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Laying the Groundwork, Part 2

In this article, we are going to close GURPS Space and take a look at GURPS Horror. The reason we stopped with Space is that the book begins diving into specifics – technologies, societies, etc., and we are still describing the types of stories we want to tell. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you know it, we will have enough material to start banging out playtests, and maybe even mucking about with players!   So for now, dust off your copy of GURPS Horror and follow along with me.  

Chapter 3 – Dark Theaters

p. 98-121
The first two chapters of Horror have a metric ton of goodness, but like most of Space, it is too specific. We are still shaping our setting on a grand scale and addressing metagame concerns like, “what sort of story are we telling?” For that reason, we skip to Chapter 3, and its first paragraph really sums up what we are looking to do:  
When you start a Horror game, you have several decisions to make. First, work out whether you want to run a one-shot adventure or an extended campaign – and if you opt for a campaign, lend some thought to its narrative structure. Next, determine the game’s approximate power level, which will guide that of the PCs. After that, think about the monster (or monsters) the heroes will face.
  Let’s take this section by section and see what sort of advice is given. We’ll make decisions about the horror aspects of our setting, make sure we choose elements that support those, and then blend them with what we chose from Space.  

Campaign Length

p. 98
Because we are making a setting that is meant to support many games over a long period of time, we will focus on the advice for Extended Campaigns (p. 98-99) given here. One-shots have their place, but they are easily dropped into a preexisting setting.   Horror tells us that an extended campaign can support a variety of PC types – zero to heroes, professional monster hunters, etc., and that it gives room for truly epic plots. This fits well with the scope and scale we talked about in Getting Started Part 1. It also tells us that a good campaign will play like a television show or series of books, with threats bubbling up and getting whacked down and recurring villains. Finally, it suggests that character deaths will happen, but they should count for something. That sounds like the kind of drama we’d expect from a space opera, so we are definitely on the right path here.   Next, we take a look at plausibility of extended games, or in this case, the setting. The first issue addressed is “Why do these random people stick together?” The solution proffered is because they belong to or form some sort of organization – police, government agency, secret society, etc. An alternative is a mysterious benefactor who requires service in exchange for some reward. No matter what, this should be integrated into the world, and that works. We already know of some organizations we will have from Part 2. The level of detail required here is more than we will create for the setting, but should be easily fleshed out on a local basis by GMs.  

Narrative Structures

p. 100-101
Next, we will look at narrative structures typical of horror games. Let’s keep in mind that we will want to support a variety of game types, so we may see more than one of these considered. I love that the first two paragraphs of this section are basically a rant in favor of player agency. I disagree with any sort of Schrodinger’s Plot tricks, but firmly believe that we need to give the players enough agency to really get engaged and feel like their choices matter. That way they are emotionally invested when the horror elements kick in!   The beginning also suggests that a campaign have a main narrative structure and a couple side structures that interweave so players can take a break from the main plot to pursue side quests. I’m good with this. In fact, I endorse this. So let’s get to the structures themselves already.  


p. 101
This sees the PCs trying to survive some terrible predicament. Think Saw. There may be one or more antagonists, but the focus is on the PCs. Here, timing is important, but that doesn’t necessarily address our needs in setting design. It is a valid game type, though, so let’s be mindful of it.  


p. 101
These games are just that – a gauntlet of horror. The suggested reference is Deliverance. Again, timing is important, but there is a weightiness to these that makes them good for psychological horror. Horror also says that these are good for shorter arcs within a greater narrative, too.  


p. 101
This is all about the PCs’ battle with some grandiose antagonist. God that sounds gothic as hell. The conflict needn’t be direct, though. The BBEG may be manipulating the PCs, working at odds with them through proxies, etc. Eventually, the PCs should realize what they are up against, and that makes for a good mini-climax or payoff to a smaller narrative within the main arc. It also goes well with Space Opera, where the villains are larger than life, so we know we must have grandiose Big Bads available for PCs to work against.  


p. 101
This is your typical episodic TV show. There isn’t an overarching narrative structure outside of the adventure at hand. They can be very long running, but care has to be taken that it doesn’t become predictable or repetitive. Avoiding formulas will help with this. The difficulty in developing thematic unity can also make psychological horror games difficult to run.  


p. 101
Another classic narrative structure, the Quest sees the PCs seeking some MacGuffin for some reason. There are so many examples across genres that we’d be remiss to ignore it as a viable option for our game. It works well with high-action pulp horror, psychological horror, and cosmic horror. Basically, it just works. Support it. Use it.  

