The Best Horror Role-Playing Games of All Time

My list of the best horror role-playing games of all time focus heavily on settings inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. That’s probably no coincidence, since a good horror-themed roleplaying game actually has to scare the players a little bit. Most RPGs are meant to challenge players. Some are meant to have a high body count for player characters. In the end, most games pit the players as conquering heroes.

That’s the lure of the roleplaying game. Despite the terrifying monsters, RPGs are more action movie heroes than horror film victims. The three games below rise above this normal limitation of role-playing to immerse players in horror settings where they enjoy being frightened.

1. The Call of Cthulhu RPG – The best horror role-playing game of all time was The Call of Cthulhu RPG released by Chaosium in 1981. This game was designed by Sandy Petersen, best known for his work on Doom. Call of Cthulhu was based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and it’s one of the few rpgs based on fiction that gets the theme and tone of the setting right.

Call of Cthulhu Role-Playing Game Is Best Horror RPG of All TimeThe Call of Cthulhu used a modified version of the Basic-Action Role-Playing engine, but it contained several modifications to simulate the slow march to insanity that investigators of cosmic horror should experience. Two main stats each player has is their Cthulhu Mythos rating, which tracks their knowledge of Lovecraftian magical lore, and their Sanity rating, which goes down as their Cthulhu Mythos score goes up. Encounters with monsters also affect one’s Sanity score. If you get lose 5 points of sanity at a time, your player loses their mind for a time.

Add in the fact that players have no chance of beating the monsters if they let the cultists summon the beasts and the general high lethality rating even from mundane combat and few other RPG settings create a sense of dread and foreboding the way CoC does. When played right, players do get a sense of a world on the brink when playing The Call of Cthulhu RPG. The Call of Cthulhu RPG has gone through six editions in its 30+ year history.

2. Deadlands RPG – Deadlands may be the coolest horror setting in the history of role-playing games. Deadlands is set in an alternate world where the Civil War never ended (as of the 1870s) and supernatural forces run amok throughout North America. Players archetypes in Deadlands include Hucksters, who are gamblers who play cards with the Devil for magical powers; Blessed, deadly preachers who use holy magic; Shamans, the Native American mystics who unleashed the magic blight in the first place; and Mad Scientists, who used special minerals to power steampunk mechanisms. Add in a healthy number of Gunfighters and Lawmen (Texas Rangers for the South, Pinkerton detectives for the North) and you’ve got plenty of cool player character options. When your character dies, you even have a chance of returning to life as a type of undead character class known as the Harrowed.

Granted, the original Deadlands combat system left something to be desired, even though the used of poker chips and playing cards had a lot of charm. Deadlands Reloaded was a superior game, but Deadlands is all about setting. I defy anyone to come up with something better than the Old West full of the undead. Deadlands was released by the Pinnacle Entertainment Group using a version of the Savage Worlds game system.

3. Delta Green – The Delta Green RPG is one of the many games and campaign ideas spawned by the Call of Cthulhu Role-Playing Game. Delta Green was a product of the late-1990s, so it should come as no surprise that Delta Green is a modern Cthulhu Mythos setting where the player characters are agents in an X-Files type extra-governmental organization.

Delta Green was formed after the government raid on Innsmouth, Massachusetts, as depicted in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth short story. The organization collects agents from US government agencies like the FBI, ATF, and DEA, but Delta Green got defunded sometime during the mid-to-late years of the Cold War and has gone underground–maybe even gone rogue. The Delta Green organization first appeared in a Call of Cthulhu fanzine published by Pagan Publishing in 1993. Pagan Publishing released the rpg four years later and the game won numerous awards. As of 2011, Arc Dream Publishing has talked about developing a new Delta Green roleplaying game alongside the Delta Green Partnership.

Best Horror Role-Playing Ever

My list of the best horror role-playing games in the history of gaming is short, but definitive. I’ve played a lot of horror role-playing games. I enjoyed All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Dread and Spite were excellent fun. C.J. Carella’s Witchcraft and the World of Darkness are good at what they do. Even some of the old Dungeons & Dragons adventures had their scary moments.

