Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Haunted Dungeon - a series of tables



IN THE SHADOWS   OF   THE   DEAD
One of Goya's creepier etchings
Sarin the Mambo immediately knew something was wrong as the familiar hatch swung open. The pair of Shrine Fanatics, their unarmored bodies covered in devotional tattoos of ancient mechanical schematics - meanings lost, but the ancient clean lines still a lure to protective spirits of the vessel - could even sense something uncanny.  The two men, emboldened by the priestess' presence, cranked away at the hatch’s manual override wheel, but their loud chanting of the 537th sutra to the Prime Engine shrank to a whisper. Beyond the hatch, the formerly domesticated companionway leading to a slaughterhouse and several large, elementally powered meat freezers was wreathed in fog, fog and utter wrongness.  Sarin’s various fetishes of the Winding Gear, her patron, felt as if they were vibrating atop her armor and her frail elderly hand tightened involuntarily on the cord that held the heavy mace to her gauntlet.

Sarin didn’t even need to borrow the eyes of the Winding Gear spirit that “rode” her and filled her with its power to see that there was foul magic beyond the hatch.  It was as if death, hate and sorrow were pushing out from the peeling wall papers of the companionway beyond, weeping from around every bent rivet in the companionway walls beneath, and dripping like curdled oil from the ceiling.  The fog was the worst of it, light from the lanterns held by the Mambo’s companions would not penetrate more than a few feet into the shifting miasma whose swirls and eddies gave an impression of intentional, malicious movement.

The slaughterhouse had gone bad, and those who had died within had not merely risen as common revenants or individual spirits, but instead corrupted the whole of the region, the fear and horrors of their deaths leaking into the walls and fixtures of the slaughterhouse to turn the entire area into an expression of hate, fear and a deep abiding sense of betrayal that sought with inchoate fury to punish the living for its multitude of deaths.    
  
Hauntings
Of late I’ve been thinking about hauntings in my Dungeons and Dragons game, specifically the HMS Apollyon, partially because player chicanery has led to the powerful haunting of a previously explored region. I don’t want to just put wraiths or wights or some other kind of undead monster as a form of restocking, I want to switch the genre of the region from fantasy adventure to fantasy horror.   

I want haunted areas to be different from other dungeon areas.  I want them to feel creepy, but not with the instant threat that some kind of monster is about to pop out of somewhere, but rather that something terrible and transformative might happen, and more importantly that the normal means of dealing with dungeon danger (caution, combat tactics and retreat) might not work so well.  Ideally I could be as creepy as a good horror movie with just my GMing tone and word choice, but despite a vocabulary that includes several words for viscera, I don’t really think of myself as an uncanny sort of fellow.  Let’s just say, I’m no Nick Cave. 

Rather than give general advice involving soundtracks or lighting at one’s table, I’ve created a few random tables that I use for haunted areas aboard the Apollyon.  They aren’t really setting specific, and aren’t especially dangerous, but I hope they are effectively creepy.  The goal here is to create tension and some aspect of dungeon restocking without making the party entirely re-explore a prior area.  The secondary goal is to offer some sort of optional quest for getting the location un-haunted.  I suspect this is most likely done by finding the haunting’s source or center and having some cleric do their thing there.  Obviously the haunted area, in the manner of the Amityville house, or the hotel in the Shining really doesn’t want that, and manifestations and haunts – maybe even a monster or two, will try to drive the party away as they get closer.

I think these hauntings provide an interesting variance in dungeon restocking, and furthermore offer an opportunity to create in game consequences for character, NPC or monster perpetrated acts of savagery.  If for example your party decides to torture a pack of captive orcs for information after ransacking their lair and then kills the surviving prisoners, having the orc lair become haunted by the spirits of the tormented dead seems entirely reasonable.  I don’t discourage immorality amongst my players with alignment effects or stern lectures, but consequences such as hauntings and a reputation for brutality seem very reasonable. 

TABLES
First a table of some general effects that make a haunted area distinctive.  Both descriptive and with minor mechanical effects these aren’t supposed to be dangerous in themselves, but instead set tone.

