Undead with bad smell / frightening presence
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Author:  Altrunchen [ Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:47 am ]
Post subject:  Undead with bad smell / frightening presence

One thing that I've noticed is how casually most players treat undead. It seems in our culture undead have become routine aspects of fiction what with how prevalent zombies, vampires, ghosts, and other undead have become. What's more is that most players seem too proud to RP their characters being afraid of well...anything. I don't particularly care for this, I think it diminishes the validity of undead as an encounter and makes them more of a set of numbers to be dealt with.

Frightening Presence (Ex):
Everyone's afraid of something, you know this and I know this. So why is it the undead seem to be treated as nothing more then another kind of monster? I think I might have a way to make them more scary in D&D once again. But I don't have anything REALLY concrete as of yet, just some ideas. But before I do that I want to bring up something that I'm sure most of you have heard of before, but just in case you haven't I might as well establish it for the sake of my ideas. The idea I'm referring to is that of the Uncanny Valley. Which describes the familiarity of an entity to a human and how they may respond.


As you can see from this diagram's given examples, zombies are at the very bottom of the valley, at least from the perspective of the person who made the chart. In movies and literature, lots of characters view zombies as terrifying. But not D&D player characters typically.

I'm proposing giving most undead some kind of Frightening Presence extraordinary ability. As a way of mechanically representing how terrifying encountering a zombie in real life would probably be. Especially since most players don't seem to really appreciate how scary a monster encounter would be in real life.

Horrible Stench (Ex):

I'm also suggesting that undead like zombies, skeletons, ghouls, and similar corporeal creatures have another extraordinary ability, something that reflects and in my opinion should be part and parcel of being undead to begin with. I'm talking about something like an Unpleasant Stench extraordinary ability. Where the presence of a dead creature causes nearby living organisms to be bothered by the horrible smell.

A relevant article on the subject:

My argument for this is that we humans have evolved to develop a keen sense of smell for dead biomatter. I think it's reasonable to assume that similar races like elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc. would also have a similar sense of smell, at least in the regard of detecting nearby dead biomass. So why then do reanimated corpses not have a foul odor about them? I'm proposing giving most corporeal undead another extraordinary ability, and that's making them smell like dead biomass.

I think these are both very logical conclusions to make about undead, and not only that but also ways to make the undead not only scary again, but a more memorable encounter by default. What do you guys think?

Author:  Michael Silverbane [ Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Undead with bad smell / frightening presence

I think that D&D is a game where daring adventurers essay catacombs to slay eldritch monstrosities and loot ancient treasures from tombs as their occupation, occasionally saving the world as a side effect of that. Walking (or talking or dancing) corpses don't strike me as any more dangerous or frightening than goblins or assassin vines o any of the other alien menaces that the players characters face off against as a matter of course.

Further, I think that it is impossible to frighten a character in any roleplaying game. The characters are not real, they don't have emotions or reactions outside those of their players. You have to frighten the players. To do that, you first have to make them care about things within the fiction. Then you have to threaten to take those things away.

Author:  Elyre_Elan [ Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Undead with bad smell / frightening presence

It is very difficult to "frighten" player characters. D&D, Pathfinder, et. al. boils down encounters into mathematical formulas. The closest a GM can get is to provide the illusion that something will diminish the character's capabilities. The old D&D vampires were a consistent fright in that regard (TWO levels removed from the player!). Of course, high level players, knowing that they could restore said deficits, were not put off by even the poor old vampire.

Creating more obstacles to undead (or any monster for that matter) may be viewed as more of an annoyance by the players rather than create a frightening situation. Things I've done to try and improve the "fright factor" are creating environmental obstacles (magical darkness, clingy muck that impedes movement, etc.) with monster encounters that enhance the "experience". It works about 50% of the time to create a level of suspense. The other 50% is considered as annoyance and frustration...

Author:  Michael Silverbane [ Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:11 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Undead with bad smell / frightening presence

Elyre_Elan wrote:
It is very difficult to "frighten" player characters. D&D, Pathfinder, et. al. boils down encounters into mathematical formulas.

That is particularly true for newer editions of D&D, where streamlined mechanics have cause many previously mysterious elements to become known quantities.

Real horror in rpgs is very difficult for a lot of reasons. Using a game that is designed for high-powered action makes it even more difficult. I would suggest that, for horror, D&D is the wrong game.

Here are some useful tips for creating horror in GURPS, which is pretty easily translatable to other game systems.

Author:  metatheurgist [ Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Undead with bad smell / frightening presence

I think you have to take context into account.

In our world, undead are not real. Fictional characters encountering undead set in our world should be horrified when they encounter something like that.

In the D&D world, undead are real. You might not see them often but it's an accepted reality. When you see an undead in that setting, it's more like encountering a bear or tiger or lion in ours.

There would be a healthy fear of something that might kill you, but not the mental disconnect of encountering something impossible.

The ordinary person in our world would run screaming from a predator, but a trained individual would probably be more cautious and less reactionary.

Adventurers are not ordinary.

Author:  aliasmask [ Tue Apr 04, 2017 12:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Undead with bad smell / frightening presence

I think description helps when roleplaying undead to get the proper reaction from the players. But, if adventurers see enough undead, it's reasonable they will become desensitized to the horror.

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