Sunday, February 7, 2016

Judging Horror

Horror is the most difficult type of RPG game to run. Visual effects don't play well at the table. Sounds rarely make the players jump. Gore describe rarely has the same effect as on the big screen. Setting the tone can be hard, especially online. Everything that makes a good horror film is hard to translate. There are solutions, but today's question is, how do we judge whether or not our horror game techniques are working?

Horror is one of the few genres where bleed is expected. The things that our characters feel bleed over into our feelings. Likewise, sometimes our boredom with horror tropes and lack of tone can bleed over into our character. This bleed, in terms of judging our game, is actually helpful to us. It allows us to focus on the character without asking more difficult questions about the player.

With the character now in  our sights, we need to ask the right questions and make the right observations to tell if our horror game is working. In this case we are going to focus on 3 indicators: 1) involvement in the plot, 2) level of paranoia, and 2) emotional state.

Involvement in the plot is a key aspect of any game, including horror, so we always need to ensure players are in the game and PCs are giving input into making decisions. If PCs aren't in the conversation, they are bored or don't care about the plot. Always keep an eye on this and verify that every player is engaged.

Level of paranoia seems like a strange thing to keep track of. However, in a horror game, the sense that everything and everyone is out to get you is a powerful aspect. The best indicator of this is when players / PCs are making plans. For every new level of conspiracy and danger your players imagine that isn't true, another branch has grown from the paranoia tree. Don't just throw these imagined dangers away though. ThHey are a great source of inspiration for what might happen.

Emotional state is harder to gauge. By focusing on the character, consider just posing the question at appropriate times, either directly as GM (How is your character feeling?) or through an NPC (You look like you've had a long day?). By getting one player to admit their level of character's emotional turmoil, the other players will be influenced. Fear spreads. And through the process you get a gauge on how fearful, scare, frustrated, and tired the PCs are.

In an optimal scenario, the players are engaged in the plot, paranoia is fairly high (but not so high as to stall the game), and the PCs (and even the players) are feeling a constant sense of danger. When you reach this point, the horror game is succeeding.

If, however, these things aren't up to par, consider bringing in some new techniques and plot points. That topic, however, we will save for another day.