Boo!: Kill characters, or at least hurt them pretty bad. This brings the point home that things are dangerous.
Boo!: Use harsh environmental conditions to enhance the horror aspect. Make things too cold for them to go out, too hot to escape during the day, driving rain to make them huddle together.
Boo!: Exploit your characters’ weaknesses. They knew the job was dangerous when they took it. In horror, things are not fair. Many GM’s refuse to take advantage of character weaknesses and disadvantages. In a horror game, do not let up upon the characters. Push them hard, and push the characters where they are weak.
Boo!: Use cliffhangers to keep the player’s attention. The moment is a cliff hanger when the results are uncertain and possibly deadly. When such a moment occurs, do any one of the followingâ€¦ change the scene to another player, take a break, or call the game for the night.
Boo!: The most useful phrase in the horror GM’s repertoire “It’s probably nothing.” Say it often enough and your players will be imagining things far worse than you ever could devise.
Boo!: Obfuscate as much as possible. If they know what it is they can deal with it. So don’t let them. If something’s supposed to be really scary, don’t describe it too well - just bits and pieces half-seen. The known can be scary, but the unknown will be scary. Give the PC’s imaginations enough rope to hang themselves.
Boo!: Give players hope. This makes the game better for the players and also further drives the point home when something bad happens.
Boo!: Focus on telling details to conjure a sense of tension and fear. Rather than say what the monster looks like, have them see the results of the monster’s presence, or some precise aspect of the monster. Instead of explaining the werewolf, describe the swiftly swinging razor sharp claws, rather than the whole beast.
Boo!: To keep a Lovecraftian feel, describe all the creatures in mind numbing detail, then at the very end add the line, “It was indescribably horrible”. Those who have read the stories will get the grim joke.
Boo!: To enhance the tension. Make things happen in a short period of time. Give the characters a feel for how long things are going to be, then have them occur faster. When they get comfortable with that new deadline, shorten it again.
Boo!: When narrating things in a horror game: use short clipped sentences and brief paragraphs in action/horror scenes to increase the sense of pace for the players.
Boo!: Want the maximum effect of horror, don’t run a horror game. Or don’t tell the players it is a horror game. If they know they are running in a horror game, they will develop their characters accordingly. If they think they are playing a normal spy game or a historical period game, they will gear their characters for that. They will think in those terms. When the horrors show up, they will be off balance and more scared.
Boo!: Want the maximum effect of horror, don’t run a horror game. Run a regular game for a while, then insert horror scenarios. A steady diet of monsters and horror makes the players blase.
Boo!: Be selective about your players. If you want to run a horror game, you need players who will focus on the game, not veer off on tangents and want to tell a funny story every couple of minutes. If they are likely to deflate EVERY bit of atmosphere with humor, then they are not cut out to be in a horror game. Either don’t invite them to those scenarios or penalize them every time they do it. (Note: Let all the players know upfront that penalties (bad karma, ep loss, etc) will be accessed for distraction.
Boo!: To create a horror feel requires the players to be off balanced. Nothing throws off a persons game than making a room extra warm (space heater) or cold (AC cranked), pull all the pillows out of the room, change the lighting, or change the seating around from the way they are familiar (or doing it when they are all on a break).
Boo!: Have escape words. There are some people who are naturally scared of thing like spiders, clowns, and high places. A GM might go a bit overboard with certain descriptions, knowing (or perhaps not) the effect they might have upon the player. If things get too freaky, the player use the word and the scene stops. GMs Note: Players seem to be able to accept more of what they are afraid of when they have this option, because they feel they are in control of their fear. An interesting occurrence, don’t you think?
Boo!: Do not dial it up to ‘11’ and then pull the knob off… but slowly creep it up to ‘10’ every once and a while. Hint to the players, that it could jump up to 11 at any moment. Their pondering of impending doom will provide more horror effect than most of your tricks.
Boo! The GM must take control away from the players. In horror, more often than in other genres, instead of the characters doing things, things happen to them. They need to be responding to the horror, rather than running the show. Once the players can regroup and think, the horrific elements are less scary.
Boo! The GM must take control away from the players. In a horror scenario, do not use “fate points”, “edges,” or any other codified system of widgets they can spend for a boost or a fortunate twist of fate. The dice fall where they are. They are the potential victims in a horror scenario. GMs: If your game system or campaign normally uses these mechanics, warn the players that they are “turned off” at the beginning of the session.
Boo!: The GM must take control away from the players. In horror, more often than in other genres, instead of the characters doing things, things happen to them. Feel more free to make the environment less serendipitously helpful than in say, a pulp game. “I look for a fireplace poker. For God’s sake, there’s got to be a fireplace!” “There’s no fireplace. The dark shape lunges towards you. “GMs: Don’t do this so much the players decide it’s hopeless, or they’ll lose interest. Reward very clever ideas and bravery from time to time.
Boo! Be descriptive, even when it’s not the monsterous stuff. You will want to describe snapping bones and flying ichor with every colorful turn of phrase you can muster, but you also want to give your NPCs little quirks to humanize them, describe the environment in a way that adds verisimilitude.
Boo!: Give the characters allies and friends, then take them away. This will increase the impact of their deaths (or things worth) upon the characters, because now it is personal. See the difference, “the monster ripped apart three people in the diner” vs “Remember Fred, the guy who helped you with that flat tire.” Yah, nice guy him.“Well, Fred is over there, and another part of him is over here, and the wet spot underneath your feet, well you see his shoes there.
Boo!: In horror scenarios, the world is not what it seems. Occasionally describe a scene slightly differently to different characters. Depending on their interests, they’ll fixate on different things. In addition, add and delete details at whim. The character is now to scared to see something or missed it when they ran through last time.
Boo!: Players often take comfort in the game mechanics, as everything is explained by their numbers. Take that security blanket away from them, especially their “hit points”. Keep track of damage for them, and give them descriptions of how hurt they are. “How much damage?” “Some. You feel a bit dizzy and the pain is distracting, but you’re still in the fight for now.”
Boo!: For sanity in a CoC game (or any game that tracks sanity by points), give each player their own bag of marbles (equal to their sanity points). Have them remove marbles as they loose sanity. They may shake, weigh, and conjecture, but never, ever count their marbles. Keep the bags between games and keep track numerically of their sanity, as enterprising players will add marbles to prevent them from finally loosing all their marbles.
It is just a story: Conflict in a story grows out of well conceived characters and strongly opposing goals, which brings us back to that life or death problem the player characters started with.