Shadows creep and shiver in corners unwatched. They slink forth from their hiding places as the sun descends, consuming the last of day’s light. All that remains is the white glow of the moon. The air is still; the night is quiet. And yet, chills run up spines and hairs stand on their ends. For the darkness hides many monsters and while they are hidden, you are not.
We find ourselves in the spooky month, adventurers. With the number of horror movies, stories, and celebrations in October and the leadup to Halloween, it’s only fitting that we release some horror encounters. Just like our environmental encounter lists, our aim is to inspire and assist our fellow DM’s in crafting the very best of adventures. All of our encounters include detailed explanations, as well as advice on planning and executing them for parties of any level and size. So load up on silver arrowheads, munch on some garlic, and wash it down with holy water. It’s time to hunt some monsters!
If you’re looking for a complete, horror-themed adventure, have a look at our Banahogg Swamp Adventure. It’s a three-part series, covering the cursed town of Myrrholm, 1d20 terrifying swamp encounters, and a final confrontation with a nefarious hag coven. Will your party manage to prevent the culmination of their vile ritual?
1 – The ghost of a young woman haunts an abandoned windmill, enthralling travelers into retracing her final steps.
The town of Prosper is, fittingly, one of vibrant and successful farmlands. They surround its borders and separate the many private farmhouses. But there is one, sitting on a hill above grey, petrified fields, that none dare touch. It was once home to a family whose daughter attracted suitors and visitors from far-off lands. Many knew her for her beauty and melodic voice and many mourned when a wrathful suitor murdered her. The violence of her death left an imprint on her very soul, which now haunts Devil’s Mill. Townsfolk are hesitant to move near its fields and will warn any travelers to do the same. But, every now and then, she takes one, walking them to the Mill, climbing its floors, and throwing them from its window. The party now finds themselves in Prosper, and it seems that these stories are more than they seem.
For the very first of our horror encounters, we are making use of our Devil’s Mill and the attached Daughter of the Mill encounter. Devil’s Mill provides a classic horror experience of the one haunted building overlooking an otherwise quiet town. It’s this quiet town that you should use to begin the encounter. An important part of running the Mill is to not only lure players to it but also feed them clues of the Daughter and her history. You might choose to avoid the Harvest’s Fall festival and instead use local characters to talk about it. Have them briefly warn the players and even recite the attached poem. Older residents might remember the girl’s murder and speak of her supposed murderer’s trial. Have your players invested and understanding what happened before they reach it, to give them ample opportunity to solve the issue.
You can likewise adjust the encounter’s trigger to suit your own party and game. Many adventure-seeking groups will offer to exorcise the ghost in exchange for coin. If you are worried your players might not, consider using a character that approaches them. A neighboring farm owner with their eyes on the land might offer a tidy sum of gold. You could also use a more fantastical trigger, such as a blood moon. Perhaps a monthly crimson moon, localized to Prosper, is the Daughter’s sign that she is taking someone. From there, you can follow our encounter guide by having her charm affect either a party member or an unsuspecting bystander.
The encounter’s resolution is where your players will need to take initiative. The Daughter returning if she is ‘killed’ serves to motivate them to find solutions and eventually discover the truth. If your party needs it, you can include the story of a previous successful attempt that felled the ghost, only for her to return after they left. With them knowing this, think about what your players might try and provide the resources for it. An example would be a temple nearby for them to acquire holy water/oil. You can likewise have townsfolk, or a farmer hiring them, warn the players to not destroy the mill in fear of either her anger or the property damage. Ultimately, your goal is for the party to reach the Mill and discover her journal. The clues you have laid will hopefully connect together and lead to them finding the ideal solution.
Be sure to read our Devil’s Mill release post for the full description of the Daughter of the Mill and her encounter…
2 – Animalistic murders plague a town. Tensions are building as accusations grow more violent.
