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How do you keep the atmosphere while the party is in a dungeon?


Advice


Hello everyone,

I'm DMing Carrion Crown and well, I have this problem. I can keep easily the dark and oppressive atmosphere on the party as long as they remain outside a dungeon.

But as soon as they jump in a dungeon, like the prison for the first book of the campaign, the dark atmosphere is over. Pushing miniatures on the map and pulling numbers to kill the mobs are not really helping to keep the players "in".

Do you have any idea of how keeping the ambiance when comes the Dungeon Time?


Did you try with music?

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Tales Subscriber

Take away the toys. Try GMing with narrative battles.


Don't use miniatures and mats, doing so automatically puts the game in a third person perspective which puts a player out of character.
Just keep up with your descriptions from each player's point of view.

Silver Crusade

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You may want to post this in the Carrion Crown section.

Music is a good help, and I would suggest being more descriptive with your narration. Also, hide the baddies so that it's not a series of Kick-in-the-door and fight the monsters.


Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

Why don't you have the same problem with "outdoors combats", do you think? Do you not use miniatures or something?


Be more descriptive. Convey sound, smell, and descriptiveness of the lighting (or absence thereof.) Music helps a lot too.


As it has been suggested, drop the battle map / dungeon map.

While using maps and figures can be fine occasionally for a big fight, doing so extensively makes combat a mini-game inside the role-playing game, instead of a part thereof.

Having the map of the dungeon in front of them, easily turns the game to a board game type, where you have to explore each and every room, since they are there.

Sczarni

Not much of a advice but, adding a short descriptive sentence after each punch helps a lot.


Long time ago, I had very little money to play and therefore had 3 or 4 minis(it wass the boxed version of D&D). Now I'm earning a good salary (good enough to live with it) and bought tons of minis, map pack and so many stuffs.

Well I have to say it doesn't add much to the game after all.

Before that the battles were more lively, now I regret that it only turns up to pushing minis on the battlemap.

I suppose that's also because the rules in Pathfinder and much much more complicated than they used to be. I hope the next version of pathfinder will be much much simpler and easy to roll.

Now back to the OP.
Remove minis most of the time and be more descriptive. Some people will cry and will say they can't use their capabilities to their best or whatever but well they have to live with it.

Music helps but it's like salt and pepper. Use it to add spice. But if you put it everywhere and all the time well its more a noise pollution.

Thinking about it I may remove the minis for some time in my own game.


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Minis improve atmosphere in our games, probably because we are old farts with no imagination.

I once build a fortress on a plateau on our dining table (wife was not impressed, kids loved it, but was of course banned away). The party advanced from the kitchen sink, doing long range recconoisance (spelling). It was great, all sorts of tactical elements where at play, also because they waited until nighttime to attack in complete darkness (most had no darkvision. The defending orcs did not have the same problem, but really could not believe that the party holding on to each other as blind mice was a real threat).

A narrow ramp with dificult terraib modifier was the obvious entrance point, and of course was chosen for the slow-poke hand heldinng party stumbling up to the main gate.

And of course music (Enya from the 80'ies).

It was a blast, hillarious, fumbling, and of course the players won in the end :-).


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I disagree about removing minis. The only you can really keep people's attention is with good pacing and good description. If you can't do either of those, removing minis is only going to make your players irate. Explain details as you draw the map and describe monsters as you set them up. Become very descriptive in how the creatures act and fight. I do this all the time and my players really enjoy the fights I run, with or without minis. Be sure to describe obstacles too. That way, your players will do things like kick down tables for cover or swing on chandeliers to drop kick someone.

It's funny. I remember playing before 3rd edition and all the GMs I knew hated the extra bookkeeping having no minis entailed. Kinda interesting to see it reversed :)

Cheliax

Only allow the light on for the duration of the party's light spell

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I`m used to use minis just for poosition and movement, i turn all the attention to roleplaying, even the combats, movements, etc - player describes and then position his mini - turns that miniature handling it`s just the consequence of the roleplaying. Works for me, and i never loose the mood.


