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March 19, 2007, 1:35 am

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Cheka Man

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More Boo!


More Viceral Tips for Horror Gaming!

This piece is dedicated to Captain Penguin

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 following… 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.

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Comments ( 23 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted CaptainPenguin
October 30, 2005, 12:57
GM: As you step into the dilapidated shack, some sort of oozing fungus makes a wet splorch under your boot. The room is dark and clammy. (Pause) You hear a sudden loud bang to your left!
Player: What the hell was that? I draw out my sword!
GM: Oh, it's probably nothing...
Ria Hawk
October 30, 2005, 12:58
Boo!: Things sometimes don't behave the way their supposed to. And I don't just mean large animals that could pose a threat. It can be very unnerving to see small, fuzzy animals behaving in ways that they shouldn't, like squirrels attacking, or rabbits boldly sitting in the middle of a campsite watching them. And since many adventurers will not want to admit being spooked by apparently harmless critters...
Voted MoonHunter
October 30, 2005, 12:58
These are not just horror ideas, but good general GMing techniques.

Convey that there are worst fates than death. Imagine, for example, that the party encounters a group of gnolls. No problem, right? However, maybe one of the PCs notices that the beasts are behaving oddly... and when they hit one... it explodes in a burst of spiders. It turns out that these gnolls are just husks... filled with and animated by these little purple arachnids. And what do the PCs do when the spiders start climbing all over them, and seem to be going for their noses, ears, and mouths? (mind you, it could just be their paranoia twisting their perception). Hmmm. Will Raise Dead counter such a fate? Probably not. Ew. Maybe the spiders can only animate the freshly dead... but the PCs don't know that.

Then later, you can have fun with a single little purple spider running across the table at the tavern. Aw. Look at the big, tough adventurers getting all creeped out at a little spider.

Get a PC alone, or seperate them into smaller groups. It's more work for you and slows the game down a bit, but the pay off can make it worth it. Snipers and assassins wait for situations like this.

Introduce dangerous opponents that are clearly minions of some greater adversary. Make them harsh -- a challenge in their own right with minions of their own -- and have them not fight to the death. They'll take off if things get too nasty in order to fight another day (if some don't manage to get away, just introduce others). When a few have managed to escape, suggest the idea of what a combat would be like if all those henchmen who survived were gathered together in one place.

This is an approach that stopped an uber "charge forward and lay waste" party dead in their tracks. It was amusing to see these huge, cosmic PCs hedge and haw. They said, "Maybe we shouldn't just march right into the front door..." and "If these guys are minions, imagine what the BBEG must be like?!"
October 30, 2005, 12:59
A few more things
When playing out a character with sanity issues. Run the game, but insert odd twists, and monsters and such being run by other players. Take copius notes during this section. When the character "recovers", narrate through what occured in the real world.

After doing this a couple of times, have the first run be reality and the second run be wierd and the one they can ignore. All of a sudden, they won't know what to trust. Their stress and confusion will stimulate fear.

There are some harder edged things you can do.

You can narrate the character's physiological responses. His mind (the player) may be oblivious, but let the person pee in their pants or sweat profusely or make a DR to repress throwing up. The players might say this is unfair. Tell them if they did it, you would not have to. (Hence players will begin to show their fear at appropriate time, rather than the occasionally inconvient times the GM might do it.

Some mechanics that help....
Try the occasional through balloon. Stop play and ask the player to narrate what is going through their character's head. If they do an adequite job, they are fine. If they do a bad job or their thoughts don't reflect the reality of the situation.

The player's don't have to feel scared (though it is nice), but they need to act it out.

This might give them the idea. If they absolutely don't get it. Move to the next level.

Rate their performance from 1-10, 10 being of an average level of play. Divide this number by 10 geting a score between .1 and 1. This number becomes a multiplier for their experience (3000exp becomes 1200 exp with a .4 MOD) or number of possible skill checks they get. (if they are ranking .3 it requires three appropriate uses before they get a check).

Even the most hardened meta-gamer and power-gamer learns to roleplay appropriately with this kind of incentive.
October 30, 2005, 12:59
well for horror tips and more i advise to take a look on the ravenloff core book for d20dnd this comes with some usefull table of fear,madness,horror and effects very good stuff my players found this system for horror campaigns is the best and porvide some madness and life to an horror setting.
October 30, 2005, 13:00
Cough. Cough. Wheeze
Um. Have you ever read or even seen a copy of Chaosium's Call of Cthulu? How about Chill, Unknown Armies, Witchcraft (1st ed), or even "Don't go down there"?

Thought so.

