Wednesday, February 24, 2016

#RPGaDay 2015: No.s 25-31—Conclusion

#25. Favorite Revolutionary Game Mechanic.  Using a Jenga Tower instead of dice.  I'd love to figure out a good way to get Dread out of the one-shot mode and usable for campaigns, including with character advancement of some sort, but even without that, it's a very, very nifty (and very revolutionary) mechanic.

#26. Favorite Inspiration for Your Game.  The Black Company books by Glen Cook, probably.  Or, at least he has the most of the same inspirations thrown in: some horror, some amoral protagonist characters, intrigue and paranoia.  It's the closest thing to a one-stop shopping source of inspiration.  Other than that, the Five Fingers book for Iron Kingdoms does a great job.  I also really love browsing the Monsternomicons for inspiration.  I could build an entire campaign around ideas found in there; especially given my "monsters are set pieces for an entire smallish module" philosophy to keeping monsters from becoming banal.

#27. Favorite idea for Merging Two Games into One.  Obviously for me, Call of Cthulhu meets Dungeons & Dragons.  Otherwise, I've long toyed with outlandish and bizarre genre Frankenstein's; but I tend to see them more as amusing one-shot materials, rather than something I'd entertain on a long-term basis.

#28. Favorite Game you No Longer Play.  Although we'll probably eventually come back to it, d20, 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons.  We haven't played it in... literally a couple of years now.  But it's probably not truly accurate to say that we don't play it; we just aren't in a campaign that uses it now.

#29. Favorite RPG Website/blog.  Y'know, I don't actually really follow many gaming blogs anymore.  It's been quite a while since I really paid attention to what was going on in that sphere.

#30. Favorite RPG playing celebrity.  There aren't any celebrities, unless you count c-list guys, as far as I'm concerned.  I guess I have to pick Vin Diesel, as he's the only one that I kinda sorta even like that I can think of.  Pick for least favorite is much easier: Wil Wheaton.  Every time I see anything from that loser, it makes me want to punch him in the face.

#31. Favorite Non-RPGing thing to come out of RPGing.  That's actually surprisingly easy for me, at least this year: Jeffro's detailed and lengthy discussion of the Appendix N:  https://jeffro.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/the-first-draft-of-my-appendix-n-book/

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

#RPGaDay 2015 No.s 19-24

#19: Favorite Supers RPG.  Mutants & Masterminds.  It was really quite well done, and is a lovely, lovely book.  Granted, I bought the first edition, and because I've played it very little, I've never gone for the updates/upgrades.  I'm a little irritated, actually, by games that update too often (d20 Star Wars is another really bad example), but I don't know that the upgrades are really significant in terms of major shakeups to the rules.  I'm a little unclear on what the settings for the game ended up being produced and by whom, but that's OK—as much as I like settings, I don't actually need them, and I almost never use them as is.

#20: Favorite Horror RPG.  For one-shots: Dread, absolutely.  For campaigns, Call of Cthulhu.  I'm not actually a fan of the BRP system, though—it works well enough if you can get past the bizarrely Byzantine chargen activity, I suppose.  The d20 version is (surprisingly, at least it was to me when it was new) quite good.  I think it's important to limit level advancement either via slow advancement and time-bound campaigns, or something like E6, though.

#21: Favorite RPG Setting.  Assuming that home-brews aren't meant to be picked here, I'll probably say Iron Kingdoms.  There's a few things about it that I don't like, but not that many.  It really hits most of my high points without much in the way of low points, and I really love the tone of the setting especially.  For second favorite, I'd probably have to pick the Warhammer World.

#22: Perfect Gaming Environment.  Ideally, I'd game in a large conference room without windows.  Dark wood paneling on the walls, decorated with large prints of fantasy art (the Larry Elmore BECMI covers, or some big Wayne Reynolds, or some big Frazettas, etc.).  A big, round, hard-wood conference room table in the middle, surrounded by large leather-upholstered chairs.  Maybe some stuffed animal heads on the wall.  A wi-fi environment where the GM can play music and/or sound effects from his laptop during the game.  Flickering faux candles for lighting.  Imagine a classic Victorian British gentlemen's club, like the Drone's Club, but with a fantasy twist.

#23. Perfect Game for You.  This is an odd question, because I imagine anyone who blogs has already talked—probably ad nauseum—about what the perfect game for them is.  For me, it's m20.  And, ideally, I'd be running it, or playing in a game with a GM that runs just like me.  In my home-brew dark fantasy setting, played as a swashbuckling/horror pulp hybrid.

