Archive for category Anecdote
Several Slash5/Maneuver playtest modules were run this weekend at NERO Ravenholt. Got some great feedback! I’m still collecting data, but I thought you guys might be interested to hear some quick notes.
I just want to take a moment to thank the Ravenholt players that tried it out. There was some grumbling at first, but people approached it with an open mind and gave me their honest feedback.
The general impression was strongly positive. Ravenholt has a lot of level 35+ characters and a much smaller number of characters in levels 1-20. Recruiting new blood is hard here, because new players are so far below the average power level. Most plot is aimed at the average Ravenholt level, which I think is in the upper 20s. So I was pleased that we could bring the full level range on a combat module without the low level group feeling overwhelmed or the high level group feeling underwhelmed.
Here were the two modules that used the playtests:
Slash Five (standing alone) — one of Ravenholt’s staff members ran a module using the slash five playtest. I was not there to see it, but I talked to people that went on it. The feedback ranged from feeling neutral (it didn’t change anything) to strongly positive.
Slash Five + Maneuvers — I ran a module that used both playtests. We had roughly 35 players involved.
Backstory: the players were asked to help research a magical anomaly in a nearby region where the Great Celestial Cycle is in flux and things are not behaving as they normally do. My hook character (A scholar of Helevorn, the great Quentari library) had some research on how people behave when they’re in that area (ie, the playtest notes). I left the playtest notes in the back of the tavern with some paper, so people could draft out how their build would be spent under this playtest. On Sunday, I brought everybody out to the battlefield.
We divided the 35 players into two groups – a higher level group and a lower level group. Each group had a magical device (a gem) which was said to record the magical energy patterns in the area. The devices were not allowed to get within 50 feet of each other until the last wave of monsters (forcing the groups to stay separate, thereby making it easier for our NPCs to challenge each group). So the players were there, in-game, to collect data for the Black Tower of Helevorn. The new maneuvers were explained as the memories of ancient heroes who had died on that site in a previous era. By hanging out in that area, the spirits of these heroes aid you in battle.
Then the group of 6 NPCs attacked each group in turn. We started with 5 body, swinging 1s, and got a little tougher after each wave. We gave monsters a variety of maneuvers so we could test them out. As the module went on, we also drafted some of the players to join the monster side so players could be on the receiving end of archery, celestial magic, and earth support.
Finally, after each group had faced about 8 waves of monsters, we combined the groups into one, and attacked them with tough monster stats. The top stats we used were monsters swinging 5s, with 35 body, two Return Magics, and two slays. Each monster had a full set of maneuvers to call upon.
- Learning curve – people were not yet used to the new numbers, so there was some confusion / frustration there. One person pointed out that it felt like the month after NERO implemented numbers after spell incants (you didn’t always have to say “20″ after a flame bolt) – everybody was confused at first, there was some frustration and resistance to change, but people eventually got the hang of it. But not everybody “got it” instantly.
- One complaint was that it made new characters too effective – a few high level characters didn’t like that a brand new character can pick up a +1 weapon and compete in a high level module or encounter.
- Stance duration was an issue – if you activate a melee stance, it lasts until the battle ends, which the rules define as “line of sight” (meaning the battle’s over when you don’t see any combat for 10 seconds). However, in practice, this means your stance only lasts for one wave of monsters. The intent is that it could be active for an entire wave battle or module.
- Some people felt the call “weapon strike” was too long and is too easily confused with “physical strike” or “spell strike”. We are interested in suggestions for other words, the shorter the better!
- The cost of maneuvers may be too high, still collecting data on that.
- Some people reported “lower math makes *everybody* feel more deadly.” One player said, “As a high level fighter, I used to be able to ignore a monster swinging 2s. But now even goblins have a shot at dropping me. Game feels scary again!”
- Some suggested this playtest puts a little bit more emphasis on real fighting skill (as opposed to character skill).
