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All Rules in Running Horror Adventures

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Horror Games and Consent

Source Horror Adventures pg. 190
If the story’s objective is to unsettle the players rather than their characters, the GM needs something before even starting to seriously think about running such an adventure: the players’ consent. Players should understand what it might mean to participate in a horror adventure. Knowing that the game is intended to be creepy is not enough—in the same way that some filmgoers might be on board to see a horror movie aimed at teenage audiences but not one exclusively for adults.

Anyone planning on participating in a horror adventure should read the following section—GMs and players alike. Of all the content in this book, this section is the most serious because it doesn’t deal with fictional characters, but with real people and reactions.

For Game Masters

Source Horror Adventures pg. 191
The Pathfinder RPG styles itself as a fantasy RPG, not as a horror RPG. Horror adventures often feature unsettling content, and while many players enjoy exploring macabre places, that is not universally true. It is part of your responsibility to make sure your players know that the game will feature frightening elements and give them a sense of what themes to expect. If players express discomfort or concern, change or remove the objectionable aspects or, if necessary, invite the player to participate in a different game.

You might worry that revealing your story’s themes might spoil it. Don’t. This preliminary description can act more as a film’s trailer, providing the players with glimpses necessary to make informed decisions about whether they’ll enjoy the experience. Veiling a game’s content is not worth making players feel endangered or like they’ve been tricked into publicly visiting dark personal places. You can’t simply assume that you know what your players will be okay with. No matter how long you might have been playing with someone, nobody broadcasts his every phobia, secret fear, or private experience. So, for the comfort of everyone, make sure your players know what they’re getting into.

Additionally, despite the fact that horror games include more ominous themes than other adventures, just calling something a horror game does not provide an excuse to vent your darkest thoughts without further warning. While many frightening games feature gore, menace, and tragedy, the inclusion of such elements doesn’t in itself indicate to your players that scenes of torture, sexual violence, child endangerment, or other brutalities are on the table. “Grittiness” and “realism” are not excuses to surprise players with this content midgame. If a game might feature such elements, you remain responsible for making your players aware of that beforehand and letting them decide whether they want to play.

Finally, sometimes opinions and expectations simply change. Let players know that if they become uncomfortable with any part of your game, it’s perfectly fine for them to leave the game space. Make yourself available to discuss your game’s content if a player so desires—but understand you are not owed any insight into your players’ reactions. If a player expresses concerns about a game’s content, he doesn’t need to explain himself; either remove the sensitive element, run a different game, or ask the player to participate in a different game. If you keep these considerations in mind and prioritize your players’ enjoyment, you’ll be on your way to running an adventure your group remembers for its creepiness, not its unintended negative consequences.

For Players

Source Horror Adventures pg. 191
The Pathfinder RPG is a storytelling game, and as with stories in any medium, sometimes the tale ventures into dark places. If you are a participant in a game that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened, you can stop playing at any time. You don’t have to endure a game that unsettles you in a way you don’t enjoy. If that occurs, it’s entirely acceptable to leave the game and remove yourself to a safe space.

If you want to tell the group that you need a break or have a private discussion with the GM, you may, but don’t feel obligated to. Sometimes GMs seek to include disturbing content in their games to be shocking, to be gritty, or to mimic content from television or film. Unfortunately, such elements often overlap with real-world truths and traumas that are anything but entertaining. Just as you might avoid that content in other media, you have every right to avoid it in gaming.

A good way to avoid a game that focuses on content that you’re not comfortable with is to talk with your GM before the game starts and find out what sort of adventure she intends to run. Ask whether the GM expects any extreme or R-rated content. As discussed above, it is part of every GM’s responsibility to assure that her players have a good time, but (unfortunately) you can’t trust every GM to act on this. If a GM proves reticent to reveal a game’s themes or implies that there will be disturbing or adult content without elaborating on what, strongly consider not attending that game.

Just as you would want the GM and other players to respect your boundaries, make sure to respect theirs. Unless the other players and the GM have already agreed to a truly dark game, don’t contribute to making a game uncomfortable by playing a depraved character or by going into explicit detail about your character’s horrid deeds. And if other players feel they need to leave the game, either help change the game to something everyone enjoys or support their decision to leave.

Everyone should be working together to create a game that’s fun for the entire group, so know that it’s literally in the Pathfinder game’s rules (on page 9 of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook) that playing the Pathfinder RPG is supposed to be rewarding for everyone involved.