Let’s face it: While there are plenty of great Horror-themed tabletop roleplaying games out there (I can name a dozen, at least), most people are playing “Dungeons & Dragons” or “Pathfinder”. Which is to say, classic High Fantasy roleplaying. There is nothing wrong with that, either. But whenever the Spooky Season comes around, and Game-Masters and Players alike want to delve into some horror in their games, the usual advice boils down to…
“Play ‘Call of Cthulhu’ or [Insert Other Horror TTRPG Here]!”
This is not helpful. While I might agree that those horror games are (mostly) great, and would do well for some Spooky Season gaming, especially as one-shot adventures, the vast majority of roleplayers are playing D&D/PF for a reason, and they don’t want to stop those adventures, just to have some scary fun.
So, then comes Not-Useful Advice #2,which boils down to: “Okay, well just break out ‘Curse of Strahd’, or throw a bunch of Undead at them!”
Again, not helpful. Many people have already played CoS (or some horror-themed PF/PF2e campaign), and sometimes just throwing classic horror monsters into a campaign, even as a side-quest or one-shot, just won’t work for whatever reason. ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ is an easy answer, but it isn’t always the Best Answer.
Well, what are they to do then? Give up on having some spooky fun, settle for the same old ‘Fight the Zombies’ adventures, or break down and play a Horror-themed TTRPG that they really don’t want to play?
No! This is the Spooky Season, and we do not settle for lesser fun around here! Instead, I thought I would collect a selection of adventure seeds, that are still great for your classic Spooky Season gaming, but also don’t fall into the most common horror tropes. I guarantee, not a single Zombie will be harmed in any of these adventures… unless the party has a Necromancer, and they bring their own Zombies along, but that’s not my problem! Also, none of these adventures need to be especially deadly to your party, so they don’t derail the normal story. NOTE – These are just seeds, leaving details like names, places, statblocks and such to the DM/GM, so that they will easily fit into any campaign.
- Breaking the Circle: During a march through a dark, secluded forest, one of the party steps onto a small patch of mushrooms, nearly too small to be seen without looking closely, but which was in fact a Faerie Circle. This enrages the local Fey (Unseelie Court), who will hunt down the offending party responsible for destroying their Circle, and make them pay. These Fey are not necessarily evil, but they are also beyond reason due to this “attack upon them” (they will see it no other way, and will take the characters leaving without even apologizing and begging for forgiveness first as proof of their collective guilt), and they will seek vengeance. Fey can be extremely cruel in their vengeance, and will work collectively to separate the party, so that they can capture individual characters, one at a time. As the party’s numbers dwindle, use Fey Magics to cause confusion, sow fear, and otherwise build on the old “Haunted Woods” theme here. Outcome: The characters are all captured by the Fey, or the remainder figure out what is going on and manage to request an audience with their Queen. A deal must be struck, in order to make amends for the crimes against the Fey… let’s say, a hundred years of servitude to the Fey Court in the Feywild, perhaps? The characters will have to do some hard deal-making to get out of this one!
- Ye Olde Murder Mystery: While stopping at an Inn for the night, in a moderately-sized town, the party is approached by the local Sheriff regarding a murder that they cannot solve. The local Lord’s heir-apparent was found stabbed some 22 times, in a locked room, which was surrounded by other rooms occupied by other nobles, guests of the Lord himself. The Lord is well-loved by his people and the noble class, as was his nephew (the Heir-apparent). There were no other male children in his family line, so with the death of the nephew, the Lordship is without an heir, and the elderly Lord – let alone his sister – cannot sire more children. So the party are entreated to at least come up to the Manor for dinner tonight, as guests of his Lord, so that they might check out the situation for themselves, and perhaps look into the other guests for clues as to who did it. While there, another male in the household – a groomsman – is found beaten, bound, and with his throat slashed in the stables. Other murders will occur like this, one by one, every night, until the killer is found or all Nine of The Conspirators are destroyed. Outcome: The Murderer is the one, true Heir to the Lordship, a bastard male child the Lord had in his youth… when he was briefly enchanted by a ‘Witch’. The offspring the Hag (as she indeed was) is a malformed, and malignant being… But who is otherwise very, very human, and thus the rightful heir to the throne. Nevermind that his mind is twisted and evil, and that he will live virtually forever, unless destroyed (his one magical gift from his mother). The victims were a party including the Heir-apparent and his friends, who years ago came across the True Heir, captured him, and walled him off in a section of the manor’s basement to die. Alas, time and hunger alone, let alone the many knife wounds they gave him, could not kill this being, and so he healed, and bided his time, until now. The party must find the Killer, and defeat him before all of the other ‘Conspirators’ are murdered.
