I love horror RPGs. Everything from spirits lurking in the dark, investigations of the unknown to sci-fi monsters a far off future. The horror RPGs in this article cover all types of horror!
These are full RPGs with enough horror world-building content for entire campaigns. Hopefully, you’ll give some of them a closer look. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the unknown.
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- Call of Cthulhu
- All Flesh Must Be Eaten
- Monster of the Week
- Cats of Cthulhu
- Shadow of the Demon Lord
- FATE Horror Toolkit
- Chronicles of Darkness
- Tales from the Loop
- Don’t Rest Your Head
- Delta Green
1. Call of Cthulhu
You push open the door to the library. You see the eerie green light the porter told you about glowing behind a bookcase on the back wall. As you make your way towards it, the room gets colder. A chill goes down your spine. A shadowy form has appeared to the right of the bookcase.
Call of Cthulhu is the classic horror RPG first published in 1981. Now on its 7th Edition, its a huge hit with horror RPG fans!
Based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, players take on the role of Investigators of the Unknown in the Cthulhu Mythos in the 1920s. The investigators want to learn more about the Old Ones who used to rule the earth, the mysteries of the monsters that still lurk in the shadows and the arcane lore that surrounds them.
The GM plays the role of the Keeper of Ancient Lore. They help to build the tension in this psychological horror where the monsters faced by players are so far beyond human understanding that remaining sane is a real challenge!
There is less emphasis on fighting and more on storytelling in Call of Cthulhu. Because of the broad narrative scope of the game, the system is really flexible and can work equally well for survival horror games as well as investigative campaigns.
There are plenty of Call of Cthulhu adventures, one-shots and scenarios to explore, including several free ones on the Chaosium website.
If you want to try out Call of Cthulhu before getting the full game with its gorgeous illustrations, there is a Quick Start version which comes complete with a one-shot scenario, The Haunting, set in a haunted house in Boston Massachusetts in the 1920s.
Where to get Call of Cthulhu?
2. All Flesh Must Be Eaten
Over the hill in the distance you see them coming. Shuffling, shambling, groaning. You turn to run. But they are coming from all directions. The house near the road is your only hope. You sprint towards it. Do you make it there before the zombies get you?
Welcome to one of the worlds of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, a zombie RPG with eleven different campaign dead world settings. Settings range from the type you’d see in movies, to a post-apocalyptic wasteland and even a medieval one. The flexibility of the settings makes it a fun one to play and brings a nice twist to the zombie genre.
The same goes for the zombies. They are unique. The rules help you to design custom zombies that challenge players. Their origins, abilities, how they feed and how they go down are all up for customizing. Maybe they were created from a science experiment, can all jump really high, feed only on fingers and can only be taken out when hit with metal things.
All Flesh Must Be Eaten uses Eden’s Unisystem but you don’t need any prior knowledge of that system to pick this game up. The book has everything you need to know. There’s even a D20 conversion included if you’d prefer to use that or to bring zombies into another RPG!
You can go as deep as you want with the survival horror RPG side, with people arguing over cans of food and supplies if you like. It’s a super flexible game with a decent amount of fighting as you’d expect from a zombie RPG!
Where to get All Flesh Must Be Eaten?
3. Monster of the Week
You’ve tracked the giant clawed footprints into the forest. It’s close. You can feel it watching. As your heart pounds in your chest, you grip your weapon tighter and unlock the safety…
In Monster of the Week, players take on the role of Professional monster hunters. The rest of the world think monsters are just myths, but monster hunters know the truth, monsters are real. Someone has to take care of the trolls, ghouls and vampires!
It’s a modern-day urban fantasy RPG along the lines of Buffy and Grimm. The character creation gives characters existing relationships and connections right from the beginning of a game to create a hunting team.
Monster Hunter is a Powered By the Apocalypse game which drives gameplay forward through the session. The rules are light and open allowing lots of space for storytelling, exploration and mprov. More time is spent on storytelling than fighting for sure.
Having said that, the rulebook has tools to help the Keeper create mysteries as well as a couple of ready-made mysteries they can run. There are even free resources on the publisher’s website. Definitely check out Monster of the Week for some urban horror fun!
Where to get Monster of the Week?
