as they prefer to be known) there’s also a good amount of house-ruled and homebrewed material. For example, Epic6 is probably the best way ever of playing D&D, but there’s plenty of rules for new wargames and RPGs, and one of my favourites is Afterschool Activities, a rules-lite horror RPG in which the players are students in a dark, creepy school. One thing I like is that instead of your usual RPG stats like Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, etc, the students of Afterschool Activities have Subjects and Grades. So instead of Strength 15, you may have Gym B, for example. Task resolution is a single D6 roll; 4 or higher means you succeed, with your Grade in the relevant Subject modifying that dice roll. There’s also a stat called Wakefulness; as the game goes on, students start becoming tired, and when their Wakefulness reaches 0, they fall asleep and don’t wake up…
It’s a really fun, easy system, and I was eager to run it. However, I wanted to make a few tweaks to some of the rules, and sure enough I had ended up creating a new rules system. As it was a new system, I went ahead and gave it a new name; Growing Pains, for running adventures of adolescent horror.
Players are students of St. Iscariot’s Academy, and are between 11 and 14 years old. Obviously every Student needs a Name, and a Stereotype, shown on the character sheet (“report card”) as the Who Is… field. This is where the player can write a few words to quickly sum up their Student, like “jock”, “head in the clouds”, “exchange student”, “painfully normal”, and so.
Students then have six Subjects; Arts & Drama, English & History, Gym, Maths & Science, Social Studies, and Tech. Studies. These subjects broadly cover the various actions that a Student can take; for example, Gym is used for sporty stuff like running, jumping, throwing, Arts & Drama is used for visual perception, acting, impressing people, and so on. A Student’s Grade in a Subject can be Good, Average, or Poor.
Growing Pains uses D8s, and only D8s. Ideally you want six, three of one colour and three of another. One colour will represent Effort Dice, and the other will represent Setback Dice. The dice system is basically a very dumbed-down version of FFG’s Star Wars RPG, in that you roll “good” and “bad” dice at the same time. When you take a check (“Test”), the Student rolls a number of Effort Dice depending on his Grade in the relevant Subject (3 dice for Good, 2 for Average, and 1 for Poor) and simultaneously rolls a number of Setback Dice equal to the Test’s difficulty (3 dice for Hard, 2 for Normal, and 1 for Easy).
The numbers rolled aren’t added together; you’re looking for the highest number of each colour. If the Student’s highest Effort Dice roll is equal to or greater than the highest Setback Dice roll, then they succeed at the Test. If their highest Effort Dice roll is lower than the highest Setback Dice roll, then they failed… oh dear.
Obviously, Fear is a big part of a horror game. In Growing Pains, the Students can only take so much before they Give Up, and that’s when they’re at their most vulnerable. Whenever something scary happens, a Student has to take a Fear check; this is a straight roll of a single D8, attempting to roll higher than their current Fear. Depending on the intensity of the scare, the effects of a pass or failure change.
If the thing that prompted the Fear check was a simple scare (the classic being a sudden loud noise or the lights going out), then the Student gains 1 Fear on a fail, and no Fear on a pass. However, if the thing that prompted the Fear check was something that was really terrifying or traumatic (like seeing a dead body, or trying to stay quiet while hiding from the eldritch horror stalking them), then the Student gains 1 Fear on a pass but keep going. If they fail though, their Fear goes straight to 8, and they Give Up. Giving Up means that they may collapse in a gibbering heap, or run off in a blind, screaming panic… their fate is up to the GM. Thankfully, a Student who’s Given Up can be revived (possibly) by their fellow Students.
So that’s it really. There are a few other little rules like becoming injured, or gaining Fear to try and succeed at a Test, but they’re all covered in the rules document above. Apart from that, go nuts. Haunted schools, abandoned fun fairs, old hospitals… the usual cliche places where kids may go exploring and get in way over their heads.
The game I ran was a fairly stereotypical horror plot, straight out of a lazy movie. I only had Trev and Ryan as guinea pigs, and anticipating a high body count, got them to make up three characters each, in classic Gygaxian Tomb of Horrors style. There was a Halloween dance, the lights went out, then the teachers started to go missing and they started to hear some urban legends about a creature called Scratchyhands, and they started finding long slash marks on the walls and doors, and seeing something moving in the dark. Cue much running and hiding, and one girl getting smacked in the head with a chair. Good times. They only lost one character each!
In fact, it was so successful that I’m hoping to do another one when we’re finished with Sixguns & Sinners and before I start Edge of the Empire… I’m thinking a Christmas-themed scare might be on the cards! The nice thing about Growing Pains is that the rules are simple and the theme is so immediately accessible that it would be perfect for people new to RPGs, and it’s great for a one-night session.