Skeletons, ghosts, werewolves, witches, vampires, and zombies are common fodder for the movies and can be found in just about every Fantasy RPG out there. The occasional devil or construct (scarecrows and flesh golems primarily) aren’t out of place either. The famed Ravenloft adventure started as an annual game run by the Hickmans and leaned hard into the whole idea of gothic horror and a stormy night spent in a spooky castle. The question is what sort of theme are you looking to run for your Halloween game?
The biggest problem with using a horror movie as inspiration is to adapt it too literally. Players are not following any script, but some of them might be savvy enough to follow the tropes put before them.
- Haunted houses that they must spend the night in would be an easy way to start off a low level party with a local quest and the promise of coin (as memory serves, it’s also the hook for the old school adventure The Ghosts of Saltmarsh).
- A Supernatural Beast is loose and must be stopped before the third night of the full moon before the Curse takes full hold forever! (or better yet, one of the party is bit / cursed and the party must hunt down the original source of the infection before time runs out).
- A zombie horde has besieged the building / town that the PCs have stayed at and they must fight to make it until dawn against waves and waves of undead or find the source of these restless undead before dawn for only at night can the secret trail be found.
- Three hags have been summoned and are running amuck! The PCs must find the pieces of a lost tome or a broken amulet so that the spell that bound the immortal hags can be restored and the town’s children saved.
- The PCs have donned enchanted masks that transform them into supernatural creatures for one night only. They must use this to sneak into places normally barred to them so that they might retrieve the Artifact (McGuffin) before dawn breaks their enchanted disguises. Meanwhile, they have the benefits of their ‘disguise’.
- An eccentric wizard has hired the party to recapture thirteen ghosts before the Harvest Festival ends. He’s been kind enough to equip them with esoteric equipment for the trapping of these hostile spirits. Merely defeating them isn’t enough for they are old and bound to the land and will reappear again if not properly bound.
This of course raises the question of where you set your blood & gore dial. Is your table looking at more a slasher flick or content to keep it PG with only the occasional trail of blood as a clue. Most FRPGs have a lot of violence but there is something about Halloween game violence that needs to be slightly different to convey the sense of dread as needed. Or perhaps you’ve chosen to make this a one shot set in a Halloween Town where everything is a bit spooky.
The Changing of the Season
Celebrations and festivals at this time of year tend to focus on either the harvest or the struggle of light and darkness. Halloween grew out of one and some of those roots run deeper than might be expected.
- Jack-o-lanterns come from an old Irish tale of Miserly Jack who is doomed to roam the earth.
- Ghosts costumes arise from traditions that at this time of year the walls between worlds were at their weakest and the spirits might reach through to the living and vice versa.
- Trick or Treating is the continuation of collecting alms on the eve of All Saint’s Day (and where Halloween derived its name as a shortened version of All Hallowed Eve).
Gamewise, this translates into a need for adventurers to fight off vengeful spirits or aid a circle of druids against a malevolent force that wants to make sure that the proper rites are not performed in time. A forest hag or other fey might as likely to be allies as enemies in a situation where the circle of nature must be enforced else chaos be unleashed. I stole a plot idea from the Greek myth of the abduction of Persephone for my game, where the heroes had to journey to the Hollow Lands and go on quests to rescue her from the Dark Prince.
This spawned several Houses of the Holidays Factions for my Holiday Special setting that might eventually bleed over into one of my regular games.
The Wise Ones (Witch’s Convention)
“I know what is right and wrong
I do what is needed, not what is nice
I use common sense and hard work to get the job done
Wisdom will save the day where brute force just makes a mess of it.
My mind is my strength.”
The Court of Seasons (House of Renewal)
“I shall foster growth over decay
I shall choose life over undeath
I shall stay true to the principles of renewal, rebirth, and the continuing cycle of the seasons,
Until my own time comes to an end.”
The Dark Defenders (House of Halloween)
“I shall defend against the threat of the supernatural
I shall see the mean get what they deserve
But most of all, I will not fear the shadows for my candle shall shine through the darkness”
Meanwhile, the villains had factions of their own, who stole candy, kidnapped princesses, and sought to upset the natural order of things. As an added bonus, they could also be used for Christmas and Easter.
The Curmudgeons (House of Humbug)
“Joy is an irritant, Misery is my company
Greed is good
I take what others do not protect”
The Bogeymen (House of Nightmares)
“Sow fear, panic, and discord.”
“Let darkness grow and exit light
All hope lost, give in to fright
Shapeless horror, things that bite,
Your deepest fear is my might.
The Rot (House of the Grey)
“All things die.
Life is the gateway to death
Death echoes in all that is alive
All things decay
Death feeds on the living
Existence is hunger”