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View Full Version : DM Help Let's talk horror ideas!



Silus
2014-09-23, 01:41 AM
Okay, so as a DM still in the process of learning the trade, I've got some campaigns on the back burners, two of which are horror themed (or at least have horror elements). Now, I know how to run horror campaigns (Lighting, mood, ect. ect.) but I tend to get stuck on horrific...situations. So that's what this thread is about, suggestions of horror situations, things that would make the audience start to get paranoid and scream and freak out and stuff. Copious amounts of "NOPE NOPE NOPE".

Ideas so far:

1) The PCs find a journal in their inn/house/bag that's written in the handwriting of one of the characters. Turns out it's dated a month back and catalogues various disturbing sights and horror things (Dependent on the situation at hand). Example: "DON'T TRUST THE CROWS THEY'RE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM", then the characters look up to see flocks of crows just staring at them. At the very end of the journal, in increasingly frantic handwriting are the words "DON'T FORGET" over and over. And naturally, the PCs have no recollection of ever owning or writing in a journal.

2) Characters have a kid/ward/someone young they care about. Time for bed, they're turning down the lights for the night. They go into the hallway and turn down the lamp. At the end of the hall, as the lamp gets dimmer, they spot a humanoid shadow shape. Lights go back up and the PC investigates but finds nothing. Lights go down again, the shadow looks a bit closer than before.

3) Going off #2, give the kid/ward/young someone an imaginary friend. Make it creepy.

4) Foggy pine forest area, the PCs have been tracking a puppetmaster type creature (Slenderman type manipulation). Finally cornering it, they kill it after a tough fight. As they sit around congratulating each other and healing up, the fog begins to lift a little (from pea-soup to early morning fog). Off in the distance, between the pines, they spot another one of the puppetmasters. And another. And another. Far more than the PCs want to fight or thought existed. And they're all just watching the PCs.

5) Refluffing monsters. Take a Disenchanter from the weird blue camel with the elephant snout and make it a hairless horse type thing with too many joints in its legs, a jerky way of moving, with a lamprey mouth and too many eyes.

6) Scary locations. Want to figure out what the puppetmaster creatures are up to and how to stop them? Well looks like you have to delve into an abandoned Dwarven prison complex that runs all under the micro-continent you're on. It's dark, maze-like, possibly haunted and is the home turf of the puppetmasters who have already shown signs of memory manipulation. Good luuuuuuck.

BeerMug Paladin
2014-09-23, 02:09 AM
The simpler you make your horror the better. For instance, you could create a trap where upon triggering, the players are completely unable to see one another, but everything else is normal. The character still hears echoey movement and whispering voices just beyond their visual range, but no creature is visible to them.

The effect wears off once they've rested somewhere outside the room.

If they go to a place that people should be, it's empty. If the character is attacked by an outside force, they fall unconcious and wake up there later.

Probably best to use this idea in a place without actual threats nearby. Horror is largely atmosphere.

Strigon
2014-09-23, 08:53 PM
Put them in a position where they don't know what to do.
Make them know something is happening, but never let them know what.
Make them feel unsafe, and as though their powers aren't enough.

The entire basis of creepy is that something's wrong, but it's not an obvious threat. Everyone in a town being just a bit too cheery is enough to unnerve most PC's. Having them all be cheery, and very interested in the players will put them on edge.
Have them all be cheery, very interested in the players, and then have them suddenly disappear overnight, and they should be experiencing borderline paranoia. Trap them in the town once they've left, and you have panic and despair.
Those are always fun to handle as a DM :smallamused:

Rhunder
2014-09-23, 09:12 PM
At lower levels, two words: Spider walk

A level 2-4 party coming across some reduced vampires or something. Suddenly they are on the walls and ceiling chasing after them. Works well especially the lead up to finding the creatures. The longer the party hears the sounds and knows they lie ahead, the more anxious they get.

Red Fel
2014-09-23, 10:23 PM
The thing to remember is that most players have their characters, as mental constructs of paper and numbers, acting as insulation between the player and the source of fear. As long as it can be statted, as long as there are rolls to be had, as long as the mechanics provide the player with an out, a canny player will be able to limit his terror.