- That Wasn’t Supposed To Happen: During their normal experiments with Magic, a local Wizard accidentally ripped open a hole into another dimension, and something has crawled through, into our world, before the rift could be closed. Alas, the Wizard was completely unaware of the being having been loosed upon the Material Plane, and as such was taken completely by surprise when it killed him, in his sleep that night. The Entity seeks out power (magic, or lifeforce, if magic is not easily obtainable), and now that it has drained all it can from the Wizard and his belongings, it has begun roaming the nearby countryside, feeding on what it may. The party will start finding dead animals the further they get into the countryside, but which don’t appear to have any wounds or signs of disease which might have killed them. In the first night, the Entity will discover their camp, and attempt to feed upon any magic therein. It will attack magical items first – potions, scrolls, then permanent items, in that order – Things that might not be noticed. The Entity will then shadow the party in their travels, continuing to feed upon magic items, and once they are all consumed (drained of power), it will start attacking members of the party themselves, starting with spellcasters first. Rinse and repeat until discovered and the Entity is destroyed. Outcome: First of all, the interdimensional Entity in this case is extremely powerful, but mostly due to its defensive capabilities. It is roughly the size of a flea, but should be a tough fight for the party, perhaps even deadly (pick a relevant statblock from the game you are playing). But left to its own devices, it will destroy every single magical item the party has, one by one each night, until they find and destroy it. Potions and scrolls have no save against the Entity, they will simply be ruined. Other magical items should get a save (DC 15, perhaps), and let the owner roll the save… just don’t tell them what it is for. Failure means the item is drained of magic permanently, success means it will be only drained for a week before returning to normal strength NOTE: The horror here is in how you describe the situation. The party is now far away from any town, in a countryside full of dead animals, with the only structure being an old Wizard’s Keep full of ruined junk and a single, dead Wizard. If they catch on fast enough, they will check their magic items, and discover what is happening. If not, then the Spellcasters, one by one will start feeling weak and will be unable to regain their spells each day, until they finally collapse. It becomes a Plague Scenario, with a Cosmic Horror twist.
- A Rustic Cabin: The party, weary from long travel through the wilderness, come across a hunter’s cabin nearby a quiet brook. What could be better? Shelter, plentiful water to drink, the perfect place to take a few days to rest and recover, before continuing on their arduous journey… right? Of course, it could not be that easy, could it? This place has rats. Which is to say, not just the cabin, but the entire nearby forest is completely infested with them. And they are the Apex Predators in their territory. They initially show fear of the newcomers into their territory, and hide away at first, but that won’t last long. You see, these rats work together (much like kobolds), building traps, separating their prey to more easily take them down. The rat-horde is also nearly endless, living in a massive burrow which stretches for almost a mile in each direction from the cabin, including under the brook and the other side. The only sign that there is something amiss is that there are no nearby birds or other small animals… not even larger game like deer. If there are any NPCs with the party, have the rats focus on them first, so that there is a slow-build of horror (NPC goes missing, if they are found, only a large amount of blood and whatever metal items they were carrying will be seen. Anything the rats can eat or small enough to drag away into their warren will be gone. Rinse and repeat, yada yada yada. Outcome: Players go out looking for the missing NPCs (I would suggest including a few with the party, for fodder, if none are already present), discover a grisly scene or two, get freaked out. Paranoia sets in, before they start getting attacked themselves (good luck with fighting a near-endless swarm of tiny, bloodthirsty monsters, who can go anywhere their nose will fit, and can swim, by the way). This adventure can be pretty deadly, but also could be quite lucrative for the party, should they make it down to the core of the warren, where the rats have collected a lot of small treasures over the years.
- Naught but a simple Bauble: NOTE: This seed requires the use of Text Messaging, or other direct-messaging methods between the GM and individual Players! The party battles some simple, random encounter (a single, intelligent monster of its type). The only thing which might be seen as unusual about this encounter is that the creature fights to the death, and will not run away. If captured in some manner short of being killed, it will scream and thrash, continually attempting to attack any characters that it can reach. The creature is completely bloodthirsty, without fear, and bent of destroying the entire party. Later, the GM/DM should start messaging Players, sometimes at random with a greeting, asking how they like the adventure so far, or asking them to make a roll of some sort. But in every case, the players are asked to keep this secret between the GM and themselves. In amongst all these different messages to different Players, occasionally the GM should point out that the player’s character noted another character doing something untoward… especially after a successful roll. Maybe the offending character was seen palming something and hiding it away, or looking a bit too closely at something another character owns? Again, advise the player to KEEP THIS TO THEMSELVES! Slowly, build distrust among the characters, until either they start to figure out something is amiss, or the players can’t contain themselves and start becoming openly hostile. Outcome: It’s a coin, or more to the point, it is an evil being, taking the form of a coin. Said coin loves to sow dissention among groups, building distrust and hatred until they attack each other, and only one remains alive. Then the Bauble teleports itself away, in search of another group of victims. The remaining member of the last group of victims can sense the Bauble’s faint presence, although they don’t know what it is, and will follow it… finally attacking the next group the Bauble settles in with. Of course, the creature which attacked the group at the start won’t be able to divulge any useful information about it, because it is completely mad, and doesn’t understand what the Bauble is, anyway. The only way to detect it is by figuring out exactly how many coins each character had, counting them carefully, and one player will happen to have one more than expected. It will also be the only coin in the party’s control that very, very slightly radiates as Magic (it can teleport, uses magic to ‘whisper’ to intelligent beings’ minds and sow dissent, and of course to make itself appear as Not Evil, which it clearly is). If discovered, the Bauble will attempt to teleport away, so discovery is pretty much the best solution the party can hope for. But it will take some pretty sharp players to figure out they are being driven to madness by a single, evil coin.
Okay, that’s all I have for this time. Enjoy your Spooky Season gaming!