D&D General Ravenloft, horror, & safety tools...

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
With the new Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft coming out in just under a month, I thought it might be a good idea to have a thread about doing horror games with D&D and gather up some safety tools and horror gaming resources for anyone who might not be used to the idea of either doing horror with their D&D or using safety tools in gaming.

First up the free safety tools. The best two that I've come across are TTRPG Safety Toolkit and Consent in Gaming. The TTRPG Safety Toolkit collects various safety tools into one place for ease of use and reference. Consent in Gaming is a free 12-page document that gives an in-depth overview of...well, consent in gaming. It has a handy-dandy checklist at the end of the main PDF and as a separate download for ease of use.

Next are the horror tools. There's a lot of really great horror games to use and draw inspiration from. If you're new to horror gaming in general, you might not be aware of these resources, so here goes. The Fate Horror Toolkit is a great resource if you're unfamiliar with gaming in the horror genre. It focuses on the feeling and highlights of horror, what makes the genre tick in gaming. If you try nothing else, try this one. Stay Alive! from Monte Cook is a bit newer but it also provides a great overview of the genre, its tropes, and how to run horror games. GURPS Horror is yet another great book for use as reference, though this one has a bit more page count eaten up by system specific crunch than the last two. If you like to mix your horror gaming with mystery and investigation, a great book to check out is GURPS Mysteries. Again, it has a bit more crunch but a lot of the non-crunchy bits are wonderful as a reference for non-GURPS gaming.

For 5E specific horror gaming, there's Grim Hollow, a grimdark & dark fantasy pair (soon to be trilogy) of books that present a wonderful setting that can easily be used as is, as part of Ravenloft, or simply stripped for parts and ideas. And of course there's Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos which comes in Pathfinder and 5E varieties. It's a wonderful book. Packed with systems, subsystems, backgrounds, subclasses, feats, spells, monsters, and a bit about adding horror to a typically more action-adventure focused game like D&D. Petersen Games also has a line of adventure paths called the Cthulhu Mythos Sagas. Each adventure path is presented in four parts, in print or PDF. The art is amazing throughout and the adventures are wild affairs. If you want something a bit more cosmic horror you can't go wrong with this stuff put out by one of the creators of Call of Cthulhu.

Honorable mention to the granddaddy of horror gaming, Call of Cthulhu. It's more horror and investigation focused and has far less combat than your typical D&D game, but it does have 40 years of material and many wonderful scenarios to pick through for inspiration, including what is the first adventure path in gaming...Masks of Nyarlathotep. Other wonderful adventure paths for CoC are Horror on the Orient Express and Beyond the Mountains of Madness.

So what about you? Any great safety tools or horror gaming resources to share?

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Identifying lines 'n' veils is extra necessary for horror games. Cause you're trying to unnerve and get right to the edge of comfort. But knowing them is good for all games

Hand signals are also a good tool. Having hand signals that can be used in place of cards in virtual games, and safety hand signals not to be used casually. So you can flail and make "nope" signals, or running a finger across your neck, or covering your ears or eyes but so long as you don't pull on your nose and earlobe it's fine

Don't play Ravenloft or much horror myself but even in a straight fantasy game I know not to use spiders as a player has arachnophobia. Just respectful to use other monsters
But knowing preferences goes beyond that. Just knowing your players hate investigation or courtly intrigue is pretty much the same thing and not remotely controversial. Learn what your players like and don't like in the game, in both style and content
 

Plus, as in all games, it's the player responsibility too. Don't sign up for a game if you know it will clearly have triggers for you AND ensure you inform a GM ( other players) of issues beforehand AND read any guidance given by the GM about veils, etc and any general convention rules.
 


For an existing gaming troupe, there is no "signing up." So a GM and the players should be in communication in regards what may be too intense for a given participant in a game. Sometimes it is good to push one's limits and exit your comfort zone to have a new experience, but that should be an informed choice for an individual to make. Or to put it more simply, a GM shouldn't run a game that their players won't appreciate and enjoy participating in.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
i would love to know the logic of someone who signs up for Ravenloft and then expects stuff like "Consent in Gaming" lol
"I like horror but I can't stand X."

"I love gothic literature, but X really disturbs me."

