Friday, August 3, 2012

Notes from Amnesia: Safety Breeds Fear

One of the interesting parts of Amnesia is how often you are actually safe. You never know it. Oh no, because that would defeat the purpose. It's just that there's a lot of time spent wondering if you are safe and when it will all start again. There's no guaranteed clues of what might make it all begin. Even the fleshy transformations won't necessarily indicate anything worse than a few rock falls. Yet a door opening and creaking can mean everything, nothing, or a sign of a trap.

Some horror games, especially roleplaying games, don't realise the importance of safety or the way it can just really build up anxiety and tension. That's why there should be no random monster charts in a horror game, at least not beyond the inspiration phase, as each monster should be carefully introduced with a trail of little clues and warnings to really milk all of its worth.

It is also one of the reasons why horror normally concerns itself with a single monster, or very few monsters, or one monster type, so that fear of one doesn't clash so much with fear of the others. Also, the more monsters you have, the more places you need to push them, the smaller the 'safety' net and the less time to build up anxiety.

So there you have it. Less monster time builds up more apprehension - especially if you drop lots of little hints, clues, and signs that maaaaaybe the monster will be here now. Maybe. Never let them be sure.


  1. I've actually been doing this without even being conscious of it. The appearance of Mi-Go in The Ninth Planet has only been occasional, and often the Mi-Go are not actively hostile when they do appear (though when they are, it gets very interesting). But some of the most tense moments are right now, during the long and so far uneventful return journey to Earth. Though the crew members have been "safe" for some time, they are constantly expecting the next shoe to drop, and paranoia has never been this high.

    I've done something similar in The Terror Out of Time with the ghoul tunnels. Some of the characters were exploring them when no ghouls were in those parts of the tunnels. The evidence of their recent presence and the fact that they lived down there was all around, but for a long time there were no ghouls to be seen. When they found and retrieved a mummy, they kept expecting it to come to life (it didn't). Still, there was always the feeling that the ghouls were around the next corner. Eventually, they were.

  2. Oh yes, nothing like the terror a player experiences when things look suspicious. Most GMs only throw in those kinds of signals and hints when there IS something. Those kind of cues really get the anxiety up.