“If I can say anything important to writers who are still learning the craft of fiction, it’s this: imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind. To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.” –Stephen King, “Imagery and the Third Eye.”
The same goes with running an adventure–if not more so.
The players aren’t there to listen to the game master read them a story. They want descriptions of an encounter where the important details are explained, so they can imagine them and decide what to do.
The #1 rule in a horror RPG scenario: never tell the players everything.
Too many game masters and published adventures try to invoke fear by being verbose. Any published horror adventure with a long text boxes aren’t really that horrifying.
When it comes to description, less is more.
The best fear comes from the player’s imagining what’s going on off stage. Out of sight.
Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a horror flick. Beyond all the singing and dancing there is an evil plotting vengeance upon the innocent. But the real horror happens offstage unseen, in the mind’s eye.
The Queen demands the hunter bring Snow White’s heart–we never see the pig’s heart inside the jeweled boxed after the hunter returns.
The Queen offers the poison apple to Snow White, like the snake in the Garden of Eden, but we don’t see Snow White faint, just some moaning, and a thud.
The Queen chases Snow White though the wilderness and ends up falling off a cliff, but while we see the carrion birds descend, we don’t see them feast upon the Queen’s corpse.
Good horror requires eye contact from the game master, not a game master reading his notes out loud.
Good horror foreshadows what’s to come. Rumors are a great way introduce fear. Rumors are unreliable, and filled with half-truths. But great rumors get the player’s minds turning, imagining what’s to come.
Continuing from last time on the adventures of my very first character: the locals in the town of Dukna told my dwarven fighter about the Dragonlady.
“What does she look like?” They say she has the yellow eyes of a cat.
“Does she breathe fire?” Sometimes. Maybe.
“Where does she live?” In the old forest. But you don’t find the Dragonlady.
She finds you…
Next on Horror in RPGs: In Praise of the Villain.