Mix and Match

p. 101
All of these can be combined, so we shouldn’t feel restricted to supporting any one of these. In fact, the varying the structures you interweave helps provide variety in the feel of your game, and keeps the players on their toes. So lame as it is to say, “We need all of these” may be, we need all of these.  


p. 102-105
And now we start to move into some of the more interesting parts of setting design for me – making the bad guys. But we won’t fully flesh them out just yet. For now, we are just farming ideas and gathering pointers so we can see what sort of enemies we should include.   This section begins by addressing different types of protagonists – individual monsters, one enemy commanding a horde of monsters, desperate struggles against a secret foe no one realizes is there, or any combination thereof. These are too broad to really single out for our setting design, but it does help give a common language and classification to the enemies we will produce. Let’s move onward.   Precisely Calibrated Evil (p. 103) gives some good guidelines for how powerful to make foes, so let’s file this away for later. Thankfully, it gives it in terms of multiples of the average PC’s points, so this will scale with whatever power level we ultimately calibrate the setting to.   The rest of this section is just about how to challenge players. It is excellent advice, but doesn’t really apply to setting design. Let’s move along to…  

Design Parameters

p. 105-109
Ah, we are finally starting to cover similar ground to that which we addressed in Part 1! We begin by looking at Scale:   Some useful advice is given here about prosaic versus epic scales and the inevitable upward slip. More importantly for us, it suggests that psychological horror and splatter use a prosaic scale, monster-hunting games start prosaic and escalate, pulp horror often goes straight to epic, and conspiracy and cosmic horror slowly widen their scales as the protagonists learn more about The Truth. The common theme here is that scale grows.   Next up is Scope. While the initial definition of scope and contrast with scale is excellent, let’s focus on Visible Scope (p. 106). Here we see that what often matters more in a story is what the protagonists see as the scope – not the actual scope. Right now, the PCs might be uncovering corruption within the local solar patrol, but this could be the tip of an interplanetary conspiracy that threatens the entire galaxy. What matters right now is what the PCs perceive – the local police corruption. It also suggests that the climax of a story should give a brief glimpse of the actual scope, thus inducing more fear of just what the PCs are up against, and once it is past, so too should the glimpse pass. Interestingly, it is suggested that the visible scope always be kept somewhat smaller than the actual scope to preserve a sense of the unknown.   Austerity is covered next and refers to the degree to which the PCs are held accountable for their actions. Ultimately, the austerity of the setting will impose limits on what the PCs can get away with, and it should be noted that as a science fiction game set in the future, forensics will likely be terrifyingly effective. If computing is ubiquitous, finding people will be easy for societies that don’t value privacy, too. This could be very punishing on players who like to break the law or do what they feel is right, regardless of local customs. My immediate gut reaction is to set the austerity at Moderate, so they can cinematically “go underground” and avoid punishment. But let’s see what Horror says about different genres’ needs: Cosmic, Conspiratorial, and Psychological horror are more austere, pulp and splatter are less austere, and cinematic games generally relax austerity from their normal sitting point. I am getting more comfortable with moderate austerity.   Last, we talk about Boundaries (p. 106-108). This is more akin to what Space calls “scope”. It is the physical size of the protagonists’ playground. In this section, it is suggested that localized games are useful because of the depth they allow the GM to create. They also play on the psyche because if the protagonists’ home isn’t safe, then nowhere is safe. This would be very useful at the beginning of a campaign. Globetrotting is more akin to the planet-hopping widely seen in space opera, and lists the typical requirements of fast communication and travel to make it viable. We see the benefits of this sort of game listed as not piling all of the horrors on top of each other and thus maintaining believability, allowing for greater isolation, and avoiding formulaity. It is also listed as good for cosmic, conspiratorial, and psychological horror games.   We will skip over extra planes of existence and revisit Rural or Urban? (p. 107), instead. This box raises a good point, and I’d like to address it a little here. Rural settings create isolation and provide space for monsters to lurk, and urban settings drive an anonymity in the masses. These two blend nicely in spacefaring games because people living in space could not be more isolated and focused on survival – the very environment is lethal –, yet they are likely piled on top of each other to conserve space and resources. This allows for an interesting hybrid of the two. I think we should be mindful of this, since it is a place fear can lurk in any science fiction setting.    

