Making Demons More Terrifying

Making Demons More Terrifying

Face it, demons are pretty bad-ass monsters to encounter. Even so, in The Fantasy Trip they are really portrayed as just that–monsters. Sure, they are magical, and can grant wishes, but they really are not listed in the canon rules as the terrible supernatural creatures that we know in our world. And that is missing out on so many possibilities! Here are some thoughts on how to make demons more like that…

Roleplaying the Demonic Encounter

One way to make demons scarier is to really get into the roleplaying aspects of the encounter. This involves everything from complete descriptions of the demons, to actions that they take, to non-combat impacts on the character.

One reason that demons in TFT may be just more like beasts is the general lack of religious tone, driven by Howard Thompson. That may be the same reason for the lack of supernatural possessions in the rules as well.

Still, some thought and care must be given to handling demons when roleplaying them. Probably the biggest feature that can be used for roleplaying is that of fear. And I don’t mean that of the PC, I mean the player! If you can instill fear in the player, then you have done your job.

All of the best tools should be brought to the table: lowering the lighting to set the mood, creepy music in the background, graphic descriptions and imagery that you know the player is afraid of… All of these can be played up to 11–and then some. The more you know about both the character and the player, the better you can use that knowledge to make the player more uncomformatable.

And that is the key–pushing the player outside of her comfort zone. Adding in the possession feature goes a long way to doing that. A great way to really drive that point home is to have the possession be sporadic, and unexpected. The player could be happy with the character behaving normally, then at either a mundane or critical time, the demonic possession takes over–and the GM plays the character, not the player.

Making the Demon More Deadly

Another way to make players fear demons more is to just make them more deadly. Face it: some players just see every monster as a stat block. The only way to make these beasts even more scary is to make the players think their precious characters are about get seriously messed up. And the only way to do that is change the stats for demons to make them tougher to kill.

To start with, though, these things are pretty freaking nasty anyway, especially Greater Demons. How could you make them worse? One way that would be very unexpected would be for them to use magic. The descriptions in TFT:ITL explicitly state that demons do not use magic as we know it–so why not surprise players have them use it?

Some people have gone down this road by developing a complete hierarchy of demons and evil supernatural beings. Each class of demon has its own stats, powers and even personalities. This works best if the players–and characters–do not know those details!

Another way is to have a mechanism where there are game impacts to the character. This can include penalties to IQ to represent stress or fear, or other lasting impacts. The house rules I proposed for gothic horror can help give you ideas for a mechanical way to impact characters.

Striking a Balance

The best way may be to strike a balance between the roleplaying and deadliness. In keeping with keeping TFT as simple as possible, you might minimize house rules, but increase the demon’s capabilities–and add in possession.

Add in the roleplaying effects to the game in any scene with a demon, and make the cost so high players do not WANT to encounter them… and if they do, use non-combat effects like phobias and possessions to make the demons effects more lasting.

One caution, though: unless you are playing a Call of Cthulhu cross-over, try not to go overboard. This should be here to make the game more fun and provide some depth, not take it over.

Ultimately, how you handle demons in your campaigns really depends on the campaign tone itself. If you are going for more of a horror or supernatural feel, then the roleplaying parts would definitely be the higher priority. I you are playing more of straight up, real world campaign, then the rules-based approach would be more appropriate.

Marko ∞

One comment

  1. Those are very good suggestions. Really the toughest decision the GM has to make is whether or not he wants Demons to be a regular part of his fantasy world or not. My personal experience is that they should be very rare and highly dangerous when confronted — getting a WISH should be something that includes a real chance of death, possession or madness, not an “Oh, it’s Friday; let’s summon a major Demon and extort a WISH for next week’s dungeon bash,” kind of event. In short, if you want a WISH, or some other service from a Demon, you’d better want it for some incredibly powerful reason, and you should be willing to risk EVERYTHING, up to and including your immortal soul, to get it. Just keeping it in those terms will probably do as much as anything else to help instill some fear in the players!

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