How do you do horror when running D&D?

Nebulous

Hero
It appears to me that the situation, as you describe it, is unresolvable.

You want to run a game that is fundamentally not D&D (you would prefer to run a game that is actually not D&D, but have been unable to do so). The players in your area (social circle? network reach?) want to play D&D.

This is going to lead to a bad time.
Ultimately I agree. D&D has a very certain feel to it, heroic fantasy, and most people who want that will want lots of fighting.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I did. The suggestions were:

1. Advertise a non-D&D game (I have)

2. Play D&D until you can convince your fellow players to play something else.

3. Run D&D.

Believe me, if I could Not play D&D I would. But my options are D&D or nothing. So I come here asking how I can force D&D into what I want: basically PCs playing NPCs with no combat skills, so combat is a last ditch thing to try and avoid, delay, escape.

Which the consensus seems to be “don’t play”
I am truly sorry, I just don't think a bait and switch will work either. If you honestly advertise, it would have to include something like "Horror D&D with no combat". I don't think you'll have any luck there either. The only option is for you to accept combat but if you hate it then it's just not going to work for anyone.

You can't force, or trick, people into playing a game they aren't interested in.

I wish there was a better answer.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
if I get accused of baiting and switching/tricking people one more time I am deleting this thread.

No one will sit down without knowing what are getting.
 
This is what I want to do. But I feel that this will upset and frustrate anyone who shows up.

I want players to feel powerless. But I don’t think anyone willing to play D&D will accept feeling powerless. I’m afraid it will alienate players because D&D is about being g powerful.

I don’t know how to advertise a D&D game where they don’t get to use anything but skills. I don’t think anyone will show up to that.
It's always tricky to find players who gel and like a similar sort of game. I have one player in my group who would probably like your sort of thing better than my sort of thing (pulp action adventure). I think you need to make compromises and mix things up. Slip some of your horror into a standard game and see how your players react. If they are okay with it do more, if they don't have fun take it in a different direction. I find that so long as the players are having fun the DM has fun, even if it's not what you originally planned.

Or you can hold out for a Call of Cthulhu group. It doesn't have as many players as D&D, but it has some, and when you do find them they are more likely to like the same sort of thing.

Also remember that in horror combat should still be an option. A very poor option for the players, but the option should still be there.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
See my problem is I don’t want to run combat period. D&D combat bores me to tears. And players thinking they can fight to begin with is counter to the mindset I want them to have.
So, what would your ideal storyline look like, without reference to the rules? Are you thinking survival horror, with lots of stealth? PCs trapped somewhere and they try to find the keys to get out alive while avoiding the monsters, that sort of thing?

Give us an idea of what you'd like the game to look like, and maybe we can offer some suggestions on tweaking D&D to do it.

D&D has a very certain feel to it, heroic fantasy
D&D does heroic fantasy well, but I do think it is more versatile than a lot of people give it credit for being. Last GenCon, I played a straight-up, no-combat heist scenario in D&D, and we all had a blast.
 
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Rechan

Adventurer
So, what would your ideal storyline look like, without reference to the rules? Are you thinking survival horror, with lots of stealth? PCs trapped somewhere and they try to find the keys to get out alive while avoiding the monsters, that sort of thing?

Give us an idea of what you'd like the game to look like, and maybe we can offer some suggestions on tweaking D&D to do it.


D&D does heroic fantasy well,] but I do think it is more versatile than a lot of people give it credit for being. Last GenCon, I played a straight-up, no-combat heist scenario in D&D, and we all had a blast.
 

Nebulous

Hero
D&D does heroic fantasy well,] but I do think it is more versatile than a lot of people give it credit for being. Last GenCon, I played a straight-up, no-combat heist scenario in D&D, and we all had a blast.
Well one-shot yes, D&D can do a lot. I was thinking more an extended campaign with no fighting. That would be more problematic. Although I've heard of some groups going heavy on the roleplaying and political intrigue. So it can be done.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
I will say it warms my heart to hear people at “D&D is this, it is this experience. doing that in it doesn’t work”. I argued this back in the 3e days, when people here would try to force heavy economics and diplomacy games et all into it, because they wouldn’t try other systems.

I’m aware of the irony that I’m trying to do that now, but here its out of necessity. :/

I feel like I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but in this analogy I’m diabetic. :p
 

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
@Rechan Probably the most basic change you will need to make is to change how PCs get XP. 5E is set up to grant XP for killing monsters. So that’s what players are going to try and do.

If you want them to do something else, you need to incentivize that. All the other advice here may be useless if when it’s all said and done, the PCs are still only going to progress by killing things.

Start with that.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Last GenCon, I played a straight-up, no-combat heist scenario in D&D, and we all had a blast.
I've had one shots and sessions in ongoing campaigns that had no combat and they can be a lot of fun. But that's different than an ongoing campaign that never has combat.

I've even played "kids" for several sessions where the closest we got to combat was a snowball fight and running away from Old Man Russel's scary dog. Well, and a ghost or two but that's a whole other issue.

But sooner or later I wanted to see mechanical PC growth.
 
@Rechan Probably the most basic change you will need to make is to change how PCs get XP. 5E is set up to grant XP for killing monsters. So that’s what players are going to try and do.

If you want them to do something else, you need to incentivize that. All the other advice here may be useless if when it’s all said and done, the PCs are still only going to progress by killing things.

Start with that.
Well, you want the PCs to stay weak, and if they only get xp for killing monsters, and they can't kill the monsters, then they will stay 1st level forever...
 

