Fear Itself 2nd Ed front cover_350

The Roleplaying Game of Personal Horror

Fear Itself 2nd Edition plunges ordinary people into a disturbing contemporary world of madness and violence —and inexorably draws them into confrontation with creatures of the Outer Dark, a realm of alien menace. GMs can re-create all the shudders and shocks of the horror genre at their table, whether they use the game’s distinctive mythology or one of their own choosing.

Powered by the GUMSHOE investigative roleplaying system, Fear Itself 2nd Edition is ideal for one-shot horror games (where few, if any, of the protagonists are expected to survive), or ongoing campaigns in which the characters gradually discover more about the disturbing supernatural reality that hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the darkness? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death?

This edition features:

  • Support for multiple different types of play, from bloody one-shots to mini-series and extended investigative campaigns
  • Extensive advice for GMs on designing and running mystery games
  • Revised psychic powers
  • More monsters, plus detailed monster design rules
  • Updated rules that draw from more than ten years of GUMSHOE development and play experience, to deliver the ultimate in personal horror roleplaying.

Fear Itself 2nd Edition also includes three sample scenarios—a one-night adventure, a mini-series, and a full campaign:

  • The Circle: An experimental drug trial goes horribly wrong when one of your fellow participants disappears. Figure out what happened to him, or you’re next.
  • Glass Beach Summer: The storm changed everything. We went home, one by one. And then we started to see them. We saw the monsters. At first, we thought the storm had brought them. It was only later that we learned the truth. The storm changed only us. The monsters were always there.
  • The Dispatchers: No backup. No assistance. Just a voice on the radio in the night, asking you for help. In this campaign, unlikely monster hunters are drawn together by the mysterious signal. Can they survive their missions long enough to save themselves?

Read Gareth’s designer’s notes here.

Stock #: PELGF01 Author: Robin D. Laws, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan
Artists: Dave Allsop, Jérôme Huguenin, Anna Kryczkowska, Ken Miller, Faye Sutherland Type: 176 page, perfect bound book

 

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claw demonBoth Trail of Cthulhu and Fear Itself feature protagonists who are comparatively (or cosmically!) feeble compared to the foes they encounter. By no coincidence whatsoever, both games also incorporate the Fleeing ability, an ability that’s used only for running away.

To make Fleeing a bit more complex and combat-like, here are some optional expanded Fleeing rules, drawing on the Thriller Chases of Night’s Black Agents.

Escape or Capture

The aim of a chase is to win three contests in a row. If a runner gets three wins in a row, that character has escaped. If the runner loses three rounds of the contest in a row, the pursuer catches up with that the runner. The pursuer rolls once and compares their result to all the runners, so it’s possible for one runner to succeed and another to lose in any given round (and for one runner to rack up three successes and get clear!)

To avoid having contests drag on too long, if the monster has 0 Athletics or Aberrance left, assume it gives up unless it’s one win away from catching a runner.

If A Runner Wins A Round

Whenever a Runner wins a round, they get to pick one of the following benefits.

  • Gain Some Distance: The runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Help Another Runner: Another runner gets a +1 bonus to their next roll in the chase.
  • Create an Obstacle: Make an Athletics or Mechanics test. Next round, if the monster’s result is lower than the result of this test, then the round counts as a win for the purposes of determining escape only. The runners don’t get to pick a benefit next round if they win.
  • Hide! Instead of continuing to run, a runner can Hide and hope the monster doesn’t find them. It’s a Hide (or Stealth) test, Difficulty 6, modified by the monster’s Awareness modifier.
  • Take A Breather: Refresh 2 points of Fleeing or Athletics.
  • Shoot! If the runner’s got a ranged weapon, they can take a snap-shot at the pursuer. (Stopping to make a melee attack is tantamount to ending the chase.)
  • Split Up! The runners go in different directions. The pursuer can only chase one of them – but gets a +1 bonus to all its rolls for the rest of the chase against that quarry.

If A Pursuer Wins A Round

If the Pursuer beats any of the Runners, it gets to do one of the following actions.

  • Swipe: The monster gets close enough to make a Scuffling attack on the runner. The runner gets a +2 bonus to their Hit Threshold.
  • Trip: The monster nearly grabs the runner, making them stumble. The runner’s got a -2 penalty to their next roll in the chase.
  • Scare: The monster pops up right on top of the runner, jump scaring them. The runner must make a 3-point Stability check.

If it beats all the runners, it gets to pick one of the following:

  • It’s Gaining On Us! For the rest of the chase, the monster gets a +1 bonus to all its chase rolls.
  • We Can’t Get Out This Way! Reset all the runners to 0 wins in a row.

 

In this story hook for preteen weird investigation in Fear Itself, excitement over Mars exploration turns to alien terror in a sleepy small town.

The young protagonists assemble when assigned to a group class presentation about the latest NASA rover mission to Mars. They establish their group dynamic while poring through images on the NASA site on a Zoom conference.

As the discussion wanes, one member of the group hears an alarming bashing sound outside the house. This character is alone in the house for reasons you ask the player to specify. They go out to check and see the Mars rover sorting through their trash cans. Seeing that it’s been spotted, it rattles away, vanishing from sight despite its ungainly construction.

The group might gather to search for it then. Or become alarmed the next day, when they stumble across a raccoon, coyote or other example of local wildlife, subjected to the same sort of dissection described in accounts of cattle mutilation. Nearby: tread tracks that look awfully like the probe.

Inquiries to NASA get the brushoff. But then the kids see government investigators show up to ask questions. And then disappear, their vehicle still running by the roadside.

The group hears of more sightings, but only from their classmates. Whenever they’re asked about it, adults either convincingly say they’ve seen nothing, or enter a glazed-over state indicating that they’ve had their memories tampered with.

The kids see that second group of adults constructing something at night, moving about robotically, as if under external control. After observation—with the threat of discovery and a chase—they can determine that it is a corral of some kind.

Seen up close, the probes do not quite match the NASA versions. Lines that ought to be straight instead display organic irregularities. The metal breathes. A camera blinks, revealing itself as an eyeball.

