Most good games evoke emotions, but some emotions are much easier to work with than others. When you try to get your players to feel a certain way, you run the risk of making someone upset — this can be very dicey!
There’s a line to walk when trying to trigger emotional responses from your players, and where exactly that line is depends on the emotion in question and the folks in your group. There are three categories: simple, challenging and nigh on impossible.
I’ve assigned a variety of emotions to these three categories. Which category an emotion wound up in depends on two factors: How hard it is to evoke that emotion, and how tricky it is to work with. (Within each category, emotions are listed in alphabetical order.)
With well-crafted NPCs and plotlines, these emotions aren’t too tough to bring out. They’re also not terribly controversial — you can evoke them without worrying much at all about your players’ reactions.
Challenging emotions are either fairly hard to evoke, or dicey to mess with at all. Fear, for example, is an easy one to take too far. For example, if one of your players is afraid of spiders, it would be downright mean to bring an actual spider to the gaming table just to freak them out.
Nigh On Impossible
I’ve never seen either of these emotions evoked in an RPG — and if I did, I think it would creep me out a bit. It’s one thing to be passionate about the game, but could you really feel either of these emotions about something in-game?
All of this begs the question: Should you try to evoke emotions in your players? Or should you just keep emotions in the back of your mind, and let them develop naturally at the table?