View Full Version : [Any] Ways to unnerve your plays?

2011-02-07, 04:22 PM
Before last session I had the idea of how creepy it would be to DM a darker game and just walk in in full tux, with the lights dimmed dark. Then just run the entire session in a very monotone voice.

We all know the slap a big mini on the table at the start of the game trick, but what else have you DMs done, or have your DM done for/to you? :smallbiggrin:

2011-02-07, 04:31 PM
Let's see.

Once I started the game with the battle map completely drawn out but covered up. One of the players saw the label at the bottom of the map. It was the name of the castle the group controlled. He dreaded the oncoming siege for the entire session.

Pass notes. For bonus points, pass notes and then look at the player you want to unnerve until they catch you staring. You don't even have to be GM for this one.

Recently I had the players work with a group of bad guys. The PCs were too outnumbered to straight up fight, so they were trying to infiltrate the evil group. Then the cult rituals began. The bad guys passed a knife around and cut themselves. When it reached the PCs who were participating to pick a number between 0 and the number of healing surges they had left. That put the fear into them real good.

2011-02-07, 04:34 PM
I find music is the best tool for this sort of thing. Mild yet creepy. It needs to be on the entire session.

2011-02-07, 04:44 PM
We lost power one time, so we ended up playing D&D by candle light. It was actually very creepy.

So you could turn out the lights and play by candle light, but that might start to get expensive if you play for hours on end. We had to light about 8 candles so we could see everything.

Maybe a lantern would work better?

2011-02-07, 04:50 PM
Grin. Whenever a player says something, just start grinning. Throw in a chuckle or two. That's pretty unnerving.

I do have to admit, though, what I was about to do in-game at the time was quite stupid.

2011-02-07, 05:00 PM
Set up some classic scenarios but dont play them out like the players expect.

Leave them expecting something that will never happen.

For example i once ran a game where the party was moving through an old manor house that was filled with life like statues of various warriors and monsters.

The party spent the whole session expecting every foot fall to waken the statues and put them in dire combat.

They actualy changed their tactics may times so they "would be ready when the statues attacked!".

In the end the statue never attacked, the previous owner of the manor was just a big fan of heroic ballads. But every new and more imposing statue had them swearing under their breath.

They all so kept expecting to find a medusa.

2011-02-07, 05:03 PM
Have a bowl of peanuts on the side and whenever something bad happens or is going to happen to the PC's grab a small handful, eat them and smile.

2011-02-07, 05:09 PM
When it comes to story-telling, be unpredictable. Play something straight a few times, then subvert it. Subvert something a different number of times, then play it straight. Kill "obviously significant" NPCs, but not too often, or, a whole bunch at once. Leave them guessing.

Play mood music. Nothing too distracting, or too invasive, and definitely nothing that the players are likely to start singing along to. Nox Arcana (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcqwbad1iUs), or The Captain by The Knife (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3ejFJugLPQ), or things like that.

Or: honk occasionally.


2011-02-07, 05:17 PM
Sometimes, I'll say "Are you sure you want to do that?" smiling. This has on a few occasions resulted in entire plans being remade.

2011-02-07, 05:26 PM
I sit back, smile and tap my d20 once or twice on my notepad behind the screen, just loud enough to be heard. I do this just after they tell me what they are doing, most of the time just before I throw them into the trouble, but not all the time.

I also use the "You say it, you do it" rule. This has resulted the leader of the Gods in my setting literally destroying someone's soul because of a severely rude gesture. That kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in my game, but I gave him a second chance.

2011-02-07, 05:28 PM
Sometimes, I'll say "Are you sure you want to do that?" smiling. This has on a few occasions resulted in entire plans being remade.

I run a Cyberpunk game and I use a homebrewed Advantage/Disadvantage system. One of the advantages I use is called "Common Sense".

Common Sense ranges from 1-5 traits. Here they are.

 The Referee may look at you funny if you decided to do something really stupid.
 The Referee will ask something like “Are you sure?” if you tell him that you want to do something really stupid.
 A few times a game session, the Referee will tell you that it may not be a good idea to do something. He may even give you a reason.
 Every time you decide to do something stupid, the Referee will tell you why it may not be such a good idea. The Referee will also give you a reason why.
 The Referee will always tell you when you are about to do something stupid. The Referee will also give you a reason why. The Referee will give you ideas of what to do. The Referee will basically become an advisor.