By capturing one of the probes and making a Science spend they can not only communicate with it but compel it to reveal its story. It belongs to a shapeshifting alien race. Its people encountered the probe on Mars and took it for Earth’s dominant life form. Not long after their raiding ship landed in the old quarry outside town, they realized they’d chosen the wrong form. But never mind—they’ve still managed to move about, psychically enthralling enough victims for the slaughter to soon commence. Those space agency investigators seemed an impediment at first, but quickly became an appetizer for the great feast to come.

Only the young are immune to their psychic powers, leaving our heroes alone to destroy the corral before it becomes a slaughterhouse, taking out the shapeshifters and their ship. Build your conclusion around the players’ plan, throwing in a surprise obstacle or two along the way.

Probe Monsters

Abilities: Aberrance 14, Athletics 4, Fleeing 12, Health 4, Psychic Blast 10

Hit Threshold: 3

Armor: None

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: -2

Damage Modifier: +3 (psychic blast vs adults); -2 (psychic blast vs teens or younger)

Aberrant Powers: Can alter its outer surface to a frequency outside the human visible spectrum, spending 1 Aberrance per adult observer or 2 per younger observer to become effectively invisible. Can erase itself from the memory of any adult on a 1 pt Aberrance spend and gain obedience from an adult on a 2 pt spend. Refreshes Aberrance at dusk each day.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

So, you’ve been bitten by the werewolf. Infected by the zombie virus. Snacked on by Dracula. Discovered that your grandmother came from Innsmouth, or that you were conceived in the Outer Dark. You’re a monster, and soon you’re going to succumb to the darkness in you and turn on your comrades.

Up until then, though, you can use your supernatural abilities to help your friends. You’re doomed, but maybe they’re not…

Monster Rules

The following rules apply to player characters turned monsters.

  • Dark Gifts: You can spend Stability as Aberrance at a 2-for-1 rate. If the monster you’re connected to has an Aberrance-fuelled power, then you can access that power by spending Aberrance. For example, an Ovvashii can use Aberrance to compel a victim to reveal secrets to it – if you’re tainted by an Ovvashii, maybe you can use this dark gift to question creatures of the Outer Dark!
  • More Than Human: You can also spend Stability to temporarily boost any of your Abilities or any of your Modifiers (Armour, Damage, Awareness and so on) – but you’re limited by the scores of the connected monster. So, if you’ve been infected by a werewolf (Damage Modifier +2), you can spend Stability to boost your Damage Modifier for one attack, to a maximum of +2.
  • Dark Insight: You gain a new Investigative Ability, Dark Insight, giving you, well, insight into the intentions and inhuman motivations of the monster. It’s not at all reliable, but can give you some inkling of the monster’s next target, its weaknesses, or its origin.
  • Degeneration: When you start Losing It (Stability -1 to -5), you gain a Stigma – a permanent and visible sign of your inhuman nature. This can result in changes to your character’s statistics – maybe your hands become claws, giving you a Damage Modifier. When you’re Shattered, you gain a second Stigma. Finally, when reduced to -12 Stability, you become a monster.
  • No Redemption: You gain only half the benefit from Shrink spends – and if you spend Stability for Dark Gifts or More Than Human, you must also reduce your Rank by the same amount.

A Monster From The Start

If the GM allows it, you can declare at the start of a campaign that your character is monstrous. You start with Dark Insight. Typically, being monstrous is a restricted concept, just like psychics. You don’t know what your monstrous nature is at the start of the campaign, and the GM is encouraged to mislead you with red herrings and cryptic allusions.

New Monsters

Both of these monsters work as potential connections for tainted investigators.

Paternals

Paternals are semi-parasitic creatures from the Outer Dark. They bind themselves to human anchors to keep themselves on this side of the Membrane. Once attached, Paternals protect their mortal anchors for the rest of the mortal’s life, defending the mortal against external threats, and only moving on only when it becomes clear that the mortal is dying of natural causes. The trouble is that the Paternal’s definition of “threat” is malign and erratic – your neighbour bought a new set of garden shears? Clearly, the neighbour’s plotting to murder you – better kill him first! Paternal Anchors find themselves at the epicentre of a spate of unexplained deaths, brutal murders, and supernatural weirdness. Moving to a new home provides a few months of relief, but sooner or later, the Paternal will find its anchor again…

(Some anchors have tried living alone in the wilderness, which works for a while – but eventually, the Paternal gets bored of having nothing but small animals to eviscerate, and starts roaming further and further afield…)

Paternals are almost invisible, appearing only as a shadow or stain. When actively attacking, the Paternal manifests as a vaguely male figure, shrouded in dark mist – imagine a statue of a Greek god made of boiling smoke.

When it’s time to take a new anchor, the Paternal looks for a young child, especially one that’s in danger. It then saves that child from peril, impressing itself onto it and detaching from the previous anchor – who it then sees as a potential threat that must be destroyed. Horribly, Paternals do seem to have some degree of genuine affection for their anchors, and never attack them if they have any other recourse.

Abilities: Aberrance 10, Health 12, Scuffling 16

Hit Threshold: 5

Armour: None, but most attacks go right through the Paternal’s shadowy form. A Paternal can only be injured after it manifests.

Awareness Modifier: +2

Stealth Modifier: +2

Damage Modifier: By telekinetic weapon or +2 (when manifest)

Telekinesis: A Paternal can spend Aberrance to fuel Telekinesis, as per the psychic gift (Fear Itself, p. 76). Paternals use this power to eliminate perceived threats.

Manifest: Normally, a Paternal is immaterial and mostly invisible. It can spend 1 Aberrance to become solid and visible for a round, allowing it to use its Scuffling.

Monstrous Strength: When manifest, the Paternal can spend 2 Aberrance to perform feats of incredible strength, like throwing a car or smashing through a wall.

The Unkind

The Unkind are almost human. Their ancestors were human. To be precise, their ancestors were all members of the Church of the High Rock in 19th century Massachusetts. The crazed preacher, Henry Sparrow, somehow tore a hole in the Membrane, cursing the members of the congregation assembled in the chapel on that fateful night. They became attuned to the Outer Dark, able to slip across the Membrane to the other side much more easily than normal humans. Worse, over time, the curse would transform them into creatures of unremitting horror.

