Streamed, recorded and uploaded every week. Subscribe for our weekly adventures. Join us live on Fridays at 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern!
It’s bonus D&D week! In a nod to Halloween I temporarily took over the DM reigns to host an extra horror-themed one-shot adventure this week, using our pre-built characters from previous one-shots.
Welcome to the “The Haunt!”
I used a one-shot adventure from the DM’s Guild called “The Haunt,” by P.B. Publishing. I built the entire two-story mansion from scratch in Roll20, and also needed to make several adjustments for both time and difficulty.
While I wanted a horror one-shot to be challenging, the original adventure was written for a party of 4th-5th level, whereas the PCs we were using were only going to be 3rd level.
Our cast (all 3rd level):
- Gramosk, half-orc barbarian
- Falafel, half-elf bard
- Filkur, gnome druid
- Scarlet O’Fair, human paladin
- Zinli, gnome rogue
Furthermore I needed to run the whole thing in a single evening, which for us is ideally around three hours. We skipped some fights and a few rooms and still took an additional 40 minutes but we got it all in and had a great time.
The published adventure provides a few hooks to get the PCs directly in front of the haunted mansion. Since we were mostly using PCs from our last one-shot, “Den of the Rotten Kings,” I modified the Elderly Wizard Looking for Magic Shit hook by using an overwizard of Luskan to send the party on a mission.
I didn’t have time for any actual role-playing here so I railroaded the players through an intro cutscene until they were in front of the house, at night, with a single light in an upstairs window.
My players took a hell of a lot longer investigating the outside entrance than I planned. The front doors are designed to open only once the party has essentially given up trying to open them, but they tried their damndest, including Filkur the druid using a Wild Shape spider form to climb up to the second story.
Once they began exploring around the other edges of the house the doors flew open and they went inside. They were immediately suspicious of the Gargloye statues flanking the inside entryway – as they should be! Filkur the spider investigated by waving a leg in front of one of them from above, and they sprang to life and attacked.
A pair of CR 2 gargoyles is a solid combat encounter for five level 3 PCs, and I got several solid hits in. I waived the gargoyles’ nonmagical resistance as it would’ve made the fight drag on too long (only one of them had a magic weapon – and gargoyles are immune to Filkur’s poison from the Dagger of Venom). I would do the same nonmagical hand-waving later on when the party fought a ghost.
With the gargoyles defeated the party explored the foyer, which held another gargoyle statue, a couch with a doll, and a spiral staircase leading both up and down (though the way up was barred).
Zinli rolled to investigate the statue and found one of the arms was a lever. Filkur grabbed the old doll and shoved it onto his hat.
Pretty quickly the party found the moving wall section east of the tea room. They briefly debated trying to use some sort of rope to get everyone into the pair of sliding walls together, but ultimately decided to just split the party. Scarlet and Falafel would remain behind while they worked the lever to move Zinli, Filkur, and Gramosk through the secret passages.
Splitting the party is always a hilariously bad idea, and doubly so for a horror-themed adventure! For that reason I absolutely adored this part of the adventure. It’s amazing how a simple sliding wall feature of a dungeon can create such an interesting, dynamic scenario without any actual combat.
The barbarian and the gnomes explored the east side of the house. There’s actually not a lot going on on that end – I removed the CR 8 Cloaker in the library for obvious reasons.
I did insert a fun little horror scene where everyone saw the walls in the empty thoroughfare drenched in blood and bodies, and used that opportunity to make the doll escape. I gave out some library books as potential monetary loot, while they found the journal entries in the wizard’s bedroom.
Falafel and Scarlet weren’t about to sit and wait. They explored the rooms to the south. Here were the primary story scenarios of the dungeon, and only half the party was witnessing them!
The dining room featured a ghostly dinner party that ended in terror, while the ballroom provided clues as to whom (or what) lead to the downfall of the General and his mansion.
Meanwhile our other team was growing frustrated having not found a way out, and now realizing they were trapped on that side of the house. I had them roll Perception checks while they checked the various rooms, finally discovering the secret wall in the Spell Practice room that lead outside. They could quickly go around and meet back at the main entrance and the obstinate doors.
Falafel and Scarlet were in much more danger when they went beyond the ballroom into the swimming pool area. I replaced the guardian Beholder Zombie with the slightly less terrifying but still pretty tough Black Pudding, and telegraphed its presence with the bubbling, roiling thick black liquid that filled the pool.
A magical bejeweled sword near the pool enticed Falafel, however, and he attempted to skirt around the side to snatch the sword.
When he got close the Black Pudding sprang to life and attacked. I rolled a crit on the attack, though Falafel mitigated that by using Cutting Words (I don’t think he was supposed to get a reaction during a surprise round, but I’m pretty sure had he not used this tactic the damage would’ve straight killed him instead of just render him unconscious).
With the only thing in the pool area downed, the Black Pudding retreated back to the pool. Scarlet very gingerly crept up behind Falafel and pulled him to safety where she used her Lay on Hands to revive him. She told him the sword was fake, just to get Falafel to leave it alone.
