I had some thoughts last night about what might be an interesting game. It might already exist, or might not work, in which case ho hum; but here you go anyway.
It’s a collaborative RPG in the modern style, for a GM and maybe 3-6 players. It’s about exploring a haunted house. My hope is that it would be sufficiently flexible to cover everything from creepy Victorian ghosts to modern slasher horror, and even Cthulhoid bibble should that appeal.
(The idea of this kind of game, if you aren’t familiar with it, is that unlike conventional RPGs it’s in a very constrained form, in which only a certain range of setups and narrative types are practical. But the tradeoff for that is that rather than the game being written in advance by the GM and presented to the players, instead it’s created collaboratively between GM and players during the game session itself. Because the genre tropes are familiar, everyone knows the shape of story that you’re aiming towards. The GMs role, rather than being the sole creator as is traditional, is to facilitate, improvise, and operate the mechanics such that everyone has a fun and satisfying experience.
So the premise is that a group of characters turn up at a spooky old isolated house. You start by deciding on the setting, and the weather conditions etc, and the sort of tone you’re going for. Then each player creates two characters — one Protagonist and one Expendable. These should be drawn from the range of familiar types for the setting that you’ve chosen, and should be discussed among the players to make a coherent group.
The GM then paints the scene in a prologue passage, describing what the group is doing at the haunted house, and the circumstances of their arrival. Then the game is divided into three phases.
Exploration — during this phase, characters wander off and explore rooms (or other locations) of the house. Each player chooses one of their two characters to Explore — but at least half of those chosen should be Expendables. In turn, each payer has a scene, imrpovised between themselves and the GM, where that character goes off to explore a room. In that room they will find a Clue (which they invent as required) — something that points to the larger secret of the house. It might be a box of old love letters, or a painting with the eyes slashed out, or a secret tunnel, or a black orchid in a vase, or a chained up dog with two heads… anything at all really. For Protagonist characters, having completed this exploration task, they return to the group. Expendable characters do not return — the mystery of the house has already claimed them. This will usually involve death, but it might be insanity, or rapid ageing, or transfer to another plane of existence… depends on the game, but basically it means they are no longer in any sense playable.
(It might be better, rather than running these scenes in sequence, to set each of them up and cut back and forth between them. Not sure about that.)
At the end of the Exploration phase, the surviving characters gather together, alarmed at the loss of their fellows. Now each player’s Protagonist character has a one-to-one scene of their choice with another player’s Protagonist (allocated randomly? or based on seating order?), to display their relationship and the effect of strain upon it, and to progress their characters. As a result of this, character stats (which I haven’t mentioned before, but they’ll be things like Bravado and Empathy, allocated from a fixed pool at creation) may change, at the GM’s discretion. (This can also happen during the exploration scenes if the GM feels a character has done something particularly appropriate.)
The second phase is Winnowing. The remaining characters go off in groups of two or three (all characters in a group must be controlled by different players, and each group must contain at least one Protagonist) to look for their missing companions. This works by scenes as before. Each scene may visit a previously-established location (in which they may find the bodies or whatever remnants), or define a new one (in which will be a further Clue). During these scenes, each of the remaining Expendables will be killed, but this time ‘on camera’ ie. while other characters are present.
Now only the Protagonists remain, and they regroup again, terrified. They first have an all-together scene where they try and start to solve the mystery, then as before they break into one-on-one scenes of their choosing, to progress / degrade their relationships further, and possibly alter their stats again.
The final phase is Denouement. The protagonists remain (broadly) together. They may advance off as a group, or wait for the horror to come to them, but essentially this should play out as one big scene with occasional vignettes off to the side. The relevance of the Clues must become apparent during this expository sequence, if it hasn’t already. Each character’s Outcome (death, heroism, flight, whatever) will be determined by their stats, and a random factor. The GM must orchestrates communal play towards that set of outcomes. At the end, everyone has got what they deserve, one way or another.
(Of course, it needn’t be a house; it could be an abandoned submarine, or a spaceship hulk, or a temple in the Amazonian jungle, or whatever. Up to you.)