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  Click here to go to the first special guest post in this thread.   Thread: Creating a Pyschologically Believable Horror Campaign

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    Creating a Psychologically Believable Horror Campaign

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    Hello,

    Ok, for the past two weeks, I've been digging around trying to find some information that would help me piece together a wicked campaign for AFMBE (I've been dying to play it!) and I think I've come up with a few ideas for the storyline but I was also thinking, do any of you feel it's too much to make the atmosphere "more" believable through the use of props / mixed with "live" RP elements? When I GM, I try to be as immersive as possible for the players so the game remains as fun as possible for them. But this is horror lol.


    And by props, I mean setting the mood through ambient lighting, sounds and even changing the location of where we play according to where the players are in the game. For example, if the PC's are all in a house, the session could be held in the dimly lit kitchen, and if they're hiding in or fortifying an old barn, the next one could be held in an old barn, the next outside..near a campfire or in a tent with a camping lantern lol.

    I was even thinking about making lifesize cardboard zombie cut outs and place them in strategic places and have the characters "discover" them through live action RP clue finding / scavenging etc.

    My thoughts on it were, I was going to let the players know before joining that this stuff would be done to make the deadworld more believable to the players to enjoy the game more and go from there.

    What do you all think about this? Too much or would you love to play in a setting like this?
    Last edited by Cryotech; 07-29-2011 at 03:15 AM.
    What the Orc said getting out of the lake after losing his loin cloth: "What?!? The water was cold!!"

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    I think it is too much if it IS too much. What I mean is, now and then, it should be used as a spice, a rare seasoning, to add a pleasant dash of surprising flavor, but not as common as every week, maybe once a month at most unless everybody is really into that - it would kinda throw me, as a player, and it would be hard to maintain, and when you didn't do it, the players would eventually learn to be expecting it, and your lack of doing it may leave them feeling cheated.
    Abstruse Decapod

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    That sounds more like a LARP which I've played and find fun. The big issue with LARPs is that rock, paper scissors method of dice rolling is NOT statistically sound. You may want to say LARP with dice added or something.

    As to ambiance, we all game at the same place with cue cards for character pictures and props. Of course, I have a large goth living room area so that helps. I myself like music that sets the mood.

    For the most part, JP said it right in his post.

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    Arch Lich Thoth-Amon is offline Cursed by the Gods
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    IMO, for Horror to really really work, characters have to realize fear. How do they do this, one may ask? Answer: Death must be a very real possibility. That being said, choosing AFMBE is a good gaming choice in that death *is* a very real possibility.

    Thoth's two coppers.
    Thoth-Amon, Lord of the Underworld and the Undead
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    I really appreciate the advice and I agree that if I were to do this, it should be a special "treat" to spice it up and not done with every campaign and I'd let my players know beforehand so there wouldn't be any confusion, unless as jpatterson mentioned, everyone really enjoyed it and wanted it for future games.

    As for it being LARP kinda but not really in the sense of how I'd implement it. For example, there wouldn't really be any "live action" about it except maybe the occasional "live" scavenger hunt if I may or may not have the players do.

    Other than that, everything would be played as usual, on a table top with dice and character sheets using traditional PnP game tactics, it would just be "where" that table was located that would change. In the barn example, players would be playing on a table top in a barn, in the woods example, a camping table near a camp fire too heighten the experience of "actually" being there. Camping all by itself can be creepy enough but throw in a great zombie game into the mix and boy ole' boy we're having fun now Pa! lol
    What the Orc said getting out of the lake after losing his loin cloth: "What?!? The water was cold!!"

