Fall is the spookiest time of the year. The days get colder, the nights get longer and everybody gets more and more hyped about Halloween. It’s very easy to get into a monster-slaying mood after all those scary movie marathons.
Luckily, there are several monster-hunting tabletop RPGs that give players plenty of opportunities to slay vampires, headshot zombies and otherwise put the bad buys back in the ground from whence they came. We’ve put together a list of our favorite horror RPGs that are available and in-print to allow you and your players to hit your friendly local gaming store and then start helping people and hunting things.
Monster of the Week
Fans of The Adventure Zone already know about Monster of the Week, but for anyone still in the dark, it’s a great game that emulates your favorite monster hunting media. Each playbook features a classic archetype that helps hunt creatures in their own way and at the end of character creation, everyone connects the crew together so you all can come together and fight the creatures terrifying normal folks. As one of the best Powered By The Apocalypse games out there, it puts all of the rules on one or two pieces of paper right in front of the players, and the book is a wonder guide to the genre that’s useful even if the GM runs a different system.
Tables wanting to know what a TV show where Buffy, Mulder, Dead Winchester and Hellboy team up to fight monsters would look like should check this game out ASAP.
Night’s Black Agents
This amazing game from genius developer Kenneth Hite applies the excellent GUMSHOE investigation rules to turn players into expert secret agents like Jason Bourne. They’ll need every trick of the trade they can find because they are going up against a global vampire conspiracy that has them outmanned, outgunned, and undead. The main book provides plenty of resources to allow the GM to make up their own vampires that range from the classical cross-and-garlic haters to weird transdimensional entities from an alternate future while also giving players rules that let them improvise vampire killing solutions that will look even cooler in slow motion.
Night’s Black Agents also happens to have one of the greatest horror campaigns of all time: The Dracula Dossier, a campaign that supposes that Bram Stoker’s classic story actually happened. If the players can decode the cryptic notes in their copy of the book, they might have a slim chance to save the world in a thrilling chronicle that blurs the line between real life and spy fiction.
Call of Cthulhu
Speaking of classic horror campaigns, the granddaddy of horror role-playing has several to choose from. It’s a great gateway from the excellent Arkham Files collection from Fantasy Flight Games to hook friends into roleplaying who are currently just board gamers. The excellent Call of Cthulhu 7th edition offers a classic 1920s setting that still has a lot of modern conveniences for familiarly like guns and cars but the historical settings offer a hint of pulp exoticism.
Masks of Nyarlathotep brings together both of these elements in a grand campaign that spans the globe as players go searching for the lost Carlyle Expedition by chasing down clues in newspaper clippings, photographs, and other resources. The campaign lets the players determine their direction and while it has a deadly reputation, its one that most fans of Call of Cthulhu remember fondly as they talk about how they died or went insane.
This critically acclaimed RPG recently updated its 90s government conspiracy setting in a shockingly relevant way. Delta Green offers a bleak take on not just the Cthulhu Mythos but how agents corrupted by the Unnatural have slipped inside our institutions to steer humanity toward ruin. Players have to protect their sanity as they root out this evil, of course, but they have a new resource they can burn to keep the fight moving forward; bonds. Bonds represent the reasons why the agents of Delta Green continue to fight but they also can wither and die as agents get sucked into the darkness of their battles. Losing a bond shows the cost of protecting humanity like few other games in the genre. Fans looking for a little historical perspective can also check out The Fall of Delta Green which mixes 60s counterculture, 70s paranoia and the titular organization at its highest point right before it flies too close to the sun.
When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who are you going to call? What if you can’t afford the brand name Ghostbusters? Inspectres suggests that, just like any growing industry, paranormal investigations and eliminations allow for many franchises of differing quality to exist.
Your players are part of one of the more budget minded companies. Players build their franchise and personnel by budgeting dice which they roll when they need the equipment and skills to bust whatever spooky things lurk in the shadows. The light rules system offers plenty of laughs aided by a very clever mechanic inspired by reality TV; your character can hop into a confessional chair to talk about their feelings and have a chance to influence the narrative by revealing something new!
In the world of CHILL, all the strange supernatural goings-on are connected to a malevolent force called The Unknown. Many of the people who survive a brush with the darkness do their best to forget it happened but a select few dedicate their lives to protecting the innocent by joining an organization called SAVE. SAVE can be a full-fledged monster hunter organization, a loosely connected group of cells or even a shadow of its former self that’s slowly being crushed by the forces of evil.
The players and the Chill Master take some time to talk about what sorts of horror they want to see in the game, and the books provide some excellent discussion about proper techniques, different kinds of horror and how to push buttons without pushing too far. The most recent edition also features a powers mechanic where players flip tokens between a light and a dark side that models the tension of games like Dread.
(If you want to see this one in action, check out my Twitch stream for past and upcoming games.)
What’s your favorite spooky game? Let us know in the comments!
These articles are coming to get you, Barbara
Images Credits: Warner Bros, Pelgrane Press, Memento Mori, Chaosium, Growling Door Games, Arc Dream Publishing
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. His Twitter is here. You can watch him livestream RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.