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Scared of DMing in the dark?

Written by Krystal - Published on August 3, 2010

Fear & Horror in D&D

Fear & Horror in D&D

The horrors of dungeons and dragons are sometimes over looked, and often times we visit Ravenloft every Halloween night for a game of horror and mystery, but elements such as these can be placed easily into your everyday Dungeons and Dragons game, so if you please, turn off all the lights, light a few candles, and get ready to be terrified! And be forewarned, if you are weak of stomach…please, read no further!

Horror can come in many ways in D&D, it can simply be a twist of the mind or a writhing, living thing stalking your players. It can only affect one person, or a whole group, it can play off of personal fears or even unexplained morbid scenarios. I once played a DnD game where the characters hallucinated a lot, due to the fear that reeked within the dungeon.  A friend of ours got locked in a room and we listened to his screams, as he — in his mind — was gutted by someone he cared about, pulling out all his intestines and stringing them across the room. He watched what appeared to be a newborn which also turned into some sort of vile creature that attacked him.

Horror can happen in many aspects, in fact I was recently inspired by skimming through “Heroes of Horror”, and for those of  you who don’t own the book in one form or another it gives a list of various “Horror” scenarios that can be played out, and I’d like to list a few here (again, for those of you who don’t have the pleasure of owning this. )

• A PC hears a voice scream in the distance; it sounds like her
• A character eating a piece of fruit discovers that the seeds
he spits out are in fact human teeth.
• The PCs awaken after camping or resting for a night; one PC
has bite wounds on her neck, arms, and legs, while another
feels far too full to eat breakfast.
• While a PC is looking at herself in a small round mirror,
her image is suddenly attacked from behind. She sees her
reflection die in agony only inches away on the other side of
the mirror, leaving behind only a blood-splattered surface,
without ever seeing what attacked her image. Thereafter
she casts no reflection for three days, after which her image
appears as normal.

These are only a few examples read in the book, for more I’d suggest purchasing it, it’s a rather good read. This book goes on to inspire me even more by discussing Villains in a Horror game. Types of villains can be important as often our villains are the same, money grubbing, power hungry cliché’s that repeat themselves. To avoid that, find a niche your villain follows.

The Hidden Danger is described as being the most common villain of horror as they are nearly impossible to detect. It goes on to describe that this villain kills from concealment and “…engenders mistrust and suspicion among all who would thwart her.” Which could be depicted as a “…doppelganger, werewolf, a mystically disguised assassin, corrupt noble, or the cannibalistic witch masquerading as a kindly old lady.“ Now I’m not here to recite the whole book to you, but snippets of it are appropriate. Ways you can integrate this into your game can even be someone close to you, can be an NPC that is within the party or stalking them the whole way. You never know when these sneaky buggers will strike, keep them cunning, keep them guessing.

Using something like the Hidden Danger is an advantage in so many ways, for example my current campaign I have a cleric who sits in the background (an NPC) following them and helping them. She, in reality, is watching them. She’s a spy, and my players don’t know that cause she’s been helpful, but every once in awhile she slips off and the players tend to dismiss it as if I “Forgot” about her, in reality I didn’t.

Another villain you can use is more of an obvious approach, but an intelligent one. Anyone remember The Watchman? Not only was that something that was considered “Hidden”, but was also a genius. Your villains don’t have to be ignorant or forgetful, or even naive. Let them be just as intelligent as your mind can muster, stupid villains are good really only for experience runs, if you are trying to get things to move and get them to a higher level so that you can get to the good stuff, but even doing something like that can be (if done improperly) considered an Experience Monty, and no one wants that!

Some villains have a lot of sway over a town or city, such as a governor or in the movie Avatar the military leader was the villain, and it can sometimes be hard to defeat those types of situations but can be done. The same high placed man can be underhanded, or can even be a mask, a puppet, controlled by outside forces. So remember, it’s your game! Use your imagination, and enjoy gaming!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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8 Responses to “Scared of DMing in the dark?”
  1. Tourq says:

    I like the one with the PCs camping, and they awake to find bite marks on one party member, while another is too full to eat breakfast.


  2. Blacknight. says:

    This is the kind of thing which is really helpful to me in DMing. Along with the article on activity in inns a while back, these articles, in my opinion, are the best I have read on this site, or anywhere else for that matter.

  3. Takaiteishu says:

    Some of my fondest memories of D&D have been horror campaigns, I think I might have mentioned it on this sight before, but one time my half-orc barbarian was backstabbed by a halfling with a poisoned dagger, we assumed that I had resisted the fortitude save until a few weeks later our PCs were setting up camp when my barbarian turned into a werewolf.

    The DM at the time described the transformation in such detail I could practically feel the transformation happening to me in real life.

    Unfortunately I lack the skill with details required to be very good with DMing horror campaigns, oh well we can’t be good at everything.

  4. Anthony says:

    i wanted to say this book is amazing and i love to use it,

    last Halloween i took my players to a forest by a lake with a child eating witch (actually a green hag dressed as a kind old lady) but more then that was in league with a new monster found in the books that can control peoples minds…. i turned it into a “children of the corn” feeling scenario and my players didn’t want to go out into the dark that night… i love it when you can really scare people using only the words of a campaign

    anyway what im getting at is that sometime the best imagination for horror is to borrow from the three best horror movies you know add a mind twister and you have a great horror campaign

  5. Rob of the West says:

    I own Heroes of Horror, and I found it an excellent supplement.
    I liked the suggestions for the hauntings. And I liked the way they referenced the Ravenloft scenario.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] Scared of DMing in the dark? Darkness. It’s something that we’re all inherently afraid of on some level. Many of us handle it better than others, but not everyone can choke down the absence of light without breaking into tears. If your adventuring group is in a darkened area and not really twitching all that much, then go see what Krystal has to say on the matter. Her advice may just shake things up enough to bring some true horror into your game. // […]

  2. […] original: Scared of DMing in the dark?Postado em: 03 de agosto de 2010Autor: KrystalSite: Dungeon […]

  3. […] original: Scared of DMing in the dark?Postado em: 03 de agosto de 2010Autor: KrystalSite: Dungeon […]

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