View Full Version : Fostering a tense gaming atmosphere

2011-07-12, 09:01 AM
I'm currently attempting to run an atmospheric, mild horror campaign. The trouble is, the atmosphere and horror just aren't there. There's too much OOC banter, joking and merriment. While these aren't inherently bad things, the laughing in the face of danger is destroying the tension. One of the players is considering dropping out because of the irreverence, and I'd really like to get that tense, dangerous mood. I'm not sure how, though. Any suggestions?

2011-07-12, 09:06 AM
The easiest way is to talk to your players and get them to co-operate by asking them to refrain from joking and excessive OOC banter. It takes an incredably skilled story teller to maintain a feeling a horror with those, although treating as many of their OOC comments as ingame ones can help. Like

PC: "Oh, this is where the monster's gonna jump out and attack us,"
Old Man: "I doubt it son, but now that hyou mention it, perhaps you would like to lead the way,"

2011-07-12, 10:27 AM
Also, music. Music is amazing for this sort of thing. Get creepy music, lots of it and just play it during the session. The diablo games are good for this.

2011-07-12, 12:20 PM
At some moment during the session just say "Ok guys, everything you say from now on should be considered strictly IC". If someone still jokes, target her first with some spawned horror, because monster have feelings too and they're really pissed off by some unrespecteful buffoon. Just be sure to hit hard, have them think their character could die or worse.

When the moment is gone and they're counting their scars, let them joke again OOC. Be tolerant and liberal. Until you say again the above phrase. Press them hard and give really little quarter until they stop joking when you want to foster that particular gaming atmosphere.

Hopefully they'll learn that sometimes they shouldn't joke and the duty to foster that atmosphere will rests in your hands.

2011-07-12, 02:19 PM
Atmosphere is key in horror buy-in:
Turn down the lights. If you can, turn OFF the lights, and play by candle or your laptop. Ask everyone w/o an emergency (new child, on call, etc.) to turn off any electronics. Whisper. Music is great, and I find it works best if you couple a good intro music with a monologue, for a "theme song" effect.

2011-07-12, 07:22 PM
Can anyone recommend any good music to have playing as BGM throughout the session?

Kuma Kode
2011-07-12, 07:45 PM
Can anyone recommend any good music to have playing as BGM throughout the session?

Depends on the actual game. Are you playing Call of Cthulhu? D&D? What's the horror? What's the setting?

The soundtrack to Obscure II is very good for horror, and I use it often.
Corpus Gemitu (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yl6devzzy0U) (Ambient)
The Last Ones (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zwI6EYqVHA) (Ambient)
Bad Behavior (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-LYrc6QYts) (Boss)
Waltz of Death (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L6VLJEJ6rM) (Battle)

Alan Wake.
Example (http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1467555/d20%20Horror/041%20-%20music_generic_mood08%20%7E%20mix.ogg) (Used for a scene where the party was searching the forest for a kidnapped girl)
Example (/home/ivan/d20 and Other RPGs/D&D Music/Alan Wake/059 - music_generic_battle13 ~ mix.ogg) (Used for a battle with a zombiefied mayor)

Silent Hill - Homecoming.
Battle with Sepulcher (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge2IVG3QF_o) (Boss)
Scarlet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im3D0yVOh-Q) (Boss)
Stillness in Shepherd's Glen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBXHuAm9dVQ) (I used this during an interrogation scene with a crazed cultist)
Shadows in Shepherd's Glen (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpmH7XwpvfQ) (Used this for SUDDENLY ZOMBIES)

On the note of the rest of the atmosphere, make sure everyone's on the same page. Let everyone know you're going for horror and that the jokes really make it unfun for everyone.

Also, avoid things that trigger jokes. Avoid horror clichés. Stereotypical zombies are very bad for this, and even with modified ones you'll run into Left 4 Dead jokes if there's even so much as a hint at a similarity.

Gamer Girl
2011-07-12, 07:47 PM
Try to get together something like an hour early then the ''planned game time. The idea is to get everyone together and get them to talk and joke around and tell stories and such.....before the game starts. It might even work if you could all get together the day before or such.

