Category Archives: Games

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.

The Best Horror Board Games of All Time

The Best Horror Board GamesBoard games are making a comeback. The steady release of boutique board games and the cult status of party games and European imports has brought us to a sort of renaissance in board gaming.

We could argue all day about what’s responsible for this new interest in board gaming: dwindling entertainment budgets forcing families to stay home, the Internet as a trendsetting medium allowing people to find games easier, etc. The point isn’t why we love board games again, but to celebrate our newfound love of games by trying out new titles and adding to our collection when we find a game we love.

Horror board games are a small subgenre of board gaming. There aren’t a ton of board games with a horror theme, classic or modern. Traditionally, board games are more about trivia, luck, and teamwork than a focus on genre like we see with horror board games. Still, we can think of three horror board games that deserve the title “best horror board games of all time.” Here’s a quick look at three classic horror board games.

1. Arkham Horror

This adventure board game is based on the writings and the fictional worlds of HP Lovecraft. Originally released in 1987 and re-released in revised editions in both 2005 and 2007, Arkham Horror puts players in the roles of various types of investigators in Lovecraft’s fictional town of Arkham. Arkham Horror, especially in the two more contemporary versions, is more like a tabletop roleplaying game than a board game, though because the game is played on a board with cards and other traditional game pieces, it is most definitely a board game. If you like the creepy monsters and gods of the Lovecraft universe, check out Arkham Horror.

2. Zombies!!!

Zombies!!! is a strategy board game celebrating zombies in contemporary fiction and movies. With nearly a dozen expansions and other spin-offs, Zombies!!! is one of the most popular horror board games, though the horror is downplayed in favor of general zombie silliness. New maps, characters, and game rules are released all the time, providing a ton of support for fans of this addictive zombie horror board game.

3. Last Night on Earth

Listed as a “survival horror board game,” Last Night on Earth is a massive game that comes with an audio CD to help set the mood. The graphics of the board and cards are photo-realistic, giving this game a true horror feel, especially compared to the more funny / sarcastic horror found in Zombies!!!. Plenty of expansion and supplements exist to expand the scope of the game’s universe.