Sundays over Vathak - Isolation

There's a lot of snow on the ground, which has gotten me thinking about isolation. It's an important element of horror, often explaining why our heroes can't just ask for help.

The most obvious kind of isolation is physical isolation. Whether it's a snowstorm in The Thing or sheer distance, the party just can't get to anyone else. This is easier in Vathak than with modern technology, but remember that spells like sending can cut through the worst winter storm.

The other type of isolation is social. Even in the largest cities, the party may not have the contacts they need to get help. Ursatur is a perfect example of the sort of city where help is probably never coming, but many cities are deeply unfriendly places.

Gamemaster's Guide to Ina'oth

Isolation often needed to justify the adventure in this way, by not allowing outside help that would resolve the issue. But it's also a key element of horror. Even the simple fear of being alone in a dark house rises from this and it's an important point to reinforce in your journeys.

By playing up isolation, physical or social, even a normal dungeon crawl can become rather creepy. We don't often think about how far our characters are from aid or civilization as they journey through the Filth Reaches (or Darklands or Underdark or what have you), but reinforcing that tone can make it more than an inconvenience.

And isolation in a crowd is a horror that many of us can empathize with. Strange practices, even something as simple as a foreign language, can reinforce that feeling in game but nothing quite beats being stared at wordlessly.

But any line that separates people in the real world can create that same isolation in Vathak. Race is an obvious one, with hauntlings, cambions, and the wretched all suffering due to their birth and vindari peasantry hating... well, everyone.

But horror also often plays with the isolation caused by religious lines, with extremist sects and dangerous cults taking over towns. Gender gets touched on beautifully with classics like The Yellow Wallpaper. The law reserves the right to isolate people for their own purposes. And isolation based on mental health plays in every tale of a haunted asylum.

Not every adventure has to be Get Out and you should always be aware of what your players are comfortable with, but it's a very real isolation and one that can dig the claws of horror even in those who've never experienced it in real life.

Until next time you're alone in a dark room,

Landon Winkler, Shadows over Vathak Line Developer