By Frank Gori
As a kid I grew up on reruns of the Twilight Zone. As an adult I appreciate more the themes and the social commentary I missed as a child. However, the suspense and eventual emotional distress of the adults was always clear. Everything always starts out fine. Rod Serling paints a picture of the ideal 50’s middle class America and then foreshadows that things are about to go strange when he says the characters are about to enter The Twilight Zone.
The opening narration is crucial to the show. When Rod say people are about to enter or are already in The Twilight Zone it is a social contract to suspend disbelief. The opening credits (which had slight variations across the seasons) used images and narration to basically say that things were not going to operate in the reality to which everyone was accustomed.
If you’re a GM the take away might be to do a player handout that sets the scene or read a prepared paragraph. I’ve have games where I have done this and its an effective way to bring everyone into the reality you are about to present. As a player I have voices I do for my characters and little verbal exercises that help bring me into the proper mentality of the character. Little touches like this can make a game much more enjoyable.
Then there’s sound editing. Every suspenseful moment is punctuated with sound. The actors sometimes go a little over the top but the instrumentation always backs them up. The audience ends up so engaged they don’t even notice.
Everyone already knows about using music as a background but sounds aren’t hard to find either. A few bookmarks and a spare second could make the marsh more real to your players because they can hear light splashes from various creatures and the songs of hundreds of crickets or frogs.
Costuming and heavy supernatural elements are typically kept off screen. Threats are typically vague and rely on the imagination of the audience to make things worse..
Figurines are fantastic and can really add something to the battle map but if you want the threat to be more abstract or if it’s harder to see I recommend a token or coin be used until the PCs pass a perception check. Monster variants exist so feel free to change some of the appearance details on your monsters. For the grognard gamer who knows the beastiary as well as you do it will throw them off.
In The Twilight Zone, action is rarely direct until whatever it is that stalks the protagonists has a certainty of victory. I sometimes wonder at the weaker creatures in Pathfinder taking on clearly stronger ones.
Sometimes as gamers we sometimes forget, an encounter with a Troll or Worg would be terrifying for the normal character. More importantly even dull witted monsters should think, and plan, and utilize some basic tactical elements. Take Worgs as a prime example, they can mimic human sounding voices, see in the dark, and trip characters for free. It’s a rare GM I see using these enormous advantages effectively.
Irony is another engaging element of The Twilight Zone. The u-boat captain that sank an innocent passenger liner has to relive that moment time and time again on the liner in hell, or the woman that speaks of being a horrific freak looks beautiful to our eyes while everyone else appears freakish, or the man content only with books get his dearest wish an eternity of uninterrupted reading tome with all the books he could want only to have his glasses broken. There is a cosmic sense of justice where folk get the fate they deserve.
The hallmark of the best GMs Is succeeding in creating a world or universe that makes a sort of sense. It need not be cosmic justice, however there should be themes that expand beyond the surface of your games. For my games there’s typically an air of revolution against tyranny mostly because of my love of The Three Musketeers and Robinhood. Find something you enjoy and let it permeate your games.