- Skilled Block was probably the most popular maneuver. A fighter with five available Critical Attacks and Skilled Block can take five more hits than a fighter without it… but is still dropped quickly by a Slay.
- People reported the math WAS much easier to process. Nobody was in a situation where they had 42 body and 12 armor and got hit with a 17… under slash five it’s more like 8 body, 2 armor, and getting hit with a 3. Much clearer!
- Nobody said the math was harder than current NERO math.
- People said it still felt like NERO. Even people that didn’t think the lower math was a benefit said that overall, they still felt as powerful as they did under regular NERO.
- People said it made celestial casters feel more powerful, though I’m still investigating why. Some said it had to do with low level spells being harder to ignore. When you’ve got a ton of body, you tend to brush off the odd magic missile or lightning bolt, but when the numbers are smaller across the board, you pay more attention to them. Still looking for data on this.
- Earth casters said it felt exactly the same, they felt no change in power
- Nobody said they felt LESS effective under this system
- Some really cool teamwork moments. Fighters with the Bodyguard skill would team up with casters and defend them. Players would set up combos with each other, where one player would fumble the monster’s weapon, then his buddy would move in to flank.Warrior’s Dare allowed a lone fighter to approach a group of people more tactically, using the line on the ground to single out a target and prevent the whole group from rushing forward.
- Several people said they were excited that the new skills help them better express their character concept (for example, playing a defender-style fighter vs a slayer-style fighter).
- More level playing field. Low level characters had an easier time competing against tough monsters.
I’ve been following the discussion about the Slash Five playtest for a few days now. A lot of people seem really excited, others less so. This post addresses the people who aren’t sold on it yet.
A lot of people seem to misunderstand the intent of the playtest – and they dismiss it because they think it’s supposed to be addressing something it’s not, like speed of combat, or fighter/caster balance. It’s just about making the math easier, an issue which some people don’t think is an issue. So today’s post is about Gameplay Complexity, one of those barriers to entry that we tend to ignore.
I enjoy trying out all sorts of LARPs. Including NERO chapters, I think I’ve played about 50 different games at this point. A few hours drive from me, there is a little cluster of LARPs which are based off each other. I think this is because of the “splinter effect” — you love a game, and eventually you hate it, so you drive 15 miles up the road and start your own LARP. (I’m willing to bet 50% of LARPs start this way) So that region has a half dozen games which are derived from each other.
As an outsider, some of their local customs seemed weird to me. At one game, my weapon failed safety check because it didn’t have tape on the grip (which doesn’t bother me because I wear gloves). According to local lore, graphite cores will shatter into a million pieces, and if a splinter get into your blood, you will probably die. I asked if that had ever happened and the safety marshal said “I saw it almost happen last month”. Okay, when in Rome… I had to borrow some grip tape from a player to fix my “broken” weapon. I noted with amusement that one LARP’s mortal issue is another LARPs total non-issue.
That particular community is influenced by MMOs in how their skills work. In one game, certain skills have a 1-5 minute “cooldown” (like World of Warcraft). You are expected to track your skill cooldowns yourself. You can’t use the skill again until enough cooldown time has passed. If you use three of these skills in a row, they expect you to keep track of all three cooldowns during combat. I sure couldn’t do it! I can count seconds pretty accurately when I’m focused on it, but not while I’m hopped up on adrenaline and yelling numbers while swinging a sword. But when I told somebody that I didn’t think I could accurately count cooldowns, they acted like I was missing some kind of basic cognitive skill – “Seriously, you can’t count to 60 seconds?”
I went to one of those games with my plate mail. In that game, if you get hit while wearing armor, you have to quickly perform three math operations.
- If you have a point of Durability left in your armor, you must subtract a point.
- This lets you apply your armor’s damage resistance to the number you were hit with (reducing it to a minimum of 1).
- Then you subtract that number from your remaining hit points.
The director told us, proudly, “It’s the most realistic armor system we’ve seen in a LARP.”
