Day 28 – Scariest Game You've Played
This one's been one of the easier ones for me.
The scariest game I've ever played has to have been the "Masks of Nyarlathotep" boxed set of adventures for the Call of Cthulhu game system, published in 1984. I guess this is actually a campaign for the game, rather than a set of adventures per sé, but for the most part what can you say about this one?
"Masks of Nyarlathotep" has often been called the greatest adventure ever written for any roleplaying game and this praise is not undeserved. Starting with a scenario set in New York City, when an old friend of the Investigators asks for assistance shortly before his suspicious murder, the adventure soon takes on global proportions, with clues pointing to London, Cairo, Kenya, and Shanghai. In each city, the Investigators gather more clues about the actions of a cult dedicated to the Crawling Chaos and seeking to usher in the reign of the Great Old Ones upon the Earth. Two things about "Masks" stand out for me. First of all, once the New York scenario is completed, there is no single "right" way to proceed. The players can choose to pursue any of the clues they've amassed anywhere around the world. There's no expectation that the London scenario immediately follows the New York one, for example. This gives a great deal of freedom to the players, something that's essential in investigative scenarios if they're to avoid feeling like railroads. (One of the nice things about the GUMSHOE system from Pelgrane Press is that it gets around this kind of railroading situation, and would make a nice system to use with "Masks".) Second, while there is a "ticking clock" to keep the Investigators moving briskly to defeat the cult of Nyarlathotep, it's a long enough one that they can afford to take their time and undertake their investigations thoroughly.
Why was "Masks" the scariest game I've played? Well, David Hanwell, who ran the gaming group I was part of at the time, took us through the entire run of scenarios, and while nothing struck me as scary per sé at the time, I had vivid nightmares due to some of the imagery that David used at the time. No, I don't remember the details on most of the nightmares, let alone the game imagery that he used with the adventures, but I still remember waking up in a cold sweat some nights after my subconscious gave me some really sick "trees with tentacles" images.