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ahenobarbi
2015-09-12, 04:29 PM
Notice to my players: If you participate in Faerun / D&D 3.5 campaign featuring drow cleric Javlin please stop reading this thread now.
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So,
I'll be DMing a horror game in >1 month (unlimited metaphorical cookies for guessing exact date :smallwink:). The system will be probably [new] World of Darkness, I haven't decided on subsystem yet (probably regular mortal or innocents... maybe hunters but it seems that the less characters know the more it's frightening for players). I'll mixing in mystery into horror stories seems to work pretty well to get/ keep engagement so I'll want some of that too.

That's all I have for now - since I have much time to prepare I want to star by reading up before I start making decisions.

In my experience using a new system involves a lot of "wait I need to check rules" moments which really break immersion so I think I should use something group is familiar with.

The group is familiar with D&D 3.5 and nWoD, of those two nWoD seems much better suited for a horror story.

I have some experience DMing (D&D 3.5 and some free form; a little bit of oWoD and Warhammer) but I've never DMed a horror story so if you have any ideas/ articles/ scenarios/ suggestions that you think would be helpful then do share :smallsmile:

Spartakus
2015-09-12, 06:01 PM
Horror-scenarios live from the atmosphere you create. Don't run it in your garden in bright daylight. Use a proper basement or a cabin in the woods after nightfall. Ged rid of anything that disturbs this atmosphere, Tell your players to leave their Smartphones and Tablets at home. Use candles instead of electric light.

I run a DnD-Horror-scenario myself yesterday and here are some things i've done to scare my players:

-Prepared the room with Bloodstains and and an axe in the middle of the room.
-Build a little device to make baloons pop somewhere behind them (made of strings and a sharp tool)
-had a nice youtube-video for background-music (quiet enogh to allow conversations without raising the voice)
-started a playlist with scary noises from here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSNZF9AHSU_76zG4HFd8zTw) and here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XwWIepDRp4) that filled the room everey few minutes (playlist with some soundless pieces for time between the noises) much louder than the background music
-asked a friend to hide behind a courtain and come up at a certain point

When your players start to become as paranoid as their charachters you've done something right:smallbiggrin:

Draconium
2015-09-12, 06:05 PM
Tone is everything. If your game doesn't have to right tone for a horror game, it won't work. You have to set up the tone beforehand, and make sure the players all know the tone the game is taking.

Also, don't force the horror on the players. You have to guide it, and let the tension build naturally. Forcing scares on the players is cheap, and no one likes it.

ahenobarbi
2015-09-12, 07:06 PM
Horror-scenarios live from the atmosphere you create. Don't run it in your garden in bright daylight. Use a proper basement or a cabin in the woods after nightfall. Ged rid of anything that disturbs this atmosphere, Tell your players to leave their Smartphones and Tablets at home. Use candles instead of electric light.

I plan to run the game at my house at night (I do not have access to any worthwhile wood cabins or basements). I'l ask my players to leave anything mood-ruining at designated place. Do you have any suggestions for decorating the house (aside from using candles as a light source)?


I run a DnD-Horror-scenario myself yesterday and here are some things i've done to scare my players:

-Prepared the room with Bloodstains and and an axe in the middle of the room.

This looks awesome! Were bloodstains removable (I can live with bloodstains in my living room but if I don't have too that's all the better)? How did you make them (I do have axes so using them is easy for me & looks like a great improvement for the mood)?

Did you run the whole game in the room or did you introduce it at some point of the game?


-Build a little device to make baloons pop somewhere behind them (made of strings and a sharp tool)

Do you mind sharing a little more detail here? (I probably can make such device but I'd appreciate knowing how you used it (and saving me design work would be nice too ;) )).


-had a nice youtube-video for background-music (quiet enogh to allow conversations without raising the voice)
-started a playlist with scary noises from here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSNZF9AHSU_76zG4HFd8zTw) and here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XwWIepDRp4) that filled the room everey few minutes (playlist with some soundless pieces for time between the noises) much louder than the background music

Thanks :)


-asked a friend to hide behind a courtain and come up at a certain point

Could you tell me a little more about this? I think I can get a friend to cooperate & do something like that but I'd like to get as much help as possible (well I'm new to that).