Forbid OOC in fights. It forces players to talk as characters and it speeds up the fight because there are no tactical discussions etc. Together with descriptions of the fight is works very well on my table.


I use a short description to help visualise combat...
Try and describe everything with three sense involved...

Good Places: use warm, bright colours...
Bad Places: use cold, subdued colours...

My players get tense now if I shift from bright lush greens to drab olive greens in a description... they start getting very cautious :D


If you feel confident with with your knowledge of the system, you could also disallow players to sift through books during combat. Tell them if a question arises, they will have to rely on a judgement call form you and keep the battle moving.

This won't work with all players, but I've done it before in horror-type game nights with good results.

If you do decide to go without the battle map, I might recommend maptools if you have access to a laptop. That way you can see where everyone is and still have your eyes on the battle.

Music is an excellent idea, too. We use it a lot in our games and there are lots of groups or OSTs that have great songs. Try "Nox Arcana," they have lots of good music, usually dark and creepy. Lots of playlists on youtube you could use.


I find a lot of music too aurally dense and not appropriate for times when you are simply exploring. I'm checking out Syrinscape for the first time and recommend it. It has sound files that are designed to serve as ambience/backgrounds to different places: a dungeon, a forest, etc. Also, the interface is straightforward: you can phase-in and phase-out multiple sound files, and also set up push buttons to activate various sound effects (such as a weapon striking, or a trap being set off).

You can also hear previews of the sound files before downloading. You need to set up a free account first, though.

The guy who has made it seems like a good guy and is offering it out for free, and requests donations. I'll donate as soon as I can, as I think he's giving a real service to the community.

Cheliax

I completely disagree with removing the miniatures. Instead, take pride and spend time setting up good miniatures and terrain/dungeon pieces. Set the environment. Use music. Use lighting.


Terronus wrote:

If you feel confident with with your knowledge of the system, you could also disallow players to sift through books during combat. Tell them if a question arises, they will have to rely on a judgement call form you and keep the battle moving.

This won't work with all players, but I've done it before in horror-type game nights with good results.

It can work in other systems, but PF/D&D is too rules heavy. I guess if casters have all their spells printed out it might work.

Even so I usually look through the rules to figure out if something I want to try is worth doing and I do it before my action if I can. I'm not saying I wouldn't trust the GMs judgement call, but I don't want to ask him all the things I might look up before committing to an action. "If I try this, what do I need to roll? Okay, what about if I move over here and try this instead? And this other thing? Etc"

Usually it isn't that bad, depending on how well the players know the rules, but when it is, looking it up before my turn speeds things up and reduces the load on the GM.

Grand Lodge

We use maps and minis because honestly, we like the imagery and it helps with combat. Tracking six players and, at a minimum, an equal amount of aggresors becomes a pain. Aside form that though being descritpive, tonal inflection, and ambient music seems to work the best. Little metagame bumps help as well. The party's been underground for days? In armor? Managing fatigue and sickened conditions due to enviornmental hazards might need to be considered. I've noticed the biggest flaw DM's have is getting too comfortable. After a few sessions even the most descriptive DM may feel like just phoning it in ("You open the door, there's some orcs, roll init"). Limiting distractions helps too: laptops, ipads, texting, READING THE BLOODY BOOKS while the DM is narrating. In abundance they kill any ambient mood.


thejeff wrote:
Terronus wrote:

If you feel confident with with your knowledge of the system, you could also disallow players to sift through books during combat. Tell them if a question arises, they will have to rely on a judgement call form you and keep the battle moving.

This won't work with all players, but I've done it before in horror-type game nights with good results.

It can work in other systems, but PF/D&D is too rules heavy. I guess if casters have all their spells printed out it might work.

Even so I usually look through the rules to figure out if something I want to try is worth doing and I do it before my action if I can. I'm not saying I wouldn't trust the GMs judgement call, but I don't want to ask him all the things I might look up before committing to an action. "If I try this, what do I need to roll? Okay, what about if I move over here and try this instead? And this other thing? Etc"

Usually it isn't that bad, depending on how well the players know the rules, but when it is, looking it up before my turn speeds things up and reduces the load on the GM.