I’ve also played some bad horror rpg games, including a number of D&D adventures. The Dead Rising RPG left the characters so high-powered that the zombies seemed hapless–it became a farce. Games like Kill Puppies for Satan or even the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG were meant to be horror comedy elements, so these games had their moments. But of all the games I’ve listed and many more that I failed to mention, none of these come close to the fun, excitement, and terror of Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands, and Delta Green.

Daniel Radcliffe Leaves Harry Potter Behind with New Horror Film

I thought Daniel Radcliffe did a fine job in the Harry Potter movies, and it seems as if he’s now expanding his career by taking a starring role in a horror movie. Radcliffe is 23 years old, and it remains to be seen how typecast he might or might not be because of his role as Harry Potter. He really has few actors to compare himself with, because how many actors have played this large a role in this large a franchise? Maybe you could draw comparisons with Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, but I think Daniel Radcliffe is a better actor.

The Woman in Black is Radcliffe’s first movie since the Harry Potter series wrapped up, but it’s not his first role. Daniel Radcliffe also appeared in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying on Broadway. He’s also slated to star in Kill Your Darlings, in which he’ll portray Allen Ginsberg.

You can bet either way you like on Radcliffe’s career and whether or not he’ll be typecast, but I think I’m going to bet on him being hugely successful in a variety of genres and movies.

Radcliffe leaves Potter behind with horror film (via AFP)

For more than a decade, Daniel Radcliffe was known the world over as the owlish waif in the massively successful “Harry Potter” films — based on the equally popular book series by JK Rowling. Now, the young actor is turning a page. A child prodigy no more, the 22-year old Radcliffe now is stepping…

Continue reading Daniel Radcliffe Leaves Harry Potter Behind with New Horror Film

Donald Pleasence

My favorite horror actor, of all horror actors, is Donald Pleasence. I make no apologies for this, either. He was an extraordinarily talented and gifted actor, and from what I’ve read, he was a true professional who was a joy to work with, too.

I’ll always remember Pleasence mostly for his work in the Halloween movie franchise. Of course, the first film in the series is the best, and it rises above its genre limitations to be a true classic of cinema. I’m not sure if it’s been included in the Congressional Archive yet or not, but it should be. But even in the lower-quality Halloween movies, Donald Pleasence’s performance always stands out.

For those of you (and I can’t imagine there are many who’d be interested in this blog, anyway) who haven’t seen any of these Halloween movies, Pleasence portrays Dr. Loomis, who is Michael’s Ahab. (Michael is the superhuman serial killer who is the main character, or force of nature, in the main set of Halloween movies. A more appropriate analogy might be to compare Loomis to Van Helsing, with Michael being a bizarre modern-day Dracula type villain.

Pleasence starred in five of the Halloween films:

  1. Halloween
  2. Halloween 2
  3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
  4. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
  5. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

The third Halloween film had nothing to do with the rest of the series, so Pleasence doesn’t appear. Donald Pleasence died in 1995, so he appeared in none of the subsequent films. In fact, when Rob Zombie “re-imainged” (ruined) the franchise, Loomis was recast, being portrayed by Malcolm McDowell. If you want to get an idea of how good an actor can be, compare Pleasence’s excellent performance in the 1978 Halloween with McDowell’s much less nuanced performance in Rob Zombie’s Halloween.

But there’s a lot more to Pleasence’s career as a horror actor than this. He was in an episode of the original The Twilight Zone in 1962 as a suicidal school teacher. He also appeared in The Outer Limits.

He specialized playing characters who were a little bit nuts, but in horror movies, everything is relative. I mean, chasing after Michael Myers is nuts, sure, but compared to how nutty Michael is, it’s pretty tame.

Donald Pleasence even played Lucifer in The Greatest Story Ever Told. I suppose for a horror actor, that is THE dream role, isn’t it?

I also loved him in Prince of Darkness.

He was married four times and had five daughters. He’s still my favorite horror actor of all time.

