My failure at a horror game

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Lurker
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My failure at a horror game

Post by Lurker »

Well the Amazing Adventure Masque of the Red death game is over (for now anyways) and sadly it ended with a whimper . All and all I have to say I failed at running it successfully with my original goal of running a good horror game. Now hopefully the Monday night Ne’er-do-wells will not see it as a failure, at least not as a total failure. Because, for the most part everyone seemed to enjoy the individual games (which is a successful to a point), and what I set as the goal of the campaign at the start may not be the same goal they had starting to play in the campaign.

I’m hanging this here as a learning event, more for myself than anyone else here. However, as my preacher sys ‘You learn from failures, and it is easiest to learn from other people’s failures and not fail like they did” so others here may get something from this too. Or you all may have similar experiences and have good pointers on how to avoid these failures down the road.

I’ll say my first biggest failure is the one area I have no control over what so ever. My internet connectivity. Monday night is all on discord and depending on the GM on roll 20, Maptools or for me just discord & theater of the mind . So internet is critical to running the game. However, in this nearly a year of running the game, I have had poor to nonexistent internet access around 1 / 4 th of the time. (the joys in living in back woods Oklahoma). I started the game hoping the internet wouldn’t be THAT bad, but it was. Because of that some game nights never got started or fell through as my internet access would drop.

I know it was hugely frustrating for me as the GM and I assume it was for the rest of the ne’er-do-wells. Last Monday was a perfect example. I had put together a good final adventure to be ran in 1 night to give the group a good fight to end the game on. I spent 6 hours + over the weekend and Monday getting everything ready and prepping the stats for the big bad guy(s) the spells they would use in the fight, etc etc etc … For the first hour or so I could talk for a few minutes or so and then Drop. Than after a little over an hour I couldn’t even get onto discord at all. Talk about disappointing for me and the group …

The learning event on that is don’t attempt to run a game/campaign if your infrastructure can’t support it. Of course there will be real life events that mess things up, but when it is at least 1 week every month or more, it does not do justice to the group that are setting aside time to play, and the work that the GM is doing to prepare for the game.

For that, to the Ne’er-do-wells I humbly apologize! This is the one thing that I am truly the most sorry for.

Next, the foundational assumption of a horror game. The players are not the super powerful heroes like any other game I’ve played in or ran. With that the opponents have to be more powerful, darker, and stranger, than the normal opponents they would normally face. In a normal game some 1st level characters need to go out beat up on some goblins or a few orc, get experience, make 2nd level, wash rinse repeat with progressively stronger monsters or enemy NPCs. However, in a horror game they have to be facing something that can harm or kill them and be fearful of facing it, and as they progress the monsters and opponents have to be stronger and be at least 1 step ahead of the group all the time.

I think I did fairly well at this, at least at first, but over all this is not a way I’ve ran games before, so I don’t know if I could have kept it up if the campaign had continued. Yes at 1st level, an imp isn’t a TPK monster, but it can be annoying and dangerous and I used them to harass the players and keep them on edge. However, over time, that loses (or will lose) it’s fear factor and not be an effective tool.

Next, the fact that horror is more investigative than a standard game. Yes, in a normal D&D game you can have a few sessions of investigation. However, out of the 3 adventures the group played through, 1 was a ‘locked cabin’ scenario set on a train and an intro to some main NPCs for the next 2 adventures. The other 2 adventures were medium to heavy investigation. Had we continued to play the next adventure would have been a medium investigation ghost hunt, and then I had a plan for a more fast passed standard adventure with some chasing and fighting and minimal investigation.

Again, I have never ran games that were that heavy on investigation, and at times I’m sure the game dragged on. Now if the group all starts out understanding that will be the norm it is one thing, but if they are expecting it to be more normal adventures it will quickly get annoying . Admittedly I could have sprinkled in more faced passed adventures in the mix earlier in the campaign arc to keep it more interesting, but would that have kept the horror feel …

Next is critical NPCs. If the flavor of horror is that bad things can and are happening to people, and you aren’t wanting it to always be only happening to the PCs, you have to have good in depth realistic NPCs that the players are interacting with and becoming friends with. This way those NPCs can be the ones that are the focus of the big bad things. However, to keep the horror feel, the PCs have to actually care about those various NPCs. So like with investigation, this means the horror game has to be higher role playing than the normal D&D dungeon crawl.

Plus, there has to be the bad guys mixed in the group so that the PCs are not SURE who is good and who is bad for the most part while they are doing the investigation. I look at it like and old black and white Sherlock Holms movie the girls & I watched last month. Not including Holms & Watson, there were 2 police men, an inn keeper and his daughter, and then 5 or 6 others that were involved, and you were not sure who was good and who was bad until the last scene.