I watched people wrestle with all these complex gameplay mechanics, and I saw what kind of play style it rewarded. Some players were cautious about cheating, so they didn’t wear armor, and they only used their cooldown skills after they were CERTAIN enough time had passed. More competitive players used their skills judiciously — they would use those skills as soon as they had finished cooling down. And if it was dire need, maybe 50 seconds is close enough to 60 seconds that nobody would call them on it. And of course, nobody DID get called on it, because the rule is “do your best” (translation: we know you can’t track this stuff, so just keep the cheating to a level no one will complain about). It seemed like the people who play by the rules were at a significant disadvantage.
“This is really complicated!” I said to a director. “Yeah,” he said, “ehh it’s not for everybody.” I guess that includes me. The game was geographically close enough to me that I would have become a regular player if it wasn’t so overwhelming to keep track of everything.
To me, this was a good lesson that sometimes a game’s problems can only be spotted from outside of it. Nobody in the game saw cooldown time, or three math operations per weapon swing, as an issue. But as an outsider it seemed ludicrously complex. Survivor Bias means that we only get feedback from people who haven’t quit, so the issues that drive people away, or keep them from joining, are somewhat invisible to us. Our impression of the games issues are distorted, so we need to listen to outsiders and new players.
The Math in NERO is one of those invisible issues. Yes, most of us existing NERO players are pretty good at keeping up with the math. But not everybody is. And some people are really bad at it, but still want to play NERO. And more importantly, one of the most common complaints we hear from new or potential players is that it’s too hard to follow all the rules. To this, somebody will reply, “Well they should brush up on their math skills,” or “They’ll get it eventually.” (and what if they don’t?) This is just a way of ignoring the problem.
And meanwhile, we’re losing players to games which are more accessible. Lots of LARPs out there have figured out how to get players plugged into the heart of the game right at their first event. NERO’s math and progression curve mean that you need to be a newbie for a few YEARS before you get to play with the big kids. You have to wait for special newbie modules and can’t meaningfully affect many of the spotlight encounters. That doesn’t strike me as good business sense OR good game design. (but progression speed is a separate issue, another fish to fry on another day)
I was searching the web for feedback about the Slash Five playtest when I found a message board discussing LARP rules. The topic was “When are there too many rules?” One guy said it well: “I’m of the opinion the second your game has to regularly deal with numbers that go into 3 digits, you are officially in ‘too many numbers’ land. Even the NERO players are getting to the point of ‘This is too many fucking numbers, get back to sanity’”. Then he linked to the slash five playtest.
Take note of his phrasing: “Even the NERO players are getting to the point…” Our competitors love to point out that NERO’s numbers are higher and more complex than the numbers in most LARPs. And that’s because our math was never intended to be this high. In early NERO, people swung 1-5 damage and had under 20 hit points. If they had known that the game system would eventually lead to people swinging 17 damage against a monster with 115 hit points (while a nearby caster peppers the monster with 35 damage packets), they wouldn’t have set it up that way. If that player was supposed to kill that monster with seven swings, the same effect could be accomplished with much simpler math: the player could swing 3s and the monster could have 24 hit points and it would be the same exact fight.
Count by 3s until you get to 30. Now count by 17s until you get to 170. Do it now, quickly as you can! One is easier than the other. Maybe you are gifted and they both seem equally difficult to you. But do you want to limit access to the game to ONLY people who are above average at math? Now put yourself in the shoes of somebody trying to recruit new people for his or her game – why would you want to limit your potential customers to only math whizzes? What advantage do the high numbers provide over the low numbers?
I find it dismaying that many people have made up their minds without actually testing the system. Change makes people uncomfortable, I get that, but we have gotten a lot of resistance to the suggestion of even TESTING a new idea. Or worse, people that won’t test it with an open mind – they have already decided they don’t like it and are ready to unleash their poison at first opportunity. How can we collect meaningful feedback from playtest surveys when people test it purely to justify their distaste?
