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B4 Series #3

As we wind down the Halloween season (I swear it was just a day when I was a kid), Guild Master Scott wanted to continue the column series on horror. It is a genre that has evolved from very ancient myths and stories. It is about what we can’t understand or control. The weather, the sea, wild animals, the unexplored forest and even that tribe of weirdoes in the other valley have to be explained. And so we do it in the most entertaining way we can — with stories (preferably in the third person as I want the horror to happen to that other guy, not to me).

When we role play, we often engage in the immediate first person. We should spend some time thinking about what is worth being afraid of. Big monsters that I can hit with a sword don’t scare me. I’ve been putting down orcs for a long time. When we role play horror, we need to find something to make us a little bit uncomfortable.

The classic horror stories are about things that rub us the wrong way. The Victorians got icked out by the carnal nature of Dracula (this is a family friendly post so I’ll let you read between the lines). Frankenstein is about science and ethics and questions about taking it too far. The wolf-man is about the beast that we have buried inside ourselves while trying to be civilized. The Black Lagoon holds mysteries that we can’t see under the surface. King Kong and the Mummy both tell us that our past can haunt us. Godzilla is the result of mankind splitting the atom without completely thinking it through.

The common denominator in all of these examples is control. I can’t control anything when Godzilla is stomping through my city. All I can do is run. If the wolf-man is after me then I am in trouble. If I am the wolf-man, I am in trouble. (Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the moon is full at night). Loss of control in a role playing situation takes trust from everyone in the game. I have to believe that we are all doing this for the fun. Any GM can drop an ancient dragon on a party and “de-protagonize” them. That is not fun. Horror is not about power — it is about challenging the comfortable assumptions we have of the world around us. It is about finding out that what we thought was normal and wholesome is anything but that. Mortality we can handle. Meaninglessness of existence will creep us right out.

To end on a lighter note: Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms … and his underwear is too tight.

Good luck sleeping and see you at the next Guild event.

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