Halloween is coming up, and we’ve got a list of ten ways you can make D&D scary for your players. Strap in and get ready to be scared!
1) Spooky Locations
You can start anywhere, but a fantastic way to set the mood is to have a location that is completely spooky. In the Forgotten Realms, there’s plenty of haunted keeps or abandoned castles, but you can also go another route. For example, how about having a haunted tavern or a spooky city? The town of Weeping Willow Hollow sounds like a perfect place to have a long-lost temple to an evil god. The idea here is to come up with a location that will put your players on edge, and then throw them into it.
2) Vengeful Dead
There are plenty of setting-neutral ways to scare your players. For example, you can have zombies or skeletons come out of the walls. Using the undead is a great way to achieve a sense of creeping dread in a location. Another idea is to have a ghost haunting a place, and have it tell the players a story of a tragic event that happened there. This can be a great way to also provide a hook for a quest.
3) Use Your Players’ Fears Against Them
I love this idea. You can use the players’ own fears against them. For example, if they are afraid of spiders, have a giant spider attack them. Or have a group of cultists surrounding them outside of town, chanting, “We all know you are afraid of spiders!” This way the players will be afraid AND embarrassed! Another scary fear is fear of the unknown. You can have a group of ogre mages appear across the battlefield, chanting in an unknown language. It’s important to remember that you can turn anything into a scare tactics.
4) Be Prepared to Run Away
Once you start saying that you are scaring your players, you have to be prepared for them to run. This means knowing a way to get out of a bad situation. When your players know you are going to scare them, they might get a bit over-the-top with their actions. Have a plan to get them out of a situation if they get too scared. In my opinion, the best way to get out of a situation is to run toward your friends. Maybe you can have a group of soldiers come to the rescue, or have a super powerful mage appear from the shadows. Little tricks like this can help you to get out of a situation without seeming like the DM doesn’t know what he is doing.
5) Poison your PCs
Poison is an easy way to make your players paranoid. Perhaps you can have a group of assassins poison their weapons, and maybe even poison your players as well. This will make your players afraid of their own weapons, and will cause them to think twice before going into a fight. Poison is a great way to scare your players because it is a very underused form of attack. Once a player is poisoned, you can have a countdown start. By using time like this, you can really ramp up the pressure.
6) Scare Them with Magic
Magic is a very powerful tool. You can do almost anything with it. One easy way to scare your players is to use magic to create illusions. For example, you can have a wisp appear and start flying toward the party. I wouldn’t suggest having the wisp say “Boo!”, but you can have other illusions. This could be a good way to make your players afraid without actually harming them – too much. One idea is to have an illusory dragon attack the party, especially if they’re lower level players.
7) Music Sets the Mood
You can use music to set the mood. If you are playing scary music during a fight, it can really help the players get into the mood. This will also leave your players wondering what is going to happen next. Picking the right soundtrack for your tabletop campaign can take some time, but it’s definitely worth the effort. The right spooky soundtrack can really help to set the mood. For example, check out the soundtrack for Ravenloft.
8) Fear of the Unknown
Not knowing can be super scary for players of all levels. By adding a sense of mystery to your adventure, you can achieve a spooky mood. For example, maybe there’s a strange and fearsome creature that is attacking the villagers at night but nobody has actually seen the creature. The stories the NPCs tell can be the source of the mystery, and leave the players wondering what is going on.
9) Be Careful with Jump Scares
There are tons of horror video games out there, and they all have one thing in common – they use jump scares. Jump scares are sudden surprises that are meant to scare the player. Some players love jump scares, but I’m sure many don’t. I would recommend against using these in a tabletop campaign. Even if your players love jump scares, it’s not really fair to the players.
10) Make Them Always Feel Scared
This last technique is all about developing a sense of dread. Have your players always feel like they are being watched, or have their senses tingle. Players should never feel completely safe. The players should always have that feeling that something is about to attack them. This will really help to set the mood. Another way to do this is to have something that will mess with the players’ heads. For example, you could have a magical effect that will mess with the players’ minds.
D&D For Halloween 2021
Now that you have ten ways to scare your players, it’s time to think about what kind of scare you want. Some of these are easy to implement, but others can take a lot of work. It’s up to you to decide which one you want to use. Once you have one in mind, you can start coming up with ways to scare your players. This is a fantastic way to get your players in the mood for Halloween, so have fun!