Allright, so it's a little late for a Halloween horror fest, but I just got this in.
The latest question comes from Cody, and he writes:
I'm doing an undead campaign and I'm trying to scare the crap out of them with some of the things I will throw at them. They're trapped on an island filled with undead monsters. The problem is they take it all as a joke or don't act properly given the situation. So, how do you put fear into their characters? Make them second guess themselves with every turn. Have them and their characters be fearful of what might happen? So, you got any good suggestions?
Ah fear... truly a difficult thing to master, particularly in a game that so often involves so much jocularity. First thing's first. We must understand that which we would subject our players to. What is fear? Where does it come from? How do we inspire it?
One of the largest sources of fear in the human mind is the unknown. Think about it. People fear death. Why? No one knows what happens afterward. People fear the dark. Why? You don't know what's in it. People fear clowns. Why? Their makeup hides their facial expressions. You don't know what they could be thinking. People fear loud noises. Why? Because they're freakin' loud that's why!
Anyway, so we have a basic understanding of fear, but how to put that into the D&D setting? Cody mentioned that the players are taking his attempts as a joke. This could have multiple causes.
- The players may be used to a more carefree and joke-type game. Solution: Kill one or more of them. Or, even just take one of their limbs. Let them know you're serious, this will be dangerous, and you had better think of something quick because they're coming for you next.
- The players know all your tricks. Solution: New tricks. This is a big problem among veteran gamers. They've all run into enough zombies, nightwalkers, and wraiths to know exactly what to do when they come across one. So change them up a bit. Have a band of highly intelligent zombies, stalking shadows, or if they know you're throwing hordes of undead at them, put a doppelganger in there. Just because it's an "undead" campaign doesn't mean that's all you can use. Just the vast majority.
- You may just sound really silly when trying to do those dark menacing disembodied voices. You know the kind. Solution: Either hire James Earl Jones to play your bad guys, or stick to creatures that don't talk. Use vague sounds and heavy breathing or just describe these sounds to add some suspense. (Also, you could get one of those neat voice changer devices. Though that may wind up in the silly section again.)
With that in mind, throw a lot of unknown into the campaign and feel free to borrow elements from your favorite horror movies or games (I said "elements." This does not necessarily imply creatures, settings, people, traps, or anything else that your players could easily identify if they've seen the movie too. Unless you think they'd just enjoy that.). A couple elements jump to my mind that I would use.
The first comes from the movie Predator. In the movie (in case you haven't seen it), a group is stalked by a single creature. It taunts them, wears them down, and picks them off one at a time. They rarely ever catch a glimpse of the thing. It's classic. There's "something" out there hunting them, it could be anywhere or anything (even one of the party members, see the above doppelganger comment).
The second comes from the little time I spent playing Resident Evil. Zombies freakin' everywhere, and little to no resources. Have the party constantly on the edge of effectiveness, just barely able to find the resources they might need. Barely let them rest. Having something chasing or hunting them is a good way to pull that off. If they stop for too long, that awful sound they keep hearing may just catch up to them.
From a purely mechanical standpoint, you can generate a modest amount of fear just from asking for certain rolls for absolutely no reason every once in a while. Will saves are good for this. That howling that keeps following them may just drive one of them mad after all. Reflex saves are also ok, "Roll a reflex save... phew you just missed stepping in dung." BUT, you have to make at least one of them count and count big to really get them to fear it. Third time they make a save, it's to dodge "something" jumping out of the woods at them and scampering off on the other side of the trail. If they fail the save, it may just kill them or gouge their eyes out or something. If your players care anything about their characters, it'll get their attention. If not, there's really no way to make them afraid.
Finally, one small but important consideration. It's hard to be afraid of a game in bright light. To help get them caught up in the game, dim the lights (not to the point where you can't see your sheets) and make sure there isn't a vacuum cleaner on in the background. Set the mood so to speak.
Ok, well I hope that helps. Thanks a lot for your question and have fun terrorizing your players!
Labels: D and D, d20, Dungeons and Dragons, fear, horror, undead, undead campaign