Whether it’s the spooky season itself, or you just have a penchant for terrifying your players, Dungeons & Dragons has all the creepy theatrics you could hope for. Sometimes, a campaign can get stale and the party might want to play something completely different, and that’s where one-shots come in.
These stories serve as inspiration for encounters and short adventures, which can even be squeezed into your usual campaign, where the players find themselves trapped with ghouls, fiends, and hags, or hunting down the killer in their own backyard. Don’t forget the chilling background music.
Updated on October 5, 2023, by Rosa Baumgartl: Halloween is upon us again, and it’s time for more spooky adventures with friends. The best way to celebrate is staying in with some snacks and getting creeped out. We’ve come up with some more fun one-shots to run on dark evenings, in locations such as cemeteries, demiplanes, and haunted lighthouses.
8 Nightshift At The Graveyard
How much is a sack of gold really worth when it’s your life on the line? Set the party up with a sweet gig, keeping watch over a cemetery at the edge of town. Surely they can sit around and make sure no rapscallions wander in on All Hallow’s Eve. However, as dusk draws in, the sounds start up.
When the dead begin crawling out of their graves, it’s up to your group to figure out what’s bringing them back to life while staying alive themselves. Fresh footprints and chanting lead them to a cracked mausoleum, where Awakened Trees reach down to keep them away. Inside, they might find a cult trying to give power back to a long-forgotten deity of death, or a mage practicing their latest spells.
Defeat waves of oncoming undead while chasing down the culprits, or follow the Will O’ Wisps and your party might even find some long-forgotten heirlooms in a family vault.
7 Labyrinth Of Horror
There’s a spell called Maze that banishes creatures to a demiplane made up of a labyrinth meant to drive them mad. Alternatively, the party could find themselves jumping through a portal in a mirror, or arriving at an island with just a trapdoor dug into the dusty ground.
The walls shift around them, cornering the group or leading them to unfathomable horrors. The CR of the monsters you include depends on the number of players and the level you assign to them. Mix and match to fit the difficulty you want. Consider throwing in some riddles that will allow them to bypass some of the nastier bits, and take them closer to the center of the maze.
Whether what awaits them is treasure or more baddies, make sure the party always feels the presence of the Minotaur that’s hunting them down. This is his domain, and he can maneuver it much more swiftly than any PC. This puts a time limit on the players, while making them decide whether speed or stealth is the way to outrun it.
6 The Haunted Lighthouse
Your party comes into possession of an abandoned lighthouse on the shore of some great ocean. Maybe they agreed to fix it up for a rich friend, or maybe one of the group received it in a will they weren’t expecting. Either way, the light has gone out and ships are beginning to crash on the rocks. The locals whisper of drowned sailors banging at its door, howling for vengeance., but those are just rumors.
The group finds the tools necessary to fix it up, but it’ll take hours and many successful checks. All the while, the waves come rolling in, and glowing figures can be seen crawling onto shore. As night arrives, so do the lost souls, and they begin their climb to the beacon to drag those still living down to the depths with them. Have your friends make increasingly difficult rolls to get the lights on again, all while defending against the ghouls trying to get in.
Those with backgrounds or proficiencies in certain tools will do better with what is at hand, while others might do better boarding up doors and trapping the lower floors. As each layer of the lighthouse is overrun, and a daring few attempt to scale the outside, resources will have to be divided between defense and engineering.
5 Murder Mystery Dinner Party
A grand home and a delicious feast, the players sat around the long dining room table playing Truth or Dare. Then, an outcry. A guest has been murdered! The doors are locked until the culprit is found, and the party’s host calls the guards at first light.
The group has six hours to discover that it was the homely local doctor who has preemptively set up traps throughout the house. With grand visions of becoming a renowned surgeon, he requires more organs than he has access to, and hoped this dinner party would be the perfect way to harvest from healthy bodies.
Hide clues throughout the mansion, such as the doctor’s bloody coat hidden under a floorboard, a huge order of ice having been delivered to the cellar door, or the host’s own sickly sister mentioning the doctor’s strange promise recently.
Deadly traps can pick off curious players searching for the culprit, leaving behind only a ghost. Other guests could include a low-born woman who rose to wealth very suddenly, a disgruntled and overworked local laborer, a foreign emissary who has plans to meet with the monarch tomorrow, and a famous bard with a sordid history.