In 2006, the NERO Rules committee met in person. We talked about the many barriers to recruitment which NERO faces, and the ways we are falling behind our competition. Joe Valenti and Noah Mason and I had just returned from Germany, where we played a 3000 person LARP called ConQuest Mythodea — it opened our eyes. The rules in that game are very easy to follow, and as a result, combat actually felt more engaging. We talked about how to grow NERO into a larger game, and we realized that it’s a hard sell right now if you’re not already involved.
On that day, we developed a 5-year plan (okay okay okay, at present it’s looking more like a 10-year plan): first, get rid of the 100+ pages of playtest material, minimizing the amount of reading you need to do before you play. That was the scope for 9th edition. Second, once the table was clear, we’d focus the playtest system on making the game clearer, easier to run, and easier to recruit. Most previous editions of NERO have focused on putting bandaids on tiny game balance issues, and it’s caused the rulebook to grow and grow (both in length and complexity). People who already play under it think it’s fine, but 120 pages of text + 100 pages of playtests was far too much for newcomers. So it’s time to walk it back. (and to be clear, we’re talking about gameplay complexity, not gameplay depth)
It took a long time to get to where we are today, but it’s finally time to start thinking fresh thoughts about NERO. I think the core experience of NERO (and most Fantasy LARPs) is basically this: get together with your friends, talk to an NPC, go into the woods, slay a troll, and open a treasure chest. The question before us is: how can we make that experience as fun and accessible possible? Many of us are jaded, cynical, set in our ways. Maybe changing the game will be a breath of fresh air and get people charged up again. Or maybe not. But it’s worth trying, right? Otherwise we are committing to rigidity, we are refusing to adapt to the demands of the LARP market, and NERO will shrink every year until it simply fades away.
Hi, I’m Jyn!
Dan asked if I’d share some thoughts I wrote about transforms and transform plot over here at NEROlogy.
Transforms seem to stir up a lot of mixed feelings, because some people associate them with less than stellar experiences. However, they offer some amazing opportunity for creativity and personalization when they are handled well. So here are some examples of great things I’ve seen done with transform plot in the past. I hope you’ll comment with your own examples and ideas too.
NPCs that are transform hooks AND something else
Transform plot can be really narrowly focused, so you don’t want to send out an NPC to do only that, if you can help it. So you double up. For example:
- A dream elemental NPC who is an IG marshal for dreamvisions, and is the guy who gently suggests that people go to bed when major plot is done for the night. He’s also the guy that people talk to if they want a dream transform, and who trains and tests PC dream elementals
- A life elemental who is delivering info for a major plotline can also be a point-of-contact for a PC who wants to become a life knight.
- An undead hunter can be a mod hook, and also answer PC’s questions about how to join his order.
This works best if you get a sense of what kind of transforms PCs are interested in, so you can make sure the appropriate NPCs are out there, doing various other things. Then it’s just up to the PCs to approach them. Having a variety of potential transform-hook NPCs also lets PCs learn about what’s possible so they can decide what they want.
Transforms as an opportunity for more cool costumes
How much costuming people do for transforms seems to vary wildly between chapters, but I really dig games where the transformed folk have special masks and costuming for when they go active. None of this “visibly a phoenix” stuff; the girl has red, feathery wings and fiery costuming! (Full disclosure: I’m a mask-maker, so I have a vested interest in convincing more people to get cool transform masks!)
Transforms as a part of ongoing plot
Transform plot doesn’t have to be something that happens instead of a main storyline; it can be a part of it.
There is an elemental NPC who will only give certain plotline information out in exchange for service. So to get the info the PCs need, someone has to accept a transform from the NPC (and possibly do specific tasks for her).