#24. Favorite House Rule.  Probably gotta be Action points.  The way that I run them, though—the original incarnation of just adding a d6 was too weak to be meaningful.  Make it a d10, and make a healing surge one of its applications; and make them reset every session instead of every level—and you've got something that really works.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Call of Cthulhu update

Our Horror on the Orient Express had its third session this last weekend... and it was really, really interesting.  We spent the entire session in a "flashback scene" with characters that the GM gave us.  We started that about halfway through the second session, so we've now spent about as much time in our flashback in the 1890s as we have in our "normal" campaign with your normal characters in the 1920s.  To be honest, I'm enjoying the latter more than the former, and the "Blood Red Fez" side-story is a fascinating one that I think I like better than gather and assemble (or destroy) the various components of the MacGuffin quest that we're on the verge of starting with our normal characters.  Maybe the scenario just feels a little more tight and compelling; the main storyline seems to suffer a bit from reaching; I'm not quite sure why we're all doing this other than that the module requires it.

A handful of notes about our play:

  • Interacting with compelling NPCs is always one of my favorite parts of any good campaign.  And a GM that's willing to roll with what you're trying to do in this interactions rather than simply shut them down just because makes the game a lot of fun.  This may be part of the reason why I'm finding this flashback module within the module a lot of fun.
  • There comes a point in every session (at least with our group) where we get tired of careful pacing and talking, and something... rash happens which has the potential to turn the module on its head.  The recovery from the consequences of something rash is another one of my favorite parts of any session.  We've got some great stories from past campaigns about something that seemed really stupid, but which ended up being really awesome.  Added another notch to that particular belt this last weekend.
  • Some players struggle with the role-playing meta-concept of knowing things that your character doesn't know.  Getting a mental whammy "Jedi mind trick" pulled on you and having to accept that your character believes something that you as a player know to be untrue can be hard.  Even if it only lasts about an hour or so of real time before its sorted out.
  • Similarly, it can be hard to get your head around concepts that are separate from us in time and culture; even as some of them are coming back around again.  Watching too many spy movies can leave one with the assumption that there are resources and infrastructure to do things that in the 1890s you simply can not do (but nor can your opposition.)  Decades of multicultural indoctrination make the notion that Westerners traveling on the Orient Express would be wary of dealing with Turks, and could use that innate wariness to their advantage was another hard thing for our group to really wrap our heads around to some degree.  Most, even, of the authors working in the genre have a hard time getting this into their heads (I actually think our group was better at it than the authors would most likely have been.)
  • Some in the group drew (obvious) parallels between the blood red fezzes and the whispering, biting sword that was needed to get past undead DR in a dark fantasy game I ran in a Mk. II version of DARK•HERITAGE (we're now on Mk. IV, so it was significantly different.)  I do love the notion that "magic items" are, by default, cursed items from the perspective of reasonably normal people attempting to use them—that sword was necessary to fight a particular monster; but it also actively and aggressively attacked both the body and the sanity of anyone who used it.  I borrowed the concept of my sword from my friend "barsoomcore"'s past setting, but I've also had analogs of other cursed/magic items that I've borrowed, including "the Colt" from Supernatural and now... I can add the Blood Red Fez to my repertoire.  After changing it to some other kind of hat, no doubt.

Friday, February 19, 2016

#RPGaDay 2015. No.s 13-18

#13. Favorite RPG Podcast.  I haven't listened to an RPG podcast in about three years, so I'm unqualified to answer this particular question.  Good thing I'm not actually doing this one per day, or this would be a really lousy day!

#14. Favorite RPG Accessory.  A home-made custom GM screen.  I'd like to actually make another one; or modify the one I have, or something—but I don't need to.  I don't really need rules info on the screen; especially playing a really rules-lite game like m20.  But it's great to have things like: a mini-map of the setting, a list of names so I can actually name NPCs on the fly as needed, custom picked pictures for the front end, a list of things like tavern and inn names, etc.  Stuff that any self-respecting player-led GM needs to keep the game feeling smooth even without all of that creativity stifling over-preparation.  It would probably be nicer if I bought one of those folders that are already designed for this, and then put in my own inserts, but that means spending $20-30 for something that I don't really need... and I'm really cheap.

