When most people think of tabletop roleplaying games, they tend to think of Dungeons and Dragons. You know, a game where players take on the roles of elves and dwarves, wizards and warriors, and where they all try to complete whatever epic quest their dungeon master has laid out for them. And while there are horror elements to DND, like hordes of zombies or peasants possessed by malignant spirits, no one would ever accuse it of being a horror game.
Slasher, on the other hand, very definitely is.
What Is Slasher?
The short version is that slasher is a tabletop roleplaying game that’s aimed at telling grisly stories about masked killers, and the groups of protagonists they stalk. Most of the players will take on the roles of survivors, which are the protagonists we’re used to seeing in any given slasher movie. One player at the table takes on the role of the killer, who is trying to make sure that all the survivors aren’t survivors anymore. Finally, one person takes on the role of the director, whose job is to narrate the story, control all the other characters in the cast not being portrayed by players, referee the rules, and generally set up the game for everyone else.
Once everyone has their roles, the story is ready to begin!
How Do You Play Slasher?
The way it works, for those who aren’t big tabletop gamers, is that the director comes up with the basic plot of the game. Maybe the survivors are all going out to a cabin in the woods, or they go to check out a supposedly haunted house in the boonies… the plot, the setting, all of that is the director’s responsibility. The director then works with each player to design their character (survivors and killer alike, since the director acts as a kind of referee in this grudge match), and once everyone’s character is ready to go, the director starts the ball rolling.
A game of Slasher takes place in several arcs. The first arc pulls the survivors together into a single group. It could be everyone gearing up for the big party that night, getting together for their camping trip, or just establishing that they’re all students on the same college campus. It allows the characters to get introduced, to establish initial relationships, and to make sure the cast is all onscreen. The second arc is typically when things start going bad, and it’s often the introduction for the killer (though only victims, which are characters not played by any of the other players, tend to die horrible deaths during this part of the story). Once everything starts going wrong, the third arc begins, and this is the meat of the game. By now the survivors have to decide what they’re going to do about the killer, if they’re going to band together or split up, and the killer is doing their best to up their body count. Once this arc is over, either the killer or the survivors will be dead.
As far as the actual game play, every character has a certain set of attributes, and a particular set of skills and equipment. Challenges are resolved by adding the bonuses you get from your attributes, and rolling a set of six sided dice. The dice have either a negative face (giving you a -1 penalty per face), a neutral face, or a positive face (giving you a +1 bonus per face). If your bonus is high enough, then you complete the task you set out to do, whether that’s hot wiring the abandoned car, shoving the killer out of a second story window, or managing to avoid tripping and falling while you run through the dark woods.
The Good, The Bad
Now that you’ve got the basics for how this game works, and what it’s meant to do, let’s get into the meat of the review.
First, the good stuff. Slasher uses the Fate system, which is super light on rules. This makes it very accessible to new players, and it allows people to get into the swing of the game fairly quickly. This is particularly true for genre-savvy players, who understand the beats of a slasher movie, and who can recognize the types of characters, tropes, and plots that fit the kind of story that’s being told. Slasher is also simple enough for most fans to slip into the director’s chair and run their own story, so you won’t have someone who always ends up running the game instead of playing because it’s too complex for everyone else.
With that said, there are some problematic aspects of this game, too. The biggest problem is that it’s one player versus all the other players. Because let’s be honest, who the hell wants to be the kid in the letterman’s jacket when you could be Jason, Michael, or Leatherface? And even if you could avoid the negativity over one player getting the supernaturally powerful character, making it clear that some players are going to be winners while others are going to be losers is just setting yourself up for hurt feelings if you play this with the wrong group of people. And unlike more traditional roleplaying games, which tend to go on for multiple chapters spanning a big chunk of the characters’ lives, the emphasis placed on people getting gakked left and right means that this game is only going to work for short-term stories. You could probably do sequel games, either by bringing in new casts of survivors if all the previous ones died or resurrecting the killer if he got taken out, but the sequels will be just as focused and self-contained as the initial game.
My two cents, either all the players should be killers meeting up in some kind of horror movie version of The Avengers, or the killer should be run as an antagonist by the director specifically because that makes it clear everyone else is on the same team and avoids people getting butt-hurt that Geoff got to play Jack Blood, The Butcher of Heller Gulch while they got stuck with Donny the Burnout.
Should You Play It?
While Slasher definitely has its problems, a lot of it is going to come down to the group you play it with, and who is sitting in the director’s chair. If you can embrace the genre for what it is, and you’re okay with only having a story that lasts one or two sessions (though a talented director could potentially draw it out a little further), it’s worth a try. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than a deluxe edition of Betrayal at House on The Hill, and it provides you with the freedom to make the character you want to play, and to tell the story you want to tell.
If nothing else, it can spice up an evening get-together, and potentially combine two niches you didn’t know you wanted to experience together.