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!
Steven T. Helt here, and I’ve really enjoyed my first month on the AaWBlog! October is a special month for a lot of gamers, and the Four Horsemen are understandably passionate about the horror genre. I just wanted to thank my friends at Adventureaweek.com for a great year working together before I offer an unusual and scary haunt that plays off of a classic horror trope.
We’ve seen undead, constructs, and outsiders this Halloween season, but sometimes there are worse horrors than the monsters that challenge our PCs. The behavior of mere mortals shocks us in the real world, and in horror roleplaying it should be no different. Always remember that every story we tell together comes from human imagination—therefore any terror we imagine can be conveyed by human activity.
Take religious zealotry as an example. The combination of belief in the supernatural and desire to follow a higher calling may lead to a horrific act—made all the scarier by the certainty that the “monster” labors under deep conviction. To that end, I give you my third haunt of the month: the after-image of an innocent life lost when an exuberant exorcist failed to see that she was torturing an innocent man.
OVERZEALOUSCR 7 XP 9,600
LN haunt (a 10-ft.-by-15-ft. room) Caster Level 7th Notice Perception DC 20 (to notice a female voice chanting and a male screaming) hp 14; Trigger proximity; Reset 1 day Effect A tortured scream erupts alongside the sounds of fevered chanting. Any creature in the area is affected as by a forbiddance spell cast by a lawful neutral cleric (DC 19 Will save). Each time the haunt resets, each creature inside the area of effect counts as having just entered the area for the first time. Destruction This haunt is destroyed if any outsider (including one with the native subtype) affected by the haunt confesses its sins relative to the lawful neutral alignment. If the outsider willingly changes its alignment to lawful neutral, the “exorcism” ceases and the haunt is destroyed forever.
Type mechanical; Perception DC 23; Disable Device DC 20 Trigger location; Reset manual Effect atk +12 ranged (4d6+8; grease spell effect, DC 12 Reflex save); 20-ft.-radius circle (Fort DC 12); multiple targets (all targets in a 20-ft. radius of the target)
The pumpkin slinger fires a Medium-size pumpkin into a 5 ft. square. If hit, the guts of the pumpkin affect the target as though they were subject to a grease spell (CL 3rd). If the pumpkin slinger’s attack misses, treat the pumpkin as if it was a splash weapon that affects a 10-ft. square as grease (CL 3rd).
Anyone struck by a pumpkin slinger trap or inside of 20 feet where the gourd lands must make a DC 12 Fortitude save or become nauseated for 1d4 minutes.
Cowl of Insubstantial Form Aura strong transmutation; CL 14th Slot head; Price 85,800 gp; Weight 4 lbs.
DESCRIPTION This membranous green cowl dangles lifelessly.
The color of the membrane changes depending on the type of light reflects upon its glossy hide. It is transparent to the wearer, while opaque to the onlooker. When the cowl of insubstantial form is activated it allows the creature wearing it to gain an insubstantial form for up to 120 minutes per day. These minutes do not need to be used consecutively, but must be spent in increments of 10 minutes. This ability can be stopped as a free action (though any remaining time for the 10 minutes increment is wasted). The wearer of the cowl of insubstantial form always benefits from the +3 dodge bonus to AC that it continually provides.
HISTORY DC 20 Some say that to make a cowl of insubstantial form, one requires the essence of an insubstantial creature, bottled to prevent its escape. DC 25 The only way to gather these esoteric materials is to locate one of the rare living specimens that lack corporeality, requiring a DC 20 Craft (alchemy) check.
DC 30 It is rumored that the first cowl of insubstantial form was given to an elf from an elder wind elemental. So secretive are its origins, just the mere mention of the location of the first of these legendary magic items is hidden deep within a void composed of nothingness.
CONSTRUCTION Requirements Craft Wondrous Items, 3 vials of essence from a creature with an insubstantial form, 8 lbs. of paper-thin leather or hide; Cost 42,900 gp
TACTICS Before Combat Ipalolo devils usually hide in wait, offering what the victim wants most, hoping for the creature to turn against it own before summoning a lesser creature to attack enemies first. During Combat If no prey take its bait, the ipalolo devil strikes shortly after its summoned creatures attack, targeting good-aligned casters to silence them, methodically wiping out spellcasters first. With each death the ipalolo devil tries again to bargain with the remaining creatures for what they most desire. Morale Ipalolo devils fight until below 30 health before fleeing.
STATISTICS Str 23, Dex 14, Con 18, Int 20, Wis 18, Cha 15 Base Atk +13; CMB +19; CMD 26 Feats Critical Focus, Critical Bleeding, Flyby Attack, Improved Critical (claw), Improved Vital Strike, Skill Focus (stealth), Vital Strike Skills Acrobatics +19, Bluff +19, Diplomacy +19, Fly +19, Intimidate +19, Knowledge (arcana) +21, Knowledge (planes) +21, Perception +20, Spellcraft +21, Stealth +25, Survival +20 Languages Celestial, Infernal, Undercommon; telepathy 100 ft.
SPECIAL ABILITIES Silencing Touch (Su) The ability functions as the spell silence except that is targets a single target instead of an area. The silenced creature is not immuned from sonic- or language-based attacks, spells, and effects. This ability is included in all melee attacks the Ipalolo devil makes, and directly bypasses spell resistance. Wicked Claws (Ex) An ipalolo devil’s claws are abominably sharp and deadly, dealing 2d6 slashing damage on a successful hit and possessing a natural critical threat range of 19-20/x2.
Ipalolo devils serve directly under dukes or counts of hell, largely so that they may sow distrust among the lesser creatures of the planes. These creatures love the feeling that washes over them when they’ve successfully convinced comrades to fight each other to win what they want most from life, regardless of what that might be. Ipalolo devils are solitary creature enjoying silence most in life (aside from initiated squabbles). It is not known if the smooth bone over the ipalolo devil’s face is its own, or a mask the creatures like to wear.
