Bad Clown by Graeme Maclean

This is part 2 in the series: Mastering the Creeps

Most seasoned game masters will agree that visual aids are a great way to immerse your players in your campaign world. A printout of the Lightning Rail, or a diagram showing, to scale, a Sky Squid alongside the player’s starship are just a couple of ways that you can pull in a group of players.

And if you want your adventure to have a creepy tone, then putting a little extra effort into preparing props can go a long way. In my previous post I explained the general concepts for adding a creepy atmosphere to your storytelling. These still apply, but a game master has the additional advantage of using visuals on top of these fundamentals.

When you’re trying to describe a villain on the spot, it can sometimes be difficult find the words to get across the feel you’re looking for. Using a visual aid can be a helpful shortcut — but perhaps more importantly, a good visual communicates with less room for error than than the spoken word.

Photo By: Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Ezekiel Kitandwe

Visual aids can help sell a situation, because some things just tend to be creepier than we realize. Have you ever noticed how some very simple masks can be creepy? Or how sunglasses can make an authority figure like a police officer or soldier look more intimidating? As social creatures, humans are adept at identifying the focus and intentions of other individuals. Linguists and body language experts estimate that about 60-80% of communication comes from body language, and much of that is tied directly to the eyes. In fact, we are so good at reading body language that we can tell when someone makes eye contact from about 130 feet away — too far to see a person’s eye in detail.

This is why someone hiding their eyes or facial expressions makes us uncomfortable, because we lose the ability to read their intentions. The catch is, this is such a deeply subconscious thing that many people won’t think about it if you just describe a mask. Most of us need the visual cue to trigger any emotional response.

To put it another way, there are people that are keenly aware of their discomfort with say, clowns or spiders (or perhaps a little of both?), but for everyone else, you may need to use more than a key word to give them chills. Fortunately for game masters, the creeps are just a page away from the game table.

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