339 Horror Tension Suspense


Games with horror, tension and suspense are not always easy to run, or play. Setting the tone of these games is not always that easy given that many of us play games outside the genre and for fun. Whereas these games may need a level of seriousness in order to ‘get it right’.

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Sean mention tension and suspense, both are important to leading up to horror. You need to space out things so the characters are not immediately in fight/flight mode, they need time to build up fear/presumptions about the situation.

I think pacing is important in horror. The movie/session does not start with the bad guy standing in the rain at the holiday park with all the victims already dead. The movie starts with the crew going to the holiday park, then someone goes missing. Then a the weather turns bad (or there’s an internet outage, or people start getting sick). More bad things happen, this time closer to the pcs so there is more evidence.

Senses! maybe the blood just won’t wash off your hands, or you feel cold even though the sun is shining, perhaps you keep seeing movement in your periphery but there’s just regular things there when you turn your head. Using other senses help flesh out what the characters are going through.

Linking the current situation to their past/personal lives can help too, when they investigate the abandoned cabin there is a photo that looks JUST like your uncle, or this place smells just like the cabin at your childhood summer camp.

As Brett mentioned humour can have a place, but it needs to be in context. The victims (cough) characters can be out in the woods, something leaps out at them-its a startled raccoon. Its still in genre-wild things out in the woods, but it’s not a real threat, still lets you know the heroes are getting scared. then 10 mintues later the next thing out of the bushes (or even standing calmly in front of them) is a killing machine.

The recent episode got me thinking about a comment regarding player agency. Doesn’t there have to be a willingness to concede some level of agency as part of the immersion in horror roleplaying under certain circumstances? Maybe, I’m misunderstanding the context of it.

In CoC or Vaesen, coming into contact with things that go bump in the night may or may not generate some level of horror related emotion for the player. In the game, the player character is another matter. Sanity rolls may result in temporary insanity. In Vaesen, failing a Fear roll requires the player character become terrified. The player must choose between fleeing, freezing, fainting or attacking the cause of the fear for 1d6 rounds. Would that be considered a loss of agency since they have to perform certain actions and lack the freedom to do what they really want to do? I don’t, any thoughts on that?


D&D has fear effects and other such things that spells and certain critters can do. I don’t think it’s that much different IMO.

That is, until the Player wants to argue that “Yeah… well… that’s not how I think my PC would react to seeing a dead body…” That’s more of the time, in my experience, that I need to remind the player that we agreed to all of this and that’s how the game works.


I like the mechanic in Mothership - can’t remember what it’s called - that determines how badly a PC is freaking out.

Panic is the mechanic you’re referring to, Bob.


Thanks for taking the time to dig into my comment on the show, Brett. You did an awesome job breaking it down for a variety of games!

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Awesome! I wasn’t sure if we’d do it justice or not but figured it was worth a shot :slight_smile:

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