As the guy who runs far more horror than any sane man should (mostly Call of Cthulhu & Delta Green, with some Nemesis and vanilla NWOD thrown in for good measure), I'm going to quote DMF's post, and add a few kibbutzes of my own as further suggestions.
Donovan Morningfire wrote:
Something also is to is try not to be heavy-handed about the horror elements, especially when you're running a game that's not horror-based at it's core. As Chris said on the show, nothing is creepier than the unknown, that distant sound you think you heard but aren't sure if you did hear it or if you just imagined it.
This can't be emphasized enough.
Your big bad shouldn't be seen until the climax, if at all possible. d20 (with the possible exception of d20 Call of Cthulhu) is not actually a good system for capturing the feel of horror, so you've got to pull out all of the stops. What should be seen is the big bad's effects, and since Star Wars is ultimately a heroic game, plenty of clues as to how to defeat the big bad.
By the way, never
name your monster. The moment your players can categorize it into something familiar, you've blown any suspense you've built up to that point. In Call of Cthulhu, which I'm a veteran of at this point, there's a great game that goes on when you're the Keeper of the Ancient Lore (Chaosium-speak for GM in CofC), at a table full of veteran players. Effectively, the game is called try to guess which monster out of the book that the Keeper is throwing at us in this game. This effect is so pronounced that a lot of Keepers try to be very inventive in their descriptions. Others do away with this problem entirely by designing monsters of their own.
My advice to you is don't hesitate to create an original creature. In fact I encourage it. Let's face it, rancors are about as tired as any element of Star Wars can be. Rakghouls are getting there.
Still, if you do decide to use a creature from existing canon, never name it. It's not a rancor, or a rakghoul, even if it IS a rancor or a rakghoul. It's not going to tell you its name, so why as a GM would you use the name?
Describe it in physical terms. That rakghoul becomes a huge hulking white thing, with long claws, walking with bent spine, but still looking very fast and menacing, its skin almost translucent, a mix of blood and pale, white liquid dripping from its razor sharp teeth as it stands in the pool of your contact's blood in the flickering pale light of the single remaining light fixture as an exhaust fan creates a strobe effect with the light.
Have your players make Perception checks at odd intervals during the investigative part, with the highest roller getting the "you think you might have heard X," with further investigation coming up goose eggs or just being a red herring. Or, instead of having the players roll their Perception checks, ask for their Perception score modifer and make the roll yourself; this works quite well to put the players on edge, as they can't use metagame knowledge to determine if they failed to notice anything amiss."
Let me play devil's advocate on this one. How about not asking for many Perception checks at all, unless it's necessary for a combat situation. One thing I'll suggest from my own games, any time the dice and rules roll out, it will take players a bit out of the mood you are trying to set up, and remind them that it's a game. (I also suggest that the same thing can be said of maps and minis in a horror game, but I know a lot of d20 players can't live without maps and minis when running a game).
If it's important for the mood, or you just feel as a GM that if you don't have players roll skill checks every twenty minutes or so, your life simply has no meaning, use a simple rule I often use in Call of Cthulhu...there are no (or few) completely blown Spot Hidden or Listen (the CofC equivalent to Saga Edition's Perception) skill checks. There are, however, fatally flawed and incomplete perceptions. For example, right now, I'm sitting in the kitchen of my home. I can hear a cat crunching on dry food in the cat bowl about six feet away, I can hear crickets outside the kitchen window, I can hear the quiet taps of my fingers banging away at the keyboard. I can hear the refrigerator running about 15 feet away (it's old, and kind of noisy). I can hear the bubbling of the water in the fish tank about 30 feet away. But I'm intent enough on the screen that if there was an ax-wielding baddy approaching me from behind, I'm probably dead meat, if he's quiet enough, because I'm looking in the wrong direction.
In Chris's rakghoul in a space station example, when you arrive in the place, everybody's dead except the rakghouls. A space station is where people lived and worked. It's basically an immobile ship. Even the quietest of ships and buildings have noises, smells, and sights. In darkness, hearing becomes a dominant sound. Smells become more important. Small noises seem much louder when the overall ambient noise is quiet. Feel free to create false positives, and partial successes. In a horror scenario, when you've got the group's attention, even if they blow the die roll, let them hear something or see something: water draining from a leaking pipe damaged in the fight of the station's inhabitants with the rakghouls; the low hum of power generators or computer terminals; an occasional, random grinding noise of metal on metal, the sound of the character next to you's breathing, the scuff of rubber soles or heavy boots on damp durasteel. Your characters should be seeing and hearing something, even if they roll a natural 1. They may just not be hearing or seeing what they would be hearing or seeing if they were less distracted or more attentive.
Also, consider anytime you consider asking for a Perception check...what happens if the players all fail this check? Would they then miss a vital clue that might be needed later on? If so, you'd better have another way to feed them a clue...more on that in a moment though.
In Star Wars, the player-characters are heroic individuals, and one or more of them could very well have mystical powers themselves; that right there takes a bit of the sting out of a horror adventure. Of course, you don't want to arbitrarily suppress those quasi-mystical powers outright less you fall into the GM douchbaggery like the guy from then WGGGB segment.
The heroic nature of d20 in general, and Star Wars in particular works against a horror setting. This was the reason that d20 Call of Cthulhu was an abysmal failure as a horror game, even with the addition of Choasium's sanity system.
As Donovan says, you don't disallow character abilities. What you do is put them in situations where those abilities may not be all that useful at times. Sure, Move Object is a powerful ability...if you can be certain the target you're aiming at isn't a friend or an innocent.
I'd also like to add something that wasn't touched on much in the episode. Most horror games are investigation games where things go terribly wrong for the investigators. This describes Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker from Dracula, this describes just about every story ever written by Stephen King or H P Lovecraft. Basically, the story begins when the characters find something that shouldn't be (the dead body in the space station, in Chris's example), and go about trying to figure out what went wrong.
There are a few rules that should be at the heart of any investigation game, whether it devolves into horror, or stays as a pure investigation:
1) Your players will be idiots. I don't say that to denigrate anybody as a player...but I guarantee you that if you make your players roll Perception checks too much, they will blow the one that leads to the most vital clue to beat the Big Bad at the end of the road. It's almost guaranteed, and will leave you scrambling to figure out how to feed them the clue later. This leads right into suggestion #2.
2) Don't forget the rule of three. I recommend a book for anybody thinking of running a horror game. It's Masks of Nyarlathotep for Call of Cthulhu. It's $19.22 on RPGNow as a PDF as I speak. It's a full-length campaign for Call of Cthulhu, but it is also the best model for designing a horror scenario or campaign ever written. Even if you hate Lovecraft, hate Chaosium, and hate the Cthulhu Mythos, it's worth the read for the way it structures its investigation, how it clearly lays multiple clues to point at the same targets and locations. The big thing to take away from it though is always have three clues that lead to a needed location, and always have three clues that point to the weakness in your big bad at the end. Redundant clues are your friend, because players will inevitably miss about half of those you throw at them.
3) Open ended, not linear. When I write a horror scenario, I pick a monster, then I pick interesting NPCs (if there are other NPCs involved), I write clue chains, and I write interesting locations. And frankly, I feel free to drop clues and NPCs in whatever location feels right at the time based on what the players are investigating. The more flexible you are in dropping this stuff in when you design your scenarios, the better it will be for the game.
Anyway, that's my Cr .02. Great episode, btw...even if Skype did blow chunks through most of it. I look forward to the rest in the series.