Note: this is a cross-post of an editorial that I wrote for Intelligent Gamer, another gaming site that I contribute to on a semi-regular basis. I figured it was gaming related, though not video game related, and deserved a spot here on my blog. And actually, as of about 5:30 today, the article hasn't appeared on IG's website, so you get a sneak preview of it here first!
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Thirteen Little Scary Story Starters
At a loss for something to creep out your roleplaying group this October? Intelligent Gamer has some ideas for you...
So it's October, and the Halloween spirit has you firmly in its icy grasp. You're dusting off copies of Ravenloft, digging out your creepy sound effects CDs, and scattering fake cobwebs and black candles all over your gaming space. Your players are up for the idea of a good scare, or maybe they just want a little bit of spookiness in their campaign for the next couple of weeks. We doesn't want to leave you hanging, so enjoy an unlucky baker's dozen suggestions for ways to spice up your campaign dropped into your trick or treat bag.
Also remember that while these suggestions are being written for fantasy-themed campaigns, a little tweaking can make them fit into a modern-day or futuristic setting very quickly. An incident that happens to someone in a tavern in a medieval campaign can easily happen to a smuggler in a spaceport or a regular Joe average in the local bar. A horse and carriage can be replaced by a limousine or a land-speeder. A deserted island could just as easily be a large asteroid. So take these suggestions and run with them, and if you've got other ideas, feel free to comment and discuss to your hearts' content!
1. The local tenders of a lighthouse are always woken up at the same hour every night during foggy weather. A disembodied voice can be heard crying with dismay in various parts of the lighthouse, objects move about the rooms, and hurried footsteps rush up and down the staircase. The disturbance is being caused by the distressed spirit of an old keeper who fell asleep one foggy evening and failed to keep the lights burning, causing a ship to run aground many years earlier.
2. Upon hearing a rumour that a local cemetary is sitting right on top of a vein of valuable ores, a local businessman has begun to prey upon local superstition and is setting up elaborate ruses to make the locals believe the place is haunted in the hopes that they will relocate the interred bodies which will allow him to purchase the land for a song. Considering that many of the dead would prefer to be left in peace, it's possible that this could stir up a number of REAL hauntings should his plan succeed.
3. A local tavern appears to be haunted; mugs will often upend themselves as though the liquid inside is being consumed, darts will fling themselves at the dartboards, upstairs doors slam without anyone being near them, and decks of playing cards have been known to shuffle themselves as the mystified players stand and watch. The culprit is a local wizard who felt he was overcharged for his services, and is now plaguing the tavern with annoying cantrips and an aereal servant who is having a blast playing all kinds of "games" with its new playmates.
4. Riders on horseback traversing the countryside now studiously avoid crossing a particular bridge between two regions. Those who have crossed the bridge in the past report feeling a presence sitting behind them on their horse and icy hands clutching their shoulders or sides for support, but riders brave enough to turn and face their unauthorized occupant see nothing behind them. The feeling leaves when the rider has passed a small grove of trees, but no one has been able to determine why or even if there is anything special about the grove.
5. After spending the night in a comfortable countryside hostel, the party awakens in the morning to the smell of smoke and smouldering wood. A quick inspection shows that while none of the party's belongings or bodies have been harmed, it appears that the entire building burned to the ground around them while they slept; even the sheets beneath them and blankets that covered them are now nothing more than charred scraps of ruined cloth.
6. A man suffering from dreadful injuries and dressed in the armour of the local government's security forces or military staggers towards the group of players as they are leaving a border town. In a frantic state, he tells the group that he is the last surviving member of a scouting party that was ambushed by an enormous army of orcs approaching from the direction the players are currently heading, and begs for them to ride back to town and warn the locals before collapsing and dying in a pool of his own blood. Assuming the players carry out the dying man's wish, the townspeople merely chuckle to themselves and tell the players not to worry about it. A visit to any of the local information sources tells the players that this has happened many times over the last fifty years, but there is nothing they can do; the man is the apparition of a real scout who died five decades earlier with his warning message undelivered. He is still trying to deliver it to this day. Returning to the area where he was last encountered shows no sign of the scout or of the bloody trail left in his approach.
7. A constructed creature (a golem or some other form of magically-animated statue) created by a long-dead wizard who perished while out of the country trudges to the entrance of the city its former master inhabited every morning with a fresh robe and travelling shoes, then returns mechanically to the wizard's old tower at night, forever waiting to greet and serve the one who created it. Attempts to remove or destroy the construct have been tried, but every day it returns to the city gates with a fresh robe and shoes to await its master's return again.
8. At night by the riverbank of a small town, two sets of lights can be seen, one on either side of the shore, bobbing and weaving about as though searching for something, and an occasional giggle can be heard. According to local lore, the lights represent two children who were friends from neighboring towns: one died in the water while awaiting her playmate from the other town one night, and the next night, the other child drowned as well as she searched for her missing friend.
9. The spirit of a cranky old woman inhabits a chair recently purchased by a member of the party; the woman died while rocking on her porch, and refuses to let the chair be used by anyone else except herself. Those who sit upon it feel as though they have been violently shoved from behind, and quiet mutterings can be heard afterwards as the chair slowly begins to rock itself.
10. Sentries at a local castle have begun to avoid a particular section of wall during their night shifts. At the same time every evening, the spectre of a female dressed in dark clothing attempts to scale the wall, then lets out a piercing scream as she slips and falls to her death. Since it doesn't physically hurt anyone, dealing with the spirit is low on the castle owner's priority lists, but it is doing fearful harm to his soldiers' morale.
11. The party's ship is damaged in a storm and forced into the first port they can find for repairs. Unluckily, the port and the entire town has been quarantined by the military as a bizarre disease that kills people in their sleep and re-animates the bodies as zombies ravages the populace. Until those outside the town receive proof that everyone inside is dead or the plague has been cured, no one in the party will be allowed to leave; those enforcing the quarantine include battle-hardened veterans and skilled snipers who have orders to kill anyone who attempts to escape.
12. A travelling carnival is doing a booming business in a town where the players are staying. The main attraction is a mirror that purports to show the true nature of anyone who looks into it; it's a simple illusion rigged up by the carnival's owner that makes the person who looks into it reflect a "prettier" version of him or herself. That is, until one of the party members stands before it and his or her reflection shows that of a vampire or other malevolent creature.
13. A man who was hired to help demolish a building is accidentally killed while on the job. The demolition proceeds as normal and a new building is erected, but the ghost of the man still returns every day for his shift to work at knocking down the structure. Whether or not the ghost is actually harming the new building is up to the game master.