View Full Version : Difference Between Horror and Terror

2011-09-01, 10:20 AM
This is a GM-related question. What do you think the difference between horror and terror is? In my mind, horror is a creeping kind of feeling of dread that can lead to panic...eventually. Terror is a more immediate feeling of extreme fear leading almost immediately to panic.

As an aside, how do you (as GMs) create these feelings in-game? I'd also like to hear some stories from players who have both felt feelings of horror/terror in a game and some stories where the GM's attempt to create these sensations have failed.

2011-09-01, 10:23 AM
Horror tends to need less in the way of personal intimidation.

It's easy to imagine an utterly fearless person still being "horrified" when they come across an atrocity.

2011-09-01, 11:23 AM
There's one use of the terms in which terror is fear in anticipation of something, and horror a reaction to something. So it's basically the other way round.

A terrorist doesn't want you to be shocked by what he did, but rather to be afraid it might also happen to you.

In that regard, a great deal of horror fiction would actually be terror fiction. The more gore you have, the more liely you're in a horror story. Lovecraft would almost entirely be terror.

2011-09-01, 12:56 PM
I am a hard adherent to the school of the unknown when it comes to horror. No matter how terrifying something may be, if you can mentally prepare for it, you can get by it. So what you need to do is make sure that the player's mind is ill-equipped for what you are presenting them. A good example is sending a throwing a horde of zombies at the players. When they get in a rhythm of slaughtering them, suddenly have ghouls pop out of the ground and try to pull them under. This works because the players have grown accustomed to enemies who simply shamble up to them and beat face. So when a ghoul comes burrowing out of the ground, it removes one of their traditional safe zones. They thought it was safe and thus did not prepare to deal an attack from below.

Another method is to describe simple magical effects in detail. Focus on describing the actions of the event rather than the nature of event. A flower pot floating across the room could be an unseen servant, a silent image, or an invisible stalker. One is completely harmless, one threatens the reliability of their perceptions, and one threatens their life. While you may say that detect magic beats such parlor tricks, it only works when the players can trust detect magic. Throw them for a loop by having it work correctly once or twice, have it work incorrectly once, then have it not work at all once, then allow it to work. However, when you throw them through the loop, make sure that your alternative is a reasonable explanation, just simply the wrong one. If you do it right, you can make them deathly afraid of a simple arcane mark.

2011-09-01, 01:19 PM
I'd use a dictionary instead.

Horror (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/horror):

hor·ror   [hawr-er, hor-]
an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear: to shrink back from a mutilated corpse in horror.
anything that causes such a feeling: killing, looting, and other horrors of war.
such a feeling as a quality or condition: to have known the horror of slow starvation.
a strong aversion; abhorrence: to have a horror of emotional outbursts.
Informal . something considered bad or tasteless: That wallpaper is a horror. The party was a horror.

Terror (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/terror):

ter·ror   [ter-er]
intense, sharp, overmastering fear: to be frantic with terror.
an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety; quality of causing terror: to be a terror to evildoers.
any period of frightful violence or bloodshed likened to the Reign of Terror in France.
violence or threats of violence used for intimidation or coercion; terrorism.
Informal . a person or thing that is especially annoying or unpleasant.

As you can see, horror is more about revulsion, while terror is more about anxiety.

2011-09-01, 01:28 PM
I'd agree with you, DM_aaron. I really cut my teeth as a GM on Ravenloft, and they went into great detail on the difference between fear and horror. For a truly good horror game, you need to be a master of both.

Fear is an immediate response to a stimuli. Your heart races, your palms sweat, and the "fight or flight" response kicks in. These are your jump scares, the monsters that are instrinsically powerful - or defy your expectations of how the world works. A goblin is unlikely to inspire fear - it's a tiny little creature, crafty to be sure, but hardly dangerous, even for a beginning adventurer. Now, when a goblin gets shot by an arrow, and doesn't seem to be harmed by it? That's scary. Fear is an immediate payoff - it has a clear action, and it has a clear reaction. 99% of horror movies rely on this, which begs the simple question...why don't we call them "fear movies?"

