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Troy’s Crock Pot: Make My Monsters Modern

What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of DMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.

Matt Neagley [1] brings up an excellent point. When talking horror games, d20 Modern might work just as well – if not better – than D&D.
The Shadow Chasers campaign (and its d20 Past counterpart Shadow Stalkers) is tailor made for gothic-style horror, right down to the monsters involved.
Plus, d20 Past gives you stats for a Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde character. What’s more gothic style than rpging your way through Robert Louis Stevenson’s cocaine-induced masterpiece?

Keepin’ it real

One approach that hasn’t been discussed is to follow Arthur Conan Doyle’s example with Sherlock Holmes, and keep the monsters out of it.  Doyle often used the reader’s desire to believe in the supernatural against them.  The “monsters” of Holmes’ adventures are nearly always true-to-life people.
We want to believe the Hound of the Baskervilles is a creature right out of gothic horror, and Doyle banks on that. Discovering the monster is within the realm of normal might take the fun out of it for some roleplayers — but you can’t beat it for suspense.
Perhaps a mundane answer for a seemingly fantastic might be one way to deliver a different kind of horror adventure.
And yes, if you’re wondering, d20 Past has stats for the Hound of the Baskervilles, too.

Grab your crystal ball

The Victorian era is fertile ground for all sorts of horror, but especially anything that touches upon seances, illusion, communing with “the other side,” mentalism and, of course, all manner of ghosts and ethereal spirits.
Frankly, you can’t get any more basic — and guarantee an evening’s fun — than tossing a haunted house the PCs way.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: Make My Monsters Modern"

#1 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 15, 2008 @ 10:45 am

Woooo! I’m helping. I’m helping.*

Shadow Chasers was definately on “The big list of stuff I’d love to run/play” till it fell off my radar (which isn’t a reflection of it. More a reflection of the size of the list)

I will say of the Arthur Conan Doyle angle that my favorite show when I was a kid was Scooby Doo. It wasn’t till years later, catching cable re-runs in college when I told my friends “This used to be my FAVORITE show as a kid! I watched it EVERY DAY just hoping each time that that was the day the monster they caught was REAL but it never was!” that it finally hit me (with some friendly jeers from my buddies) that that was the entire point of the show: There were no monsters.

I think this brings to light something about the way you run games. Some players like monsters and magic. Some players prefer realism. Some players like a mix of both. But if there’s not a clear cut reason for your game to HAVE to be one or the other and especially if your game could easily go one way or another but you have a clear and strong direction in mind for it, it’s not a bad idea to sit down with your players and discuss. That doesn’t stop characters from defying the truth in-game. Much like child-me, Shaggy and Scooby never seemed to realize that there were no monsters. Scully never got that there really was supernatural stuff out there. But there’s a clear difference between intentionally playing a character with incorrect world assumptions and having incorrect assumptions as a player.

P.S. There were a few Scooby-Do movies where the monsters were real when I was a kid. Ghoul School and The Boo Brothers come to mind but they were pretty hokey even for the time period. Fortuneately for me, not too long after the story above, they came out with a NEW series of Scooby Doo animated movies done seriously in which the monsters were real. While the quality beyond the first one wasn’t so good, I’d recoomend anyone who was a fan of Scooby Doo to at least pick up Scooby Doo on Zombie Island. In fact, it might be a fun movie to watch at your Halloween party this year if you and your friends are the right demographic.

*Read it with a parrot voice. If you’re confused, see if you can get your hands on some Sealab 2021 footage

#2 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On October 15, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

While I really HATE self-promotion:

I’ve been working for Adamant for a couple of years now on The Imperial Age, a d20 Modern pdf line for Victorian roleplaying.

#3 Comment By zozeer On October 15, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

First off, IMO, d20 is the wrong system for horror. Believe me, I tried.

Encounters looked like this: That monster just killed and dragged off the chief of the watch, that was scary….. now if he was 4th level he had 30-40 hp, all of us together have ~200 hp. Hell, thats good maths lets kill it….

However, a fantastic system is Traveler. Then the shadow critters that rip hearts out of chests are to be avoided at all costs and (in the words of one of my players mind you) “for chrissake don’t shoot at it if it doesn’t know we’re here.”

I may have more rules minded players then you guys but d20 shatters whatever sense of tension I build. With a lighter rules system you get by far more horrific bang for your buck. Though heed my words with a grain of salt, I have found that I am not fond of the d20 system at all.