Uncanny Powers

p. 109-113
The supernatural is a key ingredient to gothic horror. It pervades every story, helping to shape the mood and atmosphere, so it comes as little surprise that it gets its own section in Horror. It should also come as no surprise that it will have a place in our setting. But I don’t want to follow modern conventions. This isn’t meant to be vampires in space or psionic knights crusading across the galaxy. This is meant to stand on its own, yet incorporate parts of other works. So I’m going to read over this section carefully, try to pull what looks useful, and then see how it can be woven together to inform our decision on what sort of supernatural we will include.  


We start with the granddaddy of them all – magic. While fantasy games often treat magic as a tool, in horror novels and movies, it is usually a corrupting or malevolent force. Even the purest of healing spells still has a price to be paid. These are good elements, even though we won’t have magic in this setting. There is much talk in the book about how to adjust existing creatures to accommodate a lack of magic, but I won’t bother with that because we aren’t doing vampires in space. Sorry. Ghosts just don’t exist.   Some good tips are given in The Secret-Magic Campaign (p. 110). It is suggested that this is an excellent game type because it gives the players breadth of ability while imposing restrictions that prevent them from growing too powerful. Because magic must remain hidden, PCs will have trouble acquiring access to it, must give a reason for that access, and cannot fling spells willy nilly. The key to such a game is stated to be the relationship between the hidden and the visible. It also gives a vehicle to change austerity levels, since what is hidden may truly go unnoticed by authorities. It is also possible to turn secret magic games into full-magic games by allowing PCs greater and greater access. All of these principles may prove useful.  


p. 111-112
Next up is Psionics. This has a special place in science fiction and would be a natural fit, but I’m trying to avoid the obvious here. This isn’t Star Wa…I mean, Psychic Samurai Wars. This is spooky space opera. Sure, we could re-skin psionics to make it scary, but let’s go a different direction. In the meantime, let’s see if we can steal anything from this section.   The first thing that jumps out at me is that it’s suggested that psinoics grants a greater area of roleplaying because it offers the opportunity to communicate with monsters instead of just killing them outright; that is, mediums might talk to the ghost instead of jumping straight to burning bones. Otherwise, psionics is very much like magic, but just explained with some pseudo-science.  

Black Technology

p. 112
This is almost an interesting idea. As written, it is just magic reskinned as technology, which might as well be magic. But there is a kernel worth exploring here. Let’s muse on this a bit.   One of my biggest inspirations right now is Dune by Frank Herbert. I would argue that the entire series (written by Frank, and not his kids) is exactly what Gothic Space Opera looks like. In here, we see the sort of archaic forms typical of gothic horror, and the combination of the spice and various technologies provide the sense of supernatural. So I think I would like to explore that – technology as the supernatural.   Now, I don’t mean that technology is inherently magical or that it is magic reskinned. I mean that we will treat technology like something feared, mysterious, and not understood. “How?” you might ask. Well, I am drawn to Foundation by Isaac Asmiov. In here, the Foundation fabricates a religion around technology more advanced than what their neighbors have, and gets them all believing in it. The Foundation provides the priests who operate the machines of the Galactic Spirit through rituals. The people of these backwater planets still have full access to typical science fiction technology, but to them, it is a miracle bestowed by the Galactic Spirit. I want to use that.   But now we have gone and re-skinned technology as magic, again. So let’s step back and reexamine what we can do. What if, for some reason, technology is tainted, like in Dune, but there is a caste of people with their own faith who study, maintain, and operate technological stuff. They are an entire faith of sin eaters taking on the taint of technology on behalf of humanity so that mankind can still thrive as an interstellar species. If that religion was particularly secretive – as long as they are the only ones with their finger on the light switch, they have a lot of power – it would make for an excellent source of tension and conspiracy. So there we have it. The first element of our setting.  

