View Full Version : Non-gore Horror

2010-11-16, 05:15 AM
I am thinking of a horror campaign and would like to discuss the theme of horror a bit.
The thing is, I really do not want charnel houses, rivers of pus or eviscerated babies, hanging by their entrails from dead trees. All that stuff is so un-inovative.

What I really liked - as an example - is that female doctor from Starcraft 2 who goes zerg-like and asks our prominent hero "Will you enjoy killing me?" Now that is IMO good, spine-chilling horror.

A cute blond NPC who PCs meet in a village and gets infested only to attack them at a later point in a story.

I also like fog. It can not be pierced even by true seeing and that "you see 10-15 feet around you" can really induce fear.

So, any other similar non-gory ideas for a horror campaign?

Dumbledore lives
2010-11-16, 05:19 AM
Using this monster (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?p=9616404#post9616404) really helped to create horror in my campaign. The thing is, as soon as they see the monster it simply becomes a pile of hitpoints, the unseen and unknown is much more terrifying than any old eldritch abomination.

That was the key with me, give them glances, clues something is there, but have them have no idea what. Fog is good for this because it is again fear of the unknown, a very primal fear.

2010-11-16, 05:22 AM
Feeling weak, isolated and powerless. The enemy is invincible and mysterious - fighting it would lead to sure death, runing is the only option.

2010-11-16, 05:24 AM
People are primarily frightened by what they cannot predict or understand. If you use this, and add just enough of a hint to tell them that the thing they can't predict or understand is going to kill them in a horrible fashion...

2010-11-16, 05:30 AM
An other trick is making their enemies something they would really rather not fight.

I played in a oneshot were the antagonists were a bunch of children influenced by an evil puppet master.

Highlights of the game:

1) Our cleric trying to rescue a cat from drowning in the well. The kids had beaten it, tied its front legs together and lobbed it in there, apparantly for the fun of it.

2) fighting twenty kids in order to save one boy who they wanted to give the well treatment for telling on them to the adults.

3) When we locked a girl inside the church to avoid having to hurt her and she chose to set fire to the building, burning herself to death, rather than cooperate with grownups.

2010-11-16, 05:43 AM
Excuse me while my brain goes and crys in the corner, Xiander.

2010-11-16, 05:45 AM
An other trick is making their enemies something they would really rather not fight.

I played in a oneshot were the antagonists were a bunch of children influenced by an evil puppet master.

Highlights of the game:

1) Our cleric trying to rescue a cat from drowning in the well. The kids had beaten it, tied its front legs together and lobbed it in there, apparantly for the fun of it.

2) fighting twenty kids in order to save one boy who they wanted to give the well treatment for telling on them to the adults.

3) When we locked a girl inside the church to avoid having to hurt her and she chose to set fire to the building, burning herself to death, rather than cooperate with grownups.

...No, in that case you kill the entire village for being corrupt and tell the DM to quit being an ass.

Being placed in the position of having children as antagonists or things that the party is supposed to kill isn't scary or creepy, it's annoying and makes the DM look bad.

2010-11-16, 05:49 AM
The key to fright is to put people into situations in which they are not in control. The feeling of secrity doesn't neccessarily come from the knowledge that you are not in danger, but from knowing what you have to do to get the best chance to survive.
Not knowing what to do, or not being able to do it, are the situations you want to get the players into. Present them with enemies the players don't know and tell them only what they see, but not what it is. Make them in a way that certain tactics that help in most situations in fact make things worse with these particular monsters.
Create environments and encounters in which their usually tactics can not be used, like ranged attacks comming from rooftops where they cannot reach themselves. Or have people be draged away by monsters and have the players hurry after them, but then slow them down with lots of minor monsters that just take too freakin long to kill all of them.
When the player don't know what to do, or are not able to do what they need to do, you have a pretty solid basis to get them scared.

2010-11-16, 05:52 AM
Create atmosphere. The setting should be almost standard, almost familiar, and still completely wrong. The Horror book that Wizards made actually had some amusing suggestions in it. One of my favorites was that the town that the PCs are travelling through, there are people as usual, and every now and then everyone in the street stops whatever they're doing to glare at the PCs, then returns to what they were doing as though nothing happened - even resuming conversations mid-word.

