The scariest game I’ve played, and I’m sad it hasn’t been topped since, is the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and stories inspired by him for years, and I picked up the first edition of the game when it came out. But I didn’t have a chance to play it until my buddy Grant decided to run a campaign. Grant was a big believer in reality in his non-fantasy role-playing games. For him, and specifically with CoC, that meant we weren’t going to get away with things just because we were the hero. The dice fell where they fell, and if that meant we went insane twenty minutes into the game, so be it. Roll up a new character.
Grant ran us through a modified version of one of the intro adventures, and it was horrifying from the start. We began by answering a summons to an old friend’s hospital room, where he imparted a dark secret to us. Then he died, but not before expelling a fleshy, blood-soaked bezoar right on…me. First Sanity Check of the evening, but definitely not the last. We encountered forbidden books, the walking dead, and unnatural creatures from beyond. I actually managed to hold my sanity through multiple sessions, even as it was slowly chipped away by our ‘adventures’. When my poor antiquarian finally broke, he attacked, armed only with a cricket bat and his firm belief he was the Archangel Michael, some horrible beast of negotiable geometry. It was a good death, as Call of Cthulhu deaths go.
What made these sessions so scary? Partly it was Grant’s deadpan delivery, which somehow made the horrid things he described even more terrible. Play time was definitely part of it. Because of our various work schedules our games usually started at 10pm and ran until the wee hours. So we, like our characters, rarely saw the sun and were so very tired. But mostly we were just invested. It was the first campaign where no one tried to make it funny or silly. We bought into the world from the first game and never looked back. The importance of that is something I carried with me into my future gaming groups.
What was your scariest game? Drop it in the comments!