Roleplaying Resources

Horror, Fear and Torture

Here's a useful article: Horror in Roleplaying.

Quick Notes on Creating Fear

You don't have to kill the PCs. That puts an end to the story and can actually relieve the tension. But be prepared to hurt them. You can do this in subtle ways. Reduce their hitpoints for no reason they understand. Reduce the effectiveness of healing magic. Create unseen enemies, or just the impression that an unseen enemy might be lurking nearby (loose rock falling, scratching sounds, etc).

Build off of the players' fears and interests, rather than the characters'. Put people, places and posessions at risk that the players care about.

Read horror novels. Proper pacing and foreshadowing are important. Introduce contrasts. For example, bright light turns into darkness.

Keep the players confused. Go slow, and let the players torture themselves trying to figure out what's going on. Hide information, so the players make up their own ideas.

Combat can turn fear and tension into a bunch of numbers, so use it sparingly. If combat is needed, be creative with enemy's abilities. A classic example is skelletons who rise again after they're killed. Dangerous status effects (bleeding, rot etc) can help too. Give old monsters new abilities. Regular monsters will seem scarier.

Have stuff happen around the PCs rather than to them. Loved ones or friends are threatened, and this has serious psychological effects. Have a major NPC slowly turn into some hideous monster.

Mix comedy and horror, to keep them off-guard for the next assault, or always on-guard against trivialities.

Roll dice and look like you're consulting some chart of horrors. Make PCs think something is up, even when it isn't.

Rules for Torture

To get the player to role-play better, it's a good idea to give him some incentive:

  • Temporarily reduce stats.
  • Max HP reduction.
  • Modifyers to perception tests.
  • Long-term confinement could reduce str+con.
  • Blades, hot coals, acid etc to sensitive tissue could reduce dex.
  • Psychological torture could reduce cha.
  • Or DM can just decide when the character's will is broken.

If player resists torture, reduce stats. Create a sense of urgency in the game, and with stat reduction. If it lasts too long, character could very well end up blind, deaf, dead, crippled, etc.

Another idea: While a character is being tortured, reduce hitpoints by a percentage, instead of by a fixed amount. Since the character is restrained and vulnerable, there should be little reason a more experienced adventurer would suffer less or survive longer.

Horror ideas

posted February 24, 2003 04:29 AM to WotC board “What's a DM to do?” by Mole

Building up fear is not something you can do with game mechanics alone. It requires subtle DMing and metagaming. Usually as DM your efforts are orientated towards the characters, for a horror campaign, you want to make the players nervous.

The idea is to give the players enough information to feed their imaginations, but not enough to understand the threat.

Have them make scry checks periodically.

Avoid straight fights.NPCs/monsters should flee, prefereably without revealing what they are, rather than face the party. Rumours of foes beyond their capabilities (e.g. if the real villain is a mindflayer, have rumours of a powerful sorceror that also has hideous tentacles instead of a face).

Require regular spot and listen rolls with very high DCs and if a player makes one, describe something meaningless and mundane (the players will generally spend time trying to work out the significance of it and often come up with some excellent ideas that you can use later).

A solitary poisoned (high DC) arrow from the dark.

A tentacle through an arrow slit attacking the last PC to pass it, once and then withdrawing (mindflayer, grell, chaosbeast etc?.

A friendly NPC could be magic jarred and used to spy on the party. A skilled bunch of players should detect this trick, but they will be unsettled that someone is watching them so closely.

Arcane and/or divine casters could experience nightmares that relate to the matter at hand, exaggerating the threat they face without revealing much of use.

Break the tension with a fight that appears to be an easy victory and the players relax, then bring in the reinforcements that really stretch the party.

If there are humerous/light-hearted moments, break them up with a request for a spot check, or even a brief combat.

A very, very occaisional gross out scene e.g. an NPC they liked being found flayed alive but not quite dead yet.

Out of game comments can unsettle players. E.g. before play commences, if they are chatting about something powerful in the book of vile darkness, smile knowingly and make a straight face as soon as someone spots your smile. Or say “Oh yeah, I was reading that the other night, it ain't that tough, you could handle it” and if they protest say “oops, sorry” and refuse to comment further.

The key is subtly. Whatever you do must be done sparingly.

“You've had hours to discuss it, so what's the plan ?”

“Run in and react accordingly.”

