Horror-Based Campaign

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Hello everyone,

So I have 3 campaigns I've been wanting to use for a while.  One's almost ready to go (just ironing out some minor details at the moment.), one's still early in development and has a particular rule element that I still need to incorporate somehow (I'll post the details for that in another thread), and this one, which is almost done, but I'd like some feedback regarding what can be done.

This actually started as a non-D&D stat-based RP, but I feel it will benefit from a D&D restructuring, as the original version may have been either too easy or too clunky.

Story Pitch

Elsaan Manor has been empty for many years.  The road leading up to the mansion has been under lock and key for almost a century.  It has been forbidden for anyone to set foot within the mansion or the surrounding grounds; no need for any more "accidents."  Long ago, a series of gruesome murders plagued the nearby town of Birchkastel.  After some investigation, it was discovered that the murders originated from the manor.  The mayor sent his finest knights up to the grounds to apprehend the current tenant.  However, when they arrived, they found him impaled on the gate outside.  The captain of the knights reported that the suspect was "softly chuckling" as he lay on the gate's spikes.  It had been thought the nightmare was over.  However, a few years later, an order of clerics and paladins journeyed to the manor, with the intention to "cleanse it with holy fire." 

Only one cleric returned.  When asked about her comrades, her replies consisted of unintelligible mumbles and spontaneous fits of screaming.  She was found dead a few days later, the circumstances of which were never revealed.  The mayor ordered that the road leading to the estate be sealed, and it has been ever since...until today.

The current mayor of Birchkastel believes that it will serve the people (and his re-election campaign) quite well if the citizens were shown that Elsaan Manor is merely a victim of superstitions, and that no threat exists.  He's arranged for an open house party, where citizens, travelers, and maybe even prospective buyers (the revenue from the estate'd be beneficial, to be sure) can visit and see the grand house in all its splendor.  This will prove to be a night to remember.

...but what happens when the nightmares of the past pay a visit?

Campaign Pitch

Players assume the role of a guest at the party.  Your reason for attending can be a number of things, such as curiousity, reporting for a local newspaper, stumbling in looking for a place to stay the night, or whatever reason you may decide upon.  After enjoying the party and mingling with the other guests a bit, you find yourself unable to leave the house and grounds.  Monsters now lurk the hallways and grounds.  It is now up to you and your party to explore the area for the truth behind the property's mysteries, as well as an escape.  You will explore not only the mansion itself, but the backyard, a small forest, the guest house, a lake, and even more areas.  You may find treasures and supplies on your way, which offer a temporary reprieve, but be warned...someone or something is actively hunting the party.  Surviving will require you to have quick wits, quicker reflexes, and teamwork.  Will you live to see another sunrise, or will your soul join the many who have lost theirs here?

Here's where you come in...

In the comments below, I have two key questions I'd like you to answer...

1.  This is more general than the second question.  I'd appreciate any thoughts or comments regarding this story.  Suggestions?  Criticisms?  Whatever you have, I'll be happy to listen, and I thank in advance for your reply.

2.  As I said before, this did not start out as a D&D campaign.  Players would have to quickly react to threats, but there was no way to gauge it without either being too easy or too hard.  A d20 system gives a much more balanced feel to the game.  However, a new hurdle has presented itself: Perception checks.  If I have a perception check only when a monster's present, then the players KNOW that a monster is present, and it kills a lot of the scare factor I'm going for.  So far, I can think of two potential ways to get around this.

A. Have a perception check every time a new room is entered (definitely keeps the party on their toes, but would that only get annoying?)

B. Have a moderate number of perception checks, with some being monsters and others being just surroundings (not as many rolls, but then it might kill the momentum and have times when the party realizes "Hey, I can relax here!")

Also, if anyone has any other suggestions to get around this, or maybe experience with horror based campaigns, please post them below.  Thank you in advance!

-LD
If you have it, I would suggest looking through the first DMs handbook . There is a section on pg 23 that talks about creating suspense (its not terribly indepth but it could gie you a few ideas).