While I do give it kudos for trying to do the gothic horror shtick, it is more of an elementry school primer when compared to some of the others which are more akin to Senior HighSchool and College course books.

Here are some useful things....
Handy bunch of links...
THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION (HWA) is a worldwide organization of writers and publishing professionals dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. HWA was formed in the late 1980s with the help of many of the field's greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe Lansdale. Today, with over 1,000 members around the globe, it is the oldest and most respected professional organization for the much-loved writers who bring you the most enjoyable sleepless nights of your life. For more about us, click here.
The Horror Screenwriters Page. A good place to start. Designing game scenarios and GMing is more like writing, shot blocking, and directing a movie than it is writing a story. This is a good place to get your feet wet in the blood of things.
Handy forum. Some gems to be found, but you have to wade through crap.,, and
Associated sites.
Some of the links are dead (no pun intended). Those that work are good.

You can google some more if you want. And avoid paying any money for anything on the writing sites. That is how they make their money, but what you need can be gotten for free if you search on the web long enough.

And before you say... "These are all writing sites. They have nothing to do with gaming..." GMing is a great deal like writing a story, be it book fiction or screen play. These tools, plus some story telling skills, can make you a great horror GM. Trust me on this one. I have been a horror and action horror GM for a regular campaign for about 18 years now.
October 30, 2005, 13:06
Collection of other odd horror tips...
Some of these have been covered before, but they are worth covering again.

Boo! Never expect to really "scare" your characters. The players have a great deal of psychological distance between them and the source of terror. The best you can do is keep them in the mood, and have them act/ play out being scared.

Boo! True scares are difficult, if nearly impossible to achieve because of this. Relish the occasional shiver you send up their spines.

Boo! The GM sets the tone for the game. If the gamers are trying to break the mood by joking, the GM must stand tall and grim and NOT JOIN IN. If the GM joins in, it is like giving them permission to do it.

Boo! Keep the PCs off-balance, this plays to the mood of a horror game. If the players learn that they don't know what to expect, they may pay more attention.

Boo! - All the world's a stage: Remember, you are the Narrator of your own scary movie. If you want to invoke a scary mood at the narrator of your game, use a scary voice. Like a good GM basing their narration on the style and prose of a novelist, horror GMs can utilized either horror novelists OR horror characters. The Cryptkeeper, Dracula (with cheesey accent), Hssss (a spider snake monster), Freddie, or just a deep creepy voice, are all options to help you set the mood of the game. (Note: Only use these if you can do it convinvingly and maintain it without killing your voice). It may not scare them, but it will keep the players focused on the fact that they are not playing a normal game anymore.

Addendum: I often start out with my normal GMing voice, and slowly shift into an odd voice, as odd things start happening. It reinforces the mood.

If you don't know this trick: To keep the description consistent for the entire campaign, I base my words and phrases on a favorite author. One author forms the inspiration and the template for the voice of the campaign. Right before the game, I'll read a chapter or large chunk of one author, Mercedes Lackey, Ann Rice, Terry Brooks, Peter David, or some such, so that I have an idea of how the author would describe the scene. It reinforces the "voice" of the campaign in my mind.

Boo! On that note: If you are trying to set a horror mood, try playing some scary music. There are many classical themes that are quite horrific. Movie sound tracks are excellent for this. I do not know anyone who is not creeped out by the Halloween I theme music. Remember this mood music must be just louder than the threshold of hearing... almost subliminal to be most effective.

Make sure you've isolated your group from outside distractions.

I never thought I would quote Christopher Lowel in a gaming tip, but here it is.

Boo! Stage Dressing works: Temporarily redecorate your gaming area with things you can put up and take down quickly. Yards of black fabric can be strung about, tucked into couches, or velcroed to walls. Change the lights bulbs to dimmer bulbs or odd colored lights. Take out all the comfy pillows. You can even put boards of foamcor in the couch cushions, to set them on edge. Replace your nice normal pictures with terrible horrific images. These things can be put in place and taken down quickly. The impact that this $75 bucks and some time and imagination has will more than justify the cost and effort.

Roll it -Boo!: Have a set of dice that work just for a horror game. Paint the numbers on those dice with glow in the dark paint. It is an interesting effect.

I recently added a HUGE chef's knife to my pile of GM's paraphenalia. I didn't touch it or play with it, but it was right there next to my dice all night. Strangely enough, my players stopped reaching for my dice.