There’s a major plot arc that involves fae courts. The PC base is doing mods, encounters, and fights to help the various courts defeat a mutual enemy. As a way of thanking the PCs who helped them, the leader of a court offers the opportunity for PCs to join their court as knights or champions(possibly after some further questing). Those PCs who join the court receive some kind of appropriate fae transform.
This sort of thing can also be personalized- In one such situation, there was a PC who was interested in fae plot, but his character also really cared about money, to an obsessive degree. So he was offered the chance to earn a leprechaun transform. His stat card was custom-written so he could utilize his money to be more effective when his transform was active.
Plot for scroll-earned transforms, too
Some people draw a major distinction between transforms PCs gain from interactions with NPCs, or transforms cast from formal scrolls. However, for the most part, they can both be handled in similar ways.
A PC wants to be a treeant, but has no idea how to go about pursuing this through plot (he’s never met a treeant NPC), so he has someone get a scroll for him instead. He has the scroll cast on him, and on another PC. One of the staff members sees that they’re really into this thing, so he makes a treeant NPC to go talk to them and test them, teaching them what treeants have to learn. Even though they already have their transforms, this NPC can help them get them higher level/re-upped, as well as teach them IG what they need to know to be a proper treeant.
Plot that is fun for non-transformed folk
There also seems to be this idea floating around that all transform-related plot is destined to be unfun for non-transformed PCs: dull and envy-inducing. That isn’t necessarily the case at all though! You just have to come up with cool, useful, and interesting things for the other PCs to do.
So the treeant guys’ first test is to be able to conceal themselves in the woods, and they have the time between events to prepare. The guys get all their natural-colored costuming, and bark-looking masks. One of them buys a ghillie suit! The next event, they are told at the appropriate time to conceal themselves by the NPC treeant.
Then the NPC goes and hires a group of players (lower-level and out-of-chapter guys, if I recall correctly) to go find these guys who are hiding in the woods. They split up and canvas the area, and eventually locate both of the hiding PCs.
The non-transformed characters had an absolute blast, though I’m pretty sure some of them to this day have no idea the people they were hunting for were PCs. The transform guys pass their test, and the the other PCs have a great time hunting for them, and get treasure. Win-win!
Transforms as player-directed plot
Few things get players as invested as giving them the reins a bit, and transform plot can be a neat way to do that.
A PC approaches a dream elemental NPC and tells him that he has had a lot of interaction with Dream in the past, and would now like to work towards getting a transformation. Over the next few events, they have conversations about it in which the PC is asked what he wants his purpose to be as a dream elemental. The PC says he wants to give people hope in bad situations.
So the PC is given a series of tasks, over the next several events, where he has to talk to people who are feeling despair, and inspire them. So the main plot of the weekend might involve a liche who destroyed a town, but this PC’s specific task would be to talk to the survivors and encourage them to persevere and rebuild. His transform quest is somewhat self-directed, but it’s integrated into the existing plot of the game, not divorced from it.
When the PC has completed all of his tasks, he gets a transform with a personalized stat card– he has some of the usual dream elemental abilities, but not all; instead he has abilities that let him cast inspiration or renew the abilities of others with a rousing speech.
Transforms as a level equalizer/social switch-ups
Part of the problem with character level in NERO is that it often restricts which PCs can do fun stuff with each other. Transforms usually draw those lines in different ways, so a transform mod can provide an opportunity to hang out with different people than usual. If they’re both transformed, a 10th level guy can be as effective as a 40th level guy. Also, rather than go on a mod with people your level, or the people from your barony, you could go on a mod with all the elemental-transform people, or all the nature-themed-transform people.
Transform opportunities from emergent plot
Sometimes you plan out in advance what transforms are available through a particular plotline. And sometimes things just come to you:
There’s a fairly new, very young player, whose character is a gypsy rogue. The weekend plot has to do with elementals attacking and some weird elemental gateways.
