Maintaining the Horror Campaign – Chapter 1
“THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”
-Edgar Allen Poe, The Cask of Amantillado
As I mentioned in The introduction to Maintaining the Horror Campaign, Josh previously wrote Dungeon Mastering Horror: Tips on Making your Halloween D&D Game Memorable on Guilt Free Games. That’s a great start, but what if you’re aching for something a little… juicier? What if, instead of a night of fighting zombies on Halloween, you want to embark on a journey into another dimension? A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination? What if, instead of spending an afternoon in the land of dreams, you would want to fling yourself directly into The Twilight Zone? Well, then, you’re going to need a little more than candles and a “Spooky Sounds” CD to keep people invested from week to week.
Maintaining the Horror Campaign is a multi-part article series to help you on your journey to the heart of darkness. But the horror campaign is only as strong as its weakest link: your players.
Chapter 1: Ask your doctor if a Horror Campaign is right for you.
Not every group is ready to tackle a Horror Campaign. For many players, role-playing games are a time to loosen up from a tough day at work, or a chance to get away from the family. There are many players who aren’t interested in whatever sparkling vampire idea you might be planning, and want to embroil themselves in needless fights, looting bodies and gaining experience. If your Friday nights are lorded by power gamers and tactical combat enthusiasts, you have a tough road ahead of you.
When confronted by stingy players, the first thing you should ask yourself is: “Are my players right?” As game masters, sometimes our ambition gets the best of us. It’s our job to make the game not feel like an endless grind through Castelvania II. The players might be telling you with their mouths that all they want to do is punch monsters, gather the coins that explode from their bodies, and gain enough experience climb down the ladder to the next level, but they’re eyes say they want a vivid adventure with entertaining characters in an immersive world.
Your job as game master is entertain, not to drag your players through your idea of a good time. If the players want to swing axes and blast people with spells while smashing through the walls of a dungeon like a party of Kool-Aid men, who are you to oppose them? You’re just the television set, and the only reason why your friends might be tuned to your station is because you’re the only channel in town.
If, however, you feel your players may enjoy the change of pace that a good horror campaign entails, you could convert these nay-sayers. It is difficult to jump directly from mauling 500 goblins a night, to caring about a creepy scratching on a window pane. For such an entrenched game, it might be advantageous to ease players into horror by moving them through other, involved, but less demanding genres. A good detective story, for example, rewards players who can solve the presented mystery; A feat that may require only casual punches in the nose. Likewise, a game focused around political maneuvering may still lead to the occasional fight scene, but might also require other lawyer type skills. Your resident rules guru, may surprise you if you trigger the part of his brain that loves a good argument, by doing a little research into parodoxes and fallacies. In this style of ‘puzzle’, you create a tangled web of an argument, and watch as your players disect all the false and shrouded information to get at the truth. Challenges like these are more forgiving to players who are trapped in their two-dimensional characters, but reinforces that beating up bad guys might not be winning the campaign.
Alternatively, before pulling out the props reminiscent of a horror story, you might pull out props that allow your players to ham it up in a traditional fantasy setting. Let players swing around plastic swords, then give the players a bonus to their roll if they act out how they assault the goblins. Or make a feast of bread, cheese and ale, and get the players to play out a swinging tavern scene.
Just remember: Don’t force it. If your players aren’t enjoying themselves, then neither are you.
Now, shall we continue on to Maintaining the Horror Campaign – Chapter 2. Tune in as we examine over the most important day of a horror campaign.