What is it?
Fear Itself is a horror role-playing game that was first published in 2007 by Pelgrane Press. It is now up to its 2nd edition, after being provided a significant update in 2016. As opposed to CoC or DELTA GREEN that have a focus on the Cthulhu Mythos, Fear Itself is enveloped in traditional horror. Haunted houses, cannibal clans, and monstrous creatures are commonplace in this game.
In Fear Itself, players do not adopt the role of gung-ho Investigators, or steadfast Agents, but rather ordinary people who are plunged into a disturbing and contemporary world of madness and violence. There, the player characters must face entities of the Outer Black, a hellish realm of menace and oozing effluvia.
This RPG presupposes that not every player character will survive, in fact it’s a severe condition that both player and GM must acknowledge. Fear Itself is a grim and disturbing setting where personal horrors arise and things do more than bump at night.
The Game System
Fear Itself is built upon the GUMSHOE System, a D6-based system that is specifically designed for running investigative scenarios. The major attraction toward GUMSHOE is its modular capacity and that it addresses the issue of ‘missed clues due to failed dice-rolls’.
It is also especially player-centric, where most of the dice rolling is placed into the hands of the players rather than the GM. For example, non-player character (NPC) abilities are not rolled, but rather modify the roll made by a player, such as succession or failure conditions. The only exception is combat between characters.
Instead of player characters having attributes (i.e. STR, DEX, INT), they have ‘rating points’ – which go into certain abilities that influence the game. Having a high enough count in an ability grants automatic successes, though sometimes there is the requirement to ‘spend’ these points to achieve a success condition.
Additional mechanics unique to Fear Itself are:
- Risk Factors – conditions that explain why player characters continue to participate in the scenarios, or risk stability loss.
- Stability – A more thorough explanation on a core mechanic to GUMSHOE, with links to a system similar to the Bond system in DELTA GREEN.
- The Worst Thing They Ever Did – Which the GM and players can use to inform the characters behaviour and fears.
Where do I start?
There’s only one way to dive into Fear Itself, and that’s by purchasing the book of the same name. It consists of an amalgamation of a ‘player’s handbook’ and a ‘GM’s guide’, along with a setting primer and 3 scenarios of varying lengths to try.
It also has the following:
- Updated rules derived from the GUMSHOE system.
- A bestiary, with monster design rules.
- Extensive advice for GMs on designing and running mystery games.
- Support for multiple types of play, ranging from one-shots to long-form campaigns.
After poring over the sourcebook, you should get the Book of Unremitting Horror, a massive bestiary with up to 40 different creatures, all kitted out with forensic clues, backgrounds, stats, and abilities. It also has two high-quality scenarios: Crook’s End and The Final Case, scenario hooks, and artifacts to be used in play.
Unfortunately, there is not much published material for Fear Itself, and there are only two other scenarios left to check out: Invasive Procedures, and The Seventh Circle. Beyond this, the world of Fear Itself is your oyster. You are not constrained by the limitations of any mythology in this setting, and the source book provides an easy to understand outline on how to create scenarios.
Things to check out
- Free Fear Itself Downloads – A litany of resources that have been released over the years, hosted by the Pelgrane Press website.
- Dark Depths – A PDF file by Graham Walmsley, it is a set of guidelines for scenario creation in Cthulhu Dark, though it can be applied to Fear Itself.
- The Alexandrian – A blog that acts as a wonderful resource for horror fiction and scenario writing.
Character Sheet – An updated rendition of the Fear Itself character sheet from 2016. Includes an immersive and printer-friendly version.
Invasive Procedures – A psychological horror scenario set in 2011 at a derelict and isolated hospital. Inspired by Barker’s Hellraiser and the Silent Hill franchise.
The Final Case – A body/occult horror scenario set in 2006 within the dingy underground of London. Evocative of occult comics like Moore’s Unearthing.
Of Grease & Blood – Available only to my players, as requested.
[BACK-BURNIN’] 復讐!: Blood Revenge – A J-horror styled scenario set in the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan in ’87, inspired by the works of Takashi Miike.
Header image created by George Cotronis for the Fear Itself 2nd. Ed. cover art.
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