Example: Torture Story

From: Werebat
Subject: A story (long) was Re: PC's captured! Film at 11!
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 1999 07:11:37 -0800

Breaking into Christopher's threadlet 'cause I lost the original post…

I have had PCs captured twice, in the same campaign that I have been running for over five years now. The most recent time, they were captured by an Illithid Lich in the “Illithiad” modules – on consideration, I realized that the lich would question the (charmed) PCs and learn of their goals, realize that they dovetailed with its own goals of self-preservation, and actually HELP them out (while trying to maintain control over them as expendable pawns, of course). The earlier time was in a Dungeon adventure featuring werebats, led by a vampire (as modified by me). The werebats captured the PCs in their floating castle, and threw them in a dungeon (which was part of the castle). We ended the session there, and I had time to think and type:

Day One

When you awaken, you are shivering on the stone floor of a cell in what appears to be the same dungeon area that held the shapeshifting creature that called itself Grimfalk. Your body aches from a combination of wounds, hunger, and rough treatment during the strip search that must have taken place before you were thrown in here. You don't have any clothes; just a tattered blanket that smells of rotten grain and some rough bandages that seem to be keeping you from bleeding. Everyone else is in here, too; everyone except the young paladin, that is. You are all kept in individual cells with at least one empty cell between you and the next prisoner. Some of your companions are conscious, and others are not. The female dwarf, Truppetta, is in a dark cell in the corner. You can only tell that it is her because of her husky, but still clearly feminine, sobbing.

* * * * *

Almost a day goes by, and your stomachs grumble to each other in the gathering darkness. Three ancient, barred windows perch high on the outside wall of this oddly-angled prison, and during the daylight hours, enough light filtered down to remind you of the gloom and squalor around you. Now you can barely see your closest fellows without squinting.

Gwynn, naked as the rest of you but with a somewhat more comfortable-looking blanket, keeps talking about how the werebat leader, Umberto, is only keeping you here because the others want him to. He says that Umberto plans to let you escape, and that he is only waiting for an opportunity to let you do so without harming his friends. According to Gwynn, Umberto has been trying to wean the others off of human blood for months, and was having some success until your group came along.

Brother Kornhoer insists that Gwynn has been charmed by Umberto, and Gwynn insists that he has not been. Apparently, before you came around, Gwynn was taken into one of the keep's towers by Umberto and asked to explain what the magic items owned by your group did, so that he might use them appropriately during your “great escape.” When everyone gets angry about this, Gwynn insists that “Baron Umberto” is a nobleman, and that nobles of all types have a certain allegiance that cannot be broken. He claims that he trusts “The Baron,” and although he would rather be outside a cell than in, he refuses to consider that the situation could have been made any better considering the nature and temperament of the Baron's “subjects.”

It would seem that Kornhoer is correct.

* * * * *

A dungeon is one thing, but a haunted dungeon is quite another. You are all quite certain that you can occasionally see other prisoners in some of the cells, but when you look directly at them, they vanish. Echoes of moans, screams, and laughter ripple through the vault at odd times, and do nothing to console you. Shadowkin swears that he can hear a rhythmic clinking noise coming from behind his cell's wall, as though someone were trying to chip their way through. This place would be unnerving enough if it were a normal floating castle.

* * * * *

Your hunger and thirst, not to mention your pain, make you irritable. Your discussions about what to do about your situation have degenerated into petty bickering, culminating in Shadowkin's straining to break through the bars of his cell – not so much to escape as to stifle Gwynn's incessant predictions of how Umberto will arrange to free you all and return your property. Suddenly, the door to the dungeon opens, and the area is lit by a torch held by Liza, the female werebat, in human form. In her other hand, she holds a platter from the dining hall, and on this platter is a jug of liquid and a fair amount of cooked meat. She doesn't speak, but moves from cell to cell, doling out meat and water through a hands-gap in the bars. She ignores any taunts or questions, but if anyone insists on irritating her, she glares at them a moment and moves on without feeding them. Her black eyes fix you all with a look of disdain and barely concealed hatred, although it is not clear exactly why until she reaches Bal-Ard.

When Bal-Ard reaches for his mug of water, she purposely fumbles it and it spills its contents all over the cell floor. “You!,” she spits. “Piotr died by your sword! I saw! We all did! The blackest of curses upon you! His death shall be avenged!” She throws Bal-Ard's meal through the bars in her rage, and it hits the grimy stone wall before plopping into a dingy corner of his cell. She trembles as she stalks out of the room, and counters any jibes with the following: “By the time we are through with you and your friends, you will be begging for the same fate that took my brother! A blade through the chest is a quick and tidy death compared to what you shall be made to endure! And you!” She punctuates this last by slamming the platter against the stone wall, right next to the cell keys, and pointing at Bal-Ard, “You I shall make certain are the last of your number to die! When your blood is as thin and cold as winter mist, and your pulse is as weak as a sickly child's, I shall be here, watching you, and you shall not be allowed the freedom of death until I have seen you suffer the loss of your own companions! One by one, you shall all succumb.” She pauses to look about the cells. “Why do you think you are still alive?” she asks. She notices that most of you are so hungry and thirsty that you are still chewing and swallowing despite her outburst. “Eat well,” she smiles. “The longer you live, the less we have to hunt.”

