Night Fears

So, this happened.

Long ago, in the before time ((Which is to say, back in the heady days of Unknown Armies and D&D 3.x.)), I wrote some RPG stuff for pay. I’m not sure if Fred Hicks recalled that ((Though possibly Chad Underkoffler remembers some of our shared credits on UA stuff.)) – I had used it as a selling point to get in on the Dresden Files bleeding alpha playtest, but that was a long time ago – or if he was asking me primarily as a courtesy because of all the stuff I’ve written about DFRPG on this blog, but he asked me if I’d consider writing one of their free one-shots.

I had to think about it for a while. There are reasons I stopped writing for the industry, but the main two were that it ate up a lot of time and creativity that I could be funneling into my home games (or even work), and that the people I respected and trusted as editors and publishers weren’t looking to buy the kinds of stuff I wanted to write ((Though the ever-charming Dr. Michelle Nephew encouraged me to write a card game for Atlas when they stopped doing the d20 stuff. I really wish I could have figured out how to do that.)) and I didn’t want to work with the people who were buying it.

This was going to be a short scenario, though, and I already knew the folks at Evil Hat were good, professional folks, so I said yes, and pitched them some ideas. Night Fears was one of them ((It was originally called Dare, but I changed that when it was suggested that I follow the Dresden Files naming pattern.)), though not the top option on the list. It was, in fact, number two.

The one Fred and I liked best was a court trial, where the bulk of the action would take place in flashbacks, allowing the characters to build the backstory dynamically as the trial proceeded. I thought it was a cool idea, and could make for some great storytelling, but it was kind of daunting, so I decided to test the concept in my Fearful Symmetries game. After playing, I was reluctantly forced to admit that it would take way too much work to hash it into a pick-up-and-play form that anyone could run at a convention or evening of play.

So, we fell back on the Night Fears idea. I liked this one because it let me work a standard haunted house horror scenario into a DFRPG world, and to focus on being scared, rather than on being hurt ((Don’t get me wrong; the characters can get hurt bad in the scenario, but that’s not the primary focus.)). It also let me cobble together an interesting group of young teens to tackle the problem – I’m really happy with the characters as they turned out, and I think they’re good enough to lift out of the scenario for other teen-centric one-shots.

The other thing I think is important about these characters is that they’re set at Feet in the Water level, the lowest power level in the game. I’ve got a bit of thing about games with sliding power scales – I like to see if they work as well at the lower end as at the higher end. And by “work as well as,” I generally mean they can tell stories that are just as interesting, just as threatening, and just as heroic. I took the low power scale here as a challenge to myself, to put together something that would be as fun to play as dueling Submerged wizards ((The other thing about the low power level is that the characters are very simple to play, so it’s a good scenario to spring on newbies, even if it doesn’t show off the magic system.)).

Hopefully, I succeeded. You’ll have to let me know.


The whole experience of working with Evil Hat has been awesome. Matthew Gandy has taken his place in my list of top editors ((The other three names on that list are John Tynes, Greg Stolze, and Michelle Nephew.)) to work with – he asked the right questions, called me on my flaws, and just generally dragged the stuff I’d written up to a higher level. Thanks, Matthew.

Fred Hicks is just magic. I mean, you’ve seen his layout stuff – he does an amazing job of making his books look both classy and fun, which is a bit of a balancing act, in my mind. Beyond that, he is great to work with, very communicative, supportive, and (maybe most importantly for freelancers) quick to pay. He went above and beyond keeping me in the loop on where things stood with the book, sending me art previews and layout previews. It’s great to feel so involved in a project.

And Kathy Schad is an amazing artist. I don’t know enough about art to discuss her stuff intelligently, so I will just say that she made the stuff in my head look better than I imagined it could. Check out her site.

One of the coolest things about this project happened today, when I got to follow Ruben Smith-Zempel’s tweets as he pulled the map in the book together in an amazingly short time. It’s a great map, and I can’t believe how quick he was with it.

That’s about enough of me prattling on about the scenario. I’ll shut up now. But I encourage you to go check it out – it’s free, after all – and let me know if you run it. I’d love to hear your war stories.

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11 Responses to Night Fears

  1. Fred Hicks says:

    It was great to work with you. But I have to confess, I’d completely forgotten about your prior writing experience. This blog is what sold me! πŸ™‚

  2. Milo says:

    “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” – Good to see it Rick.

  3. Chad Underkoffler says:

    Re: Footnote #2 — Dude, OF COURSE. (fist bump)

    @Fred: I’m sure I reminded you about the above at some point, but that might have been far past the Neal-lovefest had already begun. πŸ˜‰

  4. Rel Fexive says:

    Wicked cool. I was going to get it anyway but that fact that you wrote it, Rick, just seals the deal.

  5. Karla says:

    Gimme gimme!

  6. Rick Neal says:

    @Karla: It’s available for free at, so go grab yourself a copy. Let me know what you think.

  7. Mr Sleep says:

    Free? Again? I know I should be slobbering over a Neil-Hat combo death game filled the brim with juicy goodness, but I have to make sure that you guys are actually making money on all of this. You are, right?

    P.S. Please say a prayer for all of us sad bastards in Tuscaloosa. We need all the help we can get.

  8. Rick Neal says:

    @Mr Sleep: Well, *I* got paid, anyway, so I’ve got to assume Fred and company aren’t hurting. I have no details about the company finances beyond what Fred has posted on his blog (, but it sounds like they’re doing well. So grab that scenario with a clean conscience and, if you try it out, come back and tell us how it went.

    As for the situation in Tuscaloosa, yeah, the whole mega-tornado thing is sort of getting drowned out by other news stories, but I know it’s bad down there. You folks are in my thoughts.

  9. Mr Sleep says:

    Glad to hear you’re doing well and appreciate the thoughts.

  10. Fred Hicks says:

    Free scenarios -> more people running and playing DFRPG -> more copies sold

    We will do fine. πŸ™‚

  11. Mr Sleep says:

    God, if only the rest of the planet adopted that plan.

    To Rick and the crew at Evil Hat, excellent job. Just got done poking through Night Fears. It’s absolutely great. Not only does it work as intended but, like all the other Dresden stuff I’ve looked at, it is incredibly easy to modify. I’m planning on ramping up the lethality and unleashing it on some paranormal investigators soon.

    Thanks again guys!

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