View Full Version : Need help writing a gothic fantasy/horror game.

2014-10-21, 10:03 AM
Think Castlevania, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Ravenloft, that sort of style. I want to use classic monsters like werewolves, vampires, and dark fey to build dread in my players, and it'll probably be a moderately low level.

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble figuring out both the style of GMing necessary and how to write a plot for it. All the plot ideas I come up with are too high-fantasy like - the best one I have right now is, an ancient vampire lord and his army are rising from the grave, triggering lots of occult/gothic monsters all over the world to start rising up too. The players would start off by seeing various undead, lycanthropes, etc. start appearing in formerly peaceful areas, until they get tipped off or figure out somehow that this vampire lord is rising. And from there... I dunno.

But the main thing I need help with is how to GM the game so it feels like gothic fantasy horror and not just like a regular old D&D game that features vampires and werewolves. How do I make my players feel afraid? How do I inspire a sense of dread and foreboding? What sorts of adventures work with this kind of theme?

Thanks for any help you can provide. I've downloaded a lot of 3.5 Ravenloft PDFs in the hopes of finding some useful stuff there as well.

BeerMug Paladin
2014-10-21, 03:47 PM
Well, first of all, I don't know how you could combine Castlevania's aesthetic of horror with Lovecraft. Castlevania is glorious action schlock. The Lovecraft style is more where if you're engaged in action something has gone horribly wrong for you.

Answering which of those two you really want is going to make a big difference for what advice you get.

D&D is probably more fit for action cheesiness. Probably the best thing you could do for that is just making most of the campaign a dungeon crawl. The dungeon aspects would include the town, as monsters hiding out inside the town act as enforcers for the big bad in the nearby castle and the gothic temples and cathedrels to even the good gods have been infiltrated by sleeper agents for whoever the big bad is. Give the party checks to recognize that people seem to be mind controlled or are not quite acting right for a priest of their supposed god. Make the party paranoid, but give them a safe haven to take refuge.

The party must skulk through the streets and try to keep their true activities hidden apart from maybe a couple of allies in the town. Thieves and bandits follow the party around and try to steal from them if they ever get the opportunity. Guards don't care about some murders, leaving some dead bodies out in the streets in plain sight now and then or doing nothing to stop some fights.

As the game progresses, have some of the party's allies murdered brutally and put on display in the public square as traitors. This fate would of course befall random unknown NPCs as well, but it's going to have more of the weight of dread if this occurs to characters the PCs actually like and engage with in order to get valuable party equipment.

Make whatever the big bad is plotting be planned in several different manors or buildings within the town. Innocent security guards patrol those places, arresting any pedestrians caught lingering nearby. Innocents being caught in the conflict between good and evil makes the villainy all the more horrific. Whatever is going on, you could have various madmen performing experiments to create/control various monsters.

If the character identities are discovered, have assassins come pursue the players and also all their known contacts. Make it clear that people trying to flee the town are hunted down and killed, possibly by having a group of NPCs attempt this, then having their bodies turn up on gruesome display the next day in the town square. If players successfully diplomacy or bluff their way out of arrest, the success ends up getting that guard killed as an example.

Really, whether this succeeds or not is going to be the accumulation of a lot of tiny details.

2014-10-22, 10:41 AM
For gothic horror, it all boils down to how well you can describe things. It also depends on your party's willingness to set aside disbelief and get into character. I ran the first book of Paizo Publishing's Carrion Crown: The Haunting of Harrowstone. I gave one of my players a real nightmare over the course of the book from the way I described the ghosts and events that were threatening the town. This was just a module about ghosts and haunts. I recommend finding a copy if you want a fun ghost-filled gothic dungeon crawl. The story revolves around an ancient prison where 5 serial killers were placed, the prison rioted with the prisoners nearly escaping, but the guards burned the place. Killing themselves and the prisoners in the process. It's all about description man, all about description.