Tension and knowledge in horror gaming

As I work the currently untitled horror game into a workable playtesters draft, a thought occurs to me: one of the assumptions is that players being able to see the dice pool and its current ratio of black and white dice creates anxiety, as they can see how close they may be to failure. But it might be better, it seems, to keep the dice pool hidden instead.

Two reasons come to mind. First, it prevents meta-game analysis. Such analysis breaks or at least weakens immersion: I not normally a staunch immersionist, but for horror being caught up in the scenario’s more crucial to the experience. Players psychologically distance themselves from the fiction when their attention turns to calculating the odds on the next die roll. Second, and relatedly, horror works well when threats are obscure and unknowable. (See also: Alien.) Choosing how many dice to throw at a risky action becomes more fraught if you don’t know how many bad results you are from losing. This is tempered by the current set-up in which the GM-like narrator role rotates around the table, so I have to decide which is more important if I can’t find a way to keep both.

The playtesters draft should be cobbled together sometime this week; email if you’re interested in participating.

2 thoughts on “Tension and knowledge in horror gaming”

  1. An old horror technique is to show that something is there but not what. Throw the dice in a bag or a deep cup. The participants will have a clue of how many dice there are in there, but not the exact number.

    1. We must be on a similar wavelength, Rickard, because the idea of putting the dice in a bag occurred to me last night as I was going to bed! 🙂 To follow up further on the suggestion, as I have structured the game right now, the number of dice in the pool *is* known to the players, but what matters isn’t the number but the color of the dice – the pool is initially filled with white dice which are gradually replaced with black dice to represent the encroaching threat of the antagonist.

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