Sep 102012

I have already touched on this subject a little bit, but it has mainly been focused on the people running the game; giving them a choice location and some great ways to keep their players nerves as tight as a bowstring. This week though I thought it only fair to offer a few little tips to people who are thinking about playing in an RPG that sets out to scare them. My reason for this as that unlike other games, it involves an emotional commitment from the players right from the get go, just so you’re ready to experience the game in a way that will allow you to get the most out of it.

The first and most important thing, the emotional contract you need to agree to to if you want to enjoy horror role playing; you must allow yourself to be scared. It’s all well and good claiming that role playing your character’s sense of dread and fear is enough, but any actor will tell you that emotion in a performance is more convincing when it is based in reality. So, let yourself feel the fear, as if it really was you in that darkened room, knowing that you’re all alone but still hearing a papery noise of something moving along the floor towards you. I know that this isn’t the easiest thing in the world, as once you grow up it’s considered normal and healthy to put aside irrational fears. If you were your character though, would you be as cool headed? They exist in a world where the things that go bump in the night could be more than just the house settling, or the plumbing doing that weird thing it does.

Now, if you’re ready to be scared, it’s time to move on. The next thing to do is to be prepared to show the terror, and voice it even. I know that guys have a strange thing about this, as if showing fear makes you weak, and the female gamers out there could be even more concerned about it, as in a lot of cases they will be in a male dominated game and could object to conforming to stereotypical ’girl in a horror movie’ behaviors. Once more though; play it as if it’s real. If your life was in danger from a threat you could never understand, never explain or describe, but feel a sense of palpable dread just knowing it was there, would you maintain the facade of coolness, or would you shout, cry out, and probably just run like hell? If you’re willing to make this effort (maybe not the actual running away bit), the GM will see it, notice it, and keep piling on the pressure. If you’ve committed to it, you may even feel a sense of real fear start to tickle your nerves. This just makes it easier to keep the suspense going, and to commit the experience.

Often in a horror game, isolation is used to highlight anxieties and fears. The GM could very well split the party, but if you don’t find yourself alone, and have the other players to talk to, then scare the hell out of each other too. Talk in character about the dangers ahead, and what worries you in the coming excitement. Make up a story about something similar that happened to a friend of yours; with a suitably grim ending, and it will help everyone’s imagination – including your own – to latch onto the very real dangers your characters face. This is even more effective if you do it when the GM is dealing with another player/group of players. Imagine them walking back into a room to see the players visibly flinch at the unexpected noise of the door opening…

The final bit of advice I’ll give you, and this is key to every type of role playing, but pays off hugely in horror games, is to keep in character as much as you are able to. Picture yourself watching a scary movie, alone in your front room, the lights off, and no distractions. Would you keep pausing the film to check your phone, texting people, or getting up to check on the cat? Not if you could help it would be my guess. The more that you allow yourself to be immersed in the experience, the more real it will seem to you. The same goes for role playing, and it will help you to get the same sense of fear that is plaguing your character. At the table, this means doing your best to avoid talking about what you did at the weekend, if your sports team did better than someone else’s team, or sharing a funny joke you saw on Twitter. The GM will be grateful, and you’ll have a much better experience.

And after all that there comes a caveat. If you don’t want to get scared, then this will all have been for naught. You probably shouldn’t be playing horror games at all, and I advise against following any of the tips listed above.

  4 Responses to “Player advice for horror role playing.”

  1. [...] you play horror RPGs? Shorty Monster has some ideas for how to get the most out of it… Invest emotionally and try to stay in character as much as possible! You never know what may be [...]

  2. I really like this post. I used to play Ravenloft off and on, and found it to be a setting with amazing potential. Players in horror campaigns who sign that emotional contract can have an unforgettable experience with the right sort of GM.

  3. I’d just like to leave a comment on one tip in particular, namely that by telling your players that it’s a horror game they’ll cooperate more. This is something that I’ve always been at a bit of a catch 22 on, and that’s primarily because a horror game’s most potent facet is, well, an inspiration of horror!

    Turning what seems to be a normal game slowly into a twisted horror version of itself is probably one of the most powerful experiences in horror gaming, and one that really only exists in tabletop RPGs exclusively because the GM can refrain from telling the players that “yes, this is a horror game”. This is great primarily because it aligns the players more closely to their characters as they have no meta-knowledge to spoil their initial impression.

    On the other hand, you raise the greatest argument for telling the players just what they’re playing, which is that they will probably start cracking jokes and not take it too seriously if you don’t, thereby ruining the experience.

    All in all, I’d say that while telling them it’s going to be a horror game is good advice, it’s also good advice to make note that if you DON’T tell them you have a high risk (jokes kill the mood) high reward (players are just as out of their depth as the characters, and genuinely surprised just like the characters are) scenario, instead of the more middle-of-the-road (less genuine player/character overlap) but guaranteed (hopefully fewer wisecracks) method.

  4. [...] Player advice for horror role playing. at Shortymonster: Playing an effective horror game means going beyond the Social Contract and agreeing to an Emotional Contract. [...]

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