Work in Progress: Horror! Alpha Playtest Document

Putting this up here in case anyone sees it and wants to comment on it so far.  Its a work in progress and not done yet, but it is getting closer to what we can use to playtest the system.  Note: placing this document on this blog does not constitute publication.  All rights reserved.

Horror! Alpha Playtest Document

Style Bible

Always Capitalize: Adrenaline, Appeal, Attributes, Fear, Hopes, Might, Occult, Pain, Precision, Scars, Traits, Virtue

Use numerals rather than written numbers – so, 3 rather than three.

Capitalize with first mention: types of Traits, character types – victim, jaded, etc.  Afterwards, it isn’t a big deal to capitalize and can just be a descriptor with a rules effect

Italicize important sentences – one or two from each section at the very most – that people need to see and understand, or that hold a key bit of rules or system in them

Italicize whenever you want to draw specific attention to something – a word, phrase, sentence, etc., that isn’t already specifically handled in some way

Embolden the first instance of a new key word or term that doesn’t occur in a heading but in the body of the text

What you have
Attributes: Might, Precision, Appeal, Occult
–>Note on other Attribute systems, since this is one of the weakest parts of the game at the moment (to me at least)

What will take it from you

How it will happen
Conflict System
Live Action

For example…


First, you figure out what kind of character you’re going to play.  There are a few ways to do this.  The first way is to choose 3 Hopes or Scars or some mixture of the two adding up to 3.  So you can have 3 Scars, 2 Scars and 1 Hope, 1 Scar and 2 Hopes, or 3 Hopes.  These will correspond to your starting Adrenaline (Scars) and Virtue (Hopes).

You can determine your Scars and Hopes one by one, thinking them through and sketching out what they represent in  your character’s past or the future she wants – or you can determine them semi-randomly with a deck of cards.  Each player who wants semi-random Scars and Hopes is dealt 3 cards from a shuffled deck.  The red cards are Scars and the black cards are Hopes.  A spade is a Scar having to do with violence or suffering.  A club is a Scar having to do with disempowerment – perhaps poverty or oppression or emotional abuse.  A heart is a Hope having to do with relationships.  A diamond is a Hope having to do with achievement.
Each Scar is a time in your life when you were crushed by suffering and wanted to give up.  Each Hope is something that you desperately want for your life to give it meaning and make it worthwhile.
Someone with 3 Scars is a Victim.  A Victim has been beaten down by life again and again, and is often mostly concerned with survival.  The Victim might accept horror for what it is and respond directly to it.  The Victim has learned not to mess around if she wants to get through this.
Someone with 2 Scars and 1 Hope is Jaded.  Jaded characters will tend to be competent, professional types.  They believe the horror can be kept at bay, but you’ve got to break some eggs in the process.  The Jaded character still holds onto some hope for the future, but her feet are also firmly on the ground.
Someone with 1 Scar and 2 Hopes is Foolhardy.  The Foolhardy character believes that the horror can be overcome in the end.  They tend to be idealistic visionary types who might be entrepeneurs or artists.  The Foohardy character has been burned before, but believes that in the end, things work out for the best if they can keep believing.
Someone with 3 Hopes is an Innocent.  The Innocent never really comes to believe that true horror is real, and an Innocent character might hold onto her ideals even when giving them up might serve the “greater good”.  The Innocent is fragile and powerful at the same time because there is something about them that the horror has a hard time reaching.

Attributes are measured from 0 to 5.  0 is handicapped, 2-3 is average, and 5 is the maximum for normal human beings.  Attributes are also the base for all tests – the Attribute provides the base number, which is then modified by Traits, Fear and Pain.  For Attributes, you distribute a 2, two 3’s and a 4 between your four scores.

Might is a measure of your physical power, athletic ability, and toughness.  It could also be Muscle or Force or Power, maybe, but the name is just the place-holder for physical badassery.

Precision is your mental acumen, fine motor skills and ability to think clearly.

Appeal is your social grace, charm, good looks and general likeability.  It is how you get what you want from NPCs.

Occult is your knowledge of dread secrets humankind was not meant to know, psychic abilitites, supernatural sensitivity and so on.  High Occult will also make you more susceptible to the supernatural abilities of other creatures. [CAN PERHAPS REMOVE ENTIRELY]


Alternate Attribute Systems
The Idea is that the Attribute system is brief, tightly designed, and covers the categories of conflicts that you might be able to resolve or ‘win’.  Right now, Might corresponds to a lot of physical combat; Precision corresponds to shooting people and skill or thinking-based conflicts; Appeal pertains to social conflicts and interactions, and Occult is sort of a catch-all for the weird, creepy, supernatural stuff.

