Five Ways to Invoke Terror in Your Roleplaying Session

Updated on October 16, 2019
David W Jackson profile image

David Jackson is a real estate photographer and model train hobbyist, living in Lakewood, California.

With a little bit of planning, and keeping some basic tips in mind, you can do the impossible and instill a sense of pseudo-fear in your players.
With a little bit of planning, and keeping some basic tips in mind, you can do the impossible and instill a sense of pseudo-fear in your players. | Source

Invoking terror in your players during a roleplaying game is very difficult—most of the time, it’s impossible, given the risk followed by reward patterns. But with a little bit of planning, and keeping some basic tips in mind, you can do the impossible and instill a sense of pseudo-fear in your players. When you’ve managed this, any accomplishments the players achieve will seem monumental, and they will walk away from your game with a sense of satisfaction, feeling like they’ve just played one of the best games of their life.

So here are some basic tips on invoking terror in your otherwise impossible-to-scare players.

1. Eliminate Distractions

Try to keep your players focused on the game, which means sorting out how to keep them from wandering around, playing on their phones, reading a book, talking outside the game, or making Monty Python jokes. This might be difficult for your group, and an entire article could be written on how to deal with this problem alone. But it’s vital if you are going to create tension and a feeling of dread or suspense in the game. I use the mighty DM Dice of Justice, but not everyone will be so interested in causing dice-infused head wounds or the tedious courtroom appearances that accompany random violence. We all want the players to come back, so it’s probably best to be diplomatic. Gentle, but firm.

2. Setting and Environment

The setting that the game is played in and the ambient environment are important for keeping the players in the right (terrified) frame of mind. Dim lighting, candles if possible, eerie ambient music. This should be on low, just loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to be distracting. Preferably something without words, and appropriate for the setting in the game. Avoid pop music, techno, or anything by a boy band. This last one is probably good advice in a more general sense. The music should be neutral, but ambient.

Try to get the players to crowd around the table. You can do this by talking low, and hogging the snacks. This will also help you “eliminate distractions”, by putting them in range.

3. Force the Players to Make Quick Decisions

At critical moments, give the players literally three or four seconds to make an important choice. Test it out a few times at first, so that they get the idea. For example, when the characters encounter a deadly foe for the first time, immediately say, “What are you going to do?” and then start counting. At the count of five, have the foe take an action. Do this enough times, and the players will frantically race to “beat the clock”.

This will increase the tension and will keep the players off-balance. Remember to not be excessively cruel, unless you’re having a lot of problems accomplishing tip number one. The goal is not to punish, but to put them on-guard, on their toes, tense and alert. Once they’ve failed this test once or twice or made a rash decision, their minds will be on high alert for the next time this might happen. They’ll be paying attention, and the tension will be high.

4. Speak Softly

This will require the players to pay close attention to what you are saying. If they miss what you have said, exploit this (use the excuse that they were distracted by something else). Once they have missed a vital clue once, they will try not to let this happen again. Just another way to keep the players on their toes, off-balance, and making panicked decisions.

5. Don’t Take Breaks

The first time that you take a break, the tension will be broken. The players will drift back to reality, and no longer be immersed in the action. If you must take a break, make it a short break, and urge the players to return to the action. This one is difficult to manage, sometimes, and if the tension is especially high, the players may be desperate for a break. It’s up to you to decide at what point they get some rest – and that is precisely what taking a break will be.

So there you have it—five tips for invoking terror in your roleplaying session. I hope that it brings a new level of intensity to your games.

© 2016 David Jackson


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)