Author Topic: How to put the chills into players?  (Read 10071 times)

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Barringer

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How to put the chills into players?
« on: April 08, 2011, 02:26:23 PM »
First a bit of background.  I'm a part of a gaming group that has recently started playing again after a few dead years.  We made some room in our weekly schedule and started playing again with the glee and enthusiasm of newly hooked players, and we've been having lots of fun so far.  I've often held the badge of DM in this and other gaming groups but lost my DM'ing flame somewhere along the way and have been a player since.  The games have been great so far.  These last few weeks my desire to DM has been awakened and I've taken over the replacement campaign (the one we resort to when a player cant make it to our weekly game) and I've put together a decent plot with minor assistance from published adventures.

I've thought hard and long about what sort of experience I want to give my players and come up with the idea of the horror campaign.  Basically sending the chills down their spines as many times as possible.
My main question is this:  What tricks do you use in a good horror game?  I've had DM's in the past who have been very successful at this, and I've tried it once with ok results, but I want more! ... I want them trembling in their boots, flinching at every noise and panicking when the fecal matter hits the fan.  I want grown men apprehensive when driving home after an intense gaming night!  

The mark is set high, but I'm confident I can deliver when I have the right tools to do the job.

Thanks a bunch in advance if you have some advice.

Edit: the setting is Forgotten Realms, D&D 3.5.  Starting level is 3rd.

PipTheBlue

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2011, 05:23:54 PM »
I can't say I've ever run a horror campaign, but I think this article may be of use to you:
http://www.mindspring.com/~ernestm/horror/horror.html

It's pretty lengthy, but the examples given are great. Good luck!
« Last Edit: April 08, 2011, 10:38:56 PM by PipTheBlue »

Barringer

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2011, 06:57:12 PM »
Excellent read! Thank you for the link, it's just what I was looking for.

So many ideas!  :smirk

CrimsonDeath

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2011, 11:44:43 AM »
I have a few more suggestions for you.  They seemed to work at the game I ran last Halloween.

First, if you know that one of the players is afraid of something (like bugs), make sure that thing jumps out and tries to kill that player's character.  Describe it in detail, whether it's a monstrous spider or a centipede swarm.

Second, put the PCs in situations that limit their power to combat the horror.  I've heard it said that "Whitewolf games are about supernatural things that happen to ordinary people.  D&D is about extraordinary people that happen to supernatural things."  Basically, when a D&D player encounters a threat, his first instinct is to kill it.  Well, have the PCs talk to (or read about) NPCs who were present for something frightening that's already happened-- all your information is conveyed by verbal description whether the characters are there or not, so this gets your players to imagine a situation their characters can't fix.  Have monsters or villains set up surprises that the players and their characters won't anticipate and can't fix until after the fact, like having damage bounce off them onto helpless innocents-- preferably someone they're trying to rescue.

Finally, manipulate your players' knowledge.  You probably have someone who's memorized the Monster Manual.  The article gave some good advice in "don't call a Grell a Grell", but you can go further.  Change some monsters' stats, like zombies with full round actions or werewolves with fast healing.  (If someone makes a good Knowledge check, you can inform the player of these abilities, but some players still might not believe you and cling to the written rules instead.)  Just make sure you don't add such a powerful ability that it becomes more of a challenge than you want your party to face.

Alternatively, take a monster exactly as written but completely change its physical appearance.  My DM took the stats for a horse and made it into a dinosaur-- mechanically identical in all respects but with very different flavor.  You can do the exact same thing with any monster ever published, and it's a lot faster than creating your own.  (You can use this not only to disguise a monster from someone who would probably recognize a more "accurate" description, but also to take advantage of things people already fear.  If you have any Lovecraft fans, an advanced Gibbering Mouther can look a lot like a Shoggoth.)

