All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
What types of stories scare you the most? Is it the madness of the unknown from Cthulhu or the social and body horror of Bluebeard’s Bride? Some find terror in the monster’s teeth inches from their character’s neck, while others flee from the faint noises and shapes in the darkest part of night.
I’m going to tell you a not-so-well-kept secret that I’ve heard from most horror GMs; you will never describe anything as scary to a player as what they create in their mind when left with unanswered questions.Things that dwell in the unknown
“In the center of the room is a simple wooden table. A dark liquid is dripping from the tabletop onto the floor. As you get a little closer you can see an ivory letter opener that, while dull with age, is perfectly clean and untouched by what you now recognize is blood. It’s almost like opposite poles of a magnet pushing and battling against each other. The letter opener appears to be winning.”
This scene sets up players to have a lot of questions and tension without any direct threats. The danger, if there is any, exists in the unknown parts of their situation. It’s a simple setup that works in a dungeon, 30’s noir mansion, or on an alien space station. Little gems like this are things that you can create, use, and remix for future horror games. The threat isn’t the monster that awaits them, rather it’s the fear of not knowing what form danger will take. Is the letter opener their salvation or their ultimate ruin? Time and their decisions will answer that question.
I will caution you that this doesn’t mean that you should make everything an unknowable mystery. Just like in the classic, “A gun in the first act will go off in the third” trope, the objects and people that inspire fear should pay off in the end. Too many red herrings quickly stink up any story.The mundane becomes the terror
There is a great guest post by Patrick Benson from back in 2006. It’s all about using those creatures that would normally be considered harmless in an RPG, like a bumblebee, and turning them into fear inducing beings.
I was in a Halloween game of Dread playing the owner of a small country inn. The innkeeper asked the other characters if they were hungry. When a few said yes he walked over to the freezer, protectively peaked inside so that only he could see the contents, and said, “Good! We have meat.”
That changed the way everyone saw both my character and that simple freezer. What was inside? Without knowing the answer, the other players filled it with fear and the frozen bodies of those that had not been smart enough to avoid evil. Really it was just full of poorly organized deer meat. A cold storage device became an object of terror that I still think about whenever the subject of horror comes up.
You can bring that same sense of drama as a GM with normal things acting in abnormal ways. Players are looking for things to be scared of, so plant the seeds of fear! An analog phone disconnected from the wall that still rings anyway is a classic trope for a reason. If that ever happened to me in real life I’d burn the house down and move away because I’ve seen a horror movie. Jim, my innkeeper with a creepy freezer full of meat, might feel differently.Sounds like a scary situation
People have been using music and sound effects to set the mood at the table for years. Now horror has been gifted with the popularity of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). They are audio recordings of certain noises like tapping fingers, brushing hair, or whispering that evokes a response from the listener’s brain. They are all over YouTube if you’re curious. It was a Twitter user, I can’t remember who, that I first saw talking about using layered ASMR tracks as background noise during a horror game. If you know who it was please leave their name in the comments so that I can give them credit!
Trust me when I say that having multiple voices whispering in the background and making your brain tingle is unsettling at best. Even a single non-verbal track adds a weird atmosphere to your game. Two hours of gloves caressing a microphone and stroking a feather can sound downright sinister!
You can always check your favorite streaming music service for Halloween themed sound effect albums. They do the job in a very thematic way. Try combining the two!When in doubt ask
“A hellish creature bursts through the door. It is the embodiment of your deepest fears. What does the monster look like?”
Giving the player ownership of their character’s deepest fears is powerful. I know that some GMs have trust issues when it comes to giving players control. What if they try to be silly and say, “It’s a giant rubber ducky?”
My response might be something like, “It looks cracked and worn by years in the sun. There is an intensity in its painted eyes that triggers the long-buried memory of your cousin Justin’s death. You can see in your mind’s eye the image of a much smaller version of this same duck floating next to his lifeless body. Much like then, you could swear that it just smiled and winked at you.”
