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Thread: Online horror

  1. #1
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    Online horror

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    I'm basically limited to online games for the next half-year or so, and the horror genre is interesting to me, but all the tips for people running horror games are for people who are playing locally. The only way I could really make any player playing online scared for their character is if I...

    A: made the character creation process slow.
    or B: promised to punch them in the face for failure...


    and since I would like my players to keep playing I can't go with A, and because I am not inclined to punching anything really I won't go with B.

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    Yeah, thats a bit of a problem i guess.

    This might sound cheesy, but perhaps you could try having them use a webcamera. That way, you could both make sure that they are playing in a good, not too well-lit room, you can also make them do things for themselves (like turning off their own lights when they enter a cellar.)
    Basically, visual proof for everything.

    Are you going to use a microphone? If so, you could set the mood with your voice. Hell, you could even use one of those voice distorters from time to time. <gets to thinking. Hey - I'll try to use a voice distorter in my own game>

    A good thing with playing online would probably be that you can easily send them messages in text, explaining how they are feeling etc. It wont break up the flow as much as doing it irl.

    And if you're really feeling up to it, install a trojan on their system without them knowing it, and make things happen like their screens flickering and such

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    Just a quick 2 cents while I can spare a moment, but there is a key thing to remember about Horror RPGs in a general sense. The object in horror RPGs isn't really about "scaring" the players. Such a thing is very difficult to do in something as loose and informal as an RPG. Instead, a GM should focus on "creeping them out" by presenting them with the grotesque, gruesome, or the ominously obscure. The key to keeping your players in the horror mindset is reminding them of the omnipresent sense of mortality that exists in a "horror" story, the crucial horror element of "helplessness" (by that I mean the feeling that there are no outside forces that can aid the character in any significant fashion...they must deal with this problem with their own two hands) and by keeping them constantly guessing about what will happen next. Give the players gobs of the obscure and bizarre that leaves them scrambling to figure out what it all means (if it truly means anything in a traditionally "sane" and "logical" sense).

    Hope that helps.
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    Those are both actually pretty helpful. My group is composed of two 16yr olds, and two 17yr olds, one of which is me, so you can get how if I tell them they're looking at something, they'll be more excited about it then spooked. (thanks hostel and saw movies!)

    I get what you mean about the horror genre webhead, but you can't tell me that when your playing and the DM hits the lights because your in a basement, you don't get that honest RPG feling that you could only get playing a game like that.

    And it's that^^that I'm trying to reproduce for the feel.

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    Yes, if you really want to get the "mood" of a horror game right, you need to control the atmosphere. Lighting, sounds, visual aids, etc.

    One of my old GMs used to play Call of Cthulhu with a group using glow-in-the-dark dice. They would play at night, turn all the lights out and only the GM was allowed to have a small flashlight. The GM kept all the dice and character sheets unless he felt like "rewarding" a player by giving him a glowing die to stare at instead of the infinite blackness. He tells me that the game was a lot of fun and very atmospheric.

    That said, most horror games are more about "creepy" horror rather than "scream out loud" horror by virtue of the social setting. It's really hard to really "scare" a player short of slamming a book on the table when they're not looking. But creeping them out can be worked into the game in different ways.

    I love horror RPGs, but they're probably more tricky to "get right" than most other genres because they rely so heavily upon playing with your players' emotions...and you never quite know what is going to make a particular player shiver.
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    A trojan would work if I was anything near handy with computers...

    A webcam with a decent mic could do it too if I turned all the lights out of my computer room at night, and had a tiny flashlight or something to shine on some prop.

    Still doesn't feel like it'd be the same.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soft Serve View Post
    I'm basically limited to online games for the next half-year or so, and the horror genre is interesting to me, but all the tips for people running horror games are for people who are playing locally. The only way I could really make any player playing online scared for their character is if I...
    Well, there are things that you can use for people in the same room, but, they often come off more gimmicky than scary.

    Most of the horror advice that I've read would translate reasonably well to online.

    1) Make the players second guess themselves. "Are you sure?", is a useful question. "Who is touching that?" "Which one of you is opening the door?" "Who is turning around to look backwards?"

