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MoonHunter Sayeth 20181030


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
More Boo!
Going for the Boo! Effect, here are some more visceral tips for horror gaming!

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Boo!: Never expect to really "scare" your players and their characters. The players have a great deal of psychological distance between them and the source of terror. The best you can do is keep them in the mood, and have them act/ play out being scared.

Boo!: True scares are difficult in a game. In truth, they are nearly impossible to achieve because of the distance between the characters and players. Relish the occasional shiver you send up their spines.

Boo!: Monsters do not make a horror game, (but they help). The monsters of a horror game are more powerful than the PCs and must be out tricked or outwitted, rather than out fought. If you could just “fight the monsters”, you might as well be crawling around a dungeon.

Boo!: For someone to care about the scare, they first have to care about the character. Make sure the player is invested in the character via roleplaying or conception work. Only then can you get a Boo! effect.

Boo!: The GM must take control away from the players. In horror, more often than in other genres, instead of the characters doing things, things happen to them. They need to be responding to the horror, rather than running the show. This gives them Boo! Effect. Once the players can regroup and think, the horrific elements are less scary.

Boo!: Have Escape Words and Safety Tools. There are some people who are naturally scared of thing like spiders, clowns, and high places. A GM might go a bit overboard with certain descriptions, knowing (or perhaps not) the effect they might have upon the player. If things get too freaky, the player uses the word and the scene stops. GMs Note: Players seem to be able to accept more of what they are afraid of when they have this option because they feel they are in control of their fear. An interesting occurrence, don’t you think? *2 for this post
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Boo!: The GM sets the tone for the game. If the gamers are trying to break the mood by joking, the GM must stand tall and grim and NOT JOIN IN. If the GM joins in, it is like giving them permission to do it.

Boo!: Players who break the mood of a horror game, should receive either an EP penalty or generate bonus for the opposition.

Boo!: Keep the PCs off-balance, this plays to the mood of a horror game. If the players learn that they don't know what to expect, they may pay more attention.

Boo!: To create a horror feel requires the players to be off balanced. Nothing throws off a person off their game than making a room extra warm (space heater) or cold (AC cranked), pull all the pillows out of the room, change the lighting, or change the seating around from the way they are familiar (or doing it when they are all on a break).
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Boo!: Work on your horror dialogue. Watch some old horror movies and use cue cards. Riffing on Horror will always help. Channel you inner late night movie host.

Boo!: In horror scenarios, the world is not what it seems. Occasionally describe a scene slightly differently to different characters. Depending on their interests, they’ll fixate on different things. In addition, add and delete details at whim. The character is now to scared to see something or missed it when they ran through last time.

Boo!: When narrating things in a horror game: use short clipped sentences and brief paragraphs in action/horror scenes to increase the sense of pace for the players.

Boo!: Obfuscate as much as possible. If they know what something is, they can deal with it. So don’t let them. If something’s supposed to be really scary, don’t describe it too well - just bits and pieces half-seen. The known can be scary, but the unknown will be scary. Give the PC’s imaginations enough rope to hang themselves.

Boo!: Focus on telling details to conjure a sense of tension and fear. Rather than say what the monster looks like, have them see the results of the monster’s presence or some precise aspect of the monster. Instead of explaining the werewolf, describe the swiftly swinging razor sharp claws, rather than the whole beast.

Boo!: Be descriptive, even when it’s not the monsterous stuff. You will want to describe snapping bones and flying ichor with every colorful turn of phrase you can muster, but you also want to give your NPCs little quirks to humanize them, describe the environment in a way that adds verisimilitude.

Boo!: The most useful phrase in the horror GM’s repertoire “It’s probably nothing.” Partially describe an event or sound, and then go... it is probably nothing. Say it often enough and your players will be imagining things far worse than you ever could devise.

Boo!: To keep a Lovecraftian feel, describe all the creatures in mind-numbing detail, then at the very end add the line, “It was indescribably horrible”. Those who have read the stories will get the grim joke.

