My mind is generally speaking often filled with new ideas. Ideas for new projects and story-arcs. Sometimes I have entire campaigns floating in my head. As a general rule all, barring one or two, will be scrapped and never see the light of day. This can come for a multitude of reasons. Maybe the story-arc is too linear, perhaps there is a lack of dramatic impact, or more often a good idea is lost due to scheduling restraints. As much as GMs would like to wish differently, you can only run so many stories in any given year. Especially with grand campaigns, such as my own Tropis, often dominating the hearts of GM, players and free time all.
One project has been floating about for a while now. I've scrapped it multiple times, but it always returns: the horror game. I love horror, especially existential horror, such as Call of Cthulhu. I have in my mind a series of adventures (short unconnected adventures) suitable for recorded play (always the first barrier). Unfortunately, previous attempts to record horror games online have utterly failed. I would like to discuss how our previous attempts have failed, then follow up with some postulates as to why these failures might have come about. Finally, I will open the forum to you, my much loved readers and listeners. I am curious to see if you can help me solve this little problem and thereby allow me to produce this series. A series I hold close to my heart.
The biggest problem came about due to the difficulty in maintaining atmosphere through Skype. In offline horror games a lot of the mood comes as a result of direct interaction between participants. The players feed off of each other's discomfort, which in turn builds their own discomfort in a lovely little self-replicating chain. The GM, too, is able to react and present facial expression, sudden movement and other such things to further increase this discomfort. One of my favourite tricks is to not sit during horror games, but to slowly pace around the table, immediately placing the players at a disadvantage. In offline games, the GM can also maintain the environment better. Ensuring lights are dimmed, maybe even using candles and atmospheric music.
Online these tricks of the trade are not so easily used. Environment cannot be maintained by the GM. The players are unable to see each other and feel the creeping discomfortable that begins to emerge in their fellows. Being unable to see and feel the GM during sessions also hinders the game. Ultimately this makes mood maintenance extremely difficult, during online play. A new toolset needs to be developed to counter this. More reliance is placed on vocally controlling the horror.
Previously our groups have been a bit on the larger side. Thankfully this is a problem that has solved itself: the Pants Campers are about a third of the size of the Pantsless Gamers. Still, this is a topic that can be discussed. What a lot of people don't know, my day job is working for a Ghost Tour in York. I have seen the affects of horror on differing group sizes. One of the first things I noticed is that the larger the group the harder they are to scare. Fear works in an interesting way. Its a very contagious little cognitive disorder. Once one person displays fear symptoms the chances that fear will be experienced by other members of the group increases. However, group size itself actually acts as a sort of 'tank' against the onset of fear. So the larger the group, the harder it is to 'infect patient zero' (comfort in numbers). Another way this can be influenced is actually with the party's own desire to be scared. The more a group wants to display the symptoms of fear the quicker they will succomb to these influences. So the goal becomes not just to reduce group numbers, but also to increase the group desire to be scared. How this is accomplished is, essentially, group dependent. Some possible solutions is to hype the horror nature of the game, much like how a party will hype up the horror of a movie prior to watching. Another - which links to environmental control - is to ask all players to turn off the lights in their rooms. Naturally, there is no way to enforce this, but if you explain that it will enhance the enjoyment of the game they will likely succumb. This has the added benefit of getting the party more onside for the horror to come. There are, of course, other ways to encourage players to 'want' to be scared - such as the slow build up of the horror once the game has started - but that is perhaps a topic for another day.
This has only been a brief exploration of the three main problems I've experienced running horror games online. I would love to hear the thoughts of the community and to see if we can't all band together so I can finally get 'Mask House' (working title) off the ground.