Instead of having the players make a perception check whenever they enter a room, it might make more sense to simply note their passive perception at the start and only have them make a perception check if they actually ask what they can see or search the area. It might also be interesting if they come across scenes that have only just happened (e.g., walking into a room and finding a still warm body with fresh blood all over the walls). You might also want to throw in some bogus rolls, ask the players to make a perception check when there is nothing in the room. However, as you pointed out, you will want to keep this to a minimum or it will get annoying

In terms of safe areas... how are the monsters moving around the house? Would it be possible to have all the rooms connected by tunnels/air ducts or similar methods, thus allowing the monsters to move around freely. This means that even if the PCs do encounter a "safe" room, they have no guarantee that it will stay safe while they are resting (you might want to roll up the monster movements before hand so as not to bog down play time). This would allow the PCs to create a sort of HQ in one of the rooms (a-la Hill House) if they can figure out how the monsters are moving around and stop them doing so (boarding up doors, sealing off vents, laying protective charms etc.). They could then use this method to slowly retake the house, while looking for the source of the hauntings. Of course they have no way of knowing if all the monster move around in the same way (boarding up a door could keep the zombies out of a room, but not the ghosts...).

Does this help?
If you have it, I would suggest looking through the first DMs handbook . There is a section on pg 23 that talks about creating suspense (its not terribly indepth but it could gie you a few ideas).



Sounds good.  I'll definitely take a look there. 

Instead of having the players make a perception check whenever they enter a room, it might make more sense to simply note their passive perception at the start and only have them make a perception check if they actually ask what they can see or search the area. It might also be interesting if they come across scenes that have only just happened (e.g., walking into a room and finding a still warm body with fresh blood all over the walls). You might also want to throw in some bogus rolls, ask the players to make a perception check when there is nothing in the room. However, as you pointed out, you will want to keep this to a minimum or it will get annoying

In terms of safe areas... how are the monsters moving around the house? Would it be possible to have all the rooms connected by tunnels/air ducts or similar methods, thus allowing the monsters to move around freely. This means that even if the PCs do encounter a "safe" room, they have no guarantee that it will stay safe while they are resting (you might want to roll up the monster movements before hand so as not to bog down play time). This would allow the PCs to create a sort of HQ in one of the rooms (a-la Hill House) if they can figure out how the monsters are moving around and stop them doing so (boarding up doors, sealing off vents, laying protective charms etc.). They could then use this method to slowly retake the house, while looking for the source of the hauntings. Of course they have no way of knowing if all the monster move around in the same way (boarding up a door could keep the zombies out of a room, but not the ghosts...).

Does this help?



Definitely helps.  I hadn't considered the group making a safe-house within the walls.  Of course, they'll have to venture out of it if they hope to make it through the campaign in one piece.  The monsters do indeed have a number of ways of moving through the house. so that's a good idea regarding boarding up walls and such.  I'll put some notes regarding supplies that can be found in various parts of the house.  Back when this wasn't a d20 campaign, every team member was going to have only about 10-15 lbs of carrying capacity, meaning everyone'd have to work together.  Stats will determine carrying capacity now, of course, and I'll have to come up with some stats for various survival tools.  I don't know if they have this in any of the DM guides or Handbooks, but how's this sound?

1 plank of wood=2 lbs
1 nail=0.1 lb
1 Steel plate=10 lbs
1 Metal Spike=5 lbs

and so on and so forth, with each board, plate, and/or protective charm contributing to a door's "HP," which'll be breached if its hit enough times. 

With regards to the rolls, that seems like an appropriate amount.  I had a feeling "bogus rolls" would be needed to add to the suspense, but no worries, I'll use them sparingly.

In any case, thanks Eric!  That was a major help.  Oh, and if anyone else has any comments, suggestions, or ideas, please let me know below.

-LD
I'd consult Darkness & Dread (Good luck finding that one), Heroes of Horror (A great D&D horror guide), perhaps GURPS horror for some fluff based horror advice over the DMG.

An undead spectre occasionally returning to remind the fandom of its grim existence.

