How do you do horror when running D&D?

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
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.
My last post was before I saw this one.

If you’re going with a shorter game, I think it’s still a question of incentive. If leveling up is not the goal, then identify what is the goal, and actively promote that.

I know that’s kind of vague, but it’s hard to be specific without knowing your goal of play from the players’ point of view. Typically, that’s advancement.

What would you say is the players’ goals in play for this game?
 

Rechan

Adventurer
My last post was before I saw this one.

If you’re going with a shorter game, I think it’s still a question of incentive. If leveling up is not the goal, then identify what is the goal, and actively promote that.

I know that’s kind of vague, but it’s hard to be specific without knowing your goal of play from the players’ point of view. Typically, that’s advancement.

What would you say is the players’ goals in play for this game?j
Not Dying?

Beyond that, um, playing the game? Surely you don’t show up to game night with the only incentive to level, you show up because you want to play. The reward is playing.
 
Well, playing and making progress, whatever progress looks like for that game. Playing, in and of itself, is only a reward insofar as it's rewarding.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
I don’t know, finishing the story? Achieving the in game mission?

My head has been in 1 session games for a long time. But I want a little more space for a longer story.
 

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
Not Dying?

Beyond that, um, playing the game? Surely you don’t show up to game night with the only incentive to level, you show up because you want to play. The reward is playing.
Sorry I wasn't clearer. Yeah, play is it’s own reward, but that applies to all games.

What I mean is how will players feel like they’re progressing? Different games handle this in different ways. D&D has a pretty specific process for this, but you seem to want to remove or limit that.

If survival is the main goal of play for the PCs, then that’s what you'll have to focus on. How to promote that is the question....
 
It wasn't a challenge, just an observation. The story needs to be moving along and the players need to feel like they are getting somewhere, regardless of how many Orcs they have to slay. Providing that sense of forward motion and success/failure without combat encounters is one of the challenges you're looking at. This is where combat light games often fall down, regardless of system.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
OP: You may also want to think about limiting or tweaking some of the classes, if they don't fit with your picture of the game. For example, you may want to reserve certain spells for NPCs. Banning magical healing would also make the game a LOT grittier.
 
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cmad1977

Adventurer
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”
Give them monster like stat blocks with an emphasis on skills/character traits.
1-3 simple attack lines maybe. Emphasize Tools and languages.

Let everyone know ahead of time what they’re in for.
 

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
I don’t know, finishing the story? Achieving the in game mission?

My head has been in 1 session games for a long time. But I want a little more space for a longer story.
Gotcha....it sounds like you have a rough idea for a game that will last a few sessions. Can you break the story up into session sized parts that have a clear goal? As @Fenris-77 says, narrative goals are also part of the game. I don't want to seem like I would exclude that side of things. It just sounded like your players were more traditionally minded in their approach to D&D, so I figured giving them clear goals in that regard was a good start.

If you give clear goals that are meant to be achieved, that's gonna go a long way toward maintaining some kind of momentum. Part 1 could be "learn of the Count's secret" and then part 2 could be "escape from the Count's castle" and so on.

If mechanical incentives also help, maybe offer a perk of some kind when a goal is reached. Maybe give them options for perks to choose from.....maybe a bonus to certain skills, or an additional hit die, or something similar that is kind of akin to gaining a level. Again, this may not be necessary, but it is D&D, so I know a lot of players are going to expect some kind of character progression, even in a shorter campaign.
 

Rechan

Adventurer
Gotcha....it sounds like you have a rough idea for a game that will last a few sessions. Can you break the story up into session sized parts that have a clear goal? As @Fenris-77 says, narrative goals are also part of the game. I don't want to seem like I would exclude that side of things. It just sounded like your players were more traditionally minded in their approach to D&D
I don’t have players yet.

To sum up, I don’t want to play D&D, but I have exhausted all options to find players of other systems. My options are play D&D or don’t play. Therefore I am trying to force D&D into a form that I want to play: short 1-5 session campaigns where PCs are weak NPCs with no combat ability, who are trying to survive horrifying situations by avoiding and escaping threats.