Boo! - All the world's a stage: Remember, you are the Narrator of your own scary movie. If you want to invoke a scary mood at the narrator of your game, use a scary voice. Like a good GM basing their narration on the style and prose of a novelist, horror GMs can utilized either horror novelists OR horror characters. The Cryptkeeper, Dracula (with cheesy accent), Hssss (a spider snake monster), Freddie, or just a deep creepy voice, are all options to help you set the mood of the game. (Note: Only use these if you can do it convincingly and maintain it without killing your voice). It may not scare them, but it will keep the players focused on the fact that they are not playing a normal game anymore.

Addendum: I often start out with my normal GMing voice, and slowly shift into an odd voice, as odd things start happening. It reinforces the mood.

If you don't know this trick: To keep the description consistent for the entire campaign, I base my words and phrases on a favorite author. One author forms the inspiration and the template for the voice of the campaign. Right before the game, I'll read a chapter or large chunk of one author, Mercedes Lackey, Ann Rice, Terry Brooks, Peter David, or some such, so that I have an idea of how the author would describe the scene. It reinforces the "voice" of the campaign in my mind.
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Boo!: Good Horror Plotlines should seem fairly mundane, until the horror/ gore hits the fan.

Boo!: Always look for an interesting twist on a standard monster or find something cool and unexpected. Remember, it is not the monster or horror element, it is the way you apply and present it to the players.

Boo!: Attempt to keep all the Horror aspects of scenario in ONE SESSION... so build up and post climax resolution could be during different sessions.

Boo!: Do not dial it up to ‘11’ and then pull the knob off… but slowly creep it up to ‘10’ every once and a while. Hint to the players, that it could jump up to 11 at any moment. Their pondering of impending doom will provide more horror effect than most of your tricks.

Boo!: To enhance the tension. Make things happen in a short period of time. Give the characters a feel for how long things are going to be, then have them occur faster. When they get comfortable with that new deadline, shorten it again.

Boo!: Use harsh environmental conditions to enhance the horror aspect. Make things too cold for them to go out, too hot to escape during the day, driving rain to make them huddle together.

Boo!: Give the characters allies and friends, then take them away. This will increase the impact of their deaths (or things worth) upon the characters, because now it is personal. See the difference, “the monster ripped apart three people in the diner” vs “Remember Fred, the guy who helped you with that flat tire.” Yah, nice guy him.“Well, Fred is over there, and another part of him is over here, and the wet spot underneath your feet, well you see his shoes there.

Boo!: Give players moments of hope. This makes the game better for the players and also further drives the point home when something bad happens.

Boo!: Want the maximum effect of horror, don’t run a horror game. Run a regular game for a while, then insert horror scenarios. A steady diet of monsters and horror makes the players blase.
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Boo!: Players often take comfort in the game mechanics, as everything is explained by their numbers. Take that security blanket away from them, especially their “hit points”. Keep track of damage for them, and give them descriptions of how hurt they are. “How much damage?” “Some. You feel a bit dizzy and the pain is distracting, but you’re still in the fight for now.”

Boo!: The GM must take control away from the players. In a horror scenario, do not use “fate points”, “edges,” or any other codified system of widgets they can spend for a boost or a fortunate twist of fate. The dice fall where they are. They are the potential victims in a horror scenario. GMs: If your game system or campaign normally uses these mechanics, warn the players that they are “turned off” at the beginning of the session.

Boo!: The GM must take control away from the players. In horror, more often than in other genres, instead of the characters doing things, things happen to them. Feel more free to make the environment less serendipitously helpful than in say, a pulp game. “I look for a fireplace poker. For God’s sake, there’s got to be a fireplace!” “There’s no fireplace. The dark shape lunges towards you. “ GMs: Don’t do this so much the players decide it’s hopeless, or they’ll lose interest. Reward very clever ideas and bravery from time to time.

Boo!: Exploit the characters’ weaknesses. They knew the job was dangerous when they took it. In horror, things are not fair. Many GM’s refuse to take advantage of character weaknesses and disadvantages. In a horror game, do not let up upon the characters. Push them hard, and push the characters where they are weak.

Boo!: Use cliffhangers to keep the player’s attention. The moment is a cliffhanger when the results are uncertain and possibly deadly. When such a moment occurs, do any one of the following: change the scene to another player, take a break, or call the game for the night.

