The Horror! System

The Horror! system is intended to be rules-lite and diceless, fast-paced and yet still “crunchy” enough to allow for unique characters. All you need to run it is some paper, pens or pencils and some tokens, which we’ll get into later.

The heart of the Horror system is the escalation of fear. Over the course of a horror game, fear should grow, scene by scene, until terror overwhelms the player-characters (or, perhaps, they triumph, but that isn’t really what we have in mind for this system).

In the Horror system, pretty much everything is on a scale of 1-5. The mechanic is diceless, meaning that scores are simply compared, taking into account situational modifiers and special Traits (which we’ll also get into later). Whoever’s score is higher is the winner. In the case of ties, nothing happens unless one party spends a Token, which is the tie-breaking mechanic for Horror. In a situation where the test is against a set obstacle and there is a tie, then given enough time the obstacle can be overcome, but it will often be a slow process – and in a good horror game, there shouldn’t be a lot of waiting around.

Whenever something frightening happens, there is a chance that the characters will escalate on the fear scale, which ranges from Calm to Hysterical, at which point the character has likely lost her mind and is screaming, raving, running frantically, or gibbering senselessly on the floor. The Fear scale is as follows:

Calm
Nervous -1
Shaken -2
Frightened -3
Terrified -4
Hysterical -6

Listed after each level is the number of points you lose from any given test. So, if you’re Shaken and trying to hack a computer, you’re at -2 because your hands are shaking and you can’t concentrate. The one exception is tests involving Might, which suffer only half the penalty. You don’t lose strength as quickly, but you do lose effectiveness, flailing around for example instead of remaining composed and effective.

Each character keeps track of their level of Fear, and they need to roleplay their character’s state – not just because this is a roleplaying game, but because it is through roleplaying that you get more Tokens.

The only way to reduce your level of fear is to roleplay the fear well, then spend a Token and either take time to talk yourself down or have another player roleplay talking you down. Obviously, this takes time, and can’t be done during a firefight or something.

A character has six Attributes. They are Might, Precision, Knowledge, Appeal, Occult and Luck.

Might: size, muscle, endurance, toughness

Precision: dexterity, agility, quickness of wit, perception, and many skills

Knowledge: education, training, etc.

Appeal: looks, dress, charisma, sex appeal, social status

Occult: weird knowledge, psychic powers, religious faith, resistance to unnatural powers

Luck: plain, dumb luck

As mentioned above, all Attributes are rated from 1 to 5 (for humans), with 1 being pretty poor, sad, or maybe handicapped, and 5 being the human maximum. 2 represents someone who is untrained but average, and 3 is the average for someone who is trained.

A character has a given number of Traits that are like Attributes but are more specific. These can be anything, including skills, natural talents, or specific aspects of an attribute. Your rating in an Attribute is the number of Traits you start with from that category (except Occult, which gives you Attribute -2 in Traits to start). Each Trait that applies to a given situation gives you a +1 on a test, up to +2 at the maximum. Here are some example Traits for each Attribute to give you an idea of what we’re getting at:

Might: Tough as Nails, Hulking, Brutal, Fit, Weapon Training (specific weapon), Martial Artist (specify style), Body Armor, Tireless

Precision: Driver, Elusive, Quick, Acrobatic, Cautious, Sharpshooter, Juggler, Puzzle Solver, Archer, Calligrapher, Painter, Woodworker

Knowledge: Literature, Music, Trivia, Engineering, History, Biology, Chemistry, Demolitions, Extra Languages, Local Knowledge, Auto Repair, Tactics

Appeal: Wealthy, Sexy, Commanding, Scary, Innocent, Trustworthy, Deceptive, Famous

Occult: (each actual use of an Occult power costs one Token – otherwise it helps you resist supernatural powers and influences) Iron Will, Divine Protection, Healing Hands, Psychometry, Clairvoyance, Telepathy, Telekinesis, Pyrokinesis, Exorcism, Warding, Arcane Sight