By happenstance, this rogue finds himself caught on the other side of one of these gateways on the plane of earth, with an angry earth elemental. The elemental rants about how awful Tyrrans are, and why he’s mad, and threatens the gypsy. In classic fashion, he talks his way out of it, promising he’ll be the elemental’s ambassador, and convince those awful Tyrrans to stop whatever they’re doing.
So throughout the course of the weekend, as PCs are dealing with the plotline, this gypsy is the go between for the PCs and the earth elementals. PCs do various tasks to close the gates and solve the weekend plotline, and the gypsy keeps reporting back to his elemental boss. They have a lot of conversations like:
“Ahh, so you have told the Tyrrans of our might, and have convinced them to surrender their puny efforts to attack my realm?”
“Uhh, sure, ‘zat ees exactly vhat happened.”
Of course the staff member playing the elemental knows that’s not quite what happened, but his NPC doesn’t, so the charade continues, until the end of the event, when the plotline is finally solved, and the gateway closed. The earth elemental then rifts into town to congratulate the gypsy in front of all the PCs (and to see if someone tells him the real story).
Elemental: “I have come to congratulate my ambassador, who has single-handedly crushed the enemies of the earth realm and destroyed the accursed gateways that were eroding our home. Huzzah!
Crowd of PCs: Wooo, yaaaay! Huzzah! Go gypsy kid!
(Seriously, not one person outed him or tried to take partial credit for what was obviously a joint effort. It was hilarious and awesome.) So the gypsy gets a boon from the earth elemental.
Later, after being encouraged by other PCs, the gypsy tells the elemental that he’d like to use his boon to get a transformation. However, he tells the elemental that he values his fair, delicate skin, and doesn’t want it to turn all rocky. So the elemental offers to empower him as the ambassador of the earth realm, to represent them on Tyrra. After a few diplomacy-themed tests, the gypsy gets his transform and a personalized stat card.
He’s a newish player, so it has to be pretty simple, but also thematically appropriate. He gets some immunities (like to control), a handful of defenses, and no offensive abilities, but he gets a special power that lets him negotiate with someone in safety. While he is negotiating, he can’t use any other skills, but he calls no effect to everyone expect the one he’s negotiating with. The effect ends if that person attacks him, or if that person is attacked.
It was perfectly apropos for the player, the character, and the IG situation, but it’s definitely not the sort of thing that would be in a standardized transform database. Nor should it be, I think. Part of the value of the transform to that player was that someone took the time to customize something just for him.
I’m amused by LARP slang. I love how each region has its own body of terms and buzz words.
There are two pieces of LARP jargon, however, that I want to vent about briefly. This is a pet peeve, not a big deal, but I want to say it…
The first occurs in the question, “Do you have First Aid?” This peculiar phrasing makes sense to us because of the way we build characters. You “buy” skills like First Aid, and then you either have them or you don’t. But from our character’s point of view, there is no character sheet. You don’t “have” First Aid, you know it. Whenever somebody asks me, “How many levels of formal magic do you have?” or “How many proficiencies do you have?” I’m tempted to check my pockets.
The second piece of jargon is “physical representation”, often abbreviated to “physrep” or just “rep”. One the surface, it makes sense. The weapon sheathed at your side made of kitespar and tape isn’t really a sword, it represents a sword. It is a “sword rep”. Here, the word rep is referring to a physical object which exists in the real world, an object which signifies a real sword in the world we’re mutually imagining.
The same concepts exists in the theatrical world. It’s called a “prop”. If somebody in a play has a gun in their hand, it’s probably just a prop representing a gun. But would the actors call it a gun rep? No, they’d either call it a prop, or just call it a gun. And the people in the play’s universe would never call it a prop.
Our usage of the word rep is inappropriate when we use it to refer to things which don’t need a stand-in prop to represent them. For example, the spell circle of power requires that you draw a circle on the ground to mark the border of the spell. In the common vernacular, this real line on the ground is called a circle rep. It often refers to a length of rope or wire which is used as the material component for the spell. You hear players ask, “Can I borrow your circle rep?” or “Which side of the rep are you on?”