When your players start to become as paranoid as their charachters you've done something right:smallbiggrin:

That's my goal :smallbiggrin:


Tone is everything. If your game doesn't have to right tone for a horror game, it won't work. You have to set up the tone beforehand, and make sure the players all know the tone the game is taking.

Yeah. That's why I'm starting talk to players now. So they can make sure they're ok with playing such a game and so I can make appropriate preparations. I'm not sure how to go about setting game tone. When I ran silly April fools loony game my player's were all serious about approaching silly challenges. Which might be good here but it might be not (serious approach does not work well with silly challenges; serious-in-character-approach works well with horror challenges but serious-OOC-approach doesn't seem to). So any advice on setting tone to horror?


Also, don't force the horror on the players. You have to guide it, and let the tension build naturally. Forcing scares on the players is cheap, and no one likes it.

Thanks/ that's what I want to do. But I'm not confident in my ability to actually do it. Player's have their natural attitudes (one is reality-denial/always joking, two are always-serious (one in down-to-earth tone, the other very pompous)) and I'm not sure how I should work their attitudes into the story (the funny one is especially problematic to me - he does go into OOC jokes in much lighter sessions, which does break their mood, I'm a little worried he'll do in the session too & it'll be harder to recover the immersion in horror game).

BTW how did you handle breaks? I plan for the game to be at least 6h long so we will need breaks. But folks will naturally unwind during them. Do you have any tips on getting players back in mood after break (or keeping mood during breaks)?

Oneris
2015-09-12, 07:56 PM
Hang a mirror or a masquerade mask or a portrait in the room the game will be run in a few weeks before the game. Then rig it to smash an appropriately tense moment.

Hide a (quiet) fan somewhere in the room and set it on a timer so it blows papers gently or makes hanging crystals/chains clink at odd intervals.

Partly unscrew a bulb in the bathroom for that fluorescent light flicker

Cover all the furniture with white sheets. Optional: Spray paint a child-sized doll white and hide him among the white furniture.

Leave a creepy prop covered with a white sheet under the table where the food is. Someone is guaranteed to look underneath. Note: the food might not survive the ensuing scare.

If you have the time (http://diymary.hubpages.com/hub/bleeding-candles), take white taper candles and burn them down a bit, and while the wax is still soft, jam a piece of red crayon right next to the wick and cover it with more wax. When the flame starts to melt the crayon, it'll look as if it's bleeding.

goto124
2015-09-12, 08:52 PM
I plan for the game to be at least 6h long so we will need breaks.

6 hours? That seems rather excessive. Even 3 hours is stretching it.

Spartakus
2015-09-13, 04:12 AM
I plan to run the game at my house at night (I do not have access to any worthwhile wood cabins or basements). I'l ask my players to leave anything mood-ruining at designated place. Do you have any suggestions for decorating the house (aside from using candles as a light source)?

No. What I did was to spend half an hour looking around the house for things I can use.


This looks awesome! Were bloodstains removable (I can live with bloodstains in my living room but if I don't have too that's all the better)? How did you make them (I do have axes so using them is easy for me & looks like a great improvement for the mood)?
Well, I used some halloween make-up. It was easily removable from the ceramic-tiles (I tested it before). If you have something dark red for six hours on a carpet or fabric, expect it to be rather permanent. Test it somewhere or put it on things you want to remove anyway.



Did you run the whole game in the room or did you introduce it at some point of the game?
Good point. We started outside to review what happend in the last session and played the travel into the haunted wood. Then I took a few minutes to light all the candles and start the music before I invited everyone to the basement. Gave them candles to see something when walking to their places.



Do you mind sharing a little more detail here? (I probably can make such device but I'd appreciate knowing how you used it (and saving me design work would be nice too ;) )).
Well, i tied a metal circular brush to a piece of string and left it dangling from the heater right above a baloon. Then all I had to do was release the other end of the string.



Could you tell me a little more about this? I think I can get a friend to cooperate & do something like that but I'd like to get as much help as possible (well I'm new to that).

Our basement has an entry from outside that I left open. He was present when I started my scary noise playlist and knew exactly when a loud scratching noise, lasting a minute or so would occur that would cover his steps. Then he reached through the courtain and simply touched one players back. Kept eye-contact with said player to focus his attention on me. This went really good. For the rest of the session he look behind him everytime I had a loud noise in the playlist just to see if I would do it again.