Luck: (Luck also determines how many Tokens you start the game with – otherwise, these are things you are lucky enough to have with you when the Horror begins) Reliable Vehicle, Pistol, Quality Knife, Sword, Body Armor, Automatic Weapon, Wad of Cash, Laptop, Art Supplies, Megaphone, Power Tools

For each of these Attributes, there are also negative traits, or Flaws, that a player can take. Each Flaw is more severe than the average Trait, but for each Flaw taken the character gains another Trait in any category. For each applicable Flaw, a character is at a -1 (no limit) to a given test. Here are some examples:

Might: Asthmatic, Fat, Sensitive, Scrawny, Hemophiliac, Pacifist, Squeamish

Precision: Clumsy, Shaky, Bad Vision, Unbalanced, All Thumbs, Absent-Minded, Oblivious

Knowledge: Uneducated, Slow, Dense, Common Sensical

Appeal: Ugly, Stinky, Clearly Foreign, Filthy, Easy to Read, Shy, Poor, Laughable, Obnoxious

Occult: EnThralled, Skeptical, Addicted, Weak Willed, Faithless, Reductionist

Luck: Cursed, Jinxed

In all cases, the GM must approve all Traits, and is encouraged to keep the Traits specific and the Flaws general.

A final modifier of a given Test is the Situation. This is always up to the GM, and is sometimes determined by things like fear or injury. Again, the max bonus is +2 and the maximum penalty is -2.

In Combat, it is usually a test of Might or Precision. Might covers things like hand combat, fighting with weapons, wrestling and the like. Precision covers things like shooting, throwing objects or leaping behind cover. Combat situations assume one-on-one combat. For mass combat, resolve each test individually, remembering that a character can only have one Quick action (attack, defend, run, jump, shout, etc.) in a combat round.

If one is attacking and one is defending, a tie means no damage is dealt. If both are attacking, then the winner deals damage, and in a tie both deal damage.

Weapons deal three types of damage: Bruise, Injury, Wound. The third Bruise turns into an Injury, the third Injury turns into a Wound, the third Wound is Crippling, and beyond that things become Deadly. Each player keeps track of their character’s health, checking each level off as the damage they take accumulates. Again, each level has a penalty listed after it that results from pain, blood loss, trauma, shock, etc.

Healthy
Bruised (-1 to Appeal tests – it shows you’ve been in a fight)
Injured -1
Wounded -2
Crippled -4
Dying

It should be clear that if you are both frightened and injured, you’re pretty screwed. In Horror, it gets really bad really quickly.

4 thoughts on “The Horror! System

  1. That char gen is exactly what I had in mind, I just forgot to post it. Attributes determine Traits, and you can just tool the Attributes depending on how exceptional you want the PCs to be.

    Also, I'm down with buying two of the same Traits. I had that too for a few things, but I like applying it generally.

    Because of the scale I still kind of like the -2/+2 limit, but those can just be guidelines. I also like limiting the number of traits that will apply to an action in question – Ideally, the Traits chosen are specific enough that they won't stack that much anyway (and even exceptional characters won't have more than 5 traits under a given Attribute)

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  2. Seems a bit too rules-light for my taste. If your goal is to have a kind of group narration, where everyone sits down and we collectively tell a story, why bother with a system at all? Why not just sit down, figure out a story, and then write it as a novel, or a short story, or what have you?

    Particularly unappealing to me is the fact that it is diceless. While dice can get in the way sometimes, I like the random element. When there's no random element – no possibility of an extreme, amazing, unlikely success, or of an horrible, unexpected failure, well, I just don't find the system as appealing.

    Still, to each his own.

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  3. For me, when you design a game, you have to make choices as to who your audience is going to be. Not everyone is going to like a diceless game. The Amber Diceless RPG is out of print for a reason I suppose. Here, I went for diceless because I like the mechanic for this kind of game. Its also rules light. I know that ppl who want extraordinary successes and failures won't like it – that's basically cool with me. I've got Epic for the dice and rules-crunchiness, assuming I ever finish the thing, and there's always stuff like GURPS or D20 or whatever.

    I like diceless and rules-light more than just storytelling because there are parameters for challenge resolution and other interactions. But you're right, its a lot closer to just a group narrative.

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