The parking garage (or “multi-storey car park” in other countries) is a popular setting for horror movies because it tugs at our most primal fears: alone, in the dark, and underground. P2 makes effective use of this scenario by trapping the main character in a massive parking garage complex. With a little tweaking, a cavernous parking garage can be used as scenario for any modern role-playing game.
Large parking garages are underground facilities connected to places where there’s lots of automobile traffic – people have to put their cars somewhere after all. The buildings serviced by a parking garage can be an office park, a shopping mall, or even an apartment complex.
For game masters looking to use a parking garage, you’ll first need to have an overview of the garage itself. The Illustrated 2009 Building Code Handbook has a typical floor plan. This floor can be repeated as necessary depending on the size and scope of the garage and how many cars it services.
If you’re looking to place a parking garage in the context of the real world, here’s a suggestion. Abandoned parking garages are particularly creepy.
Another important prop are pictures of actual parking garages, the creepier the better. See Flickr for a series of pictures.
Parking garages have certain key elements that make them excellent settings for a horror game.
- Cell phones don’t work: One of the few urban settings where intermittent cellular service doesn’t seem contrived. Still, it’s possible that the higher levels do have service. It also emphasizes the importance of more traditional land lines like emergency phones, which may not work if the garage has been taken over by a madman.
- It usually has cars: Occupied garages have cars with owners – rental cars, cars left their by vacationing owners, commuter cars, or cars that are used to get to and from work or play. There’s usually a civilian entering or leaving their vehicle in a parking garage at the beginning of the work day, lunch time, and at the end of the day. Malls might have civilians at all hours up until the garage closes. Things can hide in cars, villains can drive cars, and everybody loves blowing cars up. When garages close, things get real quiet…
- They’re cavernous: When a parking garage is empty it becomes clear just how large these structures really are. For a horror game, an unoccupied garage can’t be beat. A single person can easily become lost in one. There are plenty of dark shadows to hide in. And large groups can even engage in a conflict without the police immediately being notified, especially if there are no civilians around. Parking garages have lots of room to maneuver; jousting vehicles and car chases are a common theme.
- They’re easy to navigate: Parking garages are meant to be entered and exited easily. They can be locked down of course, but the multitude of ramps ensures that even if a civilian can’t reach the stairs, he can duck down a ramp. Unfortunately, giant rats, xenomorphs, serial killers, and zombies can all easily navigate between levels too.
- There’s limited security: There’s a reason most parking garages are monitored by security cameras – it’s just too much space to easily police. Police don’t usually have a presence in these garages, just a security team. If the security team happens to be the villains, then nobody’s coming to the rescue. Even if they try to help, most teams are not equipped to deal with the supernatural.
Parking garages are great places to stage an ambush, slug it out with a supervillain, steal a car, hide a body, start a gang war, or commit murder. Think about that next time you have to cross that pool of darkness on your way to your car…
For more info: See my review of P2.