A Night In The Lonesome October: The Haunted House

This post is part of the “A Night In The Lonesome October” blog carnival being hosted by A Man’s Brain Attic this week. It focuses on campy horror elements to inject into your RPG game. You know, because this week is Halloween. For more articles in the carnival, check out the link at the end of this one. Here’s our take for D&D 4e.

What horror trope is more classic than the haunted house? I considered making up a two page mini delve of a haunted house including some of the elements detailed below, but honestly, I ran out of time. Instead of a complete adventure for you to use, I’m going to present here a few of those terrain features and effects that I brainstormed and would have incorporated. Feel free to make your own haunted house around them.

Terrain Effects and Powers

Let’s start with a creeping sense of fear that any character may experience upon entering the haunted property. The butterflies in the stomach, the hair standing up on back of the neck, the heightened sense of awareness. A DM should feel free to reroll the effect’s attack at certain points – such as when the PCs enter the house proper. Used judiciously, this effect can simulate an overarching sense of dread experienced by simply being near a haunted house.

Creeping Dread
Terrain Effect
The rusty gate squeaks open and you feel a chill go down your spine.
Trigger: A creature enters the haunted house’s property or enters the haunted house
Attack: Level +3 vs. Will
Hit: The target gains vulnerable 5/10/15 (by tier) psychic damage. In addition, the target has a -2/4/6 (by tier) penalty to Will defense against attacks with the fear keyword. This effect ends when the target leaves the haunted property, or after the target’s next extended rest, whichever comes later.
Effect: The target gains +2 to all perception checks

What haunted house is complete without a graveyard on the property? It’s a great place for a combat with some zombies or skeletons. Of course, if there are some hands bursting out of the graves, grabbing at PCs, it will be just that much more creepy. This one would fall in the “Fantastic Terrain” category.

Disembodied Hands
Fantastic Terrain
As you step on the grave site, a hand bursts up out of the ground and grabs at your ankles.
Effect: Any creature starting its turn in a square of Disembodied Hands is immobilized and takes a -2/4/6 (by tier) penalty to Reflex defense.
-An immobilized creature can make a Move Action, Moderate DC Athletics or Acrobatics check to escape.
-Any Radiant or Fire area attack that includes a square of Disembodied Hands will negate that square of fantastic terrain until the end of the attacker’s next turn.

What about that classic otherworldly mist that always seems to surround haunted houses? You know what I’m talking about – even on the clearest of nights, there’s a fog covering the ground, chilling you to the bone…

Chilling Mist
Terrain Effect
A layer of freezing mist blankets the ground all around the house.
Effect: All squares in the Chilling Mist are Lightly Obscured. In addition, all creatures in the mist take ongoing 5/10/15 (by tier) cold damage while in the mist.

Assuming the house is inhabited by more than ghosts, perhaps there are a few spooky looking Jack ‘o Lanterns on the front porch or lining the overgrown front walkway, warning off would-be intruders… and maybe characters could pick them up to hurl them at would-be attackers… While this terrain power is probably the most unlikely piece to be found near a supposedly uninhabited house, I always think it’s fun to add little terrain pieces that players can use to their advantage.

Jack ‘O Lantern
Single-Use Terrain Power
A fire burns within these gourds, lighting up the wicked looking carved face. They look small enough to be an effective projectile…
Minor Action
You must be adjacent to a Jack ‘O Lantern
Attack (Ranged 5): Make a ranged basic attack with a +2 weapon proficency
Hit: 1/2/3d4 (by tier) force damage + 1/2/3d6 (by tier) fire damage
Effect: The pumpkin smashes in a burst 1 centered on the target. All creatures in the burst take a -1/2/3 (by tier) penalty to AC until the end of your next turn.


By definition, a house can’t be “haunted” without ghosts, so they’re a must have. Whether or not there will be a combat involved with the ghost(s) is up to you. It is just as easy to send the PCs on a quest to lay a spirit to rest as it is for them to destroy it in combat.

You should also consider using bats in your haunted house. A search of the compendium yields several options, but our favorite was the “Murk Bat Swarm,” which was introduced in Dungeon Issue 177. It even has fear and psychic attacks to synergize with the creeping fear terrain effect. And let’s face it, cloud of screeching bats swarming out of the belfry is classic haunted house fare. It might be fun to have the swarm appear for a single round (or two) in every combat, and then disappear. If you do that, keep track of its hit points across the whole series of encounters so that when the PCs finally kill it, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.

Of course, you’ll want to use as many other monsters with fear and psychic attacks as possible to take advantage of the Creeping Dread terrain effect. What else could you add? Witches, werewolves, vampires, gargoyles, flesh golems (Frankenstein!) and the various undead creatures that could conceivably inhabit the house; feel free to add your ideas below!

For more of the “A Night In The Lonely October” blog carnival, check out A Man’s Brain Attic.

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3 Responses to A Night In The Lonesome October: The Haunted House

  1. Martin Flockhart says:

    Read this post and jumped to the links for the house floor plans. Which sent me on a wild goose chase to track down a nice copy of P.F. Robinsons book on Ornamental Cottages & Villas. Just bought it on Amazon. I’m a sucker for books like that. Looking forward to getting it in a few days.

    Love the blog by the way. Try to visit at least once a day. Loving the articles, keep up the good work. More power to your elbow as they say round my neck of the woods.

    • Benoit says:

      Yeah, that page looked pretty cool. I didn’t have much time to explore it beyond clicking on some of the floor plans. Good to know it sent you on a fun wild goose chase!

  2. OnlineDM says:

    These are fun! I haven’t run any “haunted” scenarios before, but there’s some good inspiration here in case I do.

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