Friday, April 27, 2012

No One Can Hear You Scream

I'm a big fan of horror, both in fiction and in gaming.  When I was growing up in the mid to late 90s, there was quite a bit of horror fiction aimed at children such as Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and Eerie Indiana, and I think those books and shows had a great impact on me.  Today I still watch more horror movies than I do sci fi and fantasy ones, and the fantasy authors I prefer tend to be the ones that cleave closer to horror such as Clark Ashton Smith.  

When I run fantasy RPGs, I tend to weave in a lot of horror elements.  This should be obvious to anyone who knows about my Dark Country setting, but it's also true of my other ideas. Even my recent musings on campaign set during the Genpei War had a large number of horror elements. So why not do that with Terran Space?  Alien is one of the greatest horror movies of all time and it's pretty damn close to Traveller.  Plus, Clark Ashton Smith wrote some sci fi stories as well.

While it's unlikely I'll have much time to work on it soon, when I do begin working on Terran Space again I'll definitely be adding more horrific things to my little sandbox.  Some might wonder why I'd use Traveller for such a game, and I played in a pretty rad space horror game using Call of Cthulhu with Zak S. as the keeper.  However, I think I'll be sticking to Traveller for a number of reasons.  The most important one is that I like the system.  In my opinion it has the best character generation of any RPG I've played.  

The fact that I like it is really enough to make me run it, but it isn't the only reason.  If I'm using Traveller, the players will be less likely to expect the horrific elements and therefore be more surprised - and possibly frightened - when they do appear.*  I'm not talking about a complete bait and switch here, the game would still essentially be about the same things Traveller is always about.  I'll just be adding some elements of horror in order to make the setting more uniquely mine.  This can easily be done by making the hooks that patrons give and the encounters had during space adventures have a distinctly sinister character.

The way I see it, there would be three sources of horror in Terran Space: the Precursors, Human/Alien Action, and Nature itself.  The Precursors, whose exact nature I'll probably attempt to leave as vague as possible for as long as possible, are built in to the assumed setting of Traveller.  It's easy enough to give them   horrific implications.  They could have been immensely powerful, quasi-Lovecraftian entities that ruled both the stars and the Earth itself before humankind's ascent.  And even they were destroyed by something.  What could have caused a galaxy-wide extinction event?  Something that will terrorize the PCs, that's what.

Humans can also be horrifying.  The technologies wielded by an inter-stellar empire are far and away more advanced than our own, and those technologies can be applied to evil ends as well as good.  Imagine the sort of Frankenstein-like horrors one could create with gene splicing.  I can easily picture the PCs boarding a lab ship only to discover that its inhabitants have become creatures straight out of a zombie movie.  Of course, intelligent aliens could also engage in these same sick practices or be victimized by the same engineered viruses.  

The last option is of course Nature.  By this I mean something like Alien where the terror comes from a biological organism stalking it's prey, which is of course the PCs.  It doesn't have to be a quasi-immortal space bug.  It could also be a space-virus, a patch of cosmic radiation, a time loop in space, or any number of Star Trek-like scenarios.  

When I ran the few sessions of Traveller on Skype about a year ago, one of the most memorable moments was probably the one that comes closest to what I'm talking about.  The PCs misjumped into an area of empty space.  For a whole parsec there was nothing at which they could refuel, and thus they were essentially stranded and doomed to die a horrible death.  They desperately scanned for anything that might help them, and they found what appeared to be a derelict ship.  They managed to get close enough to to get on board, and so they did.  The away team found that all life support systems had failed, and also found a number of frozen corpses floating in the weightless vacuum that existed in the interior of the ship.  The ship was a large cargo hauler, and it had quite a bit of fuel left over so they couldn't figure out what had killed them.  This seemed to genuinely creep the players out.

They eventually decided that the ship's jump bubble must have "popped" and that had caused them to become stranded in this empty parsec.  But what if that isn't what happened?  What if it was something that could still get the characters while they're siphoning fuel out of the broken down vessel?  That's the kind of thing I want to do with Terran Space.

*Well I guess now they won't be since I posted this on my blog, but whatever.


  1. I ran a game on a con yesterday and all you wrote came true. =)