Horror is a genre that taps into our ultimate fears and explores our relationship with our loved ones, our enemies, our society and ultimately, our own mortality. Horror has a number of sub-genres, yet all horror stories, and good horror games, have a few things (we can even call them metrics) in common:
- What is the single biggest driving source of fear in the story? Is it a mental fear, such as paranoia? Is it a monster, creature or villain? Is it fear of the unknown or the unseen, such as a disease or ancient curse? Usually a horror story’s Fear is the main protagonist and the impetus for the entire plot.
- Where does the story take place? Is it an abandoned house? A house occupied by crazed psychopaths or a temple ruled over by a dread necromancer? Is it a crowded city where a contagion is running rampant? The scary places of a horror story add immensely to setting a proper mood, tone and atmosphere.
- What are the consequences to our protagonists? Is the sole consequence death? Or is it something more horrific than death? Dismemberment? A generational curse? The extinction of your peoples, or your entire race? The Fear of a horror plot will often determine the ultimate consequence of a story and is usually bounded on all sides by the setting it takes place in. A basement filled with traps offers dismemberment and death. An abandoned factory in an urban landscape may hold a mad killer with torture on the brain. A fetid swamp may be the lair of an ancient hag, looking to polymorph hapless wanderers into helpless toads.
- Perhaps the most important part of a horror plot is how is the suspense is built up over time? Once the consequences and the fear of a story are set up, how the story-teller tantalizes and weaves the tale effects the feelings of anticipation and anxiety in the participants. A story with only one death, but set to a slow burn can be infinitely more terrifying than a gory account of puzzle-like murders.