Thursday, December 18, 2014

Structure for a Colonial Horrors Games

The New World is a place of lurking horrors.  Ancient monsters crouch within the primeval forests of eastern America  The Native Americans avoid the swaths of land that are cursed or possessed by spirits that skulk and hunt humanity, but the European settlers of early New England hold no such knowledge and awaken slumbering evils.  And then there's the horrors they bring with them from Old Europe, riding like parasites across the seas, to infect a new land with their blights.

The New World needs monster hunters.

As I think through what a Colonial Horror sandbox could look like, there are some interesting challenges presented by a class and level game like LOTFP or D&D, and the sandbox model.  Why are heavily armed strangers allowed to roam around?  If experience points come from dungeon gold, how is that going to work in a Colonial setting?  What about game balance vs party levels?

I'd probably place such a game around 1650.  The Dutch still hold New York, English settlement is thriving in Massachusetts, and there's intense competition with French fur traders coming out of Quebec and Montreal.  I like the idea of an English authority figure - perhaps the aide of a governor - writing home to hire a band of Old World monster hunters to help bolster the colonies.  The campaign begins with the player's ship of passage pulling into Boston harbor or Plymouth.  The characters, at the start of the game, are just as "new" to the New World as the players themselves.  It seems to be a great way to avoid a pre-game info-dump and let the setting unfold naturally through play and exploration.

It also accounts for why a heavily armed band of miscreants is wandering from village to village, with papers from the governor, that let them seek out and prosecute creatures of evil and haunts of the night, Solomon Kane style.  Should they be called 'witch hunters'?  I'm not terribly interested in doing Salem the RPG, though I suppose some stance on historical witch craft is required by the setting.  It could go a lot of ways.

How about levels, experience, and danger?  I'm thinking of flattening the danger curve, so the sandbox is filled with a range of potential horror scenarios of similar (dangerous) levels - like all the adventures are suitable for character levels 1-5.  The horror referee should be indifferent to player survival, as long as the scenarios are developed such that players can succeed in resolving a situation with methods beyond straight combat.  Running and regrouping is often the best tactic in a horror game!  Because the danger level is high, the rewards would be equally large.  It'd feel a lot different than the typical fantasy game, where low level characters mug goblins for their copper pieces at sword point, and hold the kobolds upside down to shake coins out of their pouches.

One necessary addition might be something like a henchman or inheritance rule.  The lethality for beginning characters could be high.  The rewards would be good enough such that survivors will quickly level up in an old school system.   A mechanism for henchman or beneficiaries to step in for dead characters would get the job done.  Maybe I shouldn't worry about it.

There's a poll going on right now, regarding which setting sounds more interesting for horror - Gothic Yorkshire or early America.  England has ruined castles and monasteries, and mist shrouded creepy moors.  Now I've given myself an interesting direction regarding how a Colonial game could look - exorcists and monster hunters from the Old World, traveling to the colonies to stalk the horrors of the New.