Most of the congregation fled after Sparrow’s ritual. However, the curse is heritable, and their descendants are all doomed to fall through the Membrane to the Outer Dark, or become monstrous on this side of reality. Some of Sparrows’ followers have given into their corruption and worship the lords of the Outer Dark; they now seek out their lost cousins so they can bring them into the service of the horrors.

‘Mature’ Unkind – those who have crossed over enough times for their monstrous genetic heritage to come to the fore – are spindly, spidery things, with skin like yellowing paper and far too many joints. Their teeth migrate back down their mouths and throats, with replacement teeth sprouting in the gums – an Unkind might grin with seven or eight circles of sharp, sharp teeth. They also develop a third eye, located in the throat; this eye can see places where the Membrane is thin.

Abilities: Aberrance 6, Health 6, Scuffling 8

Hit Threshold: 4

Armour: None.

Awareness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: By weapon or Bite +1

Slip: An Unkind can spend 1 Aberrance to slip through the Membrane into the Outskirts of the Outer Dark, a parallel realm that looks like a shadowy, desolate, monster-haunted version of our reality. If the Unkind spends 3 Aberrance instead, it can open a small tear, allowing it to transport up to five other people.

Spy: An Unkind can look from the Outskirts into the ‘normal’ world, or vice versa, by opening its third eye. This costs one Aberrance.


Fear Itself 2nd Edition is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Dark? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The CougherIt’s rarely a good idea to mix immediate real-world awfulness with supernatural threats. Killer clowns are funny, but we’re not going to argue the Esoterrorists are behind QANON, even though it’s an obvious set-up. Hitler wasn’t mind-controlled by vampires or the Cthulhu Mythos. So, the existence of these pandemic-themed monsters for Fear Itself or The Esoterrorists shouldn’t be taken to imply that Covid-19 comes from the Outer Dark. However, if you’re running games in the present day (or better yet, you’re reading this from the future and considering running a game set in that brief, awful historical period of the pandemic), then here are some monsters that play off the zeitgeist.

The Cougher

Coughers are messengers and couriers for the forces of the Outer Dark, able to slip through into our reality and lope along at speed, hurrying through the streets to make contact with some deranged cultists or to some other seepage of unremitting horror. They manifest as almost human figures, gangly-limbed and hunch-backed, clad in filthy overcoats, their faces half-hidden behind a cloth mask that never quite seems to fit right.

They’re named for their hideous wracking, wheezing coughs, which they use to scare people out of their way. The cough is so ghastly, so full of spittle and slime, that one’s instinctive reaction is to step back and give way. Packs of coughers use their echoing hacking coughs to communicate, calling to one another across the night air.

They also use these bellowing coughs to hunt. A series of precisely times coughs can separate a victim from the crowd and herd it towards the rest of the cougher pack. Such attacks are rare – coughers are much more likely to be encountered alone – but not unheard-of. Chasing down a courier-cougher can provide useful information about local Outer Dark activity.

Abilities: Aberrance 6, Athletics 4, Fleeing 8, Health 6, Scuffling 6

Hit Threshold: 3

Armour: 1-point (Thick overcoat of flesh)

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +0 (-2 if you know about the coughing)

Damage Modifier: -2 or by weapon

Cough: By spending 1 Aberrance, the Cougher can cough loudly. Anyone nearby must make a Stability test (Difficulty 6); those who fail must move away from the Cougher for a number of rounds equal to the margin of failure.

Portal: By spending 2 Aberrance, the Cougher can open a portal to the Outer Dark. It can only do this when unobserved.

All That Remains

  • Medicine: That cough sounds… impossibly awful. Someone with lungs that clogged wouldn’t be moving that quickly.
  • Streetwise: All the witnesses agree that they heard a lot of coughing the night she died.
  • Occult Studies: Three break-ins at occult bookstores – all closed because of the pandemic -, three witnesses who report lots of coughing. And I don’t believe in co-incidences.

Room Raiders

Room Raiders are the latest manifestation of creatures like the Sisterites (Book of Unremitting Horror, p. 105). They haunt public Zoom calls, Discord servers and other video conferences. Initially, they look like a bland human face with a perfectly ordinary background – a cluttered home office, maybe, or a bedroom, or just a blank wall.

Then they latch onto a victim. They might send their victim a friend request, or just stalk them across other public zooms, lurking in the audience. In each conversation, the Room Raider’s background changes subtly, moving closer and closer to that of the victim. The wall behind them suddenly matches the colour of your wall. Now they’ve got the same book-case as you… and the same books. And now the same poster.

(Using virtual backgrounds doesn’t defeat the Room Raider. They can see through them.)

If the Room Raider’s background ever perfectly matches the victim, then the monster strikes. It can pull the victim from their home into the Room Raider’s copy, to be devoured at the creature’s leisure. The Room Raider then starts trawling for its next meal. Often, their lairs are crammed with dozens of previous backgrounds, stacked like stage sets from previous productions.

Room Raiders usually nest in abandoned buildings, near places where they can piggyback on an open wifi connection. They’re remarkably good at making facsimile objects out of trash and their sticky, resinous spittle – what looks like a perfect copy of your home office might be a pile of stacked milk cartons painted to resemble your bookshelves, a desk made out of a sheet of cardboard, and that lamp’s made from the gnawed bones of a previous victim.

A Room Raider can easily be thwarted by making changes to your background – even an errant coffee cup is enough to break the spell. Typically, the creatures gain access to a victim’s webcam so they can monitor the room for changes and pick their moment to strike…

In the ghastly flesh, a Room Raider looks like a squat, long-limbed lizard-thing with a grotesquely oversized mouth in its stomach, but it’s human from the shoulders up. It’s got four arms – two vestigial limbs next to the mouth that end in human hands, for typing, and two longer arms that end in long curved claws, for killing.

