Let’s get right to it: it’s spooky month, Halloween is right around the corner, and you want to play a horror-themed tabletop RPG. There are many systems that deliver the thrills, but which one is right for you? And how do you find a group of players when most people can’t be bothered to learn a new game? Look no further, as our ghastly group of GMs are summoning up the scares.
Here are several spine-chilling systems, and links to professional games for each.
Vaesen – Nordic Horror Roleplaying
Based on the work of Swedish illustrator and author Johan Egerkrans, Vaesen throws players into the deep end of Nordic folklore and Scandinavian myth. The game itself uses the Year Zero Engine, with the setting being an alternate version of Northern Europe of the nineteenth century. In these frozen lands, creatures of old still hold sway. Investigators will need to study up on the habits and rituals of these beings, or become another corpse in the snow. To play a Vaesen game, check here.
Straight from the movies to your table, this stressful system puts you in the role of a human in the Alien universe. Players can be ship pilots, colonial marines, techs, and other crew members of a futuristic spaceship. Threats range from corporate sabotage to space raiders to the famous Xenomorph. Throw in hidden agendas for each player, and this game serves both roleplayers and tactical thinkers well. Find a game here.
Tragic horror is the name of the game here, as no character makes it out alive. Instead, the GM lights 10 candles and snuffs one out every so often. This visual countdown timer keeps the game moving and pushes characters to consider how valuable their final moments are. Ten Candles is not about winning, but about creating meaning in a hopeless world. It’s great for those who love roleplay, and games can be found here.
Slow-burn mystery and horror go hand-in-hand, as exemplified by Bluebeard’s Bride. A mysterious man with a blue beard takes a wife and invites her to explore his mansion. The unique thing here is that players all work together to be the bride by representing different parts of her mind. When she finds the corpses of previous brides, it becomes a game of escape or die trying. Learn to play Bluebeard’s Bride with a pro GM here.
Monster Of The Week
If you prefer your Halloween game to have a bit more Buffy than Alien vibes, consider Monster of the Week. This simple system only uses 2d6 so you can jump right in without needing to read a rulebook. Characters are taken from well-known tropes like a government agent, monster teen, or normal person caught up in the weirdness. The system lends itself to episodic stories well, making it great for one-shots or short campaigns. Check out this page for open games.
Vampire: The Masquerade
Some people would rather be the monster, and that’s valid. Enter Vampire: The Masquerade. Violence is often not recommended in this system, as players are supposed to keep their nature a secret from the public. Those who like political maneuvering and tense roleplay will be at home in this world, where various vampire clans vie for power and influence in the modern day. VTM also fits into a wider universe of monsters called the World of Darkness, featuring partner games Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Hunter: The Reckoning. Check those links for games.
Into The Odd
Under and around the industrial city of Bastion are riches untold… and horrific creatures guarding them. Into the Odd emphasizes rules-lite systems to get you playing immediately. Character creation can be done in minutes and combat demands each turn moves the story forward. The cosmic horror monsters are extremely deadly, and ancient artifacts have strange abilities. If you like your horror weird, check out a game of Into the Odd today.
Critical Role’s building up to releases of its own in-house set of systems, the first of which is Candela Obscura. This take on turn-of-the-century occult investigation was previewed with its own show, and is now available to play. If you like supernatural mystery and the character drama Critical Role is known for, give this one a try. Check here for active games with open seats.
Call Of Cthulhu
You can’t mention spooky without Cthulhu, the granddaddy of cosmic horror. Call of Cthulhu is the most iconic TTRPG featuring the tentacled baddie, and therefore one of the easiest games to find tables for. The system can seem complex at first, but it does lend players a variety of skills to customize their character. Most importantly, it gives you a reason to actually use your d100 dice. Find a game of Call of Cthulhu here.
Back to sci-fi horror, but in a much different manner than Alien. Coriolis focuses more on intrigue and mystery by presenting a more fantastical version of space. Technology is still that of a spacefaring setting, but with spirits and djinn thrown into the mix. It has the flavor of One Thousand and One Nights in that mystical and deadly things can always happen, but with less dread than more fear-focused games. Try it out here.
KULT: Divinity Lost
KULT is for those looking to go into the deep end of psychological horror. The premise is that real life is an illusion, a lie generated by a religion to keep humanity unaware. The true reality is populated by nightmares yet they must be conquered for one to fully awaken. KULT is true 18+ content, and a good GM will do an extensive session zero to prepare players for the experience. If this sounds like your thing, look for a game of KULT here.
This one is hellish more in appearance than gameplay, thanks to the heavy metal visual style. The horror in MÖRK BORG is more what the players will perpetrate, as the setting is a post-apocalyptic world on the brink of ending for good. Players can choose to use their last adventure before the world dies to do one last honorable thing, or plunder every last bit of riches while smashing skeletons. There’s also CY_BORG and PIRATE BORG to accommodate different genres. Check out the Borg games here.
The Walking Dead Universe RPG
Zombies are a must, and The Walking Dead is one of the biggest names in the genre. The game itself is still very fresh, coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign. Fans of the franchise will know what to expect–players will need to gather supplies, find a safe haven, and kill lots of walkers along the way. Games are few and far between due to only Kickstarter backers having most of the content, but you can still find a few sessions here.