#15. Longest campaign played.  Age of Worms; the 21 or 22 level d20 D&D game that started at 1st level, and ended with us fighting the reincarnation of Kyuss, in Greyhawk.  A lot of good moments, but it actually really soured me in general terms on adventure path style campaigns, and very long campaigns in general, as well as higher level d20 gaming.  Lots of things I learned not to like in that campaign; fewer things that I decided I liked... but I still had a good enough time.

#16. Longest game session played.  I don't really do the marathon sessions.  I've never been involved in any session, actually, that I don't think fell outside of the 4-6 or so hour window.

#17. Favorite fantasy RPG. To avoid saying one or another iteration of m20 over and over again, I'm going to pass on that and say: a house-ruled Third Edition d20 with the E6 tophat would be my favorite, I think.  Favorite commercial fantasy setting, regardless of what game it is (and I've never seen the new in-house system) is either Warhammer or Iron Kingdoms... probably the latter.  Both have house systems (at least now) that I'm not very familiar with, however.  After all, I don't want to eschew just naming off one m20 iteration after another only to fall back on doing the same thing with d20...

#18. Favorite SF RPG.  I think actually playing in Star Wars is my favorite, but there's a lot of systems for that, and I've done so much homebrewing to the setting that I'm not sure it counts.  So, rather than go with that and deal with the problems that that entails, let's call Traveller my favorite SF game, eh?  The original rules.  I'd probably never play them as is anymore... but I love elements of it, especially the space hex crawl generation rules.

#RPGaDay 2015, No.s 7-12

#7. Favorite Free RPG.  This is easy.  Microlite.  In theory, this is multiple free RPGs, but y'know—let's not nitpick.  I've managed to turn this into my ideal, probably Holy Grail system, and I can make minor modifications to it to account for setting; I've already got complete and ready to roll DARK•HERITAGE, CULT OF UNDEATH and STAR WARS versions of it, and partially complete AD ASTRA pseudo-Guardians of the Galaxy superheros in space.  And no doubt, I'll have more eventually.

#8. Favorite appearance of RPGs in the Media.  I'm not 100% sure what is meant by this.  If it's referring to something like the kids playing D&D in E.T., well, stuff like that doesn't really do much for me.  I'll have to punt and say that the movement of RPGs directly into other media; i.e. tie-in fiction novels, is my favorite.  Granted; I don't like very many tie-in fiction novels, but I really like the idea of them, and some of them do manage to actually be pretty good.  Some of the earliest D&D tie-in fiction (first few Salvatore and Weiss/Hickman novels, I suppose qualify) are kinda classics, and there's some great Black Library material.  It's arguable to what extent Black Library qualifies as RPG (vs. miniature wargame) fiction, but most of the stuff I've read feels more like WFRP than it does WHFB.

#9. Favorite Media you wish was an RPG.  Honestly, I don't wish for conversions of media into RPG for various reasons.  And if I do, I just whip up some conversion of some system I already like anyway (i.e., my m20 Star Wars.)  And in many cases, the media I wish was an RPG is an RPG... although not necessarily one that I like or really want to play, because I'm not interested in its system.  So this is a harder question to answer than it sounds like it should be.  What I guess I really would like to see is a good Middle-earth game that feels less like swashbuckling sword & sorcery and more like the actual writings of Tolkien.  I've been intrigued yet ultimately dissatisfied with both Iron Crown and Decipher's offerings in this field, and I've never even looked at Cubicle 7's current game... although given that my requirements in this regard are very particular, most likely it's not what I want either.

#10. Favorite RPG Publisher.  Paizo, I suppose.  They've kinda lost their way (or to be more accurate; I've gradually lost interest in various of the directions that they're going) but I still think I'm more likely to be interested in something that they're doing rather than anyone else.  Part of the problem with this question (and many of these lines of questions in this #RPGaDay survey overall) is that I'm fundamentally too much of a DIY gamer with a system that I already like and can hack with ease, rather than the kind of guy who is interested in really buying a bunch of pre-fabbed gaming.  So some products catch my eye because they offer me something interesting... but my tastes are fairly eclectic.

#11. Favorite RPG Writer.  Oh, good heavens, I don't know.  I've liked a lot of stuff by Wolfgang Baur, Doug Seacat, and Rob Schwalb before.

