Inside Stay Alive!

The Your Best Game Ever Kickstarter funded a new 160-page intense hardcover Cypher System book, Stay Alive!, that will cover running and playing a horror game. If you’re curious and excited about what will be in Stay Alive!, proceed!


Most of us at MCG enjoy the horror (and thriller) genres and are looking forward to all the details we’ll put into this 160-page book. Stay Alive! will provide rules and stats for classic horror monsters such as vampires, zombies, mummies, golems, dark magic, werewolves, and cryptids. It will also include advice on creating and enhancing a mood of fear, excitement, and suspense; choosing the right level of violence; recognizing safe boundaries for player fear; and how to incorporate aspects of other genres into a horror game. It will also include an entire campaign setting built using the guidelines in Your Best Game Ever.

The team has been talking about an idea for a specific horror setting for about a year now, and debating how to keep its secret twist under wraps (we’ve seen enough RPGs, adventures, and movie posters that have a major spoiler in the cover art, and we want to avoid that). So here’s a spoiler-free summary: It’s set in the modern day; the PCs are all newly-created vampires who awaken alone from their unexpected transformation, without any experienced vampires to train or command them. The PCs get some time to enjoy their new abilities, avenge old slights, battle their hunger for blood, and find a place for themselves in the power vacuum left behind by their creators’ absence. Just as they settle into their new roles as masters of the night, they find that something is hunting them, and the campaign shifts from intrigue and power plays to survival mode.

But let’s talk more about horror and its subgenres.

Too Many To Count

A lot of people saw the cover preview of Stay Alive! and assumed the setting in the book is about zombies. Part of the book will talk about zombies and survival horror, but that’s just one of the approximately three zillion subgenres of horror. Many, many pages in Stay Alive! will be devoted to each of these subgenres. Subgenres of horror include classic movie monsters, horror drama, ghost stories, alien abduction, demonic possession, psychological horror, organ transplantation, Southern Gothic, urban gothic, animals and nature, Lovecraftian (we even published a glimmer about this), creepy dolls, haunted houses, the occult, and body horror. The book will talk about how to incorporate these elements into an RPG campaign, and will include a list of inspirational sources for each subgenre.

Mixing horror with other genres is common, with science fiction horror (such as Alien and Event Horizon) being a common example; mutations and superpowers (Carrie, Split) as a source of conflict; crazed inbred killers; and specific countries putting a unique cultural spin on the genre (such as J-horror and Tasmanian Gothic). Stay Alive! will discuss blending elements from different sources to create a unique setting for a horror campaign.

Of course, the book is not just advice for GMs!

Of course, the book is not just advice for GMs! It will have sections discussing things players can do to enhance the mood (or avoid breaking it), being prepared for a session that’s supposed to make you feel afraid, and taking on other roles in the game after your PC disappears or dies.

Running and playing in an enthralling horror game requires a lot of the same elements as horror fiction or film: pacing, making emotional connections with the characters so you want them to survive, creating narrative tension with highs and lows, knowing when to show instead of tell, or when to hide just enough details to let everyone involved fill in the blanks with their own imagination, and so on. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the book ended up with several pages of “cheat sheets” to photocopy and keep on the table as reminders about these concepts.)

Plugging it Into the Campaign

Because there are so many possibilities for a horror game, this book is likely to spend a chapter describing various game mechanics that might apply to many subgenres (such as the Horror Mode described in the Cypher System Rulebook, where the chance for bad things happening increases as the tension does, or custom GM intrusions for types of creatures to add flavor), and the later sections about those subgenres would list which mechanical elements are appropriate and give advice on combining them for the campaign. We won’t be starting on this book for a while (we have several Numenera projects to finish first), but we welcome any ideas about how to present this information (post them in the comments!).

What’s Your Inspiration?

As the lead designer on this book, I’m going to spend much of my time between now and when I start writing to watch and read as much horror material as I can (most certainly in a brightly-lit room). I have my own list of favorites that I’m using as references. What horror comics, television shows, films, and other media have you seen that made you say, “Wow, I need to run a game like this”? Leave your answers in the comments on the update and I’ll include them in my to-do list!

I Want it All!

If you haven’t checked out the I Want it All! backer level of Your Best Game Ever yet, now’s a great time to do so. It gives you 5 hardcover books (and PDFs of all of them) for a fantastic price. And there’s still more to come!

Sean Reynolds
Sean Reynolds

Sean K Reynolds grew up in southern California. He’s been a webmaster, game designer, developer, freelancer-wrangler, and many other jobs that can’t be described in one or two words. He’s worked on a couple hundred books for a half a dozen RPGs, designed videogames, taught classes on game design, written plays and musicals, judged international talent-search contests, won game design awards, and had bit parts in geeky movies. He lives in Seattle, Washington with his four cats. Sean is the Community Relations Coordinator at Monte Cook Games.