Gratitude: A Horror Game

The most interesting day of a person’s life is the day when it ends. But this isn’t a place for ordinary people. This is a place for the strong, the worthy, and those willing to compromise everything. 

In short, Gratitude  is a storytelling game about trying to please an unknowable god-being in the hopes of being able to leave this terrible place. Once you die – and you will die – you might return as a Haunt, a pale shade of what you were in life. And you will turn against those you most recently called friend.

This is a game about losing everything. 

This is a game about being grateful for what you have. 

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The Game

Gratitude was originally released as part of ZineQuest 2021.

Gratitude is a roughly 60-page zine that includes elements of body horror and cosic horror. Players mix-and-match abilities from various factions and travel to complete quests, while sacrificing pieces of themselves that we so often take for granted.

Body horror involves violating the sanctity of mind and body. It is about reminding us that we are made of meat and can suffer terrible physical trauma. It is about flesh being torn off, displayed, and invaded.

Cosmic horror is about reminding us that we are small and insignificant. It is about not being able to make a difference on the world around us, about not being remembered. It is a reminder that we are small and that we are temporary.

This game may not be for you.

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The World

Years ago, something changed. The atmosphere itself became toxic to testosterone. The results were sudden and unpleasant.

The Culling killed 30% of men worldwide and left most of the rest frail, impotent, and brittle-boned. Smart women in lab coats solved the problems of reproduction, but the damage cannot be so easily waved away. Most of the “men” who are left are male only by tradition, genetically evolved, selectively bred, and labratorially tampered with to evolve beyond biological sex. Androgynous husks who choose to be pumped with testosterone, even though the atmosphere actively poisons anything with an abundance of that chemical.

The world is ruled by unknowable beings known as Overseers, and most people believe that the only way to leave is to gain favor with these beings. Players can steal power from five factions, but each power requires a sacrifice. The factions are:

  • The Prophets, who believe they can understand the Overseers and interpret their desires. Some of them have learned to siphon power from the Overseers – power they can barely control, power that can break body and mind alike.
  • The Grayfolk, who have forsaken both color and personal identity to create art in a wasteland. They run a museum where entry requires the donning of glasses that filter out color.
  • The Worldbreakers, hackers who have found ways to modify the source code of reality itself. Their understanding is limited, but sometimes they get the effects they desire.
  • The Bobbinscallers, who believe —not entirely incorrectly —that they can summon and control the 30-foot-tall Golden Retrievers that are the favored pets of the Overseers.
  • The Atoners, masochistic tank-clerics who believe they are being punished for grievous crimes they only half remember.

Years ago, Zebra Marks was able to procure a single female Golden Retriever for an Overseer. That dog, Bobbins, has since been cloned and bred for size. Each of the enormous dogs that roam the world are clones of that original dog. All of them love to play, and none of them realize how big they are. It is forbidden to harm or interfere with the dogs in any way. 

As a reward for this deed, Zebra Marks now works as a tax consultant in a reality indistinguishable from Omaha, Nebraska in 1997. She thanks the Overseers every day for the banality in which she resides.

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Mechanics

Gratitude uses a simple, hackable resolution system: in the middle of the table sits a d6. This is the Fear Die. Whenever you attempt an action, you roll a d6 and try to get equal to or greater than the Fear Die. If you succeed, the Fear Die increases by 1. If you fail, you take damage equal to the number shown on the Fear Die.

Death is rarely the end for characters in Gratitude, merely a setback. You can never die permanently without your own explicit consent. Rather, most of the time you make a sacrifice — your ability to hear out of one ear, a favorite memory, the names of your children — and you come back, resetting the Fear Die to one.

If you do choose death, your friends must fight the corpse that used to be you, and you return as a Haunt. You’re not out of the game, rather you become an observer who can spend Haunt Dice to replace either the rolls of your friends, or the Fear Die itself.

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Inspiration

Gratitude: a horror game is the product of people who have consumed media their entire lives. We probably aren’t capable of properly identifying every inspiration, but some stick out:

  •  Y: The Last Man, a comic by Brian K. Vaughan. The setting would not exist without this seed having been planted in my mind over a decade ago.
  • The RPGs Heart and Dread. The former for tone, the latter for its simplicity of mechanics.
  •  Idlewild by Nick Sagan. This book has influenced everything I’ve ever made to some degree, and this project is no different. The concept of Elsewhere  is inspired by this book.
  •  My dopey chocolate lab, Lacy, and Clifford the Big Red Dog. This game is full of giant friendly dogs who have no idea how big they are, and I love them all.

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