Horrifying Genres

p. 113-119
Let’s take a look at horror genres, so we can start to see if our idea of a gothic space opera falls neatly into a preexisting category. And if it doesn’t, we can start stealing the bits that fit our vision of what it should be! For brevity’s sake, I am going to skip Fantasy Horror and Historical Horror, since neither of those seem like they’d be the least bit applicable to a science fiction game. I’ll start with Modern-Day Horror (p. 117-118) because this game should be relatable to the players, and those players live in the modern day.   Right out of the gate is the warning: “Avoid letting your players have more power than the horrors they fight.” This means we will need to be careful with all of the tech toys and gizmos in a space opera, we need to either limit what the PCs have access to or amp up The Enemy. We have a mechanism for the first – the sin eaters could just not let powerful tech proliferate too widely. But that isn’t always fun. So we’ll make sure our enemies are particularly scary.   Modern horror goes on to detail the Conspiracy subgenre and Superhero subgenre. Conspiracy games utilize a fear of alienation and isolation in combination with a fear of being watched and stalked by some Other. It also says that conspiracy flourishes during times of turmoil. Since we will have conspiracies and intrigue and what not, we know the setting should be in a state of transition or turmoil of some kind – things are changing and people need a justification for the tumult in their lives. The Superheroes section doesn’t really inform our specific needs.   Moving on to Science-Fiction Horror (p. 118-119), we get two pages of yummy. Let’s see what we can get from this! The first two paragraphs basically address how to turn technology into a source of horror. People do things that shouldn’t be done, and that is definitely a theme for how the sin eaters are viewed by average people. The other initial advice is to make technology less effective against horrors. This, to me, smacks of taking the easy way out. What’s the point of playing a space opera game if your blasters are useless and every time you try to call someone, the power cuts out? Naw, let’s embrace the high-tech nature of the world.   Next, we see a discussion of four subgenres: cyberpunk, transhumanism, post-apocalypse, and space. I see at least one that looks natively applicable!   Let’s start with cyberpunk. Again we see mention of sharply conflicting attitudes toward technology. The more I see this, the more I think tech is a sin that humanity must commit to survive. I am also thinking that the sin eaters will have some cyberpunk tropes attached to them. Cyberpunk is also called out as not being about a reasonable future, and that’s probably good. It opens the door a bit for space opera, since that often flies in the face of reason. It, like transhumanism, is also trying to grapple with alienation in the terrifying present. Again, this speaks to great upheaval.   Transhuman Horror (p. 118-119) seems similar to cyberpunk, but gets more philosophical. Again, we see the theme of alienation pop up. I think this may well be a theme in our game. When do people stop being people? Can we trust our neighbors? Fear of the Other and fear of watchers will definitely permeate our setting. I, personally, have a distaste for weird genemods and uplifts and that sort of thing that seem to get attached to transhumanism, so we will focus on the AI/mind upload side of things. We may ask questions like, “When is a machine alive?” and “Does a person stop being a person when his mind is distributed across a global network of computers?” These uncomfortable questions may serve further to isolate the sin eaters. We may have our first enemy, already!   Post-Apocalypse Horror (p. 119) doesn’t have anything much for us, so let’s move on to Space (p. 119). Right out of the gate we are instructed to populate the universe with terrors and that these terrors should be aliens – not just monsters. That works just fine for me. It suggests that pulp and psychological horror are a good fit for space games, and that conspiratorial horror can work, too. And thinking about aliens as monsters and that Horror classifies monsters by the fear they play on, I have an idea.   If aliens are to be monsters and monsters are tied to human fears, let’s make aliens the embodiments of human fears. Each one will be an allegory for a set of fears. This gives a solid basis on which to sculpt aliens, and it informs us that the aliens are the Enemy. The setting may not realize this, always, but that’s where the horror lies. I also want to make the aliens as truly alien as possible. Not just starfish-headed tripeds, no. I mean alien mentalities. Motivations that are thoroughly unclear. If they have a motive, it is dictated by the fear they embody and not by reason.  

Ominous Feelings, Gathering Shadows

p. 120 – 139
This chapter is really about how to craft a horror game. It opens with some tremendous advice I feel is worth repeating here:  
If the GM works at building a horrifying scenario and the players wisecrack through it, kill all the mummies, and loot the haunted castle, then nobody won. If the GM slaughters the adventurers with an endless army of vampires, leaving the players frustrated while he gloats at their incompetence, then nobody won. In horror roleplaying, whether the heroes kill the mummies or get swarmed by vampires, everybody wins only if the players are creeped out. This means that the players must cooperate with each other and with the GM, and that the GM has to take seriously his responsibility to tell a scary story and work at doing it right.
GURPS Horror, p. 121
  That really speaks for itself – horror gaming is a cooperative effort between the players and GM. It is best to remember this at all stages of game design and play.  

