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Horror Rules

Source Horror Adventures pg. 8
The elements of a horror game might be gruesome, dreary, unnatural, or frightful, but they have the biggest impact if the players aren’t quite expecting them. The rules in this chapter support some tried-and-true elements of horror that need new rules elements to be fully realized for a horror campaign. Though these rules are a good start for a GM running a horror campaign, it is equally important to set the right tone with how they’re used.

Other Horror Rules

Horror Adventures teems with systems, tools, and guidance for running horror-themed games, but it’s not the first Pathfinder RPG book to touch on that territory. The rules and systems from numerous other sources fit well in horror-themed campaigns. The list below points toward relevant sections of these sources, and mentions which ones link with systems within this book when applicable.

Horror Characters

Source Horror Adventures pg. 8
The life of an adventurer has never been safe or comfortable. Terrible dangers lurk around every corner and the threat of death is a constant companion. Despite such grim realities, far more horrifying fates await those who find themselves facing off against true darkness: nightmares that thirst for the tears of the innocent and hunger for the flesh of the living. Adventurers who find themselves in a horror game must be prepared to face terror, madness, and threats to their very souls.

Fear

Source Horror Adventures pg. 10
In a game where terrible things lurk in the darkness and horrors crawl forth from nightmares to plague the living, the rules for fear are an important part of play. To help bring an appropriate atmosphere to the table, the following rules broaden the levels of fear and allow fear to have a greater impact on your character and the story.

Sanity

Source Horror Adventures pg. 12
An abundance of horrors can scar a being. Wounds and fatigue can ravage the flesh. Poisons and venoms can putrefy a creature from within. Curses and hexes can assault the body and soul through supernatural means. But of all the horrors a hero might face, few are as debilitating or insidious as those that assault her sanity.

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game already features many threats that can erode a character’s sanity. The insanity spell can cause a character to act confused until its effect is removed. Insanity mist is an inhaled poison that deals Wisdom damage. The allip, an undead creature created when a soul is lost to madness, features several madness-themed abilities.

For some games, presenting the weakening of sanity and the onset of madness as assaults on a creature’s Wisdom score or the randomness of the confusion condition might be enough. But running a horror-themed game often necessitates a more robust and nuanced system. In the following system, the mental resilience of a creature is based on the totality of her mental being and mental strengths, rather than her weaknesses, improving her chances to weather and triumph against a vast array of sanity-threatening horrors.

Corruption

Source Horror Adventures pg. 14
Even the most pure creature can succumb to tides of darkness. What begins as a minor malady or errant idea can grow into something malignant—a spreading corruption that can obscure your morals, cloud your judgment, and ultimately devour your soul. There are a number of different types of corruptions, from the hunger of vampirism to the horrifying transformation of the promethean. Living with a corruption is often a terrifying experience, but also offers the temptation of dark gifts. Hosts sometimes choose not to fight the corruption, but rather accept it and allow it to progress. These unfortunate folk either succumb to lust for the corruption’s power or attempt to control the stain of corruption and use its gifts for some greater good.

Each corruption detailed on the pages that follow features a general description, followed by its catalysts and manifestations. The catalyst section explains how a creature might contract the corruption, how it progresses, and how it can be cured. When a creature first contracts a corruption and its manifestation level increases, the corrupted creature gains manifestations. Manifestations carry both beneficial gifts and detrimental stains. Also, as the manifestation level increases, the stains and gifts of previous manifestations might grow more powerful. Lastly, as a creature’s manifestation level increases, so does the possibility of the corruption taking hold entirely, defiling its host forever.

Curses

Source Horror Adventures pg. 138
Curses are among the oldest and most deeply feared types of magic. They linger far beyond the original malicious words or grave deeds that spawned them. Although the most wellknown and easily broken types of curses are spells, others are afflictions, from the notorious curse of lycanthropy to foul mummy rot and the esoteric death curse of the linnorm. All the new curses presented in this section are afflictions and share certain features as a result.

This section includes new curses, as well as several curse variants. It also provides advice for using all kinds of curses in your game, including guidelines on creating them.

Horrific Diseases

Source Horror Adventures pg. 146
Diseases hold great potential for horror. They often strike at abilities or traits people value dearly but take for granted. They can leave victims unable to walk or speak, radically change a person’s appearance, and, of course, claim lives. They are impossible to see with the naked eye, and for most of human history, they were poorly understood. Perhaps worst of all, for adventurers, they cannot be fought in the traditional sense and are completely impervious to violence or reason.

While standard diseases in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game challenge players and make for good storytelling opportunities, they are typically telegraphed days in advance with the first Fortitude save and easily cured with low-level spells. Further, very few diseases are even capable of killing, and often they do nothing more alarming than dealing ability score damage. However, there are worse diseases brewing in the world. This section contains new options for diseases, including a collection of templates that can be applied to any disease to make it more frightening in a variety of ways, and a selection of new diseases that progress through a series of horrifying symptoms, similar to the diseases rules introduced in Pathfinder RPG Pathfinder Unchained.