Abilities: Aberrance 8, Athletics 3, Health 10, Scuffling 8

Hit Threshold: 3

Armour: None

Awareness Modifier: +0

Stealth Modifier: +0

Damage Modifier: -2 (claw)

Digital Intrusion: At the cost of 2 Aberrance, the Room Raider can psychically infiltrate a computer with which it has an active video connection.

Grab: At the cost of 1 Aberrance, the Room Raider can pull a victim from one perfectly matched room to another. The victim may attempt a Contest of Sense Trouble vs Aberrance to end the call before being pulled through the screen.

All That Remains

  • Photography: Hey, that rando’s got the same photo as the guy who vanished.
  • Computer Use: Ok, I didn’t approve any new contacts on skype. I’ve been hacked!
  • Research: Look, I always check out people’s bookshelves behind them, and that guy has a copy of the Necronomicon too! Just like yours!

 

Isolation Beasts

Isolation Beasts are gigantic; they’re shambling horrors the size of a building, covered in rank, matted hair and dragging their slimy, misshapen limbs behind them. Such monsters can’t exist in our reality except under very exceptional circumstances. An Isolation Beast can survive the psychic pressure of a single witness, maybe two, but it cannot bear to be seen by crowds. This is not shyness – it’s the crushing pressure of our reality asserting itself on a thing that shouldn’t exist.

Historically, Isolation Beasts have lurked in the wilderness, giving rise to legends of giants or yetis, preying lone travellers and small groups. Now that the streets are empty and everyone’s staying indoors, the beasts can risk shambling into the cities for the first time in centuries without fear of being observed.

Isolation Beasts are so huge that aftermath of their attacks look more like disasters than anything else – car crashes, building collapses, gas explosions. They find houses where people live alone, then smash them open and eat the juicy contents. They’re also talented mimics; if a beast fixates on a dwelling with multiple inhabitants, it lurks outside, whispering through the walls in the voices of the occupants, sowing dissent and strife until one of them walks outside – then chomp!

And if one person looks outside – who’s going to believe them when they say that there’s a sloth the size of a double-decker bus lurking in the garden?

Abilities: Aberrance 10, Athletics 8, Health 40, Scuffling 12

Hit Threshold: 2

Armour: 4-point (Fur)

Awareness Modifier: +1

Stealth Modifier: +1

Damage Modifier: +3

All That Remains

  • Outdoor Survival: This isn’t a crater – it’s a footprint!
  • Investigative Procedure: The earthquake stopped when that car came around the corner. Why?
  • Trivia: Ok, the victim took the time to write spiny norman in his own blood. That’s… certainly a thing.

Fear Itself 2nd Edition is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Dark? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

In the Community Content Spotlight, each month I write up a short review of a GUMSHOE community content title, all of which are available on DriveThruRPG. See this page if you’re interested in creating something for our Community Program!
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Michael Duxbury’s Game Reserve is a fresh supplement to Fear Itself 2nd Edition, providing “a collection of hunting grounds” for the GM’s pleasure (and the likely dis-pleasure of the characters). If you missed the announcement in last month’s Community Content Spotlight, Game Reserve was Michael’s runner-up entry in the contest, which he turned around for publication on DriveThru in surprisingly short order.

I had been planning on writing up some of the earlier entries to the community content program, but when Michael sent along the finished PDF for this one I knew I wanted to review this instead. The premise is fairly simple: Game Reserve presents six settings for a horrific conclusion to your Fear Itself one shots. Stolen with impunity right off the DriveThru page, these settings are:

  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • The Torture Trap
  • The Fog
  • The Country Manor
  • The Amusement Ride
  • The Underworld

From the get-go Game Reserve is aimed at making the GM’s life easier. Just like using pre-generated investigators, hunting grounds get you up and running faster, with less prep (I could see this being a real-life saver the next time someone asks to play a game “tonight”). Duxbury’s careful to attend to the classic three-act structure, noting that a general premise supplies your investigative trigger; a second act’s characterized by an encounter with the monster; and the monster’s leavings (“All That Remains,” in Fear Itself parlance) lead you into the third act—it’s this third act that the hunting grounds mean to fill.

The diversity of hunting grounds will keep you going for awhile, as they replicate major horror films and franchises: Stephen King’s The Mist, the Saw series, there might even be a little Five Nights at Freddy’s wandering around the inspirations here. And then, of course, there’s my favorite of the hunting grounds, because it suggests an entire world anterior to our own. This is no thinning of the boundary between the living and the dead, nor no puppet that’s been blessed/cursed by reanimation, this is a world all its own—The Underworld.

Leviathan | Hellraiser Film Series Wiki | FandomFor me, a perennial fan of Clive Barker and, attendantly, Hellraiser, “The Underworld” hunting ground suggests that realm the cenobites emerge from at seemingly the slightest provocation, a world reigned over by the mysterious (and slightly ridiculous) d10-shaped Leviathan. As Duxbury points out, The Underworld could prove a perfect capstone to a Fear Itself campaign, or just the right torturous end for a group of one-shot characters who aren’t interested in seeing sunlight again.

Game Reserve’s art is simply done, but still tastefully adds to the ambience of the PDF, and shows how a few simple, easily sourced images add a lot to a final product. Final summation: highly rated for any Fear Itself GM, especially those who might need an occasional get-out-of-jail-prep-free card.

(New feature!) Final Score: 4.5 bear traps out of 5


Title: Game Reserve
Author: Michael Duxbury
System: Fear Itself
Price: $3.99 PDF


The Pelgrane Press Community Program brings you into the fold with other GUMSHOE game designers, affording creators (whatever that means to you!) the opportunity to post and sell their own products on DriveThruRPG. We currently accept material for Ashen Stars, The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition, Fear Itself 2nd Edition, and TimeWatch. Have a kooky idea you’d like to write up and get out there? A flushed out scenario you think others would enjoy? The Community Program is the place to showcase these ideas. If you’re interested in creating something for the Community Program, read more about it here.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in October 2007. 

by Graham Walmsley

At first sight, Gumshoe would make a perfect LARP. There’s little die-rolling, so it suits a game played standing up; and, as an investigative game, it’s about talking to people. It sounds ideal. Would it work?