Barringer

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #4 on: April 13, 2011, 03:25:29 PM »
Very good point, and one I have been pondering how to overcome.  How do you get the players off the mindset "Perceive and kill"?  The descriptive narrative added to an uncontrollable situation seems to be the right way to go as you suggest.  I can see that I have to try and change our venue before I try some of this stuff because our current one doesn't have the right atmosphere for this kind of game.  Cheers for the suggestion, keep 'em coming if you have anything to add or advice to give.

veekie

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #5 on: April 13, 2011, 04:20:50 PM »
Consequences, or don't give them a target. Something that comes in unseen, grabs an NPC  and yoinks off, then returns  to scratch the PCs before sliding back. The idea is to leave them uncertain as to if its one foe or many. Make sure you use these with attrition tactics, no large attack bonuses or high damage, they just show up, ping someone, and get out, coming back in 1d4 rounds or so.
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[spoiler]
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[/spoiler]

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SneeR

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2011, 12:09:13 AM »
Incapacitate them, too.
When PCs are deprived of their powers, the players are deprived of their senses. Make sure it is short-lived, so the PCs do not feel cheated. Done right, though, the PCs will start freaking out, saying, "That strategy doesn't work anymore! I have no idea what to do!"

Example scenario: PCs walk down dungeon. Dingy, bloodstained walls and magical darkness are plentiful, and faint, sourceless screams can be heard on occasion. The caster removes the magical darkness and they trudge onward. Then they walk into a long, straight hallway that stretches beyond their sight's range. As they walk in, the walls have an Earth Lock spell trap that triggers 1 round after las person walks thorugh it. Now the tunnel is closed off. They continue down and find the hallway has an anti-magic field on the whole thing. And there is waste deep water. Walking blind, they find that random sections of the water are really, really deep.

This establishes tension. No casting, slowed movement, freaking blind. They continue on the best they can, only for the fighter to fail a grapple check and be pulled into a nearby deep part by an underwater tentacle. Initiative is rolled.

Something horrid rises from the water from behind them. It skirts the edge of any light source they may have and can only be seen as a slithering silhouette at best. It whispers something demeaning about the caster's magics being useless to him, maybe poisons someone, then vanishes into the water.

PCs run screaming down the hall and find the field ends, the water ceases, and the darkness is gone. Expect many "WTF!?!?!?" 's and a much more cautious approach to the rest of the dungeon.
The answer to everything:
[spoiler][/spoiler]
SneeR
[spoiler]
I don't know if the designers meant you to take Skill Focus for every feat.
Sounds a little OP.

The monk is clearly the best class, no need to optimize here. What you are doing is overkill.

It's like people who have no idea what a turn signal is. They ruin it for everyone else.
When another driver brandishes a holy symbol and begins glowing with divine light, seek cover or get spattered with zombie brains. I do not see what is so complicated about this.
[/spoiler]

CrimsonDeath

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2011, 06:49:34 AM »
You could also add in "monsters" that are helpful, or at least innocent.  I was in one game where we found a group of human soldiers attacking a scythe-wielding troll.  It turned out that the troll was a (normally peaceful) farmer and the humans attacked him in the middle of farming, just because he was a troll.

Or you could have tricky characters that actively conceal their motives.  For instance, in the Halloween game I ran, the monster I led the players to believe was the big bad actually turned out to be the quest giver.  (He was a unique Fey-- and not a nice one-- so it wouldn't have been his style to walk up and ask them politely.  Instead, he planted clues that led to the guy he actually wanted gone.)

Between teaching the players the meaning of "usually chaotic evil" and actually evil characters that have political connections or beneficial agendas, the players may start to think twice before beating people up.  Or if they don't, just keep in mind that actions have consequences, evil people can still have friends, and even monsters can have back stories.

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2011, 06:44:02 PM »
A campaign arc I ran once inadvertently turned into a horror campaign.

The original intent was to have a mini-campaign arc, three or four sessions, to set up a much bigger one.  However, it ended up being extended for quite a while, and being the most memorable arc of the whole, 2-year long campaign.

A curse of fecundity had hit a city for an unknown reason, and was slowly seeping outward into the surrounding lands.

It started out as a boon.  Seeds would start sprout minutes after they were planted, and plants were producing two, three times as much.  Everyone was infected with extra energy, extra life.  Animals (and people) had a huge urge to mate, to spread their own seed as well.

