Modiphius Entertainment recently announced a partnership with Arkane Studios to release a new tabletop roleplaying game set in the universe of Dishonored. Between the versatile character powers, unique world and rich lore, Dishonored seems like the perfect world to explore with your friends over some dice. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a good tabletop RPG to try to capture the feel of your favorite horror-based game, here are a few recommendations to check out.
Alien: RPG – For Fans of Alien: Isolation
I might as well get the obvious one out of the way first. Late last year Free League, publisher of the tabletop version of Mutant Year Zero, released an RPG based on the Alien film franchise. If you’re looking for something to capture the spirit of Alien: Isolation, this is the obvious choice, but not just because of the theme.
Like most tabletop RPGs, Alien is built for a long-running campaign, but it also has specific rules for what it calls “cinematic play.” Using this mode, you tell stories that more accurately emulate the feeling of the film in a single session. This ensures that the Game Master can make the encounters with the Xenomorph are appropriately lethal without having to worry about longterm plans. No characters are more expendable than Alien protagonists, and the cinematic rules do a great job of translating that to pen and paper.
Dread – For Fans of Until Dawn
We all remember the heart-stopping moments in Until Dawn where one mistake could mean your character being killed and removed from the story. These scenes are some of the most memorable in the game, adding a tension that you just don’t get when failure leads to a game over. Dread is single session tabletop game that uses a clever resolution mechanic that has players pulling bricks out of a Jenga tower instead of rolling dice. If the tower falls, that player is removed from the game, the tower is rebuilt, and play continues with the survivors.
Using the tower creates a very smart, almost movie-like pacing to the story you and the other players are telling. As the tower gets less and less stable, Dread stretches out the tension pull by pull until someone dies and the tower is assembled (and stable) again, giving players a reprieve. The game is setting agnostic, so you can create whatever kind of horror story you like. Why not start with a classic Until Dawn-style slasher?
Anomaly – For Fans of Control
Some TTRPGs don’t involve you creating a character that you directly play, rather focusing on finding ways of facilitating collective storytelling. Anomaly uses a set of tarot cards and a table to help you and your friends spin a story about a strange, Federal Bureau of Control-like government agency investigating a surreal situation.
At the beginning, you define the anomaly that’s being investigated; is it a building that only exists from 9 to 5? A bowling alley where everyone bowled 300s? That’s up to you. Each round, the cards you draw will give you a pair of story prompts to choose from, giving you a chance to drive the story in unexpected directions. Everyone works together to weave the narrative, but the choices are ultimately up to the active player, so don’t be surprised if the characters you introduce are taken to places you might not have intended. It may take a while to adjust these expectations from a more traditional RPG experience, but once you get used to it you’ll find it a great tool to tell stories with your friends.
Blades in the Dark – For Fans of Bloodborne
While a game about a group of scoundrels performing daring heists doesn’t exactly scream Bloodborne, Blades in the Dark actually calls out the From Software game as one of its main inspirations. The setting of Doskvol features lots of Gothic and Victorian influences, trapped in perpetual night and haunted by ghosts and demons.
What makes Blades such an interesting game is the way it tied story mechanics into the numerous stats and resources the game has. Not only do characters have to manage harm and stress for their characters, but also manage their crew’s relationships with other factions throughout the city. Have too much heat with the local police? Then they’ll be an additional threat on upcoming missions. Dice rolls are desperate, forcing players to try their hardest to use their best stats, giving a mechanical advantage to roleplaying their character. Blades in the Dark is one of the biggest breakout independent tabletop RPGs of the last few years, and once you try it out it’s easy to see why.
Ten Candles – For Fans of Telltale’s The Walking Dead
Throughout Telltale’s Walking Dead game, you feel the desperation created by the collapse of society. Morals are challenged as survival becomes less and less certain, making for powerful dilemmas in the face of almost certain death. Ten Candles is an RPG about the end of the world, and has one unique rule built-in: everyone will be dead by the end.
Ten days ago, the sky went dark; then They showed up. All games of Ten Candles start like this. From there, players collaboratively create characters to play as and are given an opportunity to define a detail about the mysterious creatures that lurk in the dark. The atmosphere is baked into the game, as you are required to play by the light of ten tea candles. These are used as a pacing element: when players fail a roll, a candle is extinguished, removing one die from the players’ dice pool and giving it to the GM. Not only does this create a visual countdown, but it also puts more control in the GM’s favor as time goes on, making things more and more desperate as time marches towards the inevitable, tragic conclusion.