"I've always wanted to play a vampire hunter, but I don't enjoy games with X in them."

There are three examples of perfectly logical thinking for you!
 

I have expressed this view in the past, but I think safety tools are not a good idea (probably not for reasons people assume). If people find use in them, by all means they should use them. But I think it actually increases issues surrounding mental health at the table rather than diminishes them (just as someone who has had issues with PTSD, it is way, way more complicated than safety tools make out, and if it is something you are dealing with, I think it is the kind of thing one needs to seek professional help for, not put the burden on people at your table). Just to be clear here as this often gets misunderstood. I think if someone at the table is experiencing any kind of distress, compassion and empathy are what is called for. But as a GM and fellow-player, I am not, and cannot be your doctor or therapist. And game designers are not mental health professionals either. Something like having a panic attack for example, cannot be reduced to a simple trigger to be avoided (something as vague as going down the wrong series of thoughts can set you off; or even just the overall mood in the room). Horror is probably a genre to avoid if you have these kinds of issues (I love horror but simply had to avoid horror movies for several years until I was able to watch them again).
 

eyeheartawk

#1 Enworld Jerk™
All good things to keep in mind.

Now, how relevant this stuff this Ravenloft in particular? Probably not as much as in say, Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green or Kult. Ravenloft is far more tropey schlock horror, very much in the vein of old Hammer films than actual horror. Now how much that changes with this release and the themes of each individual Domain of Dread remains to be seen. But even if there are some actual more visceral horror elements in these various domains, you're still fundamentally viewing it through a lens of D&D where you are all powerful monster killers and pretty much all encounters with the supernatural or cosmic is viewed through this lens, further diminishing terror.

Again that isn't to say somebody can't be bothered by individual elements within the work, I just find it less likely and less of a pressing need than in the other games I mentioned as examples above.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
i would love to know the logic of someone who signs up for Ravenloft and then expects stuff like "Consent in Gaming" lol
This kinda attitude keeps me away from a lot of tables...

Also all conventions. And a wide variety of gaming-related forums.

We should be better than this kind of passionate disdain for other people's boundaries and comfort.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I have expressed this view in the past, but I think safety tools are not a good idea (probably not for reasons people assume). If people find use in them, by all means they should use them. But I think it actually increases issues surrounding mental health at the table rather than diminishes them (just as someone who has had issues with PTSD, it is way, way more complicated than safety tools make out, and if it is something you are dealing with, I think it is the kind of thing one needs to seek professional help for, not put the burden on people at your table). Just to be clear here as this often gets misunderstood. I think if someone at the table is experiencing any kind of distress, compassion and empathy are what is called for. But as a GM and fellow-player, I am not, and cannot be your doctor or therapist. And game designers are not mental health professionals either. Something like having a panic attack for example, cannot be reduced to a simple trigger to be avoided (something as vague as going down the wrong series of thoughts can set you off; or even just the overall mood in the room). Horror is probably a genre to avoid if you have these kinds of issues (I love horror but simply had to avoid horror movies for several years until I was able to watch them again).
I agree with you in the sense that anyone who uses these safety tools in a sort of "fire and forget" style of play-- in other words thinking "Well, I've got these tools at the table so now I don't have to think anymore about the game because the tools will take care of everything!" is not giving the game and its potential issues enough credence.

And this goes for both players and GMs... just because these safety protocols have been presented does not mean each person shouldn't take the time to figure out what is and isn't going to be potential issues during the game, nor not inform the others at the table the things that might cause issues. Each person should take care of themself and take care of the others, and hopefully realize that the comfort of the other players should always trump "the game". No game should be more important than the people at the table-- even if you are thinking to yourself "But I TOLD everyone we'd possibly be seeing [blank] thing in the game!!! Why are they NOW saying they're uncomfortable?!?" If something like that occurs... I think you should always default to others comfort, rather than your own needs to do whatever [blank] you wanted to play. It's just being an empathetic and good person.