I've used it in PF/D&D. It does require a lot of trust on the players' part, and I wouldn't do it in a situation where I thought I might screw one of the players out of a notable effect. Usually I use it only in a specific dungeon or encounter, so in the context of the OP, it might not work on a long-term scale.

We do, also, have Hero Lab print outs for all our characters with spell summaries and such... probably couldn't do it otherwise.

Very valid considerations you mentioned


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Maybe having minis gives some people a sense of control; they know where they are, they can see clearly what's going on. That might make it harder to scare those people. I do think that minis put me more in a problem-solving mind state than a horror mind state. On the other hand, Pathfinder does that anyway, with it's well-defined rules for attacking and defending.

Bookkeeping and fiddling with non-descriptive stuff doesn't help atmosphere. If you use minis, try to set things up quickly, don't get bogged down. Well-prepared maps for GM consumption are important here, if you understand the map then setting up the scene goes faster.

Lighting can help. Carefully select a lamp to illuminate your table, but little else. The rest of the room should be shadowy. You can put some candles somewhere to create flickering shadows though.

Try music. Avoid anything with a sturdy beat. There's a lot of spooky music out there.

Use description a lot. If you draw a battle scene, put in some stuff on the floor or walls with a green or red pencil; don't tell the players exactly what it is; they'll have to go over there and examine it up close if they want to know. If you've had an encounter with ooze previously, players may be hesitant to step in it during combat. Likewise, hint that the floors may not all be sound (lots of creaking and groaning timbers); that'll have them worry that it might collapse under them during combat.

Ignorance is key to horror. Not knowing exactly what you're facing, or where danger may come from, makes you feel a loss of control and safety.
* If the dungeon has lots of side passages, have some enemies emerge from behind the party as well, so that they'll always worry about getting surrounded and boxed in in the middle of the dungeon.
* Don't reveal what the monster is right away. Before the game session, take some time to study the monster, and make up a description that doesn't let the players pin down immediately what they're facing. Don't call it a zombie or a ghoul, call it a shambling corpse with a hungry gleam in it's eyes cloaked in unearthly chill. The players may worry that it's actually a wight.
* Attack them with things they can't see. Use darkness, invisibility or incorporeal monsters hiding inside the walls. The players should be able to figure out how the monster is hiding after a few rounds (otherwise it just feels like GM cheating), but meanwhile they're under attack and they don't see where it's coming from, or who'll be attacked next.
* Combine this with scary attacks. A Shadow does 1d6 Strength damage to the fighter, that's bad, but then have a shadow creep up on the wizard who dumped Strength, and the caster will be s$!@ting bricks.
* Don't let them find out how many creatures are attacking, not immediately. For example: a shadow pokes the fighter, then steps into the wall. Party prepares for combat, but the next round a shadow (same one? second one?) hits another character on a different side of the party. Then nothing happens for a round or two. Then there's another attack from the first side again. And so on, playing cat/mouse with the party. If they enter a really good formation with lots of buffs, do nothing for a while. When their buff durations start ticking down, they get worried. Then there's some combat, they kill one shadow but another one gets away. Great, now there's at least one shadow waiting for a chance to kill the wizard, and who knows what else is out there in the dungeon. And the nasty thing about shadows is that there's very little chance to stop them from reaching out of a wall to hit you, if you walk past it. So any narrow hallway starts to feel like an ambush...

Andoran

There's a lot of good atmospheric ideas here, but I think they may not address the root of the problem. Which may not actually be a problem.

Outside of a dungeon, you can create a dark and brooding atmosphere, where the players become enjoyably unsettled. Wandering through Ustalav, never knowing when a horrific beast will tear it's way through the misty woods, when a fire-eyed preacher will order you burnt at the stake, or when an innkeeper's daughter will out to be a blood-sucking vampire!

But in the dungeon, players are in their element.

They're in a location that has been trod by adventurers for over 40 years. There are monsters and traps, and the characters have abilities specifically designed to deal. There will be puzzles and complications, and the players will be mentally prepared to deal with those as well.

