Resources For Every GM: Creatures Part 3 / Horror Part 4
In the spirit of the best holiday of the year, this week’s Resources features three types of monsters that will strike fear into many players. Creepy, terrible, and not what they seem are the best qualities in horror monsters!
The first consideration for today is one of the more obvious ones in many ways. Still, I think it is one that is not often brought to bear at the table. Most games in which I find aliens are those which aliens are to be expected. They are the science fiction RPGs, furturistic RPGs, or even the fantasy RPGs that are marketed for moving between worlds. When we talk D&D we generally see other planes, but many of those races are very similar to humans, dwarves, etc. Aliens are scary because of how different they are to us. It is this reason that makes me enjoy Lovecraftian stories and ideas, but those are extreme. Aliens of all types can be great for fantasy games. What will make them frightening for players in a fantasy setting are probably the subtle things. When it looks demonic but is not fiend, celestial, or elemental no matter what paladin studies it or spell is cast on it. The unknown is what might bring fear to PCs. Of course there are other ways to make them strange and obviously alien. Include technologies the PCs can’t understand, have them travel to or from space, and you could even make spells work a little differently on them. Sure, maybe they are just viewed as monsters in fantasy worlds, but we can still take cues from movies and pop culture for great alien encounters at our tables. Examples include: xenomorphs, greys, zerg, warhammer orks
With the recent release of the It movie, we really need to address clowns as a horrifying creature all unto itself. The reason I say this is because they are so creepy and distinctive. If you are playing anything that takes place currently or in the future, it is very easy to include the concept of a clown at your table. Just describing one will probably send shivers up the spine of at least one of your players. Make them something sinister and the whole table will begin to wish they thought twice about you campaign. While I cannot claim for the veracity of the argument it is said that clowns are so terrifying because of how human they look, while still being so distinctly recognizable. That factor puts us on edge psychologically, with some being more affected than others. Sounds reasonable to me, anyways. If you haven’t seen the film yet, the new It is a perfect example of how a clown can be at once benign and terrifying. It readily goes from creepy to insidious, and you can utilize such effects at your table. If you play fantasy, you can still utilize clown through jesters and travelling performers. They need not have the same face paint and red nose classic clowns have, but flamboyant dress will do the job just fine.
These aren’t creatures and they certainly aren’t monsters. Well, until they are. Children are always one of the most disturbing things to ever be encountered by people whether we are talking real life or in a game. The amount of innocence we associate with children is astounding, especially with how much it leads many into forgetting how cognizant these kids are. They are ignorant, naive, and uninformed but they understand things, remember, and are intelligent. Sure, they get things wrong and are way to literal, but often the things they say leave us cracking up because and adult couldn’t craft such jokes without effort or speechless and dumbfounded. Their innocence allows them to be blunt and take notice of things we over-think. It is this 180 that makes them so freaking horrifying in horror movies. It is less shocking for virtually anything else to do the exact same thing. If you want to freak out players make your kids demons, possessed, aliens, monsters, illusions, ghosts, shapeshifters, fey, anything. Play up how like children they are until the moment is right and make them creepy. The more your players question the better and the less definitive you make whether it was a weird thing they said or actually sinister, the more effect you’ll have later. There is no end to inspiration in horror movies out there.