• Justin Handlin

How to Run a Great Horror Adventure in Dungeons & Dragons

Updated: Oct 4, 2021




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How to Run a Great Horror Adventure in Dungeons & Dragons

Are you looking to run a horror adventure for this Halloween? Then you’re gonna want to stick around as we speak with an expert!


Phil Beckwith creator of the adamantine best-selling Dungeons & Dragons horror trilogy 'The Haunt'.


Write and DM/GM a horror campaign for Dungeons and Dragons 5e or any other tabletop RPG with these storytelling elements: Phil joins us to share some of the core features that make a successful horror Dungeons & Dragons Game


Include horror, tension, and scares

  • Horror is made up of carnage, death, and gross things in general.

  • Tension, on the other hand, is the magic that pulls players deeper into the scenario.

  • The scares come after or during the tension. Any moment a player is on edge with an unknown danger is a perfect moment to drop a sudden explosion of action. This is the time to attack the 5 senses.

Build empathy and connection to characters

  • Whether it is an NPC or a PC, we need to care about the characters involved and what happens to them.

Use the uncanny and unknown as a tool for fear

  • The uncanny means a situation, object, surrounding or person is off from what it should be. It’s a peculiar sensation, like something in your gut is telling you to run away. What makes dolls and clowns so creepy?

  • The fear of the unknown haunts us all the time. This simply means a situation unfamiliar to us is playing out. We could end up dead in a number of horrible ways, and information about our surroundings is key for security.

Create a spooky setting

  • Building a horror setting should be a fun exercise in creativity. We all know creepy elements of a place that send chills down our spine. Building on what we’ve gone over so far, we can build a setting that brings the fear to life.

Create a significant threat

  • To build tension, our killer, monster, or ghost needs to be a serious threat. This is the case with most tabletop RPGs in the genre, but it’s important to reiterate this point to heroic games as well.

Don't be afraid to kill your player characters

This isn’t your typical loot and pillage dungeon raid. For the stakes to be real, the players have to be willing to allow their characters to die. We should definitely state this to everyone before playing.

Pick up this legendary trilogy to the delight or potential misery of your players!

Unearthed Tips and Tricks Monthly Magazine! We bring you new and creative content for you to bring with you on your next adventure



Character Concept:

Charline Pumperstamp, Female Gnome

Description: Runty and weak-looking, she wears a long, yellow cloak. She keeps her silver hair in a pixie cut. Her eyes are deep amber and her teeth are white and near perfect.


Personality: She is a lively one. A spring in her step and bounces in her britches, quite literally. She is obsessed with dancing. She constantly tries to fill her life with a variety of dancing. Her brief stint in her town's militia gave her the idea she was invincible and that she is the toughest woman alive.


History: She grew up in a lower-middle-class home, but living comfortably wasn't enough. Cursed with vampirism at a very young age, Charline has worked very hard to control her curse. She hopes to save up enough money to one day pay a cleric to remove the curse.


Motivation: Her name or reputation has been wronged in the past by brigands, and she desires to make it right. and if she can make a name for herself as a dancing queen. Well, then that’s alright too.


Monster:

Remnant Oozeling

Origin: Minotaur Skeleton

Lost features: sight, language, greataxe


New Features

Damage resistances. Acid, cold, fire

Condition immunities. Blinded, charmed, deafened,

Senses. Blindsight 60 ft. (blind beyond this radius)


Amorphous. So long as the ooze doesn’t have bones engulfed, it can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.


Bloodied. When the ooze has less than half its maximum hit points, it compresses and releases the bones in an explosive barrage. Each creature in a 15-foot-radius sphere around the ooze must make a Dexterity saving throw. A target takes 21 (6d6) piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The creature then abandons its bones and attempts to escape until it finds a suitable replacement.


Shapechanger. The Remnant Ooze can shape and change its form by engulfing a set of creatures' bones that is Large or smaller. The process takes 1d4 hours depending on size and how much of the corpse's flesh remains need to be dissolved. Upon completion of taking the new form of the bones. The ooze takes the general form and features of the bones, and its Strength, Dexterity and hit points are the same as the creature it engulfed. Additionally, it gains any physical features the bones may have possessed before being consumed.


The oozes slam damage is reflected by the shape of the bones it consumes. The damage die is 1d6 for small creatures and increases by an additional 1d6 for each size thereafter up to Large.


Corrode Metal. Any nonmagical weapon made of metal that hits the ooze corrodes. After dealing damage, the weapon takes a permanent and cumulative -1 penalty to damage rolls. If its penalty drops to -5, the weapon is destroyed. Nonmagical ammunition made of metal that hits the ooze is destroyed after dealing damage.


The ooze can eat through 4-inch-thick,nonmagical metal in 1 round.


Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d6 +2) bludgeoning damage plus 3 (1d6) acid damage, and if the target is wearing nonmagical metal armor, its armor is partly corroded and takes a permanent and cumulative -1 penalty to the AC it offers. The armor is destroyed if the penalty reduces its AC to 10.


Encounter:

Hello Mummy

It was just another day in the sleepy town of Blackhaven. The sun was shining, the air clear, and life had returned to normal. The annual harvest festival is in full swing. That was until a tremble rippled through the ground, shaking and breaking. A large rift appears just outside the town and protruding from it is the top of a pyramid. Cracks in the pyramid's top allow a strange odor wafts through the air. Food and drink begin to quickly spoil in and around the town within 1 mile.