4 Baba Yaga’s Coming To Town
It’s a well-known legend that the queen of witches lives in a walking house, quietly relocating at the witching hour from atop giant chicken legs. The players begin in a tavern where they may overhear the latest gossip; a new building was erected overnight. No one has seen the occupants yet.
The next morning, ten villagers are found to have died in their sleep. Every 24 hours, ten more people will suffer the same fate, including members of the party’s family within town, friends, and important governing members.
If the players approach the new house, it is locked. It’s worn and made of soft, rotting wood. Damage to the house is mitigated by a magical barrier though, so breaking in would require a very high-level Dispel Magic. The next day, the house will no longer be there, and will have turned up in another part of the village.
In order to crack the case before the party themselves are mysteriously murdered, they must succeed on a Perception check at three in the morning to catch sight of a ghoul creeping out of a victim’s window and crawling back down the village well. This ghoul is a soul captured by Baba Yaga’s Soul Cage spell. She sends them out to do her bidding, including casting Soul Cage on more townsfolk. She can also feed off of these trapped souls, and after using them six times, they will vanish.
The well acts as a tunnel into Baba Yaga’s house. It comes up through her cauldron, allowing the group to access her creepy home, and find the countless cages of wailing Wisps she is torturing. Unless they’re all level 20, the party will be unable to fend off Baba Yaga, and their best bet is to free the souls and save the townsfolk. However you choose to end the adventure, she will fly off in her mortar and pestle back to Feydark swamp.
3 Hide And Seek
The party are thrown into a chase, deep in the darkest woods. Hiding behind a tree, a player feels the evil presence pass them by, sniffing the air and dragging its claws through the leaf litter.
What the players don’t know is that they are being hunted by a Nalfeshnee, a terrifying boar demon that can teleport to chase down prey. It can smell their fear, and emits a rippling darkness that causes victims to use their movement and action to move as far from it as possible.
The aim of this one shot is to make it to the forest’s edge where a lawful good mage resides alone, and is their only hope of banishing the fiend. Every round the players within 30ft of the Nalfeshnee must succeed on a 16 Wisdom Saving throw or become afraid, attracting its attention and adding to its growing hunger. Those that the demon catches up to will be eaten over the course of three to five rounds, giving the other players time to hide, seek, or run.
Leading the way are irregular lanterns that can be glimpsed with a Survival or Perception check as the party crash through the woods. Level three is suggested for this group, as well as creepy sounds and small glimpses of the beast chasing them in the darkness.
2 A Fairy Ring
Jumping into a mushroom ring are fairies and tiny fey creatures, who disappear once inside. They encourage the players to join them, explaining they’re going to a Fey banquet with endless dancing and ambrosia. The fairies are very charming, and will even use spells to convince people to jump in too.
Once they step within, they’re transported to a beautifully lit forest at dusk, with multicolored glowworms strung up in jars, tiny fireworks popping out of tree hollows, and three gorgeous fey beings.
A table is laden with the most enticing foods, drinks, and colorful party favors. There are Bards playing music, laughter, japes, and joy. For hours into the night, the group can play card games and receive fortune-telling. After some time, the character with the highest passive perception or insight begins to feel uneasy. They catch the odd evil look on a fairy face, or notice that the bright food seems to be rotting. A sense of foreboding and danger should be felt.
Over time, the Fey glimmer fades more and more, though they insist nothing is wrong. The jokes become nasty, and the tiny fairies can be found poking sharp daggers into feet or dumping wine into laps. Once all the players realize this, the glamour is dropped to reveal hideous creatures. The party is now trapped with three Hags, and must fight to leave this magical realm.
1 Nosferatu’s House Warming
For a level 13 one-shot, a group of adventurers have been paid to check out the creepy old house on the edge of town. Upon being greeted by the sickly-looking butler, they are informed that the master of the house isn’t feeling well at the moment, but they’re welcome to wait out the coming storm inside. The lavish house is full of family portraits, flickering candles, and grand staircases.
There are some strange-looking ‘family members’ roaming the halls, and after an hour of exploration, their hunger for blood grows too powerful to control. From then on, the players are fighting and running from up to six Vampire Spawn in order to find the master of the house. These Spawn might let slip where he currently rests, or if they overpower the whole party, can lead them to the crypt in the basement to meet him.
They will need to defeat the master Vampire to destroy the creatures he’s made and ultimately escape the haunted house.
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