Horror runs vs Terror runs

Shortly after our sixth event, Better the Devil, Ben wrote about the difference between Horror and Terror runs, a key feature of most of the games we ran in Congregation Hall in Norwich.

So what’s the difference between Horror and Terror runs? Terror runs are more action orientated, with missions more likely based around fighting the monsters, faster paced and more high-octane. Horror runs are slower-paced with more emphasis on tension, some degree of thought and potentially a puzzle.

Now personally I like Horror. That’s actually a lie – I love Horror runs. I think they’re great. (Don’t worry Terror fans. There are enough action GMs to make sure there will always be a good showing on that side of things.) They are, however, fairly hard to plan for and run for several reasons. First we have the issue of numbers. Second we have the issue of time. Third is complexity and fourth is the system. I’ll go through these in turn and talk a little bit about them in a second

Before that I just want to sidestep into how few Horror runs Zombie has. During Zombie 6 I would say that only “Screamer” was a Horror run, with the early stages of “Single player” being close to it.  Chaos  had maybe 1 or 2. Quick And The Dead had none that could count for various reasons. Cult had about 2, which were popular with the people who played them. Second incident had about 3 – in fact the first run of that game is where the title of Horror runs comes from. It was the only time I’ve played not-as-a-GM.

So… problems with Horror. First is numbers. Better the Devil had 60 players, about 4 permanent NPCs and 5 or 6 refs. Each team was 7 or 8 people and another 14-16 people were sitting out but that still leaves about 40 zombies potentially roaming the complex (depending on what the refs were doing at the time) – which is a fairly large number. There are only 5 rooms plus corridors, which means things get cramped really quickly. There are simple and less simple ways to deal with this issue but one victim of Zombie’s success is that Horror is harder to plan, because of the crowds.

Time. Time is a really tricky one. During the night we need to make sure runs don’t go on too long. We’d love to allow everyone to have really long runs but we need to consider that the longer we run the more tired people get, which is a massive issue  and one that’s easy to underestimate. Runs where people are stopping to think, talk, creep or plan can last a surprisingly long time compared to other runs, so we have to be careful about how much we’re asking our team to do.

Which nicely brings me into complexity.  Zombie (at least so far) has been a really bad system for puzzles. Apart from one run in Zombie 3 I can’t think of a time when a puzzle has been completed successfully. Experience has shown us that anything more difficult that “Get item A, go to B, go to exit” has a strong tendency to fall apart in some way which has a high risk of being boring – and something being boring is among the worst things that could ever happen at Zombie, just behind “not fun”.

We can run these types of runs with other objectives, but then there’s a risk of them becoming ‘action lite’ which is something that bothers me a little. In order to prevent that, we need to think of something about the run that makes it slower and creepier, yet it also needs to be fairly direct and easy to grok. It’s very easy to lose track of what you’re ment to actually be doing in the hectic excitement of actually playing the game.

Lastly we have the system. Zombie is deadly. Really god-damn deadly. Sadly the deadliness make it harder to expect players to travel far or stay in one place for any length of time as both can be disastrous. Annoyingly for me and any other Horror fans those are the who main options: searching around for something or trying to solve something in one location. Neither of which are likely to result in anyone being left alive at the end.

So that’s why Horror runs are so difficult. But what we get from them are several things that are nearly impossible to get from action runs. A sense of dread as opposed to just adrenaline. The ability to maybe have some plot and/or roleplay. The chance to scare players, force them to think about what they’re doing rather than run and a run that is generally more interesting to look at, plan and play in.