Good Horror Role-Playing

TheophilusCarter

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I wonder about this too. I don't think I'm capable of really scaring people during an RPG. I'm just not that good a story-teller.
Of course, there's also the issue of player buy-in. I have players who say they want serious, scary games, but then spend half the time joking around. I don't mind joking, but it works better with other genres ...
 

Krimson

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I think the only RPG I managed to scare players was d20 Star Wars RCR. :grin: The players were all Jedi and Palpatine had just executed Order 66. I terrorized them for a while with a single ARC Trooper.
 

Tommy Brownell

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I've creeped them out. I've put them on edge. I've made them nervous. Aside from one player who is already a bit skittish, I've never *scared* them.

I *horrified* them in this week's Savage Pendragon game, but it wasn't *fear*, it was *horror*.
 

TristramEvans

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Yeah, I induced a panic attack in one player, caused a few genuine jump scares in others. One of my players said a particular game I ran gave her actual nightmares. And there's at least one roleplayer out there who will never game with me again because I freaked them out so much, according to a mutual friend.
 

Johnny Blade

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Yeah, I induced a panic attack in one player, caused a few genuine jump scares in others. One of my players said a particular game I ran gave her actual nightmares. And there's at least one roleplayer out there who will never game with me again because I freaked them out so much, according to a mutual friend.
Teach us your ways kind sir
 

TristramEvans

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Teach us your ways kind sir
I'll see if I can summarize some of what I've learned, but that will be a LONG post, so may take a bit.

As a caveat I'll say that it does help that I am generally considered a "scary" person, just in general, from what I've been told. If find it bizarre, as I have a self image that's somewhere between Ernie from Sesame Street and Ned from Pushing Daisies, but apparently I come off as intimidating.
 

AsenRG

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Only time I succeeded was in a game of Ten Candles, a storyish horror game that uses candles, darkness, a ritualistic repeating of phrases and even recording to create an effectively creepy atmosphere. It is a great Halloween game.
Not the only time, but definitely the latest one was when I scared a player running the quickstart of the latest edition of Call of Chthulhu:smile:.

I later discovered the gm browsed /tg/ and took inspiration from a post in there.
OK, now that's scary:shade:!
 

PolarBlues

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Going back a good few years, I recall seriously stressing my players out by using lots of old-style level draining undead in a D&D game. I think that sort of misses the point of question as it operated more a meta-game think. Still it was quite funny to see how strong an emotional response the threat of a level though level drain provoked, far in excesses of the that of losing all levels in the form of character death.

Other than that, no not really. But I don't think the point of a horror game is to make the players scared any more than a comedy game is to make players laugh out loud. It is more about creating an atmosphere that is turn creepy or playful while the player just get on with adventuring. In that respect CoC and Ghostbusters are structurally much the same, it is only trappings are flavoured differently, sort of like different Windows themes.
 

TristramEvans

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OK, some quick suggestions based on my experience as a Horror GM...

You have to cultivate the right players. Normally, a variety of players is fine - the guy who doesn't take the game very seriously, the combat munchkin, the storygamer, whathaveyou, they can all be satisfied by a typical adventure game. But f you want an effective horror game, you need players willing to immerse themselves. This can't be forced or manipulated, the players either buy-in or they don't. The more willing they are to throw themselves into the PoV of their characters, the easier it is on the GM. Disruption, off-topic jokes, etc is all anathema to a horror game, you need to be able to establish and sustain a mood. This means an intimate group is preferred, no more than three, maybe 4 players but that would be pushing it IMO.

"Establishing and sustaining a mood" is the relevant element there. Music is a necessity IMO. Dimming the lights? Great. Playing by candlelight? OK, but doesnt add as much as you might think, actually can be a distraction. But music? This is your greatest ally. People have actually done a lot of research into what music and sounds evince fear. It's all at your disposal on the internet.

"Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" is one of my standbys.
From the opening chords, this is pure sustained liquid horror in musical form. But I wouldn't jump right into that, you need a build up. Start with something haunting like Jason Graves' Lacrimosa. I will spend an excessive amount of time putting together a playlist for a horror game, but for an off-the-cuff all-purpose go-to soundtrack my highest recommendation is Christopher Young's instrumental score for Hellraiser II.