They asked for it, so give it to them. As a person I know what to do with a maniac with a chainsaw; run away. When it comes to a giant plastic duck that is murdering my bloodline I have no idea. As a GM, take their ideas and build on them.Safety
Horror automatically comes with a high potential for traumatizing players, so I always make sure that I have a full safety toolkit at my disposal. There have been several wonderful articles written here on the Stew that cover the subject.
Read them, find what works best for your group, and have fun in the freedom of getting scared! This is the chance for all of you to really terrify each other while everyone stays safe!
What tricks do you use to scare your players? What is the most terrifying moment that you’ve ever experienced in a game?
"We think in the medium term this will give games that have a lot more appeal than what we have today,â€ said Guillemot. ...
Despite an unexpectedly competitive couple of months, Ubisoft says its properties performed well during the first half of its 2018-19 fiscal year. ...
I made a Halloween VR game and I'm not happy with it. And that's okay. - by Josh Marinacci
Pietro Guardascione of Candy Crush maker King argues that there will be a sharp increase in demand for "analytical game designers" who work closely with lead designers on key game systems. ...
“and all the men and women merely players” — William Shakespeare
Halloween is nearly upon us, and soon, no one will look twice at a person dressed as the murderous Michael Myers or as a walking talking human sized piece of candy corn. Halloween encourages everyday people to imagine costumes to wear, attend parties, and even to play a little pretend. Take advantage of the spooky season and introduce some new players to role-playing games! The next time you need another player for your game, don’t just think about who plays the games you do. Think about who should play the games you do. Let them know what they’re missing!So, what’s your costume?
Why do we rack our brains over who to be and explore endless costume racks for what to wear for Halloween? Not to mention, occasionally we spend an obscene amount of money to manicure every detail. Why do we do it? Why do we go through the hassle year after year?
Can it be that it is just fun to do? I mean, it only comes once a year. When else are you going to dress up, put your feet in another person’s shoes, and get to play a character? See where this is going?Role-playing in disguise?
- Theater: We pay big money to watch, or possibly experience, theater. We audition just for the opportunity to play a part. Skits are used on big time shows like Dancing with the Stars to amplify dancing competitions, they preempt Christmas choir performances, and they are used in comedy all the time. SNL anyone? We prize actors of the silver screen, paying our favorites absurd amounts of money collectively. People pay for the privilege to observe, to experience, and to be entertained.
Maybe we do it for the prestige, the story, or the love of acting…
- Comic Conventions: They attract thousands of people at shows all over the country. A few of them attract over a hundred thousand attendees per convention. Thanks to the internet and our social media obsession with images, we are inundated with pictures of cosplay super heroines, anime heroes, cartoon characters and everything in between! There are even shows, contests, and prizes dedicated just to creating costumes.
Maybe it is a form of hero worship, or we do it to honor the creative crafting spirit of it all.
- Historical Reenactments: There is something to be said about retelling history. Reenactments help us get in the mindset of other times, other places. Reenactments are a long-held tradition like storytelling through performance. Is time what gives these activities their general acceptance?
Maybe we do it for the value of passing on history or the act of storytelling itself?
I can’t quite put my finger on why we dress up, why we embrace the opportunity to be someone else, but there is an enjoyment and general affection that is shared among the participants in these activities.
Maybe we all crave escapism…
What is abundantly clear is that there is common ground for why we wear costumes and why we enjoy role-playing games. So, why aren’t game tables overflowing with role-players like candy pails on Halloween?Wearing a Costume
Shakespeare famously said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.
The point is, it isn’t weird that you like to be someone or something else sometimes. It isn’t weird or wrong that you feel different in different clothes. Identity is powerful and we identify with how we look — how others look. Far too many role-playing enthusiasts are shy to speak about their impassioned hobby. For a good reason too, Dungeons & Dragons has been socially polarizing for many of us over the years. The funny thing is, people are playing role-playing games all around us. They always have! The funny thing is, people are playing role-playing games all around us. They always have! Share3Tweet1+11Reddit1Email
When you were young, maybe you had tea parties with your imaginary friends. Have you ever played Cops & Robbers or Cowboys & Indians? I for one used to run around the school yard acting out comic book characters. Maybe you just sat on the sofa imitating British accents or your favorite cartoon voices. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, whatever nerd stigma came of the past is no longer so divisive, so ostracizing. Given how widely we imitate others, how often we mask ourselves, what do we have to hide in the first place?