D10
Weird Environmental Effects of the Haunting
1
Exhaustion – The psychic reverberations in the area are tiring, painful and overwhelming.  Travelling through the area is exhausting, and while this is something the characters will notice as they trudge along, the exhaustion doesn’t really hit until the characters have escaped the haunting’s influence.  If you don’t have exhaustion rules, then consider requiring a long rest (say 6 turns or 1 turns if the characters have ample food and water).
2
Light Eating – Torches, candles, lanterns and even magical illumination falter and are weaker under the baleful influence of the haunted area.  All light distances are halved, but other effects may also occur – light color changing, flames revealing tiny tormented spirits trapped within or specific areas where darkness clings and flows like a liquid of living thing.
3
Fog – A dense fog fills the haunted area.  Often this fog lays low to conceal the floor, but it’s possible it clogs entire chambers and halls.  While the fog is harmless it conceals other dangers and tricks living creatures that stare into it, revealing skulking shadows or suggestive shapes that suggest the party is not alone in the fog.
4
Whispers/Silence – Sound in the area is dampened to a greater or lesser degree.  Obviously listening to doors will simply not work, but one could potentially make parley impossible as well.  Alternatively, whenever a character tries to listen intently their head fills with the whispers and pleas of the dead.
5
Shadowplay – Shadows move and twitch as if alive.  If watched closely they will seem normal, but the GM can mention occasionally that a player sees another player’s shadow doing something off (i.e. stabbing another shadow with a knife) or that there are shadows cast for things that aren’t present (usually people or horrors).
6
Divine Dampening – Any cleric or divine caster will feel separated and alone, the power that filled them drained.  The only mechanical effect of this curse is that all Clerical spells require a roll under wisdom to cast.  Also magical healing doesn’t work.
7
Time Dilation – Time moves faster and slower in this area. At the start of each turn roll a D6 on a 1-3, save any encounter rolls or time related effects until the next turn(or the next roll of 4,5 or 6) and add them, on a 4-5 roll as normal, on a 6 treat the turn as if it has been three (three random encounter checks, rapidly exhausted torches, spells go out etc.).  Clearly describe these effects – everything stutters in double time, the air moves slowly like molasses
8
Past is Present – Upon first entering an area the description should be as the are was at the time the haunting began.  For Example, describe the kitchen as being brightly lit with a turkey roasting on the spit, racks of pans hanging above, and tables of food and only when the characters go to investigate will they notice that the hearth is cold and empty except for a few scattered bones, the tables warped, sagging with growth of mushrooms and the pans rusted.
9
Temperature Change – The air in the haunted region is of a different temperature or quality then the air of the areas beyond or before it.  A classic example of this is the haunted chambers being suddenly and inexplicably cold but there is no reason that the effect can’t work the other way, with a hotter haunted area, especially if heat is thematic to the nature of the haunting (death by fire or fever for example).
10
Discombobulating – Space in the haunted area is distorted and twisted by sinister forces.  Explorers will quickly get lost.  The best way to emulate this is to give bad descriptions and directions (such as telling the mapper a door is in the north wall when it really faces South), or erase and then rotate maps if the GM is preparing them.  To avoid making this sort of misdirection unduly frustrating it will help if the rooms themselves don’t change and contain distinctive landmarks or dimensions, so that that a party can have some idea where they are within the haunting’s maze.

When a random encounter comes up here is a table that is designed with appropriately haunting occurrences in mind.  I would roll on this table at a 2 in 6 chance (with the encounters below acting as both clues and encounters on an ‘Overloaded’ die).

D6
Haunting Encounters
1
Strange Noises – Strange and threatening noises suddenly echo through the area.  They aren’t directed at the party, but may come from a nearby area.  If investigated the screaming, laughing, eerie music or other disconcerting sounds will prove to have no clear source.
2
Sudden Increase in Atmospheric Effects – Whatever atmospheric effects that defines the area will suddenly get more severe.  Fog swelling to fill the room and so thick as to be almost liquid, light radius’ shrinking another 50% or similar escalating of the uncanny nature of the haunted place.  These effects will last until a magic exhaustion result is rolled on an overloaded encounter/exploration die or 1D6 turns pass.
3
Possession Attempt – A weak spirit will randomly single out a party member and attempt to take control of them.   The targeted PC must make a contested Wisdom check against the spirit (WIS 10).  If the character is possessed the result is temporary (1 roll of magical depletion on the exploration/random encounter die – or 1D6 turns) and the spirit will likely seek to accomplish a specific task, and may even relinquish control if the character and/or companions promise to perform it. 
4
Manifestation- See Manifestation Table Below
5
Geist – A cruel disembodied spirit, so lost to rage and hatred over its own death and psychic pain that it cannot be reasoned with and no longer remembers it’s own mortal existence. A pack of 1D6 of these immaterial predators has been drawn to the party’s intrusion.  Appearing as trails of ragged mist, sometimes manifesting spectral limbs or bones, these ghostly vermin are aggressive, but easy to turn or ward off . 

