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:
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.
Bruised (-1 to Appeal tests – it shows you’ve been in a fight)
It should be clear that if you are both frightened and injured, you’re pretty screwed. In Horror, it gets really bad really quickly.