Liza slams the door behind her when she leaves, and her final comment causes you to slow your ravenous eating. Is that all? No… There is another reason; you cannot quite place the flavor of the meat you have been eating. It is a musky, salty flesh. Brother Kornhoer begins to vomit, and the rest of you are forced to choose between hunger and disgust. All but Truppetta and Belok, that is, who are both quite certain that the meat is pork 'umbles, a common dwarven fare. Whether you eat the meat or not, you cannot help but wonder what became of the young paladin.

* * * * *

Truppetta laments the fact that she will die here. Apparently, she was locked in the pantry when you first arrived here, gagged and strapped to “that horrible chair with the spikes and blood stains.” She cannot believe that she would ever say it, but she wishes that she had stayed a slave in Draconia. If she was to have died in prison anyway, she would have preferred one without any bars. If only her ward (the paladin) had not come looking for her. They would both be safe now if it weren't for his righteous folly.

* * * * *

It is some time before dawn, but the patches of sky framed in the windows are beginning to lighten for those who can see them. The door rattles and opens, and three werebats shuffle in, bearing torches and wearing loose cloth garments. One of them turns to growl menacingly at Gwynn as it passes, probably because he is close to the door of his cell.

They make their way to Bal-Ard, and their leader (Baron Umberto? It is difficult to tell; one of the two in the back would seem to be Liza, as it possesses a modicum of human feminine characteristics) gabbles something to him that you do not understand. Suddenly, a swarm of bats pours into the dungeon from the three windows, and the leathery cloud descends upon Bal-Ard! The three werebats engage in a throaty, growling laughter as the hapless ranger attempts to fend off the bats, who are landing all over him and biting him in an unnatural frenzy. His screams reach the fevered pitch of a man ablaze, and finally, they trail off and stop. You wonder for a moment if Liza changed her mind, if the foul creatures decided to kill Bal-Ard and be done with it, as the mass of writhing bats continues to sink its vicious little fangs into Bal-Ard's motionless body, when the swarm alights and departs through the window. One of the werebats grabs Bal-Ard by the hair and pulls him to the bars of the cell, while another produces a small flask and holds it to his lips for a moment. When he sputters and sits upright reflexively, you can see the hundreds of tiny bites covering his face and body. Liza growls something to the ranger, and the three werebats “laugh” again as Bal-Ard collapses in an excruciated heap on the floor of his cell.

The creatures then turn their attention to Belok. Umberto (for Umberto it is; you can tell when he resumes his human form) casts three spells at Belok, and when he asks the dwarf to tie his blanket around himself and place his hands outside the hands-gap, “for his own protection,” he does. His wrists are shackled, and he is led out of the dungeon area.

When he returns, he seems none the worse for wear. However, he does begin discussing the merits of Umberto's rescue plans with Gwynn, and points out a few things that Gwynn forgot to tell the kindly lycanthrope that might be of use.

Day Two

“All right, then; get up! You've got an appointment with the axeman today!” The words are spoken by a gruff, burly man of the same pseudo-Kradonian race as the werebats' human forms. He raps the bars of Shadowkin's cell as the first light of dawn begins to seep into the faded stone of the floor. Abruptly, the armored guard vanishes.

* * * * *

Other than the morning's apparition, the day passes somewhat uneventfully. No one enters or leaves the dungeon area, and you are not fed or given anything to drink, so you squabble even more than you did the previous day. Belok and Gwynn grate more and more on your nerves. You'd think that everything was coming up roses if you believed half of what they did.

Many of the bites on Bal-Ard's neck and back are still bleeding.

When dusk finally comes and Liza brings her platter, taunting her is not even a consideration. To your relief, she does not bring any meat with her (although Belak grumbles about this later on, and even manages to get Truppetta to admit that last night's pork 'umbles weren't bad). You are given bread, carrots, and an entire jug of water each.

When Liza gets to Bal-Ard's cell, she pauses to thank him. He is not the only one puzzled by this, until she explains. She knows that he is the one who brought “that wonderful stone” with him to Castle Serrafina, “the one that fills a drained man with blood again.” Her dark grin waxes wicked. “We'll be able to enjoy your suffering a lot longer now, won't we?”

Shortly after Liza leaves, she returns with another werebat (Jerzi?). The two of them turn into little bats, fly into Bal-Ard's cell, regain their monster forms, and beat him until he is unconscious. You cannot tell if the frenzied growls they produce while they do this are intended to communicate anything other than rage or not, but you notice that the ranger makes several similar gabbling noises while they are hitting him.

When the monsters are finished, they drag Bal-Ard out of the dungeon area.