My poor PCs. The sword was actually a very powerful Flametongue magic sword, though they would’ve had to fight and destroy the Black Pudding to obtain it.
The humbled Falafel and Scarlet finally doubled back to the main entrance, where they realized the other half of the party was now stuck outside. It took them a few moments to remember in order to open the door they had to turn away and ignore it, a fun little gag.
At this point the party had thoroughly explored the ground floor, so I reminded them of the open path down to the basement.
The basement is another fun scenario in the adventure. It’s basically one big puzzle room as the players are trapped inside with poisonous gas seeping in. There’s an unfinished flesh golem on an operating table with buckets of numbered body parts. They have to solve a math sequence to figure out the correct parts, which they did in an impressive amount of time.
The adventure doesn’t say what happens to the flesh golem after it awakens and opens the trapped door of the basement, so I inserted a little cutscene. I had it rush upstairs, breaking the way open to the second floor before it died in a hail of screams and thuds off-camera.
The party followed it up, seeing the freaky green glowing veins that pulsed throughout the second floor.
The second floor of the manor feels more like a traditional dungeon crawl, with a bunch of rooms that contain Bad Things. A laundry room held a ghost who quickly disappeared, while my players Nope’d right out of a room covered in spider webs and egg sacs.
I really liked the woman-dead-in-bathtub routine ripped straight out of The Shining. I had her wearing a fancy necklace so the PCs would be a bit more incentivized to check it out. When they did, she attacked!
Without her nonmagical resistance she wasn’t very tough at all, though the single attack I got off did some solid damage (ghosts are basically glass cannons, as we learned in our most recent “Storm King’s Thunder” session).
I wasn’t sure how and when to use the recurring Evil Doll who plagues the PCs throughout their exploration of the upstairs, so I went ahead and added it here.
I quickly realized I had made a major error – I hadn’t scaled down this enemy at all. The Evil Doll was an original CR 4 statblock designed for this adventure, but this adventure was designed for a 4th/5th level party. The Evil Doll had over 100 hit points, A DC 15 AOE Frighten/Paralyze, and an effective multiattack.
I began with its 1/day Frightening Lullaby which hit all the non-gnome PCs. The Evil Doll downed Zinli, the last one in the bathtub (who had grabbed the ghost woman’s necklace, a Periapt of Wound Closure) with a single multiattack round, and I started panicking a bit.
All the Frightened PCs all failed their next saves and were paralyzed while Filkur rushed to heal Zinli. Thankfully for the PCs, the doll is not designed to stick around and fight, and I used its Shadow Blend to retreat. The party immediately hunkered down for a Short Rest.
The session was starting to run late, as I figured it would. They explored the blood-stained southern door, where they could clearly hear animal-like sounds on the other side. The servant’s quarters contain a trio of ghouls, including one ghast.
For once the PCs were able to rush in and slaughter their opponents quite brutally. The ghast went down in a single blow from Scarlet’s Searing Smite, and the others weren’t too far behind. The rooms contained little of value, other than a key.
When they had first entered the upstairs they briefly split up to try the doors, and I locked the one to the north, not wanting them in the finale too early. Finding the key signaled to them that the path to the north was now clear.
They found the funny skeletal clerk and saw another scene that portended Gertrude, the evil woman who had seduced the General and driven this mansion and its people to evil.
The doll made a final appearance in the waiting room outside the General’s office. I quickly shaved its hit points in half and gave the PCs a surprise round, which helped even the fight and make it more manageable.
I’ve learned in my time as DM that simply giving enemies more HP is a poor way to up the challenge. Making enemies stick around after they’ve worn out their welcome can quickly become tedious. I would use this same knowledge in the final fight to come.
The General’s office held the culmination of the living veins: the general himself (or at least his desiccated body) molded into the muck on the ceiling, while the veins were attached to a gruesome figure in a chair like an IV drip. When the PCs approached, the figure sprang to life, revealing herself as Gertrude the Night Hag.
A Night Hag has a surprising amount of HP and AC for a spellcaster. They’re not nearly as strong without a coven, mostly hurling Magic Missiles.
The adventure states that Gertrude summons up a trio of ghouls every other round, which definitely sounds like a slog (again, we’re running very late at this point). I swapped out the ghouls for zombies and the PCs ignored them in favor of ganging up on the Big Bad, which is always a solid strategy.
Gramosk’s frenzied rage and Scarlet’s Divine Smite did a number on her on the third round, finishing her off after I halved her hit points. The Night Hag wasn’t actually a terribly fun or interesting boss encounter to run given that she’s not able to utilize her Change Shape or Nightmare Haunting abilities. It’s probably the only complaint I have over the entire adventure.
With Gertrude slain the general was released from his torment, his spirit able to finally leave his now rapidly decaying body. Freed from the necromantic energy the house began to collapse in on itself. The party snatched the evil emerald that had caused all this mess and fled, leaving behind nothing but fond memories of a fun spooky night of laughs and scares.