I'm running a 5e, self-written, horror/psychological themed adventure for a group of experienced players this weekend. Noting that many players have the mindset of "meh, if this character dies I'll roll a new one", I'm finding it difficult to come up with combat scenarios that are actually unsettling or scary.
Background (can skip):
The main villains of the adventure are home-brewed living shadows which possess a startling degree of intelligence and always use the surroundings to their advantage. The players will have to fight many of these shadows over several encounters that will increase in frequency and severity the closer the PCs get towards their goal.
End of Background
My current ideas include:
- Encounters in total (magical) darkness, forcing perception checks and miss chances
- Encounters under a strobe light effect which will impose a -10 penalty (before bonuses, which are around +7) on all attack rolls with a negative roll meaning they strike a teammate
I do also want to make some normal combat unsettling as well, but I'm having difficulty thinking of anything that doesn't include the darkness aspect and I feel overusing darkness in these scenarios can make the players' perspective go from "This is creepy" to "Oh look, this again" fairly quickly.
What are some ways I can make encounters legitimately terrifying either with darkness elements or without?
NOTE: The players' characters are level 11 so there can be quite a decent degree of danger involved