    2) Limit facts given out, but be free with details and use all five senses. (aka "Show, don't tell") "As you are looking down the unlit hallway, the shadows seem to shift before your eyes. You realise that you can hear a soft, scraping noise over the rain outside the window, and the shadows resolve into a person limping towards you." Is it the butler, or will the stench of rotting meat precede it into the room? Think about sights and smells and sounds and textures and temperature and in what order will they be experienced, and how clearly that they can be distinguished? Be generally vague about distant objects: "might be", "could be", "sounds like"

    3) In general, "disturbing" or "creepy" is a more realistic goal than "scary." Take the mundane and give it a hard twist. A cockroach doesn't scuttle into the corner, it starts doing figure eights around a character's legs. If they squish it, another comes out and starts doing the same thing, and another, and another. If they don't squish it, one comes out and does the same thing to one of the other characters, until all the characters have their own little orbiting cockroach. Weird stuff with no obvious threat is more likely to freak out the players than a room full of hungry vampires.

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    Very solid, quality advice, Tarot. You hit the nail on the head, especially regarding the need for somewhat ambiguous, relativistic descriptions. The players will be far better at scaring themselves than the GM ever could be. Give them the cues to make them start looking over their shoulders and let them do the rest for you.

    When the PCs open a closet and a dead body falls out, you don't say, "and then a dead body falls on you". You say, "Just as you open the door, a shadowy figure suddenly lunges at you, reaching for your throat...", then watch for a half second as the player freaks out and scrambles to figure out how to react and then you say, "but as it presses against you with its cold flesh, it goes limp and tumbles lifelessly to the floor". Even at this point, the exact nature of what the figure is and what the character thought they saw is unclear. Did the figure really leap out at them or were they just imagining it? Is the figure even really dead, or is it perhaps just playing possum? All these thoughts and more will be rambling through the player's brain and your mission is accomplished.
    Last edited by Webhead; 12-04-2008 at 09:59 AM.
    HARRY DRESDEN WIZARD
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  9. #9
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    Right. Plus being online has the advantage of creating another chat room or using an instant messenger like AIM to give the players a seperated message.

    I think I can pull this off.

    Anymore assistence? Like...I think I could get a failproof list to make them keep coming back and stay on their toes.

    1: Keep scenes violent enough to keep them coming back.

    2: play with ALL of their senses. Sight first, Hearing, Smell, and then feelings. I don't actually know if I want to do anything about feelings other than touch. But I could probably do something like that if I went with a sanity meter..."You feel chills run through your spine as you see the shadows shift...etc"

    3: Don't give them a lot to defend themselves with. Limited ammo, no powerful guns, and hoardes of enemies near-by.

    But I can't really find a way to penalize the PC's for dieing, or going insane...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soft Serve View Post
    But I can't really find a way to penalize the PC's for . . . going insane...
    Some players are more than happy to dive into various manias.

    Otherwise, you can alter the description of events based upon the character's affliction (much as you might for a character's expert knowledge).

    To group: "The policeman gives you all a quick once-over, wipes the sweat from his brow, says, 'Have a pleasant evening.' and returns to his cruiser."

    To paranoid PC: "The policeman smirks as he looks you in the eye, he touches the brim of his cap, obviously signalling to his partner, says 'Have a pleasant evening.' and walks back to the ominously black cruiser watching you from the corner of his eye."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soft Serve View Post
    3: Don't give them a lot to defend themselves with. Limited ammo, no powerful guns, and hoardes of enemies near-by.
    Just a friendly tip from my own experience:
    We have a certain GM who abuses this point.
    We are usually thrown head-first into the action, with no way to defend ourselves, encountering enemies who are not as much scary as they are simply overpowering, either in force or in sheer numbers.

    I'll grab a quick example.
    In the beginning of the scenario, our plane crashed into a town in the desert. (The game was "Mutant", meaning that the town would probably be infested by benevolent creatures). At the very start, all our equipment that we spent so long purchasing was incinerated in the plane. We had like an axe or something to defend ourselves with, and the monsters we encountered were armor-platered.
    Needless to say, ALL we could do was run. The enemies kept following us, and we could barely (Very barely) defeat one of their weakest. Doing so actually made one from our group pass out and we had to leave him there.
    The other partymember was very wounded, and had to lie down and rest in an alley. I sat by him, unarmed, when suddenly a wall-climbing pyrozombie came crawling from the top of a building, spraying the entire alleyway with fire.
    And when we fled, one of those armor-platered things jumped out from a window and landed infront of us.
    Oh, and the only exits from the square plaza we were on was crowded by almost immortal zombies, atleast a thousand of them.