This is not a bad thing. One of the reasons people play Pathfinder (or other dungeon fantasy systems) is so they can play characters capable of surmounting terrific danger, which is handily provided by dungeons. You can try various GMing tricks and tools to help create a frightening atmosphere in the dungeon, but even without minis or with spooky music, your players will have dice ready to roll and dungeon-crawling on their mind.

In many ways, the dungeon is a comfort to players and characters. It is the outside world, in all it's glorious uncertainty, that really scare them. Unknowable social hierarchies, webs of deceit and lies, problems you can't fight your way through. These are all frightening things in real life, so it's no wonder that our characters have the same fears, only amplified.

I guess I really don't have a solution for you. Just make sure everyone is having fun, including yourself. If the players enjoy powering through the dungeons, let them - it makes them happy, and gets them out of the dungeon and into the next frightening pan all the quicker.

If you wish to expand the non-dungeon segments of the campaign, I recommend Rule of Fear, as it contains many frightful ideas to hook your PCs with. Any Ravenloft supplement will have additional concepts that can be slotted right into Ustalav with a few name changes. I also recommend a glance at GURPS Horror, which does a grand job of detailing the ways in which the Universal Monster set (who certainly influence Carrion Crown) reflect very real fears.

Carrion Crown Spoilers:
despite being the "Horror" Adventure Path, Carrion Crown is still a Pathfinder game. It focuses on event and location based dangers with a veneer of horror tropes, and requires a great deal of off-path work to mold into something truly terrifying.

Starting with Trial of the Beast, the campaign becomes an extended chase, which right away takes your PCs from the roles of pursued to pursuer. The final dungeon is one of my favorites, and does a great job installing fear in the players - a single misstep could spell a watery tomb. Broken Moon is good for fear, as the PCs must leave themselves open to danger while investigating a web of lies. The final act a village full of the undead, and is decidedly less terrifying. Wake of the Watcher presents plenty of unsettling Lovecraftian material, but be sure to customize the scares to your players. "It's a REALLY strange monster" isn't scary to an adventurer. "If you lose, your brain will be carved from your head and will forever reside in a alien cylinder, descending further and further into madness, never knowing the sweet release of death!" is better. Ashes at Dawn provides plenty of tightrope social interaction that could turn against the party in a snap, but at this point the party may be so powerful that you may need to up the ante (adding more vampires to the underground, more innocents at risk if the PCs mess up, etc) to install a sense of fear. We haven't gotten to Shadows of Gallowspire ourselves, but my reading of it is that there's not much to frighten the players, other than "hey, this creature does a LOT of damage". That dracolich fight looks pretty rad though.

I hope at least some small bit of this helps!

Shadow Lodge

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Minis:

Ask your players about the minis. Some can do well without them. I hated not having minis. I played nearly 20 years without minis, and now that I have them, I love them and realize how much not having them bothered me. Ranged combat was never available (because the monster would charge you the first round), there was never a way to stop a creature from charging the wizard, tanks were useless; every battle the DM would state, "You see 10 goblins (or demons or what have you), they split into pairs and 2 each attack each of you." Monsters always came in groups, and some number was always assigned to each character, regardless if you were the fighter, cleric, rogue, or wizard. Oh, and much of that time was 2nd ed, where if the wizard takes damage, the spell is gone - no concentration check, no defensive casting, it's just gone. Minis not only allow the players to use tactics to their best advantage (because in real life you would), but also keep the DM in line with the rules of the game. I will never again play in a Pathfinder/D&D game that doesn't use minis.

There are other ways to immerse yourself if the story:

MUSIC!

I love it when music is used. There was one game I was in where the same song was played when a specific bad guy came in (a vampire) and the song was never used for anything else. Obviously, it was a recurring bad guy. Months later, one of the other players told me they heard the song outside of game - they got chills and immediately started looking for the vampire. Do not use anything with a steady beat or with lyrics. Also, remember to use just regular sounds, such as dripping water, rainfall and thunder, screams in the distance, animal noises, etc... Label your sound files clearly and keep them organized - that way you can easily play what you want without taking any time away from the game.