 

 

Some good pointers for the fellow hobbyist!:

  • KEEP D&D ALIVE, END EDITION WARS!
  • RESPECT PEOPLES' PREFERENCES
  • JUST ENJOY THE GAME!
I know that the PH1 has some statistics for equipment, but really only the information concerning hammers and pitons seems appropriate here.

Hammer     5 sp   2 lb.
Pitons (10) 5 sp   5 lb.
 


Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but would it be better to record equipment found all under one heading (e.g. you have found X amount of building supplies, which adds up to Y pounds and which can be used to make...)? The only reason I'm suggesting this is for game flow, so that your players don't run into the trouble of suddenly finding out that they have plenty of boards, but next to no nails. But then, I don't know your group, your method could work better than mine.
I'd consult Darkness & Dread (Good luck finding that one), Heroes of Horror (A great D&D horror guide), perhaps GURPS horror for some fluff based horror advice over the DMG.




Took a look at a few of those...Heroes of Horror looks really nice.  I'll probably get that when I get my next paycheck.

I know that the PH1 has some statistics for equipment, but really only the information concerning hammers and pitons seems appropriate here.

Hammer     5 sp   2 lb.
Pitons (10) 5 sp   5 lb.
 


Forgive me if I'm being presumptuous, but would it be better to record equipment found all under one heading (e.g. you have found X amount of building supplies, which adds up to Y pounds and which can be used to make...)? The only reason I'm suggesting this is for game flow, so that your players don't run into the trouble of suddenly finding out that they have plenty of boards, but next to no nails. But then, I don't know your group, your method could work better than mine.



That DOES sound like a better idea.  Less of a hassle to deal with.  I do think what I'll do is make two or three "tiers" of building material, with each tier becoming more sturdy and heavier as you go up.  No material will be 100% safe, but it'll add a bit of strategy to the players' choice of materials.  Using the high-grade stuff might be a risk, too...imagine the players boarding up a 2-entrance room with the high grade stuff, only to have one of the stronger monsters bash through one of the doors.  With their backs to the other door, the players frantically bashed the other door, praying they can escape the monster in time. :P


In any case, thanks you two for your help!  If anyone else has any feedback or suggestions, please place them below.

-LD
  Afew years ago during Halloween,the forums were hot for horror based ideas. I got to thinking,but never posted. So,better late than never.

   The manor,for whatever reason,is infused with negative energy.But not just any negative energy,sentient negative energy. It knows what it is.It can also suspend draining positive energy(life) as a free action.

  I also had an idea that it could possess objects. For example: Hallway mirror  

                                                                                                    1st round-PC sees his/her reflection( in reality, it is how the entity sees them )
                                                                                                     Make a passive Will save to determine how/if they are affected
                                                                                                     Fail could be something like a penalty to perception checks because they are
                                                                                                     disturbed.

                                                                                                      2nd round-PC sees distorted/delayed image
                                                                                                       at this point they'll know something's not right
                                                                                                       Will save-fail results in minus x to Wisdom

      You could do the same thing with paintings,sculptures,etc.


   The clues are there, they just need to find the common denominator. The house isn't haunted,it's possessed.From there they need a game plan to combat the evil.

   Hope this helps

1.  Dont take this wrong, but try not to be cliche.  A haunted mansion, typical profile (deaths, evil dude laughing, holy men failing, stupid/brazen politician).  Try letting go of used up plotlines and really take some creative license.  If you want to make something memorable, or even just horror it helps to ask some reflective questions first.  First, horror is more than just survival-it involves unspeakable evil.  To run horror you have to break taboos-this is one campaign type where if it is to be done properly, the DM must cross lines, push boundaries and get inside the heads of the players.

