View Full Version : Creating a Proper Atmosphere for Horror

2011-06-19, 02:40 AM
Soon, I plan on running a horror campaign. I've read through Heroes of Horror, so I have some material to work with. I was thinking of having some infrasound (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrasound) going in the background, as the anxiety generated by having it going should help with the emotions I'm trying to evoke. I'll have dim lighting, candles and such, but there are probably many tips the playground has to help with the atmosphere. Anyone run across good steps to take for a horror atmosphere?

2011-06-19, 09:41 AM
If you can, run the game at night. Run the game in a small room, a more intimate space. Making a familiar space look different is a good touch too.

Always remember that good horror is personal. Generic horror is cheap. Draw your players in first, then make things grotesque. Your players will frighten themselves.

2011-06-19, 09:47 AM
Practice your narration, work on being able to vary the tone of your voice to help better convey the image you're attempting to convey. Think about how you describe things. Don't simply say "you're in a temple". Describe it: its looks, its scents, its sounds. A good narrator can tell a story to freeze the blood of their listeners in the middle of a crowded street on a summer's day. The key is to pull them in to that other place.

2011-06-19, 02:36 PM
Remember that there are some players (like me) who find music or other background noise distracting rather than helpful in creating the mood. If the light is too dim, it becomes an annoying distraction as the players struggle to read their sheets. Candles can be a danger if you have them anywhere they might get knocked over. Honestly, having players who are wiling to be scared is plenty; you don't need to have all these gimmicks. (You certainly can, but make sure everyone wants them and they're actually helpful.)

2011-06-19, 03:53 PM
In the room your'e going to play in, try removing some of the distracting stuff, or cover them up slightly, have computers turned away from the table, cabinets shut, shelves and tables mostly cleared, have window blinds closed etc.

If your table is large enough have it so that all of the seats are facing each other in a fashion that none of them can have physical contact, don't force it on them, but have the table already set up that way.

Most importantly make sure you have your descriptions of the game down really well, and tailor the scary bits for your players, focusing on what things scare them, especially the primal stuff: heights, the dark, water etc...

Also try to make things that they like grotesque, odd or generally scary bonus points if the likableness makes them want to approach it then they see what it really is.

2011-06-19, 03:57 PM
I think Ian Flemming in "Live and Let Die" did it very well. Have one of your party members dragged off (behind the other players , wile on an errand, ect) Hav him badly maulled. Send the body back with a note


2011-06-19, 04:03 PM
I think Ian Flemming in "Live and Let Die" did it very well. Have one of your party members dragged off (behind the other players , wile on an errand, ect) Hav him badly maulled. Send the body back with a note


That sounds more like the bad comedy of Troll 2 than horror. :smallconfused:

Lord Loss
2011-06-19, 09:10 PM
I've been running a succesful horror game for quite some time recently. There's a lot of different kinds of horror you can run, some of which lend themselves better to D&D than others. The easiest to pull of is disgusting your players, although it's not quite as fullfilling as terrifying them. To do this, you either show them next to nothing, implying horrible crimes by showing them scratches on the wall, a drop of blood here and there, etc. It's possible to imagine the horrible beating/murder/whatever of whoever was there, but you'll never actually see anything (at least not often).

Or you can go with the complete opposite. I used a toned down version of Invasive Procedures, the most twisted scenario I,ve ever read. It had horrible beings implanting worms into the heads of children with bonesaws, the characters had their finger bones replaced by those of others, the deceased, brutally murdered family of a main character came back to haunt him, etc. It was freaking gross.

When you pull this off, you need to make sure not to overstep any boundaries. I reccomend not having much sexual content and keep abuse done to children to a minimum (I reassured one of my more squeamish players that the children in question were later teenagers, as the concept clearly upset him, and even then I may have gone too far at times. Even some of my most gore-resilient players left slightly disturbed).

Assuming you want to scare them otherwise, make them feel powerless. Keep them confused and unable to rectify their probelms, make their allies surprisingly unhelpful and make it so that they,re unable to stop the deaths of innocents. Once they're deep in a mystery and truly believe that their characters can be killed off at any moment, kick things up a notch. Only show them the monsters (and eve then only briefly) once they're in the right mood to be scared, until then only give them quick sightings, sounds, smells and the results of the monster/ghost/murderer/whatever's passing, like murdered corpses or tracks in the snow.

