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It is Halloween soon and I am planing to run a horror game featuring zombies. Lots of zombies. In fact, hordes of zombies. The setting is akin to Walking Dead than Shawn of the Dead and set in the 12th century in France around Carcassonne with (clearly) some magic thrown in. Building more and more the hopelessness and horror of the situation that the characters are in up to the climax of the game -- all the zombies coming over the horizon to get the last strong hold where the characters are. Maybe they can stop it all, maybe not (read: probably not) but certainly at a great cost.

What can I do to set up the gaming room (a living room) to enhance the atmosphere of the game? What music can I use? What about sound effects? What about props? What else did you do that worked?

Note: It is my full intention to scare the living hell of the players as well as their characters. I want their hearts to pump faster and have them leave the lights on that night when they go to sleep. Yes, they are aware I am doing that and are fine with it.

This is linked to this question about props but I am focusing on a theme of horror and alienation around music, sounds, lighting, and props -- not just props.

Edit Added a bounty and bumping post.

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We're buying some black lights and getting a couple of candleabras, and those'll be the only sources of light. –  DForck42 Oct 25 '11 at 14:33
    
@DForck42: I do have a black light already. It is a really good choice since it allows for a dark atmosphere and provides plenty of light on paper so you can see what you are writing. –  Sardathrion Oct 25 '11 at 14:34
    
I don't think it's worth an answer but having someone else in the house create some well timed (and actual) bumps in the night could add great affect. Hard to pull off though. I had it happen once by accident in a game and that got everyone's heart really racing! –  mirv120 Oct 25 '11 at 16:31
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this might be too subjective/discussiony –  DForck42 Oct 25 '11 at 20:13
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Perhaps people could stop discussing and post a fricking answer then! –  mxyzplk Oct 25 '11 at 20:33
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2 Answers 2

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+50

Some possible aids:

  • Don't let the room be the familiar room you play in. Even if it's the same actual room, try covering the walls with dark cloth, for an added touch, make the room as small as possible to create a 'trapped' feeling

  • Don't let the lighting be comfortable. Overhead lighting and eye level lighting are comfortable for people, which is why we fill our houses with it. Perhaps light the room from the ground, and try to use colored lights. Certainly don't let natural light in through the windows.

  • Use sound effects and a sound track. Get two sources of sound, use one for eerie noises and one for a movie soundtrack. Try the Drag Me to Hell soundtrack, it's good for ambiance. Place the sound effects speakers in different places from the sound track speakers.

  • Perhaps the most important aspect of setting mood is to hold the players attention. Don't break for dinner, have that planned and ready to go. Don't let them talk about out of game topics, try instituting the 'anything you say your character says' rule. As the GM, be on the ball and get descriptions down ahead of time. Each time you describe a zombie, use different adjectives and have them doing different things. Repetition kills atmosphere.

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+1 Great advice. Thanks. –  Sardathrion Oct 27 '11 at 12:49
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I'd suggest to introduce something that gives the idea of "time running out" or, in general, of their hopes being constantly eroded at every turn.

Something akin to a "global faith hit points score" which keeps getting down. Bit like the famous Doomsday Clock.

It may be a clock-like device which you will have to manually set at every narrative turn to show how things are going for the party/stronghold. Or even just a pile of chits (maybe representing the number of surviving, not-zombified people in the stronghold).

Every times that something happens you adjust the clock or remove the number of casualties from the chit pile. In the end you may have just one chit for each surviving PC left...

A couple caveats:

  • The clock works better for a more psychological sense of doom. You can adjust it as you see fit to convey the tone of the situation, and can also be adjusted to show things getting "better" (for example in the first phases, when the smart tricks that your PCs will attempt seems to be effective). This will add to the despair when things start fall apart. The potential problem is that if you devote too much time fiddling with this players may get distracted, or approach this as a sort of metagame ("let's see if I can move it back 1 minute with this...") - YMMV and it depends how much you know your players.
  • The chits stuff is more mechanical, and will never increase (unless you have some reinforcements arriving, or maybe the local alchemist managing to concoct a cure for bitten humans). This is more factual, possibly easier to implement and manage in play (even if you have sometimes to adjudicate off-scene deaths and events) but it may break the mood in a different way: seeing the pile on the table gives players a sort of omniscience (they will get notified of off-scene deaths they can't possibly know of) and in my opinion is less effective than a clock-like device.

Whatever solution you go for you better practice a bit on how to manage this "indicator" for dramatic effect.

Also, please understand that neither mechanisms have anything to do with time: they aren't there to give players a sense of urgency. You want to aim for a sense of despair, so the updates to the situation may come at seemingly random intervals - take care not to make it look like you have to adjust this every N turns, or every game day or whatever...

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