Horror is a difficult genre to portray in Dungeons & Dragons, for the simple fact that it’s a power fantasy. Horror primarily grows from the helplessness of the protagonist, whether they’re facing an unrelenting killer, space aliens, or the environment themselves.
In D&D, each character is an action hero at worst, and a superhero at best. Nothing’s really all that scary when you’re clad in body armor and carrying the magical equivalent of a tactical nuke. With that in mind, horror only really works when it’s not the player characters who are in mortal danger, when the danger is not to the body, and/or when the threat cannot be stabbed or fireballed to death.
So to help you get a leg up on planning your next D&D horror adventure, we’ve whipped up these twenty encounter prompts to get your creative juices flowing. For more adventure ideas, check out The Deck of Many Quests!
|1||A child’s sobbing can be hear in the darkness of the forest, just beyond sight. Whenever you draw near, the sound seems to go further into the forest.|
|2||As you travel down a dirt path, you see a skeletal hand sticking up from the middle of the path as if reaching for the sky. When you draw near, its finger twitches.|
|3||Every time you look in a mirror, you can see dark humanoid shapes lurking behind you in the reflection. When you turn, the shapes are nowhere to be found.|
|4||A little girl’s mud-covered straw doll is found on the side of a road. There is no sign of its owner. The doll seems to move to a different location when no one is looking at it.|
|5||A carriage of brilliant white, pulled by two white mares, stops in front of you. A tall man dressed in an immaculate suit of solid black steps out and holds open the door. “Our lord, Asmodeus, would like a word with you,” he says, motioning you inside the red-velvet interior of the carriage.|
|6||While travelling through the forest, you come across a space of tall trees and clear ground. Hanging from the trees are wooden effigies in humanoid shapes. Upon close inspection, you find that they have faces; each one resembling a party member and contorted in pain.|
|7||After a plague has turned it into a charnel house, the local church has been abandoned. Reports say that a demon has made its lair there, and where it is animates the church statues to blaspheme and kill.|
|8||You have been invited to a tournament at the castle of a lord you’ve never heard of. The lord provides a bountiful feast of meat and wine. The combat event begins at dark under a new moon. In the torchlight, you see the faces of the audience and your opponent contort and shift into those of devils and demons, and you realize your very soul is at stake!|
|9||You come upon a cliffside village where the townsfolk regularly burn outsiders at the stake in order to appease the dark forces underground. As crazy as they may seem, however, there may be some truth to their claims…|
|10||In the dead of night, a merchant ship has arrived at port and dropped anchor. No one is on deck, and no one inside is responding to calls from the dock workers.|
|11||While traveling between towns, the wheel of your wagon has broken and you have no spares. Now the sun is setting and you feel like something evil is watching you from the shadows of the nearby forest.|
|12||As you make ready to bed down in a local farm house, your hosts warn you that something might knock at the door in the dead of night. They say never to answer the door, no matter what you hear. Hours later, you awaken to the sound of knocking… and a baby crying outside.|
|13||Horrible dreams of red eyes staring into yours have plagued you this past week, leaving you tired and weak. Tonight, you were woken from your nightmare by a loud noise outside, just in time to see something scramble away from you and into the shadows of your room.|
|14||You awaken to find yourself in a long wooden box, and quickly realize it to be a coffin.|
|15||Your ship runs aground in the night on an uncharted island. You quickly discover the island contains an entire town, inhabited by friendly people who never seem to stop smiling. Out of the corner of your eye, you swear you see strings coming off of their limbs.|
|16||On your travels, a young girl covered in dirt and tattered clothing runs up to you and clutches at you. She begins to ramble about an orphanage and the monsters that take the children in the night. Just then, a tall woman with pale skin arrives and beckons the child back, apologizing to you for her for runaway imagination.|
|17||You awaken in a strange castle, with no memory of how you got there. At your feet is a note written in blood. It reads, “I like to play with my food before I eat it. Now, run.”|
|18||A ring—a family heirloom—has found its way into your possession. After slipping it on, you feel more aware of everything going on around you. Moreover, you become aware that something dark knows you have this ring, and is coming for it.|
|19||A family is being harassed by a man who wants to purchase their land. His offer is generous, but the family doesn’t want to sell. Now bad things are happening, and they think he is responsible. The family feels that the man is more than he seems, and say he stinks of sulfur when he becomes agitated.|
|20||You arrive at a toy shop to find the proprietor bound and gagged behind the counter. When you uncover his mouth, he screams out out, “The toys, they’re alive!”|