Review: Pathfinder Horror Adventures, Part V

Today we’re hitting the GM-specific section of the book, which deals in rules for horror campaigns. While there’s been plenty of material primarily for the GM up to this point – some of those archetypes have no business in the hands of players – this is the first chapter that looks to really be intended for GM consumption.

Happily, the chapter opens up with a description of each rule section and a few paragraphs on each one. Curses come up first, with an explanation that curses in a horror game will work differently than those you might find in the core book; diseases, environments, fleshwarping, and haunts follow this up, with a section on madness to cap it all off.

The section on curses starts off with a caution to use curses sparingly; as a GM I agree with this completely, as the only time handing out curses freely is amusing for anyone is a one-shot aimed at comedy. One curse, with a sufficient amount of thought put into it, can make a horror game memorable enough that players will refer to it by that curse for years.

One particularly nice one is the hunt of the bogeyman, which places a curse where the victim is hunted by a bogeyman any night they fail a Will save against the curse’s DC; to make it stick even against high-Will characters, each successful save imposes a -1 penalty on the next check, cumulatively. This is exactly the kind of curse where you, as the GM, should roll the check in secret, with the player never knowing if they’re going to be plagued by a bogeyman until it shows.

They follow this up with advice on creating your own curses, and how to make those curses interesting for everyone at the table. Things to consider include the type of curse, how to break it, alternative methods of the curse being relieved, and so on. This is followed up with a section on cursed items, including how to craft them and a couple of example cursed items, and then a segment on cursed land. Some of the cursed land pieces are straight up there so you can see horror movie concepts in mechanical form – endless night, for example, is right there for what you’d want as a curse on land occupied by some sun-weakened undead.

Diseases come up next; the first thing they provide us are templates to tack onto familiar diseases to make them significantly nastier. The top one here is magic-resistant, which not only is hard to cure in the first place, but any attempts to magically cure it that fail provoke the effects of it immediately in the victim. I don’t recommend it for particularly dangerous diseases, but the annoying ones become fair game for this. Of the new diseases on offer, skin wastes is a good one – it gradually transforms its victim into a bone sculpture, making it perfect to afflict on a valued NPC to give the characters a reason to hustle off after a rumored cure.

Environments come up next; with a variety of ideas like bodies of water that naturally reflect the true form of those reflected in them (usually; it wouldn’t be horror if the effect didn’t go awry at times), voids where the divine is out of reach, information on (un)holy ground, and so on, there’s some nice material here for GMs to tap to set a mood and theme.

This slips into environmental hazards, the winner of which is the delightful animating fog, which is straight out of a zombie movie. The fog temporarily animates any corpses it rolls over, and has no limit on how many it can raise at once. If the group is camped near an open grave, in the midst of a battlefield, or in someplace that practices something like sky burial, this hazard is excellent for harassing and traumatizing the group in the middle of the night. An honorable mention, however, has to go to the fact that there are now rules on the existence of literal bottomless pits thanks to this section.

That’s it for today! I’ll dig into the rest of the chapter next time, so be sure to come back!

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Review: Pathfinder Horror Adventures, Part V

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