Traits and items modify your attributes when you’re involved in a conflict.  Basically, having a trait that applies to a certain situation grants a bonus in that situation.  Traits should be specific and descriptive – there will never be a catch-all Trait that is useful for everything, or anything close to it.
There are six kinds of Traits: Feats, Influences, Items, Knowledge, Mysteries and Skills.
Feats are specific ways to call on physical prowess, particularly when beating ass or doing things you’d do when playing a sport – throwing, running, swimming, jumping and so on.  Influences are ways to influence other characters socially and psychologically, as well as a way to measure who you know who can help you – contacts, allies and the like.  Items are just that – a catch-all of useful objects.  For a lot of things, like shooting someone or driving, you’ll need an item at bare minimum to even do it. Knowledge just says in what area or areas you are an expert.   You can expect to have your questions answered in that area of knowledge during the course of the game – maybe in forensics or biology or even conspiracy theories or art history.  Mysteries are weird shit, and they overlap with some of the other categories of Traits.   You can have special items or objects, a special occult ability, a magical ritual or a way that you are resistant to the attacks of alien mind-rays.  Finally, Skill are pretty self-explanatory – they are a main way that you get concrete things done in the shared imaginary space of the game.
You can stack one Item with one Skill for one test when applicable.  Otherwise, Traits can only be called on one at a time.  Traits can stack with themselves, however.  For example, at a basic level, you could have a handgun.  You could also have a Desert Eagle with a laser sight (+1).  Lastly, you might have a hand-machined .50 caliber handgun with extra chambers, armor-piercing rounds, a laser sight, recoil suppression and a scope attachment.  That’s a +2, and would take the place of 3 Items.
Examples of Traits
Traits include skills and talents as well as particular pieces of equipment that make tasks easier.  They should be a lot more specific than an attribute, but still grant an advantage in a conflict.
(You can spend an Adrenaline to double the effect of a feat)
(You can spend a Virtue to double the effect of an influence)
(One item can “stack” effect with one skill)
(You don’t test knowledge – you just know things in a given area)
(When you fail a test in which you use a mystery Trait, you gain one level of Fear or Pain)
(One skill can “stack” effect with one item)

Adrenaline is a pool of points that you can use to modify conflicts.  Understandably, Adrenaline helps you kick the shit out of things – doors, objects, and opponents.

You earn Adrenaline back by being aggressive, by leading with your chin, fists, knife, fire-axe, shotgun and so on.  Adrenaline creates a cycle where you paint the walls, then earn some more, then paint the walls again.

The amount of Adrenaline that you can spend at one time is equal to your Fear level +1.

Virtue is a pool of points, a reasource that you can use to further modify rolls, among other things.  Virtue is the only thing that might enable you to deal with Fear and Pain, and one character can use their Virtue to help others.

Virtue is earned – you begin a game with a little bit, but if things are going right, you should be spending it pretty often.

The way you earn Virtue is by taking risks on behalf of others, by doing self-sacrificing things to preserve others in the face of horror.

Virtue represents one of the two ways you can survive horror – by being someone who should survive in the first place.

If you RP talking someone down or soothing them or encouraging them and spend a Virtue point in a scene, you reduce their Fear level by one step.  If you RP caring for someone, binding their wounds and so on in a scene and spend a Virtue, you reduce their Pain level by one.  You can only do one or the other in a given scene – for 2 Virtue you can do both at once in a scene.

Your Hopes are what give you life.  They inspire you, they make you who you are.  

They give you something to lose.

Your hopes are what give you your starting Virtue in a Horror! game.  You can  have up to three hopes which will function this way.

Also, whenever a Hope comes into play in a conflict specifically (GM’s discretion) you get a +1 to directly-related tests.   Your Hopes inspire you to greater effort and at times, true brilliance.
Of course, in situations like this, when things go terribly wrong, it is possible for a Hope to transform into a Scar.  This should be a story event that takes place – and a character can never have fewer or more than a total of 3 Hopes and Scars unless they have received a Scar for being taken out of a game or incapacitated and then returning later.


Scars are the counter-balance of Dreams.  A scar is a memory of something terrible that happened to you.  It often resulted in a particular fear or weakness.

It also pisses you the fuck off.  Your scars give you Adrenaline.  You draw on what has hurt you – and use it to hurt other stuff.

Every time you’re in a situation where a Scar specifically comes into play (GM’s discretion), you are at -1 to all tests, but you also get a point of Adrenaline as soon as the penalty comes into effect.

Fear exists on a scale that is right there on your character sheet.  The more Fear you have, the weaker you’ll become, the more ineffectual.  The accumulation of Fear is automatic over the course of a game.  Whenever how bad things are escalates from where they were before, everyone’s Fear increases.  The only way to mitigate this effect is for someone to spend Virtue and talk someone else down.  This has to be roleplayed out, and then the Virtue is actually spent, and the person who was talked down can reduce their Fear by one step.  Your level of Fear is subtracted from your score in all social or mental conflicts.

