February is the month of love and here at Rolling Boxcars, we decided to write about a genre we love with guidance from our patrons, horror. Horror is defined in the dictionary as a painful and intense fear, aversion or repugnance. When used as an adjective it’s the feeling of dread or dismay. What about horror excites me? Why above all other genres do I gravitate towards horror? Perhaps it has to do with my love of horror that was cemented long ago, in my childhood.
To be clear there are a lot of flavors of horror, each one with its own style and associated tropes, but all share the same primal core of inducing fear. My love for horror was unburied long ago. As a child, I was exposed early to the classic horror films of the 1930s, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and later The Wolf Man. Each Halloween season they would play regularly on TV. I would watch them after coming home from a night of Trick-or-Treating, consuming the spoils of my candy-filled orange plastic Jack-o-lantern bucket of sweets, carefully checked for needles and razor blades. My mother recognized my love of horror and gave me Alfred Hitchcock presents Ghost Stories for Young People and Walt Disney Studios Chilling Thrilling Sounds Haunted House records. I would listen to these records on my red portable record player along with my other favorites at the time, the Star Wars movie soundtrack and Fred and Barney Join the Circus. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight, about the same time I got my first roleplaying game Moldvay’s Basic D&D Boxset. There was something about those movies, the horror aspect, that kept me wanting more.
A few years later I remember viewing some Hammer Horror films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee on TV. My father was always the one to find them. I would sit with him and watch. These were not like the 30’s horror movies that I was used too. These movies gave me nightmares. It didn’t stop me though. I still craved more. More time passed and my sleepy little town joined the 80s with video stores and cable television, which gave me a new avenue to explore more types of horror. With a membership card in hand and parents who went to bed early and didn’t monitor my viewing selections, I began binging on any horror movie I could find. Mostly slasher films as they were the most popular at the time and there was a lot of them. I later branched off into zombie movies until I finally burned myself out altogether thanks to one of the worse zombie movies created Curse of the Screaming Dead. My interest in horror movies was done, but my love for horror continued in my Sony Walkman with heavy metal music.
Deep grinding metal riffs, blazing solos, and demonic lyrics and artwork poured out of my bedroom. There wasn’t a speck of wall in my room that wasn’t covered in heavy metal posters, advertisements for horror movies, or Heather Locklear in a bikini. It was in thanks to the heavy metal band Iron Maiden that I first discovered H.P. Lovecraft. Etched on the tombstone of their mascot Eddie the ‘ead, was the inscription
“That is not dead which can eternal lie
Yet with strange aeons even death may die.”
H. P. Lovecraft
a quote from H. P. Lovecraft’s The Nameless City. It took me a while to find out who Lovecraft was. This was a time before the interwebs where all the information you needed could be found in a set of encyclopedias. I don’t recall reading any of his works at this point. It could have been my lack of interest in reading or his material was not available to me, but it wouldn’t be long before I was fully exposed to the horrors of his work.
The Call of Cthulhu
I was in my first year of college and after having only dabbled in roleplaying games in my youth I jumped in with both feet. A group of diehard roleplayers religiously played games all weekend and I was invited to join them. We mostly played basic D&D with a side of Champions, and a sprinkling of other one-shot games, but in between long adventures our D&D gamemaster would run us through Call of Cthulhu as a palette cleanser. Instead of running at the monsters I had to learn to run away and faster than the man or women next to me. It was a whole new experience of roleplaying for me. My character didn’t have the necessary skills or talents to defeat the horrible monstrosities that the keeper would unleash on us all. For the first time in a long while, I felt scared. It was a rush, the same that I experienced with the horror movies that I loved as a kid. I instantly fell in love with the game and it’s horror tropes. My love for horror was center stage again.
After college, I continued to play roleplaying games regularly but by then it was the AD&D 2nd edition era and that’s all anyone wanted to play. I was not yet confident with myself to run my own game so I just gathered the books necessary to one day run my own Call of Cthulhu game. Life changes, work, a move, marriage, kids, and a long hiatus from roleplaying games. When I finally returned to the hobby I re-established myself with my roots with a game group playing AD&D, but always in the back of my mind, I wanted to play Call of Cthulhu.
Once the group ran it’s course and splintered I gathered a few of my fellow players and started my first Call of Cthulhu game. By this time I had more confidence in myself and I read a lot of Lovecraft’s works as it was easier to find at the time. I enjoyed running and playing the only horror game that I knew of other than Vampire or Werewolf, which though based on the traditional horrors, the horror aspect of them didn’t appeal to me. They were the only horror games I was aware of until I discovered The Dead Games Society Podcast and RPGGeek website. Both those sources, RPGGeek more than the DGS Podcast, opened my eyes to the plethora of roleplaying games in-print and out-of-print, that was horror based. This is where I discovered my second favorite horror game, Chill.
Chill: Adventures into the Unknown
Chill: Adventures into the Unknown was first published by Pacesetters Games, a company made up of ex-TSR employees in the early to mid-80s. Chill was the only game back in the day that rivaled Call of Cthulhu. Once I learned that tidbit I had to seek it out for myself. I acquired the boxset and got to reading straight away. Quickly I found that the game was based on classic horror monsters and tropes. It instantly became a love of mine, though the game mechanics are just as terrifying as the game. Chill has gone through a series of changes as the license has moved from publisher to publisher. Mayfair produced the second version of Chill adding the slasher films monsters and tropes to the game but leaving the mechanics mostly the same. Growling Door Games, Inc. revived the game after Mayfair, keeping the horror the same but revising it with modern game mechanics. Lovers of Pacesetters’ Chill can still find the boxset available in the aftermarket or they can purchase a retro-clone called Cryptword from Golbinold Games.
There are still many other horror genre games out there for me to try like It came from the Late, Late, Late Show, which uses the B-movie horror tropes of late night TV. At some point I will get to that and others but will they be any better than the two I love the most? Until I pry open their dusty tomes filled with flesh-like pages, will I know if I’ve discovered yet another terrifying dread-filled horror game that will unleash the inner demon that hides within the shadows of my soul. Why is horror my favorite genre? I guess you can say my love of horror was ingrained into me at such a young age that no other genre had a chance to unseat this deeply rooted festering misaligned primal core desire to enjoy dismay and fear in which is brought forth in horror.
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