E.S. Wynn is an editor and the author of over seventy books in print.
Looking for something sufficiently spooky or terrifying to tantalize and frighten the players at your next game or RPG match? Perhaps you've come looking for that delightfully ghoulish plot twist to inspire you for that next tromp through the cthonic darkness of a haunted graveyard? Look no further than here, child of the night. Even if your game isn't dark, frightening, or even horror in slant, you might find something delicious here you can twist, or that might give you just the push you need to come up with the ultimate adventure!
1. The Priest
The characters meet a priest with a tarped-over wagon and a thin-looking horse in a dark and misty (and unusually spooky) area, like an alleyway or a lonely avenue. He tries to gain their trust (either because he's afraid about being out in this spooky place all alone, or because of some much more... insidious reason.) and may even offer to trade with them (he keeps the wagon covered to hide what's inside, reaching under the tarp, maybe beating something back that moves... etc.) You can do a lot of things with this guy—he could just be a poor, simple priest with some goods on his way to a distant monastery, or he could be a lot shadier- maybe he's a vampire or a psychopath or a demonic conjurer with a wagon full of evil minions, demons, zombies, goblins, dismembered corpses, or worse... maybe the equipment he has to trade is cursed, or coated with poison. Maybe the wagon is actually the focal point for a gateway to the nine hells... abyss is the limit!
2. Close to Home
The characters are having a moment of cheer or are celebrating their victory over some powerful undead or demonic foe when a little boy or someone the characters know bursts into the room and shouts that there's been an attack, begging for the PCs to come quickly. As they follow the NPC, have them realize, slowly, that they're getting closer and closer to someplace familiar, someplace where someone close to at least one of the characters (like a parent, a spouse, a wise sage, etc.) lives. When the NPC goes sprinting through the broken-down door of the house where this close-to-the-characters person lives, it hits them. Make the scene grisly, blood splashed up the walls, soaking curtains, dripping from bony, gristly bits embedded in the ceiling. There's nothing left that can be identifiable, except maybe an item, like a ring or something that the characters recognize (It's up to the DM whether the person is actually dead or just elsewhere) and maybe a note scrawled in blood that says something like "You're next, so-and-so" with one of the character's names written in. Make it really clear that whatever did this was powerful, and probably very pissed off.
3. The Other Wife
The characters are called in to handle a hostage situation of an otherworldly nature. Seems a man and his second wife are being held hostage by the undead corpse of his first wife. Her demands? That his marriage to the new woman be nullified and her marriage be renewed. If her demands are met, she kills the husband, and then rushes the characters, yelling: "I'll be with you soon, sweet baby!"
4. The Dealer
Several townsfolk have started looking healthier suddenly, are suddenly much more active, and one or two even begin to perform superhuman feats, but when one of them is found insane, undead, and rotting, questions begin to fly. The characters are asked to check things out. (Either by a contact as a paid assignment, or by a friend who is a relative of the undead person, etc. The culprit is a creature of the night (demon, conjurer, vampire, warlock, etc.) dealing a drug known as "Orange" or "Cetracetaline" that comes in snortable amber-colored crystals. It restores youth and vigor, but is highly addictive and comes at a really high cost per dose. The dealer makes it by distilling souls through his magically steel-augmented arm, and runs a tab for each client. If a client can't pay, he distills them into his next dose of "Orange."
5. The House That Maw Built
The characters are sent to check out a haunted house in some dark and spooky end of town. (Like on a misty hilltop, or in the fields, etc.) It "sleeps" during the day, so must be investigated at night if the characters expect to get anywhere with it. On the whole, it looks like a perfectly ordinary house, very normal and contemporary for the period in which the characters live (log cabins or stucco- whatever's normal, etc.) and will even let the characters walk inside if they dare. But the house isn't ordinary, and it's very smart about not letting on about it. One by one it will try to pick off the characters, preferring to strike at them one at a time by transmuting a piece of furniture into a tendril or something of that nature. Being inside the house is basically like being in the beast's mouth, and so once it grabs someone, it'll suck them through the floor or a wall and start to digest them. It works like a great big mimic, and if it gets injured enough, it gets pissed, half reverts to it's actual form, (becoming a house with big talons and teeth and a demonic-looking maw that sticks out) and chases the characters. If they kill it in time, characters who were "eaten", including anyone else who disappeared before they investigated it, can probably be rescued, if they're still alive. (You might also consider letting characters cut "eaten" characters right out of the wall if they can.)
6. An Unholy Situation
A Darkly-hooded man appears ahead of the characters as the mists swirl away. He does not talk, but stands with his hands together (in the sleeves) and his head downward. If the Party moves in the other direction, the mists swirl and he disappears, but if they stay still or move toward him, he remains. After a moment, more of these darkly hooded men will appear from the mists, forming a circle around the party (at a distance) followed by more and more, until there are roughly 40-100 acolytes walking toward them, slowly. None are armed, but four are carrying censors that exude a strange musky incense, and after a moment, strange dark chanting can be heard. They try to get close enough to touch the party, as they are all inhumanly strong, and they aim to overwhelm the characters with sheer brute strength. They have incredible morale, and will not deviate even if slain. If they overwhelm the characters, a rope is brought, the characters are tied, and knocked unconscious, then brought to a strange, unholy temple, where they will attempt to sacrifice the characters to the avatar of an evil god. How the characters get out of this one might take some trickiness. Could be a chance to humble a really successful party of adventurers by putting them at the brink of death (maybe letting one or two get the blade, if you feel like being mean- really gets the suspense going) before someone new (or maybe a rival character that works in the same field) finally comes to rescue them.
