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Horror Storytelling

Source Horror Adventures pg. 200
The promise of fear is often obvious from the first glimpse of a horror film or story, as subtly abnormal choices in the ambience set the mood for terror. Horror adventures should feel much the same. More so than other Pathfinder RPG adventures, these rely on the creation of the atmosphere, the mood that surrounds the game. Atmosphere can mean the difference between a normal session and a truly frightening experience. This section focuses on gameplay techniques and storytelling special effects aimed at creating a moodier, more disturbing atmosphere. These suggestions step beyond game rules, and the advice herein can help GMs deftly defy the expectations of both the characters and their players.

Ten Questions to Help You Design a Horror Adventure

  1. What is there to be afraid of?
  2. What caused the horrific situation to develop or spike?
  3. How does the adventure’s environment reinforce the horror’s fearsomeness or a sense of dread?
  4. What hides the horror or builds the tension?
  5. What do the PCs fear losing?
  6. Do the PCs have resources that allow them to negate the horror?
  7. What gives the PCs hope of defeating their enemy?
  8. What shocking event lets the PCs know that nothing is safe?
  9. What scenes or settings exist to release tension?
  10. Are elements unintentionally predictable, cliched, or similar to well-known horror tales?

How to Scare Heroes

Source Horror Adventures pg. 201
There’s no one route to telling a good horror story, nor is there just one way to run a great horror adventure. GMs can take a three-pronged approach to unsettling the PCs.

Narrative Dread: Something can be made frightening by building tension. A GM wants her story to evoke a sense of dread, which is the expectation of harm or terrible things. Stories should be built so the characters expect horrible things before they actually see anything. Situations should get gradually worse and be punctuated by encounters that feature terrible creatures or that provide evidence of gruesome fates. Don’t give the characters all of the details, though. Let them imagine that things are even worse than they appear. Then, when the situation is at its most tense, the monster or other shocking feature of the story is revealed. For more details, see Creating Horror Adventures. Dramatic Storytelling: The Art of GMing section of the GameMastery Guide presents numerous tips to help anyone become a more engaging Game Master. A GM is the window through which players experience a horror story. A GM can follow the techniques of skilled ghost storytellers and consider how her voice, tempo, movements, and what she chooses to focus on can work to build an ominous atmosphere.

Ominous Setting: The adventure’s most fearful moments transpire in the players’ imaginations, but what happens in the real world can help it along. See Creating Atmosphere for suggestions on how to prepare a game space for terror.

How to Scare Players

Source Horror Adventures pg. 201
Numerous guides, stories, and films exist that can help GMs tell a better horror story. However, few explicitly help a GM run better horror adventures. Telling a great story is only part of a horror adventure. The GM still runs a Pathfinder game, and unlike most horror stories, this means the players are not just her audience but also the stars of her story. While she wants to terrify the characters, she wants to give the players the opportunity to dread something as well—to share a sympathetic sort of fear with their characters. While the game’s atmosphere can contribute to players’ fear, a GM can also subtly alter the roleplaying game experience to sow suspicion and dismay. The following techniques are essentially GM special effects and are best used sparingly.