Today is Halloween here in the United States, and of all of the holidays Halloween is my favorite for gaming! Even non-gamers get into the act of imaginative play and storytelling around Halloween. Halloween is a holiday that makes it easy for adults to let down their guard and indulge their childish and mischievous natures without fear of embarrassment. This makes it easy for people who consider RPGs to be restricted squarely into the camp of teenage entertainment to let their hair down and to give an RPG a chance. They soon learn that RPGs are a hobby for all ages, and all because they were enjoying the spirit of Halloween!
You know what else is great about Halloween? As a GM you can really go all out and put everything you have got into running the best horror RPG that you can! Plenty of props are readily available in all of the major retail chains at very competitive prices, and specialty seasonal shops open in order to serve the costume needs of Halloween parties and children who plan to Trick-or-Treat. Material to provide inspiration with is plastered all over web sites, television, movies, radio, books, and any other form of popular media that you can think of.
The Halloween season is like a super charged rolling momentum of untapped GMing energy, and if you take advantage of it you can run a game that people will remember for years to come!
In fact, last night my local game shop Unique Gifts & Games (located in downtown Grayslake, IL) had its annual Halloween party. I was asked to run a game of the horror game Dread which uses a Jenga tower as the mechanics for challenges and character death. In Dread if the Jenga tower collapses a PC dies, and in order to complete challenges the players must pull pieces from the Jenga tower and place those pieces back on top of the tower. Dread is a wonderful horror RPG for one-shot sessions, and I gladly agreed to run the Halloween game for the shop owners.
Only I wanted to make sure that the game was truly terrifying, so this year I prepped more than I usually do. I did not want to just bring my “A” game. I decided to re-write the playbook. I created a Dread scenario around a costume that I hid in the bathroom of the game shop. I wore a concealed voice modulator that when turned on made my voice sound like something out of the movies Scream or Saw. Right before the big bad monster made his debut (about thirty minutes into the game) I excused myself from the table and went to the bathroom.
When I returned to the table I was no longer Patrick Benson, local GM. I was the mysterious entity “Sam Hain” with a completely different voice who was forcing the PCs to face their greatest sins and fears as they tried desperately to escape his cursed pumpkin patch.
The effect was magnificent! Dread is a tense game to begin with, but once the players saw my costume and heard my altered voice the sense of immersion was amazing. An audience formed around the game and as the game progressed players’ hands were trembling with fright and anxiety.
You could almost see their heartbeats begin to race when they would pull one piece from the tower for a two pull challenge, and place it on top of the tower only to hear my electronically deep and guttural voice bellow “Very good! But you still need to pull another piece, or suffer the consequences.”
Needless to say this game of Dread was one that hit the mark with a bulls eye! The slight bit of extra effort to prepare the costume and to rig the mask with the voice changer paid off big time. I never would have taken these extra steps if it was not Halloween, but maybe in the future I will do the same for non-holiday games now that I have seen how powerful the results can be. For special events like a Halloween game you should challenge yourself to be more than your best, but instead re-define what your best truly is.
Sometimes the spirit of a holiday pushes us past our normal routine, and that is what usually helps us develop into better GMs. Have you taken extra steps to make a Halloween game (or any special event) more memorable? If so, tell us about it by leaving a comment below.
From all of us Gnomes here at Gnome Stew have a frightfully good Halloween everybody! Just watch out for boogey men like that Sam Hain fellow…