Now, I’ve always like more role playing focused games than murder hobo type games, but this was a lot even for me. Again, if the group starts out knowing this will be more role playing than normal, it may not be a problem. Also, I had to find the balance on introducing more new NPCs and reusing ones form other previous adventures. This is an area I think I failed at in the short term, but I do think it would have gotten better as the campaign progressed.

Finally, in horror, the monsters can not be easily defeated or killed. If they were then there would be not horror. Yes a D&D paladin may have to fight tooth and nail to defeat the demon (and may die in the fight) but there is the unwritten assumption that the group has a good chance of ending the threat. However, in horror, to maintain the feel of fear, even if the party wins the fight in the adventure, there has to be that element of doubt or lack of completion on defeating ALL of the bad guys.

For the Ne’er-do-wells, they were not able to stop the big bad guy & his assassin helper from killing their friend, but they chased them off and kept them from completing 100% of their goal, and they were set up to go save the victim’s fiancée & his sister. They saved the fiancée and sister, and captured 5 of the big bad guy’s henchmen, but the big bad guy escaped again, and the imps killed all the henchmen in the jail. They helped find the man a cult was hunting and save him from being killed, and they saved one of their friends from being sacrificed to an evil spider demon and they killed the local cult leader, but they didn’t capture the 3 main foreigners that were helping the cult, and they did not capture the traitor in their friends that was the local cult’s number 2 person. So out of 3 adventures that is 3 partial failures. If they had played the 4 th adventure, and had successfully hunted the ghost, that would have been their 1 st 100 % successful adventure.

I know it is needful for that in a horror setting, but for me it always felt like I was playing dirty pool in keeping an ace up my sleeve so the bad guys could slip away and not give the group the satisfaction of actually completely defeating the bad guys they had spent 6 weeks investigating hunting and skirmishing with.

Well, I think that covers it, at least on how I saw the weakness of my own game. I hope you all can have some good take aways from it.

For other more experienced GMs here, do you have any good ideas or advice to keep others from falling into those pit falls ?
"And so I am become a knight of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows!" - Mark Twain

Forgive all spelling errors.

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Rhuvein
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by Rhuvein »

Hi Les.

I know yer coms/internet issues really were challenging for gaming.

I have some thoughts.

Perhaps you could run yer game like a play by post when weather conditions flare up.

Have players post their thoughts and possible actions prior to starting the game.

And during the game, if you drop, they can still post. And when you get back up you can respond. Sure, it might be long after everyone has logged off, but you can then post your re-actions to their suggested actions.

And, of course they can come along at anytime to continue to post on discord, thus continuing the game action and thread.

Maybe a follow-up game night when things go bad at your end to resolve all issues.

You could also use your TLG forum thread of the game to have people post actions.

More thoughts to follow if I have them.

:D
Count Rhuveinus - Lejendary Keeper of Castle Franqueforte

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Rigon
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by Rigon »

I think the game was extremely fun, well thought out, and interesting. The investigation aspect was right for this style of game. I know I couldn't have run this game. You did a fantastic job as GM. The comms issues, while sucky, wasn't your fault and those of us that game with you know and understand the issue.

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Bifford
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by Bifford »

Horror can indeed be tricky, but it does sound like you handled yourself very well as the Keeper of the Lore.

The biggest issue, generally, with investigative games is the players missing or misunderstanding a clue. Have some alternative ways for some important bit of info to reach them if they decide not to go to locatin #3 but instead goes to #5. That might be the local policeman bupping into them and saying their men had just uncovered such-and-such, or it might be a local kid wanting a few notes in exchange for "something he saw" as "he knows you're poking your noses into what happened".

I love handouts for investigations. I also love sound effects. Youtube has a multitude of things you can use and then a software sound-mixer (it seems Discord is experimenting with doing this, going by the options) can pull audio that you hear and pump it over the channel to the players. I've had rain, wind, creaking floorboards in an old house, dripping, a scream (volume pushed up to make them all jump!) - all to very good effect.



Regarding the connection. Turn off video. Go audio only, it uses 1/10th the bandwidth. Set Discord to "Push to Talk" so the computer isn't having to listen for when you say stuff, thereby keeping both the computer's CPU usage down but also reducing what is being sent over the 'net connection. Make sure Discord has not put "Noise Suppression" on; Try turning on the "Enable Quality of Service High Packet Priority" as that might help (and it might make it worse so test it);


Have confidence in your game. It sounds like you are doing a great job and your players are enjoying themselves! :)

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old school gamer
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by old school gamer »

I had a lot of fun. Yeah there were times that I wished that I was playing say a Gumshoe instead of a Pugilist since I didn't have a lot of investigative skills but it just forced me to think outside the box. Horror can be tricky since most of the horror movies that we grew up on had a body count and a sense of danger and impotence in the face of supernatural horror. Still it wasn't the blood bath kind of game you can get out of Call of Cthulhu so I think you balanced it out right.