Elements of Horror

p. 121 – 123
Horror has several elements crucial to its execution, but chief among them is the mood produced. Recall from Elements of a Gothic Space Opera Part 2 that this is the feeling induced in the audience. Horror aims to conjure interesting fear. Central to this is the atmosphere created within the story. And while style – in the sense we discussed previously – along with characterization and dialogue can contribute to this, the fundamental keys to horror are uncertainty, isolation, and the unnatural.  


p. 121
Uncertainty is important because it creates the necessary tension for successful horror. There is no clear course of action in such games, and moral ambiguities abound. This is somewhat contrary to the ideals of space opera, but if we shift the Good-versus-Evil to Purity-versus-Corruption, we find that shades of gray emerge naturally.   One important point made here is that it is ok to stop and interact with the monsters. This isn’t hack and slash. You don’t have to slay everything you see, loot their corpses, and power up. It doesn’t fit space opera and it definitely does not fit horror. It’s just poor roleplaying in this sort of game. Why is this important? Because it creates the opportunity for the GM to weave horror into the game.   If the players are willing to talk to the villains, it gives the villains a chance to be scary on a psychological level rather than on a purely mechanical one. It also introduces a degree of cognitive dissonance in players – how many people would really hammer a stake into the chest of a pale stranger? Would this make you feel queasy while doing it? Would you question if the stranger really was a monster? – after all, a stake through the heart will kill anyone! This is one level of uncertainty.   Another level comes from things never being truly as they seem. Is the politician corrupt? Part of a vast conspiracy? Or maybe he is an alien body-snatcher using a vast conspiracy for cover while he helps the alien menace infiltrate the corridors of power. Or maybe that’s what the players thing, but he’s actually just unwitting accomplice whose ineptitude earned him a stake through the heart. Now there’s a twist to make the players’ stomachs turn.   Other, more obvious, advice is also provided here about the devil’s choice and ways to layer additional complexities on a threat. It is all good and well worth reading. What I really take away from this section, though, is that the players should never feel secure in their knowledge of what is happening. In other words, there should always be more mystery. Only at the climax do the players get a glimpse of what is going on, and even then, only briefly.  


p. 122
Hey look, it’s one of our themes! To be fair, I didn’t pick that theme for nothing; isolation is critical to the feel of horror. If the characters are too connected, they can just get help. No one is trapped with the source of their fear, so that fear diminishes. Again, consider hack and slash gaming. How scary is the dungeon when you can just leave? But what if the dungeon has its connection to Town severed for weeks on end, trapping delvers in a nightmare of survival as every monster comes gunning for them once they can’t just go buy more health potions?   And that isolation doesn’t just have to be literal. Even if the players are just cut off from outside information, then they must rely on their beliefs to guide them through the gauntlet. Or perhaps the isolation is social in nature – also called alienation. Even if the protagonists are amidst a bustling city, they can’t get anyone’s help because they don’t know who to trust or no one trusts them.   It’s important to note that isolation helps heighten uncertainty by cutting off easy access to additional information sources. That’s why the dark is frightening – we don’t know what’s out there, we are cut off from our primary sense, and we don’t know if we can trust our other senses. It’s not much different if you just isolate the protagonists a bit. Their fears may not even be justified, and often that can be a wonderful twist indeed.  

The Cell Phone Problem

p. 122
This section has a lot of amazingly great advice for how to deal with ubiquitous information. No Signal isn’t really in the spirit of space opera unless The Enemy is employing some sort of jamming, but Bad Signal fits frontier areas and mysterious nebulas; while we have all seen people on their phones and can appreciate the genius of I Have to Take This.   Finally, It’s Coming From Inside Your Pocket is truly a gem worth milking. Combining this with the idea of technology as the supernatural will further heighten the fear potential, as well. Having read this section, I feel much better about including the sort of omnipresent communication we are all use to today and can only imagine will grow with time.  