After the PCs’ strange encounter in the forest during Finding the Macabre Manses, they find themselves facing down a long dark courtyard revealing the mansion’s distinguished foyer. Though the estate’s grounds suggest that there haven’t been any visitors to the site in a long while, the mansion’s interior—with its clean wooden floors and illustrious decor—brings such a theory to question. As the PCs enter the mansion a magic circle appears around the building and across its wooden floors, which begin to glow a deep purple hue. A strong gust of wind forces shut the inward swinging front doors to the foyer, and a strange orange and green glow floods the room.
There are a particular series of rules that govern the way the party is able to interact with their environment, and many hazards to face in their pursuit of freedom. The entire mansion has been manipulated by the cult Fomalhaut in the pursuit of their dark lord’s liberation—both they, their god, and the party are trapped within!
Portals of all kinds including doors, windows, and dimensional travel malfunction within the mansion. Instead of leading to the locations desired by the user, they pop anyone to the locations as indicated in the omnidirectional doorways of confusion.
Fomalhaut’s dimension thrives on and feeds chaos; all spells of the chaotic subtype are cast at caster level + 5.
Gruxm Goretooth has let his cultist followers loose upon the mansion with strict orders to detain intruders on site so that they may be offered to Fomalhaut as a living sacrifice, a means to bind its life force the the Material Plane, a process that will likely kill its victims when they reach their destination as Fomalhaut exits the vessel(s). Fortunately for the PCs, the occultists have no advantage over the omnidirectional doorways of confusion, the twisted visage hazard, or any of the other devious obstacles within the mansion, leveling the playing field to their advantage.
Within rooms 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 30, 34, 35, 38, and 39, Gruxm has placed random summoned monsters. Since dimensional travel is only one way within the mansion, summoned monsters do not dissipate after being defeated and any objects or treasure that they would ordinarily carry is easily collected. Additionally, due to the nature of Fomalhaut’s dimension, there is a 25% chance that any monster summoned within the mansion gains the star spawn template.
In room 12, Gruxm is makes preparations to honor Fomalhaut with the living tribute. Should the PCs find their way into this room there is a 70% chance that the goblin is present and preparing for their demise; Gruxm gives a long speech about his master and what the party’s purpose in the mansion is. If the adventurers approach Gruxm, he uses monster summoning VII to conjure a powerful creature to assist in subduing the PCs.
The remaining rooms are filled with beautiful decor, but are otherwise lacking anything of interest. A number of Gruxm’s followers equal to the party’s size (CE Human conjurer 7; see the “Conjurist” entry in the NPC Gallery section of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Gamemastery Guide) were inside the mansion when it traversed the dimensional rift. The odds of encountering an occultist in any of the rooms is 20% and should be checked by the GM every time the adventurers enter a new room. Occultists attack the PCs on sight and without warning, weakening them and depleting the party’s resources.
In the event that the party kills off every foe within the mansion, they are stuck within the demiplane for the rest of their lives, however long that might be (though a sufficient amount of thorough research might yield another means, any hope of escape requires years of study and experimentation that ultimately leads to the same conclusion). It is absolutely necessary to make the living sacrifice to Fomalhaut in order to bridge the dimensions so that they might all travel home. Discovering the specifics about the ritual from Gruxm requires successive Intimidate checks of increasing difficulty, the first DC 25 followed by DC 30 and DC 35.
Bridging the gap not only frees the players to return to the Material Plane, but allows Fomalhaut to hitch a ride on their coat tails bringing a new chaotic element into their world. What impact will Fomalhaut have on their home? Only time will tell.
As a child Gruxm Goretooth was often alienated by his tribe, getting along with only a few of them—eight, to be precise. Gruxm and the fellow goblins that he called friends suffered daily night terrors involving traumatic visions that both haunted and confused them. When the visions began to intensify, they were drawn towards the occult, learning what they could from the tribal shaman. From these learnings, sinister urges and desires began growing within their hearts. On one particularly gloomy evening, Gruxm and the rest of his following snuck through the tribe’s encampment, murdering everyone in their sleep. After the onslaught they attempted to contact the deity they believed had been responsible for the hellish dreams that drove them mad; after countless efforts and many sleepless nights, they successfully called out to a demiplane whose sole inhabitant was a cosmically vast mass of swirling space dust and interstellar energies.
Nearly infinite in every direction for an unfathomable distance, the being is known by only one moniker of its own devising—Fomalhaut. Gruxm and his followers beseeched it to grant them their desires, as well as power enough to spread chaos within their realm. Fomalhaut granted each of them mastery over magic and sent them on a journey of discovery and destruction, asking in return only that they continue to search for a method to release Fomalhaut from its demiplane upon the rest of the universe. These nine empowered goblin sorcerers all went their own ways in hopes of being the one to release the dark entity and to gain its favor. Among them, Gruxm was by far the most talented and respected, and while each sorcerer drew in their own followers to worship and revere Fomalhaut, Gruxm’s adherents have the most loyalty to the cult and its goals.
For years, Gruxm has subscribed to the theory that if he could in some way travel to Fomalhaut’s home plane, he might be able to bring back with him at least a small portion of his dark lord’s glory. Now, ten years after the establishment of the cult, Gruxm has successfully traversed to the demiplane and safely returned, carrying a flask filled with Fomalhaut’s essence. The spell that Gruxm used to travel to the demiplane was far too weak to achieve the entity’s freedom, but its basis paved the way to the goblin’s next experiment—to open a permanent doorway between the two realms, here at the Macabre Manses.