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How do I make my games more horror focused?

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  • How do I make my games more horror focused?

    I want set a mood and run a story that amp up the fear factor, something along the lines of the "urban horror behind closed doors" feel of 1e. Do you have any methods or techniques that can make the game scarier? I want to play on my players's expectation since they pretty much know the ins and outs of the game and read pretty much every book and supplement out there.

  • #2


    This video does a good job providing what you're looking for.


    You first have to ask yourself: Is it indeed truly horror you seek, or do you actually want to run a thriller story? There's a difference, which is explained in that video.

    Don't be afraid to homebrew. If your players know the setting, use this to your advantage. Have your monster look and act like something the players are familiar with, but is actually something very different. For example, you can throw a "vampire" at the players, which turns out to be a human infected with an unknown strand of the Cymothoa Sanguinaria parasite instead. Or go even further, throw antagonistic werewolves at the players, wolves who understand the ins and outs of vampires and are truly horrific adversaries. "But... but.... werewolves aren't the enemies of vampires, this isn't old World of Darkness!" I hear your players say. And then you smile and say: "Indeed, this isn't old World of Darkness, now roll for initiative."

    The God-Machine is always great for urban horror as well, and since the God-Machine is unknowable, you can literally do whatever you want with it, and your players would never see it coming if you play your cards right. Of course visually the God-Machine is appealing if you plan on setting the game in a 19th century urban horror setting. Just imagine horrific bronze clockwork monsters stuttering their way to the players after they accidentally ran into an occult matrix output.

    Of course the best case scenario is they do see it coming, but they didn't see that other threat over there coming at all! Distracting the players with 1 predictable antagonist while another unknown antagonist is closing in on the players without them noticing, is a great way to create terror in your players, even if they know and understand the setting.

    Edit: Also, familiarize yourself with Bloodborne! It's in my opinion the best urban gothic horror videogame I've ever played. It has all the ingredients of a good Victorian urban horror, while also taking a great deal of inspiration from the cosmic horror provided by H.P. Lovecraft.
    Last edited by Ventrue Life; 02-04-2019, 02:51 PM.

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    • #3
      Rule 1 applies as always:

      Make sure everyone at the table knows the sort of game you are going for and are willing to play along.


      Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
      The world is not beautiful, therefore it is.-Keiichi Sigsawa, Kino's Journey
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      Currently Working On: The Noble and the Sovereign, Blog

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      • #4
        If it's a Requiem game, play up the horror of what you are. A big part of the horror of Requiem is the Beast. Whenever someone uses a Discipline, play up the Beast's role in it. Even when they're not frenzying, play up the Beast in the back of their mind, all their darkest urges—and the rationalizations they use to excuse them. "Killing is wrong, but if I take a bit more blood now, I'm less likely to frenzy later, and he'll probably be fine, he looks healthy…and what if he isn't? He's homeless, he's probably going to die in the next few nights with this polar vortex going on, and if I drain him it's less likely I'll hurt someone else…"

        Then when something bad happens, play up the consequences of their actions. Someone died? Well, that's always going to have effects. Who misses them? What changes now that they're gone? If you've got any Ordo, have them follow the dragon's tail for a bit.

        Put them in no-win situations. This sixteen-year-old kid has started hunting vampires, well, what options do you have? He's about to reveal the names of every Invictus in the city. How can you stop him? What's the best option? What if even the best option isn't "good"?

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        • #5
          Focus on the human aspects of the characters. The parts that make them people. Give the city a real, perhaps past perhaps not, problem with draugr, to illustrate the difference.

          Now ask the player to the left to "play" each character's beast, and let them reward the player with beats or conditions for giving in.

          (Note: I once did a form of this for a star wars d6 game--personifying the dark side temptation--and the effect was horrifying.)

          --Khanwulf

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Khanwulf View Post
            Focus on the human aspects of the characters. The parts that make them people. Give the city a real, perhaps past perhaps not, problem with draugr, to illustrate the difference.

            Now ask the player to the left to "play" each character's beast, and let them reward the player with beats or conditions for giving in.

            (Note: I once did a form of this for a star wars d6 game--personifying the dark side temptation--and the effect was horrifying.)

            --Khanwulf

            In addition to this I would also try to set up situations where actual humans reject the player characters (if they are indeed vampires). Being rejected, shunned or even hunted down by actual humans is always a good way to remind the players that their characters aren't human anymore, no matter how hard they try. This works even better if you start the story with the player characters being human, and get them embraced a couple of sessions into the story. That way you can establish relationships between the player characters and other human characters, and then destroy those relationships when the players become vampire.

            Have their sires act as oppressive authoritarian parental figures. One thing I regret in my own vampire game I'm currently running is that I made the sires of the players way too helpful and supportive. If I could redo this game I'm running, I would have made them more monstrous, more alien, more oppressive. Have them act like cult leaders isolating their new childe from their former lives.

            The strix are also a great tool to drive home that while the players are no longer human, there is still a long way for them to drop. Khanwulf's idea to use draugr is great, and it also illustrates a point of what is left of a vampire when you take away its humanity, but the strix are even more terrifying in the sense that they have no humanity but they are smart, they are intelligent, they are cunning, and they want you, the vampire player, to abandon your humanity.

            Vampire stories often revolve around sex, sexuality, drugs and addiction. These are uncomfortable topics, so discuss with your players where they draw the line, but using these subjects are always a great way to build horror in a vampire game. One of the players in my Victorian Vampire game plays a Daeva with the Kiss of the Succubus Merit, and she was dumb enough to feed from her own touchstone, a 14 years old prostitute. The Daeva player wanted to save this "fallen woman" from a terrible life in a Whitechapel brothel, but instead she is now the very reason why this girl is at an all time low. Addicted to the Daeva fangs but unable to get her cravings satisfied (because the Daeva is either absent or refuses to feed on her again), she now lashes out at the world violently, and reaches out for opium and other 19th century drugs to satisfy her terrible itch. It's this kind of stuff that can really hit hard when you present it well, and it can shock even the most veteran player at the table.

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