There's a really weird phenomenon when it comes to human hearing: we have a difficult time telling where a sound is coming from if the sound comes from below us. Hide your speakers under the table so the sound bounces off the floor, and it will keep your players guessing as to where that dripping sound or the screech that's echoing through the hallways or that sound of a metal pipe tearing is actually coming from.

Player Lighting!

I had a DM play only by candle light in a horror setting, and we always started after dark. It was fantastic!

Character Lighting:

Use the lighting and sight rules of the game - the characters can only see so far. Example:

Draw your map ahead of time, and use "fog of war rules" (not a pathfinder rule). Basically, have the entire map out with their minis on the board, and use various shape and sized black construction paper (cut or tear to get unusual shapes) to cover up what they can't see. Normally, when people use this method, they leave open to see everything the players have already explored. With Fog of War rules, as soon as they leave a room, cover it back up because they can no longer see it. This leaves only the area they're in available to see, which gives the "fear of the unknown" emotion so prevalent in our psychology a chance to create the mood for you. If it seems a lot to do, have your players cover up what they can't see - they know their own character's vision and distance better than you will. Having players help will not remove their immersion into the game - there's already a bit of metagaming with the minis and having them help you control the fog of war won't remove any additional immersion.

Combine that with weird and dark mood music and candle-light play, and you've got yourself a horror setting even with minis.

Character sounds vs player sounds:

Try to keep people on track in the game - minimize out of character talk. I once used a system where you had to hold up a small sign to speak out of character, and there was only one sign at the table. Everything else was in character - and if a player spoke without the sign - that was noise in character which would give the opponent a bonus to their perception checks to hear them. Sometimes with the words echoing down the hallway alerting anything in the dungeon to their presence. Believe it or not, but my players actually liked it, because it minimized interruptions into the game.

PF Combat Rules:

Remember that combat isn't straight forward, and nor should it be. Use the environment to your advantage. Have monsters that can meld with stone and slip into the walls - only to slip out again ten minutes later to throw a flask of acid. Other monsters that blend with the shadows and hide down the hallway shooting arrows. Bring monsters back into areas they've already explored and can no longer see because they're not there anymore. Create rubble for difficult terrain. Don't let them kill monsters - things run away when they're injured and smarter things will set up traps ahead or behind them in order to "get revenge." Remember to use conditions from the back of the CRB: shaken, exhausted, frightened, etc. Sunder their weapons and armor. Steal their equipment using the stone melding monster and have him meld back into the wall. Horror campaigns get scarier when you have less to work with.

Monster Descriptions:

Use descriptions of monsters that are really creepy. A game I am in (unfortunately, we only play once every few months) is a horror setting. We're up near a mountain lake with a few cabins sprinkled around it. A storm comes, and you can feel the evil. Wolves started trying to break in through the doors and windows in order to get out of the rain (imagine being 1st level stuck upstairs because there's a pack of wolves in your living room waiting out the storm). In the middle of the night, the humans woke up from their sleep and had an overwhelming urge to go outside into the storm. They walked towards the balcony door like a shuffling zombie. The half-elf just stood there, and the elf and the dwarf had to stop the humans from leaving. The storm eventually stopped, but the dense fog rolled in - and that's when the sounds stopped. No animals sounds, no wind, no insects - nothing. We spent the next few days going from cabin to cabin to find someone - anyone. In one cabin, we found supplies - food and other stuff to restock (since we've been unable to hunt anything). We found a man hanging from a noose upstairs in a room locked from the inside, apparently unable to cope with the rains. We cut him down and buried him outside. The basement was flooded. We stayed the night downstairs. In the middle of the night, we heard a splash, the creak of a door opening, and the loud sound of it swinging shut. What the hell was that?! We checked the entire house, no one was here! We locked or barred all the doors! The door to the basement was open and there was a trail of water going to the back door - no longer barred shut. We ran outside and could easily follow the footsteps in the mud. And that's when we saw the first man alive that we've seen since the storm. He was just standing there in the forest, staring out away from us. His arms hung by his sides. We called to him - no answer. As we got closer, we could see his wet hair and his pale white skin - it was as if he has bleached his skin to that awful ghastly color of unnatural whiteness. His flesh was wrinkled from soaking in water too long. But he just stood there, back to us, as if he didn't even know we were there. We walked around in front of him - and shock overtook us. He had no face - no eyes, no nose, no ears, no mouth - just a blank sheet of pale white skin. And he was just standing there. Staring into the night.

