GM seeking advice

Carrion Crown

Liberty's Edge

After years of preparation, anticipation, and false starts, I'm finally running the campaign of my dreams, Carrion Crown, the gothic horror story I've been wanting to bring to a table since it was first published. But now that it's become a reality, I can't enjoy it because none of my players take anything seriously. I preceded the campaign by informing them of the horror themes and atmosphere I wanted to create, we're now on TotB and still all they do is crack jokes, intentionally get characters' names wrong, treat every NPC they meet with disrespect, and somehiw still expect to be treated like heroes. All I want is to make them focus, take things seriously, and treat the campaign with the respect a horror story needs. Is there anything I can do?

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

The first thing you should do is talk to your players and explain that. If that doesn't work, and it sounds like you may have tried, you might just not have the right group of players for it. So take what I have below with a grain of salt.

There's various in game ways to deal with this. Trial of the Beast even explicitly names them on the AP: PCs can literally be fined gold (up to 1000 gp) for cracking jokes. You also could try running the game on a real life clock to simulate the time crunch the trial takes place under. I tried that, and my players didn't enjoy it. But it does cut down on the time they spend joking around.

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Also, consider using table top audio or creepy music to help generate the ambiance.

Also, one thing I really like about Carrion Crown is the world functions even if the PCs fail. So if the players disrespect NPCs, don't feel obligated to have those NPCs provide assistance or even the quest hooks if it's really bad. Judge Daramid doesn't have to ask them to participate in the trial, and they don't have to succeed at it. The campaign has contingencies if the PCs fail. So, you can let them hoist themselves by their own petard. They will just wind up moving into the next sections with less XP and gold.

That last bit is important. There are a lot of rewards, XP based or otherwise, that depend on the party treating NPCs with respect.

Liberty's Edge

Thank you for the advice. I did talk to them from the outset and I do use music and ambient sounds to try to set the scene, and during our last session I experimented with adjusting the lighting in the room to make things darker. The worst offender in my group is playing a gnome which essentially uses as an excuse to be random and wacky ("You humans just don't understand gnomes") despite my stated intentions for the campaign.

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

Positive reinforcement could be used as well. Using hero points or harrow cards to reward what you define as good role-playing. I've seen people who give out such rewards when their character acts out in terror, particularly during combat situations where it leads to suboptimal moves.

You could also take a look at the recent Horror book. Maybe a sanity system or some of these corruptions could be helpful?

Liberty's Edge

I have implemented the new sanity and madness systems from HA, as well as select corruptions. I've read that books advice, the advice in Rule of Fear, the advice in the Gamemastery Guide, and various blog posts and YouTube videos about how to run a horror campaign. The problem really does seem to be that they don't want to take it seriously.

I've even resorted to writing important names and locations on post-its on the front of my GM screen for the players to reference to try and cut down on me correcting them. That's why I'm convinced it's intentional at this point.

Silver Crusade

If it is intentional...

Truly, there is little you can do.
Maybe expectations clash. You want to set the mood and run a horror campaign. They want to slam back a few beers, have an evening full of laughter, kicking ass and being the impolite heroes.

Neither way of playing is wrong, really. But the ways clash hard. If you talked to them and their idea of fun is "Funny stuff" and your idea of fun is "Atmospheric stuff" there will be little common ground. You can ask them to try for at least one evening, but in my experience there is little value in "correcting" their behaviour. If a GM talks to me about how I behave, fine, I'll see if I adjust or excuse myself from the group due to differing expectations. If the GM starts using the game to correct my behaviour (Say, my character likes to joke around and suddenly every NPC severly overreacts to my jokes, or monsters keep attacking me because I don't behave "correctly" in combat) it would severly impact my fun.

I tried the same atmospheric thing as you for the campaign and can understand where your frustration comes from. Sometimes it helped to play the NPCs as straight as possible to signal "Okay, I'm not doing that OOC-joke stuff right now", and it worked to a degree. That didn't prevent a whole bunch of meta jokes, but overall we struck a balance after talking about it (Okay, I'll be honest: Me writing a lengthy, whiny email).

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