Fear – a tool in your toolbox

Hi all and welcome to me talking brazenly. Tonight I want to briefly touch on something when done well can change the game for all involved, but done poorly can lead to a situation where there is no winning, maybe.

Now fear in this sense is really, for me, is that iconic first dragon appearing moment, or that scene in a movie where the protagonist walks around in the corner and has to throw themselves behind something to avoid being seen by something that we as viewers knows means business. This fear of something whether its a giant bug, alien or a dragon is what keeps this hero or protagonist alive to maybe come back at a later time and perhaps fight at a later time with a better chance of survival and winning.

A movie, its not a great movie but its a guilty pleasure, reign of fire. Now I wont ruin the movie for you but the basic plot is that dragons were discovered in a deep underground and when they emerged humanity went into hiding. Now the reason I think of this movie when we look at fear when stressing the strength of something they see is simple. When the protagonist or humans in general see dragons they run or hide. Simple. It’s not until much later in the movie that this changes.

Now I’ve successfully instilled this fearful awe of a creature once or twice before, some times not so much, where just by describing the creature the party decided to run the other way, from what I can tell its based on a few factors.

Size. Yup size does matter, in most cases, and the difference between a 10 foot lizard and a 20 foot lizard when you describe them to the party has a completely different effect. When I have done it convincingly words like dwarfing, towering, scraping the roof, “taller than the surrounding trees” and so forth. Comparing its size to something that has a familiar size, trees, a roof, another creature or the party members height and size.

Prey. The next part is prey. If you see a, giant lizard eating a moth or insect its not that alarming. But if that same sized lizard is eating a cow or, eating its way through a pile of slain bugbears or ogres – that gives the creature another element that can stress that danger which tells the party what to avoid.

Nature. A slow plodding large horned herbavour like creature disregarding the party and continuing to eat its way through bushes and trees wont instill any kind of fear or hesitation for a party of hardened adventures. But one that is aggressive and viciously charges any creature that comes within its territory, the party included, will quickly change the views and opinions on the creature.

Presence. The feel and immediate gut wrenching urge to flee or approach. This is a bit harder but you can make it more convincing by making a Charisma check and explaining the result as a feeling, sweats, stomach, clenching involuntary shakes and the the like.

So when you mix them together, or at least elements of them together you can get a situation where to face the creature in front of them based on your description would mean pain, and risk of death. It doesn’t have to be certain death but the thought of fighting it should give the fear and anticipation of it to stress the strength and power of thr creature.

Thats it for tonight, thanks for joining tonight for this little dive into psychological descriptions to dissuade combat. Don’t forget to come back tomorrow where for the end of week write-up where we have some chances of combat but a fun chase encounter and, as always, don’t forget to roll with advantage,

The Brazen Wolfe

2 thoughts on “Fear – a tool in your toolbox

    • thebrazenwolfe May 25, 2022 / 5:37 pm

      Thanks! It’s something I find hard to do (even after 20+ years DMing experience).
      Usually the party is over confident of their abilities or they are not aware of the strength of something (say an owlbear or werewolf). I find describing them in a “scene” gives them the information they need to either reign in their confidence or understand the situation to make a more informed decision.