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View Full Version : DM Help How best to create an atmosphere of doom, of coming apocalypse?



MonkeySage
2017-11-28, 05:56 PM
In my setting, events are unfolding which have called attention of Asmodeus and the Horsemen. A long presumed dead demonic overlord is on the verge of resurrection, and the rulers of the other two lower planes wish to take quick action, to establish a foothold and to damn as many souls as possible before she's resurrected.

I've already got that plagues are becoming more deadly, and spiralling out of control. The great empires are about to clash in massive wars. A whole bunch of children have been born without souls, and a new cult, the Followers of the Dawn, secretly led by an Erinyes, has emerged. It promises protection to its followers.

I'm trying to create an atmosphere of coming doom, but i'm trying to be subtle about it.

dps
2017-11-28, 11:23 PM
Just keep CNN on in the background during game sessions. Real-world news should easily create an atmosphere of doom.

Lapak
2017-11-28, 11:29 PM
Always offer them at least three reasonable plot hooks going forward. This is good policy for giving the players agency and freedom in general, and so is usually received well...

But track the ones they don’t pursue. Any time they go to follow up on one of the ones they left for later, it has ended badly. They’ll still strive, because they can do good and prevail wherever they focus their energy, but the sense that there are just a few too many fires for them to put them all out should give a nice sense of creeping dread.

Darth Ultron
2017-11-29, 08:12 AM
You want to do the stuff like :

*Shortages of everything...weapons, food, horses, everything. The characters go to a tavern and all they have is water and cooked dough. Even more so places like temples have no healing potions and other such adventurer stuff.

*Sky rocketing prices-and what there is left...is very expensive. Like one gold for a tomato....

*Fighting folks-People are on edge and ready to crazy fight over that last loaf of bread

*The disruption of normal things like festivals, holidays, and events. It is bad enough to cancel them....but a big dance with like three people is also very creepy...

*Lots of folks ''rushing to be elsewhere''.

*Explosions, fires and other such things in the far distance....

*People that have just ''give up'' and throw money away, jump off towers and do other such crazy things....

*That little crazy guy on a street corner with the Sign: Apocalypse IS Here....

Jay R
2017-11-29, 08:46 AM
"OK, for this game, design a character to be your first PC. Then go ahead and design your back-up character, and we'll be ready to start session one."

Lapak
2017-11-29, 09:53 AM
"OK, for this game, design a character to be your first PC. Then go ahead and design your back-up character, and we'll be ready to start session one."Heh.

“New rules, gang! We’re still playing in a fantasy setting, but we’ll be using the Paranoia ruleset. For... reasons.”

kyoryu
2017-11-29, 10:58 AM
A lot of it will be show, don't tell. In other words, you know what's going on in the background, but you need to figure out what the players will see of it.

These things, ideally, should impact the players.

Saying there's a food shortage is fine. Seeing starving people is better. Having the players not be able to find food, or find it at exorbitant prices is better. Having them in the middle of a food riot? Better yet.

Have the cult members show up in greater number... if you've ever seen the show The Leftovers, that's a great template to use. Have notable NPCs go over to join the cult. And have the cult be very distinctive and visible in some way - distinctive dress, manners of behavior (in The Leftovers they all smoked and didn't talk, but would write things on pads of paper). Have places the PCs are used to frequenting taken over by the cult and turned into other things. Have clashes between townspeople and the cult, and put hte PCs in the middle of it.

Mark Hall
2017-11-29, 12:51 PM
There are no animals, anywhere. Like, your druids have an animal companion, but they never meet any normal, healthy, animals.

Scripten
2017-11-29, 01:13 PM
Have the cult members show up in greater number... if you've ever seen the show The Leftovers, that's a great template to use. Have notable NPCs go over to join the cult. And have the cult be very distinctive and visible in some way - distinctive dress, manners of behavior (in The Leftovers they all smoked and didn't talk, but would write things on pads of paper). Have places the PCs are used to frequenting taken over by the cult and turned into other things. Have clashes between townspeople and the cult, and put hte PCs in the middle of it.

Another element to add to this is: treat the cult as a normal religion, but only part of the way through the campaign. When the PCs have encountered only a few skulking cells deep in the dark recesses of the society, let them return to places where they thought they'd cleared out the cult. And then, when they get there, have the "cult" just be the most common religion. Like kyoryu said, friendly citizens turning into out-and-out cultists will put your players on edge, especially if you manage to get them to like one or two of them beforehand.

Wraith
2017-11-29, 02:45 PM
There's an old AD&D module called The Apocalypse Stone which specifically is a campaign to... well, end a campaign in an apocalypse. If you can find it or a .PDF of it (pretty sure it's available on DrivethruRPG for example) it will give you a lot of good ideas for how it all happens.

In brief:
+ The Gods abandon the universe. They are no longer answering prayers and they have taken magic with them. In mechanical terms that means in week 1 of the event, 9th level magic ceases working. The next week, no 8th level magic; the week after that, no 7th... And so on. Similarly, any kind of ability that contacts a deity doesn't work at all.