In this article, I’ll attempt to create a Gumshoe LARP. For the setting, I’ll use an English murder mystery: a staple of investigative LARPs.

For the ruleset, I’ll use Fear Itself. So it’ll be a horrific murder mystery: think Conan Doyle’s The Hound Of The Baskervilles or Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

This LARP will have little combat and much talking. There’ll be about 20 players, in costume, and pregenerated characters. The game will last about four hours, at the end of which the players will find, amongst themselves, a murderer.

The Characters

As with all Fear Itself characters, the PCs will have a Worst Thing They Ever Did and Sources Of Stability. These are superb roleplaying tools, especially for a LARP.

The characters will also have a Risk Factor: the reason they don’t just call the police and lock themselves in the bathroom.

In addition, there’ll be Affinities and Enmities. These will create alliances and factions, which are golden in LARPs: they instantly let players know who they’re with and who they’re against; who to talk to and who to avoid.

Finally, each character will have something They Want. Let’s take this a step further: we’ll fix the pregenerated characters so that every character’s want could be granted by another character. That gives everyone a goal: something to work for, which they might achieve.

Let’s call this new characteristic “What I Can Give”. It might, for example, be Money, Forgiveness, Property or Healing. For game purposes, each character has an infinite amount of this quality to give: if a character can give Money, they have an infinite amount of money to give, to whom they choose.

Investigative Skills

When you’re walking around, playing your character, complex character sheets get in the way. Instead, let’s put the skills on cards: instead of having two Streetwise points, you’ll have two Streetwise cards. Rather than spending a point, you discard a card.

We’ll let players choose skills as follows: there’s a central pile of cards, from which each player takes 10. This also means skills will be distributed between the players: if there are only three Architecture cards, a maximum of three people may have that skill.

Clues

Some clues will work exactly as in Fear Itself: the GM holds them and players spend points – or, rather, discard cards – to get them.

For example, you’d discard an Investigative Procedure card to get the following clue:

Clue: Investigative Procedure

There are scratches surrounding the lock, as if it has been picked.

If a player told the GM he was closely examining the lock, he’d also get that clue.

There will be Core Clues, too.

Core Clue: Streetwise

A street kid tells you that Father Morgan was attempting to wash blood from his hands in the gutter.

And some clues might have time limits.

Core Clue: Architecture

There is a false wall behind this bookcase. (Do not reveal until after the second murder).

But we can be cleverer. LARPS work best when players talk to each other, not the GM. So let’s put clues in the hands of the players.

Player Clues

Each player will hold a number of clues: say, three or four. These will be allocated to each pregenerated character before the game.

Clue: Flirting or Intimidation

You know Dr Brown intended to change his will.

If you hold this clue, and someone uses Flirting or Intimidation on you, you must reveal it.

Players will hold Core Clues, too. Again, some of these might have time limits attached.

Core Clue: Cop Talk

You know damn well Father Morgan killed Sir Ralph and you’ve got photographs to prove it. Do not reveal this until after the second murder.

Murders

Best of all, the murders themselves will be Core Clues. Here’s an example:

Core Clue (Murder)

You are the second murder victim. After one hour, you collapse, poisoned, and die.

Also, each murder will have associated Clues, some of which would be Core Clues, and some not:

Core Clue: Medicine or Investigative Ability

From a blue tinge to the lips, you can tell the victim has been poisoned with cyanide, ingested in the last ten minutes.

Clue: Investigative Ability

The glass from which the victim was drinking has been wiped clean of prints, save for the victim’s fingerprints.

The murder victim would hold these clues and, after they die (giving the “Murder” clue), they’d give out other clues to players who used an appropriate ability.

Stability

How can we work Stability into this?

Since we’re using cards already, let’s have Stability Cards instead of Stability Points. However, you can’t hold negative cards, so we’ll have to tweak the rules.

Let’s move the scale upwards: on 5 Stability Cards or less, you’re shaken; on 2 or less, you’re mentally ill; when you’ve no cards, you’re incurable. You start with around 10 cards.

Note that we’ve halved the length of the scale, so we must halve the Stability Losses:

  • A human opponent attacks you with evident intent to do serious harm: 1 Stability Card
  • A human opponent attacks you with evident intent to kill: 2 Stability Cards
  • Witnessing a grisly murder: 2 Stability Cards
  • Discovering the corpse of a friend or loved one: 3 Stability Cards
  • Seeing a friend or loved one killed: 4 Cards

However, in Gumshoe, you roll dice to check Stability. Dice work badly in LARPs: because everyone’s walking around, it’s hard to roll them.

Instead, let’s try this. On the wall, we’ll have a clock. Then, on each Stability card, we’ll print 6 random numbers, from 1 to 12.

To do a Stability check, look at the clock and note the number the minute hand points to (if there’s doubt, ask someone else and agree). Then draw one of your Stability cards, at random. If that number is on the card, you’re fine; if not, discard an appropriate number of Stability cards.

As in the original Gumshoe rules, you may spend Stability to increase the chance of succeeding. Simply draw any number of extra Stability Cards. You must discard these extra cards whether or not you succeed: but, if the number is on them, you succeed the Stability check.

The chances of succeeding, using this system, are slightly different from those in the original rules. In the original rules, the probabilities of succeeding would be:

  • With no points: 50%
  • With one point: 66%
  • With two points: 83%
  • With three points: 100%

In our revised LARP rules, the probabilities are:

  • With no cards: 50%
  • With one card: 75%
  • With two cards: 87%
  • With three cards: 93%

and, with more cards, the probability of success increases gradually towards 100%. Nevertheless, it’s a good approximation to the original rules.

I’ve chosen a clock because it seems appropriate to a murder mystery: I imagine grandfather clocks and meals served at specific times. However, there are various options: we might use occult symbols instead of clock numbers. The symbol to match against could be on another Stability card.

Mental Illness

If you get a mental illness, how do you communicate that to the other players? In a tabletop, it’s easy; but, in a LARP, you don’t want to stop the game to accommodate it.

Instead, let’s use sticky notes. When you get a mental illness, you collect a sticky note from the GM, and place it on your forehead.