* * * * *

Later that night, a lone figure enters the dungeon. You can see by the light of the torch he bears that it is Siphate, the chef and perhaps true ruler of the floating castle, although this is still not very clear. Siphate is wearing a loose-fitting togalike garment, the same as that worn by the other werebats. He walks up to Kornhoer with shackles in his hands. “It is time,” he announces ominously. “Don't make this difficult for yourself. Put your hands outside the cell.”

Kornhoer is led outside the dungeon. He returns some twenty minutes later, unconscious and carried by two werebats. Blood seeps out of many small holes encircling his neck, wrists, and ankles. Bal-Ard's ioun stone of blood regeneration is in orbit around his head, and continues to spin about his face when the werebats place him on his blanket and cover his body. A few hours later, Kornhoer begins to sob weakly.

His tale is chilling. He claims that he was hooked up to some infernal machine in the pantry, and that blood was siphoned out of his arms, legs, and neck and allowed to collect in a pool about the sharp-edged, metal chair he was strapped to. He tells his story dully, and does not even seem to notice the reddish stone weaving and bobbing about his crown.

* * * * *

There is some discussion as to whether Kornhoer should attempt to destroy the stone. Even if it could not be destroyed, someone could try to throw it out the window. It would keep this from going on indefinitely. Belak and Gwynn insist that a rescue is in the works, and their talk, although magic-induced, does make you think. The longer you survive, the more time you have for something to happen – anything that might get you out of here! Besides, destroying a magic item that the werebats think they own might result in an even more unpleasant situation that the one you are already in. Kornhoer himself seems too weak or shocked to engage much in this discussion.

* * * * *

What time is it? A werebat enters with a torch, dimly illuminating the vast, cold vault about you. It shuffles over to Truppetta and beckons to her. When she hesitates, it growls and a few bats begin to flutter in through the windows. The dwarven woman reconsiders and moves to the front of his cell, where the werebat takes her arm and plunges its fangs into her wrist! She calls out weakly before slumping over, held up only by her arms, which are grasped by the werebat as he sucks her wrist. This continues for a minute or two before the werebat stops, licks Truppetta's wrist, and lets her drop to the cell floor. It shuffles over to Kornhoer and grunts for the stone, and when it recieves it, it sets the item in motion above the dwarf's head.

Day Three

At dawn, Liza arrives with chamberpots. Things are looking up.

* * * * *

Again, you are left alone all day. Those of you who had the sense to save some food and water do not go quite as hungry as those who did not. All in all, it would not be so bad if it were not for the arrival of the fleas. There weren't any when you arrived here. Where did they come from all of a sudden? They are everywhere, and they don't give you a moment's peace. “As if the bats didn't drain enough blood,” jokes Gwynn, grimly.

Where is Bal-Ard? The werebats never brought him back. Gwynn mentions that when he was charmed, one of the things Umberto asked him about was what he knew about Bal-Ard; specifically, was he or was he not a lycanthrope? They seemed to hate him more than anyone else, but Gwynn thinks that this is probably because he killed Piotr.

* * * * *

Night falls, and Liza returns with food and water. “Shadowkin,” she mutters as she stops at Eugene's cell. “How is it that you consider yourself Shadow Kin? Even with your elven blood, you are blind in the deepest of caverns.”

“My people,” she thumps her chest proudly and nods, “We are the true Shadow Kin. Even by day, we rest safely in the warm kiss of darkness. It is what we are made for. You elves; you are creatures of the sun.”

She saunters over to the next cell, shaking her head and murmuring “Shadowkin” in mocking disbelief.

* * * * *

Taunts, smart remarks, and the hurling of chamberpots bring a variety of cruel and unusual punishments. Witholding of food and attacks by swarms of bats are just the beginning. You have already seen Bal-Ard suffer a gang-style beating from two werebats, and this is seen again if anyone else draws undue attention to themselves. They are amazingly strong, and while one or two of them pins an unruly prisoner, the remaining monster rains punishing blows upon the offender until he or she is unconscious. It is worth noting that the werebats do not use their teeth and claws during these beatings; Belok and Gwynn insist that this proves the sincerity of Umberto's expressed good will.

* * * * *

An unconscious Bal-Ard is dragged back into the dungeon area. He is horribly beaten, bruised, and bloody. You notice that his fingertips and nails are especially damaged. He is placed in a new cell, directly across from one of the windows, although the reason for this is unclear.

Umberto hangs a feathered talisman on the wall underneath the window, and the reason for this is also unclear; you think you might have seen Bal-Ard wearing this talisman before, but you aren't certain. At any rate, the ranger does not stir, and the werebats simply growl is you ask them anything, so your questions remain unanswered.

Before they leave, the three werebats who brought Bal-Ard in pause to regard him. They gabble brutish phrases to each other and laugh before turning to exit the dungeon, leering at you menacingly as they pass.