BTW how did you handle breaks? I plan for the game to be at least 6h long so we will need breaks. But folks will naturally unwind during them. Do you have any tips on getting players back in mood after break (or keeping mood during breaks)?

6h is really long for a horror-session. I would suggest splitting the adventure in two parts. My scenario was the shimmerglens-episode from Rise of the Runelords. About 4 pages in a really thick book. I really had to stretch it and add more IT-events to make 3h from it.

By the way: What I really hadn't planned was the huge spider running through the room in the middle of the session :smallbiggrin:

Fri
2015-09-13, 04:21 AM
Whenever a character in game dies...

...KILL THE PLAYER!

Spartakus
2015-09-13, 05:00 AM
Whenever a character in game dies...

...KILL THE PLAYER!

Why haven't I thought of this? It would have been the most memorable session EVER! Well at least for the survivors.

dysike
2015-09-13, 05:16 AM
I have two pieces of advice;
The first is simple but an easy mistake to make, the players need to win sometimes. I know that horror is all about dis-empowerment but if players start to develop a hopeless attitude about the game then they'll be depressed, not scared. In order to be scared the players need to be invested in their character's goal, in order to be invested it has to seem achievable. It's a tricky balancing act, making sure there's enough chance of victory that the players stay invested but still enough danger that they're scared when their character is at risk.

The second is more about scenario and monster design. Some people, mostly when gaming with friends, are tempted to base events in the game off of known fears of the players, don't do this, because fundamentally if you don't know why it's scary you can't make it scary. Much better idea; show the players your worst fears, take one of your own phobias or nightmares and show the players why is scares you, take whatever terrifies you the most and exaggerate the parts of it that scare you until it's a credible horror antagonist/monster.

goto124
2015-09-13, 06:06 AM
Whenever a character in game dies...

...KILL THE PLAYER!

SAO style?


The first is simple but an easy mistake to make, the players need to win sometimes. I know that horror is all about dis-empowerment but if players start to develop a hopeless attitude about the game then they'll be depressed, not scared. In order to be scared the players need to be invested in their character's goal, in order to be invested it has to seem achievable. It's a tricky balancing act, making sure there's enough chance of victory that the players stay invested but still enough danger that they're scared when their character is at risk.

Seconding this. Applies to any high-lethality game, really. I've been in one before, and all I felt was 'I'm so tired trying to dodge everything, why am I even playing?'

Spartakus
2015-09-13, 08:20 AM
One thing I've forgotten: You can place your phone somewhere near the place you expect the players to sit and give it a proper horror-ringtone (crying, screeming, whatever)
Didn't work in my session due to technical problems:smallfrown:

Thrawn4
2015-09-13, 11:00 AM
Creating a good horror adventure is probably one of the most difficult tasks a DM may encounter. That said, I highly encourage you to go for it as it can be a lot of fun.

So, what is horror? What is fear? Long story short, fear stems from the lack of control. People are never frightened when they are in control. Think about it: Death for example is scary because you cannot do anything about in real life, whereas in D&D it is mostly a status effect. But death is final. All your endeavours, all your hopes and dreams, and even your legacy will ultimately vanish in the void called entrophy. Saying that you have to give meaning to your life yourself is just a way to stave off the horror of demise by inventing an illusion.
At least, that's what people think who are afraid of death.
But let's not open that particular can of worms. Rather, let's go into the details of fear.

Loss of control can entail several factors. The most obvious one is the lack of power. If you can fight something, it's not as scary. You can easily beat a cold. Cancer though... more difficult. That's one of the reasons why your average D&D zombie is not scary. It has poor stats and can overly be overcome. That's why ammunition in most survival games is scarce. That's why flight is usually a valid course of action. Of course, you have to be careful that the player characters can't just outrun every threat, because this gives them back some control.
For that reason, you have to find something that keeps the PCs from escaping everything. Yes, you can expect your players to follow the plot if you like metagaming. But you can also burn their plane, entrap them in a place between the worlds and have their little sister missing.