Also add more danger and death. If your playing a typical 'Scooby Doo' type philosophy horror game, the players know nothing will happen to their characters. They know that monsters are just there to be 'a challenge' and not to harm/kill characters. The players know that a character won't die, or even be wounded (like loose a hand) as that would be 'no fair and no fun'. But if you change that, then the players will act more serious.

Keep the game fast paced. Avoid giving the players lots and lots of time to talk. Keep events happening. If a player starts with a OOC saying, jump in quick with an event to focus back on the game.

2011-07-12, 07:48 PM
As mentioned, dim the lights or only play with a lamp illuminating the table. (Candles are a mess and a fire hazard, especially with books and paper abounding, but if you manage it, props to your prop management ;3)
there's an OCRemix from Castlevania that works pretty well, I think it's called "A walk with Death".

Have a bold, laugh in the face of danger NPC maimed, killed and eaten. Right in front of the PC's.

Or bring in a prop player to play said person who gets maimed, killed and eaten.
I did this once for a DM friend of mine, and rolled up a monk who stuck around three sessions before he boldly walked into the haunted house that the villagers warned us against, set off the trap, and fell through the floor.
The DM had me roll combat against a couple Shades, while the players were looking around for a way to save me, hearing agonized screams whenever I'd get Charisma drained.

The other players got to see the rolls, solo combat, and inevitable death, which sombered them while their characters lost a companion in a horrifying manner that exemplified helplessness.

2011-07-12, 07:56 PM
I love the Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain and Hellraiser soundtracks. They are both full of creepy music that my group doesn't recognize. Nothing can pull people out of the game like hearing a familiar tune ("Hey, this is from X! Remember that part where... blahblahblah").

Depending on how far you want to go, you could try putting tacks in the chair feet so they wobble, put bright lights behind you (shining at your players), or just generally try to make them uncomfortable. It'll cut down on merriment and ramp up the hostility in no time.

2011-07-13, 05:33 AM
Dread has Jenga built into it to work up the tension. I won't say it works like a charm. I will say that it works like a giggling fetish of children's teeth, hair of a hanged woman, pyrite and a pregnant praying mantis.
Substitute it for skill rolls or when things go ... wrong.

Zen Master
2011-07-13, 06:40 AM
Close calls has always been my tool of choice. Which basically translates to almost but not quite killing them.

In essence, whenever I've played CoC or something, I've had an early encounter to drive home the fact that ... yes, combat is really dangerous. It leads to much less kicking in doors and charging blindly - and much more preparation and paranoia.

2011-07-13, 07:13 AM
D&D 3.5, I'm running SilverClaw's horror game. There have been character deaths already, they know it's a potentially lethal game. I've managed occasional spots of atmosphere, but for the most part it's been, to quote one of my players, "as dark as a Disney film."

Kuma Kode
2011-07-13, 02:00 PM
My Shadow Theory (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=147142) system has the Sixth Sense feat, which allows humans to sense the presence of monsters. I've found this actually works well. Without it, the possibility of monsters becomes a background noise, because they'll never know until the monster is there. With the feat, they can focus on more roleplay/social/character building until they sense something, which makes the tension more profound because of the large area of detection and the on/off nature.

They only suddenly become aware that something evil is nearby, but not where, how far away, or what. Just the presence or absence.

The radio in the Silent Hill franchise has this same effect. Gives the player forewarning in a lethal game so they can be ready, but doesn't really make them more powerful while vastly increasing tension. Maybe implement something like that?

2011-07-13, 02:25 PM
Danger does not create horror. The unknown does. Try some of the stuff mentioned here:

2011-07-13, 06:59 PM
You should definitely not underestimate the power of background music; it's very effective in setting a mood. I have a group that is generally irreverent, full of jokes, and prone to OOC moments, so I had to deal with a similar issue when they were going into a cursed, abandoned temple full of undead, and I wanted them to be creeped out. I kept the lights down -- one single light so they could see their character sheets, with the rest of the room in darkness.