Next, visual aids. As much time as I'll invest in a soundtrack for my game, I'll put at least double into creating or collating a series of pictures, visual stimuli for players. If there's a letter in the game, rest assured I am going tow rite out that letter on fine stationary with a fountain pen. If appropriate, I'll even weather the page with dirt, or burn the edges. Ditto torn pages from books, any handheld clue such as an old key, etc. A lot of Chaosium CoCthulhu adventure modules are good for this, but then you are just getting perforated tear-outs. Fine for an official document from an asylum maybe, but for personal letters, postcards, and the like, it's worth recreating it. I'm always on the lookout for postcards with slightly odd or disturbing imagery, archaic looking stationary, reproductions of old photographs etc. at souvenir and travel shops for my games. Beyond that, well before a game I'll begin a folder on my laptop and start accumulating pictures from google. You can find real-life crime scene photos, pictures of actual murdered bodies and corpses, medical atrocities, if you're willing to dig for them.

My third suggestion is a bit more...philosophical? I don't have "boundaries". Maybe it was being raised on horror films, maybe it's simply that I've always had a taste for the dark and morbid, maybe it's just my blunt anti-social tendencies, but I find most horror in media to chicken out. To go too soft. To restrain itself, by some concern for the audience, or even perhaps squeamishness on the part of the filmmakers or what have you. I'm not talking about gore here - I don't have any particular fondness for gore. I think violence, even excessive violence, has its place in horror, but only insofar as it serves the needs of the story. I dont find violence scary in and of itself. I watched a horror film on Netflix just this week called "The Terrifier" I think, about a killer clown. It got high recommendations from some friends who are also horror buffs, comparing it to classic 80s horror flicks. And I watched it, and it was OK, but it wasn't scary at all. It was just violent. The movie was basically, killer clown shows up, attacks people until it kills them in gruesome and bloody ways, the end. at no point was I even remotely emotionally affected.

Contrast that instead with this not even two minutes from Twin Peaks...
No gore at all, not even any real violence, just intensity.

And that's what I think most horror, in film or fiction, wimps out on...the intensity. They always pull back, they always give you room to breath, they always let you (as the audience) escape. The camper is being chased by Jason, and then they turn around and he's gone. Blar. I remember that I became acutely aware of this years back when I was in the theatre watching the film The Cell (I'm not going to even look up the year, because I'm sure I'll just feel old). For those that haven't seen it, the Cell's premise was that scientists developed a way for people to enter into other people's dreams or unconscious, and a psychologist uses this with a captured serial killer to try and find out where his potentially still alive latest victim s being held.

The Cell had the potential to be one of the scariest films of all time. The visual design, the cinematography, it was all incredibly effective in presenting the interior of the killer's mind as a surrealistic haunted house. And during those sequences the tension would build, and build, and then just as it hit at the point it was actually getting scary - BAM, the psychologist is back in the real world.

This is a really long-winded attempt to explain something I probably haven't properly formulated into a succinct thought, but what I'm trying to say I guess is - if I have one "talent" at gamemastering a horror game it's hitting and riding that high level of tension. I don't break it, I push until the player breaks it. This is the point where "rules" go out the window, no rolling dice, no respite or break, just THIS IS HAPPENING WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

I think that's the essentials of my approach. One thing I will say though is that it's been mentioned that one-shots are best for horror, and I kinda disagree, because I think the more a player cares about a character, the more familiar and invested in them they've become, and the more comfortable they are slipping into that character, the more they have to lose. The more that danger in the game has the potential to affect them.
 

Trippy

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I think the first question anybody needs to ask about scaring players in a roleplaying game is: do you really want to? It's actually quite conceivable to play most horror roleplaying games out there without actually scaring anybody, and still have a good time - even a horrific experience, because horror can come in many different forms. Horror games can be intellectually stimulating, philosophical and involving for all sorts of reasons. Some can just be easy going, gorefests too…and what is wrong with that if it is entertaining for you and your group?

