I’m currently engaged in writing a fantasy horror scenario called Stake House. It’s for the Twilight Realms November short stories event. The basic story is simple. In the Twilight Realms universe there is an empire that for all intents and purpose is the Roman Empire. They know that vampires exist and believe that one inhabits a remote house. The players job – on order from the Empire is to catch the vampire.
I could let this turn into a statistic led combat fest.
I think that would be selling the players short. So as I write the game I have worked out principles on how to keep Fantasy Horror scary.
1) Knowledge is safety
Once you believe you know and understand something it is now longer quite so scary. This is a vampire scary and all the characters know without doubt that vampires exist and have an idea of what they are capable of. Strategies will be taken to remove the vampires advantage – to make them less scary.
The job of that scenario writer is to work with this to find a way for the unknown and uncertainty to arise. Uncertainty is cool – the best laid plans may now count for nought – the characters are in trouble and the players get scared.
The basic plan then is to introduce plot and character elements that turn certain belief into doubt and questioning. Fear will occur.
2) Not Seeing is Scary
This does not mean playing the game in the dark (although believe that I will be using the dark). It means knowing something is out there and not being able to see it. I have a strong memory of one talented guy terrorising a small building full of players just by making noise and making sure they could not see him.
There will be noises and things that are not seen clearly. Shadows and hints are more terrifying than seeing your monster.
3) Combat is fun
The problem with combat in Fantasy LARP is that is often heroic and fun. The sweat and adrenalin that comes from combat makes the players feel good. Feeling good is not scary.
For a horror game the ante needs to be increased without being unfair to the players – maintaining game balance and combat fairness over all events is imperative.
There are ways to do this. By the way – to my November players – there are no spoilers here.
- Use a stooge to die suddenly. Unexpected death is scary
- Make the players believe they are up against superior numbers
- Make the players believe their foe is almost impossible to beat.
- Take things to the brink. A bunch of players with wounded and beat up characters who are clinging on by their toe-nails are a scared group – and that is the objective with horror.
The objective then is clear – fighting is dangerous – and in a horror game it must feel that the odds of losing are high, but not to the point of making the players feel as if they are victimised.
Those are 3 ways to make Fantasy Horror scary – but I would love hear your responses and ideas – as I’m sure there are many more out there.