You won’t know what it says, but other players will read it and react: “Talk about me behind my back”, perhaps, or “I am talking at twice the normal speed” or “I am covered in blood”.

What Would Cause a Stability Check?

Firstly, the GM might have pre-arranged Stability checks written into clues.

Clue: Investigative Procedure

There is an ancient skeleton lying under the floorboards (Stability Check: 1 Card).

Then, prospective murder victims would have stability checks written into their Murder Clues. The gorier the murder, the greater the Stability check.

Core Clue (Murder)

You are the second murder victim. After one hour, you collapse, poisoned, and die. (Stability Check: 1 Card fpr witnessing the murder )

Core Clue (Murder)

You are the third murder victim. You die by being mauled, by an unseen assailant, perhaps a huge dog. (Stability Check: 2 Cards fpr witnessing the murder )

Of course, you lose more Stability Cards if the victim is a friend or loved one.

Finally, of course, a player can cause another character to check their Stability, by attacking them.

Health

How should we handle combat and Health levels? We could do it in a similar way to Stability: have Health cards, perhaps, with clock numbers printed on them.

However, combat plays little part in murder mysteries. Sure, there are murders, but they’ll be pre-planned. Also, in a short LARP, it seems unfair to allow players to remove each other from the game by killing each other.

So let’s make a bold decision: there won’t be Health levels. You can attack someone and force them to make a Stability check. You can even decide, together, that the attack caused a wound. But you can’t kill anyone.

To me, this makes for a more interesting game. Attacking someone won’t hurt them: but it might send them mad.

Denouement

So, that’s the backbone of Gumshoe as a murder mystery LARP. Taking a step back, how does it seem?

There are issues. What happens if a player wants to imprison another? What if they want to break through a door?

Also note that, because there’s only one location, there’s effectively only one scene in the game. This is a problem: Gumshoe games use scenes as a pacing device: for example, the final clue will rarely be available in the first scene, only in a later scene. This game needs a similar pacing mechanism: perhaps the clue giving the identity of the murderer is unavailable until after the final murder.

Despite these, I like the idea. It seems playable and fun. I’d happily wander round, investigating murders, and, if I needed a change, attack someone to drive them mad.

So, that done, the only thing left to do is play it and see if it works.

Sample Characters

Lord Bristol
Concept: Vain landowner
Risk Factor: Dismissive
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Disinherit my son, Alfred when I found out he was about to marry Sarah, the maid
What I Want: Absolution for my part in the war
What I Can Give: Property
Affinities: Sir James Degby, Mrs Warpole
Enmities: Alfred Bristol, Jack Brass

Jack Brass
Concept: Cunning Master of the Stables
Risk Factor: Thrill-seeking
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Shoot Lord Bristol’s best stallion in a drunken rage
What I Want: A small townhouse
What I Can Give: My hand in marriage
Affinities: Sarah Devizes, Alfred Bristol
Enmities: Lord Bristol, Father Nigel

Sarah Devizes
Concept: Religious maid
Risk Factor: Horny
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Throw a pan of boiling water over Emma, my sister
What I Want: A good husband
What I Can Give: Forgiveness
Affinities: Sir James Degby, Father Nigel
Enmities: Jack Brass, Lord Bristol

Sample clues

Core Clue: Murder
Held by: Lord Bristol
After one hour, you are trampled to death by a horse in the stables.

Core Clue: Natural History
Held by: GM
Found in: Stables
The horses have been drugged with extreme doses of a stimulant.

Clue: Reassurance
Held by: Sarah Devizes
Alfred used to beat you. You were glad when he called the engagement off.

Clue: Streetwise
Held by: Jack Brass
You’ve seen Bristol drinking very, very heavily. He has a secret whisky bottle concealed under the study floorboards.

Core Clue: Murder
Held by: Sir James Degby
The first time you are served food or drink after the first murder, you are poisoned.

Clue: Investigative Procedure or declared search
Held by: GM
Found in: Study
Under the study floorboards is a whisky bottle, half empty.

Core Clue: Intimidation or Reassurance
Held by: Father Nigel
After three hours, reveal that Sarah confessed to you that she was planning to kill her father-in-law.


GUMSHOE is the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including The Yellow King Roleplaying Game, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, and Mutant City Blues. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

In the Community Content Spotlight, each month I write up a short review of a community content title available on DriveThruRPG. See this page if you’re interested in creating something for our Community Program!


Stick around after the review for news about our Community Content Contest.

THE PHANTOM OF THE BASTILLE

The following review contains spoilers for Phantom of the Bastille.

Rick Dakan’s Phantom of the Bastille is a lavishly researched, imaginative scenario for Fear Itself that takes players to Paris in 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution. Planned as the first in a series of French Revolution scenarios, we get a glimpse into the chaos of, and the different groups jostling for dominance in, late-1780s France.

Like many historical scenarios, Phantom of the Bastille latches onto a major historical event and then deep dives into an unusual idiosyncrasy. And that is part of the joy of historically situated gaming: major events (like the fall of the Bastille) always have strange surprises, particularities, coincidences, and falsehoods told about them. What Dakan has done is take a pseudo-legendary figure, the Comte De Lorges (who was supposedly a prisoner in the Bastille), and asked “Why do people report the existence of the Comte, when no such person ever existed?” Rick’s answer creates all kinds of new Fear Itself fodder: a new creature of Unremitting Horror; the unnatural, putrescent death of King Louis XV; the tragic painting of a family destroyed by the scenario’s inciting action. It was this last which I was personally most drawn to. I wanted to see how my players would respond to a fallen family of the French aristocracy — how would the characters be swayed, and what schemes would they devise in order to protect this pitiable family?

Interestingly, the scenario’s villain is also a sympathetic GMC (although I did find myself, after seeing the results of the villain’s actions, thinking that were I playing the scenario, I would probably have advocated for the character’s demise — it is the French Revolution, after all).