So, I can only ask "Are you sure?" if they have at least two traits in Common Sense. But I must say, it works wonders in D&D.

2011-02-07, 05:29 PM
Go through four inns uneventfully, then in one, Have them make multiple listen checks while sleeping. Bonus points if you grin widely whenever they fail. Doesn't work so well if someone with a high listen check rolls a natural 20.

Captain Kidd
2011-02-07, 05:35 PM
I frequently roll listen/spot/detect trap/etc. rolls for my players. That way they're never sure if there's nothing behind that door or if the roll was low and there's an ambush waiting.

Makes for some great drama for them and comedy for me as they try to get the courage up to round a corner or open a door or chest.

some guy
2011-02-07, 05:37 PM
What worked for me is, whenever the group has split, the use of cliffhangers. A cliffhanger after you asked for listen/spot rolls, then going back to the other part of the group works splendidly.
Also, after asking for a spot saying something as "I'm guessing you're not looking in your rearview mirror/ under the bed/ whatever any normal person would not look at under those circumstances but now you're asking for that particular place would suggest something, hm?

Something what happened during my last Call of Cthulhu session:
Player M's character is having freaky nightmares, so she has an one night stand with a NPC to try and suppress those dreams. Without luck. I tell her what she's dreaming and after a while I tell her she wakes up. Naked in a kitchen she doesn't recognize. She figures she must have been sleepwalking and says she's going back to the bedroom. Alright, I say, and what will you do with that knife you're holding?
Player M: :smalleek:

Also, slow moving corpses that twitch and look through a recording camera towards whoever is watching it.

Play mood music. Nothing too distracting, or too invasive, and definitely nothing that the players are likely to start singing along to. Nox Arcana (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcqwbad1iUs), or The Captain by The Knife (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3ejFJugLPQ), or things like that.

Or: honk occasionally.


Nox Arcana and The Captain are both in my music play list labeled CoC. Musica Cthulhiana is also nice for that. As are several soundtracks.
HONK. honk. HONK. honk. HONK

2011-02-07, 05:53 PM
I once decided to run a horror style session for my DnD group. a young noble was running away from his father to escape a marriage he didn't want to take part in. In preparation for the session, I and a few of my friends who were not players read some lines into a sound progrm called audacity. all the lines we said were either generic insults, dredging up the PC's pasts, or telling them how they would die. We also used the program to give each of them a distinctly creepy feel, changing the way each line was said

Once the session finally rolled around, they followed the young noble into a temple, ancient and abandoned. it goes deep. much deeper than they though.

Cue music (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2unoAVb9G0&feature=related) quietly playing in the background. The voices we had recorded were playing extremely quietly, but as they got lower and lower into the dungeons, they picked up volume. once the players figured out what they were hearing, it started getting worse for them. two wereactually sweating by the time the boss fight rolled around

Speaking of, we had different music (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0ZKfrhBhQw) and voicing for that, with the voices practically yelling at them as they were fighting all those creatures from the negative energy plane (nightwalkers, I think they're called) as they fought a necromancer.

The day after, I saw one of the players from ur group. the first thing she did upon seeing me was slap me for giving her horrible nightmares

2011-02-07, 05:57 PM
One time I had the PCs infiltrating an Innsmouth-inspired village led by a strange individual... The party was watching him from hiding, and while they couldn't see much of him, I still described to them how he looked wrong, this emaciated figure with a seawater-warped leather trenchcoat and hat. I then ask for Hide checks, and even though they all did pretty well, describe how he suddenly whips around and eyes the area suspiciously for a few moments, before striding toward the church.

The players were holding their breaths the whole time. :smallamused:

2011-02-07, 06:03 PM
Harnel, may I steal this?

We are inbetween campaigns at the moment and the plot for the next one is mostly completed (it's a rather on-the-rails plot, but with plenty of wiggle room between major events (my players like it this way)) and near the end the party will visit a place called the Vault, which will have thousands of Phylacteries inside.

I think what you did will be perfect for that part and I wish to use it.

2011-02-07, 06:10 PM
Harnel, may I steal this?

