As GMs, sometimes it’s less about the broad strokes and more about the tiny details. You know those little things that stick with our players long after a session is done. A description. A mood. A statement. Tiny things that may come back to haunt a player for years to come.
Well, this month’s blog carnival is hosted by Scott over at of Dice and Dragons, which has to do with describing those places that make you uneasy. I hesitate to say that ghosts exist (I’m not saying they don’t, just that I don’t have personal experience one way or another), but if they do, those are the places they like to gather. Locations you know on some primitive level that you simply shouldn’t be. And if you choose to go, you may see, hear, or feel something that doesn’t sit well. Maybe it’s the chills. Maybe it’s just a feeling… But sticking around is likely not high on your list of options.
How we describe those places in our games can sometimes make or break a scene. Though our players may not be directly affected by whatever creepy things befall their characters, you can certainly instill a particular mood at the table pretty quickly with the right environmental effects. Quietly describing a creaking door at the bottom of the basement stairs, the odd breeze where no wind should be, or that strange shiver when a character stands in a particular spot.
But how do we do that? How do we get inspired to write those creepy descriptions of haunted places?
We could watch hundreds of episodes of Ghost Hunters. We could create our own paranormal research groups. We could watch horror movies until our eyes bleed. Really the options are almost innumerable.
Maybe there’s an easier way though… I’m working on a list of 100 creepy poltergeist-style effects that you might be able to use to construct a freaky situation for your PCs…
Here are 20 effects to consider. Roll a d20 and see what you end up with. Re-roll if something doesn’t fit your setting or genre.
- Bleeding Walls
- Moving chair
- Spinning/Stopped Clock
- Ghost lights
- Creaking floor
- Seeing your breath
- Breath on neck
- Ghostly laughter
- Doors opening/closing
- Drawers opening/closing
- Pictures flying off walls
- Ghost wind
- Radio/TV static
- Knocking on wall/door
- Item disappears/reappears somewhere else
- Bed shakes
- Furniture rearranged
- Small fire appears
For instance, if I roll a 19, you could use that a few ways. The furniture could actively be rearranged by some strange force in a room. Or you could do it while they are away. Perhaps your PCs are staying at an inn during a particular adventure and go out to investigate some quest and when they return to their rooms at the end of the day find their rooms clean, but with things not where they were when they left. As a GM, I could have all sorts of fun with that…
“Roll a Perception check.”
“Ok. I get a 23.”
“You notice that the top of the chest in the room is slightly off-kilter. When you open the chest, you find that all your belongings are there but rearranged from smallest item to largest item, left to right.”
“I didn’t do that! Who’s messing with me?”
They probably will discount a supernatural reason behind things initially, investigating the local staff – accusing them of all sorts of heinous crimes. But what happens if the staff lets them know about a poltergeist that sometimes visits those rooms…
It’s a simple detail that can lead to all sorts of entertaining role-playing opportunities. And I only have 20-30 more to come up with before my list is complete. Then I can start on the “Creepy Basements” supplement.
I look forward to seeing what other folks come up with for the blog carnival!