Horror, on the other hand, is like a garden. It must be carefully cultivated over a long period of time, until it comes time to harvest. If it has been tended well, then you will have a bountiful harvest. Horror is much harder to create, as it relies upon isolation, pacing, setting and many other factors. Still, when done well, horrific revelations are usually far more rewarding than those engendered by fright. For example, "The Shadow over Innsmouth" sets up the oddities of the titular town fairly quickly - the inhabitants look strange and walk awkwardly, and the town itself is described as having an antipathy to visible life. The reasons for this become known to the narrator (and, thus, the reader), but before he can get away, he becomes trapped in the town, and chased by the entire populace. Even when he escapes Innsmouth, he finds that the town had placed its clammy hands upon him long before he even stepped into it - there is nothing more terrifying than body horror, where even your own flesh turns against you. What do you do when you know you can't trust anyone or anything, including your own body or memories?

Beyond horror lies the inevitable mechanism to deal with the revelations that horror brings - madness. Madness is just as terrifying to deal with as horrific situations, because we see there are scars to bear deeper than the ones we carry upon our skin. Humans are social creatures, and when one of the group acts in ways that break social conventions, we fear it. There's something wrong about them, and there's no way for most of us to fix them. Worse, if it can happen to them, it can happen to us - the mad serve as reminders that we are frail creatures, and we could suffer the same tragic fate as them.

2011-09-01, 01:31 PM
To me, terror is an immediate reaction to something frightening. Horror is a more abiding, residual dread - it's the feeling that something isn't quite right. Terror can break a mind in extreme circumstances. Horror will break a mind over time. Terror triggers the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush. Horror maintains a steady, minute flow of adrenaline (might not even be noticeable) until the body's stores are depleted.

Terror is shocking. Horror is stressful.

2011-09-01, 03:36 PM
Well, with the way you are putting it up, I would say that unless you go for the gross-out, then horror should sometimes be followed by terror, and terror should always be preceded by horror, if at all possible.

That is, if horror is the creeping sense of unease about a situation, while terror is the instant frightening element that releases that tension into a screaming scare.

When I try and do horror, I am usually very inspired by Stephen King on the matter, he has talked a lot about it in interviews and such, and it provides a wealth of information on it

I aim to create uneasy tension in the players when I do horror, I like some things Stephen King has said especially, I will paraphrase an example:

It is from a movie, but I don't know the title, a lone woman is investigating in a strange squaking noise in her newly acquired house, it seems to come from upstairs, so she walks slowly up the stairs, being very quiet as she does so, the low squaking sound growing louder and more intense, as she walks each single step up the stairs, as she reaches the 2nd floor, the noise still seems to be coming from upstairs, so she pulls the cord to get the stairs down to get to the attic, and as it opens, the squaking noise becomes more clear, like rusty old metal against wood, she slowly crawl up the stairs, only for the sound to stop right before she can stick her head up into the attic and peek. She peeks around in the attic, which is empty, except in the corner, where a small old rusty metal wheelchair is, just as she is about to conclude the wind must have made the wheelchair move, the wheelchair spins around on it's own to face her and starts rolling towards her at accelerating speeds.

Now, the audience to the movie, they was feeling the horror as she was going up there to investigate, growing more and more uneasy about the situation, wanting the main character not to go on, to turn around, leave the noise be, the tension intensified the closer and closer she got to the attic, and even spiked up when the noise stopped right before she could peek.
The might have taken a short breath of relief when an innocent old wheelchair is discovered, only to have a spike of terror when it starts moving.

Now, the terror of the wheelchair moving, that is immediately released from the audience, or the players, and is outside of your control, now it is something concrete they can grasp and which they can put their finger on, and it doesn't matter what the terror is, if it was a ghost, the scream (if you manage to get one, bravo to you) then it is also a scream of relief, as thankfully, it wasn't 2 ghosts or a deformed ghost or something, and if it was a million deformed ghosts, then thankfully, it wasn't 1 million and 1 deformed ghosts.

The tension they feel as they are going to check it out, that can only be released when the storyteller wants it to be released, and he can decide if it is to be released into a terror or into pure relief, like just a few mice scattering around on a piece of old metal or something else really innocent.

Now, knowing how create such tension, how long to keep the different tensions during a horror roleplay and how to release them for optimal effect, thats what makes the difference between a bad and a good horror storyteller

2011-09-01, 03:36 PM
Horror = the theme song to a children's TV show that the PC watched as a child being heard in a place that it has no reason to be in, possibly with no apparent source.

Terror = clowns rushing thru an open door.

For me one is a build up to an unknown conclusion, the other is an immediate and in your face encounter that may or may not have been foreshadowed.

As a DM I like to build anticipation for horror over the course of a single or multiple sessions, I like to install terror immediately and apply it directly to the player's forehead.

Both are great tools when done right, and can be pretty funny when done wrong. It's all about the game and players.