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#70: More Space-based Horror?

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue.

A recent Tor articlepleaded for more space-based horror.

I can’t say I agree when it comes to the role-playing world. It seems there’s quite enough of it already. And this from someone who ventured out of the confines(?), I don’t think that’s the right word, of Traveller for the first-time last year and bought, along with One Ring and Blade Runner, the Alien RPG. Mainly because I’m so in awe of Free League’s products. But I’ve enjoyed the Alien films and spin off novels. Indeed, I usually cite them as my ‘limit’ on horror as I actively avoid proper horror films – even good ones. I seemed to survive both as player and character in the game of Alien I tried out at North Star last year.

The article lists some reasons why horror can be useful as well as enjoyable and I’m not here to disagree or to suggest it shouldn’t be. It just doesn’t grab me and I’d tend to quote Marvin the Paranoid Android: “Life’s bad enough without wanting to invent more of it.”

I’d simply counsel against too much of it and excessive nastiness in it. There’s certainly no shortage of role-playing options. As well as the new Alien RPG, there’s Death in Space, Mothership, Those Dark Places and even an independent one with a title I can’t even be bothered to type*I list them deliberately as I’m certainly not averse to others exploring them.. (Vaesen – “Nordic horror” was one Free League title I refrained from.) It certainly seems as if role playing horror is the trend du jour, perhaps like the bleak nihilistic period in the 1990s (and yes, TNE, I’m looking at you tooI’ve written before that there are things about TNE I love, so this isn’t to denigrate it, but I’m glad the ‘phase’ passed.).

Funnily enough, at time of writing I’ve just had a close encounter with Those Dark Places as it was the rule set used to run ‘The Vienna Express’ 1930s game I played at Faversham’s RPG weekend. But that was more Murder on the Orient Express with added cultists than real horror. Certainly well within my limits.

Of course, Traveller is no stranger to horror with everything from the early Death Station or Chamax Horde to the more recent Hostile setting for Cepheus Engine which is perfectly suited to an Alien-type adventure. Indeed, Zozer have published Alien Breeds specifically to cover this. On the way there have been explicitly horror scenarios in various issues of ChallengeFor those interested:
Challenge, no.46, H.P.P.E. by Robert J. Cosgrave & Michael B. Cosgrave and Fated Voyage by Michael R. Mikesh;
Challenge, no.54, To Sleep, Perchance to Scream by Charles E. Gannon;
Challenge, no.58, Demon Dark by Michael R. Mikesh;
Challenge, no.65, Deadly Artifact by Michael Brines
and titles such as Chthonian Stars introducing Cthulhu to a near future solar system. Traveller Companion’s recent addition of a Sanity stat even facilitates such adventures.

I’ve been accused of heading towards horror myself when I had a character exploring a deserted boneyard starship and mentioned ‘skittering noises’ just for some atmosphere but as the player didn’t fancy that at all, I didn’t expand on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s no place for horror in Traveller gaming and even I’m up for a certain amount of ‘atmosphere’ and tension, but there are limits and I suspect the balance currently is about right.  So, let’s not plea for more!