A murderer has been tearing through a small town, ripping the innocent apart with claws and teeth. The attacks are growing more frequent, causing the people to panic and splinter. The party arrives to find the town divided into factions. Each one pursues the investigation in its own way but any attempt at intercepting the monster has only resulted in more deaths. And with each death, tensions rise. The attacks now occur almost nightly, with townsfolk resorting to barricading their houses and hoping nothing finds them. If no one can stop the beast, the town will soon be empty.
The first step to running this type of investigative horror encounter is to create the landscape. Your party will be spending their daylight hours conversing with townsfolk and discovering the different factions and mindsets. Accomplishing this begins with the town and its residents. The most important aspect of the town’s layout is to show the effects of the attacks. Streets should be quiet save for hushed exchanges and nervous glances at any newcomers. Dusk will come with the people vanishing into their various buildings. Only an inexperienced militia will remain. Another note is to make use of tight streets and alleyways, possibly with tall buildings. This is to emphasize the claustrophobia at night. But a little more on that later.
Even more important than the town is the people in it. The core of this horror encounter is the townsfolk’s tensions and stressed, fearful decisions. Arrange the locals into a small number of groups with aligned goals, giving consideration to how different people would react to the situation. Some might form a militia to hunt the beast, while others could be preparing a caravan to flee. The easiest way to manage this in-game is to assign each of them around a leader character or family that the party will interact with. This will streamline your note-taking and allow players to more easily track their notes and conversations. Each group should link together in a network of relationships and biases, with their own plans and opinions of each other. While the interactions will come down to how your players engage, you should consider how they will react to outsiders interjecting.
Your players will be spending their daytime speaking and planning, but night must eventually fall. This is when your players will be in control, whether they align with a local faction or prefer to act on their own. Having a thoroughly planned town becomes important, as you should be preparing for whatever your players might do and where they might go. It becomes a sandbox environment, with you controlling the other townsfolk and the monster itself in the background.
The most obvious monster is, of course, a werewolf, though this can be changed to a wendigo or other were-beast as you see fit. The goal is simply to use an enemy that acts as a predator, with your players becoming the prey. Having a creature that spends its days as a human also allows you to place it within the townsfolk, hiding in their ranks and eavesdropping on discussions. Perhaps another townsperson knows and is protecting them? Just make sure your players are aware of this. It could be as simple as murders occurring within the town despite guards watching the gates, letting players infer that it hides within the settlement during the day. In their monster form, shapechangers will also have knowledge of the town’s layout and, most importantly, their plans. It should use the tight alleyways and shadowy rooftops to hunt, making use of quick, ambush tactics.
3 – A manor has been forsaken by its previous owners. They left behind a collection of rare beasts, that have broken free of their containment.
Chateau Ghilfaine has always been a secluded location, open only to the affluent friends of its resident family. In its heyday, the manor bustled with frequent celebrations and parties. Those that were welcome were all closely allied, never speaking of what occurred within the building’s walls. But nothing would stop the rumors. Even now, with the family having moved on and the chateau laying silent and empty, there is still speak of the unsavory vices that filled its halls. Many were false, of course, as the party discovers upon entering. They might suspect the house of being normal, were it not for the constant feeling of watching eyes. Creatures stalk them from the shadows, free from the private zoo collection beneath the house and having grown very hungry in the meantime.
The first and maybe most enjoyable step in planning this horror encounter is deciding which beasts to use. There a few things to keep in mind when doing do so. You can make use of monsters from varied climates and environments to emphasize the context of their presence. For each one, consider how its regular hunting habits would translate to being stuck in a building. Some will adapt better than others, while some could even fight each other for territory. Balance them as a battle of attrition for the party, likely being fought one at a time without resting in between. Most of all, be creative. Shadow mastiffs hunting the party as a pack is a great example of tension and, you guessed it, horror.
But don’t be afraid to have moments of levity! An encounter I have always wanted to run is having the party enter a room of spare furniture and quickly realizing how many of the items are mimics. You can use similar breaks to give players a tonal reprieve. Doing this helps avoid boredom and also gives more weight to when you shift back into horror-mode.
