My MLP campaign got to its second session mark, which means that a, it is a campaign, and b, that it starts to get into shape. We also were joined by a new player, so more fun for everyone.
Anyway, during the session, one of the players (who was also in yesterday's session) told me that this session was even scarier than last one. And that got me thinking. How could a game session where the players play pastel-colored ponies be scarier than a full-blown one-shot horror game?
The Eureka moment has arrived when I brought back the memory of the instance in which he told me this. It was just after I took away one of his character's abilities. "That's interesting", I thought to myself, "it reminds me of something from the past…"
When I played in a 4-year long AD&D campaign, there was a single monster that was terrifying far more than anything else we could think of. It was the vampire. And why were we so terrified? Because it took away levels, hard-earned levels. Think about losing a year and a few tens of thousands of gold pieces work disappearing in a single attack, that's how terrifying it was.
When I was GMing one of my longest D&D campaigns, there was again a single monster that the players fear- the Quasit. This creature, a CR 2 type of monster, took away dexterity points from the characters.
What was common to both of these monsters was a single thing that it took me some time to figure out- it hurt the characters mechanically, in a stat that wasn't supposed to get hurt so easily.
And that's what I did here. I haven't thought about it when I did it today, but it explains so much of the fear factor. What I did do intentionally, though, was to ensure that this condition stands 2 "tests": 1) It doesn't happen as a side effect, but rather as a major plot-point of the session, and 2) The character still has other means by which to help the party and/or to contribute to the story and narrative of the game. Passing these two tests ensured that it wouldn't feel arbitrarily and out of nowhere, while also ensuring that it doesn't make the character fully useless.
So, how about you? Have you ever taken away abilities from the players? For what purpose? How did it go?