Horror music examples: here or here

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

My 'paranoia' DM tips.

Spoiler:

Even in combat, you can rack up the tension. Player moves to square X? Ask for a perception check. No matter the result, nod and say 'Ok'. Now they have to decide to move there or not.

Random smells, sounds etc.

Ask to look over a character sheet, nod, chuckle, and make a note then hand it back.

Don't use stats when the fight breaks out. "The large misshapen man like thing lurches towards you, a cruel hook in its ham sized hand." Quick, is it an Ogre, Hill Giant or Flesh Golem?

Describe the effects of its special abilities rather than the game mechanics. I ran a fight where they were fighting 'fresh' zombies. (3.5 rules) One of the players, who I knew was cheating, declared a natural 20 with a bow, and max damage. (18 points) Since I knew she'd hit but not critted, (and they were immune anyway) and that the DR reduced the arrow to one point, I described it as "a beautiful perfect shot, hit him right in the heart. He stops for a moment, looks down, then shoots back." That made the players freak more than "I know you didn't crit, the damage is reduced by 5 for damage reduction, so he takes one point and shoots back."


Place the characters' minis down and draw out the dungeon map as the characters explore. When they can see down a hallway that splits to the left and the right but can't see WHAT is to the left or right, it encourages them to find out. This is how the game should be. They shouldn't be able to see the whole dungeon map when they haven't explored it yet. I know that a LOT of DMs do this (some good DMs... I've seen Chris Perkins do this in his videos), but it just sort of turns the game into a miniatures strategic war-game dungeon crawl. It makes the players think, yes, but it takes out the role-play, and it takes out some player/character decision-making opportunities. If the characters see a battered door but can't quite make out what's on the other side - but the dungeon keeps trailing on and curves to the left, that's a real decision to make because they have no idea what either choice will lead to. This directly invites the players to have their characters act without you having to do anything at all, except draw a little bit at a time and very briefly describe what they CAN see. 99% of the time they will take the initiative to look into the stuff that they CAN'T see.

EDIT: Meant to say that this approach can be suspenseful by its very nature. The players explore a little bit of a time, finding nothing except more paths to take in the dungeon, and suddenly they find a rotting corpse in 1 room, covered in feeding rats, stinking up the room. The players think this corpse may be a few days old. It doesn't sound like much, but without saying anything more than that, they know that PROBABLY something bad is waiting on them if they continue on, but they don't know what it is or when they will get to it, but they know they have to keep going.


I personally don't use miniatures, but instead pogs with pictures of the relevant creatures/characters printed on them. This topic has got me thinking about using strips of dark cloth to cover the areas of the map (room) not visible due to darkness.


I advise against music. Nothing break the mood more than people shouting back and forth and constantly saying “Huh, whadijasay?” or slows the game down when you have to repeat that 5 minute spiel about what the room looks like.


Ascalaphus wrote:
I personally don't use miniatures, but instead pogs with pictures of the relevant creatures/characters printed on them. This topic has got me thinking about using strips of dark cloth to cover the areas of the map (room) not visible due to darkness.

This works too, if you can make it to where the slightest bump doesn't jar the covering out of place, and if you trust your players to not peek! :p This is an especially good idea if you have a lot of already made grid maps (or if you're artistically challenged... like me :p)


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I was thinking about things like "the torches go out", and then draping some cloth over the section of room that's no longer illuminated. The players are going to be certain that there's something going on there in the darkness, but they can't see what, how many, or where exactly.


good thread. Dot.


Yeah, the only way I've made Pathfinder scary is to up numbers on the monsters stats. The rules and culture of the game make most things somewhere between easy and mildly difficult.