Mummies begin to wander out from the pyramid. The characters are asked to investigate. If they ignore the call, the town is overrun by mummies and the entire area becomes a blight. A character who succeeds on a DC 14 Intelligence (Religion) check can recall the burial rituals of mummification that help protect a body from rot. With the help of dark priests, after burial, the dead are raised to protect treasures hidden inside.


The characters encounter a multitude of traps throughout their expedition such as a collapsing roof, poison dart hallways, and guardian lightning-breathing statues. Deep inside beyond the grand gallery is the King/Queen’s chamber. Along with a hoard of artifact treasures and coins worth 255 gp. Resting on the sarcophagus is a ruby-hilted dagger of venom. A character who succeeds on a DC 18 Intelligence (Religion) check is aware of the common ritualistic practice of cursing treasure. Once the dagger or treasure is picked up, the pyramid begins trembling and shaking. The characters have 10 rounds (use a countdown die) to escape before the pyramid sinks back into the ground and be imprisoned until they starve and die.


A creature that takes treasure from the lair is cursed until the treasure is returned. The cursed target has disadvantage on all saving throws. The curse lasts until removed by a remove curse spell or other magic.


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Magic Item:

The Leacher’s Emerald (The Haunt)

Wondrous item, rare (requires attunement)

This green emerald is an ancient relic imbued with necrotic energies by an evil necromancer long ago.

Its master and wielder, once attuned, can attempt to magically implant the emerald into the chest of any living creature. The creature must successfully win a Grappling contest to be able to resist the attempt.

As a bonus action, the emerald’s master can use it to transfer 3d6 Hit Points from the victim to them-self if it's within 60 feet. The emerald has two charges per day and regains all of its expended charges daily at dawn.

The gem exerts no control over the victim otherwise, but the master of the emerald knows its direction and distance at all times. If the emerald crosses into another plane, the owner knows which one.

Extraction. A skilled physician can remove the gem on a successful DC 17 Intelligence (Medicine) check, but the patient suffers 4d10 piercing damage on every attempt. A greater restoration spell can be used to eject the gem.

The emerald radiates evil, and should its “master” ever use it for it’s intended purpose, their alignment permanently shifts a step closer to evil.


Dungeon Master Tip:

No Nat 20s Auto Success! Set a DC!

No roll in your game should ever require a Natural 20. This is an easy trap for new and veteran Dungeon Masters to fall into. There is a reason why Natural 20s are only successful on attack rolls. Let’s delve into an example.


Your PCs want to do something and you think to yourself “That is nearly impossible. The only way you’re going to manage that is with a Nat 20”. Fight the urge to do this. Instead, set a Difficulty Class. The reason for this is simple. As awesome as a Natural 20 is, they are completely random. Your player’s influence is minimal when the dice roll. This essentially takes away player choice. And we can do better!


No matter how many stats, features, and feats the rogue takes to pump up their stealth. The warlock is just as likely to roll a Nat 20. So, instead, set a DC. In this example, let’s make it outrageous, like a DC 35 Stealth check to make it past the watchful Beholder. With a level 5 rogue that has expertise, we can easily attain a +11 bonus to stealth. So we are already off to a great start. But in this case, they still, even on a Nat 20, can’t succeed. But wait, the other players have a few ideas. The Cleric prays to their deity and channels Guidance which adds to the skill check. Then the Bard speaks up giving words of Inspiration. The Ranger drapes the party and rogue in a veil of shadow and silence adding Pass without Trace to the mix.


Now the rogue now has a d4 +d8 +11 +10 to their stealth for a total maximum of 33. Now, we can’t forget the d20. So in the end it is still going to come down to chance. But, because of the agency being given to the PCs, and the choices the PCs have now made, the chance of success went from nearly impossible, to extremely likely. This leads to a feeling of accomplishment that wouldn’t have been present previously. So go, and set your DCs. No matter how hard they may be.


Player Tip: Don’t be a Dick

Missile Trap

Let’s talk about how as players, we don’t often set our own traps. Well, you may want to rethink this. PCs with a be of preparation, can pull off some amazing combos. The glyph of warding is a particularly nasty spell if you have time to prepare. For this, you’re going to want to locate a room of any size. For this example, we will use a small hallway that is 10 feet by 80 feet that you can lead the enemy to. This will give us 32 5 foot squares.


Next, you cast a glyph of warding with the spell magic missile stored in the ground within each 5-foot area. Repeat this 31 times. Leaving 1 space blank. We can set the trigger to be anything we want. In this case, when ‘Insert Big Bad Evil Guy’s Name Here’ enters the area it triggers our glyphs. Each trap releases three missiles for up to 15 damage each for a total 465 damage.


Now there are a bit of weakness to this combo. The first being, the shield spell can stop the damage instantly. Remember that extra area we left? Well, we are going to cast the glyph of warding with counterspell stored in it. Set the trigger to when the shield spell is cast. Viola! Dead enemy.


The last issue that arises with this, is part of the reason why games should track material components with costs in games. Each glyph of warding spell requires 200 gp worth of diamonds. So this example would require 6,400 gold worth of diamonds to do.


Last note, this example utilizes only the floor and 5-foot areas. Technically you could place it on 1 square foot areas, on the floor, walls, and ceiling. Making the damage significantly higher. Happy playing!


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