The Unnatural

p. 123
Here we see advice on how to make the uncanny be uncanny. Considering that we are looking at technology as the supernatural, it is worth considering a few things. We will need to keep technology’s capabilities at least a little unpredictable and flexible. This will allow it to surprise and unnerve. Much of this can also come from the treatment of technology and themes of corruption interwoven with technology.   We will definitely see the sin eaters as a source of the unnatural, and their ability to use technology will be akin to magic to the uninitiated. Their secretive ways and mystical rituals will further heighten the sense of supernatural surrounding truly advanced technology. This will require a sharp contrast between what the sin eaters use and what the average person has access to. This likely means split TLs, or at least one group having a higher TL than the other.   Regarding surrealism, I am personally not seeing dreamworlds or realms of madness as aspects of this setting. Much of the horror should stem from the idea that there are no truly supernatural elements. Players will have this meta-knowledge, so when they encounter that which seems unnatural, the fact that it is real should help exacerbate their fears.  

Style and Theme

p. 123 – 131
Next, we will turn to what Horror calls style and theme. Here, themes are what we think of the word meaning, and style refers to specific ways of portraying horror stories.  


p. 123 – 127
We begin with Style by taking a look at the various styles explored in the book. It is worth mentioning that style may become fluid once play begins, and it is best to let that evolve naturally within the group. Different people will be comfortable with and enjoy different styles, after all. That said, some styles may be better fits for gothic space opera than others, so let’s see what these have to offer.  


p. 124
This style focuses on elevating gore and shock. As a style, I don’t think it can stand on its own as the go-to for a gothic space opera, but mixing in gore once in a while to give clues or spread the feeling that things are getting worse might be fitting. This would have to be used sparingly, though, to retain its impact.  

Thrills vs. Gore

p. 124
Despite its title, this box offers advice for running a thriller with minimal gore, and makes some very useful points. The first is that this is all about keeping the players guessing. Don’t reveal the monster until the very end. Drop clues that only give minor insight or perhaps muddy the waters a little regarding exactly what the threat is. Be careful, however, not to lead the players into a situation where they don’t know how to push the plot forward. The key here is to maintain an air of mystery while making sure the group still has some direction or lead to chase down.  

Pulp Horror

p. 124
This is the style of the old penny dreadfuls and cheap horror flicks. Subtlety is replaced by thrills, shocks, and cinematic action. The very real risk here is that it will cease to be horror and just become an action game. Because of this, we will avoid this style and focus more on the horror.  

Cosmic Horror

p. 124-125
This is all about the universe-threatening indifference of foul god-like antagonists who don’t wipe out the entirety of humanity because mankind is so far below their notice that they don’t even warrant extinction. The grandiosity of the ideas and massive scope really fit gothic space opera in a lot of ways, but the threats faced within it should be more tangible, concrete, and at least potentially surmountable. For example, the enemy isn’t Cthulhu, it’s an alien species that threatens to wipe out humanity. Mankind might win, but it’s going to be costly.   Some great ideas to borrow, however, are the indifference of the enemy – fears don’t care about people, people care about fears –, the idea that knowledge can lead to corruption fits the taint that shrouds technology, and the suggestion to use an ever-widening scope to slowly reveal the horror is repeated in other styles and worth employing...  

Psychological Horror

p. 125-126
This is a very inward-facing sort of horror where the effects of horror on the characters’ psyches is explored. As such, it doesn’t really fit well with a lot of space opera themes, which tend to have somewhat shallow characters whose focus is on doing things. It might be good that the style isn’t focused on “winning”, but the characters should still have some goal they are striving toward, and success against it can be measured. This might be saving a little girl, escaping a doomed starcraft, or even just getting to a hospital in time. But there is still a clear path to success.  

othic Horror

p. 125
It has “gothic” in the name, so it must have some relevance, right? Horror suggests this style makes human concerns and emotions central to the story. This sounds good, but then it jumps the rails and careens off a cliff. It goes over common gothic clichés like ancient castles and stormy nights and ignores what is a truly central theme to gothic literature: the juxtaposition of the grotesque and the sublime.   The sublime can be anything encountered in such a way as to produce wonder and reverence – e.g., the peaceful beauty of the purple light of sunset filtering through the leaves and flowers of a garden, or the perfect skin of the cheek of a true innocent. This is often encountered first to ease the reader into a peaceful and wondrous mindset. Then a grotesquery, such as a still-dying man nailed to a wooden door by a dozen pikes or the embodiment of the Devil’s corruptive influence on earth, is thrust into this serene scene, shattering the tranquility and beauty, but more importantly, leaving the reader’s mind trying to reconcile these two opposites.   We will try to use such juxtaposition in our setting development for sure. We will also try to point out potential sources of the sublime and of the grotesque as we write. These will be hints to game masters for how they can bring this sort of thing to life.  