We are all actors and actresses. Maybe you like yourself better after a beer buzz. Is that suit you wear to work for show or do you feel empowered by it? What if you were a baseball player, a police officer, or a doctor; is it the confidence in how you wear the outfit or the skill of how you actually perform in it?
Take a minute to carefully consider how you hide your hobby… and ask yourself, does it matter anymore? Worse…are you not including someone else in what makes you happy?
Don’t hide your games from the public. Don’t make excuses. If times haven’t changed, then we are definitely starting to see them differently. The next time you need another player for your game, don’t just think about who plays the games you do. Consider the kid practicing their British accent. Consider the Dad who is reenacting Pickett’s Charge this weekend. Ask anyone who has ever auditioned for theater — or ever wanted to.
With the spirit of Halloween all around us, you couldn’t be more surrounded by people with a reason to be interested in playing a role-playing game with you. Your next player is right in front of you, quit looking past them.
What audiences can you think of that are role-playing in disguise!? Who did you role-play as when you were a kid? How do you hide your role-playing hobby from friends and family?
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An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons....ah, who am I kidding? After the absolutely superb Pixies on Parade, I would have covered this as fast as possible even without that.
Speaking of which - I strongly suggest playing Pixies on Parade before this one. While it can stand alone easily, I do believe that it has an added sense of gravitas when played as a kind of sequel - the pdf makes use of the concept of imagination magic and the inclusion of the dream-like logics should make pretty clear that yes, this will have an excellent reason for championing a thus more mutable reality. With the dream realm overlaps featured within, we get really nice global rules that set adventuring in the realm of dreams apart from mundane adventures – the mutable nature allows for unique tactical decisions, hijacking of specific dreams and the like. It is a truly distinct playing experience that thankfully has been translated in a tight and concise manner to 5e.
Now, this is obviously a conversion of the original module released for PFRPG; usually, that would have me worried…particularly considering how good the original was. In case you missed it: “Nightmares on Parade” made the #1 spot of my Top Ten the year it was released. Translating that level of excellence is an extremely tough task. So, can the 5e-version hold up to the PFRPG version’s excellence?
...and this is as far as I can go without SPOILING anything. Potential players SHOULD jump to the conclusion. This also includes some SPOILERS for the prequel, “Pixies on Parade”, so please don't read on if you want to play them. They're worth it.
In “Pixies on Parade”, the PCs have managed to save Edwin from the clutches and malign influence exerted over him by the Nightmare King. He may not be escaping anytime soon...but he does not sit idly by, instead using his considerable power to draw the picturesque village of Glavost right into his nightmare realm! Uniquely empowered by their experiences in “Pixies on Parade”, the PCs thus receive the ability to manipulate reality - wishing for a unicorn, for example, may actually manifest one - though the created dreams generated do not feature the abilities of the things they're modeled after, instead employing the lesser dream statblock included within. Indeed, the somewhat parasitic/dependant nature of these dreams allows people tied to them to shape them.
Anyways, the module begins with an ominous darkening sky, a quake and mists drawing in - if your PCs have gone through the gauntlet of Ravenloft at one point, that alone will make them paranoid as all hell. Aforementioned dreams seek out the PCs and bond with them. As the PCs walk outside, they will notice Belle Leaflower walking the streets, unable to communicate or, well, perceive anybody - creative problem solution is the name of the game, as her anxieties manifest themselves and thus influence the next encounter, namely saving the ancient Elas Leaflower, who is obsessively trying to read as many books as possible at once, fearing that he is running out of time - and if the long beard and constantly multiplying books (which do not take kindly to intruders!) are any indicator, he'd be right. The PCs will have to contend with falling bookshelves, book swarms and find a way to convince Elas that his quest his futile, his books, as they are wont to be in dreams, but gibberish.