Absolutely. Sometimes the simple way of doing things is the scariest and most effective, and this is surprisingly simple

2011-02-07, 06:29 PM
During one horror game I was playing, we were approaching an area and a whispering voice was saying "Don't come closer. Don't come closer." We, of course ignored it, and proceeded forward. Now the game wasn't being played at a table but in a lounge room with each player on a chair or lounge. I was sitting in the chair closest to the door.

On some pretence, the DM got up and wandered over to the door and looked outside. Then he suddenly grabbed my shoulder and loudly said "I told you not to come closer!".

This might have scared me a lot more except I have an odd issue with concentration - generally if I'm not paying attention to something it can't scare me easily since by the time my brain has shifted gears to whatever is trying to scare me it's already processed whatever has happened.

2011-02-07, 06:33 PM
I always purposely leave my books open on cursed items or random traps. The best is when I get them to buy an item based only on them seeing what my book is open too.

some guy
2011-02-07, 06:37 PM
too awesome to be quoted

My hat is off to you for that description of a wonderful session.

2011-02-07, 06:50 PM
I like walking around the table and whispering weird things in the players' ears. Basically the kind of things that might represent random thoughts that pop up in the characters' heads.

Also: Tie things in the setting and the plot to stuff the players have made up about their characters in various ways. This increases basic immersion and means that whatever scary things happen in those contexts become more unnerving than they would have been otherwise.

Angry Bob
2011-02-07, 07:07 PM
Just before entering a scene featuring Horrors From Beyond Space and Time, excuse yourself. You need a snack, or to go the the bathroom or something. While you're out, put a fake blood capsule in your mouth. When you go to describe a Thing That Should Not Be, start bleeding from the mouth. When someone notices, brush them off and tell them to quit fooling around.

2011-02-08, 09:23 AM
Harnel, that is amazing.

I have a friend who's been working on setting up a horror session and I've collaborated on it with him, he's got some pretty good techniques.

He has minions which attack you at first, causing the PCs to mercelessly slaughter them then later show up seeming to build something. When the PCs attack them they don't do anything, they just stare and let the PCs kill them.

2011-02-08, 10:38 AM
The 'are you sure?' part works wonders to keep players on edge if you don't overdo it.

Of course, the opposite works as well :smallcool: One of the DMs in my group is a great storyteller but pretty terrible on the tactical side of the game (for some reason, and not only in D&D, he never tries to put himself in the opponent's shoes and think 'what would I do here?' ). I on the other hand am pretty god at battle tactics(and he knows it) . So sometimes I love to mess with his head a bit. After he makes a completely inconsequential move, I flip through the Spell Compendium or something as if having a closer look at a spell description, nod to myself then ask him 'are you sure?' this usually ends with 10-15 sec of puzzled looks to the battlemat :smallbiggrin:

On a more serious note, the most unnerving thing we did in-game: one of our party members(slightly chaotic factotum) had gone on a couple of private endeavors to make some extra cash. He gets double-crossed by his employer(who wanted him dead for knowing too much about his shady dealings), we save him and we decide to pay the dude a visit. Since all of us had means to disguise ourselves (a changeling cleric and 2 arcane casters), we all go disguised as the factotum (actually bought identical clothes for this).

In game,via telepathy we all spoke and moved at the same time, and also behaved as completely unaware of the other 3 identical dudes.

Out of game, whenever we wanted to say something in character, we'd write it on a note, pass it around, and we'd all speak at once. Was awesome fun, but pretty creepy in a way.

2011-02-08, 11:14 AM
Bring as many Monster Manuals to the session as you can carry. Make sure you have lots of bookmarks in the pages, even/especially if you're never going to use the monster.

As the group enters the dungeon, say: "Okay, before we start this next part, I'm going to need to know what your bonuses on these are: Will save, Reflex save, Spot, Listen, Balance, and Swim." Roll dice at various points. This is practically guaranteed to make anybody wearing armor very nervous if they have no means of underwater breathing - Swim is one of those skills that very few people put ranks in.

Captain Kidd
2011-02-08, 11:28 AM
Roll dice at various points.This is very, very useful if done right. When the tension starts increasing, the occasional die roll and examination of a note does wonders on unnerving players. It's really fun with ones that struggle with metagaming. They agonize over casting a defensive spell or preparing for an ambush based upon hearing the GM rolling a die versus what their character perceives.