Mishelved: The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe
By Frank Gori
Everyone that writes or GMs a game draws inspiration from somewhere. The giants in fantasy fiction are of course Tolkien and Gygax but if you want to have a classic flavor without treading on overly familiar ground we at The Flying Pincushion truly believe that some of the most fertile ground are those works that were presented before you in high school English class and college lit courses.
Edgar Allen Poe has been an inspiration for others before me. If there’s a thing to draw in particular as a GM it’s his ability to create anticipation. Much of the horror a character feels in a Poe tale is internalized. Often the question of a supernatural element is left to the reader, Poe loves the unreliable narrator.
How do we translate that to a game?
-Innocent bi-standers: dead is good, to terrified to communicate effectively is much better.
-Intensify scene description: before a big scene try writing out interesting elements and practice your delivery before game so it comes out smooth.
-Atmospheric props: a DM screen is good but maybe add some cloth to soften the sound of your rolls, you never know what a distraction it is until its gone, try adjusting the lighting for certain scenes, and light music in the background always helps.
-Reskin the descriptions of familiar monsters: you’d be amazed how much scarier a Troll can be when you reshape it into a large cat ridden by a reskinned redcap that sounds like a vampire variant. When monsters become too easy to identify they get robbed of some of their power.
-Terrain: a swarm is a run of the mill encounter, having a witch vomit a swarm on you after you’ve fallen into a pit trap is the kind of encounter people remember.
-Use called shots: want to make a monster with a bite attack scarier? Make repeated mention its targeting a Pc’s throat. If it lands a crit don’t mention it’s a crit say it lands a bit on your throat and rips a chunk out for (double) x damage.
-Wear them down: Numbers and attrition can force a party into desperate measures. Sure that 8th level party feels like a bunch of heroes killing a hundred goblins but what about a thousand? What if they keep coming even as they die and they got the party in a cabin on a mountain? Night falls and a number of the dead get back up? I’m betting the party starts to get a little more frightened then.
-Templates: Let a PC think they know what they are up against, but with the variety of templates out there you can still throw some curveballs.
-Non-events: The party is asleep except for one character on watch when suddenly a screaming sound fills the air. Everyone is roused and ready to battle only to find it was just a rabbit getting killed by an owl. Rinse and repeat from time to time and you’ll eventually get them with a real encounter.