4. Cats of Catthulhu
The local church clock chimes midnight. You’re all late for the weekly cat council meeting again. As you pad down the back alley between the garbage bins you hear several voices hiss in fear. The council elder Mischief, runs past you in the opposite direction. “Run!” He meows at you.
Cats of Catthulhu is set in the Cthulhu Mythos but with one key difference to other Lovecraftian RPGs. Players are cats trying to stop Catthulhu from emerging!
The Cat Herder (GM) guides the tale where cuteness meets horror in a fun filled adventure. It’s rules light without endless stats to refer to and loads of character attributes to remember. it’s perfect for introducing kids to RPGs or for an experienced group looking for something a bit different.
One rule I especially love, is that if players want to pick something up, they have to hold a pencil in their mouth until they drop the item!
There’s lots of luck to use, treats to be had and critters to fight as you protect the world and stop Catthulhu’s awakening!
Where to get Cats of Catthulhu?
5. Shadow of the Demon Lord
You’re part of a mercenary group that the king enlists when things get tough. And things are tough. No-one has heard anything from the troops he sent to protect the local villages from the great beasts that emerge at night. You gather up your supplies and set off along with the suspicious priest who insists on coming with you.
Shadow of the Demon Lord is set in a dark, gritty fantasy world where the Demon Lord wants to destroy everything you’ve ever known.
Characters are those willing to stand up against the darkness that cultists are bringing into the world from the void. They take down demons and investigate horrors never seen before while trying to control their fear and sanity.
Characters aren’t your typical heroic adventurers. They are farmhands, blacksmiths and street urchins with questionable morals. They might not even want to save the world. They might just be out for all they can get before it burns or even want to start the fires themselves.
Whatever their agenda, the world is brutal. Characters may not survive very long.
The Shadow of the Demon Lord system is very similar to D&D and Warhammer with thorough rules and plenty classes, professions, spells, monsters and charts to get into. They even contain explanations of how the afterlife and ghosts work in the world!
There’s a lot to dive into in this traditional dark fantasy RPG!
Where to get Shadow of the Demon Lord?
6. FATE Horror Toolkit
You awake with a start in the middle of the night to a scream and the sound of heavy footsteps running away. You unzip your tent and rush outside. “Jules is missing!” your friend says. She points at the trial of claw marks leading into the forest as a howl echoes around the valley.
FATE is an amazingly open RPG system which can be adapted to any world setting from the wild west, to sci-fi alien worlds to Arthurian legends. Storytelling and imagination are more important to playing a game than pages of stats and mechanics.
It works amazingly well for roleplayers that like to explore, help drive the story and interact with the environments.
There are loads of modules and supplements for FATE to help GMs run games in different settings. The FATE Horror Toolkit is no exception.
The horror toolkit contains loads of ideas for using the FATE system in a horror setting. It introduces ways to create suspense, up the intensity and even run tragic horror games where there’s no chance of survival.
The book explores horror games in a broad sense, how it works and why it can fail sometimes. These discussions make for a great read and provide tips that you can apply in any horror RPG.
Pick up this supplement to create any horror adventure you’ve got in mind, from a slasher movie, to defeating the creature from the black lagoon, to zombies taking over a theme park Zombieland style!
Where to get the FATE Horror Toolkit?
7. Chronicles of Darkness (prev World of Darkness)
It’s been a fantastic night for Dave’s birthday. Glowing from a few too many drinks, you leave the bar and start looking for taxi cabs. Noisily, a beat-up old red pickup truck starts careering down the road. It screeches to a halt across the road from you. The driver’s door opens and a shadowy, almost translucent figure looks around skittishly, before scurrying away. The cab driver slumps out of the open door onto the road.
Previously called World of Darkness, Chronicles of Darkness takes place in a dark supernatural world that’s not too different from ours. In this world, you’ll find the monsters of myths and legends, like ghosts, spirits and angels. The expansion supplements add immense depth to the lore and other creatures like werewolves, vampires and changelings.
The Chronicles of Darkness system is so flexible, you can easily tell stories ranging from the investigative to gory. The world gives you the freedom to explore fear and how it affects the characters and shapes the world.
One unique part of the Chronicles of Darkness is the God-machine Chronicle. It’s the perfect tool for a busy GM, a system where you can very quickly and easily create an adventure using a huge catalogue of plot points and characters!
