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strange aeons - rpg horror stories

RPG Horror Stories: 7 Terrifying Tabletop Campaigns (2020)

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RPG horror stories put you right in the middle of some terrifying situations, making the genre all the more real and visceral, which is a perfect fit for Halloween or any particularly spooky occasion.

Tabletop RPGs (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons) offer a very unique interactive medium to tell all manner of stories from action adventure, mystery, comedy, and everything in between. As the air begins to chill, thoughts of ghosts, ghouls, and gremlins start to flood into the public consciousness. That nefarious one that rules over holidays and consumer spending. The time is right to pull out some dice, gather friends around the table, and turn out the lights. Time to tell tales of horror and suspense. Tales sure to result in salty tears and fond memories for ages to come.

Benefits of RPG Horror Stories

I believe that RPGs have the ability to tell horror stories better than any other form of medium. It’s because of the visceral level of interactivity involved. There’s a slew of scary RPG tales and more than one D&D horror campaign

Some Game Masters will even up the ante in RPG horror stories. They will add sounds, turn off the lights, and skulk around the players as they recount their tale. 

There’s nothing like a great horror experience to breathe new life into what often turns into a player vs. monster slugfest. One where the heroes of the story feel invincible. Try running one of the following RPG horror stories and campaigns to bring those heroes to their knees as they weep, wail, and gnash their teeth in agony.

7 Best RPG Horror Stories for Halloween & Beyond

Disclaimer: This is about the best horror RPG stories. Not to be confused with Reddit’s /r/RPGHorrorStories, which recounts tales of TTRPGs gone wrong due to essentially RL problems. Think: bad DM horror stories. While entertaining, that subreddit typically retales the worst RPG stories and we wanted to provide recommendations before the holiday.

Strange Aeons

strange aeons - rpg horror stories

System: Pathfinder (1st Edition)

Horror Type: Cosmic (unknowable evils, lost sanity, psychological terror)

Approximate Length: 60-80 hours per module, 6 modules.

Official Story Synopsis: 

In a distant land polluted by an alien menace from beyond the stars, a great cancer grows within the earth. 

As its tendrils reach out through the dreams of those who learn and study its existence, a sinister cult grows more active in preparing the way for a devastation that will destroy more than the minds of would-be heroes. Can the adventurers reclaim lost memories in time to stop the advance of a cataclysmic contagion that could threaten all of Golarion? Can they resist the mind-shattering truths revealed by the Yellow Sign, and the monstrous force it symbolizes? 

The Strange Aeons Adventure Path pits the heroes against the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos, with new monsters, mind-shattering terrors, and explorations far beyond the known lands of Golarion.

Thoughts: 

If you’re a fan of cosmic horror but want to stay with a swords and sorcery style of setting for your RPG horror story, Strange Aeons is the way to go. 

While set within the Pathfinder universe of Golarian, GMs can easily alter it to fit into homebrew settings. Making it a great tool for one of your own uniquely scary DnD stories. This adventure path is unique for immediately thrusting the players into a setting where they have no power–an asylum. The characters are patients, have had their minds warped, and their memories stolen. 

The party cannot escape this prison on their own. They need help from the other patients to fight against the horrific alien menace that stalks the halls. Forcing the players to rely on NPCs and group-mentality for survival is a great way to inflict a sense of powerlessness. Practically a requirement for good RPG horror stories.

Carrion Crown

RPG horror campaigns - Carrion Crown

System: Pathfinder (1st Edition)

Horror Type: Classic (gore, ghouls, ghosts, and dreadful places)

Approximate Length: 60-80 hours per module, 6 modules.

Official Story Synopsis: 

From the whispering shadows of haunted Ustalav, an ancient evil rises to grip the world in a new age of horror! 

Amid the mists of this land of dark superstition and dread secrets stand both those who would defy the return of evil and those who would seek its terrible favor. Can the heroes discern their allies from their enemies in time to save a tortured realm from a tyrant’s return? 

Pathfinder’s darkest and most frightening campaign ever sets the heroes against the agents of Golarion’s most notorious villain, the Whispering Tyrant, in a terrifying trek across a land of lurking horror and ancient mysteries.