It’s important for encounters like this to have a story behind them. For one, you need a reason for players to be there. You might have the party contracted to retrieve something from the house, or a retainer of one of the manor’s visitors paying for someone to find their missing employer. This leads to one of the easiest ways to show what happened within the building: the beasts broke out during a party and slaughtered the inhabitants. Those living nearby might believe the owners left, but players would then uncover the bodies when they enter. This gives a reason for the beasts to have stayed within its bounds (to feed), as well as letting you give your players clues. Finding petrified statues with terrified expressions is a fantastic way of instilling fear in players while also hinting at the presence of a basilisk right around the corner.
This story should extend to the house itself. Include offices, journals, and general context clues for your players to learn about the residents. Each one should show more of the history and events, eventually building to a full understanding. They might lead the party to the underground zoo, which could act as an arena for the climactic fight. The cages there might have evidence of exactly how the beasts got out. One example is that a partygoer, a rival to the manor’s owner, unlocked the gates. Perhaps they underestimated the chaos and locked themself back in a cage to survive. Finding them will let players fill in the blanks through interaction. The survivor could even offer them ownership of the house in exchange for their silence, rewarding your players with a base of operations. Let’s be honest, they were likely going to steal everything of value anyway.
4 – A small military outpost is under nightly attacks by undead, their numbers bolstered by each fallen soldier.
The outpost rests on a hill clearing, surrounded by dense forest. Its walls are old, but strong, built to house a small platoon of soldiers that watch the nearby area. The forests are normally quiet, leading to the fort exclusively housing middle-rung soldiers with little experience. They are panicked and exhausted, hurriedly pulling the party through the gate and slamming it closed behind them. Only a handful remain. Their strained breaths struggle out an explanation, describing the undead hordes that swarm their walls each night. The creatures lie in wait during the day, killing any who attempt to escape. As the soldiers beg the party to help, the sun sets below the wall.
This horror encounter is actually how I began my own campaign, with some small changes. The structure is similar to Encounter 2, using an hour or so of daylight for the party to prepare defenses for the attack. This will begin with the party arriving at the fort. Some things to note on their approach is to advertise the fort as a safe space for them to camp and begin to tease the encounter. Let them know that traveling caravans will often stay within the walls for safety. As they approach, perceptive characters might notice shadows in the trees. In truth, the undead are letting them join their prey. And if your party chooses to stay away? Have the attack commence, with monsters surrounding them and shepherding the party from their camp and towards the fort. Just try not to make it too obvious.
If your party does have time to prepare, let them take control. Emphasize the soldiers’ exhaustion and lack of leadership to clearly allow players to issue orders. Be sure to provide resources they might want, between raw materials and the fort’s stores. They can scavenge fences or stables for wooden planks and poles, but there could also be oils and flammable grains in storage. Make an effort to also show the damage from previous nights. My own fort’s doors had been severely damaged and a small side area had been used to burn the bodies that could be recovered.
Your players should remain in control when the attack commences. Consider what advantages they gain from their defenses and let them act tactically. Reward them for good decisions. You will be playing the remaining soldiers, who should have their own basic tactics to synergize with the party. They might not be elite, but they are trained, after all. I personally used zombies and skeletons for the undead, making sure to use a variety of weaponry and even modifying select units with increased size, armor, and injuries. Have them attack in waves, spaced out but too frequent for players to rest. Once again, you want the fight to be a battle of attrition in which their resources, traps, and abilities slowly diminish. Each singular creature is weak, but their strength comes from numbers and relentlessness.
There are two ways you can handle the encounter’s resolution. The most direct is to have the party aid in carving through the undead during the day. Their reinforcement can allow the soldiers to escape to another settlement, returning with the numbers needed to retake the fort, perhaps with the players. Your other option is to use a root cause for the necromancy. My encounter had an enchanted amulet as the source, found in a cursed grove and guarded by shadows. It had been placed by a mage, who became a running villain. Details are malleable, but the purpose was to have players leave and fight through the undead on their own, culminating in a ‘boss fight’ that ultimately ended the attacks. Linking to an even larger threat is a good way to avoid what I call the ‘Night King effect’ by not instantly removing the entire problem at once.