* * * * *

Shadowkin and Kornhoer are shackled and led out of the dungeon by four werebats in monster form. When they return, Shadowkin is unconscious and is given Bal-Ard's stone, and Kornhoer begins furtively discussing Umberto's plans with Gwynn and Belok.

Is this their plan, then? To charm you all? Are even your minds to be taken from you?

* * * * *

Shadowkin awakens and begins to weakly moan. “The collar…” he mutters, feverishly. “There is a collar, and you can't scream, or it hurts more. You choke… The spikes stick into your neck… Umberto! He's got to get us out of here now! He's got to get us out of here now!”

* * * * *

It is well past midnight. A flock of carrion birds bustles through the windows and careens about the room, squawking and crashing into the walls in their mad frenzy. They knock over the lone torch that was left here by Liza and beat it out with their wings before leaving as suddenly as they arrived. It is pitch black.

A bright light appears. It is the young paladin, dressed in shining armor and bearing a stone of continual light! He smiles earnestly and runs to Gwynn's cell with the keyring, only to pounce upon him as soon as the door is opened. For a fraction of a second, he grins about the room before plunging his fangs into the wizard's wrist and sucking. After a minute or two, he stops, licks the wound he has opened, and returns him to his cell. “Noble blood,” he gloats. “A rich bouquet.” He glances wickedly at you all in turn, licks his bloody lips, and palms the stone, leaving you in darkness.

Day Four

It is day. Gwynn has come around, in more ways than one. Somehow, the red stone was set in orbit about his head. He spends much of his time cursing Umberto for charming him. Belok, Kornhoer, and Shadowkin fail to understand why Gwynn has lost his faith in their secret ally.

The fleas are worse than usual. You hear Bal-Ard coughing, but when you call to him, he does not respond.

A low moaning emanates from the empty cell adjacent to Belok for over an hour.

* * * * *

Shortly after Liza feeds you at dusk, Belok is shackled and taken out of the dungeon area by Siphate. He does not struggle; he has explained before that Umberto's plan calls for obedience until the time is ripe. When he is dragged back into his cell, he is wearing a golden ring in addition to the reddish stone which darts about his head.

Hours later, long after his first muttered cursing of Umberto and his charm magic, Belok explains that the ring was put on his finger after he was strapped to the bleeding chair, and that he cannot get it off. He recognizes it as one of the magic rings you brought with you into the castle, but had not yet identified. When it was first put on, he felt a sudden ebbing of his strength, but he had hoped that this was only due to the loss of blood he was experiencing. However, when Umberto slapped him across the face, breaking the charm spell and enraging the weakened dwarf, he gloatingly explained to Belok the nature of the ring, and why it was no longer necessary to keep him charmed. Its function is to make the wearer as weak and feeble as a child, and it cannot be removed without the help of potent magic.

“At least you have your mind back,” offers Truppetta, in her first hopeful comment since she arrived here.

Shadowkin and Kornhoer continue to insist that Umberto has not been charming anyone, and refuse to believe Belok's tale.

* * * * *

Umberto arrives, shackles Shadowkin, and leaves with him. When he returns, Shadowkin is not unconscious; indeed, he seems refreshed. When Kornhoer asks him what happened, Shadowkin explains that Umberto took him to his tower “to talk.” He seems excited; Umberto claimed to have hit upon a splendid plan for helping you all escape soon.

About an hour later, Shadowkin begins screaming, “Get off me! Get off!” and ripping his blanket up in his hands. His voice is the voice of a madman, and he seems to think that his blanket is some sort of undead creature or fiend.

This phase passes in about ten minutes, and when someone asks Shadowkin what happened, he cannot remember. In fact, he doesn't remember attacking his blanket or screaming at all. He feels very uneasy; almost terrified; but he does not know why.

In the end, he chalks it up to a haunted dungeon. It doesn't seem unreasonable.

Day Five

“Hey, Bal-Ard, did they charm you, too?” The question is posed gruffly by Shadowkin, who seems to have shaken his own spell. Kornhoer insists that no one has been charmed, and that it is just the nature of this dungeon that is making everyone's thoughts addled. Shadowkin begins to respond with a sarcastic comment, but gets suddenly violent begins clawing at the bars of his cell like a caged animal. Indeed, he scarcely looks human; his face grows livid and foam starts flying from his mouth as he flails about, trying to get at Kornhoer and shouting “Liar! Demon! I see you now for what you are, abomination! I'll kill you! I'll rub you out! Come here, fiend! We'll end this now!” As you all turn to stare, the rogue suddenly leaps back from the bars of his cell, screaming, “Snakes!!” He grabs his blanket and begins whipping it at the bars.