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    Arch Lich Thoth-Amon is offline Cursed by the Gods
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    Thumbs up

    Keep us up to date on your AFMBE campaign, Cryotech. I, for one, would love to read the session details, as I am sure many others pnpg would as well.
    Thoth-Amon, Lord of the Underworld and the Undead
    Once you know what the magician knows, it's not magick. It's a 'tool of Creation'. -Archmagus H.H.
    The first step to expanding your reality is to discard the tendency to exclude things from possibility. - Meridjet

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    Don't forget that horror is usually the result of the characters realizing they are in way over their heads. Actual or not the impression they are not going to make it. Like Thoth said, death should be just in the shadows ready to strike. I find it useful to ax a few NPCs along the way. Make the NPC important, make them likable, then drop the ax in the most mystifying and gruesome way possible.,

    Another thing to remember is showing not telling. They find the 13 missing villagers 12 are gathered around the table dead as a doorknob feasting on the 13th laid out on a big silver platter. In other words don't tell people how spooky things are, describe the scenes of horror in ghastly detail. Your narrative skills must be up to snuff.
    Last edited by tesral; 11-23-2010 at 04:38 PM. Reason: spelling

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cryotech View Post
    Ok, for the past two weeks, I've been digging around trying to find some information that would help me piece together a wicked campaign for AFMBE (I've been dying to play it!) and I think I've come up with a few ideas for the storyline but I was also thinking, do any of you feel it's too much to make the atmosphere "more" believable through the use of props / mixed with "live" RP elements? When I GM, I try to be as immersive as possible for the players so the game remains as fun as possible for them. But this is horror lol.
    I think it's too much. But then, I've never been a fan of props, period.

    And by props, I mean setting the mood through ambient lighting, sounds and even changing the location of where we play according to where the players are in the game. For example, if the PC's are all in a house, the session could be held in the dimly lit kitchen, and if they're hiding in or fortifying an old barn, the next one could be held in an old barn, the next outside..near a campfire or in a tent with a camping lantern lol.

    I was even thinking about making lifesize cardboard zombie cut outs and place them in strategic places and have the characters "discover" them through live action RP clue finding / scavenging etc.
    That, I think, is too much by anybody's standards. The occasional lighting change or soundtrack can be helpful (that's about as far as I've gone with this stuff; Spiderbait's "Ghost Riders in the Sky" makes a great battle track for Deadlands), but unless your players know that this is what's going to be happening, and have agreed that it sounds good beforehand, I wouldn't do it.

    As for making a horror game "psychologically believable", well, that's not too hard. First off, realize that you probably aren't going to actually frighten your players. You might get an "ooh, this is creepy" if you do it really, really well, but what with the Mountain Dew and Cheetos being handed around, there's probably going to be a minimum of screaming.

    What you're trying to do is get your players to recognize that their characters are scared, and act that out. That's actually not very hard to do. There are a lot of different tools that you can use. The most potent of them is that perennial friend of the Game Master: description. Describe your environments, being sure to mention the way that the shadows seem to stir at the corners of their vision, the slight noises that have no apparent source, and so on. When the monsters show up, don't say "you see a zombie", say "a shambling thing emerges from the twilight, moaning eerily as it shuffles forward. It was obviously human once, but now its eyes are glassy with death, it walks with a twisted, limping gait, and it stinks of grave rot".

    Another tool you can use is isolation. Make it clear that the characters are entirely without backup. No one is coming to help. Or maybe someone is coming to help, but they aren't going to get there in time (or, for a twist, maybe they don't want help, as any rescue attempt would spread the infection). Ammo and resources are dwindling fast, and there's nowhere to hide.

    Keep in mind, though, that the horror is just a tool to create fun. You don't have to have the entire game be nothing but a bleak retreat from unbeatable enemies. Sometimes the most fun part of a horror game is when the players find the ammo cache and get to mow down their attackers with a minigun.
    "I think that I think. Therefore... I think that I am!"
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    Excellent advice everyone and thanks for the great tips. I agree, the use of props will most likely be a distraction and I'll probably leave that out. However, I still think I can make the atmosphere more intriguing so I'm going to experiment with this on willing players just to test it. To be honest, I'm also curious about it. Because I still think if you're playing a horror based game, especially zombies, atmosphere can play its part if done correctly. Like playing around a campfire, you're really doing nothing more than making the traditional campfire spook stories come to life through role playing interaction sort of speak and will heighten the horror factor slightly.