Because Chronicles of Darkness and its predecessor are hugely popular there are plenty of supplements available. One of the most famous is Vampire: The Requiem. It’s the complete guide to playing as a vampire in the world. Balancing your need to feed while living in human society. The book explains the clans, lore and politics giving you a lot explore in your games.
Similar supplements are available such as Werewolf: The Forsaken, Mage: The Awakening, and Demon: The Descent. Each adds a new player type to the game.
Where to get Chronicles of Darkness?
Book and pdf at DriveThruRPG: Chronicles of Darkness pdf and book
Book and pdf at DriveThruRPG: Vampire: The Requiem pdf and book
Book and pdf at DriveThruRPG: Werewolf: The Forsaken pdf and book
Book and pdf at DriveThruRPG: Mage: The Awakening pdf and book
Book and pdf at DriveThruRPG: Demon: The Descent pdf and book
8. Tales from the Loop
You’ve all met up at the bus stop on the edge of town. With flashlights, walkie-talkies and hockey sticks at the ready, you confirm everyone’s overnight alibis and go over the plan one more time. Head into the wood to the big tree, climb up, and settle in for the night. You’ll keep watch two at a time and wake the others when you see anything. You’ll figure out what those robots are up to once and for all.
Tales from the Loop is like Stranger Things meets E.T.
It’s set in an alternative 1980s in a small town in the countryside in Sweden. Buried deep underground, the government built a particle accelerator that the locals call The Loop. There, the government carry out top-secret experiments.
Rumours are going around that people’s cats are going missing, human limbs are being found where giant government robots tread, and bodies have been found in the woods where dinosaurs have been sighted.
Players take on the roles of 13-year-old kids in the 80s that listen to music on cassettes, play on their commodore 64s, and communicate using walkie talkies. To them, these rumours are too interesting to ignore. They want to know what’s going on.
Characters take on classic school kid roles like the Bookworm, Weirdo and Troublemaker and take on dangerous adventures while also dealing with all the awkward school stuff like homework, parent rules and bullies. The game mostly focuses on exploring the mysteries and way less on fights. Players are schoolkids after all!
The rulebook includes a four scenario campaign called Four Seasons of Mad. If a Swedish setting isn’t your thing, the rules also include an alternative setting, Boulder City, Nevada that you can adapt it to.
Tales from the Loop is such an amazing game that there’s now an Amazon TV series based on it! The game and the TV series are both worth checking out!
Where to get Tales from the Loop?
9. Don’t Rest Your Head
You’ve beaten the minions this time, but at what cost? You’re tired. You can rest, surely? Just sit for a moment. There’s a terrible scratch at the apartment door that’s splitting the wood. You need to move. Now!
Don’t Rest Your Head is a unique kind of horror RPG where none of the player’s characters can sleep. They started out as regular insomniacs, but then one night something clicked and now they are truly awoken and can see all the horrors of the world that used to be hidden to them.
One of those things is the Mad City. A place in perpetual darkness where missing people and things end up. It’s also a dark somewhat functioning society of its own. Where monsters and nightmares control the main organizations and people now shadows of their former selves live only to complete the singular task that was their day job like accountancy or garbage collection.
The Awake find doorways and links to the Mad City from their world, Slumbering City. Where they end up when they walk through a portal changes though and going back through the same one is risky.
When the clock strikes 13 in the Mad City, all awoken still there are trapped! They’re hunted down by the minions and nightmares!
The players have dice pools for Discipline, Exhaustion and Madness, while the GM has a dice pool for one thing, Pain! There are also the Coins of Despair and Hope (loose change!) which move between the GM and the players pool. Just from these names, you get an idea of the key traits to monitor and how the coins bring balance, tension and moments of relief to the game!
Where to get Don’t Rest Your Head?
Pdf at DriveThruRPG: Don’t Rest Your Head pdf
10. Delta Green
The sound of the helicopter fades away. Somewhere on this overgrown island is an ancient relic of utmost importance. The last team failed to retrieve it. The only team member to survive is insane and keeps repeating, “I did what you wanted. I gave you life. You betrayed me.” You push that thought to the back of your mind, check your GPS for the target location and set off. You want to cover good ground before nightfall.
Delta Green is set in alternate, modern-day reality much like our own, but where the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos roam. Players take on the role of special agents opposing these unnatural horrors and defending humanity.