Warning personal bitterness:

Let's take a Gug. In Call of Cthulhu, those things mean The End of an investigator. You are a puny human and they are giant monsters from the land of dreams unbothered by the laws of the natural world. Surviving them requires a SAW or in classic era the kind of gun that is pulled by mules. Their horrible alienness means that even looking at them can destroy your mind.

In Pathfinder it is an average CR 10 monster. It's reasonably likely to hit and can be a hard fight for one dude.

You can't really make it scary unless the players want to be scared. Once combat starts, there is no fear beyond shrinking resources (hp, spells, npcs etc.) If the players want to be scared they can but it's all up to them to get into it. Combat is generally more restrictive on the GM and the players know what they will be allowed to do and after a while can look at a giant fight, say a horde of smaller monsters, a couple of big ones and a flying one, and see how the combat is likely to go. It's not that scary and music and candles won't change much beyond more squinting at character sheets.

To try and be useful, make the combat faster, Matthew's suggestion about calling for rolls and acting like you have secrets is good (I suspect that several classes have abilities that mean they know you're bluffing.) Try to streamline combat as best you can or up the danger. Descriptions are good but only work if the players are in a horror kind of mood.


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Except that the "danger" here only comes from the reactions of decent roleplayers who are attached to their PC's. Other players, more on the munchkin end, have no problem getting their PC killed, as there's always another, BETTER, Pc waiting in the wings.

If ALL your players are the first type, you're OK. But if you have even one of the 2nd type, ramping it up just leads to a TPK and (some) unhappy players.


Journ-O-LST-3 wrote:

Yeah, the only way I've made Pathfinder scary is to up numbers on the monsters stats. The rules and culture of the game make most things somewhere between easy and mildly difficult.

Warning personal bitterness:

Let's take a Gug. In Call of Cthulhu, those things mean The End of an investigator. You are a puny human and they are giant monsters from the land of dreams unbothered by the laws of the natural world. Surviving them requires a SAW or in classic era the kind of gun that is pulled by mules. Their horrible alienness means that even looking at them can destroy your mind.

In Pathfinder it is an average CR 10 monster. It's reasonably likely to hit and can be a hard fight for one dude.

You can't really make it scary unless the players want to be scared. Once combat starts, there is no fear beyond shrinking resources (hp, spells, npcs etc.) If the players want to be scared they can but it's all up to them to get into it. Combat is generally more restrictive on the GM and the players know what they will be allowed to do and after a while can look at a giant fight, say a horde of smaller monsters, a couple of big ones and a flying one, and see how the combat is likely to go. It's not that scary and music and candles won't change much beyond more squinting at character sheets.

To try and be useful, make the combat faster, Matthew's suggestion about calling for rolls and acting like you have secrets is good (I suspect that several classes have abilities that mean they know you're bluffing.) Try to streamline combat as best you can or up the danger. Descriptions are good but only work if the players are in a horror kind of mood.

Well, if you really wanted to run something that felt more like Call of Cthulhu in Pathfinder, just ignore the CR ratings, at least for Mythos type creatures. Sure a Gug is an average CR10 monster. It can could be absolutely devastating to a low level party, just like it would be for human investigators in CoC.

It's only "a hard fight for one dude", if that one dude is himself 10th level.
A good horror game isn't about fights with equal or weaker enemies, but with trying desperately to find some way to stop the horror without that kind of direct confrontation.
That can be done in PF, but it requires ditching some of the assumptions and guidelines and players willing to adopt the right attitude.


Thanks all for your help. I have a bunch of things to try :)

Another quick question. Do you prefere to draw the complete plan (for people who keep the mat and the minis) of the dungeon before the party, or draw it whith your players discovering it rooms after rooms?


If the characters researched the layout before, I'll sketch the layout as it should be, based on what they researched. This could be from scrying, book research, interrogation etc.

Doesn't guarantee it's accurate, if their information wasn't. But then they'll realize that when they enter a room and it looks different than they expected. (Me re-drawing the battle mat at that moment.)

But otherwise I do it room by room, because feeling nervous about the unknown is at the core of horror.

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