If you do actually want to scare players, then you can do no worse than consider what scares yourself. When I was younger, I used to get quite debilitating anxiety attacks while thinking about death. The finality of it; the nihilistic idea of non existance and the sheer inevitability of it. I think it was fairly ego driven, and as I got older and had my perspective broaden out in a Piaget-type of way, I kinda grew out of it. But I can remember the physically sick feeling of deep hopelessness in the face of what is inevitable. Heart rate up, cold shivers, dizzyness, sweating and heavy breathing - all that sort of stuff. It was always more pronounced at night, when on your own or when you are just left to your thoughts about it. Other people have different fears - fear of drowning, fear of open spaces, fear of being eaten, fear of sex and so on. There are always buttons that can be pushed.

You have to remember that fear is a deep feeling that has a biological purpose. It is triggered unconsciously when people lose a sense of control and is essentially an alarm call that is trying to point your consciousness into a healthy direction. People can suppress fears - which is not healthy - but if you approach things in a cathartic way it can be highly distressing….but possibly quite invigorating too in a personal growth sense.

When gamers design characters, regardless of what the game is, it is almost like they are giving you a profile of what there own desires in play are…and by extension their own psychology. If for example, a player always picks a Fighter type in a game, what does this tell you about what they are frightened about? If they try to pick freedom loving characters, what about then? Whatever you can do to find the player's underlying anxieties can be used to scare them - especially if they don't realise it. In a horror game, I usually play a bit of smoke and mirrors - creating a horrific situation for their characters to respond to, but also finding ways of taking control away and finding buttons to push for the players too.

There are other trappings that can aid too - I actually like the technique of using really loud, discombobulating sounds, randomly interspersed with ambient gentle music. Get players to react to physical stumuli - like shaking the game table in moments you see a threat for the first time; use party poppers or firecrackers at moments when their attention drifts. Lower your voice to increase the power of your dialogue; get angry for no reason, then smile and so on. Foreshadowing is important too. In scenes leading up to a climax, take the time to throw in images and descriptions to the players that don't necessarily mean anything and could be minor, but leave a nasty feeling nevertheless: a dog getting run over by a car, maggots in food, a spider torturing a fly (that appears to be screaming) in a web by pulling it's legs off, treading on a nail from a loose floorboard and so on.

If you have unsettled the players, then try to time your attack - so that you hit them when they are fully paying attention.
 
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Johnny Blade

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I Have to go now I'll answer to both asap. Thank you for your amazing and detailed responses.
 

Shipyard Locked

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Still it was quite funny to see how strong an emotional response the threat of a level though level drain provoked, far in excesses of the that of losing all levels in the form of character death.
Human psychology is a funny thing. Better to have never had something than lose it (EDIT and better to die altogether than live with the pain of that loss I guess):
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_aversion
 
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Johnny Blade

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You have to cultivate the right players. Normally, a variety of players is fine - the guy who doesn't take the game very seriously, the combat munchkin, the storygamer, whathaveyou, they can all be satisfied by a typical adventure game. But f you want an effective horror game, you need players willing to immersive themselves. This can't be forced or manipulated, the players either buy-in or they don't. The more willing they are to throw themselves into the PoV of their characters, the easier it is on the GM. Disruption, off-topic jokes, etc is all anathema to a horror game, you need to be able to establish and sustain a mood. This means an intimate group is preferred, no more than three, maybe 4 players but that would be pushing it IMO.
Interesting, I never thought of it that way. I noticed that small groups work best but I thought it was a function of the fear or remaining isolated. One by one your few friends go missing, who's taking them etc.
I understand What you mean with the necessary willingness of the players, but that can be achieved by suggestion too. Like in a horror movie where You have to suspend disbelief to not get bored.
I Have developed many techniques to captivate the attention of my players and keep it captivated.
"Establishing and sustaining a mood" is the relevant element there. Music is a necessity IMO. Dimming the lights? Great. Playing by candlelight? OK, but doesnt add as much as you might think, actually can be a distraction. But music? This is your greatest ally. People have actually done a lot of research into what music and sounds evince fear. It's all at your disposal on the internet.

"Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" is one of my standbys.
[...]
From the opening chords, this is pure sustained liquid horror in musical form. But I wouldn't jump right into that, you need a build up. Start with something haunting like Jason Graves' Lacrimosa. I will spend an excessive amount of time putting together a playlist for a horror game, but for an off-the-cuff all-purpose go-to soundtrack my highest recommendation is Christopher Young's instrumental score for Hellraiser II.
I too love using music, thanks for the suggestion. I prefer keeping things subdued (like Dark Ambient and things like that) Because I fear they might get distracted.
Next, visual aids. As much time as I'll invest in a soundtrack for my game, I'll put at least double into creating or collating a series of pictures, visual stimuli for players. If there's a letter in the game, rest assured I am going tow rite out that letter on fine stationary with a fountain pen. If appropriate, I'll even weather the page with dirt, or burn the edges. Ditto torn pages from books, any handheld clue such as an old key, etc. A lot of Chaosium CoCthulhu adventure modules are good for this, but then you are just getting perforated tear-outs. Fine for an official document from an asylum maybe, but for personal letters, postcards, and the like, it's worth recreating it. I'm always on the lookout for postcards with slightly odd or disturbing imagery, archaic looking stationary, reproductions of old photographs etc. at souvenir and travel shops for my games. Beyond that, well before a game I'll begin a folder on my laptop and start accumulating pictures from google. You can find real-life crime scene photos, pictures of actual murdered bodies and corpses, medical atrocities, if you're willing to dig for them.
Allright, I do all that too. I'm a medical professional I have access to many disquieting photos, datas, disgusting body horror details, fac similes of organs, blood, teeth, bones...
My third suggestion is a bit more...philosophical? I don't have "boundaries". Maybe it was being raised on horror films, maybe it's simply that I've always had a taste for the dark and morbid, maybe it's just my blunt anti-social tendencies, but I find most horror in media to chicken out. To go too soft. To restrain itself, by some concern for the audience, or even perhaps squeamishness on the part of the filmmakers or what have you. I'm not talking about gore here - I don't have any particular fondness for gore. I think violence, even excessive violence, has its place in horror, but only insofar as it serves the needs of the story. I dont find violence scary in and of itself. I watched a horror film on Netflix just this week called "The Terrifier" I think, about a killer clown. It got high recommendations from some friends who are also horror buffs, comparing it to classic 80s horror flicks. And I watched it, and it was OK, but it wasn't scary at all. It was just violent. The movie was basically, killer clown shows up, attacks people until it kills them in gruesome and bloody ways, the end. at no point was I even remotely emotionally affected.

Contrast that instead with this not even two minutes from Twin Peaks...
[...]
No gore at all, not even any real violence, just intensity.
Ok, now I see What you really mean, You keep them on the constant edge of the stress/tranquillity wave. Clever, I'll try.
And that's what I think most horror, in film or fiction, wimps out on...the intensity. They always pull back, they always give you room to breath, they always let you (as the audience) escape. The camper is being chased by Jason, and then they turn around and he's gone. Blar. I remember that I became acutely aware of this years back when I was in the theatre watching the film The Cell (I'm not going to even look up the year, because I'm sure I'll just feel old). For those that haven't seen it, the Cell's premise was that scientists developed a way for people to enter into other people's dreams or unconscious, and a psychologist uses this with a captured serial killer to try and find out where his potentially still alive latest victim s being held.

The Cell had the potential to be one of the scariest films of all time. The visual design, the cinematography, it was all incredibly effective in presenting the interior of the killer's mind as a surrealistic haunted house. And during those sequences the tension would build, and build, and then just as it hit at the point it was actually getting scary - BAM, the psychologist is back in the real world.

