View Full Version : Help setting up a dark/horror mood in campaign

2011-09-04, 12:32 PM
Playgrounders I am in need of your help once more . I am currently Dming a 3.5 campaign and my players came into particulary dark area. The plot will revolve around major city in campaign and they will have no means of escape from there . So i would like to create dark and horrific mood for my players . What i ask is : Does anyone here has some experience with running similar type of campaign or with setting up a dark/horror mood , how should i do it and how to handle combat and similar things

Thanks in advance

2011-09-04, 12:48 PM
I was in a fiercely hopeless game once. Unlimited numbers of undead were swarming from the north, every combat was a holding action, liches were storming the beachheads...

So thats one way. Routine, overwhelming odds, where success is not an option, only pushing back the moment of your death and all you love.

2011-09-04, 03:20 PM
Often, it's the little details that create the dark/horror atmosphere. You may want to consider making things that should seem familiar be slightly 'off' in some way. No birds singing on bright clear days, townsfolk recoiling from pets or children, wounds that are healed but still appear to ooze. . . anything that makes the world a more tense, creepy place.

2011-09-04, 09:32 PM
Depending on your player group, you may have to resort to more concrete means of establishing the mood - mess with the game mechanics.

Spells don't work precisely like they should. Certain schools of spells have ranges and areas shrunk/expanded, save DCs are lower or higher than they should be, spells that create food/drink result in spoiled food and brackish water, summoning spells bring creatures that don't always follow the commands the caster gives them and/or don't vanish at the end of the spell duration and instead turn on the caster.
Normally harmless creatures take a turn for the dangerous. Carnivorous deer with inexplicable DR/silver, butterfly swarms that drain blood, pets and songbirds that draw attention to the party's position when they try to be stealthy.
Penalize their actions. Enforce darkness penalties and have light sources illuminate much smaller areas, make them fight with hampered movement and where they have to squeeze through tight spaces, instead of just hit point damage have monsters inflict unpleasant conditions such as blindness, nauseated, sickened, entangled, fatigued, exhaustion, paralysis, confused, and (of course) ability damage.
Make it difficult for them to rest to regain spells, hit points, and ability damage. Monsters attack in the night, bed bugs and fleas infest beds at inns, and spells that create extradimensional spaces (especially rope trick) create spaces filled with gore, a noise that prevents sleep and concentration, or deal nonlethal damage every round if entered.
Make lots of dice rolls and make all rolls behind a screen where they can't see the result. Perhaps roll all their saving throws for them, especially when fighting lycanthropes and creatures that use mind-control abilities.

2011-09-05, 06:21 AM
I think the music is important too , ill be using the miniature killers theme from the season 7 of csi . Im looking for anything similar to that

Shadow of the Sun
2011-09-05, 08:04 AM
A CD player hidden out of sight playing music juuuuuust under the threshold of hearing is always fun. Makes your players think they're hearing things.

2011-09-05, 09:57 PM
Have a back-up plan to restore tension if need be. The littlest thing can break all of your carefully built tension by breaking the immersive quality of the game. Hell, even a simple text message or a spilt drink can comfort the players or bring humor. Humor and comfort are the opposite if what horror needs.

2011-09-06, 02:41 AM
I admit that I don't actually have any experience with this, but allow me to share some ideas. These are just my opinions, though, so regard or disregard them as you will.

I would recommend avoiding the extremely obvious. Hordes of undead attacking the city isn't really that terrifying, because the situation is very clear and the monsters are out in the open. Instead, screw with your players' minds. If they are walking through an alley, for instance, make them expect someone or something to jump out at them even though you, as the Dungeon Master, know that the alley is totally empty and safe. You want to make them afraid of things that aren't actually there, because then the tension won't release as abruptly. If, say, a monster was in that alley, then as soon as it attacked all of that suspense would be gone and the players wouldn't have anything to be tense about.

Make lots of dice rolls and make all rolls behind a screen where they can't see the result. Perhaps roll all their saving throws for them, especially when fighting lycanthropes and creatures that use mind-control abilities.

I'm going to add on to this, and say that you should occasionally make rolls that serve absolutely no purpose. For example, if they go around a corner, you might roll a d20, maybe snicker to yourself a bit, and then if the players ask what's up, tell them "nothing" WITHOUT keeping a straight face. If you want, you can make them roll Spot or Listen checks and then inform them that they don't see or hear anything. They will think that there is something hiding somewhere, but really there just isn't anything to see or hear.

Edit: Also, don't do any of this too often. If they figure out what you're doing then it won't work, so try to use it sparingly.

2011-09-06, 08:21 AM
When there is a planned encounter, roll and giggle, pretending that it was random chance that lead them to the creature. especially do so if it a large and powerful creature.

Maybe attempt to employ a fear system similar to All Flesh? Players roll d20 and add Will save and if it is under a certain number, characters take combat penalties.

2011-09-06, 09:36 AM
Thanks for all your replies . As for the All flesh system , im not aiming at something tangible because players just might see the i.e. -2 penalty and roll with it . People fear that which they do not know

2011-09-06, 09:52 AM
- Amphetryon already introduced the approach of a reality that is slightly off. The idea behind that is that people are scared if something strange happens, but they are very scared if something strange happens to them in a familiar environment. Imagine a group of peole with plague in your garden - way more scary than an undead army in Faerun.

- Show, don't tell.
Compare the statement of "The rotten smell of human waste fills your nose, as the small hand of a child tries to pull itself out of the goo, shivering. You want to give her a hand but are repulsed by the hole in her left eye socket and the goo that spills out of it" to "you are attacked by an undead". The first one creates vivid images and doesn't tell the players everything, while the latter contains only the most important information.

- The right images for the right atmosphere.
fear: something is off, there are only impressions or hints, no concrete information
panic: a lot of threatening impressions, more than just one problem, immediate threat, no idea how to solve it
despair: former symbols of hope or joy fading away, e. g. an abandoned orphanage or a circus with animal corpses is rusty cages

- Immediate shock
It's a little too easy and predictable, but sometimes a loud sound or a shout of the DM can scare the players. You should keep it for your final rather than overdo it.