You can spend Adrenaline on any one test equal to 1+your level of Fear, so being afraid can actually empower you…sort of.  Really, what it does is let you blow even more Adrenaline to negate the penalty to your tests, thus encoraging you to go out there and get more Adrenaline faster – and that just makes everyone’s night more fun.

Like Fear, Pain is right there on your character sheet.  Whenever you lose a physical conflict where someone or something is trying to injure you, you gain one level of Pain.  Each level of Pain progressively incapacitates you more and more until  you are took broken to continue.  Your level of Pain is subtracted from your score in all physical conflicts.


Conflict System
Conflicts in Horror! are simple, designed to be resolved in the midst of panic and shouting and running for your life.  The higher total number wins.  Two equal totals cancel out, and both sides take consequnces from the conflict.  Most physical conflicts will have Pain as a consequence.  Some social or mental conflicts will have Fear as a consequence, but genrally Fear just escalates as the story escalates.  The conseuqnces of a conflict might also be something simply related to the story – will the car start?  Will the locked door open?  Can you weld razor-wire to the sides of the schoolbus for the run through the mob of zombies?  In these cases, the GM just sets a target number.  If you get the target number exactly, you get what you wanted – barely, and not as thoroughly as you’d want.  If you get lower than the target number, something bad happens.  If you get something hither than the target number, you get what you want in the conflict.

Target Numbers
1-2 Easy
3-4 Normal; relatively challenging
5-6 Very challenging
7+ Probably impossible

Otherwise, the conflicts are character vs. character.  You compare each character’s Attribute + Trait + Adrenaline or Virtue spent – again, the higher total wins.
In all cases, the player-character makes the first move – the PC is the first to take the risk, even if they are being attacked.  This adds to the feel or Horror! – you don’t know what you’re facing.  You might over-estimate and burn Adrenaline when you didn’t need to, and you might under-estimate and get hurt for your trouble.  What this means is, the GM might say “Ok, the zombie is trying to grab you and bite you.  What are you doing?”  Then the player says what her character is trying to do to resist this – say, struggle and get out of the zombie’s grasp using Power + a Feat + 1 Adrenaline to help make sure.  Her character’s total is 5.  The GM knows that this is a very strong zombie, with a 6 in Power, but what happens is that the GM narrates what happens, ending with the zombie getting a grip on the PC and sinking its bloodstained teeth into her shoulder.  She takes 1 Pain.  Now, what does she do next?
This should always keep the PCs off-balance, making them guess how bad a thing they are facing is.  There is a way to try to figure out this ahead of time – we’ll get to that in the Traits section.
A tie goes to the status-quo – often the “defender”.  In combat, a tie means that both sides take a level of Pain and continue as they were, wounded and panting.  Note that ties will be pretty common, so things can get bloody for both sides quick.

The table-top game of Horror! doesn’t involve any dice.  There is no chance that will come to save you, no high roll that will get you out of a tight spot.  In fact, we’re doing what we can to keep you in the dark, make you waste resources, make you over-react to small threats and underestimate large ones.  Every player should say “oh shit”, or something like it, during the course of every Horror! game at minimum.

Live Action is exactly like table-top, except that Adrenaline and Virtue should probably be playing cards or something so that they are harder to lose when  you’re walking around.

It might be interesting that when you spend one or the other, you just throw your card to the ground, leaving indications that some kind of serious conflict took place here for others to find and/or intuit when they come by later.  That is, a pile of Adrenaline cards on the floor would mark the site of some combat, and you’d expect to find spent shell casings and blood splattered all over the place.
Otherwise, your character sheet easily fits on a single 4×6 card, and items can be cards you carry on you or can just be recorded on your sheet.
Appeal of 3 could be one gold star on your nametag; Appeal 4 is 2 stars and Appeal 5 is 3 – to indicate how hot, influential, menacing, or inspiring you are.
For a test, both sides get out their character card and any item card or Trait card they hope to use, as well as any cards they’re willing to risk in the test.  Both sides reveal at once and compare.  All spent Adrenaline or Virtue cards are scattered on the floor.

At the beginning of a game, there is a pool of Adrenaline and a pool of Virtue, set by the GM for that session.  Players award each other Adrenaline and Virtue during the course of the game when they see fit – the another player is baddass or virtuous, basically.  Once the pools are spent, there can be no more awards.  Unawarded points go away at the end of the session.  The PCs should probably work out some kind of shorthand for saying “I think we should award a point for what you just did”

Adrenaline:  “Holy shit”, “Baddass”, “Hardcore”, “Oh my God”, “You’re a sick bastard” – or you could pound the table in appreciation
Virtue: “Nice one”, “Awww”, ::Cheering::, “Wow, that was amazing”, “Saved!” – or you could raise your hand in blessing or make the sign of the cross or a peace sign toward the player in question

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