I haven’t played any role-playing games in a very long time. Part of it is that the games I am interested in rarely intersect the interests of my wife and friends. I like horror and most horror games that I like are about existential dread and doom. Games that were a little less doomy tended towards being shallow and I just couldn’t get into them. There is a popular genre of games that I call Supernatural Charmed which are more geared towards recreating CW style TV shows. I like those shows but I wouldn’t want to play in those worlds.
They Came From the Beyond the Grave is an rpg that goes in a different direction. It seeks to recreate 70’s Hammer Horror films with a dash of Roger Corman. The conceit is that every game is actually a movie that the characters are in. They get bonuses for acting in genre-appropriate ways like saying Quips, acting in a hammy fashion or adhering to movie logic. The plot and monsters lean towards witches, Dracula, mad scientists and the Devil Himself. There is something to be said for a game that says, “Fuck it, fight Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster and Benjamin Franklin if you wanted.”
I think I have fallen in love with the game. Other systems have tried the meta-gaming route of recreating movies but they tend to go too far into the silliness. Since a lot of the powers come from cards, it would be very easy to toss out powers you don’t think are appropiate. This kind of flexibility allows you to handle anything from Little Shop of Horrors to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The humor level is up to the players and it would not break this game to go full serious or full Elvira’s Haunted Hills.
Last night I played a game with my wife and it played out like an episode of Hammer House of Horror. My wife got in some great one-liners that aided her character. A piece of the set broke in a way that hampered the monster. It was thematically interesting and for us, extremely recognizable. It felt like something we could be watching on Shudder.
I do feel like the game might be a bit over-designed. The rule mechanics are straight forward, but there is a lot of extra stuff that can happen. My approach was to cut about 1/3 of the character generation for now and to make a list of which rules I wanted to worry about and which rules I will add later. This stripped down approach worked really well for us and it did not feel like we were missing anything.
On a personal note, it is a fun creative exercise to imagine what kind of horror movies a studio would make in the 1970’s. I decided that my studio was based in Wisconsin and would play on local legends and locals. Some sort of monster cow seems inevitable. I have spent too much time thinking about the history of the studio owner and what weird metaphysics he wants to make movies about. The game absolutely does not require you to do this kind of world building but the opportunity is too good to pass up. I am looking forward to what stories Twin Moon Pictures will be creating in the months to come.
If 50’s science fiction is more your thing, Onyx Publishing uses the same mechanics for a game called They Came From Beneath the Sea! If you prefer your horror to be more slasher oriented, there is a supplement for the base game of Beyond the Grave called, They Came From Camp Murder Lake. I have all three books and they are great reads, as well as being compatible with each other.