7. Sanctuary... Or Not
The characters come across a small marble church with a high steeple. The church appears ordinary, and is manned by four silent friars (secretly undead- think heucuva or something similar) and a fat priest who is a different kind of undead (probably something suave, like a vampire.) If at any time, the party moves away (not looking at the church) it will dissipate into the mists and vanish. (Maybe bringing it back down the line would be eerie) fat priest waits at the door, and he looks tubby, acts non-threatening and cordial, welcoming the party inside for rest, food, healing, etc. all free of charge. Inside, the church is dark and lit only by candlelight. In every pew sit parishioners, Each a corpse carefully disguised and maintained to appear alive (with eyes closed). Inside, the four healthy-looking, equally non-threatening friars mill about, quietly "checking" on the people in the pews, but will not talk to the party, only nod and walk away. The fat priest, however, will inform them (if they try to talk to anyone except him) that today is a high holy day, and the parishioners therefore wait in silent meditation. The five undead will wait for the party to fall asleep before they attack (unless the party tries to leave, at which point they attack.) If the party sticks around long enough to be fed, they are given a thick, meaty stew and a thick, syrupy red wine (which are heavily drugged.)
8. The Rescue
The characters come across a woman in hysterics, yelling "Help! Save my daughter! Please!" There are a lot of ways you could go with this- it could be genuine, a mother unable to save her lovely and helpless maiden of a daughter from something big and horrible that the characters are more than capable of slaying, (insert your favorite lurking monster here) or it could be a trick. Maybe when the characters get close enough, the woman's head flies off and latches onto one of them with big nasty fangs that do damage, drain blood, and maybe poison or infect- maybe when they run past her, they find nothing, and she mutates into something huge and bulbous and starts to attack the characters. Or maybe it's the daughter who's the monster and the mother is just an illusion- maybe when they find the daughter, she's sunken up to her chest in the dirt/heath/etc. And when they go to pull her out, she reveals her true form as a giant naga or something nastier that uses the proximity of the characters to her advantage, making it easier for her to snag them and drag them under.
9. The Toymaker
The party comes across a merchant's wagon on it's side, the driver's corpse is half-crushed beneath it, and the exposed flesh has been chewed on and eaten. It appears he was a toymaker, as his wagon is filled with 2d20 porcelain dolls of a variety of different appearances, as well as a small chest full of long stitching needles and string. (In truth, he was an insane necromancer who was planning a devious operation with his doll golems.) If the party takes any of the dolls, they wait until the party gets into a battle, then they break out, grabbing anything sharp (and small) they can to use as a weapon and start attacking the party. It doesn't take long before the rest of their brethren (if any are left at the wagon) charge into the fight as well, armed with stitching needles and carrying enough extra for those without weapons. If the party doesn't take any of the dolls, they wait and attack later (i.e. the reinforcements become the entire army.) Feel free to get creative with the dolls- maybe some of them throw the sewing needles like javelins, maybe others have fashioned crude bows and are using the needles like arrows. The more versatile these things are, the more terrifying they become.
10. Scorched Earth
The Characters come across a patch of ground burnt in a perfect circle about 50 ft. in diameter, in the center of which is a pair of burnt leather boots and the remains of a stout leather belt. (In a harsh, violent battle for survival against a some powerful evil, a Transcendent or similar type of character burned himself out. This created a revenant-like spirit which is waiting beneath the heath for someone to inspect, touch, or take the boots.) As soon as a character is close enough, an ethereal hand seizes him/her and pulls them beneath the heath where he will attempt to transmit his essence into them (possession.) If successful, he tries to act like the original person and tries to get the players to rescue him. He makes up a story about a weird ghost grabbing him and letting him go, and waits until the party goes to sleep and then runs off in the night, taking as much of their gear as he can carry with him as he goes. Ultimately, his goal is to prepare himself for a battle with the same powerful evil that defeated him last time, and he will stop at nothing until it is dead and gone.
11. "Run Away! Run Away!" Or "We're Gonna Need a Bigger Gun."
Throw something ridiculously massive at the characters, something of Lovecraftian proportions, like an elder Cthulu god or an immortal vampire lord or a town-spanning poltergeist effect. Something that makes people think the end-times are upon them. It should become very clear to the characters that they can't lick this thing as they are, and if they don't lay low, it will hunt down and kill them all ruthlessly. It's the classic "hunters become the hunted" routine, but with a twist- looking around long enough will reveal a way for the characters to blow this thing out of the water and save the world. It can be an invention, a machine or weapon that this thing isn't immune to, but that will take a lot of work and a real long shot to beat this thing with. Or maybe it's an old friend (or better- old enemy) that they have to track down and convince to help them. Either way, there's one way, and it's a long, long shot. Add corpses and close calls and dead characters to taste- make this one feel real.
The world is full of ideas- just think back to books you've read or movies you've watched and pick out that one series of plot twists you could turn into something to make your game just that much more fun. You might also check out 11 Steampunk Adventure Seeds, 11 Cyberpunk Adventure Seeds, or even 11 Firefly/Serenity Adventure Seeds for some other ideas you can twist or change or use raw in your next game!
Sparky on January 06, 2015:
And I was just wodnnrieg about that too!
HorrorPunk from Kingman, AZ on May 14, 2009:
Dood, you have so many great ideas. This is the kind of shit that I have in my writing diary; hidden away from prying eyes. Why don't you write these stories yourself & reap the benefits? I'd read them & I'm sure a lot of other people would too.