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Friday, July 29, 2016

Red Herrings in Horrors

red her·ring
  1. 1.
    a dried smoked herring, which is turned red by the smoke.
  2. 2.
    something, especially a clue, that is or is intended to be misleading or distracting.

In an good Horror story red herrings are very important.

... Not the fish, the second one.

A good mystery can be ruined if it's guessed early, and the fear of the unknown goes away if you know what monster is after you. Especially if your group is full of horror fans who know the weakness to every monster.

And that is where the red herring comes in. When building a Horrors adventure it is important to seed it with false clues and information. examples include:

  •  the current murders are similar to a series of murders from years prior. this connection is, of course, pure coincidence
  • one of the Victim's contacts is found with weapons or motives similar to the killer. They didn't do it, though.
  • a snake cult is found in town, but they are just as afraid of the Horror as you are.
  • it turns out the thing biting people's necks and draining their blood isn't a vampire.

These small inclusions not only make the mystery more interesting, but it will also help the game keep flowing.
If your players figure out they are fighting a vampire then they will instinctively start gathering all the crosses and garlic they can get without looking for more clues. If they are 100% sure a demon is involved they might just run to hallowed ground and just stay there.
With the proper red herring you can see the looks on their faces as the "vampire" laughs off the cross* and the "demon" strolls into the hallowed ground.

* a vampire laughing at a cross but then actually getting burned if it touches them is also a great one

I've been running some Horrors games at conventions the past couple of months, and the sample game had 1 proactive red herring and 1 reactive red herring.

Proactive Herring

In the sample game the Horror is identified early as something called The Loogaroo. Knowledgeable players, those who knew french, or those who had good skill rolls pretty quickly figured out that was french for werewolf.
No one knew of the Loogaroo of Caribbean myth who, to keep it short, was a skin-stealing vampire.

It was a blast to see them gathering every ounce of silver they could find to fight a creature not weak to it.

Reactive Herring

The other big secret was that the Loogaroo wasn't set in stone. I wrote up 3 Loogaroo's; a skin-stealing undead, a body swapping demon, and a crazy woman from the woods. They shared 3 traits, did similar melee damage, and had the same speed and targets. They did have different weaknesses, however.
If they thought it was a demon and started collecting crosses then I just quietly put THAT character sheet away. If they waved fire in front of it's face then I quietly put the undead sheet away and laughed at their fire.
However, if they tried searching for clues instead then they would reveal how the Horror hunts and what traits it might have. So if they figured out it could go out in the daylight then I also had to put the undead sheet away, etc.

This meant that the players, without their knowledge, chose the real Loogaroo. If they just tried to load up on weapons and out-of-character knowledge then I had easy counters, but as long as they were active they would find the "correct" answer.

In the book I will go more in depth about Proactive and Reactive red herrings and how to put them into your game. 

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