#4 Comment By Knight of Roses On October 15, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

Horror is all about mood. I have run very successful horror games using D&D, Shadowrun and even the Cyberpunk system. But you have to have players willing to buy into the mood. Using lighting and music to help craft the mood can be useful tools, but mostly the players have to be willing to buy into the idea of being scared and without that consent nothing else really matters.

#5 Comment By jonboywalton On October 15, 2008 @ 5:26 pm


Self promote no longer! Let me say that Walt’s *Imperial Age* titles are the good gear. It’s the one non-core line that I have either already bought, or have pinged on my Drivethru wishlist, every title in the series.

I’m preparing a short mid-Victorian (1860s) investigative adventure for my first time out GMing my current group, which I’m going to play pretty straight. It’s got a horror aspect (a string of grisly deaths by a seemingly unnatural assailant, rumors of monsters stalking the streets of ), but – in the Sherlock Holmes vein – the murderer and the motivation are all too human. I’ve been leaning pretty heavily on the Imperial Age: London book, as well as a couple of the others (full disclosure: I’m actually using the True 20 rules).

I think some of the best horror stories (and scenarios) use the protagonists’ “not knowing” to ramp up the suspense. I think it also takes some discipline on the part of the GM not to give too much away: something indeed lurks in the shadows, and as long as it stays there the reader or the players can imagine for themselves how sharp those teeth are.

I really wanted to try to work anarchists into the plot somehow, just so I could use Walt’s Anarchism supplement (maybe my favourite title from the series), but it was getting a little too busy for a three-or-four session adventure. A sequel, perhaps?

#6 Comment By Omnus On October 15, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

Once again, I hold to my opinion that ANY game system (aside from Bunnies and Burrows or Toon, possibly) can be made to horror. What you need to do (and this is the hard part) is get the characters to value their characters to the point that they want nothing bad to happen to them. Then you gradually pull the situation out of their control. Instant tension, instant suspense, the kernels of good horror. Gore is all right, but by itself it falls on its face in a cheesy sort of way. Good suspense trumps the need for gore. A classic example of this would be to have veteran D&D players’ characters get swallowed up by a mist. If they’re like my friends, they immediately start panicking about the sure trip to Ravenloft they’re about to take. Even if they’re not truly
getting sent to Ravenloft, they’re already set to know that Something Bad Can Happen to their Characters.
Taking the situation from the characters’ control is the cornerstone of the finest horror games (why else do you need a Sanity score for Call of Cthulu?). A vampire who seems unstoppable, coming back after being “destroyed” again and again despite all the characters know can be a good horror adversary. So can the indefatigable flesh golem that rots into the ground, only to begin pursuing the characters again minutes later. Even if it’s d20, if you can dangle the kernal of hope for escape rather than the surety of combat (a situation the characters’ whole build is probably towards) you can make great strides.

#7 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 16, 2008 @ 8:52 am

I’d have to say that your issue with d20 lies not in the system, nor in math, but in the fact that you and your players apparently see the only possible solution to “There’s a monster” to be “Let’s shoot it till it stops moving”. With that as a given, we can progress through the following assumptions:

Since the answwer to a monster = guns…
the monster mustn’t be too much higher level than us
thus we can jump it
thus we have nothing to fear
lets jump it!

Let’s work without that first assumption though. Instead we know there are lots of ways to deal with these critters, some that in no way involve combat.

Since we don’t know how we’re expected to handle this thing, and all we know about it is that it just disemboweled an NPC we know it can be of any power level from “can kill NPC” up to “Godlike”.
We’re not interested in taking a random potshot and gauging via that, since the last time we tried that, it resulted in three player deaths and Jon walking with a limp and never having children.
We need to find out more information on this thing so we know how to proceed. Till then, we MUST not engage it. It’s too dangerous…

Give it a try, but don’t hesitate to throw in monsters that are far more powerful than the PCs and force them to find non-combat alternatives to defeating them. Once they know you’re willing to use opponents that are undefeatable via standard means, you’re less likely to get the “Ho-hum. Let’s kill it.” reaction. Of course, before you radically change the way you’re running your world like this, it pays to discuss it with your players. It would be very frustrating for them to rack up a half dozen TPKs before they realize you’ve changed something.

Something that may also help is the Epic6 rules.

#8 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On October 16, 2008 @ 10:27 am

Omnus: I think you hit the nail on the head:
“taking the situation from the characters’ control is the cornerstone of the finest horror games.”

The trick is to find a mechanic that does that without it feeling like you are “punishing” the players unfairly. But if this occurs within the context of horror — and the players still cling to that sliver of hope, I think you’ve got something that works.