The craziness of the AaWBlog could not be contained within the month of May, and thus insanity abounds throughout Maddening May! Fight off strange slugs, explore a sunken insane asylum, and traverse the Dar’spelun Slugmarsh—if you’re brave enough for it.
Of course, regular readers already know what happened in October: we got spooky with Macabre Manses. There are several haunted houses to explore, written by Rory Toma, Justin Andrew Mason, and RPG Superstar Steve Helt!
Before you get out there to scare someone, check out the free extra web content below! Adventurers that dug in and played through For Rent, Lease, or Conquest have a treat prepared by the module’s author, Colin Stricklin!
For Rent, Lease, or Conquest EXTRA CONTENT!
Concluding the Adventure If the party and the formians survive, the PCs are left with something of a problem: they still don’t have a house! A diplomatic mission on behalf of the formians will solve this problem nicely.
If the adventurers agree to help Sirjan gain Hordenheim citizenship, she rewards the party with a fully renovated carriage house. They’ve proven useful after all, and Sirjan wants such powerful allies close. The young queen even bestows the title “Defender of the Colony” upon each of the PCs.
A formian colony makes for an unusual neighbor though, and the Office of Immigration will take some convincing.
Navigating the Bureaucracy Sirjan’s path to citizenship hinges entirely on the party’s diplomatic skills. Anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with Hordenheim knows of the Office of Immigration, the bureaucratic body responsible for transitioning the traditionally evil races to their new lives as productive members of society. However, the clerks at Immigration are used to orcs and harpies and the like. There is a great deal of hemming and hawing over allowing a “society of giant ants” to take up residence.
“This is most unprecedented,” the junior clerks say. “The paperwork is quite complex.”
Any number of role playing challenges could be appropriate in this case. Examples include:
A DC 17 Will save to keep any barbarian or otherwise short-tempered party members from pitching a paperwork induced tantrum.
A DC 20 Diplomacy/Gather Information check to determine the proper bribes for each petty official. Perhaps an underling wants his boss’s position?
Multiple DC 15 Fortitude saves as the PCs run Form A-19 to the girl downstairs, making sure to pass along the yellow copy to Mr. Withers in accounts receivable before he takes his tea at 2:15 precisely, but not before climbing the stairs to the bursar’s office on the top story for a Letter of Receipt, which must in turn be stamped by the notary in sub-basement 3C…
A DC 22 Linguistics/Forgery check to cut through the mass of paperwork.
A DC 15 Intimidate check to scare the other applicants out of line.
Home Sweet Home After you’ve made your party suffer long enough with this silliness, the rewards should be great. Allow them to design their new home as they see fit (within reason of course), and have the formian neighbors drop off a housewarming present or two in the form of magic items. Axiomatic weapons, armor made from formian carapaces, or even a giant slug egg are all appropriate.
Horror can be a tricky thing—anybody can be gorey, but to really have an impact there are a number of factors to consider. Who are you trying to scare? Why are you trying to scare them, and most importantly, how?
Who You’re Scaring
What kind of group do you have before you?
Do they work well as a team?
Have they experienced a PC death before and if so, how recently?
Powergamers? Spotlighters? Meticulous planners?
This needs to be your initial concern because it colors everything that comes next. If you’re playing against power gamers, do not give them mechanical foreshadowing (see “How” below); conversely, if the group isn’t very team oriented (less the “X-Men” and more the “Defenders”), splitting them up won’t do you a huge amount of good. Carefully weigh out your options and do your best to anticipate what the PCs are likely to do when things get dark—no matter how you do it, surprise is going to be a part of the equation.
Why You’re Scaring
Building to a crescendo?
An essential element to a creature or particular encounter?
To increase the general suspense of the game?
If you’re running a game in Ravenloft, the word of the day is always going to be horror! The things to keep in mind in this case is that ultimately you do want the players to win, only that their struggle be a true test against an ever present darkness. I’ve found that warm reprieves can get the trick done, but there’s a lot to be said for a long, arduous trial with truly shining moments of glory.
Maybe this is just a brief foray into horror—in this case, definitely avoid pulling punches and keep extra material around in the event the PCs are on a lucky streak with the dice! On the whole, most games are encouraging the party’s victory (Paranoia being my favorite exception) so a good way to inflict terror is to really give them the feeling that the odds have definitely gone up. You don’t have to necessarily change the numbers to do it, either (more on that below under “How”).
Of course you might just want to increase the general level of suspense in the game because you’re starting to introduce some darker themes and elements in your world and story. This is where you’re looking for a sense of balance between what was and what is; don’t go and start throwing Cthulhu nightmare at the PCs right away, build up to it! An unsettling dream every other game session probably doesn’t register as too strange (stress, right?) but if you let it grow into a greater concern over time, the average player is going to concoct something far more terrifying than what you’re cooking up!
How You’re Scaring
Via the gaming atmosphere?
Using mechanics to get it done?
The old fashioned way: with a right proper scary story!
Making a gaming atmosphere that encourages fear is simple enough: get some soft lighting (but not too soft—everyone needs to be able to read!), be (more) secretive with your notes, throw in plenty of rolls that serve no real purpose other than to throw players off kilter, and play some music in the background. Not the epic stuff either, but something dark and foreboding (I recommend Midnight Syndicate; D&D music is their thing and there are lots of spooky tracks!)
As mentioned above, the second option is not for groups with power gamers unless you are a very experienced GM. If you can handle it (and aren’t afraid of a TPK), a surefire way to give your players the willies is to start giving them really good, very specific magic items. Nobody will be suspicious about the first one or two powerful weapons or protectives, but once they get the third or fourth, concerns begin to arise. This is a tough road to hoe though—you’re literally raising the stakes. By giving PCs specialized equipment of considerable potency, you’re able to throw something extremely dangerous at the party. If things go as you’ve planned, they should be of two minds when the final battle comes: oh-my-god-we’re-going-to-die and holy-crap-we-might-win.
If you can hack it, I’ve found this to be the most rewarding.
Finally, there’s just a well-told horror story. There’s a Kickstarter going on from Louis Porter Jr. Design for the Cross of Fire saga, and all the talent wrapped up in that is in good standing to deliver a terrifying tale, but I wouldn’t count out the logically consistent river of blood in The Mysterious Peaks of Baranthar. 😀
If this is your bag, tips for telling a scary story abound on the internet, but remember: people fear the unknown more than anything else, so make use of that suspense and stretch it out to good effect!