D&D General [+] Ravenloft, horror, & safety tools...

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Take two. This is a "+" thread. Report and ignore the trolls, don't feed them.

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?

No affiliate links were harmed in the making of this post.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
So since I'm prepping a game that will be set in Ravenloft and draw heavily on some more explicitly horror-based tropes and themes, I was working through the lines and veils worksheet from Consent in Gaming. I thought it would be helpful to people to see what it is and what that looks like. The Stay Alive! book has an expanded list so I used that instead.

Lines and veils are basically hard lines (do not include) and soft veils (it's okay if it's not the focus and/or kept to the background). It's a really smart system and easy to use. The answers below are my lines and veils as a DM, there's no player involvement or answers yet. Blank spots or the word "blank" is a green light.

Social and Cultural Issues
✦ Homophobia. Line.
✦ Racism. Line.
✦ Real-world religion. Line.
✦ Sexism. Line.
✦ Specific cultural issues. Depends.

For me, I have to deal with these things directly on a daily basis in my real life. I play RPGs to escape. I don't want to have these topics dragging down my real life and my gaming. So they're all lines, except "specific cultural issues"...which is, ironically, utterly non-specific, so "depends" is the best I could do.

Relationships
Romance...
✦ Explicit. Line.
✦ Between PCs and NPCs. Line.
✦ Between PCs.
Sex...
✦ Explicit. Line.
✦ Between PCs and NPCs. Line.
✦ Between PCs. Veil.

I am absolutely terrible at RPing romance, and sex scenes...forget about it. If two PCs consent to a relationship and want to RP that out, more power to them. But I'm not interested in sitting through any kind of description of their love making, so veil...aka fade to black.

Horror
✦ Blood.
✦ Body horror.
✦ Bugs.
✦ Demons.
✦ Eyeballs.
✦ Gore. Veil.
✦ Harm to animals. Domestic pets, line. Otherwise, blank.
✦ Harm to children. Line.
✦ Mummies.
✦ Occult/witchcraft/Satanism.
✦ Rats.
✦ Spiders.
✦ Spirit boards/Ouija boards.
✦ Tumors.

I'm fine with any of the blanks. But if my players want those veiled or lined, so be it. We'll be playing a horror game, so there's some gore expected, but I prefer a more gothic horror vibe, so it's a veil for me. I will not abide even the hint of child harm or endangerment, so line. Likewise with domestic animals and pets, line. But it's also D&D and a horror game so things like wolves, bats, etc will be a thing...unless the players object. In that case I'd talk through if there's any specific animals that are lines instead of veils and see how much resolution there is on that, i.e. dig into the specifics through conversation to see what's okay.

Mental and Physical Health
✦ Cancer. Line.
✦ Claustrophobia.
✦ Darkness.
✦ Drugs and addiction.
✦ Freezing to death.
✦ Gaslighting. Line.
✦ Genocide.
✦ Heatstroke.
✦ Mind control. Inflicted on the PCs, line. NPCs, blank.
✦ Natural disasters.
✦ Paralysis/physical restraint.
✦ Police, police aggression.
✦ Pregnancy, miscarriage, or abortion.
✦ Self-harm. Line.
✦ Severe weather.
✦ Sexual assault. Line.
✦ Slavery. Committed by the PCs, line. Otherwise, veil.
✦ Starvation.
✦ Terrorism.
✦ Thirst.
✦ Torture. Inflicted by or on the PCs, line. Otherwise, veil.

I have an uncle who is currently dying of cancer, so line. PS: FY cancer. Gaslighting is evil, so line. Likewise I have to draw a line for self-harm. Pure nope. So too with sexual assault, line.

As a player I despise having my character mind controlled, it's literally the only thing I get to do in the game...control my PC, so taking that away means I might as well not even be there, so big fat line. But if the PCs want to mind control NPCs, go for it. I've played in and run a lot of Dark Sun, so slavery is a weird one for me. I tend to make a point of it existing early on in Dark Sun games but let it mostly fade into the background. Then I had some PCs try to become slavers. Nope. Line, line, line. I also take a rather dim view of the players torturing NPCs for information and I will not torture PCs...it's just...line. But as something that exists in the world, absolutely. I just don't want to focus on it.