Boo!: For sanity in a CoC game (or any game that tracks sanity by points), give each player their own bag of marbles (equal to their sanity points). Have them remove marbles as they loose sanity. They may shake, weigh, and conjecture, but never, ever count their marbles. Keep the bags between games and keep track numerically of their sanity, as enterprising players will add marbles to prevent them from finally losing all their marbles.
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Boo!: Want the maximum effect of horror, don’t run a horror game. Or don’t tell the players it is a horror game. If they know they are running in a horror game, they will develop their characters accordingly. If they think they are playing a normal spy game or a historical period game, they will gear their characters for that. They will think in those terms. When the horrors show up, they will be off balance and more scared.

I never thought I would quote Christopher Lowel in a gaming tip, but here it is.

Boo! Stage Dressing works: Temporarily redecorate your gaming area with things you can put up and take down quickly. Yards of black fabric can be strung about, tucked into couches, or velcroed to walls. Change the lights bulbs to dimmer bulbs or odd colored lights. Take out all the comfy pillows. You can even put boards of foam core in the couch cushions, to set them on edge. Replace your nice normal pictures with terrible horrific images. These things can be put in place and taken down quickly. The impact that this $75 bucks and some time and imagination has will more than justify the cost and effort.

Roll it -Boo!:Add a HUGE chef's knife to the pile of GM's paraphernalia. Do not touch it or play with it. It should stay right there next to the dice all night. Strangely enough, the players will stop reaching for the dice.

Boo!: On that note: If you are trying to set a horror mood, try playing some scary music. There are many classical themes that are quite horrific. Movie sound tracks are excellent for this. I do not know anyone who is not creeped out by the Halloween I theme music. Remember this mood music must be just louder than the threshold of hearing... almost subliminal to be most effective.

Boo!:If you are not using props or stagecraft, why not?! It is easy and effective on scary chronicles. If it is every game sessions, then it will have reduced impact and you can dial it back.

Boo!: When you are in horror mode, when things are getting strange, roll 1d6. One to three is the number of seats the players have to shift clockwise or deisul around the play space. Four to six, then subtract 3 and that is the number of seats the players have to shift counter clockwise or widdershins around the play space. This will change the comfort factor of the players.

Roll it -Boo!: Have a set of dice that work just for a horror game. Paint the numbers on those dice with glow in the dark paint. Make sure they are properly charged and that the lighting is dim. It is an interesting effect.

Boo!: Start running your horror game a few weeks before Halloween. Perhaps a far enough time out that nobody would suspect this as a horror chronicle.

Boo!: Be selective about your players. If you want to run a horror game, you need players who will focus on the game, not veer off on tangents and want to tell a funny story every couple of minutes. If they are likely to deflate EVERY bit of atmosphere with humor or ignore the game for good portions of time, then they are not cut out to be in a horror game. Either don’t invite them to those scenarios or penalize them every time they do it. (Note: Let all the players know upfront that penalties (bad karma, ep loss, etc) will be accessed for distraction.
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This list could go on and on. There are lots of little details that could be addressed. Big themes and GM techniques as well. It is a wide open field that could swallow you and your troupe up. However, its gets excessive, so lets stick with these for right now.

If you have a couple of Boo! Points, put them in the comments.


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Here are some useful things....

Handy bunch of links...

THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION (HWA) is a worldwide organization of writers and publishing professionals dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. HWA was formed in the late 1980s with the help of many of the field's greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe Lansdale. Today, with over 1,000 members around the globe, it is the oldest and most respected professional organization for the much-loved writers who bring you the most enjoyable sleepless nights of your life. For more about us, click here.


Writing Prompts are good places to start/

Horror writing tips are everywhere. I like Now Novel, so check these out and check the rest of the site.

9 Simple Lessons for Writing Effective Horror Screenplays

Stephen King on Horror and Suspense

You can google some more if you want. And avoid paying any money for anything on the writing sites. That is how they make their money, but what you need can be gotten for free if you search on the web long enough.

And before you say... "These are all writing sites. They have nothing to do with gaming..." GMing is a great deal like writing a story, be it book fiction or screen play. These tools, plus some story telling skills, can make you a great horror GM. Trust me on this one. I have been a horror and supernatural action GM for a regular campaign for about 18 years now.
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