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5 – The forest that the party travels seems to have a will of its own. It is known for disappearances and the party is its next target.
The dense forest has a reputation for vanishing travelers and the resultant ghost stories. This would scare most groups away, but the party is not ‘most groups’. They venture in, confident of their ability. The first day is uneventful. It is only as the second dawn comes that strange occurrences begin. Trees appear to move on second glances, whispers drift from just out of sight, and the path swerves and changes when they turn around. Something within the woods wants them to stay, but why?
This is the first of our non-combative horror encounters. The point here is to focus on atmosphere and tension through the unknown. You use the unexplained to set them on edge and have them constantly waiting for the penny to drop. The dreadful anticipation of danger spooks them without the need for any actual danger. Ultimately, the players will not receive an explanation for the events. Or maybe they do, if that’s what you want. It can go either way!
Your first step in planning the encounter is to try and have a character mention it before the players enter the forest. They are likely to mention their travels to someone in a nearby town, whether that be when they’re resupplying or actively questioning locals. If they don’t, just have a friendly server in a tavern ask them of their plans. When the topic does arise, the character can jovially mention the old ghost stories of the woods. They should pass it off as local superstition told to nervous visitors and pay no real heed to the ‘old wives tales’ of people going missing or getting lost. Your objective is simply to tease a threat while making your party feel confident that they can face whatever might come.
The next step is the most fun: what happens in the forest? As mentioned, have the first day pass by relatively uneventful. Lull your players into the same mindset of the previous character, believing the stories to be fiction. As they enter the second day, start slow. The shadows of dawn and dusk could last longer than normal, with the canopy hiding any direct view of the sun. Multiple diverging pathways could lead to dead ends. When your players then backtrack, have the road move differently to the first time. Don’t point this out to the party without them making a roll; instead, rely on your players noticing something is amiss. Finally, traveling further will have the path progressively narrow and trees grow closer together, even if the party is, once again, backtracking.
A third or fourth day can come with a climactic event. This is when you can focus less on subtlety and kick into a full-on horror encounter. You are still focusing on dread over gore or panic, but you can become more overt. There are infinite ways to do this; this is just one of our ideas…
Towards the end of the day, the party turns a corner to find another small group of adventurers. They have stopped to check their own map, seemingly under the same effects as the players. The group is friendly and inviting, offering to travel with the party for safety in numbers. Nothing is observably ‘off’ about them, though they seem to lack detailed knowledge on recent world events. The two groups will talk throughout the day, sharing stories and general conversation. This continues until dusk, at which point they camp together, offering to share shifts of keeping watch. Everything is fine until the party awakens. They open their eyes to find skeletons in the places and positions of their new friends. The bones are old and clean, and almost entirely bound by roots from nearby trees. Those same trees appear closer than they were at night.
6 – The town makes regular sacrifices to their ancient guardians. These beings are not fond of possible interlopers.
A small, woodside country town has been overseen by a lurking influence for as long as history can remember. Its origin is unknown, whether a deal with the founders or something more predatory. The effects are clear to visitors, which the party finds upon watching a local woman abandon her child at the forest border. The townsfolk do not appreciate interruption and find themselves compelled to prevent the party from interfering. Will the party risk fighting against the town and harming innocents, in an effort to end their enslavement?
This horror encounter structure can feel dauntingly open-ended and is quite similar to one we will cover later. For these reasons, we are trying to focus on a specific situation. In this encounter, your townsfolk are under an influential enchantment that has controlled the people for generations. When your players first meet them, they should come across as ordinary, if only a little strange. Play it as if it were any other stop in a small town. A few hours into the party’s reprieve, you can begin with the horror elements. Use classic elements like people watching from outside their window, odd phrases repeated in multiple conversations, and their minds seeming to wander.