This is not the experience most D&D players want or expect therefore I will specify before they show up the type of game they are getting onto.
 
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oriaxx77

Villager
I usually use demon infested commoners who does creepy things. It takes many hours for the party to figure out that every single person is inhabited by evil spirits. I do not let them long rest, but I use combat scarcely. I use sanity and madness when they do certain things e.g.: they can get madness when someone say Tharizdun aloud etc...
 

Imaculata

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.
D&D can be any experience you want it to be. It doesn't have to be a hack and slash dungeon crawl. The system is perfectly suitable for a narrative heavy roleplaying focused campaign. That is true of almost any system I know, including 3e.

You can award xp for accomplishing goals and finding clues, or ignore the concept of xp entirely. But you don't need combat. I have plenty of sessions in my 3e campaign that are nothing but talking. Sometimes not a single die is rolled. And that should be perfectly possible in 5e too.
 
Well, lets be honest, it has some tools for narrative heavy play, but it isn't exactly ideal for that right out of the box as a focus. You don't have to hack anything in to play that way, but I think it would help to have some extra handholds to support 3rd pillar play. Even something as simple as X successes before X failures as a mechanic can add some granularity. Really, any approach that moves the game beyond one roll pass or fail for social stuff is a step in the right direction.
 

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
I don’t have players yet.

To sum up, I don’t want to play D&D, but I have exhausted all options to find players of other systems. My options are play D&D or don’t play. Therefore I am trying to force D&D into a form that I want to play: short 1-5 session campaigns where PCs are weak NPCs with no combat ability, who are trying to survive horrifying situations by avoiding and escaping threats.

This is not the experience most D&D players want or expect therefore I will specify before they show up the type of game they are getting onto.
I didn't know you didn't have specific players in mind. That helps.

Is the setting meant to be a typical fantasy world with elves ad dwarves, etc? Or is it gothic/Victorian type setting like Ravenloft or Dracula? Or something else?

Would you use/allow all classes? You describe the PCs as "weak NPCs"...how do you want to do that? will there by character creation by players? Or will you provide pre-gens?
 

hawkeyefan

Adventurer
D&D can be any experience you want it to be. It doesn't have to be a hack and slash dungeon crawl. The system is perfectly suitable for a narrative heavy roleplaying focused campaign. That is true of almost any system I know, including 3e.

You can award xp for accomplishing goals and finding clues, or ignore the concept of xp entirely. But you don't need combat. I have plenty of sessions in my 3e campaign that are nothing but talking. Sometimes not a single die is rolled. And that should be perfectly possible in 5e too.
D&D can be flexible, and can indeed deliver a variety of gaming experiences. A lot of that will vary greatly depending on the players and DM, and what they're going for.

But there are other systems that are designed specifically to deliver a specific result and very often it would make more sense to use such a game, if possible.

In this case, the OP specifically needs to the game to be D&D, so it doesn't help here.....but in other instances, if anyone said "I want to run a horror game" I'd have several ideas that I would offer before I got to "What about D&D?"

I mean, in the last two weeks, I've picked up both Esoteric Enterprises and Five Torches Deep, and both would be suitable for the request, depending on the setting. Especially Five Torches since it's based on 5E and would be very familiar to anyone who's played.
 

Nebulous

Hero
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.

Because 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.
Oh, 3-5 sessions makes a big difference. And you still intend to have things attack and hurt them, but with the intention that if they stick around to "win" they will absolutely die. So it's a fighting retreat sort of deal.
 

Nebulous

Hero
I mean, in the last two weeks, I've picked up both Esoteric Enterprises and Five Torches Deep, and both would be suitable for the request, depending on the setting. Especially Five Torches since it's based on 5E and would be very familiar to anyone who's played.
I'm gonna look those up. :)
 

Nebulous

Hero
Pretty sure you can pick them up in PDF for about $10 each.
yeah I just grabbed the 5 torches, it sounds intriguing. That might be something the OP would like, as it is more dangerous than 5e. Frankly, the superhero curve of D&D is a turn off for me as well, I just as soon end any game by 9th.
 

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