Least Geist* HD 1, AC 14**, ATK 1 (claw), SV CL 1, MV 30’ ML 8
* Undead Immunities, but easily turned or cowed by holy items. A circle of blessed iron, a bowl of sacrificed blood, or the efforts of a devote member of the laity (with a holy symbol) will all hold these creatures back as if they were a turning attempt by a 1st Level Cleric.  An actual turning attempt may be rolled twice and the best result taken.
** Immaterial and immune to normal and silver weapons.  Take ½ damage from elemental magic, but double damage from holy water.
6
Haunt – See Haunt Table Below

Manifestations are stronger area of psychic power/magical power where the haunting is able to have more localized control and act in a way to actually harm or specifically target individuals.  Both the manifestation and Haunts tables can also be used to stock rooms instead of or as an addition to being random occurrences.

D20
Manifestations of the Haunting
1
Shouted warning - “GO FROM HERE” or some similar command or warning comes from an unknown source and booms in a huge threatening voice.  For henchmen and followers to continue on and not flee the haunted area they must make a loyalty test at -1. 
2
Light’s Out – Suddenly the torches and lanterns are extinguished.  Even magical lights will go out (if they fail a save v. magic) and will certainly flicker and gutter even if they save.  Mundane light sources will need to be exhausted by this magical darkness, and so will temporary magical effects. Permanent light enchantments (if your game has such a thing) will slowly return after a magic exhaustion result is rolled on an overloaded encounter/exploration die or 1D6 turns pass.
3
Horrifying Hallucinations – Suddenly the room fills with disgusting, gruesome or violent hallucinations.  Most often a recreation of some scene of death that created the haunting, but sometimes they are of the same horrors visited on the party.  The hallucinations or illusions are not always visual and often include vile smells that linger far longer than the visual effects. Witnessing this is disheartening and all Henchmen suffer a -1 to loyalty for the rest of the session.
4
Call to Arms – A random character will be subject to discrete and potent whisperings from the spirits of the place.  These spirits will tell them of the disdain their companions hold them in and the betrayals that the victim will soon face by his former friends.  They whisper that all work and no play is making the effected character a very dull boy or girl. The only solution is clearly murder.  The effected character will gain Lvl x 500 XP for each companion killed during the session by their own hand or intentional inaction.
5
Dangerous Hallucinations – Something even worse the horrifying hallucinations above, the haunting begin to effect the characters themselves, suddenly making one or two appear undead, giving them the sense that they are rotting within, or infected by falling rot grubs or some similar effect that will compel any character who doesn’t save vs. spells to begin harming themselves (1D6 per round) until they are stopped by an unaffected person and calmed down.
6
Curse – A single party member has been stopped and pointed out by a spectral entity.  This looming figure appears, points and intones one word (usually “Death”), cursing the random target with a doom.  For the rest of the session all attacks that hit the cursed character will do maximum damage.
7
Slam! – All doors within 200’ of the party slam and lock if open or lock if at all possible.  This will be accompanied by maniacal laughter or a similar eerie effect (flashing lights or shadowy figures running towards each door).
8
As I am So You Will Be – Either upon opening a door or after investigating bobbing light sources behind them the party will face spectral reflections of themselves.  Each of these phantasms appears as if they had been dead for some time, the result of gruesome injuries.  Touching one’s own phantasm brings a doom, and for the rest of the session any blow against the doomed character will do maximum damage.  The phantasms will follow the party slowly, and fade after 1D6/2 turns. 
9
Skeletal Resistance – Within their own bodies the party feels as if their skeletons and souls are trying to escape.  Bones grind against each other painfully, and the very walls seem to call out promising the peaceful slumber of death.   Any corpses currently in the party’s possession will animate as aggressive 2HD zombies or skeletons.
10
Foretelling – A sonorous voice intones the party’s doom.  This is a true prediction, not of the adventurer’s actual fate but of a potential danger.  The nearest trap or set encounter is revealed, with the voice describing some landmark and then the worst fate possible for the adventurers if they encounter the trap or monsters.

Haunts  - The most dangerous manifestation of a haunting are the individual haunts and apparitions that represent the curdled coalescence of powerful psychic energies.  These entities are not actually the spirits of the individual departed, but amalgamations or  wells of necromantic wrath.  They will often appear as an exemplary spirit of the area, and in the unlikely occurrence they are brought to combat should be considered a wraith, specter or ghost unless otherwise indicated.  The notable difference between haunts and apparitions is that apparitions are linked to a specific room while haunts will follow the party throughout the haunted area (but will disappear beyond its borders).

