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Creating Horror in Fantasy Grounds

Rating: 2 votes, 3.00 average.
In the interest of sparking new discussions, I've decided to start the conversation with how to create horror in VTT. Many of you know a variety of techniques to scare your players, from appropriate music and lighting to the inevitable "BOO!" moment around the table. Unfortunately, many of these techniques do not translate well to the VTT environment. How do you use mood lighting when all you can do is control screen color? Where does the "BOO!" come from if you find your group limited to only communicating through chat (if your Teamspeak server crashes, for example)?

I have been finding myself interested in the dynamics of horror in the VTT environment ever since I first started playing with the demo version of Fantasy Grounds a couple of years ago. We live in a time when our concepts of horror have been built upon movies. We have grown on the musical score of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. We've learned to deal with the leap out at you moments from Paranormal Activity. Visuals that turn our stomache like Cannibal Holocaust are a dime a dozen on Google Images. Evil Dead's campiness is prevalent and even the unknown has become a formula demonstrated by the Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. All of the techniques we find in the movies of our age are easy to adapt and replicate when we sit around the table playing our RPGs. However, the ease of these trappings falls away when we lose our control of the environment and easy contact with our friends. How do we reclaim the creepiness of Lovecraft when our players are sitting under the bright light of their computer room?

As I've been building a modern campaign for Call of Cthulhu featuring the players as students at Miskatonic University, I've found myself thinking more and more about the true classics of horror. Before the big screen, there were the stories. Many a scary book has been written which has managed to creep me out as much if not more so than the movies ever have. Lovecraft himself wrote some of the best stories for raising the hairs on your head. In my opinion, our solution lies in the classic techniques of the written word, not the flashy ease of modern cinema.

In my opinion, crafting a true horror campaign in a VTT environment such as Fantasy Grounds is an opportunity to really grow as a Keeper and as a writer. There are ways to incorporate the table elements we have found ourselves relying on, such as piping appropriate music over the voice chat. However, it should be seen as an achievement of honor to manage to creep your players out using only the written word. To that end, Lovecraft provides an excellent treatise entitled, "Supernatural Horror in Literature" which should be considered a must read for the Keeper starting to craft true horror in Fantasy Grounds. Lovecrafts insight has guided a century of horror crafters ever since he penned his words, inspiring the written word, musical pieces, and even cinema itself.

Once you've managed to get a tenuous grip on Lovecraft's inner workings, it would behoove yourself to take a look at the latest modern technique for generating a sense of horror. There are the big names out there that should be recognized as masters of the craft, such as Stephen King, Clive Barker, or Richard Matheson. However, as brilliant as the big author's are, their techniques are better suited for the linear tale rather than an RPG. They require the lead-in of the novel to bring the fruit of their horror to full bloom. While their techniques should be recognized, understood, and utilized to a certain extent, I consider another source to be better suited for modern inspiration of table top horror.

Have any of you ever heard of the phrase Creepypasta? An Internet Meme, creepypasta consists of short and micro stories written primarily on forums with the intent of invoking feelings of disgust, fear, and revulsion from the reader. Many of the attempts are trite, but there is some true genius there. In particular, I invite everyone to consider the fact that creepypasta attempts to invoke intense versions of those feelings in a handful of paragraphs! More importantly, many of them succeed! A story that delivers these intense emotions in only a few paragraphs is flexible enough that it can be adapted to player input on the fly, without losing the core of the horror. creepypasta.wikia.com is a website that catalogs a variety of creepypasta stories that stand out above the crowd (be careful, there are some NSFW stories in there). The Suggested Reading page is a good place to start, although I recommend Genetic Experiment X2E, Gateway of the Mind, and the Russian Sleep Experiment. While they are much longer than traditional creepypasta, the Humper-Monkey's Ghost Story and the multiple Fifty Foot Ant stories that follow are an excellent read from Tim Williard, an author who has also published the Year of the Zombie material for the d20 system (caution, that third link on the word "Ant" is generating a "Malicious Link" warning in Kaspersky tonight, but I've ready it without incident at that website last month - proceed at your own risk though).

As for my campaign, my personal style has always included a slow start to the campaign. I feel that it gives the players time to feel out both their new characters and also the world that I'm crafting for them, as well as gives me an opportunity to observe which parts of my world grab their interest so that I can better develop those aspects of my campaign. To that end, I'm blending some of the long techniques from the modern authors for my overall story-arc, but I'm also including elements from creepypasta as short term arcs to keep the player's attention while the longer arc develops. My long arc revolves around the characters gaining immortality at the price of surrendering control of their bodies every time they "die" to the being giving them eternal life, with the climax being centered around forcing the characters to choose to allow the otherworld being unfettered access to their world in exchange for eternal life, or to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to deny the being access to their world (with end game consisting of either an epic conclusion to their character stories, or a rapidly escalating story of trying to fix the wrongs they have done similar to the plotlines of "Friday the Thirteenth the TV series"). While that long arc develops, the characters will find themselves in various situations revolving around horrific science experiments (Russian Sleep Experiment) and locked in scenarios (the first and second Fifty Foot Ant stories).

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Updated November 14th, 2013 at 05:35 by Bubo

Categories
Writing , Horror

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