For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.
Horror in Games and Novels: I like horror. I don’t mean the bloodthirsty, sadistic horror of films like Hostel, or the Saw series. Although I admit to having seen some of them, I find them gruesome rather than spooky. I want to be entertained, not sickened.
No, I prefer the sort of horror which is now seen as being rather old hat – gothic horror, early Hammer Horror films, Dracula (the book), Frankenstein (the book), and so on. Oh, and Stephen King, of course. I like what might be termed classic horror. Give me some of those classic black and white films, such as the wonderful Night of the Demon. Despite showing the monster quite early on I think that film has remained a classic, probably due to the quality of the story from which it was adapted.
This post is not really about horror in films, though, but about horror in books and games, something which I have attempted to add to, over the years.
Let us look at role-playing games first.
It is hard to terrify people, whether with the written word, or in a role-playing game. But the horror trope can be made to be entertaining, whether in written fiction, or in role-playing games.
The horror role-playing games which I have played include Chill, the Call of Cthulhu and Kult.
Kult, actually, is one RPG that I have never played. I have only run it as a gamesmaster. But I did have two long running campaigns. They were ones which I really enjoyed running, probably due to the irreligious background of the game. The game is simple to play, but does have enough detail to keep a campaign going for a long time. If there are people out there looking for a horror game tied into the Judaeo-Christian mythos then I suggest that they have a look at Kult.
The monsters in the game can be very tough, and there is always the fear that players might not survive a fight. Then there is the undercurrent of dark deeds beneath the veneer of what we normally see as Reality – what is called the Illusion in the game. What might seem like an ordinary city in most times has the horrific realm of Metropolis underneath, and player characters may occasionally get a glimpse of that true reality. I think that it is the idea that there is something horrible beneath even mundane-seeming things which is one of the reasons why this works as a horror game. The players soon get used to the idea that true horror might only be a glimpse away, as madness causes the Illusion to crumble revealing the true world underneath.
Chill I have only played once or twice. I did buy one of the supplements for the game, even though I never owned the game myself. Yeah, I bough their book on monsters, to give me ideas for creatures which I might use in other role-playing games.
Call of Cthulhu I have played a lot, and the background is wonderful, especially for this fan of the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. There is only one bad thing, as a player, about Call of Cthulhu, and that is the fact that you know that, in the end, you will lose. That much is fated. You will get too much Cthulhu Mythos knowledge, and your favourite character will become a permanent resident of Arkham Sanitarium. That is if the monsters don’t get you first.
The game probably works best with players who are familiar with the works of H P Lovecraft, although you can play it with newbies. It is horror featuring things which are so monstrous and alien that sometimes a person’s mind can fail to conceive the true horror of what they are looking at. Which I suppose can be useful if a GM runs out of words to describe the things – he can say that the monster is so strange that the player can’t even understand what he is saying, while he waits to be carted off to the Arkham Sanitarium.
Then there is my own Gas-Lamp Fantasy Role-Playing Game. The game was designed to be more Victorian high adventure (with Magick) rather than horror, but I have done one supplement featuring vampires and other creatures of horror; and I have included ideas for a horror-themed campaign: the Coven of the Blood. Yes, if one vampire is scary, then thirteen should be really scary. And keep the players on their toes.
The game, I must admit, is much more about Victorian high adventure than horror.
I also write horror, or at least try to. Elsewhere on this website you will find bits (and extracts) on Blood Will Out, Knight Eternal, Ghoul, Guest House, The Hulk, Ripper: A Sherlock Holmes Novel, and The Varnae Trilogy. All of those are either horror novels or possess a horror element.
I have more horror-themed tales planned, if I ever get around to finishing them: Demoner; The Coven Of The Blood (set in the same gas-lamp fantasy world as the stories of Briggs and Prenderghast); The Black Museum (a Stephen King pastiche); Pest Control; and The Shades (yet another vampire trilogy).
Is my work scary? I’m probably not the right person to answer that. But I hope that it is interesting, at the very least. I want it to be entertaining.
There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with stories featuring zombies or vampires or ghosts. But if featuring old monsters you should try to tell their tales in new and interesting ways. Subvert the source. Give the readers what you think they will enjoy, not what they expect. Surprise them by taking strange and arcane routes with the horror.
Who says that monsters are necessarily the bad guys? In Ghoul the protagonist is – guess what? – a ghoul. He is not evil, even though he is technically a monster. He certainly does not consider himself to be a monster. He is simply trying to fit in with human society in the only way that he can.
I could have written a novel about an evil, murderous ghoul who lives in some graveyard. But that has been done before, by other authors. Why simply copy? You have to be original. Don’t rewrite stories which have been told before. You can play around with the tropes all you want; and feature Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster and their ilk. But don’t write Frankenstein. Mary Shelley has already done that, and better than you or I could do.