How Can GMs Evoke the Tone of Danger in an RPG?

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A member over at asked “How can GMs evoke the tone of danger in an RPG?”

Here was my answer:

  • To me, danger = risk. What are the stakes? Add dependents and dependencies to the PCs and then jeopardize those.
  • Allow PC deaths. The tension of potential character death in just one encounter can span even multiple campaigns if the players know their mistakes can cause them grief.
  • Dismember PCs. When a PC is unconscious, have a foe whack a hand off. Regenerate will cost a bit of treasure, unless the party has the spell available, so no permanent damage, but temporary loss of ability is scary for many players.
  • Use custom monsters. Or, just rename a monster. Anything to make the creature strange and threatening to players familiar with all the monster manual entries.
  • Use massive one-time damage. Optimize foes occasionally to do a lot of damage in a single strike at the beginning of an encounter. The PCs will not know for sure if the damage was a one-time thing or if they might face it each round.

What do you think?

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