But loss of control can also entail a lack of understanding. People are afraid of the darkness because the lack of light makes it difficult to ascertain facts that are usually a given. The dark figure in the alley might just be an odd collection of trash with a hat in the daylight, but at night you cannot be sure. The more facts the players have, the more control they can establish. As soon as there are certain rules or patterns, a threat becomes more predictable and therefore less dangerous. A good DM therefore leaves events open to interpretation.
In his essay "The Uncanny", Freud offers a brilliant insight in events that occur in daily life which may become uncanny. Imagine a person that rents hotel room 33. Completely common. The taxi driver demands 33 dollars. Still common. A crazy man states that the world will end in 33 days. Alright, now it's getting odd... I think you get the picture. Everyone has heard of probabilties and coincidences, but at some point the chances of something being a coincidence are rather low, but you still do not know what is going on. A different example is something unanimated seems to be animated, or vice versa. There are certain ideas of things, and when they seem to behave differently, we are likely to chalk it up to our imagination or a simple mistake. But if it happens again, we are unsure whether our old ideas hold up to the truth. And if our understanding of how the world works is wrong, what else is possible?
For the same reason you never state that a zombie lurkes in the basement. A zombie can be categorized and is somewhat mundane to many players. "Show don't Tell" is the basic premise of every good story, and it is also important here. Describe the smell, the sound of movement, and suddenly a person scrambling towards the players. Is it a drunken bum trying to escape? The weird neighbour trying defend himself? Or an honest-to-goodness undead? The players don't know, so they have to take a risk of shooting an innocent or being infected. IF zombies are infectious, because that is another piece of information that the players hopefully don't have yet.

That said, there are also lesser factors that are important to fear. For one, the current course of action should be at least disastrous for the PCs. Nobody is afraid because they cannot change the fact that scientists found a way to negate the greenhouse effect. No, they are afraid because their girlfriend might become blind, or their little brother might rot in hell, or their own life is at stake, or something else that causes a lot of discomfort. At the same time, it is noteworthy that hope has a major role in upholding the tension. Utter despair is a horrible thing, yes, but it should reserved for the very last moment when their little sister is dragged to hell. If everything is meant to be doomed, players may easily become fatalistic and frustrated. That also means that not every horror story has to have an unhappy ending.

In this vein it is worthwhile to touch the lethality debate. Some DMs are of the opinion that a high body count is necessary to strike fear into the hearts of the players. It is not! Two reasons: One, as pointed out above, constant failures become tidious after a short while. Two, the idea behind that reasoning is that the loss of a character is the worst thing evar. But if the players don't even have time to become invested in their characters, their emotional discomfort is similar to removing a piece during a chess game. Put another way, very invested players may be shocked by the loss of a characters finger, while others just want to hang out and couldn't care less about a piece of paper. That's why players should have enough time to bond emotionally with their characters and the NPCs.

In order to have the players on the edge, you have to build up tension. Slowly. Ease the player into the mood. Get them invested, let strange things happen, until they slowly start to piece together the clues. Not everything has to be related, but there shouldn't be a street of red herings either. Don't forget the element of threat. And use the important scenes sparingly but effective. Every room soaked in blood turns mundane fast, but three drops of blood at the right time (e. g. out of a PC's eye) might do the trick. Here are some tricks to make the scenes meaningful:

First, TIMING. Again, don't turn your adventure into a ghost show. Leave room for mundane scenes.

Second, obey the dichotomy of shock effect and disturbing effect. A shock effect is everything that appeals to one's survival instinct a loud scream, an unnerving touch. A disturbing effect is something that plays your cognitive processes and perception. You know the feeling when something just isn't right. You come home to celebrate your birthday, but your parents are pale and your best friend is missing. Or the entire floor is wet and sticky. Both effects are different, but it is said they work best when you introduce a disturbing effect first and then add a shock effect a few seconds later while the players are still tense.
There is the optin of having OOC shock effects, and they may work. But once again, use them very sparingly. It may become funny or annoying, and this will kill your mood. Also, it breaks immersion. My advise would be to use them once. Preferably a real scream from the DM that is also uttered by a NPC.

Third, a summary of one and two: Don't overdo it. Ever played a video game where you die in the same scene again and again? That's irritating, not uncanny.