The catalyst will be your players seeing the woman give her child to the forest. Once night has fallen and they are preparing to rest, a perceptive character might see two shadows moving to the town’s outskirts. The larger figure motions the smaller forward and the shadows of trees reach out to swallow it. If your player is not immediately motivated to action, have the woman turn and look directly at them. At this point, your players should be on their feet and the town’s hivemind will begin acting more overtly to prevent opposition. To give the players a specific goal, consider having the sacrificial tradition occur over a week, with a child given each night. You can develop this further by having uninfluenced children, the prospective sacrifices, seeking the party for help.
Trying to put a stop to the deaths will mean an entire town of adversaries all acting as one. An important note here is to make the control over them clear. It is simplest to do this by having the first character to attack them, or one they met previously, have visible tears on their face. As they lunge forward, they will struggle out an apologetic cry, trying to tell the party that it is not their choice. This serves to give your party a tricky decision between defending themselves and killing townsfolk, who are themselves, victims. It has the secondary purpose of making the people thankful to be freed, though confused, should the party succeed.
Your horror encounter’s climax will likely come from the players slaying whatever holds the town. You have a number of options here, each with different motivations. A coven of green hags might be taking the children as pieces of a ritual to maintain their own youth and power. This could be in the form of literally siphoning their youth, or as gruesome as harvesting them for parts. A conclave of corrupt dryads could be using the children to feed their forest. Moving further into the forest could have the party finding bodies of differing ages eaten by and absorbed into plant life. Whatever your choice of villain, try to use a creature that explains the control over the town and that lets you emphasize the horror elements more and more as the party tracks it down. Prior victims, illusions, and necromantic environmental effects are fantastically creepy examples.
An alternative take on this encounter is to have the townsfolk act as a cult, rather than being controlled. Most parties will still choose to investigate the situation, but this version has them needing to be wary of every villager. The direct conflict turns into a game of hiding their intentions. Each villager will also be acting of their own, individual volition. Having to blend in and act as if they are not aware of the sacrifices is a unique challenge for players. It also brings a wonderfully terrifying sense of tension to the encounter.
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7 – The blood moon rises and the old battlefield stirs. The party must make it through, surrounded by the memories of an old war.
One does not need history books to know that a war was fought. Remains of bodies, armor, and weapons litter the surface, caked in decades, maybe centuries, of rust and growth. Their deaths seem to have twisted the land and air, unnervingly still and quiet. Even in the day, an ethereal cold creeps beneath the party’s skin. It worsens as night sets and a moon of burning crimson rises. The red light bathes the field, casting shadows that shift and swim. Below the ground’s surface, long-dead soldiers rouse to battle. They reform with the rage of an ancient war, twisted in the red moonlight. A battle rage burns in their hollow eyes and the party is the only prey in sight.
Unlike those using a town or other structure, this horror encounter makes use of the road itself. This serves to make it more dynamic, as well as differentiating from the stop-start nature of many other encounters. It can be used in almost any terrain and only needs to be teased briefly before it begins. Players should be able to see small markers of a previous conflict, though they might think nothing of it. You might likewise want to have a character tell them of a coming blood moon if it is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. Otherwise, use it wherever you wish. For flat plains, consider including some natural formations as players move through the encounter, for cover and variety. Placing it within an hour of a town or outpost can also help give them an immediate goal, and can expand the encounter into a defense, akin to Encounter 4.
The best part of using a blood moon as a trigger is the freedom it provides. Don’t let yourself be bound to regular undead. The point of this horror encounter is to have your players moving to escape the enemy numbers and be fighting while on the run. This means that zombies and skeletons are likely too slow and better suited as archers and to create obstacles for players to maneuver around. There can still be plenty of them, but use more magical threats as the primary force. Packs of shadow mastiffs could chase the party in an attempt to render them prone, with shadows lurking in wait. Bolster them with soldier-themed specters and other incorporeal undead. They may even have a leader/progenitor in the form of a shadow demon, allip, or perhaps a spreading vampiric mist.
