The nights are turning longer. The winds blow colder, wafting dead leaves through the air in their own macabre dance. It’s October, and we know what that mean. Halloween.
Now, I’m too old to go comb the neighborhood for candy, and too young to be just handing out sweets because screw those kids, it’s MY candy. This leaves inviting some friends over and doing something, and eating all of the candy. To crank it up to Dork Factor Nine, you could run a tabletop roleplaying game. It’s a great night for a one shot, but there are a lot of options out there. What games will bring the fright to your favorite players? What settings will send chills down everyone’s spines as you roll dice and eat candy by candlelight?
This is my Top Five Games to Run on Halloween!
Call of Cthulhu is based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, whose writings focused on surreal situations and fear of the unknown. The RPG follows this theme, with very human characters and Sanity being a prime statistic. Humans are fragile both physically and mentally, and a bulk of the game’s design revolves around research, planning and investigating. If the players enter combat, there’s a very real chance that they will die. This makes the game very, very fun.
You’ll want to run this game carefully as a one shot. As stated earlier, combat is incredibly lethal which would make the game very, incredibly short (and unfulfilling). For this kind of game, you will need to use finesse and subtlety. Haunted houses and murder mysteries will give your players plenty of opportunities for roleplaying and weirdness that doesn’t involve large-scale combat. The latest version of the book has a pretty good introductory game that will do quite nicely with a bunch of new characters.
Why is this game not higher on the list, you ask? Well, this:
4: All Flesh Must Be Eaten
An all-purpose zombie-themed RPG? Yes, this will do nicely.
AFMBE is designed with a survival horror mentality. Players can choose to be ‘normal’, ‘survivors’ – essentially faster, better and stronger people who can afford to be heroic, and ‘gifted’ which covers any sort of religious or magical element you would want to include in your game. Not only does the book have a fair number of story hooks and ideas, but a pretty thorough zombie creation system as well. This gives the game master a lot of flexibility with the kind of story they want to run. Want to run an old-school Romero-style game? How about a “28 Days Later” style game, with fast zombies and faster infections? Perhaps human bodies infested with sentient tiny critters? How about an alien invasion with the aliens using human bodies to attempt to blend in until the right moment? All this and more are options for this game.
For one shots, this game is pretty ideal for movie-style games that focus on survival and action. With this rule set, a good game master can run a pretty solid zombie game. The game’s system can be converted to run other varieties of games, but why do that when you have a bunch of perfectly good zombies to toss at the players?
Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all to experience the kind of horror one needs on Halloween. For this, I suggest a jaunt to the demiplane of Dread.
This is the most popular horror setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Ravenloft can be anywhere at any time, provided the game master can find some fog and sucker the players into walking through it. On the other side is a world cobbled together from scary places in other worlds, all slid into a large, convenient package with a tragic vampire on top. Want a fantasy world filled with suspicious villagers, lots of varieties of evil and an opportunity for your players to be a beacon of hope in a plane surrounded in darkness? Look no further.
If you’re already running a Dungeons and Dragons game (or anything D20) then putting this into your campaign is simple as pie. There’s a main Ravenloft book for each version of D&D and most of the sourcebooks should be easily convertible to whichever version you want to use. It’s a bit specific in its genre, but if you’re running D&D then it would behoove you to drag your characters kicking and screaming into the mists.
2: The World of Darkness
This world setting and system should need no introduction if you’ve spent any time around tabletop RPG fans.
Discussing the World of Darkness in all of its pieces would require more time and space than I can muster here. It’s huge, spanning two disparate rule sets and encompassing over a dozen systems covering everything from vampires and werewolves to spirits and fairies to Frankenstein-esque monsters. Each group has its own set of tragedies and issues to overcome. Each variety of creature or setting involves dealing with the factions within as well as threats without. The older World of Darkness’ systems were designed to be exclusive and not work well together, but people tried and tried to cram them together, with mixed results. The New World of Darkness is designed to have each system play with each other. Great idea, but it’s split the community a bit.
For running a one shot, I think your best bet is the New World of Darkness – it’s newer and actually has simple rules for setting up human characters or varieties of characters that are designed and balanced with each other. There are plenty of adventures that can be purchased to make things easier to prepare. If your players are familiar with the older World of Darkness books, then pick one system and go with that.
Since this is my list, I get to pick the number one spot. When thinking about what games to add, I went through a short checklist: what is thematically appropriate, and what works well for one night of gaming? For me, that just screams the Savage Worlds system and within that system, Rippers works the best for me.
A game where you play as hunters against the supernatural? That’s been covered earlier in this list, to some extent. None of the games above let you take the theme of the movie Van Helsing and throw in some League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. You want to take down vampires in search of Dracula? Save a village from Wolf Men? Find a daughter captured by a roving caravan of Gypsy bandits? This is the game that is designed to make that happen. For a campaign, your players can set up (and defend, and build up) a home base, design new weapons and graft monster parts on your body, treading the line between man and monster.
Hunting a monster is the simplest way from point A to point B, and works well for a one shot. Action, intrigue and adventure will keep the players interested in the game, and the Savage Worlds rule set keeps the game moving. It’s lightweight and, as the advertisements say, Fast! Furious! Fun!
So, that’s my list. Do you disagree or agree with some of my choices? Think that the Army of Darkness RPG takes the cake, or that Deadlands beats out Rippers? Maybe Beyond the Supernatural or After the Bomb should have had spots up here? Let us know in the comments!
This user has been playing video games all his life, just like everyone else on this site. What makes him different? His lack of pants, for one. His indepth knowledge of RPGs and horror games for another. His favorite tabletop RPG is Legend of the Five Rings, his favorite game series is Silent Hill and his Steam game collection is out of control.