PDA

View Full Version : How to run a horror game?



Quiver
2016-03-19, 08:20 AM
So, this is mostly out of curiosity more than anythign... but I was hoping to run a horror-themed game of somethign a some point, once I get my bearings as a wannabe DM. There's just one problem:

How do you do that?

I admit, I'm having difficulty figuring out how to make a 'scary' game. I cans see how comedy, adventure, high/low fantasy would work - all of those are built straight into roleplaying- but horror seem's more... difficult to effectively pull off.

So... I was wondering if anyone could give advice on how to create a successful horror-game atmosphere.

Final Hyena
2016-03-19, 09:35 AM
Fear, you have to inspire fear in the hearts of your players, but how? Well the answer will slightly vary based on which game system you're using. So if you could tell us which one we could give you more specific answers. Without that I'll assume it's DnD as that's what I know.

The problem with DnD is it's rarely scary, why? Because the game is designed around getting into fights, lots of fights, killing, leaving a trail of death, endless monstrous bodies litter the path behind you all to empower you so that you can eventually become a demi god on earth. That's not scary, not at all. The moment you start being able to kill the monsters with relative ease that's where fear goes out the window. It's about power, a lack of power, the feeling of not being at the top of the food chain is terrifying. DnD puts players as the hunters, but in a game of horror, the players are supposed to be the hunted and any attempts to fight back should be highly risky and costly.

So how do you make a game like that? First you have to throw the traditional concept of encounters out the window. Enemies are not standard stat blocks that can be killed, they are terrifying monsters. The monsters are all designed to be borderline unkillable, the monsters are the stalkers in the night, the endless eyes in the darkness chasing you until you grow tired.

Ok so the monster are insane beasts, but what is the game based on if the players can't engage them? Human interaction, the monsters are the backdrop for a terrifying settings which affects how the humans interact with each other, struggling, running desperately trying to survive, sometimes together sometimes destroying each other. The players goals are to survive and based on the campaign either help/hinder others. A world that has gone to hell is where you truly see how someone acts when they desperately need food, medicine etc to survive.

So the general idea is that the situations are dealing with other 'civilized' creatures with the occasional fleeing from beings of death and destruction. Mostly yes, however this doesn't mean you can't have the odd situation dealing with horrors from the depths. You can have missions to distract them, steal from them (maybe they line their dens with a unique bio material for example). You can even allow your players to try and fight them, but if they want to be successful they have to plan thoroughly to get the upper hand and expend limited and costly resources to be able to do it (think of single use magic items that make combating them a possibility).

In a game of DnD this world is difficult to do because of magic being able to solve problems of food, water and illness. To combat this you have to keep your game very low level or ban those spells.

As you can see DnD isn't best set up for horror and you should look into games that are built around horror as a core part of the experience, but with some effort and creativity you can make it a terrifying experience.

All in all you are designing a world where the players are not the top of the food chain, they fight for survival struggling to manage and are constantly at the peril of terrors, and sometimes just maybe they can fight back very briefly at great cost and risk.

goto124
2016-03-19, 09:52 AM
An example of a more suitable system: Call of Cthulhu.

It takes a lot of GMing skill to instill horror in the players, instead of accidentally breaking immersion with narm.

prufock
2016-03-19, 09:53 AM
It's tough. The most important thing, before you even start, is to get your players to agree. They have to agree to the mood, agree to work with the horror game idea, and stay in character. If they don't, nothing else you do will work. They'll joke around, or cross-talk, or whatever that will eliminate any atmosphere you create.

Secondly, atmosphere is important. Horror descriptions are hard, and sometimes it's what you don't describe that's the most effective. Read some popular horror novels; they're better than watching movies because it's all description and exposition, which is what you need for an RPG.

goto124
2016-03-19, 09:59 AM
The most important thing, before you even start, is to get your players to agree. They have to agree to the mood, agree to work with the horror game idea, and stay in character. If they don't, nothing else you do will work. They'll joke around, or cross-talk, or whatever that will eliminate any atmosphere you create.

Echoing this: get player buy-in. If they expected a high-power game where they get to slaughter creatures by the droves, they'll be left wondering why they can't even see the monsters until the last minute, or why they're stuck with really poor weapons and spells, or a lot of other horror conventions that, outside horror, comes off as the DM gimping the players to go on a power trip.

Darth Ultron
2016-03-19, 12:47 PM
First off there are horror type games, you might want to get one and run it.


For other games :

1.Lack of information. Nothing creates more fear and horror as not knowing. You want to keep like 99% of the game world information and 75% of the game rule information.

2.Misinformation. Again is a big component of fear, to discover what is known is wrong. Even better is the whole sense that everything know might be wrong and there is no truth.