D10
Haunts and Apparitions
1
Poltergiest Apparition – When encountered all the detritus in the room, from dust to heavy furniture will begin to quiver and shake, and after a single round will attack the party within, propelled by the psychic force of the hateful haunting.  Dust and small objects have will blind (temporarily on a failed save v. wands), while small hard objects (office supplies, stones,  coins or collections of porcelain knickknacks) will bombard the party doing 1-2 points of damage per round to each party member. Large objects such as notable pieces of furniture will rush forward, each making a single attack as a 4HD monster, and shattering against the wall on a miss.  An apparition may appear during this attack but this isn’t always the case.  The poltergeist will remain active for 2D6 rounds or until the party leaves the room.
2
Pleading Haunt – This haunt will follow the party pleading for rescue and succor.  The only way to satisfy it is to allow it to possess one of the party members (and it may only possess  an acquiescent character) and lead it outside the haunted area.  If it’s requests are ignored the haunt will become aggressive and threatening, but it cannot cause real harm and after a turn of angry invective and demands it will dissipate.
3
Insistent Apparition - Within the room is a distrust phantasm, that will plead with the characters for some object (food, light, water) or company.  If the party interacts with it will at first be cheerful and conciliatory, accepting food or whatever is offered (an offerings will lay on the floor untouched of course). However the apparition cannot be placated, and no amount of food, or friendly attention will ever satisfy it.  As an unreasonable spectral entity the creature will never be satisfied, and will attack in a burst of power, doing 1D6 x area level in damage (save vs. spells for ½ damage) to any who are in the room when it is either denied (forcefully or with a firmly stated objection) its desire or as the last character leaves the area.
4
Grinning Haunt – Following silently after the party, this haunt will appear suddenly with a loud laugh.  It finds everything the party says funny, it will laugh and laugh, in a very disturbing manner. Eventually, emboldened by their new found companionship the Haunt will itself attempt to tell a joke.  This will be something horrible, macabre and unfunny like “How can you tell if your baby is done with the bath?  It’s blue and cold!”.  The party better laugh.  If they don’t it will rush through them attacking 1D6/2 party members as an 8 HD creature and doing 1D6 plus level drain in damage to each character it strikes.  If humored the haunt will dissipate in 1D6 turns.
5
Insane Apparition – A frenzied a violent apparition inhabits this room and with a nonsensical tirade it will assail the first party member to cross the threshold.  The attacks of the Apparition are as an Area Lvl x2 creature and will age the victim 2D20  years as well as do Area Lvl X 1D6 damage.   If the room is left undisturbed for 1D6 turns the apparition will vanish.  If attacked it is immune to normal weapons and elemental magic and has an AC of 16, and Area Lvl x 2 HD.
6
Guardian Apparition – A sinister apparition will appear before one of the exits to the chamber.  This spectral guardian will make threatening motions if approached, and will only parley to tell the party that they may not pass the exit it stands before (this may be the door they entered through).  If defied the Apparition will attack as a specter.
7
Maelstrom of Spirits – A swirling maelstrom of unquiet spirits blocks entry into this room, passing through the chamber is draw 1D6 attacks by area level spirits per person, per round.  The maelstrom may be quieted by the successful turning attempt (against an Area Lvl x 2 creature). Otherwise this whirlwind of screaming ghosts will remain in place for the rest of the session.
8
Affectionate Haunt – A fragment of the haunting has taken romantic interest in one of the characters,  the phantasm itself is likely to be reasonably attractive (depending on the spirits that make up the haunting) and it will follow it’s chosen paramour offering to do favors (scouting and providing information).  However the phantasm is jealous and will curse anyone else who speaks to its object of affection (generally the rest of the party) giving them a -1 to all rolls until the haunt is chased off or destroyed.  
9
Baleful Apparition – A horrifying apparition, bloody and gruesome paces this room, shouting for violence and revenge.  If ignored it will simply continue it’s activities.  Any attempt to interact with the creature will be met with a violent possession attack, as it’s interlocutor must save vs. spells or be possessed by the violent apparition which will use the possessed body to attack its friends.  If it fails to possess it’s target the apparition will dissipate and it will dissipate (including if it has possessed someone) in 1D6 turns regardless.
10
Corrupting Haunt – A physically inoffensive haunt that skulks and covers along with the party for 1D6/2 turns.  During this time it will whimper and dart about, it’s spectral fingers rummaging through packs and amongst the possessions.  Each turn it will focus on a specific character and all perishable objects in that characters possession will rot and curdle.  Food, oil, potions, water or wine all will be destroyed as if left to rot for many years.  The haunt is not aggressive, but if attacked it will defend itself as a specter and may be turned as such.

5 comments:

  1. Nice! Bookmarked for future reference.

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  2. This is very good. Perfect atmosphere for a haunted level of a dungeon.

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  3. Really good! I would probably not call that one Psychosis. Not that it isn't, but "the Voices" or something would seem to suffice. Likely professional bias coming into play there, though.

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    Replies
    1. You are right Trey, I shouldn't be diagnosing folk.

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  4. That'. A really good set of tables that should do the job nicely. Hauntings that are more then another set of monster encounters work well when done right.

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