Heroes of Horror



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Heroes of Horror

Author: Various
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Publish Date: 10/2005
ISBN: 10-7869-3699-1
Pages: 157
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $29.95

 

This is a book I’ve been interested in reading for quite a while.A firesale at Amazon.com allowed me to get it on the cheap, and I’ve just finished reading it.The stated purpose of the book is to inspire horror in the D&D game.Not horror in the traditional D&D ‘oh look, there’s a monster with a fear ability' horror, but the kind of horror that films like The Blair Witch Project or Night of the Living Dead tried to inspire, where even as the players realized they’re playing a game, a chill creeps up their spine and they feel as though spiders are crawling across their skin.Sounds like a great idea for a book to me.

 

The book opens with a chapter about how to create horror in your game.It goes on at length about various storytelling methods and DM tricks that can help set the mood.The problem with this is that the advice it gives applies across the board to games, not just to horror games.Everything it discusses is something a DM should be doing in his game anyway, and doesn’t specifically need to apply to horror.I’ve said it many times before& if you want to develop good storytelling skills for use at the gaming table, don’t buy a d20 book, buy a book about how to be a better storyteller.

 

I did like a large chart of possible creepy effects that a DM can beef up his descriptions with in a horror game.The idea of describing a PC’s reflection as seeming a split-second behind him, as though waiting to see what he did before mimicking him is a powerful image of startling horror.However, the DM that uses these descriptions in his game will need to have an understanding in advance with his players or they’ll be likely to assume there’s something wrong with the PC and derail the game trying to figure out what it is.The sample encounters were nice, too, though they might have been a better read had they come after the descriptions of the new monsters they’re hinged on.

 

The second chapter is essentially the same as the first, but it’s meant to apply specifically to the DM.It’s about how to design a campaign with horror in mind.It wasn’t bad, but it talks at length about how one probably shouldn’t run a single horror adventure, that the techniques given by this book lend themselves best to running an entire long-spanning campaign of horror.This makes sense, but it does somewhat limit DMs who might not want to run all horror, all the time.It speaks of “techniques of terror,” which are supposed to be plot tools the DM can use to inspire fear in the players.The problem is that they’re all old-hat DM tricks, like threatening the PCs’ family or splitting the party up.Nothing new there.The small adventure site was a nice way to wrap this chapter up, though.

 

The third chapter takes what’s in the second chapter and tries to piece it together to form an entire campaign.The bulk of it seemed dedicated to tying in a horror campaign with existing rulesets.This takes the form of explanations about how to transform established settings like Greyhawk or the Forgotten Realms into horror settings.It also gives other ideas for using existing rules, such as the use of curses with or without the bestow curse spell or inflicting the PCs with lycanthropy.It also introduces the concept of horror in dreams.This is something that works well in literature, but might not work so well in D&D, as the DM has to decide many, many thing about how adventuring in a dream world works.Of the 19 pages that make up this chapter, 7 were fully dedicated to pointing out just how many things a DM needs to consider and decide upon when adding dreamscapes to his game.That seems overly complicated in my opinion.

 

The fourth chapter is what I was looking forward to the most.One of my favorite aspects among dark fantasy is the concept of a good person who is exposed to the evil and wickedness that he fights for so long that he himself begins to become evil and wicked in his pursuit of evil and wickedness.This is what I expected that the rules about the new game mechanic, taint, were going to be about.And they are.But I really don’t think they’re implemented very well.The way taint works is that if you’re exposed to taint, be it in the form of a monster that is based on taint, by hanging around in a tainted place or by coming into contact with people that also have taint, you yourself may gain taint.Taint is separated into physical taint (corruption) and mental taint (depravity).If you’re exposed to taint in any form, you have to make either a Fortitude or a Will save, respectively, and if you fail it, you gain taint.Gaining taint does several things, but the most obvious of these things is that it forces you to roll on either a corruption or depravity chart and apply a physical or mental defect that represents the manifestation of your taint.The problem is that it seems way too easy to gain taint, and the symptoms you gain come on very fast.Literally, if you do business with a merchant that has a taint score, it’s possible for you to gain taint, and the effect of this begins immediately.So, because you walked into a tainted guy’s store and bought some rope, you now have painful scabs that fill up your ears and screw around with your Listen checks (for example).


The rest of the chapter dealt with horror environments.This was actually quite nice.It gave rules for graveyards as terrain, which was a nice thing.It also detailed haunting presences, basic poltergeists that aren’t dangerous enough to actually be real undead creatures, which can add quite a bit to the ambience of a haunted location, I think.It also touched on raising the dead in a horror game, and listed a few potential changes, which could make raising a dead comrade turn out like the plot of Pet Sematary.

 

The fifth chapter was the meat of the book.Two new base classes, the archivist and the dread necromancer are presented.The archivist is essentially a cleric who cast spells from a spellbook.The dread necromancer was like a wizard who becomes a lich as part of his class progression.Neither will be seeing any use in my games.A handful of new prestige classes were also presented.Some of them rely on the use of the taint rules, which I don’t much like.One class stood out, though, the dread witch.This a five-level progression class that allows a spellcaster access to new heights of inspiring fear, which is an underutilized mechanic, in my opinion.The majority of the feats won’t see much use in my games either, since many are based on taint or on adventuring in dreams.I did like that the deformity feats from Book of Vile Darkness made an appearance, though.It seems appropriate.

 

Finally, there was a chapter that contained a few new monsters.The chapter begins with a discussion about using monster types as a basis for adventures, and suggests a basic adventure concept for many monster types.For example, with dragons, it suggests a ‘rescue the kidnapped princess’ adventure, while the fey suggestion is a ‘pranks gone too far’ adventure.Some of the monsters were actually quite good.The dusk giant is an interesting concept, as it’s a giant that grows larger if it has a steady diet of sentient creatures, but grows smaller if its diet wanes, which means they’re useful challenges to a wide range of PC levels.The cadaver golem is an intelligent golem designed to mimic Frankenstein’s monster.The phantasmal slayer is a high-CR creature that can kill you outright just by appearing as your worst possible fear.Of course, the chapter was spoiled by yet another elemental that’s not really an elemental at all, the taint elemental.

 

If you happen to like the rules for taint, this book will likely be of great use to you.If, like me, you’re not overly fond of these rules, this book is of somewhat limited use.Read the section about taint in the store before you buy.If you like what you read, pick buy this book, it’s got a lot for you.If you don’t like what you read, buy something else.As for me, I think my money would have been better spent on a new zombie novel.