This would be a kind of leitmotif to be found here - the Nightmare King has provided some delightfully twisted (and goofy) nightmares for the folks of Glavost: Dwarven chef Rus Ulden is hunted by jello-oozing killer cupcakes. And yes, you can actually eat these...which makes for a cool prop when fighting them...just as a note... Each fellow saved and encounter passed provided an inspiration as a reward – a reward the PCs will really need, but more on that later.
Beyond these detailed encounters, however, there are also more simple, optional ones provided for your convenience: The more invested the PCs are in Glavost, the better. The fight for the minds and imagination of Glavost takes the PCs, ultimately, to the major's house, where a semi-solid sheathe of darkness covers everything and Edwin needs to be saved from what seems to be the nightmare king...though it is, in fact, "only" the most powerful dream plaguing Glavost. Having defeated this threat, the PCs now will have the proper power of a town's imagination backing them up, namely in the ability to duplicate mirage arcane as an innate spell-like ability...except that, here in the realm of dreams, these illusions are real. Kind of. They don’t cause damage per se to most beings…but they fully affect lesser dreams! This is super important for the adventure.
But the Nightmare King is not just going to throw in the towel because he's been foiled here - instead, he figures he might as well go big or go home...and sends a frickin' army in the direction of the PCs. And this is where the plot thickens and parents and adults alike should take a good, long look: The kids of Glavost, while considered to be "heroes", were basically treated with condescension by the adults; as kids all across the globe are wont to be; one crucial and important lesson anyone can draw from this book and project to the real world is that kids deserve respect.
In real life, kids may not create phantom armies...but that doesn't mean that they can't save the lives of others, that they may not be the triumphant factor in the battle for the hearts and minds of the adults around them. Just something to figure - kids are not property, they are people we accompany for some time along the way, that we try to help prosper and hopefully leave the world a better place for...but I digress.
The PCs have saved the adults and so, they may shore up the defenses and use their imagination to save the town with offenses and defenses created. There may a saboteur in their midst - the teenage night hag Isabeth, who proceeds to trap the PCs and request them doing horrible, annoying chores - but they will have to do them, if they are to escape...and there's a way to befriend Isabeth in the process, which may well be used as a means to teach kids how to deal with folks (like elder siblings…) in puberty...but that just as an aside.
The module continues to "teach", if you will, life lessons while being played - there is a detention scenario next, where the PCs are targeted by suggestions and the gremlins running the show try to get them to acknowledge that they should not be brave etc. - the idea here is simple, yet brilliant: It is mathematically unlikely that all PCs fail the save (though such a scenario is accounted for as well), and thus, the PCs will have the chance to rebuttal the theses thrown at them, with grudging acknowledgement from the gremlins....but, of course, the more PCs fail, the more will they be forced to reply as per the wishes of the "teacher". This is something that the current generations definitely should take to heart: My experience with the younger kids is that, more often than not, they are taught to cave to peer pressure, to maintain a "pleasant" environment with their comrades, even if goes against their beliefs and convictions - when I compare my cousin's school experience to mine, for example, we have been horribly rowdies and rebels who stood up for what we believed in, whereas my cousins tend to just assume the path of least resistance, modifying their convictions due to fear of being ostracized. I think that kids should be taught, as soon as possible, that their convictions have value and that the majority is not always right. This encounter does just that, without jamming its message down one's throat. It's also creative regarding how the rules are presented for 5e, so yeah - amazing!
Next up would be yet another interesting one - a satyr skald offers the PCs a fair deal: He was tasked to delay them, but finds this strategy distasteful and thus offers to fill the PCs in one the background story of the Nightmare King, which is provided in lavish detail - it is here that the old truism of knowledge equaling power may be taught...and the respectful demeanor and no-strings, straightforward and respectful attitude of the satyr progresses the thematic sequence of being show proper respect for one's achievements. The sequence here is important: This “lesson” comes right after the one that teaches to not cave to peer pressure and authority. It emphasizes that knowledge deserves respect, and that accumulating knowledge can make resistance to the opinion of the majority valid, justified.