Within a week, though, it started to get bad.  The bigger plants were so overgrown, they were choking the life out of the smaller ones.  Pollen choked the air, so that even people who normally had no trouble were showing Animals (and, again, people) began giving birth months early, leading to stillbirths.

Of course, the fertility and fecundity wasn't limited to crops and animals.  Fungus, mold, and bacteria began to multiply and spread like wildfire.  Disease was rampant.  The choked fields which had once been a sign of great wealth were turned into rotting, fetid sours.  People were constantly sick, and doing everything they could to fight off the bacterial blooms growing in their own bodies.  Healing magic only seemed to make it worse.

The moment that the players started really getting freaked out was the point when it was so bad that things would start to rot instantly.  They would have a combat session, and by the end of the session, the dead were already rotting, mold was growing, and the bodies were bloating up with gas.  Fungus and mold began growing up like grass, covering houses, etc.

And then, when they started waking up every morning with mold growing on them...

After the fact, I gave a lot of thought about why this was such a creepy campaign, especially since death was not an uncommon theme for the party.  But this was different.  The slow, inexorable progression from this wild, fertile "blessing" that was going to spark a new renaissance in a socially decaying city to this soured wasteland was surprisingly jarring.  This party dealt with plagues of undeath without batting an eye, but seeing the dead (and eventually even the living) rot and decay before their eyes generated some genuine shudders.  And because no one knew how this blessing/curse was being spread, no one wanted to touch anything, to breathe anything in.  I'd never seen their characters so skittish before.

Psithief

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2011, 07:19:21 PM »
A campaign arc I ran once inadvertently turned into a horror campaign.

The original intent was to have a mini-campaign arc, three or four sessions, to set up a much bigger one.  However, it ended up being extended for quite a while, and being the most memorable arc of the whole, 2-year long campaign.

A curse of fecundity had hit a city for an unknown reason, and was slowly seeping outward into the surrounding lands.

It started out as a boon.  Seeds would start sprout minutes after they were planted, and plants were producing two, three times as much.  Everyone was infected with extra energy, extra life.  Animals (and people) had a huge urge to mate, to spread their own seed as well.

Within a week, though, it started to get bad.  The bigger plants were so overgrown, they were choking the life out of the smaller ones.  Pollen choked the air, so that even people who normally had no trouble were showing Animals (and, again, people) began giving birth months early, leading to stillbirths.

Of course, the fertility and fecundity wasn't limited to crops and animals.  Fungus, mold, and bacteria began to multiply and spread like wildfire.  Disease was rampant.  The choked fields which had once been a sign of great wealth were turned into rotting, fetid sours.  People were constantly sick, and doing everything they could to fight off the bacterial blooms growing in their own bodies.  Healing magic only seemed to make it worse.

The moment that the players started really getting freaked out was the point when it was so bad that things would start to rot instantly.  They would have a combat session, and by the end of the session, the dead were already rotting, mold was growing, and the bodies were bloating up with gas.  Fungus and mold began growing up like grass, covering houses, etc.

And then, when they started waking up every morning with mold growing on them...

After the fact, I gave a lot of thought about why this was such a creepy campaign, especially since death was not an uncommon theme for the party.  But this was different.  The slow, inexorable progression from this wild, fertile "blessing" that was going to spark a new renaissance in a socially decaying city to this soured wasteland was surprisingly jarring.  This party dealt with plagues of undeath without batting an eye, but seeing the dead (and eventually even the living) rot and decay before their eyes generated some genuine shudders.  And because no one knew how this blessing/curse was being spread, no one wanted to touch anything, to breathe anything in.  I'd never seen their characters so skittish before.

Consider this plagiarised!

kurashu

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2011, 06:11:54 AM »
What I did in my last campaign was play with expectations, go outside the rules and work on both fears I knew my PLAYERS have and what they said their CHARACTERS have. I also used voice acting (as bad as I am) to increase immersion -- including working on my extreme metal vocals (death growls and black shrieks) as well as incoherent screaming, noises, et cetera. It's unsettling to hear a kobold, when struck, transform into a tentacled blob and just shriek mindlessly.