This proceeds for about five or six minutes, and again, Shadowkin does not remember a thing about his outburst.

Bal-Ard never answers Shadowkin's query. He stares out the window.

* * * * *

There is a raven in here. It flew in through the window, and is stalking about the cells, apparently looking for food. Perhaps it is waiting for one of you to die. After Belok nearly swats it for getting too close to his bread crusts, it croaks and flies to the ledge near the window, where it solemnly regards Bal-Ard.

* * * * *

Bal-Ard speaks, for the first time in days. He still looks quite wretched, and appears to have fallen ill. When they took him away, they beat him to punish him for killing Liza's brother. He was kept in a barrel until the next day, when they beat him again and brought him here.

He was not charmed; they told him they they wouldn't do that, because it might make him feel hopeful. Kornhoer continues to insist that no one has been charmed, and that help is on the way.

* * * * *

Dusk arrives. Liza brings you all a sort of cabbage soup with whole crayfish in it, and Truppetta is shackled and taken away by Siphate. She is clearly terrified; she claims to have sat in the bleeding chair before, and wants no part of it.

While she is gone, Jerzi and Liza fly into Belok's cage and beat him, taunting him and his weakness in their gruff, gabbling monster-voices. You cannot understand everything that they say, but you understand enough.

* * * * *

A ghastly howling is heard from outside the windows as a storm picks up. The wind chills you all, and you see why Bal-Ard was moved to the cell near the windows; the rain whips into the windows and sprays the battered, miserable ranger, soaking him to the bone. In the flashes of lightning that briefly illuminate the vault, you can see each other and Truppetta, who lies on the floor of her cell with the blood stone wheeling and pitching about her head. Occasionally, the lightning will reveal another prisoner (sometimes occupying your own cell), and once you hear two men(?) scuffling with each other in a far-off corner of the vault. A small, dark choir of crows and other carrion birds perches about the walls; perhaps their normal roosts are too open to the elements.

Day Six

It would seem that even Kornhoer's charm has worn off. Now you can all be miserable together.

The fleas! The dampness that has seeped into the floor due to last night's storm has done nothing to slow them down. Indeed, they seem only to have been spurred on by their cousins, the lice, who arrived in the night with the birds.

Bal-Ard is sick. He was coughing and weak to begin with; after the cold wetness of last night's storm, he is clearly having problems breathing. The rest of you prisoners aren't feeling very well yourselves. In fact, a little after noon, Gwynn feels suddenly ill; he clutches his stomach and vomits. To his horror, many threadlike, orange worms grope about in the pungent juices.

* * * * *

After Liza brings you food (pork 'umbles, or, at least, you hope so), she examines Bal-Ard. He has been sleeping or staring wearily out the window all day. She taunts him with the feathered talisman for a while, dangling it just out of his reach and talking about how a hawk could probably slip right through the bars of his cell. Then she moves Kornhoer in with him, and orders him to make sure he doesn't die of sickness. She returns in about an hour with Kornhoer's healing pouch and a silver ring. She tells him to wear the ring and use the pouch to treat Bal-Ard. When Kornhoer explains that he could just cure the disease if only she would get him his holy symbol, she laughs, exposing quick, sharp teeth.

Gwynn's own condition is obvious to anyone, as he is sharing his cell with a puddle of his own sick, but Liza does not seem to notice or care. When the nobleman points out the worms, she shrugs. “You have lice, too.”

* * * * *

Gwynn is shackled and taken out of the dungeon. While he is gone, Siphate arrives and cleans up the vomit. He studies the dead worms for a while and leaves.

Shortly afterward, Shadowkin begins pacing in his cell and shouting like a caged beast. His mindwrenching whoops unnerve you all, and the few words he utters are completely incomprehensible. He punches the bars so hard that, when he comes to several minutes later, his hands are bloody and he believes that he may have broken a finger.

Day Seven

Day breaks, and Gwynn vomits again. At leasts he gets it into his chamberpot this time. Small things roil about in the soupy mess. Kornhoer throws him a root from his healing bag and tells him to eat the whole thing on an empty stomach. “It might kill the worms,” he explains.

Gwynn chews and swallows, and spends most of his day throwing up. Kornhoer urges everyone who can spare water to give it to Gwynn, because he's losing his liquids pretty quickly.

To the rear of the vault, an armored guard remarks, “Yes… I see.” He vanishes as soon as you glimpse him.

* * * * *

The raven is back. Or it might be another raven; you aren't sure. It swoops in through the window and croaks at Bal-Ard, who rolls his head and looks weakly back. Kornhoer has determined that he has a disease of the lungs, and is not sure if he will live. He has been given another blanket by Liza, a thick, grey, woolen one.

The raven cocks its head, and you see a glint in its eye; malice?