As for your internet, well that isn't your fault. I had to quit my Tuesday Conan game last week because by computer kept crashing. It happens.

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maximus
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by maximus »

Failure? Not a chance Les. You put a lot of thought into the level of detail and it really showed. Had a lot of fun with it. Would love to pick it up again at some point.

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old school gamer
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by old school gamer »

I know what you mean though. As a GM I am my own worst critic, which I think is kind of a good thing. The worst kind of GM is the conceited type that can't accept criticism and blames the players when the game goes bad.

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Lurker
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Re: My failure at a horror game

Post by Lurker »

Thanks for the replies and the conformations that you all enjoyed it.

Honestly, looking at it from a simple enjoyment angle, even from my end it was a success, which is the root of any game. I enjoyed setting up the NPCs, making the dreams for your characters (and seeing what you pulled out as the good hints in the dream and where you chased a red haring or a rabbit). I enjoyed webbing everything together, and making the key NPCs more than just cardboard cut outs for you in somewhat interact with.

I even enjoyed planning out the story arcs and bringing in a thread here and there from previous stories (many of which you didn't make it to, but would have down the road). Like I said earlier, I think this with the NCs introduced in these earlier games would have been the big success. A year or 2 down the road, you might have gotten a letter form Capt S with something that has stumped him, but the info could help you in your adventure, or you could send him info that helps him. A packet from a young Moravian mentalist girl that you saved from shadows would have had a key to a monster you are facing, received a signed original of a book of poems from a lady Scottish writer that would have had a poem with a clue about the ghost you are chasing, you would meet a Spanish lady in the museum that would point you to a minor painting in the coroner and ask a question that put you on the right track.

However, if my starting goal was to make a long term horror campaign, I don't think it would have held up as good as it stated. At least not how I was going.

Now, over the weeks, I've done some looking reading and thinking. I think part of the problem was that original goal. Long term horror. At least btb … Thinking back to the ole days when Beyond the Supernatural was one of my favored games (to play my best friend ran most of them). When we played, BSN, it wasn't a true campaign. there may be linked stories for a little bit but no LONG arc. It tended to be very episodic. Back then I thought it was just his style of DM, and it was, but looking back I think it was a happy accident to not try and force a BSN game into a long term D&D MERP type campaign that I tended to run.

Also, with that, I looked at the Cthulhu games I have, and then the 'Pulp Cthulhu' PDF I got a little while ago. I think that is the key. The original is a main horror game and everything it made to be episodic. Yes, you can play the same character and develop them to a point, but it isn't like a long term campaign (you character will go bat poo crazy by then). Heck, you are encouraged to have multiple characters incase one is killed or goes insane.

Where as the Pulp Cthulhu is set up with more resilient characters (still can go insane etc, but even then they are made a little more survivable) and the style of stories does tend to be more of an adventure arc, but with the deep dark things that go bump in the night. It is a adventure frame with horror filling out the framework. It is a fundamental mindset difference than the original Cthulhu game. That is the difference that would make it playable as longer term campaign while keeping some of the horror elements.

With that, for me to be successful (if we return to Red Death A&A) I'll have to use that middle of the road "pulp Cthulhu' mindset.

Rigon - thanks, you and tree are to of the better GMs I've gamed under and glad to hear you enjoyed it like you did

Biff, rgr that on having alternative methods for getting them the clues. I actually would have a list of key clues for each section of the adventure and have 3 to 4 different ways for them to get the needed info 1 was the primary, if everything goes right way for them to find it, one is a good back up, 3 or 4th rd was Ok you missed it every time, so here you go with a helping hand. - I'm glad to say through 3 story arcs, the group found all critical clues (they did miss some less important fluffy clues here and there) either in the primary or 2ndary method. Only twice was it close to me going to plan 3 on giving them the clue, so as a group they did everything as good as I could hope. Admittedly, 2 or 3 times it took a while, but they got there.

OSG, rgr on Gumshoe v Pugilist and it ham stringing you to a point, but you did a great job thinking outside a box, and made some lucky rolls used a few fate points, and did you part in the investigation, Sure that would have made it easier in the investigation, but …. world a gumshoe have been able to face of with multiple cultists in that basement, take a few hits and still stayed standing and kept them from overwhelming the hunter and the lady they were going to sacrifice ??? You save her life x2 in that fight and helped Doyle get her out of harms way by just being that attack soaking tank that you were.


Max, again, thanks glad you enjoyed it. I've always enjoyed gaming with you so glad I could run a game you liked. Rgr on details, As you know the devil is in the details, and in a horror game … (ha I love my puns and daddy jokes)
"And so I am become a knight of the Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows!" - Mark Twain

Forgive all spelling errors.

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