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How to Have Halloween at Home, Pt 3: Horror D&D Night

Are you bummed that Halloween won’t be the same this year with COVID-19?

Me too! But I feel strongly that if people are able to stay home and stay safe on Halloween, that's a good idea. So I’ve been working on a blog series about ways to celebrate everyone’s favourite horror holiday without leaving home.

We’ve already talked about hosting a horror-themed book club on Zoom/Skype/whatever calling app brings your spooky friends together, as well as replacing campfire ghost stories with podcasts in the dark (with scary episode recommendations).

Today I want to talk about something dear to my heart: hosting a horror-themed D&D night.

 

Illustration by William Liu for The Story Engine fantasy deck

Why You Should Consider Hosting a D&D Horror Night

There are few reasons I think running a horror D&D campaign is a great option for Halloween night.

1) D&D is already well adapted for online play!

You can play D&D online for free through platforms and toolkits like Roll20, MapTool, Fantasy Grounds, D&D Beyond (Wizards of the Coast’s official digital toolkit), and Rolisteam. It makes it easy for you and your friends to gather online without mixing households, which a lot of areas are asking families not to do.

2) D&D 5th edition is one of the better editions for new players to play without previous experience

You can invite your friends who love horror but are new to D&D without worrying about scaring them off (with rules, that is).

4th edition is also easy to pick up, but 3rd and 3.5 have a bit of a trickier learning curve. (Don't get me started on any edition with THACO in it!)

3) You can start playing D&D for free

You can find all the rules for 5th edition D&D in the online System Reference Document (download from Wizards of the Coast or access online here and here).

To simplify character creation, you can use pregenerated characters for your session, or have new players build their D&D characters for free using the D&D Beyond character builder. (You can save up to 6 characters on a free account.)

(If you need D&D character ideas, The Story Engine Deck is really useful for coming up with character concepts, and there is a horror expansion and fantasy expansion available! Learn more on the tutorial page.)

sample character idea prompt from The Story Engine Deck tutorial

Sample prompt: A decrepit prophet with a fiery shield who wants to steal from an impulsive rival but it will mean breaking a promise

4) If you’re going to run a one-off D&D adventure (called a “one shot” by those in the know), horror is a great choice

Horror in D&D tends to be a bit more experimental, and the one shot format gives the DM more freedom to put the party in serious danger if the group agrees that character mortality is very much on the table.

Speaking of which: if you decide to host a horror D&D night, I highly recommend that the group holds a pre-session check-in for what kind of triggering material the session might involve, and what everyone’s comfort level is.

With horror, more than any other genre, there’s a real chance of putting your players in an uncomfortable situation, so make sure to check in early and often.

D&D Horror Campaign Ideas for Halloween

Horror elements have been a part of D&D since the game’s inception, and the tradition of creating horror stories in D&D holds strong in 5th edition, with new modules being developed by both Wizards of the Coast and its fan community.

Here are a few prewritten modules you might consider running for your Halloween horror D&D night.

"Death House": The Introductory Adventure to Curse of Strahd

 Cure of Strahd cover art

Curse of Strahd is an award-winning D&D adventure for levels 1 through 10. Try to unravel the dread mysteries of the ancient Castle Ravenloft under the baleful gaze of vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich. It's a spooky romp with blood-sucking and horror and all kinds of fun stuff.

Best of all, the introductory adventure "Death House" is available for free on the official Wizard's of the Coast website, and the full campaign has integration for Fantasy Grounds, Roll20, and D&D Beyond.

"Army of the Damned"

 Army of the Damned cover image

Reddit user /u/SpiketailDrake created a free horror adventure called "Army of the Damned" designed to take players from level 1 to level 5, and it looks amazing!

Gorgeously designed and thoughtfully put together, the fan-made creation takes place in the Magic: The Gathering setting of Innistrad and it's got everything: marauding vampires, haunted houses, zombie attacks, and mad scientists gone rogue.

Other Horror One Shots

There are lots of other places to grub up some great D&D horror one shots or campaigns.

Create Your Own Horror D&D Campaign Ideas

Creating your own horror stories for D&D campaign ideas can be a ton of fun, and as someone who has run and played a few horror D&D one shots, I highly recommend it.

That said, I'll repeat this again because it goes double when you're creating your own horror content: talk to your players about their comfort level, potentially triggering content, and how they can signal you if they become uncomfortable with what's happening in the game.

With that said, here are a couple of helpful resources for planning your own horror content:

"Running Horror Adventures in Dungeons and Dragons" by Dungeon Dudes

This is a great 30-minute video where two horror fans/experienced DMs break down how to run a great horror adventure, especially considering the concepts that make horror work in narrative form vs. movies.

The Story Engine Deck Horror Expansions and Boosters

Alright, there's some personal bias in this one, but if you'd like some help coming up with horror prompts for D&D campaign ideas centered around horror, The Story Engine has you covered.

The Written in Ash & Bone Horror Expansion contains 60 cards for creating prompts for everything from horror campaign ideas, to character concepts, one shot ideas, plot hooks and more. (Tutorial here!)

Deck of horror prompts for creating D&D campaign ideas

There's also the Dark Crafts & Ancient Horrors Eldritch Horror Booster and Written in Dragonfire Fantasy Expansion that have some more subgenre-focused horror stuff.

Preorders start shipping this month, but if you'd to be sure to have something to work with on Halloween, these packages all come with instant access to print-at-home PDF decks and can include the horror expansion:

That's all we've got for you in this installment. If you have any recommendations for horror campaigns, let us know in the comments!

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