I think I'm going to call the game for tonight (short notice, I know, sorry). Plushiemancer has an early day tomorrow, Fox has a good chance of being missing, and this is also Kaji's reported monthly game night elsewhere... which I already talked about skipping for anyway. Given that only leaves a couple people in the middle of stuff, with some of these missing people... Sounds like a good night for a break.
One of my friends is running a horror game (offline, unfortunately, so I'm not part of it), and came to me to discuss ideas, but... I've never done anything like it in the past, barring a session or two in a Ravenloft game. So... I thought I'd ask here for advice, as you all have a bit of experience with Don't Rest Your Head at the least.
The system is 4th edition D&D, and will be focused in the beginning on Slender Man (and the atmosphere of paranoia and growing insanity that brings with it). The DM in question doesn't think his players will be familiar with the stories, so using an already established character as the main antagonist shouldn't be a problem.
But so far all I've been able to do is direct him to some articles and books for ideas and advice... as I mentioned earlier, I have no idea how to run a horror game. He seems to have a better grasp of the idea than me, so I'm hardly worried, but I was hoping that a bit of experience with games of this sort would mean you'd all know more about this than either of us.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not very experienced with the horror genre. I've got a bit more affinity with the weird tale -- think Lovecraft (particularly "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath"), Gaiman, that sort of thing -- where things seem horrible and unpleasant at first, but become part of the surreal landscape as you get more used to them. There will be greater horrors that spike up every once in a while, but anything can become routine if you face it enough.
I don't know if what I'm doing at the moment can be sustained for an ongoing horror game, but the things I'm doing include:
*keep the antagonists at least somewhat mysterious and weird, letting out only small details that make them seem more dangerous rather than less -- secret weaknesses should remain secret for as long as possible without ruining the fun (fun fact: thus far, it seems the PCs have been conflating two different antagonist groups together into one, which only confuses the details on what they are and can do; this was only half-intentional on my part),
*hit them when they think things have settled down (though this gets predictable, which leads to...),
*figure out when they think you're going to hit them, then start pulling your punches; but always be ready for the opportune moment (being the infamous "crashing sound that turns out to be a cat" scene, for example, or as a saying goes about level design in Half-Life: "A headcrab in every vent is boring, a headcrab in one-fifth of the vents is terrifying"). And then take it another step up if they start catching on to this pattern...
It also helps if, once the details are revealed, the idea remains genuinely scary, even if you have to take a moment to let the horrible implications set in. One of my favorite short-lived shows, Threshold, spilled the big details pretty fast, but the idea of an alien "plague" with so many different vectors of transmission, all of which bioform Earth life into their own, remained horribly unpleasant. And then the show started following that potential in excruciating detail, making every step more and more horrible as it went, hammering home just how boned humanity really was.
"You ask me what makes man great? That he re-created nature? That he has harnessed cosmic forces? That in a brief time he conquered the planet and opened a window on the universe? No! That, despite all this, he has survived and intends to survive in the future."
Roadside Picnic, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky