It’s Halloween season, so it’s an ideal time to take a look at the best horror RPG games, to deliver maximum spooks to your tabletop. The horror genre translates perfectly into physical gaming – as the infamous Ouija board can attest – and horror tabletop RPGs offer some of the scariest experiences around. This guide profiles the best, scariest RPGs you should play right now (well, maybe wait till nightfall).
Horror tabletop RPGs manifest their scares in myriad different ways. Whether you want to be a badass monster hunter ready to throw down with creatures of the night, or a terrified survivor way over their head against eldritch gods, there’s sure to be a horror RPG out there to suit your every need.
If your playgroup prefers Dungeons and Dragons, you can still spook ’em out – try our guides to Ravenloft and the other Domains of Dread; the fearsome Strahd von Zarovich; and the best DnD books for more ideas. Alternatively, to broaden your spooky horizons, we’ve also created a guide to the best horror board games, and the best Cthulhu board games for Lovecraft-lovers. For now, though, put on your big person pants, because…
The best horror RPG games in 2023 are:
- Call of Cthulhu – the classic Lovecraft horror RPG
- Vaesen – the best horror RPG about folklore and cryptids
- Ten Candles – the most atmospheric horror RPG
- Don’t Rest Your Head – the best dreamlike horror RPG
- Dread – the best horror RPG without dice
- KULT: Divinity Lost – the best dark fantasy horror RPG
- Monster of the Week – the best action horror RPG
- Chronicles of Darkness – the best vampire horror RPG
Call of Cthulhu
The classic Lovecraft horror RPG
Call of Cthulhu is one of, if not the most popular RPG that isn’t called Dungeons and Dragons – and with good reason. Sure, it has your usual spread of RPG traits, such as familiar DnD stats Strength and Intelligence, and even just as many dice – but what sets it apart is the Sanity stat. Sanity being an actual core game mechanic defines the storytelling and experience of Call of Cthulhu.
It’s a vicious paradox, as players are forced to choose between being ignorant of the nightmare nipping at the corners of their minds, or embracing answers at the cost of their sanity. Few things are more exciting than going mad from the revelations uncovered through the storytelling of a great horror Game Master (GM).
The best horror RPG about folklore and cryptids
Vaesen – by Free League, publisher of Mörk Borg and The One Ring – plays on the horror of a dark, mythologised past lurking beneath the supposed safe civility of a modern world. It’s the dawn of a new civilization, but the old ways won’t go gently into that good night.
Set in a 19th-century Sweden town called Upsala, in Vaesen, players must traverse the old country and investigate folklore turned real. Vicious werewolves, cunning faeries, and vengeful wraiths are your bedfellows here – and none of them are sweet or cuddly in the least.
Fans of the Hellboy series – and horror comic books in general – are definitely going to love this horror RPG, as Big Red has fought many of these creatures before. Their in-depth lore gives these folk horrors a complexity that makes players appreciate the oral traditions of old Scandinavia.
The most atmospheric horror RPG
Ten Candles is not a game about living, like your typical survival horror RPG. Instead, Ten Candles is a game about dying. Every module features doomed characters in an inescapable scenario. The mechanics of Ten Candles involve four cards (a Virtue, a Vice, a Moment, and a Brink) that trigger certain events.
A GM and their six-sided die determine the rest. It’s best played in a dark room, with the eponymous ten candles, set in a circle, being the only source of light. These candles will die, one by one, just as the players do, and it is within that looming darkness that its storytelling flourishes.
Don’t Rest Your Head
The best dreamlike horror RPG
In this horror RPG, you quite literally can’t sleep. In Don’t Rest Your Head’s Mad City, where the Venn diagram of dreams and reality is a circle, sleep is a death sentence. As one of the Awakened, players must combat exhaustion and fear to survive the Nightmares that stalk the Mad City’s streets. There are three main stats in Don’t Rest Your Head: Discipline, Madness, and Exhaustion.
Players must leverage their exhaustion to do mundane tasks, and madness to achieve the impossible. If they use these too much, however, then they lose Discipline. Once Discipline is lost, the player falls into a deep slumber or teeth-gnashing madness. It is then that the Nightmares will come to feast.
The best horror RPG with no dice
Dread weaponizes its title in the cleverest of ways. There are no character or item statistics in Dread, only a questionnaire to determine your character’s personality and motivations. There are also no RPG dice.
Instead, there stands a Jenga tower in the middle of the table. If a task is deemed beyond the player’s capabilities by the GM, they must pull a block without toppling the tower.
If the tower falls, the player is gone from the game. Of course, if a player feels their story is done, they can intentionally knock the tower over themselves, giving them a chance to determine how they die.
KULT: Divinity Lost
The best dark fantasy horror RPG
KULT: Divinity Lost is a splatterpunk/dark fantasy horror reboot of the RPG of the same name. Now using the Powered by the Apocalypse game system, KULT: Divinity Lost pulls down the curtain of reality, revealing it for the prison it is. Behind the fabric are the terrors that act as wardens of reality, and they do not like runaways.
KULT puts players in a nigh-hopeless fight against these dark forces, and it’s up to them what their fates will be. Are they stalwart soldiers of light, keeping horrors at bay? Do they see the power of the wardens, and grasp it for themselves? KULT allows all those scenarios and more.
Monster of the Week
The best action horror RPG
Maybe being helpless isn’t your jam. Perhaps you want a lot more killing of the horrors instead of being killed by them. Whether you’re a secret organization of agents hiding horrors from humanity, or a high schooler with way too much time on their hands, Monster of the Week is perfect for your Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style adventures.
Monster of the Week uses the Powered by the Apocalypse engine, a system that’s amazingly easy to use and adapt to a whole host of scenarios. With fourteen hunter types, eight core moves, hundreds of monsters, and some ready-to-play mysteries, Monster of the Week is one of the most fun horror RPGs you’ll play from an action standpoint.
Chronicles of Darkness
The best vampire horror RPG
No horror RPG discussion is complete without talking about the premiere horror setting for the tabletop. Chronicles of Darkness is a reboot of the old World of Darkness, featuring many of the same settings, but changing them just enough for a new experience. Chronicles of Darkness, unlike its predecessor, uses a unified set of rules that makes any setting you choose compatible with each other.
Whether it’s navigating the politics of vampire society in Vampire: The Requiem or beating back the encroaching darkness in Hunter: The Vigil, there’s a setting for every flavor of horror. There’s even added support for homebrew, thanks to Chronicles of Darkness’ more modular design.
Made it through our guide without getting the willies? Sounds like you haven’t been scared enough, so here’s another suggestion. If you also love sci-fi, the Warhammer 40k factions and lore are loaded with eldritch horror – just look at Warhammer 40k chaos forces, the loathsome insectoid Tyranids, or their insidious bodysnatching servants the Genestealer Cults, for starters.