So remove the mechanics as a block.

I don't mean actually remove the mechanics. I don't mean unfairly rob the PCs of their powers or skills. I mean put the PCs in situations where their powers won't make any difference. And it's so simple to do - as others have mentioned, atmosphere does the work for you.

Some of it is environmental description. Mention flickering torches. Mention the wind rustling through the bushes. The storm raging outside, rattling the shutters and shaking the walls. The sound of whispers behind doors and the play of shadows in the corners of a room.

Some of it is NPC conduct. A leering street merchant with crooked teeth. A pair of giggling children watching the PCs before darting around a corner, out of sight. A too-pale guard whose eyes widen as the PCs approach. Perfectly explicable behaviors, but also perfectly suspicious.

And some of it is active detail. The most innocuous things can be terrifying if given sufficient detail. One poster in these forums described a summoning of an imp - an imp, the most unimpressive of evil entities - in such detail that his players became terrified at the mention of its name.

It doesn't require specific scenarios. Just set the situation up in such a way that the PCs encounter these coincidences - individually creepy-but-explicable events and people - in large quantities. When they keep running into creepy stuff, it adds up. Throw in some called-for skill checks (e.g. "Roll Perception") that reveal nothing, and the paranoia rises to the high-water mark. Even a perfectly ordinary town, forest, or cave becomes a gateway into hell with the right ambiance.

Amaril
2014-09-23, 10:37 PM
And some of it is active detail. The most innocuous things can be terrifying if given sufficient detail. One poster in these forums described a summoning of an imp - an imp, the most unimpressive of evil entities - in such detail that his players became terrified at the mention of its name.

Do you, by any chance, have a link to the place where the description was written down, if any? I'd kill to learn how they managed that...

Bulhakov
2014-09-24, 03:37 AM
Look to HP Lovecraft for inspiration (especially in vocabulary choices and flowery descriptions): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3gNQ2KYCb4 ;)

As for short horror ideas, I recommend googling for the "two sentence horror stories" http://9gag.com/gag/av0v95O/20-terrifying-two-sentence-horror-stories

MLai
2014-09-24, 06:17 AM
Take a page from horror video games, I suppose? I believe Extra Credits had done videos on what makes good horror video games.

One big thing is vulnerability. Nobody gets scared if their BFG can mow down room and room of zombies, no matter how flowery your prose/ no matter how good your graphics. You have to make the characters vulnerable to (1) lasting maiming/maddening effects, and (2) death.

The player might say it's unfair when the odds are stacked against him. But too bad - it's a horror game not a power fantasy game. I remember in the old game of Torg, the most dangerous world for the world-hopping Storm Knights PCs was Orrorsh. Because it's a horror-themed world.

Segev
2014-09-24, 03:36 PM
The 2-sentence horror stories have some bleh entries, but some really good ones, too. I particularly like the ones which imply something has been going on for much longer than initially seems, or which introduce a second layer of uncertainty over the obvious "woooOOOOooo" effect.

The ones like, "I was awakened by the crackling noise of somebody comforting my firstborn child over the intercom. I rolled back over to lay my hand on my wife's shoulder, in bed beside me," and "I heard my mother call my name from downstairs. As I headed down, she pulled me into her room and said, 'I heard it, too,'" are spooky, but they only twist slightly: there's an extra person around.

The one that goes, "I tuck my son into bed and he asks me to check under it for monsters. When I humor him, I see my son under the bed who whispers, 'Daddy, there's something on my bed!'" is both unexpected confirmation of the child's fear, and a somewhat terrifying ambiguity as to what's going on and which, if either, is the fake son.

The one that goes, "Growing up with a house full of cats and dogs, I grew accustomed to scratching at my bedroom door. It is much more unsettling now that I live alone," and the one where, "I thought it was funny that my cat would always stare at my face as if it were some sort of contest. Then I realized he was always looking just a little behind me," both imply not only that something is wrong, but that it has been for quite some time and it's only just now been noticed. The question of what it is and if it's a threat - the ambiguity about whether it's just weird or truly dangerous and just waiting for the right moment - makes it more worrisome.