This is a really long-winded attempt to explain something I probably haven't properly formulated into a succinct thought, but what I'm trying to say I guess is - if I have one "talent" at gamemastering a horror game it's hitting and riding that high level of tension. I don't break it, I push until the player breaks it. This is the point where "rules" go out the window, no rolling dice, no respite or break, just THIS IS HAPPENING WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
You're right. Most horror movies today can only try to startle you with jumpscares. Disgusting.
Even Insidius wich was an awesome movie for 80% of It's run, suddenly became a comedy in the last ten minutes.
Another thing that I hate of the tipical american horror movie is the fetish for explaining everything That's happening. Leave that crap unsaid, man. Leave it.
Thank You for your notes on tensión I'll treasure them.
I think that's the essentials of my approach. One thing I will say though is that it's been mentioned that one-shots are best for horror, and I kinda disagree, because I think the more a player cares about a character, the more familiar and invested in them they've become, and the more comfortable they are slipping into that character, the more they have to lose. The more that danger in the game has the potential to affect them.
I think I understand why now.
The first session We reached the peak but We expected that kind of crap by the second session so We could never rebuild tension.
I think I understand how to do it now.
I think the first question anybody needs to ask about scaring players in a roleplaying game is: do you really want to? It's actually quite conceivable to play most horror roleplaying games out there without actually scaring anybody, and still have a good time - even a horrific experience, because horror can come in many different forms. Horror games can be intellectually stimulating, philosophical and involving for all sorts of reasons. Some can just be easy going, gorefests too…and what is wrong with that if it is entertaining for you and your group?
That's a very good question. On one hand players say they want scaring crap when they ask you to gm an horror game or agree to play with you (they inherently must or they'd ask you to run Bunnies and Burrows instead); however some times all they mean is that they want to be, for a lack of a better term, spooked.
"Spooky" is very easy to obtain, in Vampire like in Chtuluh like in Ravenloft. Spooky's not the problem, You can allways retire to it If You think your players got too upset when you really tried to scare them. Actual FEAR though, is hard to get to, and some players will love You forever If you manage it.
If you do actually want to scare players, then you can do no worse than consider what scares yourself. When I was younger, I used to get quite debilitating anxiety attacks while thinking about death. The finality of it; the nihilistic idea of non existance and the sheer inevitability of it. I think it was fairly ego driven, and as I got older and had my perspective broaden out in a Piaget-type of way, I kinda grew out of it. But I can remember the physically sick feeling of deep hopelessness in the face of what is inevitable. Heart rate up, cold shivers, dizzyness, sweating and heavy breathing - all that sort of stuff. It was always more pronounced at night, when on your own or when you are just left to your thoughts about it. Other people have different fears - fear of drowning, fear of open spaces, fear of being eaten, fear of sex and so on. There are always buttons that can be pushed.
And up to this, allright, I get it no problem.
You have to remember that fear is a deep feeling that has a biological purpose. It is triggered unconsciously when people lose a sense of control and is essentially an alarm call that is trying to point your consciousness into a healthy direction. People can suppress fears - which is not healthy - but if you approach things in a cathartic way it can be highly distressing….but possibly quite invigorating too in a personal growth sense.
Catharsys has been an important part of my therapy when I suffered from depression so I know What you mean. I would mimic self harming behaviour and suicide attempts so as to calm down and not actually do anything like that. Self medication takes many forms.
When gamers design characters, regardless of what the game is, it is almost like they are giving you a profile of what there own desires in play are…and by extension their own psychology. If for example, a player always picks a Fighter type in a game, what does this tell you about what they are frightened about? If they try to pick freedom loving characters, what about then? Whatever you can do to find the player's underlying anxieties can be used to scare them - especially if they don't realise it. In a horror game, I usually play a bit of smoke and mirrors - creating a horrific situation for their characters to respond to, but also finding ways of taking control away and finding buttons to push for the players too.
I love to do that regardless of the kind of campaign.
There are other trappings that can aid too - I actually like the technique of using really loud, discombobulating sounds, randomly interspersed with ambient gentle music. Get players to react to physical stumuli - like shaking the game table in moments you see a threat for the first time; use party poppers or firecrackers at moments when their attention drifts. Lower your voice to increase the power of your dialogue; get angry for no reason, then smile and so on. Foreshadowing is important too. In scenes leading up to a climax, take the time to throw in images and descriptions to the players that don't necessarily mean anything and could be minor, but leave a nasty feeling nevertheless: a dog getting run over by a car, maggots in food, a spider torturing a fly (that appears to be screaming) in a web by pulling it's legs off, treading on a nail from a loose floorboard and so on.
Hm, so You're saying to get them by sensorial confusion? It just might work.
If you have unsettled the players, then try to time your attack - so that you hit them when they are fully paying attention.
I never quite managed that, butI understand What you mean now.
Thank You both for your tips they've been very precious!
 
