Monday, August 27, 2012

Heart of Darkness

Work proceeds apace on new 10th Age things for you to own. What, you thought I was all done now that I put out the Adventurer's Guide to the Imperial City? You thought wrong!

Next year at GenCon we are planning on releasing a 10th Age boxed set (we'll see how that goes) and this year right around halloween we're planning on getting out a new adventure. This one for 4-7th level characters and set in the Black Mountains north of the Vales. Did I mention it'll be halloween themed? Oh yeah, prepare yourself for darkness and misery, horror and the undead!

In non-RPG related news, Heavenly Devices is drawing near to a finish. I'm four chapters out from the end and once I reach it I'll be able to begin the editing and rewriting process (fun!) Also, The Wizard's Ward, a 10th Age novel, is being considered right now at Curiosity Quills, so you might see it before long. Of course, that's in addition to the ebook I already have out (Amalric Ogusson and the Fimbul Queen), so make sure you check that sucker out.

But what are we going to talk about today? Well, since we're all hard at work on a halloween module perhaps we should talk about horror and achieving it in dungeons and dragons, which can be a very difficult proposition indeed.

So what are the things that are integral to horror and why are they hard to achieve in dungeons and dragons?

The first thing we need for horror is a feeling of danger. Well, danger is easily found in dungeons and dragons and players, if they are playing correctly, will be all too aware of it. It actually shouldn't be difficult to heighten the tension and give the players a heightened sense of danger as well. Of course, this goes to the root of the problem again: tension and the feeling of danger are, in effect, the horror itself.

So, we find ourselves right back where we started. HOW do we heighten the feeling of danger?

AD&D characters, particularly ones who are mid-level and higher, don't necessarily have to fear things that mortal men such as we have to fear. 6th level characters, for example, aren't necessarily afraid of things such as zombies -- they will fight them without the slightest compunction.

What can we do to make them frightening? Well, for one, even a mid-level character can be overwhelmed by a large number of foes, though the foes may be weak and shambling individually. So, for one thing we can increase the number of enemies they are likely to face but not too greatly or two quickly: the transformation from a safe certainty to an unsure danger is a source of tension. As time progresses, if the players become less and less sure of their own safety, we can increase the tension.

Helplessness is a powerful emotion and one that you can't foster over-readily in your game lest your players begin to believe they have no recourse at all. Thus, one must not quash all player agency or deny them the ability to accomplish things. It helps to give them innocent folk to protect (or not so innocent folk that they can identify with). People who are weaker than themselves and not as capable can be a good motivating force for helplessness and fear.

Additionally, there's a descriptive element to fear. A group of players may know that their characters aren't really in any danger from low HD monsters, but they can still feel the moral fear of encountering them. They can still draw upon the atmospheric fears that you present to them.

So we have atmosphere, weakness, helplessness, and the inclusion of people that the players want to protect. What else can we do?

Ignorance is a powerful force as well, particularly when you think you know something. Changing the stats of "well known" monsters can make them suddenly dangerous and frightening, particularly when the players get into combat with it and realize GOOD GOD, that's not how those things are supposed to fight.

I'm trying to incorporate all of these techniques (and more) into Heart of Darkness. If there's anything you folks can think of that helps increase horror, particularly in a game like AD&D where there is little horror to be had (normally), let me know!


  1. The most horrifying thing a DM can do in Dungeons and Dragons, in my opinion, is introduce his own player character.

  2. hey boss, there are some great ideas there. Feel free to use anything you like from my own ideas...