Horror Environments

Source Horror Adventures pg. 152
While many Pathfinder campaigns tend to fixate on the monsters and NPCs that directly oppose the PCs, in a horror game, it’s important to give the environment, atmosphere, and ambience equal billing. An appropriate environment can lead to a much deeper sense of horror and a more memorable session, since creatures are something the PCs usually fight and defeat directly, while the environment is pervasive and unstoppable. Use the following horrific locations, hazards, domains, and nightmare dreamscapes to build the tension and increase the growing dread the players feel.

Fleshwarping

Source Horror Adventures pg. 164
While the pain of physical torture and of a ghoul stripping flesh from the bones of its alive-but-paralyzed prey are horrible ends, few fates are as ghastly as the dire transformations made by the fleshwarper. Fleshwarping is the general term for two main magical and alchemical practices: “true fleshwarping” and fleshcrafting. It is also used to describe transformative mutations caused by exposure to polluted alchemy labs, magical radiation, or either cursed or corrupted magic, which are properly known as fleshwarp mutations.

True fleshwarping is a vile and violent practice, both alchemical and magical, used to transform one creature into an entirely new form. It’s a horrific art practiced by the drow and other depraved societies to create servants or to bind creatures into twisted forms as sadistic punishment. Fleshcrafting uses a similar process to physically modify the subject by mutating or replacing a body part with that of another creature. This gruesome discipline can also be used to create fleshcraft elixirs that grant creatures temporary versions of fleshcraft grafts.

In addition to the intentional practices of true fleshwarping and fleshcrafting is a transformation called a fleshwarp mutation, which also involves the nightmarish metamorphosis of a creature into a new form. This type of fleshwarping, however, is a phenomenon rather than a willful act, and typically occurs after a creature interacts with a particularly strong magical or alchemical hazard. The more a creature is exposed to that hazard, the greater the effects of the fleshwarp mutation.

Madness

Source Horror Adventures pg. 182
Fractures, cuts, and abrasions wound the body, but madness undermines the mind, spirit, and personality. Suffering from madness can be terrifying, causing those afflicted to act contrary to their desires or reason.

Madnesses are afflictions, similar in structure to poisons, diseases, and curses. They are used as part of the sanity system as an outcome of severe assaults on a character’s sanity, but GMs can use madness in other cases as well. Because madnesses are presented as afflictions, they can be used with the sanity and madness system from the Pathfinder RPG GameMastery Guide. If you’re using the rules for sanity and madness in the GameMastery Guide, when those rules call for a character to gain an insanity, roll d%. The character gains a lesser madness on a roll of 1–70%, and a greater madness on a 71–100%. Once the potency of the madness is determined, roll on the appropriate table (Table 5–1 for a lesser madness and Table 5–2 for a greater madness) to determine the kind of madness the character gains, or select an appropriate madness that fits the situation.

The madnesses in this section are works of fantasy. None are statements about or descriptions of existing maladies.

Table 5-1: Lesser Madness

d%Madness
1-10Delirium
11-22Delusion
23-32Fugue
33-42Hallucination
43-54Mania
55-66Melancholia
67-76Night terrors
77-86Paranoia
87-100Phobia


Table 5-2: Greater Madness

d%Madness
1-18Amnesia
19-30Catatonia
31-48Cognitive block
49-66Disassociated identity
67-78Psychopathy
79-85Psychosomatic loss
86-100Schizophrenia

Running Horror Adventures

Source Horror Adventures pg. 190
Game Masters don’t have to run a horror-themed Pathfinder adventure differently from how they would any other adventure—but they can. Before running a horror adventure, though, the GM should consider a basic question: Who is she trying to scare? That might seem obvious, but horror adventures are about fear, so the GM needs to understand the nature of that fear.

If a GM doesn’t want to scare anyone, she can incorporate this book’s options into her game like those from any other Pathfinder RPG book. The options herein might feature darker themes, but that’s all that makes them different.

But perhaps a GM decides she does want to frighten someone, and naturally, she targets the player characters. In this case, the game changes to incorporate elements meant to shock the PCs or explore darker parts of the campaign setting. Ultimately, this probably doesn’t mean much more than deciding which monsters and settings the game employs. An otherwise normal Pathfinder adventure featuring ghosts, haunted houses, faceless murderers, and similar creepiness might be all a GM needs to effectively spook the PCs.

If the GM wants to frighten her players, she must do so with the utmost care and thought, making changes from how she would run other Pathfinder adventures. This doesn’t mean making the game a farce to startle the participants. Rather, it gives the GM the opportunity to use her adventure like a storyteller telling a ghost story, using the medium to build tension and unnerve the other participants, each of whom expects to enjoy a good scare. This sort of game focuses on intentionally evoking feelings from the players themselves, rather than their characters. So long as the players know what they’re in for and explicitly want to be scared, horror-themed games can be exceptionally memorable.

This chapter includes tips on how to run any sort of horror adventure, describing various horror subgenres and including tips on how to create horror adventures, cultivate an unnerving atmosphere, and use the Pathfinder RPG rules to adjudicate terrifying encounters. Before any of that, though, the GM should understand how horror adventures differ from normal Pathfinder adventures and why she should take exceptional care to make sure her players are willing participants.