Burst of Insight—Horror Prompts

In February I began what has turned into an irregular mini-series of inspirational prompts for GMs to use in their campaigns. This week I bring you the third installment of prompts, this time they’re less generally weird and more horror weird.

More so than usual some of these prompts may not be appropriate for all groups. Make sure your players are okay with any horror elements you plan to include in a game. For example, I’ve had players’ with severe aversions to various kinds of insects and arachnids. At one table, we swapped every spider encounter for giant ants and scorpions because while similar they didn’t trigger the player’s phobia. Be mindful of your table, everyone is there to have a good time and carelessly including the wrong encounter can ruin it for everyone.

Nightmares: Begin the scene with the character’s doing something mundane. This is a good prompt to begin a session with since many times there will be a bit of downtime and bookkeeping that still needs resolution. Begin the session as normal but you can quickly move to unusual events or escalate to threats way beyond the PCs capabilities. Now, these should not be without reason. The dream encounter should tie into a particular character’s fears and insecurities (not the player’s fears but the character’s fears). For example, if a PC has fears failing his friends and letting them die because of a failed Will save. Have him fail a save vs dominate person and have him and the villain team up and kill the other PCs. During the dream encounters, feel free to kill characters off until you kill off the dreaming PC, that player awakens soaked in sweat. As they get their bearings they may remember the early events of the dream as accurate then to can handwave through what really happened or back up the narrative and continue on.

Warning! Creepy Crawlers: Sometimes taking away the PC’s stuff can be just as horrifying as losing a character but that can feel heavy-handed. If you want to take away that favorite item you can encourage your player’s to do it themselves. This works well with either the Nightmares prompt above or just as a part of a normal night’s sleep. Maybe your PC has a favorite magical necklace or amulet they wear all the time. In a dream, the character becomes covered in insects but the footsteps of a giant centipede crawling around their neck is so real they wake up as the centipede crawls off of them. When they awaken they find the necklace is not on them but instead resting on the bedroll or side table near them. Still clasped so that it would be impossible that it fell off when picked up it is icy to the touch. If some sort of detect alignment is used on the item in the moments after the dream it radiates strongly of evil. This aura persists for several hours after which time it fades back into undetectable. Repeat as necessary maybe even have them awaken while the necklace is in the form of a fiendish house centipede and crawling on them.

Why is this happening? Maybe the item is a conduit to an evil entity akin to a lich’s phylactery and it is seeking to awaken its master. Or maybe it is simply cursed and it’s crawling on the character is foreshadowing for when the item will crawl off the PC when it is most needed.

Touch of Corruption: Sometimes, heavy-handed is still a viable option for taking the characters’ stuff. An ancient, powerful, and vile vampire (other undead or evil outsider) possesses a corruption so powerful that her touch can cause nearly any item to decay.  The ability might appear like this:

Ruinous Grasp (Su): The corrupting touch of this vile undead causes normal items to rot, rust, and decay. An object touched takes half its maximum hp in damage and gains the broken condition—a second hit destroys the item. When using its ruinous grasp, the undead never provokes attacks of opportunity by attempting to strike a weapon or armor. Against living creatures, the undead’s touch deals 3d6+5 points of damage. An attended object, any magic object, or living creature can attempt a DC [varies] Reflex save to negate this effect. The save DC is Charisma-based.

Paralyzed and Powerless: Unbeknownst to the PCs, the villain has come in contact with a relic or place of power that she can use to overwhelm the PCs. At some seemingly normal moment such as mealtime or waking in the morning, all of the PCs find themselves unable to move. While paralyzed, the PCs are approached by an enemy allied to the villain who delivers a threat or ultimatum. To capstone the encounter the enemy either steals something or murders someone while the PCs are unable to prevent it.

Later the PCs may themselves find the same item or location and determine how the villain’s underling managed to affect the party so thoroughly unfortunately now the device or location has been burned out or is missing a key component that will be used in campaign’s climax.

This Is Not my Body: A character who was reduced to zero hp in conflict with the minions of the villains is subjected to an unusual attack from a mysterious rod held by one of the NPCs. The PC immediately regains awareness in the body of a mostly-completed flesh golem. Now the party is split but the bulk of the party must preserve the still living but unconscious companion while that character’s personality is isolated in a strange body. Worse, the mystery of where some of the PC’s favorite NPCs disappeared to may be revealed in the tattoos and birthmarks on parts of the new body.

Burst of Insight


Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.