#12. Favorite RPG Illustration.  My favorite illustration of all time for any RPG ever?  Ooof.  That's too tall an order.  I can't pick that.  A handful of my favorites, then—the final Dungeon Magazine cover by Paizo by Wayne Reynolds with Demogorgon kicking the iconic characters' butts (granted; that was a very strange collection of iconics at the time.)  The original Player's Handbook cover art; with the statue of the efreet and the guys trying to steal its gemstone eyes.  Almost anything published by Privateer Press. Most of the cover art from Freeport, Eberron or Pathfinder by Wayne Reynolds.  The BECMI boxes cover art by Larry Elmore; especially the Expert and Companion ones.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

#RPGaDay 2015: No.s 1-6

I should have guessed; there's another #RPGaDay challenge.  I did this in 2014; here's the 2015 version (suitably late.  Shows how well I pay attention to trends in the gaming blogopshere.)

As with the prior one I did, I don't think each question truly merits a full post.  I ended up doing the 2014 challenge in a series of 4 posts, with 6 questions answered each post.  I'll do that again.

Here's the list of questions:

#1: Forthcoming game you're most looking forward to.  Ugh.  Tough question right off the bat for me, given that I don't really pay attention to what's forthcoming.  Gulp.  One question in, and I'm already asking for a pass!

#2: Kickstarted game most pleased you backed.  I've never backed a kickstarter game.  That said; two guys in my group backed the Horror on the Orient Express kickstarter by Chaosium, which we're now playing.  So does that one count?  I'm enjoying it so far, but admittedly, we're only on our third session.

#3: Favorite new game of the last 12 months.  I haven't gotten any new games in the last 12 months.  That said; I'm interested in running down the brand new, huge and hugely expanded Freeport book, which I think is now only compatible with Pathfinder these days, to update my excellent systemless Freeport book of 7-8 or so years ago—or however long its been.  Although I don't actually have it, that came out in the last 12 months, and it's one of the few products that has that I'm genuinely interested in checking out.  Other than that—one of these days, I really would like to try out 5th edition.  At least one guy in our group actually bought it, but I don't think he runs.  None of the usual suspects in our group even bothered picking it up.

#4: Most surprising game.  I have to say that I've probably been most surprised by Dread—because it's so unusual that I'm not sure that I believed it could really work.  It does; in fact, it's tons of fun.  I'm not quite sure whether or not it can be turned into a campaign or not... I'd like to see someone try it, though.

#5: Most recent RPG purchase.  I'm pretty sure it'll have to be Pathfinder Bestiary 5.  I simply can't pass up a good monster book, and Pathfinder has done a good job with them.  Their pdfs are cheap enough that they're worth buying for the artwork alone.

#6: Most recent RPG played.  Call of Cthulhu.  We're in a campaign of it as we speak.  Granted; we don't play all that often (once a month seems to be more or less our speed) but as it happens, we're playing this coming Saturday.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Horror Adventures

http://paizo.com/products/btpy9jcx?Pathfinder-Roleplaying-Game-Horror-Adventures-Hardcover
There are things that dwell in the dark places of the world, deep beneath the ground, in long-abandoned crypts, or in musty attics; terrible things that can destroy your body and shatter your mind. Few sane individuals would ever think to seek out such nightmares, but those that are drawn into the darkness often find it infecting them, corrupting them in ways both subtle and gross. Some think that those who die facing off against such horrors are the lucky ones, for the survivors are forever scarred by their experiences. Horror Adventures gives you everything you need to bring these nightmares to your game.
Well; except the actual things; most of which, no doubt, have already been featured in one of the Bestiaries published by Paizo (up to five now!)  I've got them all in pdf, but they sell for cheap in pdf (at the price, they're worth it for the art alone) and I love monster books.
Horror Adventures includes:
  • Corruptions that can turn your character into a monster, from a blood-drinking vampire to a savage werewolf. The only cost is your very soul!
  • Character options to help heroes face the forces of darkness, including horror-themed archetypes, feats, spells, and more!
  • Rules for sanity and madness, giving you all the tools you need to drive your characters to the brink and beyond.
  • Tips and tools for running a scary game, along with expanded rules for curses, diseases, haunts, and fleshwarping to bring your nightmares to life.
  • New templates to turn your monsters into truly terrifying foes, from creatures made from living wax to the stalker that cannot be stopped!
…and much, much more!
In other words... it mostly contains a bunch of stuff that's already readily available in open content, included as part of the SRD thanks to the great book Unearthed Arcana; one of the greatest rules books of the 3.5 era.  Of course, as I've embraced the more rules-lite approach of m20, much of this is not necessarily important to me.  But I will admit that I really like the Wayne Reynolds cover art, at least!