Thoughts: 

This series of modules is one of my favorites from the large collection of Pathfinder Adventure paths, making it also one of my favorite tabletop RPG horror stories

Adventurers can play the individual modules as one long campaign or stand-alone RPG horror stories. Each with its own theme. The first module introduces a “haunt” mechanic into Pathfinder where players will be attacked physically and mentally by various supernatural phenomena. Both physical and mental. Subsequent modules play with classic horror creatures such as Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves, vampires, drowned gods, and the undead. 

If played as a single long campaign, the underlying main plot deals with a mysterious cult that intends to resurrect a terrible undead force. And when I say force, I mean force… The players better be pretty cunning to deal with the punishment The Whispering Tyrant can dish out.

Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden

icewind dale: rime of the frost maiden - D&D horror campaigns

System: Dungeons & Dragons (5th Edition)

Horror Type: Psychological (deception, shapeshifters, paranoia, isolation)

Approximate Length: 40-60 hours per chapter, 7 chapters.

Official Story Synopsis: 

In Icewind Dale, adventure is a dish best served cold.

Beneath the unyielding night sky, you stand before a towering glacier and recite an ancient rhyme, causing a crack to form in the great wall of ice. Beyond this yawning fissure, the Caves of Hunger await. And past this icy dungeon is a secret so old and terrifying that few dare speak of it. The mad wizards of the Arcane Brotherhood long to possess that which the god of winter’s wrath has so coldly preserved—as do you! 

What fantastic secrets and treasures are entombed in the sunless heart of the glacier, and what will their discovery mean for the denizens of Icewind Dale? Can you save Ten-Towns from the Frostmaiden’s everlasting night?

Thoughts: 

The newest adventure from Dungeons & Dragons gleans inspiration from John Carpenter’s The Thing, using a harsh winter setting to artificially trap the players in an area of The Forgotten Realms known as Icewind Dale. 

It’s a familiar setting for fans of the Drizzt saga by R.A. Salvatore. A brutal environment that will stretch the players to their limits as they explore the region and help the residents of Ten Towns. While there are a lot of DnD horror elements, and very cool and creepy setpieces, there are also plenty of small silly things that can break that atmosphere. Making it one of the less serious of the RPG horror stories on this list.

I recommend removing some of these elements when you run this. Or changing them if you’re looking for a more horror-filled campaign. I also recommend turning down the temperature in your house when you run this horror RPG. Although perhaps hand out warm comforts as the characters ask for them. This will skyrocket immersion and make the players long to taste that knucklehead trout stew again.

The Hunt

hunter the vigil the hunt rpg horror stories

System: Hunter: The Vigil (World of Darkness Supplement)

Horror Type: Modern (technology, old magic, hidden world, points of light)

Approximate Length: 4 – 6 hours (one-shot)

Official Story Synopsis: 

The Special Cases Unit of the Philadelphia PD was used to handling strange cases, but when a [string of gruesome occult murders leaves them with no answers], they’re thrown into a new world where literal monsters roam the night. Now they’re working for an organization known as Task Force: Valkyrie, or they will be after they finish this hunt….

Thoughts: 

This small adventure was chosen as one of the best tabletop RPG horror stories for its ease of play and spooky subject matter. 

It deals with a modern problem: the untouchable. A man with wealth and social influence enough to hide his crimes, no matter how grizzly. The players are normal people embroiled in a case that can’t easily be explained by conventional means. This adds mystery. Especially if you don’t tell your players exactly what type of game they’re playing until supernatural things start appearing. 

The moment they chase down a suspect who can transform into a dog, they might get suspicious. Build the mystery over the course of the night, and when they reach the final scene of this cop drama-inspired story, they’ll be begging for more, and you’ll have all the tools you’ll need to give it to them.

Nightmare on Hill Manor

a nightmare at hill manor - ttrpg horror

System: Chronicles of Darkness (The New Word of Darkness)

Horror Type: Classic/Modern (haunted apartments, apparitions, possession, atmospheric horror)

Approximate Length: 4 – 6 Hours (one shot)

(un)Official Story Synopsis: 

A group of friends sits down to play a game of poker, as they usually do, but on this stormy night gunshots ring out from upstairs. 

Calling for help doesn’t work, their phones are fried as a strange energy fills the air. 

As they investigate the noises, they find themselves trapped by a set of never-ending stairs, forcing them to face the terrors from the floors above before they are swallowed by the creeping darkness of the malevolent spirits that now roam free.

Thoughts: 

This is another quickstart module that will allow you to run a complete story with all of the rules in a single night, making it one of the shortest RPG horror stories on the list. 