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TheophilusCarter

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This is totally about a weird hang-up I have, and in no way a criticism of any game or gaming style, but there's something about needed stuff outside of the game itself to accomplish certain effects for the game genre that rubs me the wrong way. As a result, I'm averse to using props, music, lighting, etc. to create horror. I guess I feel like I should be able to accomplish those effects with the game and my game-mastering alone. Perhaps that's not realistic ...
 

Johnny Blade

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This is totally about a weird hang-up I have, and in no way a criticism of any game or gaming style, but there's something about needed stuff outside of the game itself to accomplish certain effects for the game genre that rubs me the wrong way. As a result, I'm averse to using props, music, lighting, etc. to create horror. I guess I feel like I should be able to accomplish those effects with the game and my game-mastering alone. Perhaps that's not realistic ...
I don't know If I should agree with You or not, on one hand You're not wrong "philosophicaly" on the other I managed doing it like This exactly once. Because it was raining.
Also it depends on the context.
You're playing Delta Green you'd better give them dossiers stamped "DELTA GREEN EYES ONLY". It's too iconic.
And, inside, all kinds of messed up crap.
That's however, still more of a technique for SPOOKY than for scary.
 
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AsenRG

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This is totally about a weird hang-up I have, and in no way a criticism of any game or gaming style, but there's something about needed stuff outside of the game itself to accomplish certain effects for the game genre that rubs me the wrong way. As a result, I'm averse to using props, music, lighting, etc. to create horror. I guess I feel like I should be able to accomplish those effects with the game and my game-mastering alone. Perhaps that's not realistic ...
I've never used props, music or lighting to create horror. Now, playing late at night definitely helps, but that's just when many of our sessions begin!
 

TristramEvans

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This is totally about a weird hang-up I have, and in no way a criticism of any game or gaming style, but there's something about needed stuff outside of the game itself to accomplish certain effects for the game genre that rubs me the wrong way. As a result, I'm averse to using props, music, lighting, etc. to create horror. I guess I feel like I should be able to accomplish those effects with the game and my game-mastering alone. Perhaps that's not realistic ...
Well, I really enjoy a lot of elaborate prepping for a game (which leaves me with physical keepsakes of the experience afterwards), but I also try to make the "buy-in" as easy on the players as possible, and I find it provides a framework for me to hang off of during the game, wherein I tend to largely GM through improvisation. But then, I don't try to challenge myself or even have any expectations on myself as a ("pure?") gamemaster, I'm always willing to take the easy way.
 

TheophilusCarter

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Well, I really enjoy a lot of elaborate prepping for a game (which leaves me with physical keepsakes of the experience afterwards), but I also try to make the "buy-in" as easy on the players as possible, and I find it provides a framework for me to hang off of during the game, wherein I tend to largely GM through improvisation. But then, I don't try to challenge myself or even have any expectations on myself as a ("pure?") gamemaster, I'm always willing to take the easy way.
That's totally reasonable. I'm just weird about certain things. :smile: It's similar to my aversion to using computer software to create characters or run games, despite the fact that there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that.
 

AsenRG

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If I must answer the question how I've ever elicited fear in players...
OK, let me first state that I'm with @TristramEvans here: Do you really want to?
And the answer to me is "it's not a main goal". My goal as a GM is to elicit emotional reaction, to make the game memorable.
I don't squarely aim at fear, though. (The only reactions I want to avoid are frustration and revulsion, mind you). If the players are blissfully happy or elated after a CoC game, I've done my job as a Keeper just as well as when a player stated she had nightmares and couldn't sleep well the night after the session:evil:.