I went for more a psychological horror rather than typical gorefest. Most of it was inspired by the Greenbrier Chasm Dungeoncraft articles. I had things like: an area of shadow that, when entered, had the sound of hundreds of whispered converstations at once and if a [light] spell was cast in it the whispers turned to screams; there was a pool in the cavern that one player dove into (as a fish) and swam about ten feet down and then had to swim up over a hundred feet to get out; creatures turned into tentacled blobs; omnious statues, symbols, etc. -- I made a lot of use of obelisks, my copy of the Simonomicon (especially the binding seals, I think); a spider crawled out of one NPC's eye and into his nose.

Several of my players are familiar with the Marble Hornets series. One scene was my girlfriend's character patrolling an inn hallway. She heard a noise and investigated. She heard another noise and turned around. A masked figure dropped from the ceiling and charged her and vanished into nothing. She was terrified, as was two of the other players who made the immediate connection. Slenderman made an appearance in one dream sequence, he crept up behind an NPC delivering a creepy monolouge (lifted wholesale from Ruins of Beverast's "I Raised This stone As A Ghastly Memorial") and snatched him, leaving my players very confused and scared. I gave different characters nightmares.

I find that description is key, both in what you say and don't say.

Amechra

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2011, 11:03:28 PM »
Some of my own ideas (I've used a couple of these.)

-The Book of the Mundane, a text I ended up giving to my players... when it is opened up, to any page, the entire area is mundane. As in, completely mundane; a gargoyle was converted into a normal statue, one player's familiar became a normal raven, and the fact that most of the players were spellcasters of some description...

Closing it made the extremely FUCKED UP library they were in at the time go haywire, so they had to maneuver around the book.

-Illusionary healing, which in essence is giving them "healing" in a free and plentiful form... which, upon getting damaged, immediately disappears. When I used this, the players I used it on were surprised when a rat dealt 20+ damage to them (it only dealt 1 real damage each time...).

Here are my ideas for the Holloween campaign I'm going to run later this year:
-Have them dream they are someone else; essentially, the entire party becomes a different group each time they go to sleep... a group whose agenda is indirectly in opposition to the normal party's. For example, they dig drive away a force of goblins threatening a town, and then, that night, to kill off a group of soldiers, they hit upon poisoning a well... when they wake up, people are already dying of the poison they put in there the night before...
-Alter the campaign backstory often and without warning; for example, that town you saved? Never existed. If they go back to check, there aren't even foundations.
-You aren't the one in any mirrors you go past...

Beyond that, I suggest making it so they feel helpless. One common fear is that you can't do anything (if you've ever had any of those nightmares where you are being chased, and can never escape, you know what I'm talking about.) Make it so any changes they make indirectly help the opposition, or if you are really cruel...

[spoiler]Every time they go to sleep, the villain's agenda advances... and every change they made never happened. Remember, lack of sleep brings about paranoia and hallucinations...[/spoiler]
[spoiler]Fighter: "I can kill a guy in one turn."
Cleric: "I can kill a guy in half a turn."
Wizard: "I can kill a guy before my turn."
Bard: "I can get three idiots to kill guys for me."

On a strange note, would anyone be put out if we had a post about people or events we can spare a thought for, or if its within their creed, a prayer for? Just a random thought, but ... hells I wouldn't have known about either Archangels daughter or Saeomons niece if I didn't happen to be on these threads.
Sounds fine to me.
probably over on "Off-topic".
might want to put a little disclaimer in the first post.

This is the Min/Max board. We should be able to figure out a way to optimize the POWER OF PRAYER(TM) that doesn't involve "Pazuzu, Pazuzu, Pazuzu".
[/spoiler]

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kurashu

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2011, 02:24:06 AM »
Helplessness is a tricky route to take as you stand a higher chance of just frustrating your players rather than evoking despair and pointlessness.

Tenebrus

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2011, 03:36:04 AM »
Heroes of Horror has some good idea.  I find the taint mechanic unwieldy, and it promotes a few too many jokes.  But the charts and ideas about mood are very solid.