Nebulous

Hero
.
Well, you want the PCs to stay weak, and if they only get xp for killing monsters, and they can't kill the monsters, then they will stay 1st level forever...
I would just do a slow leveling milestone system. Maybe introduce more skill feats to supplement lack of combat.

Solving mysteries and plot points would work toward leveling.
 
But sooner or later I wanted to see mechanical PC growth.
This is very important I think. The main reason for the success of D&D is "level up". AKA player-smack. If PCs don't get better then a long running campaign is almost impossible to maintain.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
Of the scenarios you propose, I think the mystery lab has the most potential, personally. Impress on the players that they must get out without being caught by whoever put them there--maybe have an NPC get caught along with them, and have them discover the NPC's gruesome fate as a warning of what will happen to them if they're caught. Scary things patrolling the corridors, who will not kill the PCs outright if they spot them, but will do something potentially worse: incapacititate them and then send them back to be experimented on--immediately, if you want an encounter with the guards to be "game over" for the PC. This scenario also has lots of opportunities for exploration and hazards.

If you want to add a survival element, stringently enforce exhaustion rules if the PCs don't eat or sleep. In fact, the exhaustion rules are your friends in pretty much any horror scenario.

Does any of this help?

5E is set up to grant XP for killing monsters.
Not only for killing monsters; it's just that players tend to forget about the other things. But I wouldn't worry too much about that. Just tell the players straight out that you're going to use milestone progression, and they won't gain levels until and unless they finish certain story objectives. Like, if they can escape the lab, they'll hit level 2.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
@Rechan Probably the most basic change you will need to make is to change how PCs get XP. 5E is set up to grant XP for killing monsters. So that’s what players are going to try and do.

If you want them to do something else, you need to incentivize that. All the other advice here may be useless if when it’s all said and done, the PCs are still only going to progress by killing things.

Start with that.
That...that is a great idea actually.

See I’m sort of taking inspiration fro the 1e days, where the emphasis was on exploration. There xp was given for the treassure you found.

Characters were very fragile, but at the same time they could mow through 50 skeletons in 15 minutes. That fragility is what led to the 10’ pole days, that and the style of play where if you say you do something the wrong way, you died.

Now, I’m not sure what leveling up would be good for. Increasing skills and saves I guess. But XP is usually the carrot that motivates, so changing the reward is the first step.

To be clear I’m not imagining long campaigns. Maybe 3-5 sessions max? Long enough for a story. Because IME it’s hard to get people to commit to long campaigns period, and I think it would be hard to maintain a long running campaign with weak characters who can die easily.

Bevause when I say “no combat” I don’t mean “no violence”.Things will attack Them. Fighting back (and staying to fight) is what’s unwise.
 
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Just tell the players straight out that you're going to use milestone progression, and they won't gain levels until and unless they finish certain story objectives. Like, if they can escape the lab, they'll hit level 2.
I think the problem, at least for a long running campaign, is that without combat characters aren't seen to be progressing. Hitting level 2 has very little meaning out of combat.

Some horror RPGs have little or no character progression, but I have never seen horror game run as an ongoing multi-year campaign.

Social yes. Social games can go on forever with little or no character progression. But I've never seen a long running little-or-no-combat campaign that wasn't social in any game system, never mind D&D.
 

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
Not only for killing monsters; it's just that players tend to forget about the other things. But I wouldn't worry too much about that. Just tell the players straight out that you're going to use milestone progression, and they won't gain levels until and unless they finish certain story objectives. Like, if they can escape the lab, they'll hit level 2.
I have no problem with milestone XP/leveling...I use it in my 5E campaign.

I think that in this case, it would make sense to have specific XP rewards or milestone points that will encourage the players to approach the game in the way that Rechan is hoping.

Your suggestion of “escape the lab to reach level 2” is along the lines of what I mean, for sure. But I don’t know if it would hurt to be even more specific. An XP award for escaping the lab without combat promotes the kind of play that’s desired, so that may help. Otherwise, they may take “escape the lab” to mean “kill all the bad guys in the lab”.

I’d likely ditch the XP system as presented and just use a simplified version. Something like you need 10 XP to reach next level, and then grant 1 XP when the players perform the kind of action wanted. Use Stealth to avoid Combat? Get 1XP.

But you’d need a clear list of what grants XP. Such a list may have things that apply to all characters, and then also things that only apply to certain classes.

This is the clearest way to say to the players “This game is about this” because it clearly establishes what actions are rewarded.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
I've had one shots and sessions in ongoing campaigns that had no combat and they can be a lot of fun. But that's different than an ongoing campaign that never has combat.
I think whether an ongoing campaign can work without combat depends more on the players than anything else.

I think the problem, at least for a long running campaign, is that without combat characters aren't seen to be progressing.
See post 95 above, though--the OP isn't planning a long-running campaign.

I don’t know if it would hurt to be even more specific. An XP award for escaping the lab without combat promotes the kind of play that’s desired, so that may help. Otherwise, they may take “escape the lab” to mean “kill all the bad guys in the lab”.
Yeah, an XP penalty (or at least, lack of reward) for combat would definitely discourage combat. But I get the impression that the OP's plan is to impress on the players that combat is something they can't win anyway.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
horror game run as an ongoing multi-year campaign.
Multi-year? I can count on My hand the number of groups I’ve been in that lasted over a year. The only multi year campaigns I’ve been in were online games Many moons ago.

I don’t plan on being where I’m living more than a year. Hopefully.
 

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