Tuesday, January 26, 2021

(World of) Horror Campaign Structure

Lately I've been interested in the game World of Horror by Ysbryd Games. It's an early acesss single-player horror adventure game based around Lovecraftian themes with a heavy influence from Junji Ito: it's the 80's, you arrive in a small fishing town in Japan, someone is trying to awaken an Old God, and there are an usually high number of people without faces. 

I've been interested in it not so much for the game itself (although it is interesting and fun, if a bit flawed), but for the way that it structures a horror campaign. It seems to take the format one would traditionally see in a board game like Arkham Horror or the like: with adventures essentially being a series of random skill checks that occasionally branch to multiple endings through a series of menus.

And while the game's two main mechanics - selecting options in menus and combat - aren't very translatable to tabletop (well... you could, but they'd be boring), there are some auxiliary features that would be cool to see in a horror adventure.

Like this. This menu in-game is DOPE.
Taken from the game's main website.

So, if I had to steal some ideas from this game to implement in a tabletop horror adventure, this is what I'd take.


In World of Horror, you (the player) get to choose at the beginning which Old God is awakening. Each one gives different random encounters and a unique penalty to your actions in-game. You know what's coming, but you don't know how. The how is the mystery. You are essentially given The Answer, and now you must find The Question.

It makes the stakes of the mystery clear right at the beginning: solve the mystery or the bad thing happens.

In a tabletop context, it would allow players to start drawing connections immediately between various events. It makes them constantly ask the question: how is this thing related to the bigger thing? Is this strangeness attributable to the Old God or not?


World of Horror doesn't do this great itself, as in-game each mystery is functionally completely independent (edit: 99% of the time) and you can only work at one at a time. In tabletop, we have no such restrictions: mysteries can be endlessly interconnected, multiple cases can be worked on simultaneously, and you can find clues for other mysteries within unrelated objectives.

But I dig the format: five mini-mysteries. Each one maybe a session or two in length. Each culminating in some kind of clue, providing up to five clues that point towards the ultimate challenge.

I like the idea of forming a conspiracy corkboard. Each of the five mysteries starts as a rumor: either given to the players at character creation or introduced in the very first segment. Rumors must be investigated, which eventually point to people or places, which prompt further investigation.


In short: for every good action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is a time limit on these mysteries. Every so often something gets worse: riots downtown, a portal opens in the woods, a horrible fog sweeps over the town, federal police block off the roads, etc. This can either be directly related to a completed mystery or totally random.

You see this a lot in cooperative board games like Arkham Horror, Dead of Winter, and Shadows Over Camelot.

For the Everlasting Summer, I have a table for this function. Whenever a mystery is resolved, some new doom menaces the town, rolled from a list made by the uncompleted mysteries.


Generate a list of common events and encounters you can use for nearly any exploration/mystery horror game you've got. Make them creepy. Get used to running them. Get the descriptive language down to a tee. Reuse them for multiple games or reruns of the adventure.

The idea is that the awakening of the Old God is like putting a fire under a decaying log: all the cultists and the monsters and the mad scientists and crazy prophets are going to come scurrying out from under the woodwork because they all innately know that the end is nigh. Society is breaking down, and in the nihilistic power vacuum all the misanthropic things are taking over.


The advantage of having a modular design to your adventure is that you can DIY and crowdsource all over it. Don't like a mini-mystery? Swap it out. Add endless encounters to the ever-growing horror democracy-style table. Automate it.

P.S. Note:

Because the game takes so much influence from Junji Ito, a good deal of the horror present is visually-based. It's about looking at really messed-up art straight out of someone's nightmares. This aspect is quite difficult to translate into tabletop, not least because describing horrific things balances on the knife's edge between silly and ineffective, but because simply describing some of these monsters can be difficult in and of itself.


  1. I want to run a CoC game set in Cairo this year - taking notes from this and thinking about what kind of minimysteries I could spread around the place. Honestly the idea of five seperate stories solves a lot of the design problems I've been having.

    1. I'm running my Everlasting Summer campaign right now, and I can confidently advocate using this kind of design, especially combined with #3 above. My players have described how they love running into clues for mysteries other than the one they're focusing on right now, how it really works to build suspense in the long term. Can't recommend it enough.

    2. only problem is i have to write a whole bunch of seperate mysteries... and post them on my blog as content... oh no

    3. The writing was always easy for me. Assembling a post from notes scattered over three notebooks? Well...