Silly Horror

p. 126


p. 126
This section begins with a brief history of Japanese horror cinema and then proceeds to give a few elements that are easy to include in a roleplaying game. Those that look particularly useful for gothic space opera are as follows: There are no innocents, final girls, or survivors – everyone just dies; the horror is a taint that spreads like a disease; technology is often central to the horror; the horror follows seemingly arbitrary rules that mimic folkloric traditions in their almost-randomness. All of these can find a home in gothic space opera.   We will drop the suggestion to focus on creepy children and dead girls, however. Just because it’s used a lot, doesn’t mean it defines the genre. Just look at Odishon (which is completely ignored in this section, yet is considered one of the best horror movies of all time), Suicide Club, Bataru Royaru, The Red Shoes, and Cinderella. Sure, the last two were the Korean horror flicks, but K-Horror is so heavily influenced by J-Horror, why leave it out?  

Survival Horror

p. 127
This style has its place, but gothic space opera isn’t always about escaping a maze or surviving the zombie apocalypse. This style is best used as a distraction from the main plot as a way to inject a change of pace and break up any monotony that might be arising.  


p. 127 – 128
Here it is suggested that a game’s themes form its skeleton, which is pretty accurate. These are the ideas that keep recurring. They bubble to the surface and sink back down in a cauldron of horror. And thankfully, we have already identified some themes for our setting. This section mentions a few others that are natural fits, as well: Betrayal, Corruption, Doom, and Struggle. The first and last need little said about them; they are common enough that it would waste words to elaborate further.   Corruption is a wonderful theme for a gothic horror. It manifests as the social decay of norms, the physical decay of buildings and infrastructure, and the fraying of one’s psyche in the face of unspeakable horror. We know that technology is seen as a manifestation of corruption, but so should aliens. They represent our worst fears, and thus the degradation of our own minds. This is a thing we can definitely play with a lot.   Similarly, Doom is a great theme in a gothic horror. No matter what the heroes do or what victories they win, the Enemy will ultimately win the day. This is especially present in J-Horror as we see curses spread like viruses and seem to depopulate entire cities, but it also fits with gothic literature where the characters are ultimately destined for demise. Let’s keep that feeling going in our gothic space opera. It should help counteract the chirpy optimism and sarcastic banter of space opera.  

Symbolic Settings

p. 128 – 131
Here we look at some common settings for horror stories. These are locations like the Bad Place and the Invaded House. This section moderately useful in its specific advice, but a few general statements stand out: The bad place is hard to escape, it is often anachronistic, and it is malevolent and unnatural. Standing in contrast to the Bad Place, the Invaded House discusses tropes surrounding movies like Halloween and Scream, where an outside Enemy has invaded a place considered safe by the protagonists.  


p. 129
This section suggests that mode means the approach to a genre. It lists the possibilities as Camp, Fortean, Investigative, and Technothriller. Of these, the first two definitely do not fit. Investigatives and technothrillers do. There isn’t much more to say here.  

Tying It All Together

In this article, we considered a few narrative structures and decided all of them deserve support, talked about hos scale and scope of horror mixes with space opera, decided that technology will serve the role of the supernatural in this setting, and that aliens will be allegories of human fears. We have also considered several elements of horror and further expanded our list of themes to include Betrayal, Corruption, Doom, and Struggle. Finally, we know we will be borrowing from Thrillers, Cosmic Horror, Gothic Horror, and J-Horror and possibly mixing in bits of Splatter and Survival Horror for effect and change of pacing. We also found that Pulp Horror, Psychological Horror, and Silly Horror do not fit our needs at all and should be generally avoided.

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Cover image: by H. R. Giger


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