    Basically, he might think to himself "I'm so good, they dont stand a chance against what I'm throwing at them, I must be the best GM ever. And the suspense has got to be killing them" while we go thinking "Why run, there is no point in doing anything..sigh..I wonder if we can convince him to restart everything with a different story"

    Granted, you should definately use point Nr.3, but to a certain extent.

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    These tips are fantastic! I'm busy plotting how to include them in my next campaign. The players will likely be venturing into a shadowland (a place between the world of the living and the Underworld) and I've been looking for atmosphere tips.

    Generally speaking, what effect would music have for you experience horror-masters? Would you go with creepy music or the invaluable lightning and rain soundtrack?
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    I have to say; just because it's a game, does not mean at all it can't be 'soak your pants scary'.

    A GM of mine managed to pull this off pretty well, and we were in a well lit room, snacks, etc...nothing innately creepy about the environment we were physically in.

    I think it matters how much you are invested in a characters. If the players are very invested into their characters, then they'll feel the ambience of the theme you're attempting to set.

    I think to be very, very sparing with information; horror/fear, etc. at it's core is facing the unknown, being unprepared, etc. Have the unusual occur indeed, with no clear explanation. This will have characters on edge, wondering what to expect and what they can do once 'it' comes.

    Limiting personal character resources is fine, but not necessarily going to enhance the horror aspect. With a 'horror' campaign, players really must be forced to do a lot of personal thinking, you have to get into their heads. At times, horror can be indeed difficult to run, because sometimes (especially if you're playing with grizzled individuals), you have to cross 'that line' of what's socially acceptable, and go just flat-out insanely bizarre, and sick and twisted. You may find you end up scaring yourself more than the players at times ("How in the hell did I plot this up?", etc.). What I think would be an interesting method of utilising player equipment is giving them what they want within reason, but not necessarily giving them what they need. Also giving them 'extra' items that they would deem useless, but put together in 'MacGuyver' fashion yields an extremely useful and crucial item that can be used to great effect. It also fosters cooperation among the characters as well.

    Another tactic, though sometimes could be viewed as unfair, but it sets the tone early, is being rather unforgiving about stupidity, and bad choices, and even mistakes. When you're stuck in a zombie-plagued remote village, there's little margin for error. When players know you're not going to cut them much slack, then they really feel 'fear/horror' in the RPG sense. They know if they screw up it's 'for real'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GoddessGood View Post
    Generally speaking, what effect would music have for you experience horror-masters? Would you go with creepy music or the invaluable lightning and rain soundtrack?
    Although mp3 players with set-up playlists are ever so much more convenient than vinyl was, it's something that I don't bother with (maybe largely out of habit now). I just can't be fussed to queue up tracks (and if I do set it up, I'll forget to use it at the appropriate time).

    For something a little bit disquieting in the background, you can consider something like the droning distortion of Love & Rockets, opera is sometimes good due to its unfamiliarity to many people, or something written for the Chinese five-tone scale can sound wrong to western ears.

    (The lightning and rain is my sleepytime CD.)

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    Both ambient and regular music has worked for me, and I believe a nice mix of the two is what would be the best.
    The downside of ambient music (imo) is that it's often filled with noises that simply doesnt fit what the group is doing atm.

    Sure, it's creepy if they are exploring a spaceship or walking through a cultist hangout and there's some nice ambient going on, but the ambient sounds are often filled with SFX that have no real in-game motivation. (Chains rattling, metallic clings etc). It feels "false" to me.

    I would go for ambient music like rain, thunder, forest, but with no strange (or very little) SFX in them. If I have a reason for it, I might add some extra sounds, but imo sounds not heard - only described - might sometimes be even more creepy.
    And if you mostly go with ambient, it will be cooler when you start a song or two for special events. (They might even start associating music with special events, which is even better)

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