After the release of the Friday the 13th game, I got interested and went and watched all ten Friday the 13th movies (I haven't watched the remake or Freddy vs. Jason.) Since then, I've found myself intrigued by the slasher genre of horror films. Growing up I could never watch horror movies, but now I find that slasher movies aren't scary to watch. There's rarely any tension or build up of fright, just murders. It also has got me wondering on how to set up the story to run a slasher game. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on that.
A Note On System
Slasher movies rely on tension and fear in the people involved to drive the action. They don't work if people just group up and work together to try and fight back. As such, your system should have something to reflect fear and the mental strain that causes people to make bad decisions. A simple fear mechanic can work, but something like FATE where you have an actual mental track is better. After all, half the fun is the panicked screaming and running around.
How Many Players?
For a proper slasher game to work you need a large cast, however, you don't want a lot of players. The reason for this is simple: people are going to die before things really get going, and if everyone in the area is a PC that means people getting relegated to being observers for the majority of the game. Instead, I'd recommend keeping it to 4 players and a bunch of NPCs to fill out the rest of your needs.
One Shot or Campaign?
Ideally, one shot. You can have sequels, and while I could see several ideas for slasher campaigns (like the idea I currently have about a group that hunts slasher killer monsters) if the idea is to replicate the feel of the movies you want to do a oneshot. This also helps make it less a bummer for any PC that doesn't make it to the end of the game.
Choose Your Killer
The final thing you need is your killer. A lot of slashers fit neatly into the "undead juggernaught" type where no matter what you do they can keep coming for you. The surprising thing though is that most slasher killers are incredibly fast and stealthy. It's not unusual for impossible distances to be covered - without a sound or sign of movement - when the killer isn't actively being watched.
However, don't think that every slasher has to be copy of Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. They can be lots of things and work in numerous ways. The main point is just that they kill people, and at least to start things off they do it from stealth.
Ok, enough about the mechanics of running a game, let's get to the actual running.
Slasher movies tend to have the same general setup: a population - generally teenagers - that is isolated for some reason. Halloween used Halloween night and everyone being out and about for it. Friday the 13th uses a summer camp location before the kids all arive. Sleepaway Camp also uses summercamp. The point is victims in relatively close proximity to each other, but isolated from reliable outside help like the police.
Next, you get the PCs and other victims-to-be are involved in something on their own. Perhaps arranging secret dates while babysitting (Halloween), partying and enjoying summer before the work starts (Friday the 13th) or anything like that.The key here is reasons to split up and be distracted. The more distracted the better.
Let The Bodies Hit The Floor
You've got your cast isolated, they're off doing their thing. The next part is to start killing people. Let the PCs know they haven't seen X NPC or Y NPC in a while, but have others dismiss it with expected things (went to get laid, walked to the store, just sleeping it off, etc.)
If you start with 10, I'd recommend cutting the group down to like 6 (remember, 4 PCs are in the 6) before the first person is found. Once a body is found...well, then the fun begins.
After The Body
After the body the PCs and surviving NPCs will probably group, to at least some degree. They'll need to figure out what to do. This is where the isolation should kick in a bit. Do they call for help and wait? Go for help? Have the NPCs have different plans. Point out the killer could be in the group.
Ideally you can get someone off on their own, and ideally a PC. Why do you want that? Because it's time for the killer to make an appearance.
The Killer Appears
There are two ways to do this. 1) The killer tries to kill a PC, and the PC escapes to warn others. 2) The killer kills someone in front of everyone.
I like number 2 more because every failed kill attempt makes your killer less scary. That said, it's not bad to let a PC escape if they earn it..and if they don't, well, you can always kill them in front of everyone else.
Once that happens the game is on. The PCs know there is a killer out there looking for them. They need to get to safety, but they're being hunted. From there it's just a question of who wins and who manages to get out.