    As for making a horror game "psychologically believable", well, that's not too hard. First off, realize that you probably aren't going to actually frighten your players. You might get an "ooh, this is creepy" if you do it really, really well, but what with the Mountain Dew and Cheetos being handed around, there's probably going to be a minimum of screaming.
    That was funny lol. I got an image of one of my players with a mouth of cheetos screaming while holding a can of MD in the old product placement pose and it wasn't a pretty sight lol. Speaking of MD and Cheetos, one of my AFMBE characters lives off this stuff. He's a lazy janitor

    I love the storyline examples you all suggested. Now I realize storytelling involves quite a bit of narrative view points (1st, 2nd and 3rd) to describe scenes more accurately, but from your guys' experience, is there a particular style that you shouldn't or should try not to do? Meaning, should a GM tell the player what they're feeling, thinking or what type of emotional or physical reaction occurs based on the scene?

    Here's an example from one of my games:
    Two rotting corpses lie in an awkward angle next to each other in a pool of thick, blackened blood. Their faces gnawed into unrecognizable grotesque masks of torn flesh and exposed bone. Their cold, lifeless bodies void of their once precious entrails with masticated clumps of meat scattered around them. Only their clothes remain as a memory of their former life. A black tuxedo barely covers the remains of the man that wore it, the leftovers of an outstretched arm extends from his side, reaching toward the mutilated carcase adorned in the crimson stained wedding gown for one final embrace...

    Now here, I was trying to provoke an emotional state of mind for the players but one just wasn't responding so I did it for them which made the scene feel a bit "empty" for that character in my opinion. Is it good practice to tell the player what they think, how they feel emotionally, or what type of physical reaction (such as nausea) occurs? Sometimes I do to encourage role play but I feel that this is a bit presumptous on my part and takes the power out of the player's hands to role play their character for themselves.
    Last edited by Cryotech; 11-24-2010 at 06:28 AM.
    What the Orc said getting out of the lake after losing his loin cloth: "What?!? The water was cold!!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cryotech View Post
    I love the storyline examples you all suggested. Now I realize storytelling involves quite a bit of narrative view points (1st, 2nd and 3rd) to describe scenes more accurately, but from your guys' experience, is there a particular style that you shouldn't or should try not to do?
    Well, not first person. Describing your players' characters' actions using "I" is just weird. Third person is also a little weird. "They fall down the pit" isn't as good as "You fall down the pit" when describing the consequences of a character's actions. Remember, they're role-playing. They're acting as though they are the characters. Second-person - using "you" - is the way to go.

    Meaning, should a GM tell the player what they're feeling, thinking or what type of emotional or physical reaction occurs based on the scene?

    Here's an example from one of my games:

    Two rotting corpses lie in an awkward angle next to each other in a pool of thick, blackened blood. Their faces gnawed into unrecognizable grotesque masks of torn flesh and exposed bone. Their cold, lifeless bodies void of their once precious entrails with masticated clumps of meat scattered around them. Only their clothes remain as a memory of their former life. A black tuxedo barely covers the remains of the man that wore it, the leftovers of an outstretched arm extends from his side, reaching toward the mutilated carcase adorned in the crimson stained wedding gown for one final embrace...

    Now here, I was trying to provoke an emotional state of mind for the players but one just wasn't responding so I did it for them which made the scene feel a bit "empty" for that character in my opinion. Is it good practice to tell the player what they think, how they feel emotionally, or what type of physical reaction (such as nausea) occurs? Sometimes I do to encourage role play but I feel that this is a bit presumptous on my part and takes the power out of the player's hands to role play their character for themselves.
    It was a little presumptuous.

