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  • #559572
    • Posts : 2850
    • Succubus



    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.


    Daniel Lammas

    • Posts : 5728
    • Mind Flayer

    Ensuring lights are dimmed, maybe even using candles and atmospheric music.


    Online these tricks of the trade are not so easily used.

    True, but surely, it should be possible to use atmospheric background music during an online game? Of course, some people argue against the use of background music.


    Turn off your background music. I don’t care if you got the “top 1000 horror sounds” on sale. The real horror is the creaks and moans of the house around you or the stark sound of nothing filling the air. When running a horror game, keep reserved and lower your tone and timber by a small fraction as well. Let the world in the PCs heads make noise for you. I once had a game with no noise and during a quiet moment someone dropped a book they were looking in back onto the table (no more than 6 inches but he just let it fall) the resounding crash against the table had a PC jump and yelp. Keep it low and watch the magic happen.


    Also, you could try sticking to verbal cues, rather than visual ones:

    As an avid fan of Ravenloft and Hunter: The Reckoning, I can offer some advice.

    1. Less is better. The more time you spend describing a scene, the worse of you’ll be. Do not spend time describing a horrible scene of rendered flesh all over the place. This tends to make the sicken the characters instead of horrify. What is better is to simply describe the sound of dripping blood, and maybe one or two pieces of flesh. Surprisingly, this approach works better than one might expect. The fertile mind of the players will fill in the gaps.

    2. Lighting and Atmosphere. If you can, use candles and/or diffused lighting. Proper atmosphere help to bring the characters into the game. If this is not your forté, then skip it. Also if you can employ some music. Sleepy Hollow is the Best.

    3. Choice of words. This is a big one. When describing fight scenes, use your active voice. (“He hits you! Your attacks do nothing.”) This gives the sense of danger. Outside of combat, use the passive voice. Also, use alot of Seems like, appears to be when describing a scene. (“The glen appears to be clear. There seems to be a lot of activity in the recent past.”) While this sound boring, a fertile mind will wonder about the tranquil appearance. Trust me, it works.

    4. Surprise. This is hard to pull off. If you have players that use OOP, trick them by giving a situation where they are out of their element. If you are an avid WoD player, for example, your players might assume that the person wering the aviator-style Jacket with the disorted googles is an Etherite. It will surprise the players if he is, in reality, a Vampire. Because the players are out of thier element, they will feel fear.

    5. Paranoia. Keep your players paranoid. If they have a reason to be afraid, then they will react accordingly. When they have a moment to relax, have an attack from the darkness. Do this a couple of times and stop. the PC’s will be afraid of sleeping through the night.

    6. Subtlety. When the players walk through the area, have an arm grab them. Dogs jumping through the window is also scary. The television going on and off without warning.

    7. Know your material. Do some research. Watch some Horror movies. Some good ones are at the following website:
    Secrets of the Kargatane

    Good luck.


    Or you could let the players go head-to-head with cockroaches. 😉

    • Posts : 5728
    • Mind Flayer

    On a somewhat related note:

    How the DM sees the mummy:


    How the PCs react to said mummy:



    • Posts : 5728
    • Mind Flayer
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