This week I’ll be spending a few days reading Horror Adventures by Paizo Publishing and doing a review as I go. This is, to be honest, a book that is 100% up my alley; horror gaming is hard to pull off. Let’s go take a look and see how Paizo did, in the opinion of this octopus, shall we?
Table of contents first; we’ve got eight chapters in the book. In order, they’re Horror Characters, Archetypes and Class Options, Feats, Spells and Rituals, Horror Rules, Running Horror Adventures, Horror Gear and Magic Items, and Bestiary. Seems like a reasonable spread, and devoting a full chapter to running horror games is a good plan.
So, Chapter One. It gets broken up into advice about playing a horror hero, expanded rules on fear, rules for dealing with sanity (fitting, given that they’re kicking off a Mythos-flavored Adventure Path), and rules on corruption, with eleven possible forms of Corruption listed in the following pages, and then a bit on racial options. The chapter fiction, incidentally, involves the paladin iconic as a fallen figure now devoted to Asmodeus.
Up front in the advice on playing a horror hero, they stress that players don’t have to take part in horror games and that consent is an important issue; I approve this whole-heartedly, because consent is that important. Don’t go screwing with people without their explicit consent to the process. They then go on to explain that much of what it means to make a character of this type is in their personality and backstory; mechanically they’re just as sound as any other character in Pathfinder, but they’re not the fearless destruction engines we’ll often see at the table for people who are just in it for catharsis.
Think carefully about how you react to being startled. Some people flinch, others jump, still others yelp. A PC is going to have a startle reflex of their own – something that they do when the unexpected goes off in their faces. They give a list of a few ideas, including things like casting a protective spell out of reflex or drawing a weapon, but I’m sure you get the idea and can come up with plenty of ideas of your own.
They also touch on ideas for roleplaying fear – things which would normally be off-limits during normal gameplay become perfectly viable in a horror game. Rash, impulsive responses to situations that can make trouble for the group as a whole are perfectly valid. You’re also encouraged to play along with the GM when they do things like pass notes to specific players or when they say they’re going to make a check for your character without explaining why or revealing the number. This is all with the intent of making the game more interesting for you and everyone else at the table; play along unless it starts to violate boundaries.
They then expand on the fear system from core Pathfinder; it adds four extra levels of fear, allowing for a fine level of distinction and a greater buffer before characters in a horror game become panic-stricken. It also distinguishes between lesser and greater fear effects; no number of lesser fear effects can push a character into the realm of greater fear effects. Overall, I kind of like this setup; it provides a higher level of fidelity for GMs, gives characters an extra buffer on their fear, and the lesser/greater aspect means that GMs can keep their PCs alarmed and edgy without risking sending some of them tumbling into panicky flight or paralysis.
Sanity is the next section; it’s essentially an extra pool to track, and that makes me less inclined to use it; as the sum of your Int, Wis, and Cha scores, less any ability damage, it’s a score whose use really justifies the multi-stat headbands. There’s also a sanity threshold – an excuse to really pump one of your mental ability scores – and a sanity edge. Respectively these determine if sanity damage will give you a madness, and if so, wheterh it’ll be a lesser or greater madness. Healing it can be tricky, requiring a fair amount of rest or a significant degree of healing magic – lesser restoration restores a mere 1-2 points of sanity damage, for example.
That’s all for today; tomorrow I’ll go over the Corruption mechanic and glance at a couple of the options available for those who find the idea interesting.