An interesting way to add greater stakes is to have the party act as protection for a caravan. This could be a prearranged contract or occur within the encounter. Assuming your party is on horseback, they would be much faster than a group of carts. Rushing along the road could bring them to a collection of people under attack, forcing a moral dilemma on your players. Assisting would require them to then escort the caravan, slowing their pace. Adjust your creature choice for this, rather than swarming them in speedy units. Have them attack in small waves, using different angles and targets to keep the party on their toes. Intelligent forces could even devise an ambush. The risk should be greater but could mean a reward for safe escort in addition to any alliances made.
8 – A local boy has been acting strangely since his father died. He denies the death and runs off each night to meet him.
The party finds themselves in a town of mourning widows, widowers, and orphans. They quickly learn of a series of deaths within the settlement, believed to be victims of wild animals. The attacks started with people disappearing from the streets when alone at night. Erecting walls around the town prevented these deaths. That was until the savage killing of a hunting party. Their bodies were found, mostly consumed by their attackers. One the hunters was the father of a young boy, who has been visibly tired and changed since his father’s death. He is secretly leaving town at night, wandering to the outskirts and meeting with what he believes to be his father.
Once again, the first step of this horror encounter is an investigation by the party. Their own curiosity or a leader character contracting them to solve the issue can kick it off. Speaking to the villagers will have them learn of the progressing deaths, along with the temporary success of the walls. After that came further deaths, all occurring outside of the village boundaries but involving victims who would never normally leave alone. Among the people will be the wife and son of a deceased hunter. During their questioning, the boy will frustratedly exclaim that his father is still alive. His mother will shoo him away, explaining the boy’s traumatized state and inability to sleep.
Successfully persuading the child, or keeping guard at night, will reveal that he has been sneaking away. He will be secretive but can be convinced by a player showing that they believe what he says. It is important to show that he is in his right mind, simply feeling dejected because no one believes him. The boy can explain that he meets his father at an opening in the town wall. His father only appears when he is alone, telling his son that he worries about him getting in trouble if anyone saw. High enough persuasion will have the child mention that his father wants him to open the town gates so that he can come home. Observing him or investigating his story will have the players find a small hole in the wall. Watching at night, a man’s face is visible, meeting the boy from the other side.
Your horror elements will accelerate as the party track the father. Large, humanoid tracks depress the grass leading from the hole in the wall towards the nearby forest. These tracks will eventually lead through the woods to a bloodied cave, but your horror encounter will likely end before then. The forest trees will be at least 30 feet high with a canopy and fog that creates perpetual dim light. Perceiving their surroundings will have one player notice a far-off silhouette, thought to be a tree, step out of view. Towards the day’s end, they will find the hunting party, rent into featureless pieces and impaled on sharpened branches.
Eventually, your party must camp for a single night. It will be quiet and uneventful, aside from distant shifting in either bushes or trees. During the second watch, however, the true encounter will come. The character on watch will turn or look up to see a man’s face looming over their party member at the light’s edge. As their vision adjusts, they see the outline of multiple other faces surrounding it. All are expressionless, breathing. Noticing the player, the faces will retract by rising some 15 feet into the air before pulling into shadows. This could, alternatively, take place when watching the boy at the wall. The same will happen in this case, with it vanishing beyond the town’s light.
Following or tracking the creature will lead to a confrontation and clearer view. It is a giant humanoid, 30 feet tall and lithely formed of smooth, grey skin, with the faces of the deceased integrated into its shoulders and upper body. The father’s visage covers its own. The faces are slack and pinned to the creature with sharpened wood, yet move as if breathing. This monster is not initially hostile, almost timidly observing and studying the players. If it is attacked, it will lash out in a violent tantrum while bellowing with the combined, agonized screams of its victims. Most importantly, never give players a clear view. Describe only pieces of it, otherwise coated in shadow or obscured by moving light. What they cannot see is often scarier than what they can see!
The physical appearance of the creature is actually inspired by Of Monsters and Men’s music video for ‘Six Weeks‘. Mechanically, it is simplest to use a clawed hill giant. For a more unique identity, consider giving it a once-per-turn use of the Changeling race’s Unsettling Visage. Against a stronger party, it may also have a banshee’s Wail and Horrifying Visage, the latter of which could have a chance to recharge each round.