Once the PCs have heard the story (or left of their own free will), it will be time for the army of Glavost's dreams to duke it out with the servants of the Nightmare King! Here, things become once again amazing, as, while the module recommends a descriptive and flavor-centric take on the battle of the armies, groups that enjoy rules-intense scenarios can employ the easy and quick to implement mass combat rules provided here! Yup, statblocks for the armies are provided. I intentionally did not write "kids will use descriptive, adults the rules", mind you - I certainly know enough young ones that are REALLY into the nit and grit of rules! The amazing thing here is that the PCs may use their imagination to greatly influence the way the battle works: Mass imagination magic, flexible benefits - if properly employed, this is frickin' amazing indeed! For 5e, it also offers something I enjoy: For the fellows that prefer the rules lite side of things, the descriptive option works; for those that enjoy the tactical side more, it’s here as well – basically, an everyone wins scenario.
Returning to the theme of respect - as the nightmare armies crumble, Behast, the Nightmare King waltzes to the PCs and actually offers an imagination duel; a scenario wherein he creates obstacles with his power for the PCs to overcome...an usually a respectful way of solving conflict sans violence amidst otherwise immortal beings.
Having even the BBEG actually treat the PCs with respect is a truly amazing progression of the themes employed in this book.
Speaking of amazing: The PC's actions throughout the module have direct consequences here - Behast may not enter the fray directly, but his champion has several abilities, each of which is tied to one specific type of action the PCs may have done...the better they treated their fellows, the more they helped them, the bigger are their chances against Behast's champion! Know, how in those cool 80s/90s kid's movies at one point, the kids would combine their powers, reap the benefits of the good deeds they have sown previously? It may be a bit cheesy, but it always put a good kind of shiver down my spine.
Oh, and don't tell anyone, since the PCs have to find out the hard way...but don't worry about player frustration in this book - a sidebar's got you covered, and the book provides guidance time and again.
Editing and formatting are very good - with the exception of a very minor aesthetic hiccup at one point, the book is pretty flawless. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with a turquoise background. This may not make it too printer-friendly, but I'd suggest getting this in print anyway. The artwork adheres to Jacob Blackmon's comic-like style and is nice and internally consistent. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Apart from a darker map of Glavost, the pdf lacks precise maps, but considering the morphic theme and mutable nature of the surroundings in every encounter, it does not need them; I was a bit skeptical regarding this component, but actual playtest did affirm that the module works smoothly.
Stephen Rowe has been a kind of anomaly among RPG-designers in that he's equally at home in the writing of crunch and fluff. Additionally, his modules so far have not failed to impress me, with both Pixies on Parade or Directive Infinity X being examples of excellence.
Nightmares on Parade is a whole different level, and it is to my utmost pleasure that I can state that this holds true for 5e as well.
Let me elaborate a bit: Playground Adventures generally provides modules that can help educate kids, teach concepts and knowledge in a manner that is not obtrusive, in a manner that is fun.
Pixies on Parade was a pretty much perfect homage to 80s' kid's movies - you know, when we still treated kids as proper beings, not as second-class citizens to be sheltered to the point of generating narcissists, to the point where they're not ready facing a reality that does not cuddle them all the way.
Pixies was brilliant in that it provided a scenario that dipped into creepy themes, but at the same time maintained a child-friendly levity in theme and execution. Oh, and in the hands of an even remotely capable GM, you could run it as a balls-to-the-wall horror/dark fantasy module.
Think of a certain Goblin King's labyrinth, think of the last member of an equine, horned species and you'll see what I mean: Watching these movies as a child delighted me; watching them as an adult provided a wholly different context for both. Pixies did that and did it perfectly. Age-wise, all but the most sensitive of kids should be good with it and I ran it for a then-4-year-old sans issues. The target demographic, though, should be about ages 6+, for really, really sensitive kids probably 8+. It always depends on the kid in question.
"Nightmares on Parade" is the successor in that theme in more ways than one, maintaining the leitmotifs...but also presenting a dimension that far exceeds what regular modules offer, what you can witness in any of its predecessors.
What do I mean by this? I have to wax poetically a bit here: The German concept of "Bildung" denotes the collective process of education and personality-formation, including a development of one's own personal ideology, convictions, etc. - the very word generates an association with building one's self as an eternal process, of describing the totality of construction work of your own personality and accumulated knowledge in all fields of life. There is exactly one other module, Richard Develyn's brilliant "Seven Sinful Tales", which has ever made me employ this word in the context of adventures you can run.
