ok, this may be a long text and I hope my (victims) players don't find this
What do I mean? yes, we all know how to freak out someone who's playing at our table. Put a giant spider stalking them, or kill a loved NPC. But that's too straight forward sometimes.
You see, players expect to react to the world and discover things in a session, right? Yeah, so let's explore these expectations.
They take everything you say for granted. You are the all mighty, world controller, and sometimes world destroyer before their eyes, and they know that from the very start, so again, how can we explore this to give them a creepy experience at a make belief game?
Basically, what you want to do is twist little things, heavily stablished things, mind you, but little things that they consider a fact who will not be changed.
For example, changing a fact from the past, but that only the players realize changed, like picking a know npc and changing their gender. You can pick a mother of 3 children, and have them suddenly become a man. There may be some situations, like:
-The note-taking proficient player immediately calling it out to the players in a metagame sense, giving you the perfect opportunity to just act like they wrote it down incorrectly as just go on, and just have a similar fact happen 2-5 sessions later.
-The "I personally know every single npc" player asking in character the npc about it, giving you the opportunity to also change the npc's memories to be exactly in line with their new gender. If the player insists, you might want to have read about Last Thursdayism before the session, or explaining it here, they simply can't prove it if you also change the player's proofs to prove them wrong.
-The players not realising or not being sure about it, leaving you an opportunity to play a little push and pull game with them. You give another hint as to what's happening, but in the instant they realize it, you prove them wrong like in the other two situations.
Ok, you probably get the idea of the setting by now, but what to do then?
Wait, play with them, keep silent, whatever seems most appropriate to keep them without answers, extra points if you can keep it going without it looking intentional for a longer time. The point here, is they seek answers, so they will start brainstorming possibilities. Keep listening to the hipothesis they bring up, as you can use the one who better fits your campaign.
That said, make them wait. Give them more urgent quests, or lead them to false ends that are plothooks for other things who can distract them. Play with their drive to discover what is happening, just like a cat plays with a mouse. Just don't forget that if nothing else is happening, and all of their attention is on this, you probably shouldn't frustrate them too much, as it would probably be a good time to have a big reveal.
But before that, you should really play with their imaginations. There's nothing more unsettling than to be played with and not knowing how or why. Ambiguity is your best friend here, and you should use that. Be as misterious as possible, only giving away clues when they can't focus on it, and then after leading it to a false conclusion, only for it to happen again after 3 sessions.
Ok then, but what do I do with it? Great question. Anything.
It can be a powerful mage who was toying them, who becomes a new antagonist. It can be a curse coming from a seemingly harmless item, that they discover they also can't get rid of. It can be a symptom of a dying god that's making the world lose it's continuity.
But as I said earlier, you should listen to the players' theories. They only have their point of view, and this mean that you probably have a solid base to develop into that big reveal, but ultimately, it should tie it nietly into the campaign setting. Why not have Strahd messing with them all along, and when they discover it the party go straight into a Curse of Strahd Module? Or maybe Acererak, giving you an excuse to end the campaign in a TPK on D&D's most infamous dungeon?
In conclusion, the ambiguous nature of this mistery gives you a range of possibilities, making it really easy to say "yeah, remember that cow who changed colors in session 3? well, now at level 18 you finally understand what has been going on"
I hope this wasn't too much of a boring read, and I hope you like it. And don't forget, the more creepy and uncanny it gets, the better. Have some fun with your (toys) players!
- Any advice for getting my players to care more about the world?
- Consider having a side campaign
- Don’t Assume Everything is Fine (and the Matt Mercer behavior you should emulate)
More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Making creepy and unsettling things happen in your campaign" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
- It’s time to view session 0s as mandatory! A modern update helping modern problems
- Short(ish) Guide to Rich(er) Roleplaying (Maybe)
- Welcome to Humantown – A quirky 5th level one-shot for DnD 5e
- Need help balancing a homebrew gun for a warlock who wants to be John Constantine (and understanding normal patron/PC interactions)
- Gave my characters a McGuffin that was supposed to deliver them to the next big arc of the story. They now think it is a grenade. HELP.
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