So that's it.

That's a basic run through of a lines and veils worksheet.

If lines and veils are something you want to use, it's that easy. Just send the checklist to your players and have them fill it out. Collect 'em all. Compile the list. And pass that out to the players so they know what to expect. If anyone lines something, it's lined. If anyone veils something, it's veiled. It's really simple and easy to look out for your fellow players and make sure everyone can have a good time escaping the real world for a minute.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Last spam post from me.

I think the expanded list in Stay Alive! is a good start. But there’s a lot it doesn’t cover. I’d imagine simply listing the horror icons / subgenres from Ravenloft would be a good start. Finding a list of horror subgenres and using that might be useful or it could be utterly unwieldy. Having subgenres also broken down by most common themes and tropes would be a good idea. Maybe one checklist per subgenre so if someone’s planning a zombie survival game they can just grab that checklist as a starting point rather than sift through dozens of irrelevant subgenres and their tropes / themes.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
As a player I despise having my character mind controlled, it's literally the only thing I get to do in the game...control my PC, so taking that away means I might as well not even be there, so big fat line. But if the PCs want to mind control NPCs, go for it.
This is where someone might look at your list and wonder if there's some cynicism at work. You don't want a common fantasy trope (magic that enchants or manipulates the will) used against the PCs (or specifically your PC) but are OK with using it. If I had a player coming to me with that, then I'd be wondering about their commitment to the principles of free will/control rather than fair play in a game and be tempted to take it right off the list of PC abilities as well so that it's never a question at all, for anybody.
If I'm going to incorporating players' lists of topics off the table or veiled, I'm going to work toward some reciprocity in order to keep some level of fairness in the game's ground rules, particularly if the topics are thematic to the game system or how the game system plays. If there's an objection to mind control, all variations on it go.

I suppose the nutshell version of this is - I'm OK with removing something that genuinely squicks you out as a thing in general, I'm a lot more skeptical if you want to keep yourself from being targeted by something you're OK with inflicting on someone else.
 
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Faolyn

(she/her)
I found GURPS Horror--the one published for 3rd edition--to be my favorite horror how-to gaming book because it goes so deeply into why various monsters are horrific. Vampires and ghouls represent the fear of being corrupted or tainted, for instance--and vampires can also be used to represent a fear of sex or lust, as are succubi/incubi and "shaggy ones" such as fauns.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
This is where someone might look at your list and wonder if there's some cynicism at work. You don't want a common fantasy trope (magic that enchants or manipulates the will) used against the PCs (or specifically your PC) but are OK with using it.
I don't think it's cynicism, I think it's honesty. The only thing I get to do at the table as a player is control my one character. Losing control of that means I might as well go for a walk. That's lame and boring.

And to be clear, the list above is one I'm going to present to my players for a game I will run. This is me telling them I will not take agency away from them, but that they are free to take agency away from the NPCs.
If I had a player coming to me with that, then I'd be wondering about their commitment to the principles of free will/control rather than fair play in a game and be tempted to take it right off the list of PC abilities as well so that it's never a question at all, for anybody.
And as the DM that's your call to make. For me it is about the imbalance of control at the table. As a player, I get one character to control and that's it. If the DM takes control of that character away from me, I get to do nothing. The DM controls the entire game world. They don't need to take control of the one thing I get to control, too.
If I'm going to incorporating players' lists of topics off the table or veiled, I'm going to work toward some reciprocity in order to keep some level of fairness in the game's ground rules, particularly if the topics are thematic to the game system or how the game system plays. If there's an objection to mind control, all variations on it go.
Again, that would be your call as a DM to make. Though I'm not sure why you'd make that call. If a player doesn't want their character to lose a limb, for example, would that mean you'd never have any character in the game ever lose a limb? That seems extreme to me. If the player doesn't want anyone to lose a limb, then that would make sense. I see safety tools as a player empowerment tool. They get to explicitly tell me what they're uncomfortable with and as the DM I then avoid that.

It's not about reciprocity. There's no negotiation or give and take about lines and veils. If someone tells me something is a line, I don't cross it. I also won't try to negotiate that line away. That defeats the purpose of safety tools.
 
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