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Horror Campaigns / Running Horror Games

Real And Unreal

Source Starfinder #10: The Diaspora Strain pg. 50
The balance between the real and the unreal is important in a horror story. So is the power to switch between the two.

Unreal elements allow us to distance ourselves from horror. The unreal not only can produce wonder and awe, which are akin to horror, but can also offer reprieve. Imagine the following scene.

A giant pillar composed of fleshy faces twists as it towers over a barren plain. Twin suns set behind it.

That scene isn’t comforting, but it’s also unreal. Players can, therefore, hold it at a distance. If there’s too much unreality, that distance grows, overwhelming horror with mere spectacle. However, the mundane anchors us, even if its something real twisted to fit the horror. Imagine if the previous scene were presented the following way.

Your companion leans forward and takes tentative steps toward the pillar, his head cocked. He looks back, brow furrowed, and says, “Don’t you hear it? They’re whispering our names.”

As you prepare horror adventures, keep this balance in mind. Think about where you want to emphasize the unreal and where you want to nail the real. This tool can also shine in play. When you’re running your game and find you need to shake things up, ask yourself, is this situation or scene more unreal or more real? Then look for a way to push the narrative in the opposite direction.