In the D&D Supplement Heroes of Horror (2005, Wizards of the Coast), authors James Wyatt, Ari Marmell and C.A. Suleiman recommend constructing a horror-themed adventure with four components.
They are: mood, setting, plot and villain.
So, it seemed natural to try and pair that approach with some of the other D&D supplements I had at hand and see what horror-inspired adventure hooks we could devise.
“A Seed of Evil”
Mood: The pervasive — even oppressive — feeling of corruption fills you with dread. It is seeping into your very pores. Simply walking in this place gives you the feeling of bathing in a tainted, contaminating substance.
Setting: A tower infused with the corrupting power of the Shadowlands magically appears in the courtyard of a Lion Clan lord. It is beginning to affect the things around it, spreading evil beyond its walls.
Plot: All attempts to assault the tower from the outside have failed against its magical defenses. The heroes need to storm the tower and defeat the evil magic within, hopefully destroying this seed of evil in their midst.
Villain: The tower is inhabited by Shadowlands guardians, such as bakemono, varieties of oni and the bestial tsuno. But the tower’s master is a spider-like shapeshifting dokufu, sent by a powerful Shadowlands mage who wants revenge on the Lion Clan. It is hoped the dokufu will at least defeat the greatest Lion champions, weakening the clan. The tower will collapse around them if the dokufu is defeated. At best, the dokufu can establish a beachhead as part of an invasion from the shadowlands.
“A Lee Shore”
Mood: Only loneliness and despair can be found on this bleak shore, facing the churning green sea and dark night. Your spirits are dampened and soul and body wearied by the fury of the storm, it’s howling winds and frozen, pelting rain.
Setting: A lighthouse on an island some distance from shore amid a terrible storm. Its dim beacon is meant to guide pilots safely, but in truth, it only draws them into danger. Forces of darkness from the briny deep have made it a pen for hunting human meat.
Plot: Sailors know that sometimes that all the creatures of the sea, and the gods that have domain over deep, sometimes conspire against those who dare to cross its surface in the little wooden boats men call ships. So it is in the vicinity of this lighthouse. If the lighthouse beacon doesn’t draw the ship in, or the gales drive it toward the shore, the charming song of a sirine from Monster Manual 2 should do the trick (substitute a “sea” nymph with blinding beauty or a school of alluring merfolk if MM2 is not available.). Beneath the waves, a Coral Golem will finish a ship and force the stormwreck. The survivors will find the lighthouse barricaded from within by its tenants, a group of terrified lightkeepers and soldiers, who fear the “predator of the deep.” Can the crew survive the night?
Villain: A uchuulon (slime chuul) considers the island its personal hunting ground. It rises out of the sea to snatch unsuspecting victims on shore, then slips back into the waves. But before the night is over, it will make its assault on the lighthouse.
Mood: The excitement of adventure and discovery can quickly give way to a penned-in fear as ancient terrors rise from the sand-enshrouded tombs. No matter what, you can never rid yourself of the feeling of thirst in this parched land.
Setting: Deep in the desert lies the excavation site of the Pharoah’s ancient city.
Plot: As you progress deeper into the tomb, more and more creatures try to drain you, from dustblights to the forlorn husk. The deepest chamber is rumored to be the tomb of a powerful and rich spellcaster. Surely there are riches of magic items as well as gold within.
Villain: A mummy? That would be just a little too cliched, right? This time it’s a dry lich — a gaunt, skeletal undead spellcaster — that waited patiently for unsuspecting interlopers to arrive and provide the bait needed to summnon a dunewinder, astride which he’ll embark on a war of conquest. Can you stop the lich and his desert devil minions?