Thursday, October 18, 2012

Survival Horror in D&D


Wahoo.  The new season of Walking Dead is back, and thoughts turn to Halloween.  Has anyone done a survival horror scenario or campaign in their game?  The core elements are limited resources, overwhelming or seemingly endless opponents, and one of two objectives - holding out until help arrives, or escaping to somewhere safe.  In campaign mode, no place is safe... for long.

Here's a simple one-shot scenario:
The dungeon is at the old ruined wizard's tower, where an attacking army met it's demise in ages past at the hands of the wizard's curse.  When character's return from the dungeon beneath the tower with the cursed book, the dead rise from the ground around the tower and swarm over the rubble.  Can the characters find a defensive position and hold out until dawn?

Plenty of published D&D and OSR scenarios have danced around the edges, touching on themes of resource scarcity while the characters maintain a precarious position.  Only a few of these are actually horror themed, but they're all good inspirations for how other writers have created memorable resource tests:

I6 Ravenloft
The players are trapped in a vampire's castle, and hunted until they either kill or get killed.  Level drain slowly whittles the party away.

B10 Night's Dark Terror
There's a fantastic siege sequence, where the players arrive at a remote homestead tower as night falls and multiple goblin tribes attack; the players have to plan a defense with limited defenders and repel varied attacks over the long night.

A4 In the Dungeons of the Slavelords
The players have to escape the Slave Lord's dungeons without any equipment, scavenging gear along the way.

WG4 Lost Temple of Tharizdun
Although not technically a defensive siege, the entrance hall fight throws wave after wave of well-organized defenders after the party, testing the resolve and draining the resources of even the most prepared groups.  (G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King presents a similar tactical tour de force - Gygax loved those challenging tactical puzzles and really knew how to build them).

Here are a few OSR scenarios I've reviewed that put characters in similarly desperate situations:  The God That Crawls traps characters in a labyrinth where they're hunted by an implacable monster; Death Frost Doom potentially unleashes 13,000 undead; The Grinding Gear traps characters in a dungeon with a time limit; Inn of Lost Heroes shifts the characters into a dark otherworld inspired by Silent Hill.

Seems like we should be able to borrow ideas from all these scenarios for building a Halloween survival horror adventure.

What other elements (mechanical or otherwise) would you put in a survival horror piece?  How do games explicitly set in a zombie apocalypse, like All Flesh Must Be Eaten, do it?