As the leaves burn orange and fall to the ground, as the wind snaps briskly at our coats, as Halloween approaches, many a gamemaster turns to their shelves and wonders what role-playing scenario they can run which will make their players wet themselves with fear.
Fear is likely the most challenging emotion for a role-playing game to evoke. How frightened can one be while drinking Mountain Dew next to good friends? This is why a fine horror scenario is of particular interest to gamemasters. A good adventure should elevate a GM’s game, and these three scenarios do so with horrifying results.
Scenic Dunnsmouth for Lamentations of the Flame PrincessThe game designer who calls himself Zzarchov Kowolski.
If the role-playing game industry were a high school classroom, Lamentations of the Flame Princess would be the kid with black-painted fingernails slouching in the back row, hiding a copy of the Necronomicon behind his textbook and casting a spell to (hopefully) make the English teacher explode. The operation is so over-the-edge that Gen Con forbade them from displaying some of their products due to vulgarity, and one author, Zzarchov Kowolski, came to a signing at the Lamentations booth wearing a luchador mask to hide his identity.
A look at the grotesque and macabre work of Kowolski illuminates why he may be worried about keeping his day job. I cannot too highly recommend Scenic Dunnsmouth, which is thrilling, clever, fun, disgusting, terrifying, and infinitely replayable.
Dunnsmouth is a town out of time. Literally. An artifact of immense power, called the Time Cube, lies hidden in the village. As a result, time passes more slowly in Dunnsmouth, so the village is behind on its taxes. The characters are sent in to collect them for the king, but will likely discover horrors rather than funds for the government. For example, in the crypt of the town church, there lies the body of a boy, dead. He was found by the priest, and brought there secretly to be buried. Secretly, because the only teeth the boy has are spider’s mandibles, and the priest believes that he must have been drinking blood when he was alive…
The scenario is replayable because the village is built out of dice rolled on a blank sheet of paper before the scenario is played. Where dice roll, and what numbers they show determine the location and content of various locations. I can state without reservation that rolling up Dunnsmouth is the most fun I’ve ever had prepping for game.
“Mister Corbitt” for Call of Cthulhu
Call of Cthulhu may be the best RPG of all time, and there’s no better time to crack it out than Halloween.
If you are unfamiliar with the works of HP Lovecraft, his short stories and novels posit that we live in a malevolent universe filled with powerful entities to whom our existence is of no more consequence than that of a tardigrade is to you.
Humanity can, of course, through the dangerous activities of learning and reading, discover knowledge of these entities, and try to harness them to their own ends. Guess how well that works out?
“Mister Corbitt” can be found in the 1990 adventure supplement Mansions of Madness, and has one of the most shocking and engaging introductions of any adventure ever. The PCs are sitting around enjoying a cup of coffee, when they see their neighbor, a Mr. Corbitt, roll up in front of his house, and exit his car carrying two packages. He drops one, and a child’s arm rolls out!
Suffice it to say, the characters have their work cut out for them investigating Mr. Corbitt and his misdeeds for the rest of the adventure. To say much more would be to spoil the disgusting horrors that will be revealed when the characters go into Mr. Corbitt’s house, and see exactly what he is doing with those children’s limbs, but I cannot resist quoting one representative paragraph:
“The thing’s waste products are passed out of its digestive system via a sphincter opening atop the center of the monster’s body, much like that of a sea urcin. A near continuous stream of foul-smelling brown goo issues from the hole.”
This will guarantee one freaky night at the table, right?
“Convergence” for Delta Green
I firmly believe that “Convergence” is simply the best horror scenario ever written for any role-playing game ever. I have run it more than any other adventure, and it is reliably excellent. It has made my players scream, cry, have nightmares, and even pee a little.
In Delta Green, you play members of a modern intra-governmental conspiracy devoted fighting aliens, ghosts, monsters, and the like. Unfortunately though, your characters live in an uncaring universe of Lovecraftian horror, which means that none of them are likely to survive long enough to pension out of service.
“Convergence” can be found in one of the best-written RPG supplements of all-time, the original Delta Green sourcebook from 1996. In it, a teenager from Tennessee named Billy Ray Spivey has been abducted by something… and changed. He has been given super-strength. Unfortunately, he cannot control it, and accidentally kills his father. Horrified, he runs away from home, stealing a car and pain meds as he drives across the south. It took four bullets to stop Billy Ray, and even that didn’t kill him. The players will have to go to his hometown of Groversville, and try to discover what happened to Billy Ray. The town is an abattoir of horrors. Players will find a girl pregnant with… something. The town council has been absorbed by a blob. And one of the players will also be abducted, and their internal organs replaced. It’s nothing the player will notice, however, until they go to the bathroom…
“Convergence” can be found here. In other good news, a 2016 update of Delta Green is available as a pay-what-you-want product here. To thank them for making such an excellent product essentially free, hie thee forth to their Patreon!
What are your favorite frightening scenarios? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image by Jez Gordon and courtesy Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
Other images by James Murphy, courtesy the Dragon’s Lair, courtesy Chaosium, and by Dennis Detwiller, courtesy Arc Dream Publishing.