It was given out in 2011 as a Free RPG Day adventure. Ever since, it’s become somewhat of a staple when introducing people to the “New” World of Darkness rules and setting otherwise known as Chronicles of Darkness. Each player assumes the role of one of the friends, and throughout the night, tension builds, flares, and releases beautifully as they progress through the haunted apartments built on the site of an old manor house. 

If the players explore thoroughly, they can uncover the complete story that culminated in this terrifying night. But it isn’t necessary. There are plenty of haunts, chills, and thrills to pull them through the critical path of the adventure.

Masks of Nyarlathotep

Masks of Nyarlathotep = rpg cthulhu

System: Call of Cthulhu (Multiple Editions)

Horror Type: Cosmic Pulp (insanity, otherworldly places, 1920s setting, adventure)

Approximate Length: 60-80 hours per module, 5 modules.

Official Story Synopsis: 

The death of a dear old friend and an inquiry into a doomed archeological expedition spiral into a global investigation with dire repercussions. 

Can a handful of intrepid investigators make a stand against an insidious and bloodthirsty cult? Can a diabolical conspiracy be thwarted before a doomsday plan comes to fruition? 

Is there any hope for mankind against the machinations of an Elder God or will they meet only despair, death and madness? (From Dark Adventure Radio Theatre)

Thoughts: 

Many consider Masks of Nyarlathotep one of the best adventures ever written for any system, this is easily one of the best RPG horror stories out there. Its sprawling adventure takes quite a bit of buy-in to undertake, but it’s so worth it. 

For fans of the cosmic brand of horror who revel in mysteries, dark places, deadly cults, and otherworldly creeps, this story delivers. Masks of Nyarlathotep will also thoroughly entertain fans of pulp fiction adventures like Indiana Jones, Alan Quartermaine, and Dick Tracy. All this is not to say that this campaign doesn’t have its own share of problems. The pulp setting lends itself to cultural insensitivity often stereotypically playing up minority NPCs and their respective countries and residences. 

There’s also a sort of strange dissonance between the idea of cosmic horror which is about foreboding, and a sense of dread brought on by an unknowable, all-powerful entity pulling the dark strings of fate, and 1920s all-American macho. Mileage will vary depending on who runs the game. While one can say the same for any adventure, I feel the difference will be made much more abundantly clear with this one.

Delta Green: Convergence

Delta Green - RPG horror stories

System: Call of Cthulhu (multiple editions), Gumshoe System

Horror Type: Cosmic/Modern (psychological, body horror, gore, conspiracies)

Approximate Length: 4 – 6 hours (one-shot)

(un)Official Story Synopsis: 

When a 18-years old teenager named Billy Ray Spivey is arrested by the FBI after brutally killing his father and attacking six gas stations, investigators (all Delta Green agents or friendlies) are dispatched to his hometown Groversville, Tennessee. 

The truth is that the Mi-Go has been using the people of Groversville as guinea pigs in experiments with the so-called protomatter, controlling their brains and performing body alterations with tube-grown organs. The aliens contaminated the water supply and took control of the Board of Aldermen, using it to control important townspeople on their behalf. 

The Delta Green agents will have to find and shut down the Mi-Go base of operations, but the aliens have eyes all over the city and will be prepared to leave and cover their tracks with a deadly virus. (From YSDC Wiki)

Thoughts: 

Fans consider Delta Green: Convergence one of the best Call of Cthulhu scenarios ever made for good reason. It earns its spot as one of the best RPG horror stories on the market. 

Convergence is used as a springboard point into the Delta Green mythos. The mythos is something like a cross between the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the X-Files. The government plays a large role in Delta Green. It acts, at times, as the antagonist. But more often than not it’s the supporting structure for each scenario. One of the strengths of Delta Green lies in its reliance on real-world settings. Being able to bring up actual locations, and use real-world maps as player aids can really add to the immersion. This scenario is pretty disturbing on a visceral level. 

Body horror is an acquired taste. If you have squeamish players, the unfolding events around the Mi-Go and their attempts to replace human anatomy (of many types) with protomatter will be triggering. After running this game, none involved will ever look at a bathroom the same way again.  

RPG Horror Stories: Conclusion

This is but a small fraction of RPG horror stories available in the tabletop scene. 

Any one of these adventures could lead you down a new dark path, or inspire you to write your own tales of fright. 

If you’ve run or been in any of the RPG horror stories above, please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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