Fourth, there is another dichotomy, namely the one of visceral and cerebral horror. Visceral is your typical blood and gore style. Body mutilation is horrible indeed, but you have to be a grand storyteller to convey this style. Detail is the key. Describe how the needle pierces the black center of the eye, how the goo slowly poor out... Alternatively, you can present the players with the aftermath. Describe the white gooey ball on the floor, let them find the corpse and the tools later and have them piece together the scene in their own minds. Imagination can be worse than description.
Cerebral horror is... difficult to describe, really, and more prominent in the Eastern horror movies. It is something you can only fathom with your mind. Imagine you are trapped with something incorporeal, that sees you, hates you, is near you. Utter malice, if you will, and you are the target. Of course, you don't make a voice say "I hate you", but you provide clues. A broken glass, a hiss, or maybe a lost journal.

Fourth: Tension and tension release
You probably know the suspense curve. Typically, it starts low and increases towards the climax, as it should be. But at the same it is difficult to uphold the constant pressure. Cat scares are one way to do so. A creak in the bedroom, you trembling open the door, and oh it was just a cat. You know, a perceived threat that really isn't one. Another way to do so is by denying many things the players would usually rely on. Information and NPCs are they really reliable? Probably... not.
At the same time, it is really exhausting to be on the edge for a long period of time. During a long adventure, you need some means to release the tension. A joke and a safe haven usually to the trick. Just don't forget to tear down the safe haven towards the end. Usually it's just easier to have a short horror adventure.

Fifth: Topple the players
It is always nice to have a twist towards the ending that twists the guts and forces the players to adapt. The uncle is actually the murderer, and the gardener actually a victim. The zombies broke into the previously safe shelter. Surprises are good, but don't force them if they feel arbitrary. Bonus points if the characters could have prevented it if they had found the clues or succeeded otherwise. Especially in the final of a one-shot adventure, you may turn into a devil in disguise. But make sure there was a way the players could have seen.

Sixth: Beware the flow
So, you have brilliant riddles and the perfect gore scene? Great. Unfortunately, the players can't solve it and the scene is tied to an object that the players ignore. Frustration is the bane of atmosphere. Therefore, you should ALWAYS have a backup plan and be flexible. Maybe there is a different way that is just more costly. Maybe the scene can be adapted to a similar situation. Tense atmosphere requires some sort of progess, so make sure it is possible.

Solaris
2015-09-13, 03:07 PM
Why haven't I thought of this? It would have been the most memorable session EVER! Well at least for the survivors.

If you're leaving survivors from this sort of thing, you're doing it wrong.
Maybe this is why I keep having trouble finding players...


I have two pieces of advice;
The first is simple but an easy mistake to make, the players need to win sometimes. I know that horror is all about dis-empowerment but if players start to develop a hopeless attitude about the game then they'll be depressed, not scared. In order to be scared the players need to be invested in their character's goal, in order to be invested it has to seem achievable. It's a tricky balancing act, making sure there's enough chance of victory that the players stay invested but still enough danger that they're scared when their character is at risk.

This, I agree with. You need to create the perception of danger for tension so you can create fear - but if you kill the characters off, then the player isn't playing the game and frustration is the antithesis of fun. Don't throw players into an entirely hopeless scenario. Dangle that sweet, sweet lie of hope in front of them to keep them from surrendering to despair.


The second is more about scenario and monster design. Some people, mostly when gaming with friends, are tempted to base events in the game off of known fears of the players, don't do this, because fundamentally if you don't know why it's scary you can't make it scary. Much better idea; show the players your worst fears, take one of your own phobias or nightmares and show the players why is scares you, take whatever terrifies you the most and exaggerate the parts of it that scare you until it's a credible horror antagonist/monster.

My experiences differ on this. While I'm responsible for my wife now being afraid of zombies (she wasn't until I ran a zombie apocalypse game, now they scare the bajeesus out of her), it's entirely possible to get inside someone's head and use their own fears against them if you know them well enough. The zombie thing is an example of it being entirely possible to use your own worst fears to terrify your players (she used to laugh at my being afraid of the walking dead... used to), but I've also worked her fear of slimy tentacled things (which I, rather than fearing, have something of a fascination with) into games to wig the poor thing out. That's not to say you're entirely wrong, dysike, just that you don't need to share a phobia to be able to grok why someone fears it.