I like this one because it is subtle - unless they're paying attention, a lot of players won't even realise it's happening until it directly effects them, when they try to cast a spell and it just fizzles. Not only does this cause imminent danger - trying to fireball a mob of orcs and it doesn't work will causes concern - but it's something for them to chase afterwards.

+ As the gods disappear, the Planes start to drift apart. Planar travel, like Magic, starts to degrade - at first, inter-planar travel doesn't work, then Summon spells don't work, then teleports don't work, then it starts to get really finicky when ANYTHING resembling interaction with another plane stops working, like scrolls, magic items, certain PC abilities....
Most importantly, without the gods or Planes, there's no where for souls to go upon death. At the beginning, this makes Negative Energy and Necromantic spells slightly more effective as the energy of Death lingers and tries to find an outlet. As time goes on, corpses start to rise as zombies in ones and twos.... then fives and sixes.... then as Greater Undead as the Negative Energy starts piling up and begins infesting everything that isn't immediately living. Very Biblical, no?

There's more in the supplement, but those are the big two. Eventually the Planes drift apart entirely and the universe unwinds into empty Void, so you can throw in natural disasters - Earthquakes, tempests, plagues and so on - as you wish. Maybe civil wars start to break out as nations start to panic? Perhaps there's a huge explosion on the horizon, as some mage or another realises what is happening and begins unleashing what's left of his ever more unstable magic to try and combat the degradation?

Doomchicken
2017-12-03, 01:50 PM
Flagellants! During the Black Death in Medieval Europe, people would walk shirtless through the streets, whipping themseleves to repent for their sins, because they thought their God had abandoned them to a bleak fate. Something like that could really enhance the atmosphere, if it fits.

Minty
2017-12-03, 03:04 PM
In a campaign I played around 15 years ago, the GM built tension and an atmosphere of impending doom very effectively by giving the PCs recurring nightmares and prophetic dreams in the days leading up to apocalyptic events. Because of the supernatural nature of the events, the dreams were potentially dangerous, and the combination of prescient and recurring nightmares meant nobody could tell if it was real or another dream, so everyone was on a knife edge before too long. I still get chills when I remember it...

Samzat
2017-12-03, 03:51 PM
Have it be small things at first. A single drink in a tavern mysteriously being spicy or something, maybe people's dogs have run off and have become a pack of strays, and an axle just seems to disappear from a cart. Then things get more serious. A usually docile animal like a deer straight up murders somebody, somebody contracts a horrible disease, and strange figures are seen attempting to burn houses. Then the crops fail, and plagues start breaking out, and entire tribes of savage humanoids are seen abandoning their camps and moving to attack each other than the civilized lands. Then the panic sets in and wars start breaking out as famine and anger and chaos lead the day. Outsiders of all alignments begin to appear, and magic becomes far more powerful but far less stable.some People who couldn't cast spells start manifesting sorceror or psychic powers. Natural disasters start happening with a mad frequency and intensity. **** is going down. Cults of all sorte of gods, before fringe elements, are now leading rebellions and desecrating the temples of their gods' rivals. Massive groups of dead animals, monsters, and savage humanoids are being found in the wilds, and flying animals are catching fire. Its the end, yo.

Taro
2017-12-03, 04:28 PM
I think the use of ambience atmosphere is unnecessary, a good DM canc reate a sense of dread even in a sunny day.

There is no way to do it without being over the top, at least to me.

John Campbell
2017-12-04, 03:09 PM
The party passes through villages empty of the living, abandoned for reasons that may or may not be obvious.

Or villages empty except for the feral dogs.

On the road, they meet columns of refugees traveling towards the abandoned lands they just passed through.

Every night, they hear wolves howling in the distance. Until the night they hear something else howl, and they never hear the wolves again.

It rains, and the rain carries ash from the skies.

They never see or hear songbirds anymore, but crows and ravens gather in great numbers, until it seems that every tree along the road is black with them. In the distance, the party can hear them croaking and cawing, and see them flying to and fro, but the ones nearby just sit quietly, watching them.

They pass a graveyard, and all the graves have been hastily excavated.

They start encountering undead, but not like, "Zombies attack! Roll initiative!" Just ordinary people engaged in ordinary daily activities, except they're dead. A gaunt farmer harvesting a blighted field, his scythe swinging slowly but steadily, never pausing for rest, and not acknowledging their presence unless they attempt to keep him from his work. A little girl leading her mother by the hand, approaching the party to ask for their help because mommy is sick. Mommy is not just sick; she's dead. The girl isn't.

shadow_archmagi
2017-12-04, 03:41 PM
In times of upheaval, people tend to either flee to or from urban areas depending on the nature of the crisis. Refugee caravans, empty villages, overcrowded cities, overgrown farms, etc.

Also, you can show institutions no longer functioning. Empty inns at the crossroad, stables full of horse skeletons. Have an NPC party include the head of the Messenger's Guild, complete with winged helmet. He's not on a quest to save the day, he just... figured his odds were better out fighting ogres than indoors.