Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Defending The Horror


My band marches to a slightly different beat.  The games I run, and things I make, tend to feature a bit more horror and take their inspiration from similar sources.  The recent discussions around game art got me thinking - are my own ideas outside the D&D mainstream, too?

I'm not going to change anything, but it got me thinking why horror is such an important part of my game.  Let's say you think horror has no place in the game - as if giant poisonous spiders dropping down on characters and creating near-death experiences doesn't spike the fear and terror at the table.  You might say, demon-possessed serial killers going around doing vile things to innocent people is quite a bit different than running into a few horrible monsters in the dungeon.  There's a qualitative difference between fear and fear/disgust (oh - and check out Roger's excellent disgust articles for a deep dive)  I guess the concern is  that running a dark game is lurid and would arouse prurient interests or generate moral feelings of disgust.  "And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee…"

Melan said something on the "You're No Hero" post that really stuck with me - "The great moral dividing line in sword & sorcery stories lies not between altruism and egoism, law and lawlessness, or hero and antihero, but humanity and inhumanity… A roguish protagonist is not fundamentally different from one who respects law and order when we compare them to inhumane cultists and sanity-blasting horrors from beyond. "

And to steal a line from everyone's favorite peddler of shock and controversy, the darker the game world, the greater the light even a single candle will shed.

The Black City might have a few horror elements, like getting abducted and vivisected in the Tower of Pain, or drinking the wrong water and devolving into a mutated cannibal berserker.  Bah, mere occupational hazards.  I actually see the setting as a rip-roaring romp with totally awesome Vikings.  With big axes.  Fantasy Vikings = pirates, and what's more fun than being a pirate?  Am I right or what?  The ninjas may have real ultimate power™, but I'll take booty and wenches and rum (or in this case, mead) any day.

So make it horrible and dark, and put some squeamishness and icky stuff in your games.  Even amoral rogues that stand up against your horrors will seem "heroic" by comparison.  I'm not advocating role playing the icky stuff and running a "let's do snuff" game, but after all, a man's greatness is measured by his enemies.  Give your players something worthy of fighting.

I really enjoyed my Monday post on demonic possession in D&D - I'm kinda tired of retarded looking demons with vulture heads and gorilla bodies, and am going to spend some time working through a few alternate demons that follow the "immaterial, unclean spirit" approach, and play up the exorcist angle, too.  But I would be interested in hearing if folks think those kinds of articles cross any blatant lines about mixing real world beliefs with gaming.  I'd hope that you'd consider the comment section a safe place to dissent.  My own feeling tends to be, if it's used as a hideous monster in the movies, chances are I'll consider pulling it into a D&D game.

Carry on.  Make it monstrous, make it horrible, keep it Weird.

Planetary:  something about 'keeping it strange' just felt right for this post...