Something I've found useful with that is the tone of my voice. If I keep my voice low, intense, and speak with an almost hypnotic drone and regular, even cadence, that helps to draw my players in and set 'em up to be strung out with tension for the scary stuff. Avoid using gore and silly things like that; a room being blood-splattered isn't scary, especially not to people whose job description entails splattering rooms with blood. Being in underground tunnels (and playing in a room with dim lights at night), low on hit points from a running battle with cannibalistic undead, at low level, with escape uncertain and unknown numbers of walkin' dead closing in and moaning as they slouch through the darkness towards you... that's scary.

ahenobarbi
2015-09-13, 06:58 PM
6 hours? That seems rather excessive. Even 3 hours is stretching it.


6h is really long for a horror-session. I would suggest splitting the adventure in two parts. My scenario was the shimmerglens-episode from Rise of the Runelords. About 4 pages in a really thick book. I really had to stretch it and add more IT-events to make 3h from it.

Thanks for pointing this out - my group tends to go through scenarios really slow so I was planning to spend more time on that one to get them to do something. However in this case being in a specific mood is the goal and being terrified for 6 hours will be way more than enough for them anyone so I'll make this shorter (at least the scary part - I do want players to play in lighter mood for a while, to get them attached to characters before the scary stuff starts happening :smallamused:).


Whenever a character in game dies...

...KILL THE PLAYER!


Why haven't I thought of this? It would have been the most memorable session EVER! Well at least for the survivors.


SAO style?

And there I was thinking about a serious reply to this. Thanks for saving me :)


If you're leaving survivors from this sort of thing, you're doing it wrong.
Maybe this is why I keep having trouble finding players...

:D


No. What I did was to spend half an hour looking around the house for things I can use.

Thanks a lot anyways - your post got me started on thinking about arranging environment to set the mood (we play most games in the same casual room so adjusting it didn't really occur to me), now I'm starting to get ideas of my own :smallbiggrin:


(lots of interesting ideas

And now I'm thinking how to incorporate those, thanks :smallbiggrin:


By the way: What I really hadn't planned was the huge spider running through the room in the middle of the session :smallbiggrin:

:smallcool:


I have two pieces of advice;
The first is simple but an easy mistake to make, the players need to win sometimes. I know that horror is all about dis-empowerment but if players start to develop a hopeless attitude about the game then they'll be depressed, not scared. In order to be scared the players need to be invested in their character's goal, in order to be invested it has to seem achievable. It's a tricky balancing act, making sure there's enough chance of victory that the players stay invested but still enough danger that they're scared when their character is at risk.


Seconding this. Applies to any high-lethality game, really. I've been in one before, and all I felt was 'I'm so tired trying to dodge everything, why am I even playing?'

Wow. Thanks for that. When thinking about horror it occurred to me that them most terrifying thing (at least to me) is inability to affect ones fate. But what I missed is that it also greatly reduces ones interest in game (generally I do remember that but I could have forgotten that in context of the game... with bad results).



The second is more about scenario and monster design. Some people, mostly when gaming with friends, are tempted to base events in the game off of known fears of the players, don't do this, because fundamentally if you don't know why it's scary you can't make it scary. Much better idea; show the players your worst fears, take one of your own phobias or nightmares and show the players why is scares you, take whatever terrifies you the most and exaggerate the parts of it that scare you until it's a credible horror antagonist/monster.

This sounds like an... interesting approach.

ahenobarbi
2015-09-13, 07:14 PM
(lot's of interesting things)

I think I'll need to reread that with a fresher mind (it's past 2 am over here =_=) but that looks like lots of good advice, thanks :)

TeChameleon
2015-09-13, 08:42 PM
Heh- well, I've run a couple of modestly successful horror games in genres that really aren't well suited for them, so I've got a bit of experience under my belt. Oddly, I actively dislike horror movies and novels, but I seem to have at least a small amount of talent in creating the scenarios. Go figure.

The first was actually in an MMORPG (the sadly now-defunct City of Heroes), using the Mission Architect content creator. That one was something of a challenge, as first off, Superheroism and Horror are pretty much diametrically opposed, as the former is about empowerment, and the latter disempowerment. The tools I had to work with were limited text boxes, some control (but not enough >.<) over creature placement, and one of the most powerful character customization tools I've ever encountered in a video game.