3.Powerful foes. You want to toss out whatever ''challenge'' or ''fairness'' rules your game might have. You want the characters to encounter things too powerful. You don't want to kill the characters, just have the elder vampire toss them out a window and laugh.

4.The more ''mature'' and ''rated R'' you can go will equal more horror.

5.Make the ''reality'' of the world hostile. Like whatever skills and abilities a character might have..might work...maybe.

Fable Wright
2016-03-19, 01:56 PM
The best blending of horror and standard PC murderfest I have seen is Bloodborne. This is basically your ideal model for how horror works in D&D. Let's break down why it's effective, shall we?

1. The environment. Nothing is explained. Ever. And there is some weird, weird stuff there. Let's start with the basics; scattered around as movement inhibitors are random, abandoned baby carriages. No parents or children in sight. Obvious question: what happened to them? Moving up, there are the statues. Namely, they don't have faces and are shrouded in robes of stone. When you come back later, with more Insight, you begin to see the faces. Their eyes are shallow and inhuman, and the shapes that may have been beards are grasping tentacles, chiseled painstakingly into the stone. Nothing else has changed; your mind has just begun to process what's happened. This leads to point 2.

2. Things change with no explanation. Corridors that were cleared out now have abominations lurking throughout them, like cardboard boxes filled with animating sacks of bone and shredded meat, with a single, huge eye at the top, glaring at you. Like tall, gaunt berserkers made of shadow save for two glowing, yellow eyes. That townsperson? Looks like he suddenly got a headache, before his head bursts open into a mass of five snakes arching from his body. Then the townsman stands up and keeps moving. No one comments.

3. The bosses. These are not your garden variety bosses. They are big. Many times, they damage you on a near miss. They have tons of hit points. They are fast, unpredictable, and quite often leap over any impedances the party can throw at it. Instead of weak points, they have specific points that you can focus fire to turn into weak points. They come out of nowhere, without warning. And those are just the inhuman ones. The humans are worse. Faster than you, stronger than you, they once stood in your shoes and lived to tell about it. They know your tactics, your tricks, and your tactics... and worse, they know their environment. If running this in a system like Theater of the Mind D&D 5e, I'd do things like give them Legendary actions to interpose hard cover between themselves and a given party member for one turn, a Parry Reaction to turn a hit into a miss and allow the boss to return fire for massive damage next turn only, and a grab bag of powers to fit their theme. Point being, the players feel out of their league, and every win is barely eked out.

4. The scale. You thought things were bad before? When you've gone mad enough, or when the Blood Moon rises, you see just how far out of your depth you are. Massive abominations have latched onto every object tall enough to hold them, silently watching the party through their eyeless, thistle-like faces. You enter nightmares to fight the horrors inside them, you fight your way through towns where blood runs into humanoid forms every time the bell rings, a neverending assault until you can fight your way clear into the source of the nightmare that controls your reality.

You can see that the horror comes in the form of helplessness. You don't have all the information, and the more you understand, the more you understand that the problem isn't one you can solve. Helplessness comes from the question of how you can possibly kill a presence you can't even see. From being fundamentally outclassed by every boss you find. From questions you can't answer.

Of course, you can impose other restrictions, like hunger and thirst, taking away powers, etc. but that ignores player volition and, in my opinion, kills the horror. Horror, in my experience, is learning that fighting at your best, your top form, with all the prep in the world and finding out that that's not good enough. Even on a successful slaughter, it was barely enough, and it's nothing compared to what else is out there.

Beware, of course, that Determination is the enemy of horror. The power to keep fighting a problem until you succeed, while sometimes necessary to get through a horror game with a respawn system, turns the player into the horror. But that's a topic for another time. Point being, broadcast well ahead of time that a successful retreat should be considered a victory, and try to curtail resurrection, if it's possible in the system.

Quiver
2016-03-19, 03:24 PM
Thanks everyone!

Honestly, I've been reading the rulebook for Pokemon Tabletop United. The legendary book game me an idea or two for a horror story ID like to try, which is why I asked...

But I was mostly curious about horror, in general. Action, adventure or comedy, that seems logical enough for any RPG; you can roll with the punches.

But the improve built into rolling dice, and the unpredictability of players, makes running horror sound...difficult. I'd be doing pbp, which is probably easier -you have time to get a good response to things- but...

As I say, mostly general curiosity as to how to run that type of story.

lacco36
2016-03-19, 03:31 PM
But the improve built into rolling dice, and the unpredictability of players, makes running horror sound...difficult. I'd be doing pbp, which is probably easier -you have time to get a good response to things- but...

As I say, mostly general curiosity as to how to run that type of story.

Best advice for horror: keep the dice away. As soon as they enter the play, players switch to different mindset.

Best horror = diceless horror (at least for beginners, pro horror GMs can use even those to their advantage)...