I'll expand later with some more advice, there are more flavors of horror than there are of ice-cream. Another interesting one is guilt/self-loathing/fear of self.

I don't reccomend playing in the dark, or in cramped quarters, it tends to make die rolling a pain and books hard to read. Playing by candle-light or, ideally, with the lights dimmed works just as well. A variant, for in the daytime is to play in a room with nothing but sunlight that faces away from the sun, it can feel somber without being dark (and therefore a hassle).

2011-06-20, 12:13 AM
I do like the idea of atmospheric changes. Let's face it, we may want to play a horror game and be willing to be scared, but that doesn't mean we will be. Like it or not, if you're in a well-lit, normal-seeming room with a bunch of your friends that you like to joke with, your subconscious is going to feel pretty relaxed. Especially if, like with my group, most of your other games are lighter in tone (or have a lot of people breaking character and telling jokes, which is fine in most games but death for a horror game.) It's not that you can't run a good, scary horror game in that setting, but it's harder. Dim lights, candles, and background music/noise all tell the subconscious that this isn't a normal game, this is different and a little creepy, and maybe it should pay attention.

Of course, do keep practical considerations in mind - don't have it so dark you can't see character sheets, don't set anything on fire that isn't supposed to be on fire, and don't have the background sound so loud or disruptive that it's distracting. But that doesn't mean not to do them!

Depending on where you're playing and your space options, one thing you can do is have a separate room. At the very least, if someone is separated from the group, you can take them in there and actually, physically separate them from the other players. (Appropriately creepy music is also helpful here to help keep the mood when you're splitting your attention between them.) But if you're willing to go all-out on the decorating, you can really work up a weird scene and actually, physically take the characters into that room. Done right, this can be not only memorable, but legendary. (I will never forget the game where, for a major necromantic ritual, the GM took us out into the garage. The garage has AC, and he had deliberately set it to be colder than the rest of the house, so even stepping into it, we literally "felt cold." He had covered most of the mundane items with black cloth, turned on a fog machine, and had it lit only by blacklight. Using bleach, he'd written occult sigils on the walls and floor, which of course glowed in the blacklight. Then he acted out the ritual with us. It was EPIC. [A note here: just so people know, bleach will clean off a metal garage door just fine. Not so much a cement floor. You can clean it up cosmetically, but if you shine a blacklight on it, you will still have a giant glowing pentagram surrounded by runes on your garage floor. So, y'know, use caution.]) Yes, it means incorporating some larp elements into tabletop, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, at least for really dramatic moments. (If you try this, save yourself a headache and have copies of character sheets and spare dice already in the room. You don't want to have people scrambling to gather their stuff when you're trying to herd them.)

2011-06-20, 12:33 AM
Oh, infrasounds. Nice science-y approach. I do recommend to be careful however, as while it does affect people commonly, there are some people who may experience it differently. Don't want any of your players to have bleeding ears now, as while that would help with the horror, not so much with keeping them in your group. What affects you want will depend on the setting of the sound though, so make sure you double check that it's on the right setting. I think 19.9 gives the best results, if I remember. Anxiety, mild paranoia, and grey spots occasionally obscuring vision in corners of eyes, if I recall. I suggest some soft music, nothing hard like rock, or soothing like jazz though. You don't want it loud enough to distract, but not quiet enough to be unable to hear it. Generic night sounds usually work though, crickets, bugs, and an occasional wind sound. You could go for some of the more cheesy things, like wolf howls, but don't put them in too often though. Also, try to get the music to avoid a pattern. Patterns give a sense of familiarity, so even the music that is suppose to scare instead calms them. Make sure to take a break occasionally, like every two hours or so for about five to ten minutes. Dim lighting as well, flickering if available. The main point is to jar the players out of a safe zone and to get them involved in the game. If they remember that they are playing a game, it isn't as scary, so try to make them forget. Slight warning though, if they resort to telling jokes you're on your own. Best defense against fear is comedy and if they get that well, at least you got a cool atmosphere, eh?