The pre-generated investigators are all Freemasons (or members of their sister organizations), which provides an easy “in” to the scenario and provides fodder both for more characters (should one of the PCs die — unthinkable!) and for information-holding allies. It was easy to see, even in the structure of this first scenario, how a whole campaign could be strung out from this framework ( “Headhounds of Paris,” anyone? Because of the guillotine… get it?… nevermind). Rick also employs a clever “counterespionage spend” mechanic by grouping three of the Investigative abilities, which spends of can “distract or counter the spies” of one of the scenario’s factions, and are increasingly costly. They got me thinking about other ways that abilities could be grouped and spent toward particular ends in new scenarios.

(As a sidenote, maybe my favorite thing about the scenario, as an eighteenth-century literary theorist, is tha

t there’s an opportunity for some very memorable roleplaying with the Marquis de Sade — yes, that Marquis de Sade, for whom the practice of “sadism” is named, although it’s probably notwhat you expect.)

The scenario is lavishly illustrated with period-sourced paintings and engravings, and was laid out by our very own Will Hindmarch. Rick has some great additional resources on his website whether you’re planning on running Phantom of the Bastille, Fear Itself, or another game set at the dawn of the French Revolution. Also consider giving him a follow on Twitter.

Title: Phantom of the Bastille
Author: Rick Dakan
System: Fear Itself, 2nd Edition
Price: $4.95 PDF

Community Content Contest

Last week I announced the GUMSHOE Community Content Contest, where one winning product will receive professional layout and a custom cover provided by Pelgrane Press. I’m happy to announce that the final deadline will be Monday, September 7th, 2020. (I’ve also updated the original posting to reflect this.)

For more information about the contest, please see the original posting, or get a hold of me either on our Discord or by leaving a comment.

Good luck with your entries!


The Pelgrane Press Community Program brings you into the fold with other GUMSHOE game designers, affording creators (whatever that means to you!) the opportunity to post and sell their own products on DriveThruRPG. We currently accept material for Ashen Stars, The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition, Fear Itself 2nd Edition, and TimeWatch. Have a kooky idea you’d like to write up and get out there? A flushed out scenario you think others would enjoy? The Community Program is the place to showcase these ideas. If you’re interested in creating something for the Community Program, read more about it here.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article of Unremitting Horror originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in December 2004.

Jormungandr – lost genius or just crap?
Jason Ardill tells all..
Anus Dei cover artBlair Witch Project of shock rock video is Anus Dei by the mercifully obscure Scandinavian black metal band JORMUNGANDR. The song is the usual shrill torrent of incomprehensible gibberish with a lot of umlauts in it, punctuated by guitar torture. But it’s not the song that’s memorable; it’s the visuals.

The video has clearly been ineptly shot and edited. No attempt has been made to synchronize what’s happening on the soundtrack with the action on the screen. Most of it is a languorous art-house rolling shot of subway tunnels, trash piled up against walls and sleeping tramps. This is interspersed with images from occult books, mostly woodcuts of Satan and his witches, as if someone had held a video camera directly above an open book. At various points, heavily made-up male faces leer into the camera from a few inches away.

After several watchings, the obvious conclusion is that the video is half JORMUNGANDR pratting about in their bedroom, and half someone else’s film project footage, which JORMUNGANDR just happened to come across and edit into their video.

Although – perhaps that’s what we’re meant to think? Maybe this film looks so cheap because someone spent a lot of money to make it look that way? One thing is certain. By the time the monster appears, you know damn well you’re looking at a sky-high special effects budget.

It’s enough to give Aphex Twin nightmares. There’s no face, just a peeled back skull and something like a huge set of dentures in the middle. Industrial limbs extrude from its shoulders, tipped with whirring claws – remember, this was made before Trent Reznor grossed us all out with Happiness in Slavery – which must have taken months to build.

When you first see it, the thing has its back to us and is tearing up dummies filled with offal, made to look like homeless people. This part looks a little fake, because of the over-the-top blood sprays and flying body parts, and it’s hard not to laugh. Then it stops, like a dog sniffing the air, and turns round. It starts to stride towards the camera.

At that point, it’s not funny any more. It moves with a horrible lurching gait, like Sadako from Ringu, as if it were broken on the inside. I’ve heard it said that they shot it running backwards, then played the tape forwards, to give it that disturbing stop-start lurch. Of course, from that point on it’s all shaky-cam running, then there’s the Blair Witch ending with the camera lying on the floor. Game over, man, game over.

As rock video monsters go, it’s an unsung classic. If the camera would only hold still, we would get a better idea of how it was done. It’s clearly not CGI, because that kind of technology wasn’t available in 1992, when the video first surfaced. Fangoria did a special feature on the Anus Dei monster and came to the conclusion that one of the JORMUNGANDR members must be a genius with latex.

The film has been the source of rabid debate among those who have seen it, because it just does not make sense. Nobody has ever heard of JORMUNGANDR. Other than that one infamous track, they do not appear to have recorded any music. So, why spend tens of thousands on a video to promote a band that does not seem to exist any more?

There’s more to tell. Contrary to popular belief, the video was never screened on MTV, nor was it sent to any other stations. The first person to broadcast it was Billy Two-Four (sic) an nineteen-year-old media student, who put it out on his public access show, Billy’s Horrorday . He claims an anonymous donor sent it to him, which has, of course, led to speculation that he made the video himself, at college. Whatever the truth behind the Anus Dei monster, we know this much.

No one ever hired Billie Two-Four to make any more videos.

And, the track sucks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

The following article for Fear Itself originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in November 2004.

 

AP Morton-Blunkett (1899-1921)

“A man, mortal, looks to the world to come…”

A little-known poet who may have become a great talent.. He was born in Forrest Court, Berwick, Scotland in 1899, the son of the Lochbridge Toll watchman. He was educated in the Public School, and frequented the library, where I fondly imagine he read the romantics and composed his first clumsy stanzas.

His best early work was a series of short love poems to Naomi, possibly Naomi Hay, daughter of the local policeman, although there is no record of an engagement or marriage.

In September 1921 he received a commission from a local landowner, possibly Sir Walter Hamilton-Dalrymple? to write a laudatory ode in praise of the Burgh Golf Club, to be engraved on the clubhouse plaque. He was offered the princely sum of one guinea, which must have been a cause of great excitement to him.