Long story short, I ended up using an endangered child NPC contact as the fulcrum to swing between empowerment/disempowerment. The child was the one who was powerless and afraid, and the players were the heroes who needed to save them. The monsters were based on various childhood fears (with the advantage of being both thematically appropriate and at least somewhat universal), and I managed to make them visually striking, I think (one fond memory during the testing and tweaking of the story involves running the missions with an online friend and having them go 'Aaaah! CLOWN!' when one monster popped out :smalltongue:).

The second was during a Shadowrun game I ran. Being typical 'Runners, my PCs were rather heavily armed and quite capable, but I managed to completely terrorize them with a pile of loose paper and an uncommonly durable pink teddy bear. And a lot of tone-setting, of course :smallamused:

Huh. Now that I think about it, my two horror scenarios had one major thing in common; taking a known scary thing from the lore and having it react with terror to the true baddies of the scenario.

In the City of Heroes example, the second mission had you go up against a major Villainess, one who was truly horrible in her own right (Mother Mayhem, the powerful psychic in charge of 'rehabilitating' the 'thought criminals' of a totalitarian alternate-reality regime). Once you brought her down, she broke down in sobbing terror that you not turn her over to 'her'. Combine that with hints from the (also psychic) NPC kid contact that there was something big and nasty lurking in astral space, and you had a reasonable buildup to the intro of the big bad Phobophage.

In the Shadowrun case, the Insect Spirits (think huge sapient demon bugs that possess people, eat people, and are trying to invade Earth from their dimension) were the nasties fleeing in terror. Or, well, that had fled in terror in the past. I had the runners wander right past the fringes of a semi-dormant Ant Spirit nest, with waking Ant Spirits peering at them from out of side tunnels as they went along, ratcheting up the paranoia quite nicely. They were in Chicago, aka 'Bug City', so they knew full well that they were going to run into the Bugs, and had prepared as best they were able, although they were still kind of nervous.

Then they found a tunnel that the Bugs themselves had sealed off with considerable enthusiasm. And, of course, it just happened to be the exact way that they needed to go for their mission (they'd been hired to find a forgotten bunker as a hideout for their contact, who needed to get really lost after seriously torquing off one of the biggest, nastiest megacorporations on the planet... by rescuing a bunch of orphans they'd been doing all kinds of horrible testing on, so he needed a place for the kids to get lost too. Ah, shamelessly manipulating my players' emotions... :smalltongue:). So they trapped the tunnels in all directions rather heavily, and opened up the seal.

Cue the Bugs doing a mass suicide rush towards them. This freaked them out a bit, and they got inside in a hurry... to find a relatively normal-looking, if somewhat bare, room. The only oddities about it were the drifts of loose paper and the splattering on walls that looked like someone had fed Bugs into a huge sideways blender with no lid.

After doing some exploring- the live Bugs were having trouble reaching the opening, since they were dying slow, horrible, choking deaths in the pesticide traps (although that didn't stop them from trying), so the players took some time to wander a bit- they found a lot more drifts of loose paper, and a lot of intermittent, always-distant, rustling noises. They found hints that the bunker had belonged to an extremely wealthy and powerful magical group, and that it had been a school of some sort. They also found a large auditorium with a heap of ritually-murdered children in a magic circle.

At that point, the team medic (who also happened to be the largest character present) was smashed to his knees by something unseen, which hit him hard enough to tear a strip off the surface of his back armour.

Then the session ended :smallamused:

The next session started with the PCs looking rather frantically for a way out, with one of them suggesting that they burn the whole place and run, although I suggested gently that a) it would make the place useless for their mission, and b) the surviving denizens of Chicago might not appreciate a magical firestorm roaring out of the underground carrying enraged Bug Spirits and whatever other horror was down their with them. The PCs might not like it much either, since everyone would be rather unhappy with them, horror, Bug, and Chicagoan alike.

So they grimly resumed searching, eventually finding a room that contained a major clue- another dead body, this time in a Janitor's closet, and the words 'Don't Blink' carved, splattered, written, and painted on every available surface 'forwards' of the dead man's position (in other words, when they came in, they wouldn't have seen the words until they turned around and maybe shut the door). Until that point, they had thought that there was an invisible monster in there with them.