It struts slowly, almost regally, over to the wall where the feathered talisman is kept, flaps up onto a chink in the rock, and looks purposefully over at Bal-Ard before uttering a gloating croak, picking up the leather thong in its beak, and flying out the window with it.

Bal-Ard shouts hoarsely and lunges at the bars; it takes Kornhoer some time to calm him down. When he finally lies down again, you catch a disturbingly resigned and hopeless look upon his face.

* * * * *

Another dusk, another draining. Liza feeds and waters you (she gives Bal-Ard and Gwynn an extra jug of water each, after cursing at the half-slan and throwing him rags and a bucket to clean his mess with), and Siphate comes with shackles for Shadowkin. When Jerzi and Liza drag him back to his cell, his legs and backside are covered with deep cuts and gashes, along with the usual puncture marks from the bleeding chair. Hours later, when the blood stone brings him around, Shadowkin explains that he cannot remember what happened; he was strapped to the chair like before and was being bled, and after that… He dimly remembers Siphate yelling, but that's about it. It would seem that he had another “episode,” and his thrashing about caused the sharp points of the chair to dig cruelly into his flesh. Kornhoer throws him some bandages for his wounds.

* * * * *

It is pitch black. You are awakened by the sound of Belok screaming. “There's something in here with me!” he yells, and his voice has more than a touch of terror in it. In fact, he sounds a lot like Shadowkin has been sounding lately, so you almost write it off as more of the same… until the dwarf's disturbing claims that “It's like warm jelly; It's oozing up my legs! It's all over me!” seem backed up by the fact that his screams have changed to a frenzied, panicked gurgling which sounds anything but humanoid. Finally, even that subsides, and there is silence.

* * * * *

This is a brief summary of your first week of imprisonment. For four weeks after this, the characters receive more of the same treatment.

Almost every night, someone is drained of blood to the point of being unconscious, and only slightly less often does an individual creature (werebat, paladin, or otherwise) arrive at night to feed directly off of a character. Most of your questions about the strange goings-on within and without the dungeon go unanswered or worse.

For the record, Bal-Ard does recover, and Kornhoer is moved back to his original cell. Gwynn's worms do not go away, although they seem to hit a sort of equilibrium; he doesn't throw up as much after the first week. Shadowkin's outbursts subside after a week or so, although there are other tortures in store for him and everyone else. Belak did not die during the midnight attack, but niether he nor anyone else ever learned what it was that enveloped him and cut off his air supply until he passed out. When he awoke, the blood stone was orbiting his head.

When Liza notices that Bal-Ard's talisman is missing, there is a major incedent. All four werebats (Umberto, Siphate, Jerzi, and Liza) enter the dungeon and demand to know what happened. Initially, they do not believe the story about the raven, and several of you are beaten to within inches of your lives before they finally stop their vicious interrogation. Umberto orders Jerzi and Liza to search every raven's nest in the castle, but the talisman is never found. He even goes so far as to charm Bal-Ard and ask him what happened. When he seems satisfied that the raven story is true, he punches the ranger square in the jaw, breaking the spell. “Enough bliss for you,” he growls.

When the full moon comes, you all get a bit nervous, but no one appears to be infected with lycanthropy. The second time around, you are even more nervous, but no one changes. It seems that the werebats' preferred method of collection (the bleeding chair) and the fact that they do not generally draw blood when they hit you with their fists, wings, and heels has kept you safe from the scourge. Bal-Ard, however, gets very moody and irritable during the nights of the full moon, and has a tendency to pace about his cell at such times, looking sharply out the window every now and then.

You have all grown quite desperate, and have given up almost all hope when… Well, you'll see.


From: Werebat
Subject: Re: A story (long) was Re: PC's captured! Film at 11!
Date: Wed, 01 Dec 1999 15:19:44 -0800

Henry Link wrote:

<SNIP the most depressing tale I ever heard>

Damn, Man! I hope I never get the opportunity to play one of your campaigns! That is the most disgusting, desperate, tale of pathos I have ever heard! It belongs in Ravenloft, if it isn't already!

Ron, you kick butt! I wish I had half of your heartlessness as a DM!

Henry Link

Well, truth be told, the PCs did get out, eventually. The raven that flew out the window with the ranger's talisman was actually a wereraven, whose eggs had been smashed and mate killed by the werebats, and was out for revenge. With his help and that of one of the PCs who had not been present for the capturing battle (an elven mage/thief with faerie blood, who received a vague premonition of “trouble” for his friends and arrived on the scene some time later), the PCs were able to surprise their captors and kill them all. The vampire almost got away, though.

Actually, the module was set in Ravenloft, but my campaign is sometimes close enough to Ravenloft that I use their modules anyway.

