Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fear Me! I May Kill Your PCs... In a Month

Have you noticed how hard it is to instill actual fear in players? Sure, you can magically "fear" the PC, but how do you get the player emotionally invested into his character's danger?

As a rule of thumb, it's time sensitive, and the longer the time, the more fear (or suspense) it generates.

Here's how it works. PCs risk death constantly. The threats are immediate, and success or failure is determined fairly quickly. There is little, if any, fear or suspense, generated.

You need a long term threat with a due date of sorts. A curse or disease that will run it's course in a certain time frame before ending in the PC's death unless a cure is found works pretty well for this. Even a word of potential execution by a political heavy or a guild leader if the PC's can't accomplish a certain goal in the allotted time frame can do wonders.

The secret is giving the PCs (and in turn, their players) the time to think about the price of failure. The suspense itself adds to fear, or the illusion of it.

How do you generate fear in your games?


  1. Well, I generated fear yesterday just by having my level 1 PCs head into a keep, looking for bandits.

    They had so low hit points, and the weapons they faced were potentially lethal, that the players were feeling the tension, and the fear; it as great!

    Suspense, tension, atmosphere are what I use in games to generate the fear.

  2. I thought throwing the dice across the room and screaming mad ape-shit crazy worked well in my games, but I don't think that I what you meant.
    On a more serious note, I think an overpowering enemies or enemy they know they can't beat by direct confrontation works well, especially if they are being pursued or hunted. Timed traps work well too, figure the puzzle out or perish.

  3. Without getting into specifics of an encounter that had such actual fear appear:

    Uncertainty of success. Did the players succeed are did they miss something and they will soon suffer for the failure?

  4. I find that using what you yourself fear, with the creep factor cranked to 11. For me, it's small children. Those things give me the willies normally. In a game where you can play up their creepiness, anyone would be scared.

  5. Last week, I instilled fear quiet by accident. I was excited about the game that night so I texted the players to let them know the plans for dinner. All of them are brand new to the game with 3rd level PC's. Then, on a whim, I added the line, "and I'm going to kill your character! <>." It was effective. The fighter texted back in character "Bring it". The rouge asked "Why??? What did I do??!!" Of course, later that night, it almost turned prophetic as they tumbled into a roving band with grunts that consistently rolled 18-20 and did 5pts of dmg each. They were the most effective grunts ever, taking the fighter to the second death save. Only a crazy good Intimidate check scared them off or it could have been a TPK. Lesson? Text messages can be lethal!


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