Monday, October 21, 2013

HotHF: Order of Creation

Creating your own core rulebook is a funny thing. You don't necessarily start where you think you would start. Horrors on the Home Front began as a setting monograph that I was going to submit to Chaosium as part of their Call of Cthulhu line but it just didn't feel right. It was mostly like a rather weak history book that just didn't tie in as much as I would like so, on the advice of a dear friend of mine, I considered self-publishing it as something else. The moment I really thought about it is the moment I realised that I could do something really different with it.

I love horror, afteer all. Why not use that love of horror to create something a bit more unique to me?

Despite this, the last thing I've truly looked at has been the supernatural aspects to the game. I brushed up some more on the history books and wrote up reams and reams of information that I would find handy were I to run a game in that setting. I then realised I should bite the bullet and start looking at what rules I need for it.

The rules changed as I dealt with things. At first it was very simulationist with rules for everything but then I decided they were getting in the way. So I worked on more fluid works that work better for a more narrativist approach but were still gritty and painful to deal with. I introduced alternatives to death because I find that when you want to really scare the player it helps if they've got high stakes in the game (i.e. a beloved character you can maul). My attributes went from 1 to 10 down to 1 to 5 so that skills (which remained at 1 to 10) would add more to your dice rolls than attributes. Thanks to Shimmin Beg and Dan H for that pointer.

The skills themselves changed as I realised that there were certain basic things you couldn't do in my original system. Simple things like playing a guitar or fixing a car. Once Crafts became a skill, the latter was sorted, but once I threw in Performance I had to think about other uses for it beyond: "I can play guitar good".

Fear tokens, which were rather shabbily implemented, became morale points - which fit better with both the tone of the game and the setting. People were now encouraged to have their characters behave in those silly, realistic ways that real people do because morale points are so very important yet can so readily be stripped away. You can't control their loss but you can control (to a certain extent) their gain.

I gave more latitude to the Game Warden to come up with target numbers and damage dice for natural situations and just gave some information on realism. How much damage does fire do? Well, that depends on a whole lot of variables in real life so the only logical question to ask is: How much damage does the Game Warden want fire to do? I give ideas, advice, and point out which variables can make fire more dangerous so that the Game Warden doesn't make a wood fire in a fireplace deal more damage than one that's had a whole lot of accelerant put onto it.

I also worked on obstacles as a way to simulate natural dangers like blitz-damaged roads and burning buildings. Rather than mechanically modelling the spread of fire through a building, with this many feet being consumed in this many rounds, I looked at how a Game Warden could implement a narrative flow of events which the players must overcome. This necessitated a bit more research into fires and such. A mixture of skill rolls and decision making can get you through dangerous situations with hit point damage or worsening situations as the penalty for failure.

Now that the setting (trimmed down) and rules (refocused) are pretty much in, I took a look at general advice and situations for the mundane side of the home front. During this time I started researching monsters, myths and the theories that underlie them. I jotted down bits that interested me. I discarded the rest. I had written a bit of a bestiary earlier on in the piece that nothing that really drew me in.

A few days ago, I came up with the setting behind the supernatural aspects of the game. I won't go into it now as metaphysical discussions on the supernatural causes behind entities don't do well in an elevator pitch. Something about 25 word elevator pitches kinda removes the scariness of it. I'll dedicate a post to it in future, though. I will say that once I had the metaphysics down alongside the style of horror I loved and wanted to evoke, it became a whole lot easier to come up with suitably disturbing monsters.

Oddly enough, my personal fave at the moment is the Barghest. Not normally the type of monster that you would think of in terms of 'disturbing' and 'scary' but it certainly pushes my buttons. And as many of the horror masters say, if your own creations don't scare you then you're not doing it right.


  1. I'm really interested to see what you end up with (and very flattered by the cite), mechanically and just in general.

    What's in my head right now is a scene with characters in a recent bomb site, still burning, hunted by something, hoping their nerve (and breath) holds in the face of advancing flames and smoke long enough for whatever-it-is to wander away...

    1. Glad to see you're interested! I will be revealing my rules slowly over the weeks as I want to make sure I have it all clear in my head. The trouble is I want the rules to support the narrative in fairly key ways but with minimum fuss while still providing enough rules for various situations so that the element of risk (i.e. dice) is maintained.

      It is a tricky balance indeed and involves a lot of expanding / paring back / expanding / paring back / outright replacement of rules / re-jigging / re-writing, etc.

      I'm actually quite pleased with what I have thus far and am about ready to play test in a group situation. I have used it for my Masks of Nyarlathotep solo game but thus far most of the rules haven't needed to be used, as a lot of it thus far has really fallen to simple skill rolls.