Creating Nightmares: A Personal Story

Watch a horror movie and you’ll know who is going to die. Why? It’s always the person who doesn’t have a personal reason to fight. They are the janitor who is walking through the halls. They are the drug dealer who picks the wrong place to sell his drugs. They are the background characters who are nothing but fodder, or for those science fiction fans out there – they are the red shirts.

It’s important as a GM to set aside your ego sometimes and remember that your game has to be about the characters and not the story you designed. Everyone within the group has to have a reason for fighting this beast, even if that reason is “survival.” Those who don’t want to fight usually end up being found dead along the protagonists’ journey. In Shady Hills, the characters barely had time with the Meat Doctor, however the story still went on because it was more about discovering who they were and what had transpired. Sure, the story could have ended with them rushing at the Doctor for revenge but they didn’t. They followed with what their characters would do — and might I add, what I would do — and got the hell out.

Your goal isn’t to tell your story, it is to let the characters tell theirs.

Which means as a player, you need to do more than fill out your character sheet. The GM is supposed to help you tell the personal story you have for your character, not to make it for you. You need to take time to think of what motivates you and why. You also need to supply your own reason why you wouldn’t run away. When I used to play Dungeons and Dragons, I ran a campaign where the players were stuck in a storm. In the distance they saw a castle and my players told me “I’m not going into the castle”. I pelted them with rain and thunder, and they all laughed saying they wouldn’t go into the castle because they were sure that the story required it and that it was haunted or something. This went on for thirty minutes with me throwing everything at them. Finally, I just shrugged and ended the game. Why? Because while I’m willing to work with the players, they need to work with me.

Imagine ‘The Mummy’ where the lead didn’t read from the Book of the Dead because they knew that was a big ‘no-no’ in TV tropes. Or imagine Ripley from Aliens deciding to not answer a distress call on the planet because she knows that’s how horror movies start. Or to use my own example, Pure Wax. Imagine if the people decided to keep driving in the snow, and when I broke their RV down they decided to walk away from the probably safety of the village down below? You need to take away your knowledge of TV tropes and just embrace the reality of the situation. Would you, in real life, walk away from a town because you’ve never heard of it before? While it snows? While you were in need of help?

Of course not.

Personal and realistic actions and thoughts drive a story to push forward. Don’t forget to remember them throughout the adventure. Personal feelings are what make movies and stories survive the box office. If you don’t have them, all you have is expensive sets and special effects and an audience rolling their eyes in their seats.

The children of Founder’s Falls faced off against the Ink Monster. The students of His Holy Light University found themselves face-to-face with the Glass and thus themselves. A douchebag and his two friends found terror in the Plant of Honey Branch. We witnessed the horrors of the Meat Doctor as he tortured our poor inmates at a mental asylum, and we got to meet up with a group of despicable ghosts stuck in a cycle of revenge. Creating Nightmares is a series of articles sharing some of my tips and tricks for crafting the psychological horror New World of Darkness games featured on the Fandible podcast.

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About the Author
Billy started out his roots like many roleplayers - D&D. Playing it and then Vampire all through highschool and college, Billy picked it all up again when he made the move from Michigan to New York. Now working in publishing, Billy does what he can to view roleplaying games through a narrative's lens. Does that sound classy as balls? It should.

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