The Pure Terror DVD Set

I only recently discovered the Pure Terror DVD set. It’s a 50 movie pack for sale at Amazon (at the time of this writing) for $14.49. You probably don’t need to be told this, but 50 movies for $14.49 means that the movies are probably public domain B-movies that people aren’t especially interested in, but that being said, if you have a taste for cheesy or schlocky films, you might find this to be a good value. Heck, even if you only watch each movie on here once, you’re only paying 29 cents per movie. You’ll have a hard time finding a Netflix plan that will beat that price on a per movie basis, but then again, some of the movies you’ll find on Netflix will almost assuredly be of higher quality than the movies in the Pure Terror: 50 Movie Pack.

I have only seen one movie out of the set so far, but I’m working my way through all 50 of these movies along with some friends of mine over at my favorite horror forum. You can follow our weekly discussions of Pure Terror there.

The movie I saw was called Crucible of Horror, which starred Michael Gough. Younger movie fans will likely remember him as Alfred in the earlier set of Batman movies, before Nolan took over the franchise. But back in the way, Michael Gough was a staple in many horror movies, and his performance in Crucible of Horror is only one of many notable horror performances. Perhaps his most notable horror movie role was in the first Dracula movie from Hammer Studios.

Crucible of Terror is a far cry from a good movie, but it’s not as awful as you might think, either. Of course, the quality of the transfer is pretty poor, but heck, what can you expect for less than 30 cents? The acting in the movie is pretty standard B-Movie stuff, although Gough occasionally shines. He’s never actually interesting, though–no amount of good acting can overcome a screenplay this lame.

That being said, this movie isn’t boring, and it held my attention the entire time. It seemed to want to have a Hitchcock kind of vibe, and it pretty much failed on every level to achieve that. Then again, when you’re aiming for Hitchcock, unless you ARE Hitchcock, you’re almost certain to fall short. And the movie was actually complex enough that there is something to discuss thematically. In other words, it’s open to some degree of interpretation.

Anyway, there are other 50 movie horror DVD packs, but this is the one I’m watching these days.

The Best Japanese Horror Movies of All Time

Any list of the best Japanese horror movies of all time is going to be controversial. Genre fans tend to have their favorites and long lists of movies they look down on. My list of the best Japanese horror movies of all time will probably look nothing like your own, especially if you’re a big fan of the Japanese horror genre.

What’s cool about studying the films of a particular culture is that you end up learning a ton about that culture while sitting back, eating popcorn, and enjoying a movie. Movies, including horror movies, are a huge part of the culture of Japan and the Japanese people. What started for me as a way to watch a whole new set of horror movies (after growing bored with my collection of American horror movies) turned into an obsession with all things Japanese, and I even vacationed in Japan this past year thanks to my love for Japanese horror.

You can learn a lot about Japan and its traditions by watching Japanese films, even Japanese horror films. I believe my love for Japanese horror has expanded my horizons immensely; not only have I learned a little bit of Japanese, but I visited the country, and I now have a whole new set of cultural icons to learn about, thanks to the massive amount of horror movies made in Japan.

Here’s a short list of the three best Japanese horror movies of all time. I’m sure every fan of Japanese horror will disagree with me, but these are my favorites.

1. House (1977)

A cult-classic in Japan and a high water mark for Japanese horror movies in the 70s, House  is your typical summer vacation / creepy house story with just enough gore and eerie plot points to make this movie an instant addition to my horror film library.

2. Audition (1999)

One of the most popular and best-known Japanese horror movie titles in America, Audition tells the story of a lonely widower looking for a new female companion. Saying anything more would ruin the surprise and most of the horror of this movie; it’s enough to say that the horror in Audition comes not from a ghost or a spirit but from the evils of a human being, which makes it that much more creepy.

3. Infection (2004)

Far from your typical zombie movie, Infection is a Japanese take on an old horror paradigm: the creepiness of hospitals. Yes, zombie movie fans will find a comfortable setting here, but the surprise ending makes this Japanese horror movie a “must watch twice” instant classic.

I have opinions and ideas about the horror genre, and this is where I share those thoughts.