...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
Over the years as I have DMd I've done my best to reflect on past events to learn from them, and from what I can gather horror is best done with a light touch.  To really horrify your players dont start the game (assuming you intend to play long term-if this is a short term game this doesnt apply) with horror.  Start the game as typical fantasy, but focus heavily on roleplay.  Get the characters to care about the NPCs, this is no easy task and it takes time for players to develop an attachment to the story.  But once they do, you have them ready to be horrified.  Someone close to the players should be using them for their own nefarious ends-without the players knowledge of course.  Betrayal may be an overused theme but when done properly it always stings.  For example, say the local wizard has hired the PCs to go to the party, to keep an eye on the ignorant mayor.  He has given them explicit instructions on how to prepare for what he believes is the awakening.  The players have been working with this wizard for many months collecting reagants for his spells in return for training and magical items.  He has detailed a plan that involves a cleansing ritual somewhere on the premises in order to close off a portal to the farrealms and seal the threat away forever.   
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
The PC's make their final preperations and head for the party.  Careful to avoid detection they slip away one by one, until they are able to regroup in a room just past the gated area where the party is being held.  Together the PC's descend into the lower quarters of the Manor and after a series of battles against the abberant undead and a few hours of wandering its labryinthian passages they find it...the abyssal well.  No more than a ten foot circle carved into the stone floor with an Illithid's claw, but an unholy abomination none the less.  The PC's battle the final monstrosity (a beholderkin) and clear the refuse away from its center.  Together they begin the cleansing ritual.  Taking the proper reagants in their hands and chanting the prayer the Wizard taught them from an ancient holy book they pray and chant together for nearly an hour.  


As they finish the chant the room grows dark and cold.  (At this point any Cleric or Paladin notices something is amiss-they seem to have lost their connection to their deity-and their powers)  The well fades from the floor-the manor begins to groan and creek, the floor above them splits open, light from the party above pours in and the guests are stumbling and staggering to keep their balance.  Moments later all forms of grotesque abberations begin pouring from every available shadow.  The guests bodies are rend and torn apart.  Eaten alive in moments.  Its all the PC's can do to make it out alive.  They've been tricked.


The months of working with the wizard, it was all in preperation for a dark summoning ritual, now the vast majority of the townsfolk have been slain, mauled, mutilated, and eaten by monsters the players themselves have summoned.  But thats not the worst of it-the Cleric in the group (Paladin too) having partaken in an evil ritual has lost all of his powers and is utterly useless to the party.  The monsters pouring from the darkness are coming out at such a rate that the only hope of survival the PC's have is to run, to flee.  They are no longer heroes, they are monsters themselves. 


As the PC's flee the horde of abberations grows, spreading out and rampaging in all directions.  The PC's make their way back to the twisted remnants of their town, met every step of the way with another reminder of their failure to protect the people.  The Wizard is standing outside his home, and upon seeing them approach he praises them vigorously and departs to "Greet the Elder one."  The PC's must now make a choice, flee from an insurmountable enemy, or battle their way back to the manor to kill the wizard.


As the PC's turn and head back towards the manor the resistance they meet is suprisingly light.  Finding their way through the twisted gardens the PC's burst into the great hall.  There the wizard stands, beaming with an expression of pure joy on his face.  Seated in a large chair across the room appears to be a writhing shadowed mass of tentacles-in a darkness to thick to pierce.  The wizard opens his arms to them "friends!"  he exclaims, (its best to position him between the mass of shadows and the PC's so they have to walk toward him either way).  The PC's seething with anger strike him down, killing him in a single blow.  As the wizard crumples to the ground a figure with the head of an octopus, wings of a dragon, and body of a man steps from the shadows and says "You are welcome here disciples, you have proven yourselves more than worthy."  (The players have just killed an unarmed man in cold blood-sacrificing what little of their humanity remained).            
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
The above is just an example of how you could do something differently than just your typical run of the mill good vs evil.  Doing this sort of thing sparyingly, and with careful planning and execution can leave a lasting impact on your players.  Let me know what you think, if you have any ideas for your story I'd be happy to help-if you find this helpful.
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
Detoxifier said just about everything I would have said, and a little more, so +1 to what Detox said.

The only thing I can think of to add might be to suggest tracking down a copy of the D20 Call of Cthulhu core rulebook.  Last time I saw it in a store, it was on sale rather cheap, it looks great, and it's packed full of fantastic advice and ideas for running horror campaigns, plus it's more or less compatible with D20 D&D, with information about how to use the CoC content in a D&D cross-over.  I prefer the classic CoC rules, but the D20 version's rulebook is one of my favorite RPG books, and it was well worth the price.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
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