In that context, what is the piece of rope representing? It’s representing itself! It’s an indexical prop (see p211) and doesn’t need the clunky “physrep” jargon. It is something that exists in the same form inside and outside of the imaginary universe. Our characters really are carrying around lengths of rope and wire, they are not “reps” for anything.
Like I said, these are little pet peeves, not really a big deal. They bug me because they are out-of-game language which constantly creep into in-game conversations. They draw my attention to the fact that I’m playing a game. To me, it’s sort of like if you’re watching a horror movie, and you’re really in the moment, and the guy next to you leans over and says “Relax, it’s just a movie.” I know that, but I’m trying to ignore it!
Fear’s worst enemy is jadedness. Which sounds like an indictment of the player base, but in many cases it is more a matter of escalation in place of originality. Why should someone who has fought hundreds of death knights over the years fear a death knight with a few more abilities?
Method 1 – The gruesome
At Avendale’s October 2006 event, we took the cue from the ‘zombie’ craze and used fast flesh eating infectious zombies as the weekend antagonist.
The battle began with a terrified peasant running into town. Two zombies did a pre-arranged take down on him, snarling and spraying fake blood into the air, looking at the town covered in gore and running at them intent to feast…then the rest of the zombies came out of the woods. This is unsettling. Then we just let the zombies keep respawning, it truly was a horde. They did not have incredible stats, and their special ability (to infect someone with the zombie disease on a three count, so if they went down they would become a zombie after bleed out and try to eat people) was nothing to really cause people to hide in their cabins.
But it genuinely unsettled people to see npc’s covered in blood, all mindlessly throwing themselves into the blades just to snack on them. One person fell down and was left behind, I whispered into his ear “We are eating you alive, you may want to start screaming.” When they heard their fellow player howling his way into death…that shook them.
So in the above example we have an atmospheric setup, followed by proper use of makeup/prosthetic to sell the fear. These things are going to eat you alive. Giving players gentle reminders, like “this hurts” can be a great way to help sell the moment.
Method 2 – The Unknown
Another way to do manage fear is environmental. Its pitch black, you are in dense woods, the players have one candle with which to light their way beyond a haunted grove. As they enter it, in a white headband you blow it out.
Do nothing, just let the silence panic them, let people start talking about what to do. Then let out a long suffering moan.
Then have other NPC’s in the area begin clicking on their glowsticks underneath their ghostly shrouds (in this case gauzey material) as the battle begins.
Fear does not require much more than an ability to suspend peoples ability to process a situation: This could be due to chaos and confusion of a zombie battle, or pitch darkness in the woods where they are unable to use their primary senses to understand whats occuring, so when you feed them information their minds will often go into overdrive trying to process it.
Method 3 – The Inexplicable
Sometimes in monster camp we like to come up with crazy monsters. Not all of these are intended to be combat oriented. Sometimes one monster is specifically sent out to disturb the living buhjesus out of people.
In one case, we sent out a patchwork looking creature a-la “Frankenstein”, with an added twist: Each patch had a spirit still in place! Some awful awful nae’er do well Necromancer had sewn people together to create a living golem. The monster rampaged quite a bit, and was quite afraid of fire…until he ran into the only half orc in town and seemed quite calm.
Through roleplay people began the realize that a whole tribe of orcs had been slaughtered to sew it together. The only words it said, beyond pained moans and angry snarls was ‘help us’ to the half orc. This not only got fear, but sympathy and rage in the mix. Literature can be a great source material for the dialect of fear, in particular much of the 18th century literature, when people were turning away from mythos and clutching at science as having ‘all’ the answers. There were a lot of very right imaginations at work!
So we have the gruesome, for visceral fear, the unknown, to fire up the amygdalia into overdrive, and the abomination, who is so like us, but different so we must fear it lest it strike us down.