You see, the structure of this adventure teaches not by stating precise information in a traditional sense; it goes beyond that. By virtue of its meticulously-structured encounters and their diverse themes, it imparts genuine wisdom upon the players, life lessons if you will. The module shows, rather than tells, what happens if you let fears (like not having enough time) define you; what happens if you're consumed by work (with a kid-friendly, literal analogue); to stand up for your convictions and what's right in the face of authorities and peer-pressure...and to never underestimate the power of imagination that so many adults have lost. (Though roleplayers tend to be safer there...)
There is not a single encounter in this module that does not provide, in unobtrusive subtext, a truly valuable, morally and ethically valuable lesson. And this does not only extend to kids: Parents running this module for their kids should carefully read this module and analyze it, for the aforementioned leitmotif of respecting your child, the importance of that aspect for the development of adults and the way in which this module treats kids can, in my most deeply-held convictions, potentially improve the horizon of parents alike. The theme of respect that ultimately is awarded to the PCs and their players by the BBEG culminates in a glorious experience that may well, in some cases, end night troubles...after all, the nightmare king has conceded defeat. But that as just an aside.
Beyond these psychologically relevant aspects and the wonderful, respectful way this book treats its audience, regardless of age, one should not be remiss to emphasize the downright amazing use of imagination magic throughout the book and the fact that, beyond the glorious lessons imparted herein, it ALSO is a truly amazing module. Whether or not you go mass combat, whether or not you play this as horror (Concerned parents, rest assured that this module, as written, is as wholesome as it gets...but any only semi-decent GM can make this very dark very easily and basically transform it on the fly into a horror-module just by adding non-kid-friendly dressing!) for adults, as a kid-friendly adventure as written, as emphasizing the crunchy aspects or de-emphasizing them via Imagination Magic, you retain maximum flexibility in how you actually run the module. I've run this twice and both times in radically different manners - and in both cases, the structure held up: The kid-friendly run worked as amazing as expected, replacing Pixies as their favorite module. The experience of running this as an adult module with my own trademark tweaks went over just as well.
Ultimately, "Nightmares of Parade" may be a glorious module on its own...but its value lies beyond that. It is a module that not only dares to teach in a didactically unobtrusive manner, it is one that teaches in a tailor-made, carefully and in truly intelligent way, to leave particularly kids and parents as better persons for having played it.
If you think I'm overanalyzing this, btw., then I'd point you straight towards the fact that this obviously is intended to achieve said stated goal; each and every facet of the module is devoted towards cultivating a respectful and benevolent development, a component of "Bildung" not only between the players, but also in their interaction with others and amongst themselves. It teaches spine and courage in the face of adversity and the value of behaving in an upstanding, honorable manner while still being kids. In short: Nightmares on Parade is a masterpiece not only on a formal level, but also is one of the scant few modules that dares to try to leave its audience better off for having played it; it is one of the very few incarnations of our favorite medium that tries to do more than entertain, without losing sight of entertainment being the primary purpose.
Stephen Rowe has surpassed himself with this module and catapulted himself into a level of adventure-writing excellence that is rarefied indeed, that is a very small class of its own.
With all my heart, I encourage you to get Pixies and this, the sequel. We need authors that dare to do more than just entertain (though it certainly does excel here as well!); it is my firm conviction that roleplaying games already are a great way of helping people, regardless of age, connect, develop and improve in numerous aspects of life. This, however, takes everything one step further - it can actually be seen as a module that could be canon as something that truly benefits everyone involved, that helps form personalities and strengthen positive character traits. This is Bildung given the form of an exceedingly fun and modular adventure. This humble masterpiece is worth 5 stars + seal of approval and the 5e-version loses, thankfully, nothing of the splendor of the original, making this on par with my #1 of my Top Ten of 2016!
If you share my firm belief that roleplaying games can make us all better people...then take a look. This module, frankly, is art in the most unpretentious manner you can define it; it leaves you better for having witnessed it.