Making the game terrifying. Help?

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Right now, I'm writing a session or two for a Dark Sun game that I'm running. The PC's are going through an abandoned section of a city that's underground that they found after falling through a sand-sink into a cavern. The first part that they go through is a manor that once housed a mad sorcerer-scientist, who tortured and experimented on people and made flesh golems and flesh constructs.


The surrounding city was allotted to him by the Sorcerer-King of the city has his permitted "hunting grounds", where he kept everyone inside with the use of walls and flesh construct guards, and regular kidnapped people and used them for his experiments.


How do I make these sessions of the game as scary and as terrifying as possible?

How do I make these sessions of the game as scary and as terrifying as possible?

Collaborate with your players. Only they know what's scary to them.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Good mood setting lighting can help.

Make your descriptions  of the enviroment very detailed to paint the picture you want them to see.

I know this may sound kinda odd, but music playing in the background of the game can add a great deal as well. Almost like an extra character if used properly.
Alliteration.  Adopt an odd meter and/or rhyme to your descriptions of what's going on.  Do this as unobtrusively as you can, try not to change your tone of voice.  I've found it has an unsettling effect on my group, at least. Innocent
How do I make these sessions of the game as scary and as terrifying as possible?

Kill someone early on (even if it's just an NPC, or a PC who's player is ok with this).

Ghosts.  Not even the kind that might attack the players, but the one's that are simply caught in some kind of otherworld stasis.  They huddle in the corner of a dark ruin sobbing endlessly, or walk an ages old patrol route that no longer exists.   I creeped out a group of players with this example exactly a few years ago.  They decided to follow the ghost on his route and eventually got cocky enough to walk right up behind him.  At this moment the ghost turned, faced right at them and moaned his lost love's name before fading out and reappearing where they had first encountered him.   Using ghosts that don't react to the players can also strengthen the roleplaying when they encounter the one remaining soul who can percieve and communicate with them.

Evidence of mysterious movements can work too.   Dust covered floors and burned out torches while handprints are left on the wallls will mystify many players.  Or chalked graffiti that mentions vague threats or indications of "DANGER THIS WAY!!"

Steal from horror movies too.  Use illusory effects like blood running from doorways, or halls that stretch on endlessly, or set dressing like furniture covered in animated human flesh that moans or screams or even has a limited amount of information it can share with the players. 
My horror tools of choice include nightmare fuel, primal fears, adult fears, and nothing.

I find that subtle shifts in the level of detail that I describe things, from mundane to explicit, can really help invoke a mood.  Especially if each level of detail hits on something that would further disturb your players.  But don't paint the entire picture.  Allow the players to fill in some of sensory details or realize the full implications of what your describing for themselves, which is also a common technique in used in the horror and mystery genres.  Whatever details they can imagine are likely be far more personal than what you can come up with.

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For example, a while back I was describing to a friend the fluff for a homebrewed familiar.  I could have just described it as a floating dragon skull, because that's basically what it was.You chew things like that up by the dozen in Castlevania.  No big deal, right? 

No.  I went into more detail.  I told him that a dragon born thrall (ominous name drop) is a floating, disembodied skull and spinal cord that fly through the air like a snake.  They're created from the fresh remains of a draconic creature such as a true dragon, or more often, a dragonborn, which are much easier to subdue (with the unspoken implication that dragonborn are murdered and killed just for this reason).  The dragon thrall retains the memories it had in life (with the unspoken implication that they are fully able to "appreciate" their new, deathless, appendageless situation). And since familiars, by default, "always obey their masters", a dragon bone thrall is powerless to strike out against murderous slavers.

And it didn't help that immediately before, I was describing cute, kitty-cat familiars and segued into that without change in tempo or tone, which only helped to highlight the odd dichotomy.

After that, my friend quickly directed the conversation to something with a bit more levity.


Thinking about creating a race for 4e? Make things a lil' easier on yourself by reading my Race Mechanic Creation Guide first.
Kill someone early on (even if it's just an NPC, or a PC who's player is ok with this).