Have strange and nasty things start happening near the PCs, things that can't be expalined even within DnD. Use every Horror Movie trope you've ever heard of - mirrors crack whenever a PC looks into them. A huge painting shows an excellent depiction of what are obviously the corpses of the party - better still, they enter a room and find their time-worn bodies, just husks and piles of ruined equipment, lying there.* Before they enter a dungeon crawl, have the town's resident creepy girl give one of the PCs a gift and a note saying 'Goodbye, [PCname].' In the middle of the big night festival, suddenly everyone in the crowd, just for a moment, takes on the appearance of a zombie.

The Uncanny Valley effect is your friend. Have the PCs vist a town that's just like normal, except:

1) Nobody eats or drinks anything. Ever. Despite this, there is a well on every street corner.
2) There's no prison, no law enforcement, and (oddly) no crime.
3) Everyone in the town completely ignores the party, even if the party attacks someone.
4) Every child in the town acts exactly like an adult.
5) Every thirteen minutes a bloodcurdling scream can be heard from somewhere in the town - only the party can hear it.
6) Every meal the PCs are served in the town features an entree that strongly reminds them of someone they know.
7) The town wells are all full of blood. Everyone drinks it without any qualms.
8) The town is falling apart and no one makes any attempt to fix anything.

And so on and so forth; the trick is to make sure that it's presented in such a way that the imaginations of the players do the rest, imagining why the town has wells that aren't in use, or what's going on with the creepy girl - just saying any of those above suggestions out loud isn't enough. You have to have context.

Note that you also don't need the supernatural to inspire horror, even in a DnD game - the brutality of a good old-fashioned war crime, or even just a regular war event will work, if you describe it well enough. A particularly magic-resistant plague and the ensuing despair and madness will also work. Really, it's all in the presentation more than anything else.

Hope that helps. :smallsmile:

*Edit: For extra creepy, have the bodies arranged in a way that makes it look like they killed each other.

2010-11-16, 06:37 AM
Here's a situation that I used which really freaked out my players, using the lighthouse from the Wreck ashore adventure from the WoTC website, I added a Shadow as the vengeful spirit of the father who watched his family being murdered in front of him.

The confined rooms of the lighthouse combined with the shadow being able to phase through walls really unnerved my players as they never knew where it would strike from.

On top of this I allowed the Shadow some minor poltergeist-like abilities, things suddenly failing over, doors being open when the PCs closed them earlier and bodies having moved position (everyone was convinced they were going to face zombies)

And as a final touch I had the players rolling listen checks to hear the Shadow whispering the names of his deceased family members and sobbing gently.

2010-11-16, 06:57 AM
Horror can be difficult in DnD, I always had problems with paladins and their imunity to fear.
A few ideas for a monster of the week campaign set. The players work for a good temple and spend their time investigating odd activity. The key here is if they confront the onster of the week directly before investigating they will get the dreaded deaded. So you set it up its an unknow and when they investigate people they talk to spread the fear. Here are some monsters of the week for you.

Mirror Fall

The PCs are sent to investigate the town of Winteredge. Three people have gone missing in the last week and the local sherrif has asked the temple for help. When the players get to town it is more then a town in mourning it seems to be a town that has given up hope. The sherriff that requested help is now also missing. Asking around most townsfolk that talk to the group say the disappearances were probably wolves.
As they investigate the players notice the following.
None of the townsfolk seem to carry any metal.
Nowhere in town can the players find a mirror.
After the rain, several towsfolk seem to be emptying any water they find in buckets or water barrels.
One of the missing people seemed to be taken from a locked room, a room that at one stage had something hanging on the wall that has been removed.
Whats going on ?
Simple a demon/devil known as the mirror man is attacking the town. His goal is to spread fear not just kill and maim. He has the power to teleport and see through any reflective surface. He is stealing and killing people, a lot of the townsfolk suspect this but are too scared to tell anyone. Mirror man was summoned to punish the town for its actions against a group of travelers. With his dieing breatht he leader of the travelers, spilled his blood over ascrying mirror and summoned the mirror man. This blood coated mirror is the demons weakness, it is still in the camp outside town. The mirror man has high dR unless his can see his reflection in the blood mirror.
Hopfully you get the idea with that one.