Players can choose which government agency they work for, their skills and stats and relationships. As agents, they are usually in peril both physically and mentally, so they may lose their minds or even their lives. Make sure everyone playing knows this is a very real possibility from the start.
The Handler’s Guide contains a full history of the Delta Green world detailing all the bizarre mythos events from before human history, right up to the present day. It creates a world rich in lore and provides loads of ideas for campaigns and scenarios.
Rituals, Great Old Ones, horrific entities and a detailed background on the Delta Green organization can all be found in the Handler’s Guide.
The rules are based on the Call of Cthulhu rules as Delta Green started its life as a supplement for it.
Now there are over 20 years worth of books and scenarios for Delta Green so there’s plenty of adventures to be had! More scenarios are being developed even now. For the main rulebooks, there is a gorgeous hardback boxed edition available on Amazon that is worth checking out!
Where to get Delta Green?
“You can see me, can’t you?” the Troll grumbles. You nod. It drops the sack of grain in its hand. “I don’t want to take it. I haven’t got a choice. It’s all his fault. I may look big and powerful but I’m no match for him. None of us are.” He looks to the ground, downtrodden. “Will you help us?” he asks with hope in his eyes.
Vaesen is an RPG based on Nordic folklore. Think along the lines of the tv series Grimm, but set in a mythical Nineteenth-century Scandanavia when steamboats, trains and industrialization are changing the world.
For the longest time, Vaesen have lived in realtive harmony with humans. Only visible to humans when they choose to be, they have generally helped them. Herding lost sheep back home, giving dreams to sleeping children and protecting humans from wildfires in exchange for some clothes, food or undisturbed land to live in.
With industrialization, the Vaesen are acting erratically. Some are fleeing their homelands leaving them bereft of magic, others are growing more powerful and resisting the changes happening around them. They are luring people into the forests never to be seen again, casting eternal sleep spells on children and turning the water in the rivers to a dark red.
Players take on the role of people gifted with ‘the Sight’. They can see Vaesen whether they want to be seen or not. These gifted characters have come together to re-establish the Society. An organization that used to research and takedown Vaesen if needed.
The rulebook contains Vaesen in some detail but we’re not talking stats here. It’s more an overview of each one and what their weaknesses are. It’s up to the GM to decide the level of challenge each one presents in the story and help players to discover their relationship with them and their vulnerabilities.
The book recommends getting a copy of Vaesen: Spirits and Monsters of Scandinavian Folkore by Johan Egerkrans for more examples of Vaesen and background to the myths surrounding them. It’s a gorgeous illustrated edition.
Where to get Vaesen?
Book at Amazon: Vaesen book
Pdf at DriveThruRPG: Vaesen pdf
Book at Amazon: Vaesen: Sprits and Monsters of Scandanavian Folklore
“It’s pulling us back in! Why is it pulling us in? I thought you said you’d gotten rid of it?!” The radio crackles. “…did….wa-….try……back…” It goes silent. “We’ve lost him. You need to get down there and find out what’s going on. We can’t pull out of orbit until this extra gravitational pull is sorted. And you’d better hurry up. Our fuel’s running out.”
My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.Aliens 1986
Set in the universe of the Alien films, this sci-fi horror RPG is a real treat. Designed to create the fear and panic seen on the big screen, it’s an intense game set in a gritty future.
Player characters might be military personnel, space truckers, pilots, scientists or even medics trying to do the best they can in the frontier colonies of space. It’s a harsh life, where corporations fight for control over planets and resources. Strange and terrifying threats more powerful than humans live in the shadows and the dangers of space are ever-present.
The game offers a couple of game play options. The Cinematic mode which is designed as a one-shot in three acts where you play through the Alien story arc and each character has a personal objective.
The second game mode is Campaign play. The typical RPG game mode where players take on the same character roles over a series of sessions.
The rulebook provides lots of tools to help GMs create NPCs, encounters, missions as well as the universe itself. The start systems, planets and colonies. It’s pretty fun shaping a universe!
There are stats and tables a plenty to address any situation. If you’re running the session, you may want to find a one page printable for quick reference.
Even if you’re not a big Alien fan, this game is sci-fi horror done extremely well!
Where to get Alien?
