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Horror Gaming: What are its Basic GM'ing Methods?

Steve Karstensen

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Make sure that hiding is not an option and force the players to make a decision to do something. If you can just hide from the threat then it's not really a threat at all. Make sure the players place of safety is violated or unsafe in some other way. Force them to leave it or rather make the option of staying worse than the option of leaving.
Absolutely. Especially if your players, like mine, have a tendency to default to "call the cops and run" whenever something funny was going on. If your particular system has mechanics for rewarding them for acting in-genre (IE, "Let's split up, gang!"), encourage it to the hilt.
 

jaerdaph

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Many of the horror movies today incorporate the technology into the horror. There's no need to cut off the PCs internet service if the monster lives in the Internet.
Keep the cell phones working so they can receive a frightening text or two or more from an unknown, untraceable caller.
 

kairos

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Turn common RPG moments into moments of quiet horror. While the spinster is boring the players with her requisite exposition or info dump about the history of the town and bustling about her kitchen, in the same tone of voice mention that she pulls a tray of ACTUAL lady fingers out of the fridge. Or a dead cat. Or a machete. Turn your PLAYERS' expectations about the session on their heads.
 

jaerdaph

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Speaking of more recent horror films, I'm also reminded of the 2006 remake of When a Stranger Calls. The 1979 original version of that movie would never work in today's cell phone age, so the lead teen character has her cell phone taken away by her parents because she ran up her bill at the beginning of the film. Simple, but effective.
 

Majestic

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Speaking of more recent horror films, I'm also reminded of the 2006 remake of When a Stranger Calls. The 1979 original version of that movie would never work in today's cell phone age, so the lead teen character has her cell phone taken away by her parents because she ran up her bill at the beginning of the film. Simple, but effective.
Yeah, another I've seen is just that they make that 'cabin in the woods' so remote that there's no signal for anybody. Isolates the party and makes calling for help that much harder.
 

Kevin Mowery

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Speaking of more recent horror films, I'm also reminded of the 2006 remake of When a Stranger Calls. The 1979 original version of that movie would never work in today's cell phone age, so the lead teen character has her cell phone taken away by her parents because she ran up her bill at the beginning of the film. Simple, but effective.
Reminds me of The Ice Harvest, which isn't a horror movie, but a darkly humorous crime movie. The book on which the movie was based takes place in, IIRC, 1979, but the movie takes place in the present day. Since the plot could be resolved instantly if the protagonist had a cell phone, in the movie he slips and falls early on and shatters his phone.
 

KemperBoyd

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One thing is controlling the mood: never try to keep things constantly super tense because that often turns on itself. Let the players breathe out occasionally, but set the pace for the adventure: they might have found shelter for now but there should always be something that drives them forward. It's not like those D&D modules where you go and rest up after two fights, something is going on constantly.

Don't be afraid to use stuff that actually doesn't make any sense. I usually flavor horror games with all sorts of odd details and visions and such that necessarily don't have anything to do with the goings-on, but work to set the mood. Kind of like the hallucinations in True Detective.

And if the players start making nervous jokes, it's probably working.
 

jaerdaph

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When I run superhero scenarios, we usually jump into the two-fisted action right in the very first scene. This doesn't really work most of the time in a horror scenario. What you can do in horror scenarios is establish a "baseline normal" in the first scene. This doesn't have to be Pollyanna in Pleasantville though. If anything is bothering the characters in this first scene, whatever is on their mind, these should come from the normal human experience: the character has just moved to a new town and into a new house, the character still doesn't have a date to the prom, the character recently became widowed, that sort of thing. Baseline normal can also be something more dramatic like start out on a "routine" homicide investigation. After they start to get comfortable with this, then hit them with the first indication that something is not right. Having a sense of "this is how it's supposed to be" helps build the tension, fear, and horror as things start to increasingly deviate from that norm as the session goes on.
 

giant.robot

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I have found that for groups that normally play in a very beer and pretzels style that horror-horror tends not to work well since it's just too difficult to keep the mood. I prefer instead to try to make the game one of tension like a thriller than specifically horror. Figurative ticking clocks are helpful for this mode of play. If there's inexorable external constraints on the characters it helps move the story along and keeps some amount of tension around the table. Once you've got some tension you can start throwing in horror tropes because you've got players/characters on edge and not necessarily thinking straight.

When it comes to modern settings technology I've found that used properly (as a GM) it can actually be a boon in the hands of the characters. If all of the characters have cell phones (and you don't pull out tropes like dead batteries or no signal) the players will be more apt to split up the group. They should be encouraged to rely on their technology. Once they're reliant upon it you let the antagonists use it against them.

Cell phones can ring at inopportune times like when the character is trying to sneak past some cultists or eavesdropping on the crooked police. Even a silenced phone is rarely entirely silent. A glowing screen can also give characters away. Who's to say supernatural horrors can't also use cell phones or tap into them.

The characters might have a full signal and have been texting all day but suddenly they start receiving strange texts in a language they don't understand from no phone number. Then they receive horrible pictures that scare them just looking at them. Maybe the pictures are of them from behind or while they were sleeping. If I'm investigating a celestial supernatural horror and saw stuff like that I'd lose my shit.
 
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