- Ron ^*^

Example 2: Life Plague

By Faithless the Wonder Boy, April 22, 2011, on Brilliant Gameologists

A campaign arc I ran once inadvertently turned into a horror campaign.

The original intent was to have a mini-campaign arc, three or four sessions, to set up a much bigger one. However, it ended up being extended for quite a while, and being the most memorable arc of the whole, 2-year long campaign.

A curse of fecundity had hit a city for an unknown reason, and was slowly seeping outward into the surrounding lands.

It started out as a boon. Seeds would start sprout minutes after they were planted, and plants were producing two, three times as much. Everyone was infected with extra energy, extra life. Animals (and people) had a huge urge to mate, to spread their own seed as well.

Within a week, though, it started to get bad. The bigger plants were so overgrown, they were choking the life out of the smaller ones. Pollen choked the air, so that even people who normally had no trouble were showing Animals (and, again, people) began giving birth months early, leading to stillbirths.

Of course, the fertility and fecundity wasn't limited to crops and animals. Fungus, mold, and bacteria began to multiply and spread like wildfire. Disease was rampant. The choked fields which had once been a sign of great wealth were turned into rotting, fetid sours. People were constantly sick, and doing everything they could to fight off the bacterial blooms growing in their own bodies. Healing magic only seemed to make it worse.

The moment that the players started really getting freaked out was the point when it was so bad that things would start to rot instantly. They would have a combat session, and by the end of the session, the dead were already rotting, mold was growing, and the bodies were bloating up with gas. Fungus and mold began growing up like grass, covering houses, etc.

And then, when they started waking up every morning with mold growing on them…

After the fact, I gave a lot of thought about why this was such a creepy campaign, especially since death was not an uncommon theme for the party. But this was different. The slow, inexorable progression from this wild, fertile “blessing” that was going to spark a new renaissance in a socially decaying city to this soured wasteland was surprisingly jarring. This party dealt with plagues of undeath without batting an eye, but seeing the dead (and eventually even the living) rot and decay before their eyes generated some genuine shudders. And because no one knew how this blessing/curse was being spread, no one wanted to touch anything, to breathe anything in. I'd never seen their characters so skittish before.

Example 3: Dreaming changes reality

By Amechra, October 25, 2011, on Brilliant Gameologists

Don't rest your head; don't go to sleep.

Because every-time you do so, you go in a little deeper.

You were all just normal folk, regular folk, living your regular lives… until you had the Dream.

In the Dream, you are told to kill a family member, or a similarly heinous deed, or the one who sent the Dream would take things away from you.

Then you woke up, and went on your merry way… to find that your prize cow is gone. And no one remembers that you even HAD a cow.

Next time you slept, you had the same dream.

Next time you woke up, your favorite tools would be gone, or a portion of your life's savings. And it steadily, more and more important things… change.

Your wife is married to another man, and you are thrown out of your house as a burglar.

Friends you've known for years turn their backs on you, spitting in your face.

You become destitute, your valuables simply… gone.

The only other ones that remember things as they SHOULD be are the other PCs… and even then, you aren't sure about that.

Now, it is up to you to stop whoever the one in the dream is, because, should you ever commit the heinous deed that it wishes, the next night, the dream just asks for something even worse. Something that seems to hint towards a sinister plan…

You're in luck, though; you are immune to magical sleep, now, and the changes only come once you go to sleep.

Good luck.

Basically, this would have to have the following details set up to work:

  • You would need to emphasize the sheer exhaustion of the characters; any spells that they may purchase to stop their bodies from feeling fatigue won't stop the mental effects…
  • Don't make all of the changes negative; have a minor enemy become an ally, or have a couple copper pieces transform into gold pieces. Do this seldom, and don't make it too positive… and they'll be paranoid about their being a catch.
  • Did I mention people hallucinate from lack of sleep? Didn't I? Because if I didn't… Lucky, lucky.
  • Have some of the horrible things that happen be something like adding minor (and later major) crimes to their record, them having stolen goods, they look like gypsies. Basically, they are blamed for crimes they never committed (like, oh, I don't know, killing a noble).
  • One of the possible drawbacks of sleeping could be a reversal of an unimportant plot details, like having a man they killed be perfectly alive and safe, or have the goblin camp they just ransacked be alive and well, thank you… while they're in the middle of it. Don't do this too often, or the PCs will feel powerless, which isn't very fun, in my opinion.
  • The crowning touch to this would be giving everyone semi-detailed packets of campaign backstory (and make sure they read them; they don't have to be complicated, maybe just a page or two of bullet points, containing a bit of character backstory and such)… and have everyone's be slightly different. This does add a bit of paranoia, especially if you can get any player that figures it out to play along; second-guessing yourself is rather frightening…
  • If you want to set it up this way, this could be an Elder Evil campaign, with the sleep-alterations being part of its sign.