I've talked before a bit about how to make d20 play more like a horror game, and since my tag-line is "D&D Rules, Call of Cthulhu play paradigm" maybe it's time that I take some time to talk about how this would apply to my current rules; or any other rules-lite approach, including games such as B/X, Swords & Wizardry, etc.

Some of this isn't really applicable at the system level (although some of it is)—much of the success of any purported horror game (or dark fantasy game that plays like horror, as is the case for me) comes from the skills of the GM in presenting the game, and managing to get people on board for the concept of a horror game.  In my experience, that latter task is much more difficult than it sounds, or than you'd expect it to be.  Some players naturally do well with a horror game, especially if they're fans of the genre, but many simply struggle.  If you're playing D&D or a D&D variant, many will simply be unable to shift their preconceived notions of what the game is to be like, and simply play it like it's D&D.  Many others have different preconceived notions, and struggle not to just be silly, expecting that their characters are too disposable for them to ever really take the game very seriously.  How, then, can you get your players on board, both with modest system changes, and with presentation changes at the table?  How do you get D&D rules (regardless of what iteration of those rules you're actually using) and a Call of Cthulhu play paradigm, and for that matter, how do you successfully execute a Call of Cthulhu play paradigm anyway?  Here's what I think.  Much of this applies to any system, but I'm especially thinking of rules-lite D&D variants.
  • I think the overtly competent character classes of many modern D&D variants work against the feel of a horror game.  These characters are designed to "win" D&D, quite clearly, and broadly speaking, they do so at all levels except perhaps the very lowest.  Older versions of D&D actually work much better; with the level caps of B/X, for example, your characters get powerful, but only so much so.  B/X also has much more modest characters at the same levels as, say, 3rd Edition characters.  If you're already playing an old school game, then you probably have already taken steps to address the power inflation that later editions engaged in, but something that addresses the rampant, exponential growth of characters is welcome too.  Whether its some kind of "bounded accuracy" house rule that keeps stats (especially hit points) from running away, or simple level caps or campaign time frames that by design exclude the higher available levels, something has to be done.  Players instinctively and subconsciously lose that feel of horror if their characters feel too competent.
  • This can go overboard, though.  Few people enjoy playing for very long with characters that they feel are incompetent, and the classic meat-grinder type of campaign is not really associated at all with horror—it's actually associated with the very tactical, gamist, "skilled play" paradigm of the game.  To feel any degree of horror, the player has to feel at least some sense of attachment to his character, but also feel that it is possible, and possibly even easy if he's foolish, for the character to die.  But if the characters always die, and especially if its arbitrarily so, then there won't be any sense of attachment to the character.  It's a fine line to walk to keep the perceived threat of death always in the players' mind, yet not actually kill characters all that often, but that's integral to fostering a successful horror tone.  In my games; I have both a slightly dampened hit point escalation scheme, as well as level caps at 10th level.
  • PC death isn't the only thing that suffers from over-familiarity.  Monsters in a D&D like fantasy game are not really horror icons, even if they are, actually, horror icons.  This is because of the way that the game is traditionally played.  If you have your characters wander through a dungeon "stocked" as if it were a fishing pond, with monsters, then the monsters become routine—not scary.  More and more, I think its important to actually minimize the presence of monsters in my fantasy games.  They should be more unique, more rarely appearing; they need to be significantly foreshadowed before they show up, it's desirable that many are not meant to be defeated in a straight up fight (and probably can't be), etc.  In other words, a monster encounter should be more like a set piece than a routine experience; the equivalent of a small module, even in and of itself.
  • This also means that monsters should be somewhat mysterious.  There's nothing quite like having a well-known monster, who's strengths, weaknesses and basic abilities are very familiar to the players, being dragged out and described quite simply in terms that make it prosaic and routine.  Even for those who are hyper-allergic to anything other than player controlled sandboxes and hexcrawls or the like have to admit that there is always going to be an element of story-telling to these games, because if nothing else, a GM has to describe the scenario.  This is where you need to take the time and effort to create some mood and tone.  Don't go overboard, or you'll sound like Lovecraft on a bad day which is more laughable than scary, but there's a real opportunity for you to create tension at the table over the course of the session if you do it right.  
