The Gassy Gnoll: The Road in the Darkness

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be able to take a bit of time to head to the mountains with my family. We left late in the afternoon on Friday and were going over a mountain pass I’ve driven or ridden over regularly in the daylight. By the time we got there, night was falling and I was struck by how different the landscape becomes when the light fades…

flashlight-darkness-alan-wakeIn the darkness, we are limited by the light we bring with us. Even those fantastic races with the ability to see in the dark are limited by how much light (whether we bring a flashlight or have low-light vision) or heat (infrared) or cold (ultraviolet) exists within the range of mortal or electronic eyeballs. Regardless of what you can see, in the dark we are all at reduced capabilities.

Why don’t we take more advantage of this in our gaming sessions? Is it that it’s “too real” and takes away from the enjoyment of a session? Is it that it’s too difficult or too much work to track rules-wise or tactical-wise at the game table? Why when our characters (PCs and NPCs) are lost in the wilderness, far from civilization, don’t we use the firelight and torches more effectively to strike terror into their hearts?

I seem to recall a night of gaming or two where our GM at the time (Mike) had us camping in the wilderness and sent wave after wave of creatures at us from the darkness. Did we have a campfire? Sure, but that only seemed to embolden our attackers. After all, why wouldn’t it? They knew exactly where we were… right there by the fire. It was easily one of the most brutal nights of fighting we had in that campaign – no rests between fights as we ran out of spells, ammunition, and hit points…

So why don’t I see more of that sort of encounter in some of the modules I’ve been reading?

H.P. Lovecraft knew that we as humans will always be terrified of the things we don’t see in the dark and will likely be horrified by the things we DO see and cannot understand. Modern horror movies have once again started to use darkness as yet another tool in their arsenal. Shouldn’t we see a similar movement in RPG scenarios?

Here… I’ll start us off with a bit of inspiration…

Your small group is camping not far from the road, traveling to the next adventure. The night is dark and full of stars. Despite the lack of any natural light, the campfire casts a cheery glow upon the landscape as you and your companions discuss the day’s events and ponder tomorrow’s activities.

In the darkness, a twig breaks and the horses, grazing near your camp, are suddenly alert and unsettled. What is it moving in the darkness? Is it coming for you?

My question for you is… What’s coming? What lies waiting in the dark?

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