Tool are just that-- merely tools. They don't solve or eliminate issues... they merely help YOU in solving or eliminating issues. So treat the tools simply as what they are.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I have expressed this view in the past, but I think safety tools are not a good idea (probably not for reasons people assume). If people find use in them, by all means they should use them. But I think it actually increases issues surrounding mental health at the table rather than diminishes them (just as someone who has had issues with PTSD, it is way, way more complicated than safety tools make out, and if it is something you are dealing with, I think it is the kind of thing one needs to seek professional help for, not put the burden on people at your table). Just to be clear here as this often gets misunderstood. I think if someone at the table is experiencing any kind of distress, compassion and empathy are what is called for. But as a GM and fellow-player, I am not, and cannot be your doctor or therapist. And game designers are not mental health professionals either. Something like having a panic attack for example, cannot be reduced to a simple trigger to be avoided (something as vague as going down the wrong series of thoughts can set you off; or even just the overall mood in the room). Horror is probably a genre to avoid if you have these kinds of issues (I love horror but simply had to avoid horror movies for several years until I was able to watch them again).
Safety tools aren’t designed to replace a therapist or to turn the DM and other players into mental health professionals. They’re designed specifically to avoid blundering into someone’s fears, phobias, and traumas...specifically to avoid the players having mental health episodes at the table. They’re designed so that a table can be a welcoming place for any and all. It sounds like you want to exclude anyone with any mental health problems from gaming. Hint: there’s a lot more mental health issues in any given population than are openly spoken about.
 

It sounds like you want to exclude anyone with any mental health problems from gaming. Hint: there’s a lot more mental health issues in any given population than are openly spoken about.
please read my post. This is not what I said at all. I mentioned having ptsd myself. I am coming at this from a view that safety tools do more harm than good
 


Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Some people decry safety tools because they ‘know their players’ and therefore ‘don’t need them’ or similar reasons.

But even people who don’t use safety tools often do without realising it. Knowing your friends and informally developing a relationship and expectations over a period of years is a safety tool, one which the whole of society uses every day. It’s just not a formally written one. You still have boundaries, which you have developed over time, and probably don’t speak about specifically, but they’re there. Nobody interacts with others with no boundaries at all.
 



Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I'm with @Morrus , here. And @Professor Murder. And @overgeeked.

The idea that safety tools are a bad thing or an example of people trying to therapize at the table is ludicrous on it's face.

Yeah. Not every person has a Bucky Barnes style "Do not say these 11 words in a specific order and I'll be fine" trigger situation. And PTSD and other forms of mental or emotional discomfort can be triggered by things that aren't encapsulated in a consent sheet.

But damn it, that consent sheet is a -start-. It's a good solid way to plan around your players' discomfort and avoid some triggers or just outright uncomfortable topics to make sure people at the table all have the best shot at having a good time, together. Is it perfect? No. Nothing can ever be, because the reality is that everyone has their own specific issues that are as varied as grains of sand in the Sahara.

Doesn't mean we should cast all boundaries aside and embrace the idea that we've got "No choice" but to emotionally harm the people around us. Something is better than nothing.
 

TheSword

Legend
I recently started a session zero with new players who I didn’t know before. I went through some safety tool / veils questions first.

To be honest it was an excruciating 15 minutes that made the people being asked the questions uncomfortable... as if they should be bothered by the topics I was asking about... and uncomfortable for me for asking if these things are acceptable or not.

Asking a mixed group of players that have watched and enjoyed game of thrones whether they object to the presence of sex workers in a medieval fantasy world was quite surreal.

I should have just said, email me if there’s anything I need to know. Then used my common sense from then on.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
I recently started a session zero with new players who I didn’t know before. I went through some safety tool / veils questions first.

To be honest it was an excruciating 15 minutes that made the people being asked the questions uncomfortable... as if they should be bothered by the topics I was asking about... and uncomfortable for me for asking if these things are acceptable or not.

Asking a mixed group of players that have watched and enjoyed game of thrones whether they object to the presence of sex workers in a medieval fantasy world was quite surreal.

I should have just said, email me if there’s anything I need to know. Then used my common sense from then on.
If it helps?

I generally try to avoid talking about the consent sheets and topics included in them during the session 0. I just send it to each player and ask that they get it back to me at some point. Most of the session 0 is dedicated to getting to know the people in the group and prod them for ideas of what they hope to achieve, ideas for their character's arc, and setting detailing/Q&A about the game.
 

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