  • Along these lines, some other ambiance can be helpful (although in my opinion, less so than many think.)  If there's anything you can do to influence the tone via the setting in which you actually play; i.e., lighting, decor, spooky background music, etc., it helps.  Yeah, yeah—I don't know anyone who's going to create a gaming room with dark paneling, decorations bought at the Halloween store, and creepy sounds and soft music playing in the background, with dim candle-powered lighting, and a GM that can speak with the voice of Orson Welles or James Earl Jones or Vincent Price.  But if you could; wouldn't you?  And some of that can be done easily; I prefer playing in a more dimly lit rather than overly bright room, and spooky music and sounds isn't exactly hard to find; I've got an entire library of movie soundtracks, which aren't hard to pick up for relatively cheap on CD or mp3, and you can also get really cheap sound effects CDs if you really want them.  I actually think tinkering around with tracks in Audacity or some such app is kinda fun; I'd love to make an actual entire CD for the soundtrack of DARK•HERITAGE or CULT OF UNDEATH that takes movie music soundtracks and adds a light layering of Halloween sound effects to them.  And even if you don't want to go to that much trouble, maybe something more simple, like some of the music tracks by Sonic Legends¹ would be right up your alley.  Keep the music low, quiet, almost on the edge of being noticed—its easy to overdo this kind of thing.  Subtlety is the key to success. 
  • Also along the lines of creating tension and dramatic tone via GM presentation, the session is such an obvious unit of measure to do this, and it is ignored at your peril.  The ideal way to do so is to create tension without giving a lot of opportunities to relieve it during the course of a session.  Let it peak near the end of the session, but leave plenty of unanswered issues dangling so that the campaign overall retains a tone of unreleased tension and scariness.  For those who play in a more sandboxy environment, you may think that GM control of things like pacing and tension is Verboten, but that is actually not true.  You need to be more skilled to do it, of course, compared to a more railroady game, but it is absolutely possible to do, and the more you can learn to do so, perhaps via on the fly adjustments to what (or when, or how) PCs discover the contents of any given hex or whatever, the better you will be as a GM.  In fact, in my opinion, the only truly good GMs are the ones that allow the PCs to feel in control of the game while successfully delivering tone, pacing, descriptions and environments that play out more like an episode of a scary t.v. show like The X-Files or something.  Besides, all that said; I'm hardly a sandbox purist.  I'm almost rabidly in favor of having the players drive the game rather than the GM, but there are lots of ways to accomplish that, and hexcrawls may be a "purist" approach to that question, but certainly is not the only answer.
  • I think the templates referred to above in the Paizo book description are over-rated.  Templates are a fun idea, certainly, but in an older school, rules-lite game, they're not needed.  Monster stats are pretty sparse to begin with; making some minor adjustments to them, adding a special ability or two, changing minor features, or even just swapping a new description to go with a known monster.  It really is much better if your players aren't quite sure what it is that they're fighting anyway.  Just describe it and run it; don't label it.
  • Some kind of fear and/or sanity rules are nice, but in the past, I think they've over-taken their usefulness by being too clunky, too clinical, and too cumbersome.  These kinds of rules can never bog the game down; they need to be very quick and easy to implement, with relatively simple effects.    For this reason, I recommend against doing anything too much like the now open content sanity rules from Unearthed Arcana; which are really just the original Call of Cthulhu rules all over again.  Not only are these way too clunky to use, but they're also "non native" to d20, so it always feels weird using them, like they don't really belong in the rules system that you're using.  The authors of the original d20 version of Cthulhu claimed that this is good, because it gives them a feeling like they're weird and unnatural, but that's just a really stupid cop-out.  They take the player out of the game, and therefore sabotage their intent—to ratchet up the tension in any given session.  I prefer something much simpler, and my m20 rules reflect that.  There are other open content sanity rules that have been floated around over the years: Green Ronin did some good ones for their Freeport system that I quite like.  I recommend searching for an alternative and just taking it as is, with only minor modification, unless you really like writing your own rules.  No need to reinvent this particular wheel.
  • Not every horror or dark fantasy game really needs some kind of corruption or taint mechanic—but if that's a feature of the fiction of your setting, you better have some kind of alternative in your mechanics.  I don't really have any recommendations, since I don't use this type of mechanic myself, but again—I'd echo my comments on fear and sanity; keep the system simple and easy to apply at the table without bogging down the game with tables, major changes to characters that have to be recalculated on the fly, etc.
¹I have "Ancient Archives," "Arabian Bazaar," "City of the Dark Elves," "Country Village," "Forest Journey," "Magical Spell," "On the Open Sea," and "The Summoning" from Sonic Legends.  You can probably guess pretty well which ones are most appropriate for dark fantasy or horror games.  There are a few others that I'd like to try out, but honestly—I don't use the ones that I have all that much; I have too many movie soundtracks.