With that in mind, how would I go about eliciting fear? (It's a decision I have to make mid-session, deciding on a dominant emotion I want to elicit...and whether I want to do that, or just go with the flow).
My rules of thumb are 4 (an unlucky number):
Lack of clarity. This can come in many variants.
You don't see the head of the cult. You see gangbangers he'd hired to deal with you, or cultists sent to do the same, or the results of rituals, or any combination or succession of the above.
You don't see the monster...you see as a shadow is leaving, and find a mangled body (SAN check, please, and I'm going to describe it authopsy-style with a deadpan voice while mixing black humor).
You don't see the killer...you see a shadow on the upper floor, and hear steps. Then a scream or screams. Then nothing. And didn't your childhood friend just head off for the upper floor?
You don't see anything. But a feeling of unease is growing up, complete with physical reactions. (I might later reveal your character as a sensitive one...possibly apt to gain Second Sight or Clairvoayance. Those come with a price in my campaigns. Or you might get no such bonuses, depending on the campaign style and/or a roll).

Lack of knowledge:
Without good information, you're doomed. But to find it, you have to look among the unsavoury elements and read even more unsavoury tomes...which might or might not be the work of madmen. And said madmen might or might not have accurate insights.

Price:
Nobody said that obtaining the solutions offered in the books comes without a price. CoC is great for that.
If you can raise zombies to attack a cult leader...where do you find the bodies?

Inevitably approaching doom:
There's a tickling time bomb in your body. And I don't speak about age:devil:.
It's a matter of time before the cult notices your investigation. And then...remember they've got an "in" with the locals, pardner? Did you realize that includes the sheriff, and what do you do when he comes to arrest you:gunslinger:?
There's 3/7/9/13/17/28 days (roll 1d6) before a ghost appears to claim your soul. What can you do in the meantime to avert said fate?
You've been struck by a delayed-death touch. Can you find its trigger and avoid it? For how long?
(Keep in mind that you can drop hints of inevitability even if in reality your game is totally meant to be a sandbox and what happened was a result of their own actions. Also, the hints might or might not be true and there might be a way out...if they can find it in time).
 
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Tom B

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I've managed it a few times. Most recently just a few weeks ago. This time I have the advantage of a much younger group (they're in their early 20s. I've...got a few decades on them.) The game is Shadows of Esteren, so there's a built-in sense of mystery and horror (in the gothic sense.) I play that up, and recently they had to investigate a keep where everyone had been murdered, and something was there...keeping the ghosts from moving on and acting to unbalance, scare, and turn anyone who ventured in against each other. I know a lot of tricks that wouldn't work as well on more experienced gamers...but they're relatively new to RPGs, so I got to pull out the older tried-and-true tricks. Added an appropriate soundtrack and lighting, combined elements of Dennis Detweiler's 'Music from a Darkened Room', and I had one player freaking out a bit and then going outside to "get some fresh air" and pacing around. A few screams...a lot of yelling and cursing.

I was very satisfied with the results. (And they're still carrying around a straight-razor from the castle...so the ghost isn't done with them yet.)
 

Caesar Slaad

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"My" simple formula (for values of "my" equal to "learned from my betters, mainly Ken Hite) is:
1) build mood slowly
2) end with events that feel beyond the PCs control.
 

tenbones

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"My" simple formula (for values of "my" equal to "learned from my betters, mainly Ken Hite) is:
1) build mood slowly
2) end with events that feel beyond the PCs control.
This is exactly it. Even the cockiest player feels horror when their characters, despite their power and ability feel out of control. But you need to lead them to that place.
 

urbwar

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Scared. A few times, but not often. Creeped out? Definitely. I admit that when I run horror games, I tend to run them less as actual horror than I likely should. I blame that on the fact that superhero gaming is my favorite, with horror being my second. So I tend to flavor things more in the characters favor than I probably should. Except when I ran Vampire. Making a Vampire scared is actually something I was able to do, even though it wasn't intentional
 

TristramEvans

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Horror in gaming for me is the bits we put into the gaps left by the cold scientific data of the game mechanics. As such, my ultimate thought is that any game system is ripe for horror gaming and that no horror game designed for the genre is important in creating a horrific game.