9 – The town seems normal and inviting to most, filled with accommodating faces. But they are simply illusory bait for the living, hungry settlement.
The residents of the town are perpetually kind, inviting, and generous. They tend to the whims of any visitors, offering accommodation, food, and supplies, all at high qualities and low prices. Their home is similarly picturesque, situated on a bright and sunny hill overlooking beautiful fields and gardens. It all seems perfect. That changes when the party tries to leave. The townsfolk’s insistence that they stay turns to demands and bribes. Tempting visions of their pasts and goals lure them back in and their thoughts are clouded and disparate. The town wants them to stay. It is feeding on them and it won’t be long before they are too weak to leave.
The inspiration for this horror encounter, like many others, is a movie. Unfortunately, naming the movie would also spoil the movie, so we must refrain from doing so. But trust us, it’s based on a movie.
Similar to Encounter 6, your first step here is making the townsfolk creepy. The difference comes in the use of illusions. Think about how many you will use and whether there will be real townsfolk mixed in. Having a handful of real people is not required, but is advised. It allows you to use corporeal enemies that can work to impede the party instead of relying on players following lures. Damaging the players’ cart or enchanting their horses is a good start. The cultists could even pose as fellow victims in order to nudge players in the direction of the town’s ‘mouth’. This works best if your party is traveling with a group of characters, as the cultists can blend in and influence decision-making more subtlely.
Surrounding these people will be your illusions. The purpose of these is to make the town as inviting as possible, catering to each player specifically. It can be difficult to lure them without giving it away, so err on the side of caution. Use your best judgment of the party and players to provide what they would look for and would make them stay. It should only be if and when they try to leave that the town will reach further into their minds. People they’ve lost or are searching for is the last resort before they are forcefully compelled back inside. Of course, certain characters could and should be able to see through the magic. This is where it again helps to have other characters with the party. They will fall victim to the effects, requiring help instead of players just running out of town and never looking back.
Your players should also be growing weaker as they stay. Any food they buy will not fill them and rest will be broken and insufficient. More importantly, they won’t know this. Characters will feel strong, fed, and refreshed, not realizing that they are taking points of exhaustion or even necrotic damage. Track these effects in the background, as it will catch up once the illusion is broken. If they seem completely unaware, consider letting one of them, preferably the most magically-attuned, notice a brief glimpse of the truth. It only needs to be a momentary clue to kickstart their investigation. They could briefly feel the effects, or perhaps they find a physical clue. The creature’s illusions might be incapable of regular language, instead filling books with scrawls of ancient symbols. Scatter similarly offsetting clues about to give your players ample chance of discovering the farce.
This horror encounter’s climax is aided heavily by having the town consist of a focal point, whether it be the cult’s ritual site or the mouth of the beast itself. This is where the effects would be at their greatest and is where the cultists would attempt to lure people. The original movie actually inspires a great way to use this: upon encountering a psychic barrier surrounding the town and preventing escape without incurring damage, the disguised cultists recall a tunnel they found. They mention that they had visited the hilltop church the previous night, spotting an underground path. They will lead the characters there and into a cavern. You can have them reveal themselves then, chanting in worship of the creature as you reveal that the tunnel is, in fact, the monster’s gullet.
Concluding this encounter is relatively simple. Most likely, your players will end up fighting their way out. Dealing sufficient damage to the beast could allow them to escape the tunnel and alleviate the illusions when coupled with dealing with the cultists. The creature won’t die, but cultist notes could reveal that it must be regularly fed to prevent it from starving. With no one to tend to it, the situation will resolve itself. That is unless someone else finds it.
10 – A sect of mages has taken control of a region of wilderness. Any who wonder inside are beset my monsters as the mages watch on and study them.