Sjappo

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #14 on: May 10, 2011, 10:39:46 PM »
I find that description is key, both in what you say and don't say.

QFT

I find that if you can get the players to go from "lets kill it" to "WTF is going on here" you've got them. Description is everything. A good description will trigger your players to start asking questions which keeps them from killing stuff which gives you time and opportunity to creep them out.

Littha

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #15 on: May 11, 2011, 03:22:34 AM »
One campaign I ran once used two systems: Call of Cthulu (D20) and D&D.

In the first half of the campaign the call of cthulu guys were sucked through a portal to another world and as per usual in call of cthulu they all went insane and died pretty rapidly.

Second half the D&D characters enter the same dungion and go round killing the level 1 or 2 undead there.... plus the cleric looted a shotgun off the dead bodies...



In any case D&D is really hard to make into a horror game, the player attitude isnt there so I would reccomend something like call of cthulu for that kind of thing. D20 one uses mostly the same rules too.

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2011, 03:06:56 AM »
Heroes of Horror has some good idea.  I find the taint mechanic unwieldy, and it promotes a few too many jokes.  But the charts and ideas about mood are very solid.

I used this in my last game I ran.  I had a whole mountain range that was being corrupted by some unknown force that got so deep it went into the spirits of the mountains and forests of the area (stolen whole cloth from L5R  :D).  Where the taint mechanic came into play, is that I had each character start with some items that seemed innocuous until they were going to investigate the area, came across legends about how there were certain items that would absorb the taint (jade, lightning struck wood, etc.).  Druid in the game was so passionate about trying to cleanse the spirits of the area she actually offered herself as a host to a spirit to relocate it mid-battle with a 'boss' in hopes of the spirit aiding them during the battle.  Which it did, by giving the druid a <i> heightened empowered </i>chain lightning as a SLA usable as often as she wanted at the cost of a large taint gain.  Worked REALLY well.

b100d_arrowz

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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #17 on: May 21, 2011, 05:50:06 AM »
Something one of my old DM's did to our party was have the party be continuously followed by some creature, in our case it was an orange tabby cat, that only one character can see, hopefully a character that is competent at spotting things. In our case the cat turned out to be the familiar of the God of Time, which was quite an interesting revelation given that we were sent to kill him  :facepalm The tale you put onto the party can be as dangerous or inconspicuous as you like, just a constant subtle prodding at one character's psyche.

Another thing that same DM did was implement sanity rules we found in one of the splat books lying around. That system you started out with 100 sanity, +/- your wisdom modifer, and all throughout the dungeon your sanity was damaged. In our case it was more aberration focused sanity destruction (gibbering mouthers, seeing party members suddenly become pseudonatural, illusory traps, etc) all of which can be applied excellently to a horror setting. I would advise implementing something like a phobia in your players for certain creatures or events, or inspire certain other mental defects, such as extreme arrogance (more then your normal wizard  :P), feelings of intractability or infallibility only to have those illusions shattered by some hideous monster who takes something they love from them, for example a vampire illithid seems particularly fun to me  :smirk
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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #18 on: July 05, 2011, 10:46:57 PM »
In addition to all the other comments here, barely surviving/defeating/getting away from a new horror tends to work. This if of course very risky, as one of the PCs could die, but if handled properly, it institutes a feeling of not wanting to go back there. Additionally, giving them they've never encountered in the mechanical sense can work. For instance, a scenario like that given here could work. Assuming of course that the players don't just murder the person the moment they start acting funny.
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Re: How to put the chills into players?
« Reply #19 on: July 09, 2011, 03:45:09 AM »
You could also add in "monsters" that are helpful, or at least innocent. ...
I recently had very good horror-inducing success with a variation on this. After slaughtering their way through a number of hostile goblins, the party came to discover that the goblins were being bred for sacrifice toward an evil deity. The horror and dismay of the players was obvious and they did a great job playing that out with their characters. Later, a very evil appearing half-fiend proved to be a helpful, if a bit frightening source of information and alien mushroom-folk proved far more of a threat than their cute appearance would have suggested.