If you are not using props or stagecraft, work on your horror dialog. Watch some old horror movies and use cue cards / riffing to get set up.
Voted KendraHeart
November 12, 2005, 0:16
Again, the article is good and the comments are as good. This is helpful, "Really Helpful". Combining the Movie concept with these horror pieces should make my next horror game much, much better.
Voted Ancient Gamer
November 14, 2005, 14:03
Go MOON! I hope you take your portfolio of articles and visit a publishing house. Perhaps a new book will come to the stores?
"Roleplaying the MoonHunter Way!"
October 28, 2006, 22:07
It is linked to the other, but smack this puppy too for the holidays.
Voted Cheka Man
October 28, 2006, 23:06
Thank you for the links.
Voted valadaar
October 29, 2006, 6:48
K, I've been hording my 5/5's like a miser. This sub is worth one. Kudos!

Absolutely love using marbles to keep track of sanity!

Chef knife eh....
October 29, 2006, 10:52
These articles make the rounds every autumn. Winter is a Character comes up every winter. Though you can do this for autumn (spring, summer)
Voted Chaosmark
August 23, 2007, 17:43
Well, 2 months or so before the usual 'bump' time, I'm reading this, and loving it. On a general level, these are all great tips for horror gaming (as well as writing). However, by posting and voting here I have a specific purpose in mind.

My purpose and idea is this: now, 2 months before the traditional time for horror games and the usual sheebang, start a game. Doesn't matter what genre, whatever you want to GM and whatever your players want to play. As time goes by and the players get attached, have things start to go a bit crazy. Strange, random occurrences here and there. Then, as the intended night rolls around, spring a horror adventure on them, using their beloved and attached-to characters. This will have a much greater effect than if you just start a horror game in the month of October. The players probably won't get attached to their characters in anything like the usual fashion, simply because they know that it's a horror game and that crap happens.

So, in short, switch things up. Let them get attached to their characters and even the game world, and slowly turn the dial up until you spring the horror adventure on them. It'll make things ever so much more horrifying for their beloved characters to be suddenly placed in a deadly situation that they can't fight against in the usual fashion.
December 18, 2008, 12:30
"Boo! The GM sets the tone for the game. If the gamers are trying to break the mood by joking, the GM must stand tall and grim and NOT JOIN IN. If the GM joins in, it is like giving them permission to do it."

Alternatively, you can join in once, then the next time pull a sudden scare out of your hat. "Yeah, I saw that one too. *laughter from the party* *hit the table* The door slams open!"
Voted Silveressa
December 18, 2008, 15:44
A really useful article, although I would be careful about going "too far" as a gm with horror games.

If for example as gm you know a player suffered a traumatic incident in their past, (like rape or child abuse) it might be ill advised to put such situations or references to them in the game lest the player themselves have serious personal issues with the game. Other times players may just find a certain situation distasteful on a moral/ethical basis.

Before making plans to run a horror game it's helpful to sit down with your group and ask them if there's any situations in horror rp games that would make them uncomfortable in real life, and if so to let you know via email, (rather then right now some players would be embarrassed to admit some situations make them uncomfortable in front of the rest of the group) so you can alter your game if need be to avoid those scenarios.

Granted it may take a bit of time and require the changing of your campaign, but it's better then losing a player form the table (possibly permanently) Usually it's never an option in normal rping, but horror games deal with the darkest and most hideous aspects of human, (and inhuman) nature so extra care must be taken.
December 18, 2008, 18:24
Personal issues based on the past aside, the reason horror is horror is because in general, we find it distasteful on some grounds. I can personally say that the amorality within H.P. Lovecraft's literature is a major factor in the horror for me.
December 19, 2008, 8:33
I agree completely. More I was referencing situations that made them so uncomfortable that they would walk away form the table rather then play the adventure.

For example a gal I know that's the mother of two young girls and used to frequent our gaming table, once asked me for my horror games not to include any scenes involving or alluding to the torture/abuse of children. Mainly she said she would be unable to handle because as a mother it invoked too much of an emotional reaction.
Voted Ramhir
October 26, 2010, 0:16

A good set of useful guidelines. I already do some when I have a horror episode in my regular campaign, and they work a treat.

Thanks for the others.

Voted Dossta
October 26, 2010, 13:19

I preferred your original BOO! article, but this one still contains some gems.  It's weird -- I don't normally even like horror as a genre, but reading these two articles has got me itching to give it a go, at least once.  Maybe that's because, as the GM, I will be in control of the situation and thus removed from many of the effects.  Interesting . . .

Voted Tundra
September 9, 2011, 7:52
Only voted
Voted meteorit
April 11, 2012, 10:03

Some great points that would probably apply to any genre of game, not just horror. And I do intend to steal a few!

Voted Mageek
March 2, 2016, 22:01

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