The "two sons" one makes even the mightiest of invincible warriors unable to solve the problem with direct application of his power. He doesn't know if there is a danger, and he doesn't know that, if he strikes, he'll be doing anything but harming that which he wishes to protect.

The "scratching at the door" one makes one wonder what it is and why it's only scratching. No matter how powerful you are, do you want to risk finding out that all that was protecting you was that door? The cat staring behind you makes you wonder at what, obviously, and why it's just...lurking. If you react, will it become dangerous? Can you do anything about something you, yourself, never knew was there?


The Silence from Doctor Who are terrifying because they vanish from your memory. You look up, then look down, and suddenly realize that sometime in between those motions you saw dozens of them by the marks you left on your arms. You didn't know you were in danger until just now, and you have no idea how much, nor how close the danger is, nor how to move to keep moving away from it.

The Weeping Angels provide something you can do to protect yourself. This should make you feel safer, but it doesn't, because it's something very hard to do for very long. And you can't win when you aren't protecting yourself. The jump-scare you know is coming is almost more horrifying when you know YOU triggered it...but that you couldn't help it.

And then there's Listen, which I won't go into save to suggest you go find it. It was not this past weekend's episode, but the one before.

TheThan
2014-09-24, 08:04 PM
The thing to remember is that most players have their characters, as mental constructs of paper and numbers, acting as insulation between the player and the source of fear. As long as it can be statted, as long as there are rolls to be had, as long as the mechanics provide the player with an out, a canny player will be able to limit his terror.


Yeah, this is the problem with running a horror RPG. The players have a very strong disconnect to whatís happening in the game. Itís the reason why most attempts at running a horror game fail. The players are too far from the events going on that itís hard to get them in the right mood.
Youíve got to break that disconnect, get the players emotionally involved in the goings on. Then you can scare them.

DM Nate
2014-09-26, 09:09 AM
The Silence from Doctor Who are terrifying because they vanish from your memory. You look up, then look down, and suddenly realize that sometime in between those motions you saw dozens of them by the marks you left on your arms. You didn't know you were in danger until just now, and you have no idea how much, nor how close the danger is, nor how to move to keep moving away from it.

The Weeping Angels provide something you can do to protect yourself. This should make you feel safer, but it doesn't, because it's something very hard to do for very long. And you can't win when you aren't protecting yourself. The jump-scare you know is coming is almost more horrifying when you know YOU triggered it...but that you couldn't help it.

And then there's Listen, which I won't go into save to suggest you go find it. It was not this past weekend's episode, but the one before.

Yay! A fellow DW fan. One of the more terrifying monsters from DW, however, looked completely normal...and just repeated everything you said.

Segev
2014-09-26, 02:01 PM
Yay! A fellow DW fan. One of the more terrifying monsters from DW, however, looked completely normal...and just repeated everything you said.

I've often heard how terrifying and awesome an episode Midnight was, but it never really did anything for me. It was only the arc-link in one of the viewscreens that was trying (and failing) to get the Doctor's attention that I thought was cool.

There was too much unknown for it to be scary. It was just strange. And random, since this apparently is something that'd never happened before on a long-established resort world. Rather than being scared by the unknown, I was just left unsatisfied by the lack of any hint at something more than "yep, random weird encounter."

"Listen" hit the notes a lot better, I think, if only because the mystery was more...personal. And the questions it leaves are still haunting in their own right, rather than "well, that was a weird planet, where to next?"

...maybe if there was even a slight tie-back to The Impossible Planet in Midnight, it would have felt more meaningful. I dunno. It just didn't scare me.

edit: If you want effective and terrifying use of "repeat what was said," the ghosting that happened in Silence in the Library was chilling, though.

Strigon
2014-09-26, 04:03 PM
"Listen" hit the notes a lot better, I think, if only because the mystery was more...personal. And the questions it leaves are still haunting in their own right, rather than "well, that was a weird planet, where to next?".

I disagree; listen started to get creepy, but then it turned around 180 degrees.
I was very disappointed. If you want to creep someone out, don't show them how it was really nothing. Either let it be identifiable, but still terrifying (Silence in the Library), or left ambiguous (Midnight). I began