And don't be afraid to go into brutal, sickening detail concerning the death. Describe the wet crunching of the bones as they snap like twigs, the desperate gurgles as frothy blood spurts from the mouth, and the pleading, helpless look in the eyes, right before the body is ripped, in the blink of an eye, into pitch-blackness. If you want to evoke an emotion, vivid, sensory imagery helps. In fact, there have been promising studies that show the parts of the brain activating when exposed to a clear description of a sensation, are the same parts of the brain that activate when exposed to the sensation itself.

So, if you can find out what makes them tick in this regard, and "trick" their brains into thinking they're experiencing it, you're on the right track. Be careful not to overdo it though, otherwise it will slide into bathos and they'll catch onto you. Adjectives are good, but you can use too many of them. Use as little as it takes to achieve the desired effect. It's no different when using profanity in dialogue. The right words, for the right character, in the right situation. Too much at the wrong time, and it's profanity for the sake of profanity, which only entertains twelve-year olds who just learned how to cuss. When you start describing, don't try to over-sell it. What Eisenritter said is also a good idea. If you can combo these two methods without over-selling it, you'll have your players shifting in their seats and giving each other uneasy looks in no time.

If you have your players' listen and spot/perception memorized, roll them every once in a while, giving them an opporunity to detect the creepy-ass SOB following them. Make the DC nice and high, and grin like you know something they don't when you're doing it. Then eventually you can have it right behind someone when they turn around. Maybe if they roll really high on their spot checks, maybe they think they catch a glimpse of a pale face disappearing into backness.

Fireclave also has a lot of good advice, and tvtropes is a pretty good place to look for general information. You can find damn near any plot device out there on that website. Just set a time-limit for browsing that website otherwise it will eat your whole life.
A spell consisting of three words:
Blood
to
Spiders 
Lower the light and add some candles in real life and in story.Make the room dark and also make voices .Like you hear something like a hymn mmmmmm .You can't understand where it comes from etc....Shadows that don 't exist but players see them.Doors that make noices...Though the best terror story was when my dm had only candles and we were in castle and he had draw a pentagram in his notes and he was moving one dice along it with some meanings in each edge.

Use as little of the DND rules as possible. Have very little combat (so very little locatable monsters) and discourage spell use. Make the session as close to "mother may i" as possible. 


The DND rules strongly encourage running at monsters and cutting their heads off.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"

Kill someone early on (even if it's just an NPC, or a PC who's player is ok with this).

And don't be afraid to go into brutal, sickening detail

Players' imagination can often add those details themselves. So maybe make the scene more drawn out to give them the opportunity:

Give the players a chance to (helplessly) react. Have the NPC plead for help, pray, provide a final message, etc. This could be done via a slow moving (but certain) deathtrap. Alternately, the NPC could still be conscious after receiving a mortal wound (and magical healing isn't going to cure say, being torn in half).

Another suggestion:
Withhold information. Fear of the unknown can often make players more anxious, so don't give in to temptation to reveal your secrets all at once. Do it slow.

A couple things I've had success with -- one, you must have the players' cumulative attention (no side conversations) and two, once the players' attention is obtained, you must build upon the tension until climax.

In a Cthulu game that my brother ran, the investigators (PCs) were called upon to check out an abandoned and supposedly haunted manor. As part of their due diligence, they went to talk to the only living person who knew anything about the manor: an old lady housed in an insane asylum. Once escorted down a long, dark corridor in the basement of the asylum, two guards were posted outside the old ladies' cell and the investigators were allowed access to the patient; they were given strick instructions not to touch her.

The patient sat on her bed Indian style, rocking back and forth. The investigators tried asking the lady several questions, but unable to solicit any kind of response, until finally, they reached out to touch her on the shoulder...

***side bar***as this happened, my brother reached out his hand and then after a brief second of silence, he screamed at the top of his lungs; it was terrifying indeed***

Everyone jumped and laughed, but things got creepy after that. Before she started talking, she grabbed her lip and pulled it down, revealing some strange enscription. Slowly, she started divulging information.

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I share that awesome little encounter to point out that story drives the terror. And it doesn't necessarily have to be all that detailed; let the players fill in the blanks with fear of their own design. What is critical is that the tension didn't stop building until it the scream. Even with the PCs interacting with the environment, the tension never stopped building; the setting and NPCs just kept growing. It was awesome. 

Good luck, man! Sounds like a lot of fun. These kinds of encounters can be some of the most memorable.