    Generally, it's a bad idea to force your players to react to a scene a certain way, beyond the most basic feelings and emotions. It's not unreasonable to say "a chill runs down your spine" as the players descend into an ancient, musty mausoleum filled with the bones of countless dead. Saying "you shriek in terror and flee" is going overboard (unless the character in question just failed a Guts roll or something similar, of course).

    So yes, you can tell your players that they experience a general feeling. That's fine. It helps to set the mood and to keep the atmosphere up. But exercise restraint. Anything beyond a slight nudge in the general direction of the attitudes that you want them to display is going too far. Remember, it's their character, not yours. If they want their character to be a tough guy who never freaks at anything, that's fine most of the time. If you really, really want a horror scene to evoke a reaction, the best way to do it is not to force the reaction, but to call for a Guts roll (or Will save, or Willpower test, or whatever it is in the system that you're currently using). Failure means that they react badly in a way that you determine. Success means that they're free to be the cold-blooded, cool-headed zombie hunter.
    "I think that I think. Therefore... I think that I am!"
    - Jack Snipe, in Erfworld

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    Thanks for the advice Foolamancer, it's definitely well received. And you make an excellent point regarding the horror scene and to just let the game do it's thing (using the dice as a power nudger).

    I realize as a GM, that players rarely stay on the main storyline path and role play their characters the way you hoped they'd would (take the character with the cowardly drawback yet the player always treats him like Rambo lol), but that's cool, just another element to role playing games to make them fun because even cowards can rise as heroes. Besides, that's why I have dice too. lol
    What the Orc said getting out of the lake after losing his loin cloth: "What?!? The water was cold!!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cryotech View Post
    I realize as a GM, that players rarely stay on the main storyline path and role play their characters the way you hoped they'd would (take the character with the cowardly drawback yet the player always treats him like Rambo lol), but that's cool
    No, actually, that isn't cool. If a character has the Cowardly Hindrance, then he ought to role-play it. Otherwise he took it for no reason but to min/max his character, and that isn't the point of the game.
    "I think that I think. Therefore... I think that I am!"
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arch Lich Thoth-Amon View Post
    IMO, for Horror to really really work, characters have to realize fear. How do they do this, one may ask? Answer: Death must be a very real possibility. That being said, choosing AFMBE is a good gaming choice in that death *is* a very real possibility.

    Thoth's two coppers.
    Agree. Fudging rolls to save characters detracts from the horror in my opinion.

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    Ok, so I'm reviving this thread to provide an update to how this turned out as I promised I would. I ran some AFMBE games using some of my ideas to use props, sound effects etc., to enhance the psychologically darker game and I got an excellent response back.

    I tested my ideas on a few players, online and offline, and due to what the players were saying, they really loved the atmosphere it created with it's extra *creepy* elements and overall increased the fun factor. There were some moments when the players jumped, screamed and of course rolled their eyes and laughed, but they too said that the atmosphere was a lot more scarier and creepy than without the extra stuff.

    I used indicators on my GM map copy for certain areas and locations and when the players arrived in the area, I'd immediately play the sound (such as a scream if someone was screaming, a door creaking open, zombie moans etc.). Of course this was all prearranged and the players had no idea of when the sounds would play but that only made the sound effects that much more interesting and frightening.

    There was one particular moment when a player was approaching a little NPC girl in the game and as they approached her the little girl jump out and screamed (I played a loud scream effect) and the player nearly crapped themselves lol. Was so funny!

    Incidentally, that player is now hooked to horror survival games lol.

    @ CityofSin and Arch: I firmly agree as well. Those that play horror games need to understand that every action they make or not make can, and most likely will, result in a game changing event whether it be their character dying, being badly injured or surviving long enough to get out of dodge and escape with their lives and what's left of their sanity. Also, if any are still interested, I can post some session logs to read if anyone wants to still read some.
    Last edited by Cryotech; 07-29-2011 at 03:17 AM.
    What the Orc said getting out of the lake after losing his loin cloth: "What?!? The water was cold!!"

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