Deep in the mountain forests, there sits a small tavern. The road on which it lies is not one of dense popularity and the few rooms on its second level are rarely full. Its existence might seem strange if the party were not accustomed to far stranger. Their journey brings them to its doors as night is falling, and they are met by the accommodating proprietor. They eat and purchase rooms for the night, briefly meeting a group of young holiday-makers staying in the other rooms. During the night, the forest echoes disturbing sounds. Investigation reveals the innkeeper to have vanished and varied shapes are stalking towards the building. Some distance away, the innkeeper and his fellow mages watch on via the use of scrying magic.
You might have noticed that many of our horror encounters draw inspiration from popular horror movies and stories. This is our take on Cabin in the Woods. Just like the movie, the idea here is to make use of common horror tropes to create a horror-comedy story. The twist is the party’s presence. Your additional characters will play the various archetypes of ’30-year-old teenager horror victims’, only this time they will be accompanied by a group of battle-crazed wizards, barbarians, and whatever else your party happens to carry. Make full use of the stereotypes and tropes, cranking their personalities up to eleven. Let them make stupid decisions and get picked off, one by one, as a consequence. While this is a horror encounter setting, your goal is still to have your players laughing and having fun.
One of the best freedoms in this encounter is your ability to use a variety of monsters. Just like the inspiring story, you can and should have wildly different choices that would normally be a villain of their own encounter. Start with something simple, like zombies, attacking the inn. Use this to get your players thinking and investigating. This will lead to them discovering the innkeeper’s absence, the lack of realistic stock and supplies in his back rooms, as well as needing them to take charge of the other characters. Merrow, blights, or giant spiders are some good examples for monsters to follow. The highlights of this encounter are each time your players have a “wait, what?” moment to a new creature or twist. At the same time, you want players motivated to move and investigate what is happening while you run through your list of monsters.
Each stage of your encounter should have clues leading the party towards finding the truth. The innkeeper’s disappearance and the discovery of the inn being a facade should begin this. Monsters might also be observed to have enchanted binding collars or manacles. Try to use your clues as breadcrumbs to the mages in control. The path to them might simply be a tunnel, hidden by an illusory crate, in the inn’s pantry. It can be simple, as it’s important for your players to find it. The mages’ compound will lead them through a monster containment area with surface access tunnels, then eventually to the scrying chamber.
Just like the movie, your mages should be surprised and alarmed at being found. They themselves might not be particularly powerful, instead relying on an artifact to summon the creatures. Don’t feel like you need to have them act as the climactic fight. Make it obvious that they are researchers, however bumbling and amoral. Having watched the party carve through every monster they sent, it’s unlikely that they would directly confront them. Play them defensively, bargaining and struggling to convince their would-be victims to not hurt them. If they are especially crafty or confident, one might summon a final, large monster to engage the party. Others could use basic disruption magic while another races to scrawl a teleportation circle in the hopes of escape.
Morning rises and the horrors subside. This night is over, but another is on its way. More horror encounters are too, as well as an in-depth ‘How to Run Horror Adventures’ guide and collective PDF! So use the daylight wisely and let us know what you think so far. We love hearing any feedback, ideas, and stories from other campaigns. We’re also considering making full adventure outlines out of some of these, so let us know if that’s something you would like.
Do you know what’s truly horrific? Being unprepared. Fear not, for we have a gallery and blog full of useful articles and resources…
I assume that these are level 1 character adventures? How does one get the DM or player information to run the enounter?’
These are system-agnostic encounter plans, for the most part; the framework that the DM can enjoy filling out with whatever level-appropriate monsters they desire. 🙂
Personally, I recommend Kobold Fight Club for choosing monsters for a balanced fight. You can input the number and levels of your PCs and it will do all the DMG mathematics for you.
Number 6 was the basis for my entire homebrew campaign. Each year on New Years Day a child would be sacrificed to the Oak Tree in the centre of town. Over time the story unfurled, revealing that the sacrifice was done to keep the Tree strong, as within the tree an ancient evil god had been captured, and was slowly poisoning the tree. The campaign goal was to figure out a way to save the Tree and the children via discerning the method for killing an otherwise immortal god. Took an entire year to run it, but the players were victorious!