Clone Manor

The players turn up to help with a simple excorcisum of the manor house. They meet the lord and his family and staff. The excorcisum goes without a hitch. And the players are invited to stay as a thank you for their help.
Of course this is when the murder happens. The lords libarian is found dead. A book seems missing and as the manor house is sealed tight it must be someone in the manor house that did it.
From here the players can spend their time investigating the murder and trying to work out what happened. Hopfully plenty of time for the group to split up.
Whats going on ?
Well the excorcisum didnít work as planned. Something got out. Something with the power to clone people (think the thing from the movie of the same name) The missing book details what got out and how to deal with it. The libarian saw some of the staff acting oddly and was looking up what was happening when he gots the dreaded deaded.
Bonus points if you can get one of the players cloned but not killed by the process. Then he can play himself under your orders to disrupt things. Spread fear and try not to kill the group. Fear is the key to building power for the entity.
Hopfully this can play out very similar to the thing. With a complete lack of trust between everyone in the manor. The lord refuses to let anyone leave until he is sure who is a clone.

Need more monster to throw at the party, I will keep workingif you like.
One thing to note that people have mentioned one good monster is always just a man. Someone that has seen too much and gone too far. Something completely none upernatural.

2010-11-16, 07:20 AM
Some minor changes, that can make a difference:
1. Mind your language - say "you don't detect any traps" instead of "there are no traps"; "he seems to be honest" instead of "he's telling the truth".
2. At random points roll your dice in secret and scribe something down - especially when players do something completly insignificant.
3. When a single players succeeds on a Spot or Listen check, pass a note to him/her instead of telling everyone. When a player fials miserably at such a check, you might pass him/her a note with false information as well. For that, you should be making their Spot and Listen checks yourself, so they won't know, which piece of information is true. See how it synergies with point 2.
4. Uncanny Valley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley) could be your friend, but it's difficult to pull off with narration. You might give your NPCs some weird quirks: pausing for a second after hearing a certain word, always looking at someones right arm, while talking to them (this can be acted by the DM) - it can be anything. The point is, what is innocent on a single person, is creepy, if everyone does it consistently (except for the PCs).
"And the thought, that he was the only living being in the museum was not comforting - it meant he stood out."

2010-11-16, 08:06 AM
A neat trick I did in a ravenloft game:

A lone PC was wandering the forest, and became lost. Eventually he came upon a simple-looking log cabin in the middle of small clearing. The place showed signs of having been inhabited recently- a snapped rope that had apparently been used as a clothes line lay between two trees. The PC nearly tripped over the body of the woodsman. The body of the man was emaciated, and appeared to have died of thirst or hunger- a fact that seemed all the stranger because several chickens were walking about the yard. After turning the body over, the PC saw an expression of horror was painted on his pale face... and clutched in his right hand, a diary. On the ground next to him lie a ruined axe.
The PC took the woodsman's diary and entered the man's home. A fire had long-since died out in the fireplace, and a spartan, half-eaten meal lay spoiling on the table. The next thing the PC noticed, was that nearly every inch of the walls of the house had the words "THEY ARE COMING" carved into them.The poor crazed man appeared to have lived alone in this forest. The PC, having found a place to camp for the night, committed to reading the man's diary.
The first few entries described the man's preparations for his journey into the forest, and the ridicule his elders payed to him for his recklessness, and the woodsman's derision for their antiquated views. His early entries described the ambitions he had for amassing wealth by virtue of harvesting the virgin forest of the area. They detailed his success at establishing a home for himself, and in clearing an acre of land in the heart of the forest.
Eventually the entries took a darker turn. The woodsman began to notice differences. Out of place tools, damage to his home, and other oddities. Suspecting a trespasser, the man stayed awake overnight to witness the crime, but saw nothing but the forest, and heard nothing but the swaying of branches in the wind.
He went on with his life, but his suspicions remained. Eventually the damages became too serious to ignore, and he resumed his night watches, but they didn't reveal anything to him, until he went out at night to catch the criminal red handed. What he discovered was far more horrifying. There was no wind... no wind at all. But the tree branches were still swaying and cracking and moving.
The later entries became more spurious and illegible as they came to reflect the woodsman's descent into madness. He claimed he was "at war" with the forest. For every tree he cut down and burned, another two would take their place... and they were ever pressing in. Swapping position. Penning him in. He became a prisoner in his own home.

That night, the PC was attacked by a Devourer. The PC escaped, and reasoned the woodsman had become a victim of the loathsome undead... but his suspicions regarding the forest were never verified or disproven.
So, I have some suggestions...
Sow the seeds of doubt, and you will reap the benefits of fear.
Present multiple types of threats and uncertainties, on multiple layers or levels. A player who can't meaningfully piece together a large number of disparate (but relevant) details, can't be resolute against them.