Treat Your Players With These Halloween Tricks

Give your players a Halloween treat without running an actual horror RPG. Any role-playing game can have a dose of spookiness.


The genre of the RPG doesn't matter. Everything from epic fantasy to science fiction to superhero games can be made creepy. After all, the movie Alien is essentially a haunted house in space. The upcoming New Mutants movie appears to be based on the “Demon Bear” story and leaning into superhero horror.

Mystery stories fit especially well but even straight hack-and-slash adventures can work. Horror is about atmosphere, which makes it easy to add to your game.

Start by invoking the senses. GM's can easily fall into lazy description habits. “The tavern looks like, you know, a tavern” or “The castle looks spooky and creepy.” That bores players.

Instead try descriptions like “the shadows seem to beckon as you walk down the hall, the torchlight barely illuminating the way while a musty smell seeps into your throat, making you cough” or “the shiny mirror stared back at you from its dusty frame as a wave of dizziness overcomes you and the temperature in the room drops.” Mention what the players not only see but hear, smell and feel. Does walking into a room cause an acrid taste in the back of their mouth or cause the hair on the back of their neck to stand up?

Give inanimate objects personal qualities like having the statues leer at the characters or “the candle fought to stay lit as if fighting a breeze you can't feel.” Personalizing items creates a sense of malevolence – wailing wind cries out, a rusty gate shatters the silence as it reluctantly opens, the putrid smell invades your lungs, etc.

Use metaphors and similes like “the room was as cold as a tax collector's heart.” Don't just say something is dark. Call it “a dark as a crypt.”

Play with your group's expectations. Build atmosphere as they're investigating a space and as tension builds, let them find a dead end, empty closet, etc. so that they feel momentary relief – then have the real threat rear its head, just like many horror movies do.

Silence can also set a tone. Mention the sound of dogs or wolves howling in the distance and then at a key moment have them suddenly stop. Or maybe say the characters don't hear their footsteps on the rickety wood floor.

Foreshadowing is important. Before they ever see the creature or villain let them find claw marks on stone or an acid slime trail. Blood stains are always a good touch, especially in unusual places.

As any good decorator will tell you, lighting matters. Horror can exist in brightly lit spaces but shadows, darkness, lights that go out suddenly, etc. can enhance the story and atmosphere. The Guillermo del Toro film Crimson Peak provides good examples of how to play with light and shadows to set a tone.

Depending upon the game, where you're playing and visual acuity of your players, changing the real world lighting can also add to the atmosphere. Instead of your usual lights, switch to lanterns or candles (LED versions of both are safer around game paper and books and you don't have to worry about dripping wax) or colored lights.

You can even play actual sounds like wolves howling, rattling noises, etc. at opportune moments during your game by using either sound effect apps or YouTube videos you queued up and paused. Just practice it a bit before the game so it works smoothly instead of fumbling. If worst comes to worst, leave it out – your players won't know.

A dose of Halloween chills and thrills can be a great seasonal treat for any game.

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
Beth Rimmels

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