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Enhacing the Horror Gaming Experience

MGibster

Legend
This is truly the most wonderful time of the year! The weather is cooling, the leaves are turning brown, and little boys and girls go to sleep with visions of vampires, ghouls, and ghost dancing in their heads. October is a great time to break out those old horror games like the venerable Call of Cthulhu, perennial favorite Vampire, or perhaps the often forgotten splatterpunk classic Nightlife! Whatever your Spooktober gaming poison might be, the stars are right and now is the time to enjoy it.

Disclaimer: It is my personal policy to always ask my players what subject matter they do not wish to see in a horror scenario and avoid those subjects entirely. This thread isn't about enhancing the horror gaming experience by taking the players on a journey beyond their comfort zones unless they're okay with that. I would suggest anyone else running a horror game make a similar commitment.

What are some of the things you do to enhance your horror gaming experience? This isn't necessarily about the content of the games, though that's part of it, but what do you do to help the players immerse themselves in the game you're running?

Props: This is probably the single most popular way to enhance a horror scenario and Call of Cthulhu is famous for this. Letters addressed to PCs or NPCs, photographs, and sometimes even physical artifacts like jewelry can really enhance any game. Has anyone ever made effective use of props?

For my next game, the Investigators will come across a mysterious cult practicing their dark rituals deep in the woods away, so they believe, from prying eyes. Usually I am inclined to speak the words the cultist are chanting but next time I'm going to mix it up a bit. I'm going to give the players a handout and we're all going to do the chanting together. I figured 6-7 voices chanting in unison has got to be a lot more powerful and memorable than my lone voice.

Anyone else have any ideas?
 

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This is truly the most wonderful time of the year! The weather is cooling, the leaves are turning brown, and little boys and girls go to sleep with visions of vampires, ghouls, and ghost dancing in their heads. October is a great time to break out those old horror games like the venerable Call of Cthulhu, perennial favorite Vampire, or perhaps the often forgotten splatterpunk classic Nightlife! Whatever your Spooktober gaming poison might be, the stars are right and now is the time to enjoy it.

Disclaimer: It is my personal policy to always ask my players what subject matter they do not wish to see in a horror scenario and avoid those subjects entirely. This thread isn't about enhancing the horror gaming experience by taking the players on a journey beyond their comfort zones unless they're okay with that. I would suggest anyone else running a horror game make a similar commitment.

What are some of the things you do to enhance your horror gaming experience? This isn't necessarily about the content of the games, though that's part of it, but what do you do to help the players immerse themselves in the game you're running?

Props: This is probably the single most popular way to enhance a horror scenario and Call of Cthulhu is famous for this. Letters addressed to PCs or NPCs, photographs, and sometimes even physical artifacts like jewelry can really enhance any game. Has anyone ever made effective use of props?

For my next game, the Investigators will come across a mysterious cult practicing their dark rituals deep in the woods away, so they believe, from prying eyes. Usually I am inclined to speak the words the cultist are chanting but next time I'm going to mix it up a bit. I'm going to give the players a handout and we're all going to do the chanting together. I figured 6-7 voices chanting in unison has got to be a lot more powerful and memorable than my lone voice.

Anyone else have any ideas?
Something I've thought for horror is taking up the character sheets. Now, that might work better in a one-shot than a campaign, but... I'm not sure where I saw it discussed, but the point was made that there is a certain amount of detachment from being able to assess your chances of success from your stats, your health, etc.

This is not to imply at all that players metagame, or even that there's not 'good' metagaming, but... The times I've had the most unnerving sessions have been in things like Dread, where there is really no character sheet to be had and also there are no dice - you make pulls from a Jenga tower. You can't math and assess your way out of that. YMMV
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Mood music is something I use. Besides tracks from known horror movies and shows, check out YouTube for videos featuring instruments like the Apprehension Engine

the Waterphone

the Yaybahar

or the Aeolian Harp
 
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Eltab

Hero
For Rime of the Frostmaiden, freeze a few dice that you have set aside to make 'exposure to the outdoors' checks.
And before the group gathers ... turn off the heat.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
If we’re talking about atmosphere there are a few things I really enjoyed trying with Curse of Strahd.

Coloured lighting - a simple phone app controlled colour changing light can be awesome. For moonlight switch to a light blues, for an eerie dungeon green, firelight orange etc. it’s far more evocative than normal light particularly in combination with...

Candle light - Four or five big squat candles (less likely to be knocked over) again very cheap can transform the feeling from a time of security and comfort in a living room to one reminiscent of a deprivation. Turn the normal lights off in the room if you can. Your characters become their own points of light surrounded by darkness and the occasional aforementioned mood light.

Sound Effects - Syrinscape is awesome for creating mood effects, rain, thunder, howling wolves, breathing, manic laughing in the distance, the cawing is crows. I love it and have never regretted the $10 a month I pay for subscription - particularly as I get to keep the sound sets released since I’ve had it, even if I cancel the subscription!

Reduce distraction - We try and be more formal with breaks, phones on silent, snacks to a minimum and play for a specific time - even if you take a break before and after that. Helps keep immersion.

NPC cards - I used a simple A5 portrait NPC with a bust picture of the NPCs. There is some fabulous artwork out there and it can really speed up descriptions and bring them to life.

Just a few things I did that seemed to go down well.
 

MGibster

Legend
For Rime of the Frostmaiden, freeze a few dice that you have set aside to make 'exposure to the outdoors' checks.
And before the group gathers ... turn off the heat.

Oh, wow, that's a fun little idea and so simple it's brilliant! I'm gonna steal it for some other cold based scenario.
 

MGibster

Legend
Candle light - Four or five big squat candles (less likely to be knocked over) again very cheap can transform the feeling from a time of security and comfort in a living room to one reminiscent of a deprivation. Turn the normal lights off in the room if you can. Your characters become their own points of light surrounded by darkness and the occasional aforementioned mood light.

Sound Effects - Syrinscape is awesome for creating mood effects, rain, thunder, howling wolves, breathing, manic laughing in the distance, the cawing is crows. I love it and have never regretted the $10 a month I pay for subscription - particularly as I get to keep the sound sets released since I’ve had it, even if I cancel the subscription!

I'm going to use the candle idea and combine it with my chanting idea. In regards to sound effects, I'm a little surprised that we don't have many examples of officially produced audio files other than music for use in scenarios. Imagine being able to play an MP3 of an SOS message sent out by radio for a Call of Cthulhu scenario. Given how inexpensive audio equipment is these days as well as the ubiquity of smart phones and other devices which are present at gaming tables I'm surprised there's nothing being made. (On the flip side maybe they'd have to pay actors and consider residuals or something.)
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
I'm going to use the candle idea and combine it with my chanting idea. In regards to sound effects, I'm a little surprised that we don't have many examples of officially produced audio files other than music for use in scenarios. Imagine being able to play an MP3 of an SOS message sent out by radio for a Call of Cthulhu scenario. Given how inexpensive audio equipment is these days as well as the ubiquity of smart phones and other devices which are present at gaming tables I'm surprised there's nothing being made. (On the flip side maybe they'd have to pay actors and consider residuals or something.)
Syrinscape is all over the this stuff. You’d find everything you need. They have a fantasy version and a sci-fi version.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Re: candles

There are also LED candles out there. And I saw some people insert said LED candles into trimmed & painted pool noodles to make SpOOkY CanDleS

 

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