I told them that their characters could hear singing in the distance, and started this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9CA0nhfL5c) music as soon as they entered the building. The song was very quiet, so we could easily talk over it, but it was constantly looping in the background. As they went further into the building, still encountering nothing, I slowly turned it up. They got visibly nervous, stopped making jokes... and then they ran into the source of the singing -- a pair of Crypt Chanters that almost killed a PC before the party ran away. Through the rest of the temple, they were terrified. They rarely opened closed doors in case there was something dangerous behind them, avoided combat compulsively, and really cut down on the jokes until they were back out of the temple. They wouldn't even loot the place because they were afraid it would count as defilement and tick off the inhabitants.

2011-07-13, 08:21 PM
There's some good advice in this thread. I'm going to say something that you may find odd, but, if you have food available for your players (which is, of course, the norm), don't have stuff as good as you normally would. Serve 'em some crappy sandwiches with weak, lukewarm beer.

Kol Korran
2011-07-14, 03:02 AM
i haven't had the time to read the whole thread (i'm kind of in a hurry) but i thought to add a thread in which i compiled some music (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=195160&highlight=mournland+sound+tracks)

i have no real advice at how to make it more creepy- in my experience it's up to the players to be serious and get in the mood. the only things that i found to help are weird, bizarre, not-stated-by-the rules encounters. can't help much here though.

Edit: anotherthing- get personal with them- effects that change them, alter them, they way they work, the concept they have for their characters. it has to be personal in order to matter.

2011-07-14, 03:13 AM
The easiest way is to talk to your players and get them to co-operate by asking them to refrain from joking and excessive OOC banter. It takes an incredably skilled story teller to maintain a feeling a horror with those, although treating as many of their OOC comments as ingame ones can help. Like

PC: "Oh, this is where the monster's gonna jump out and attack us,"
Old Man: "I doubt it son, but now that hyou mention it, perhaps you would like to lead the way,"

My GM actually does this to me, horror or not. That's why I have an accent for the character, so he can't ever claim I'm saying something IC. He still does, of course.

2011-07-14, 04:29 AM
yeah, can certainly back up the statements about playing with a low volume BGM throughout, preferably without any distinguishable lyrics, nothing to ruin the mood like "oh baby, baby, uhhhhh" coming from the speakers in the middle of a game.

Also, if you want a scene to really get them scared and on their toes, suspecting the worst can happen any second, ask them questions about their actions that might be irrelevant, and pretend their answer means the big bad thing doesn't happen...yet...

Like, they enter a room in a house from where one of their friends recently abandoned, they got no idea what happened and the police has said there are no clues or anything to make them suspect a wrong doing at the house, so they go at night to check it out.
As they do, they come to bedroom, big double-bed centered in the room towards a wall, the opposit wall lines with a wall-closet, the middle of which holds a handy mirror, smell bedstand besides each heading of the double bed; it's made for two, althrough she lived alone, everything is neat and looks clean.
If any of them enters, while there is truly nothing in the room (or maybe there is, all up for the storyteller) ask questions depending on what they do.
Someone goes to examine the bed, ask how he does it; Does he remove the covers entirely? Do you look under the pillows? Do you press on the bed as you search it?
Someone looks at the closets - Do you look into the mirro? From an angle or while standing directly infront of it? Are any of you in view of the mirror as he does this, will he see your reflection?

Accompany this by rolling a die and muttering to yourself or take small notes with a small devlish smile; Even if there is nothing there, they sure will think there is and be a bit paranoid and extra careful as they examine the room; Works even better if there is something, but it is some place else than what you are focusing on.
Maybe interrupt the scene abrubtly by the window being smashed in, shards of glass flying through the room and they only just see something...moving away to the side and out of view.
Was that a guy in a green t-shirt? But that t-shirt... it did have a slight...skin like quality to it. Was it oozing or was they seeing things?

Don't know if this is any help, guess it depends on what type of horror game you are running entirely

2011-07-14, 09:16 AM
If you want creepy background music Sunn O))) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIR1KfKXH6s) is the way to go.

Or play some infrasound (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrasound#Human_reactions_to_infrasound).