He took himself to the Isle of Islay, perhaps to seek inspiration, where he was found hanged in his room, having penned the poem below – a strange verse, greatly out of character. We know of no motive for his suicide. Perhaps Naomi rejected him, or perhaps there was a more sinister reason. The local waters are said to be infested with strange grey creatures, named after a dialect term for Satan – the Clooties.

The Sea Speaks Not and Yet…

I cannot sleep.  I hide my face
From surf and swell and blow
Since I have seen the queer grey men
That nightly come and go.

The village squats in sodden dusk
With sea-mist draped, and drear.
And aye the waves, and aye the waves
Come rushing far and near.

When every door is locked and barred
And every curtain drawn
‘Tis then they come, unseen, but heard.
Forsook.  Forgot.  Forlorn.

The old know better than to look.
The young are fast abed.
But I, with lonely cynic’s pride
And science in my head,

I looked.  I shall not look again.
For yet I see them pass,
The hollow faces of the drowned
In mist beyond the glass.

 


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the Creatures of Unremitting Horror from the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

A column about roleplaying by Robin D. Laws

When the original Fear Itself came out in 2007, horror was in the depths of its torture phase, typified by the Saw and Hostel franchises. Always the most reliable indicator of the zeitgeist, horror cinema reflected America’s anxieties about its place in the world under the shadow of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. The early Obama years saw a retrenchment into Hollywood’s recycling ethos, with a spate of remakes recapitulating the shock cinema of the 70s and 80s. Both of these horror cycles predominantly featured casts of young friends and peers facing the hideous fates that await most scare-flick protagonists—the default assumption of the game. One current horror wave, post-dating Fear Itself, places the family unit in the crosshairs of supernatural or monstrous danger. A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Sinister, Bird Box, Us, and the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House all evoke fears of family dissolution in the face of threats from without. The more ghostly variants often show the influence of Kubrick’s The Shining. Political in a different way than the previous torture cycle, they touch on domestic economic unease, depicting families fighting to survive, and remain intact, under crushing external pressure. (Although they’re still going strong, I’d categorize these as products of the inward-looking late Obama period. Cultural waves take a while to show up on screens, so Trumpian horror may mark another imminent shift, with The Purge and its follow-ups as leading indicators.) To tweak Fear Itself for family horror, revisit character generation to create a cast of close relatives who will face a terrifying situation together. Start by dropping Drives. The implicit need to protect one another, literally and metaphorically keeping the family together, motivates the characters. Drives ensure that PCs act like horror characters, often giving them a positive reason to head into danger. In a family game, the characters generally seek to escape a situation which continues to ensnare them.

  • They’re socked in for the winter at the creepy hotel.
  • The ghost manifestation follows them even when they abandon the creepy house.
  • Monsters are everywhere and no place stays safe for long.
  • The source of horror is coming from inside the family.

Here, characters investigate to escape the problem, not to burrow deeper into it. The GM must actuate that by keeping the pressure on, driving them toward the information that might just allow them to get through this. During character generation, ask each player in turn to specify their role in the family. You might specify that at least one player must take on a parental role. Or, if no one wants to be Mom or Dad, most characters wind up as siblings—presumably orphaned in an earlier manifestation of the scenario or campaign’s central menace. Some players may try to wriggle free of emotional obligation by creating distant relatives. Redirect the urge to play third cousins or distant uncles. A recently arrived newcomer to the family, such as a new spouse or a biological half-sibling who showed up waving a genetic test, still works. Specify that they’ve had enough time to commit themselves to the family unit. They might have an outside perspective but still need desperately to preserve their connection to the others. In a DramaSystem game you’d then devise a map of blocked emotional agendas that each seeks from the others. Although conflict may exist or arise between PCs, in this case the focus is on coming together against an outside danger. Characters might be distant from another at first; if they survive, it’s because they bond in pursuit of survival. This theme appears in some familial horrors, like The Haunting of Hill House, but isn’t so much a factor in A Quiet Place. Instead start off the collective thinking by asking the group to come up with an answer to the following question: What blow has the family recently endured? Groups who like to dig in and find their own way can take it from there. Ones who prefer to choose from supplied prompts can pick one of these choices, perhaps riffing a variation:

  • We all mourn our missing family member, who was killed either recently, by known means, or many years ago, in an incident we still struggle to understand.
  • We underwent a bankruptcy or are on the verge of one.
  • The head of the family has been suffering professionally.
  • One of us committed a crime that made life hard for everyone.
  • One of us underwent a medical crisis and yearns for tranquility and quiet.
  • One of us was victimized or traumatized.
  • We survived a terrible accident, perhaps of mysterious origin.
  • A weird destiny encircles us.
  • Our family has been cursed for generations.
  • We have just moved house, and we have to make it work.

As GM, you might instead specify a collective blow tied into the premise. That last item on the list fits a classic haunted house outing. A crime within the family might trigger supernatural vengeance. The head of the family in professional crisis could be headed for the psychic break that escalates the horror, because as we all know, ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY. Skip the step where players choose Sources of Stability. Instead, each family member treats all the others as sources, suffering the ill results when one of the PCs fatally succumbs to the horror. Family-based horror works well for convention scenarios, providing an immediate premise and stakes for the players. Save time by handing out pregens with family roles already specified, allowing participants to pick which ones that appeal to them. Some players prefer to avoid the emotional intensity of familial interaction, often for strong personal reasons you don’t want to blunder into. They may have already experienced family dissolution, or regard relatives as people to escape from. In horror, this impulse might be called “Mummies? Yes! Mommy? No!” Be sure to secure buy-in, either by talking to your players at home or clearly signaling the premise of your con game on the sign-in sheet.


Fear Itself is a game of contemporary horror that plunges ordinary people into a disturbing world of madness and violence. Use it to run one-shot sessions in which few (if any) of the protagonists survive, or an ongoing campaign in which the player characters gradually discover more about the terrifying supernatural reality which hides in the shadows of the ordinary world. Will they learn how to combat the creatures of the Outer Black? Or spiral tragically into insanity and death? Purchase Fear Itself in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

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