As Halloween approaches, players of tabletop role-playing games will be on the hunt for the perfect game to give them chills. Throughout the lengthy history of tabletop gaming, horror has always been an integral part of many classic TTRPG titles, but only a select few are truly hair-raising.
From classic games such as Vampire: The Masquerade to cosmic terrors like Call of Cthulhu, some of the scariest TTRPGs rival the most frightening horror movies. Though there are a ton of horror-themed games out there, the scariest ones are capable of spooking even the most seasoned gamer to their very core.
Lost Souls (1991)
Most TTRPG horror titles task the players with escaping from the clutches of some horrible monster, but Lost Souls sees them inhabit the spooky world of ghosts. The main concept of the one-off game is that the players are spirits who must fix some transgression in order to pass over to another realm.
Combat comes from souls who have turned evil, and the open-ended nature of the concept allows for a lot of creativity from the Game Master. Though the character creation in the base game is rather limited, it is a perfect option for smaller sessions and an awesome horror title to introduce to newer players of TTRPGs.
Extremely popular as one-off games at conventions, the horror title Dread is one of the most simple-but-effective TTRPGs in history. Taking place in any setting the GM sees fit, the players navigate a traditional horror scenario where it is highly unlikely that they will survive.
The outcome of player actions is determined by the use of a tower of Jenga blocks, and the suspense of the classic game adds to the suspense of the story. Generally regarded as one of the best indie TTRPGs in history, the quick flow of the gameplay is a much more active and harrowing experience than the usual dice-based games.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse (1992)
As was popular in the world of TTRPGs in the early ’90s, Werewolf: The Apocalypse is a shining example of the Gothic-punk subgenre. The players assume the role of werewolves who live in a secret society that must fight against the forces of apathy and corruption that threaten to bring about the end of the world.
Extremely popular in the tabletop community, Werewolf also spawned one of the best werewolf video games with the release of Werewolf: The Apocalypse — Earthblood. Unlike a lot of spooky TTRPGs which are all about quick games, the rich lore of the Chronicles of Darkness universe means that the game delivers a much loftier experience than most.
Playing off the classic summer camp trope of horror movies, Sleepaway is a modern TTRPG with modern sensibilities. In the game, players assume the role of counselors at a strange summer camp that is besieged by a cryptid that is able to assume the form of the victims it flays.
Leaving dice behind, the game uses a token reward system that breaks all actions down between weak and strong moves. Character creation is at the heart of a great game, and Sleepaway uses its lore to make commentary about our alienating society. The game can become very spooky very quickly as the players are unable to determine who is and who isn’t the monster among them.
My Life With Master (2003)
Though not very explicit with its horror, My Life With Master is one of the most unsettling TTRPGs of all time. The player assumes the role of an Igor-like servant, who is under the sway of their monstrous master who feeds on the townspeople.
Like traditional stats in an RPG, the player character is measured in things like “self-loathing” and “love” and each stat determines the player’s ability to resist or serve the master. There is a bleakness to the game that makes the player’s skin crawl, and the overall vibe of the game hearkens back to the classic horror stories of the 19th century.
Cage Of Sand (2020)
Delving into the headier side of horror, Cage of Sand is a more narrative-based TTRPG that can be played as a group or alone. Assuming the role of a person caught in a time loop, players begin to find themselves in the middle of a series of gruesome murders that eventually repeat.
Using a tarot deck, the game is almost unrecognizable from the cliche TTRPGs like Dungeons & Dragons. Even so, the personalized experience of the narrative allows the player to creep themselves out, and the added occult layer of the tarot deck only increases the eeriness of the gameplay.
Invented as a campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Ravenloft has grown into a community of its own with a rich history and lore. Set in a pocket universe of the typical D&D game, Ravenloft is a realm ruled by a dark lord and a myriad of stunning adventures can take place there.
Tying in with some of the best campaign modules in the game’s history, Ravenloft benefits from the familiar gameplay mechanics of D&D. Considering how many frightening possibilities there are already in the base game, a specifically horror-themed offshoot ensures that the only limit to the scares is the DM’s imagination.
Alien: The Roleplaying Game (2018)
Coming as one of the best movie and TV-based RPGs, the instantly freaky Alien: The Roleplaying Game captures the claustrophobic body horror of the original film. Cast in the role of one of several classes from the franchise, the players must survive the deadly Xenomorph.
Allowing for a lot more customization than most adapted TTRPGs, the game has only a few proprietary functions that make it distinguishable from the usual dice-based RPG. The overwhelming power of the Xenomorph is the ultimate challenge, and even the human NPC characters can be a deadly menace for an unwary space marine.
Vampire: The Masquerade (1991)
Often remembered as one of the best TTRPGs that isn’t D&D, Vampire: The Masquerade brought a bit of terror to the genre that was usually dominated by fantasy and magic. Set in a Gothic-punk world, the game casts the players as vampires who must navigate their often dangerous nightly lives.
With an open world filled with an unlimited supply of lore, Vampire is an excellent launching point for amazing horror-themed campaigns. With crossover potential with games like Werewolf, the classic elements of monster-based horror are well represented.
Call Of Cthulhu (1981)
Drawing inspiration from the notorious works of H.P. Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu was one of the earliest and most successful horror TTRPGs of all time. Cosmic horror comes alive as players go on adventures set in a twisted facsimile of the real world that is populated with nightmares beyond comprehension.
Lovecraft’s unique brand of terror is so unlike anything else that it truly spurs the mind in the most horrific directions when applied to an RPG. The mechanics are very similar to games like D&D, but with added elements for luck and sanity. Like most of its successful contemporaries, Call of Cthulhu has no real boundaries, and the possibilities are spine-tingling.
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