You’re in. Blue City’s greyer than you remember. People are going about their business, paying you no attention. Good. No one noticed you appear out thin air. The park is right around the corner. That’s where the fights keep happening. You head there to meet with your liaison. As you set off, a person on the other side of the road starts following you. Maybe someone did see you enter after all.
The Lacuna RPG takes place in the Blue City. It’s like The Matrix or Inception, a dream world where the collective consciousness of people makes it feel real to those inside it.
The player characters are Agents from The Company. A huge faceless corporation that sends employees into the Blue City to remove disruptive individuals.
Exactly what the Blue City is like isn’t detailed in the rules. It’s up to the GM and the players to shape it.
Heart rate is the key mechanic that adds intensity to Lacuna. If a character’s heart rate gets too high, they have to be taken out of the Blue City, or they will have a heart attack in the real world. Every roll increases the heart rate number, so heart rate acts as a natural timer for the game as well as increasing tension during a session.
With Lacuna, there’s a lot left to the GM to do. There’s no scenario to play through, exactly who and what The Company is open to huge interpretation and there are more questions about the setting than there are answers. But that’s part of its charm.
If you and your group are open to exploring the terrifying idea that we all live in a collective consciousness dream world, it’s a fantastic game.
Where to get Lacuna?
As dusk falls, Mrs Albright hands you the keys and drives away. You’ve got the farm to yourselves. She hasn’t slept there for months. Things started moving around the house right in front of her eyes. When one of those things was a pair of scissors heading right towards her, she fled. It’s up to you to figure out what’s going on here and make it safe again.
Chill is a classic horror fantasy RPG. The first edition was released in the 1980s. It’s set in a real world setting, but where there are monsters like vampires, werewolves and spirits.
Player characters belong to an organization called SAVE which stands up against supernatural threats and investigates the Unknown. The Unknown being the ownerless footsteps you hear walk across your floorboards at night, the slightly misaligned face that stares back at your from the mirror in the dark and the feeling that you’re being watched when you’re alone.
Generally, player characters are regular people. But some of them have minor magical abilities but using these abilities has a price.
With a rich history, there are several Chill RPG scenarios, monster books and companions to allow you to dive deeper into the world.
Where to get Chill?
Book and pdf at DriveThruRPG: Chill rpg pdf and book
People back away from you and whisper as you make your way through the market. This town was raided by Witchmarked monsters a couple of weeks ago. Finally, you make it to the stall you want and greet the alchemist. She’s nervous, but a little more used to dealing with good Witchmarked than most people. “Ere you go.” She hands you a bottle wrapped in some stained old parchment. “Evryfin you needs is on there.”
Accursed is a dark fantasy RPG set in a world where evil has already won. The Witch’s Grand Coven took over the land of Morden many years ago when they defeated the Armies of Light. They won, partly by creating a powerful force of Witchmarked humans. Cursed people turned into monsters to fight for the Coven.
When the fight was won, the Coven left the Witchmarked to do whatever they pleased. Some of them were able to retain enough of their humanity to fight back against the Witches.
Players are such Witchmarked. Despite being despised and feared by regular folk, they want to help and protect them. The players do this whilst wrestling with the curse put upon that them that constantly wants to take what’s left of their humanity.
The player class abilities are based on the powers of the witch that created them which gives variety amongst the party and generates backstory ideas!
The Accursed horror fantasy RPG needs the Savage Worlds core rulebook and Horror Companion to play but it’s so popular that this list wouldn’t be complete without it!
Where to get Accursed?
Pdf and book on DriveThruRPG: Accursed pdf and book
Book on Amazon: Accursed book
Pdf on DriveThruRPG: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition pdf
Book on Amazon: Savage Worlds Adventure Edition book
Pdf on DriveThruRPG: Savage Worlds Horror Companion pdf
Conclusion – Horror RPG Systems, Campaign Settings + Ideas!
I hope this article has given you some fresh new ideas for your next horror campaign!
There are so many different ways to explore the horror genre from the psychological, to monsters, to bleak futures. Whatever you play, make sure you stay safe and respect all players’ comfort levels. It’s about everyone having fun after all!
If you only want your dose of horror RPGs once a year on Halloween, maybe a one-shot is more what you’d like. Games like Dread, Ten Candles or Old Friends all feature in my 13 Best One-Shot Horror Tabletop RPGs article. Go check it out. I dare you.
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