Don’t talk about stats in horror RPGs is the second article on role-playing the fear I wrote together with the Italian blogger Pennymaster.
As I told before, these articles are a translation/remake of the ones from Pennymaster’s Italian blog, but I adopted these tricks in my own sessions and I found them effective.
Just consider that, again:
- It’s my personal point of view on the topic, not a diktat.
- It doesn’t strictly represent what you can find on my Savage Settings. Savage Worlds has a different mood, and I did not officially put these tricks and advises in my games, even if I use them in my personal game sessions.
- I don’t use this advice in ALL my RPG sessions, just in the ones focused on horror, dread and fear: to generate fear in the players you need different tricks from the normal ones.
Don’t talk about stats
In RPGs in which phantoms, killers, vampires and so on are just as many monsters, with their own traits, strengths and weaknesses, the encounter and the battle against them generates very little emotional tension: the Monster has statistics, HPs and special abilities, just like you and any other NPCs. It is not a symbol of a unknown and terrifying world, like it should be, just another monster in the bestiary.
The truth is the Monster of your horror story should not be another creature from a bestiary, but a narrative feature: a box of gruesome tricks to choose from at will, while playing a terrifying story. In a horror game, you should absolutely focus on the narrative aspect of the RPG, not in the tactical one.
When you want to create a truly chilling encounter, use the rules with great ease, simplify at the most rolls and tests, ask them only when it is really necessary, and apply a bit of “Game Master’s arbitrariness” every time it is needed.
I know this is not good design, or something players usually like, and actually I’m not asking to use this in every game of yours.
But it is absolutely effective if playing a horror story that really causes fear and some inner discomfort in the player, and THIS is my focus now.
If this solution seems bad for you, just use the rules in the simpler and quicker way you can. In short, the lesser players think to the rules, the better.
A simple house rule, applicable to any group, is the following:
During the game don’t talk about stats
That’s our second trick!
Even the mere mention of the character sheet should be forbidden. Players do not have to know anything about other Detectives in terms of mechanics. Share information about characters has to be done always and only using generic descriptions. You should not stay in character all the time, the important thing is not talking about stats.
It may seem a stupid trick, but look at the difference:
“Who’s going to talk to the fence?”
“I’ll go, I have Streetwise d8.”
“I’ll go, I know how to deal with scum like him.”
“What about doing some research among the underground repositories of the Faculty?”
“Well, the Antiquarian has d8 in Knowledge: Occult, so he goes for sure. The Archaeologist will go too: she can give him an help in any Cooperative rolls.”
“Professor, do you believe you can find something in the historical section of your club?” “Yes, but I would like to take advantage on the help of our young archaeologist.”
The collaboration between players and the game strategies in themselves do not kill the tension, but the latter is damaged for sure by the triviality of their interaction. With this banal trick you retrieve a portion of uncertainty and identification, and this is very important in a horror story.