Yeah, this is absolutely the case I've found. The GM really conveys the tone of a campaign or one-shot, and their talent at doing so is going t define what the players ultimately experience far more than any system's intentions.
 

Lessa

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This is a great thread for someone investigating the genre like me. Thanks for bringing it up. :thumbsup:
 

TristramEvans

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This is totally about a weird hang-up I have, and in no way a criticism of any game or gaming style, but there's something about needed stuff outside of the game itself to accomplish certain effects for the game genre that rubs me the wrong way. As a result, I'm averse to using props, music, lighting, etc. to create horror. I guess I feel like I should be able to accomplish those effects with the game and my game-mastering alone. Perhaps that's not realistic ...
I'm an eläytyminen-slut, I'll use whatever if I think it will assist in Deep in character immersion, drawing the line only at LARPing...
 

TristramEvans

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"My" simple formula (for values of "my" equal to "learned from my betters, mainly Ken Hite) is:
1) build mood slowly
2) end with events that feel beyond the PCs control.

I think I mentioned this earlier in the thread, but in regards to point 2, I find it best if players maneuvre themselves into a situation outside of their control, where they can see the mistakes they made, so it doesn't feel simply like GM Fiat and thus the horror is born from their own choices, and doesn't devolve into frustration.
 

Kobayashi

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After running (and still running) a Laundry campaign, I "discovered" that I was pretty good at GMing horror (which is a bit strange because I never was a big horror buff, be it movies or books, sci-fi is much more my jam).

The things I learned I tried to put into a game (yeah, kinda self-promotion but I'll give you the main bits here and there's a pay what you want version so you can get it for free).

Another thing I always find weird to say, as it seems self-evident: this is just based on my experience, not the one-true way of running horror games. I'm always happy to hear and read how people do things differently, that's the best way to learn new things or at least refine your own way of doing things.


THE FIRST RULE
As a GM, your job in Rats in the Walls isn’t to scare the players, it’s to create conditions that will allow them to get scared if they wish to. As you may have guessed, that has some implications at the table.


ATTITUDE
Players can be distracted, tired or not in the mood for horror this particular night. That’s fine, don’t try to shove horror down their throat. As a GM though, you can even things out by sticking to your role as a facilitator. Keep building the mood you’re looking for by playing your NPCs and describing the world no matter what the players throw at you. As a GM you are a beacon, an anchor, not a tyrant. Allow humor (but don’t encourage it), allow the players to relax (but keep the pressure on in the game)… Because when you’ll hit them back it will be twice as hard. Horror comes from contrast.


HORROR AND CONTRAST
Horror can be created by creating a contrast between the weird and the mundane. A crowded city street where everybody is silent and looking at the characters, a beggar who talks like an Oxford alumni, a room that is cold in the middle of a heatwave… It’s your descriptions that will set the mood for the players.


DESCRIPTIONS
Descriptions should be short and on point, leaving enough room for interpretations. “Show don’t tell” means you don’t describe anything as being “strange”, “weird” or “fascinating”, just describe what the players see (or hear, or smell or touch) and let them draw their own conclusions. One of the main fuel of fear is imagination. That’s why “Fear of the Unknown” works. We have a natural tendency to fill in the gaps. As a GM you sow the seeds of horror but it’s not up to you if they take root.


A WORLD WORTH SAVING
If every NPC the character meets is a douchebag, if the world around them is just a pit of abysmal despair, the arrival of a monster will be perceived as relief: “Oh yes! At least, something we can fight!”. Don’t forget that the characters fight back because they think the world is worth saving. Allow them to see that: give them something to save, worthy enough for them to risk life and sanity on a regular basis. Some players will even come with their own ideas on the subject.


CHEAP TRICKS[
Anything that is aimed at the player (NOT his character) is, well, a cheap trick. Suddenly yelling at the players to create a jump scare will grow old very fast. Use these tricks sparingly. I point you to the first rule: your goal is not to scare anyone, just to create an atmosphere that makes fear a possible outcome.
 
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