Friday, January 9, 2015

Do You Fear "Fear" in Your RPGs?

So, we discussed fear in the latest episode of The Brainstorm Podcast, both as a mechanic for the PCs and using it with effect on the players themselves.

As an effect on the PCs, it usually falls into one of two results - frozen with fear or "oh shit! Run!". Which is fine and all, but doesn't really replicate true fear.

Here is the Fear spell in AD&D 1e

True "fear" gets into the heads of the players. It's harder to pull off and probably works best with props - which means it's damn near impossible to pull of on a VTT.

Running away is a pain in the ass, but getting into the heads of your players? Priceless.

So, how do you instill fear in your players?


  1. I *love* the run away piece of this -- because at my table, that means you're fleeing without thinking about where you're going. Is there a trap in the hallway you run down? No time to think... The aftermath ("Where am I") is almost better than the effect itself.

  2. Oops, forgot to map. Where are we? Damn, my last torch...

  3. Sound.
    In my Mass Effect Group, I recently used a Banshee as an opponent for the first time. I played the original sounds from the computer game (example: http://youtu.be/1gL4XqkQOFU ). Half of the players froze in terror immediately, the other half got scared because of their reaction. Priceless. :-)

  4. Random dice rolls.

    If used sparingly, works every time. :-)

    1. Steve C, what dice rolls are you suggesting be randomized? "Random dice rolls", are a standard mechanic, so in what way are you using these to inspire fear and dread in your PCs?

      I've not used a fear mechanic before in my games, as I don't commonly run horror based genres (though I don't feel that fear belongs in the horror domain only either). I've always been intrigued by the idea of the PC encountering something wholly unnatural and the fear that such an encounter would bring on. I've read that Call of Cthulu manages this very well, and recently picked up a copy of the sixth edition in the interest of further exploring this very mechanic.

      I could see a table of escalating fear effects (ie "to hit" and/or AC penalties, morale checks for hirelings, a random actions "you stand frozen pissing your drawers sub-table, lost actions, and so much more), or even temporary insanity ala the 1e insanity table, wherein a PC might sustain permanent or lasting effects from such an encounter (tremors, paranoia, self-mutilation, drinks "to forget", and so on) for added RP development.

      Just a few ideas, most of which I'm passingly familiar with from other products, and think could readily be applied here.

  5. The threat of energy drain usually does the trick. They run like rabbits.

  6. I use fear and fear effects in my games all the time. I have been working on a new series of posts talking about fear, horror and terror in games. I was shooting for a Feb release of those, once I was done with Owl & Weasel.

  7. My players are 100% afraid of giant frogs. Why? Because I once TPK'd a party of seven 2nd level characters with them.

    We play 1e/OSRIC. If you play the game as close to how it was written as possible, and let the dice tell the story, stuff like getting into the players' heads takes care of itself. Ravenloft is a different ball of wax, but players go into that mostly know what they're getting into.


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