Monday, January 16, 2012

A New EPOCH Begins

I’ve finally got around to writing a first draft of EPOCH – my experimental horror game.  It is a game of 3 parts.  A Skeleton, which provides a framework for open dialogue with players, and which establishes the conceit of the horror genre, all driven around the concept of closing the distance between player and character.  Muscle, which provides a simple system designed to support and reinforce the skeleton, emphasising player choice, and the traumatic nature of being a character in a horror setting.  Finally the Skin, which is draws everything together into a single structure, and provides some tips and tricks to help the game  try and deliver on its potential.

Today I thought I’d raise the issue of player choice.  In EPOCH I decided I wanted the players to have complete choice over the range of outcomes that will befall their character.  There are no character sheets, no dice, no numbers.  Just a range of outcomes to choose from.
I wanted this more naked style of approach to remove some of places where players can hide from horror – the small abstractions and devices which can generate endless distraction – by removing these I hope to encourage players to close the distance between player and character for longer periods (I’m tentatively calling these suspense phases).  I wanted to emphasise the players choices would entirely dictate the fate of their character – the GM cannot ‘kill’ a character, every death, maiming or psychosis would be entirely the choice of the player.  These outcomes are known in advance, the same way an audience knows that most characters in a horror movie won't survive, and indeed many will meet a grisly end - but the specific details of who will survive, and how, remains a mystery.

Obviously this is just a teaser of what I’m working on building into EPOCH.  I’ll post more here in due course, as I get closer to a finished draft.  In the meantime, if you’d like to get an advance draft, or simply share your thoughts on this – I’d welcome any input.
Continuing the theme of horror games – I recently picked up Dead of Night (2nd ed.)  in New York.  The blurb made me think it was going to deliver a game along the lines of EPOCH:

"Dead of Night is the roleplaying game of campfire tales, slasher movies and b-movie horror. It is a game of screaming victims, unstoppable killers and slavering monsters, where the horror movie clichés flow thicker than blood and the only victory is survival.

Dead of Night is designed to be quick and easy to play, with rules that help you tell horror stories without getting in the way of the fun. The rules are simple and straightforward to learn, yet offer all the options and depth to allow you to customise the game however you like."

But I was surprised to find that the creators had concluded that monsters were the essence of horror movies.  That’s not the way I see it – character is king in horror.  Without character we care little for monsters, we lack a connection to this abstract fantasy and, therefore, we find it increasingly difficult to suspend our disbelief.  That’s why I am writing EPOCH to put the focus on character, and to try and really invest the players into the characters they create.  But Dead of Night is an interesting take nonetheless – Can you recommend any horror games (or even non-horror games) that emphasise character?


  1. You know I'm keen to see more of this.

    Vampire the Masquerade (at least in its 1st edition) framed itself as horror that was all about the character - personal horror, as they called it. We all know how that turned out.

    The other horror games I can think of are all procedurals or genre replication engines.

  2. To me horror is about change, and in no way a positive one (although on reflection positive change can come from a character in a horror story).

    That element is the thing I think is missing in every single horror game I've played.

    I'd be keen on hearing more about EPOCH...


  3. Marcus: if I ever get back to working on my horror game idea "Lament", I think you'll find it of interest, because it is very explicitly about exactly that.

  4. Hey, don't be pimpin your wares here M-Dog! Seriously though, how does (or would) lament deliver on the idea of horror through change? What particular aspect of change do you find horrific Marcus?

  5. Heh. I won't go into the full Lament pitch here - it can wait until a face-to-face. For now, it says "something that is scary is when society becomes strange and wrong around you".

    Interested in Marcus comments on your question...

  6. Looks good Dale. Excited to here you've finally got it all down on paper and happy to be experimented on.