At around that point, the Bugs were reaching the opening, so they headed back to the hole to see if they were in for a fight (they'd left a remote camera there to keep an eye on things). Instead, the Bugs finished crawling over the bodies of their dead nestmates, and sealed the opening twice as heavily as before.

Armed with this new information- that whatever they were looking for, it probably couldn't move while being observed, and the Bugs really didn't want it getting out- they went back to the central auditorium (the one with the old ritual magic circle full of... yeah). While poking around there, one of the PCs made a high-DC spot check, and noticed a strip of cloth the same colour as the medic's armour, and the same size and shape as the gash on the back of it, poking out of one of the paper piles. The Face/Archer character poked some paper off that pile with an arrow, finding... dusty pink fur. She jumped back, fired an arrow into the pile, and was somewhat aghast when the arrow slowly stopped and then fell, as if it had hit something soft, but impenetrable.

Finding a small pink teddy bear in the pile of paper once the rest is brushed away, the Face/Archer (a rather primal character because of her shapeshifter nature)... freaked out, inadvertently discovering the weakness of the possessed toy because of her weapons. The vessel (teddy bear) being destroyed, the blood spirit animating it popped out, further freaking the characters out. That, too, was dispatched, and the players slowly realized that the children had been sacrificed (fifty years prior, during the original Bug City incident... not something they could really have affected) and their souls bound to the first vaguely anthropomorphic objects at hand- their toys- to be used as guardian golems.

Cue the players slowly realizing just how many dead there were in the ritual circle, and how much loose paper there was around for the golems to travel through, unseen. And also me gleefully pointing out the similarity between Raggedy Anne/Toy Story toys and Weeping Angels (all my players are Doctor Who fans :smalltongue:), as neither can move while observed.

The remainder of the adventure wasn't as much in the way of horror, as it mostly consisted of the players finding clever ways to trap the blood golems in 'observed' space so that they could be dispatched easily, although there was one final nasty surprise- the blood golem toys used their speed to stir up a blizzard of paper, blocking line-of-sight entirely so that they could move freely.

So... the ingredients used were: something frightens big nasty- although in both cases, it was because the frightening thing had a specific counter to the big nasty, rather than just being Cthulhu stomping on a bug, so the players still had a chance, atmosphere (it occurred to me after the fact that in the first Shadowrun session, the PCs... walked down a tunnel, through a hole into a room, down another tunnel, turned a corner, and opened a door. And that was all they actually did during that session. And they considered it after to be a very tense and exciting session :smallcool:), past danger/tragedy- horrible things that the players would have really liked to prevent had already happened there, danger to another- for preference someone/thing that the players naturally wanted to protect, danger to the players- things that could kill them were very definitely present, although they weren't necessarily overwhelmed, and finally surprise- usually not jump scares, but subverted expectations; it wasn't really my plan for the Shadowrun players to think there was a single large invisible nasty in there with them, but it made for a wonderful reveal when they were staring in horror at the sheer number of corpses in the ritual circle.

Hope some of that helps.

P.S.- for the Shadowrun session, we were actually in a quite nice setting, in a large, well-lit, airy room with big windows and comfortable chairs. Setting the mood with props can help, but it's not strictly necessary :smallbiggrin:

Spartakus
2015-09-14, 01:20 AM
If you're leaving survivors from this sort of thing, you're doing it wrong.
Maybe this is why I keep having trouble finding players...


Nah, I can't kill all of my players in a single session. Do you have any Idea what this would do to my plot?

Solaris
2015-09-14, 11:09 PM
Nah, I can't kill all of my players in a single session. Do you have any Idea what this would do to my plot?

I generally try to reserve the... termination... until the end of the campaign, to wrap the plot up and bring things to a nice, satisfying conclusion.

Lvl 2 Expert
2015-09-16, 07:45 AM
Smile, every now and then, and assure people nothing is going on. :smallamused:

ahenobarbi
2015-11-04, 05:58 PM
The session was a success, thanks everyone :smallbiggrin:

Fri
2015-11-07, 05:08 AM
The session was a success, thanks everyone :smallbiggrin:

Come on, you can't left us hanging with just a sentence like that. How did it go? What did you do? How many characters died? How many players died?