It’s that ghoulish time of year. The Veil is thin this night, and demons and more playful spirits are likely to cross over. Bring your warding salts and your faith, because the monsters under your bed may be more real than you think…
Some groups like to get into the spirit of the seasons when they run their games, and why not? Running a game with a spookier tone when Halloween rolls around is a blast when the campaign has a good moment for it. Some GMs even engineer the pace of their games to make sure that certain game nights on certain holidays have themes tailored to the season!
We probably could have rolled this kind of blog post out sooner in retrospect, but better late than never, right?
Thedas already has quite a few inspirations for horror games, so getting some dread into Dragon Age is not so hard. Below we have a few examples of possible routes to horror in Dragon Age’s twisted dark corners…
Dragon Age: Origins really played up the Blight well, what with it being the central conflict for the game. The slavering hordes of bloodthirsty monsters can be quite terrifying on a global scale, let alone as a cross-cultural bogeyman.
However, the Blight can be much more than an apocalyptic fate to be stopped for the good of Thedas. While the video games have you fighting the Blight as Grey Wardens, there are plenty of normal people who are not suited to fighting darkspawn. The average person has little they can do when a darkspawn begins to stalk them in the night. Unfortunate youngsters sneaking out of town for a romantic tryst, brave kids on a dare to explore the cave near the road, or even laborers in a mine that is dangerously close to darkspawn-infested Deep Roads are all possible victims of blighted. Your heroes come in when the town asks them to find their missing loved ones.
The PCs may expect that they were kidnapped by bandits, got horribly lost, or maybe don’t want to be found. The GM should try and make it seem like a standard mission, maybe even play up some spooky ambiance with rumors of giant spider nests, serial killers, or demon influences from the Fade. Let the PCs feel like they can gear up for burning down spider webs or grab some warding salts to protect their camp sites from demon attacks.
They enter the caverns and find they go much deeper than expected. They find strange organic sacks growing on the stone walls, and a cloying sense that something is following them in the dark.
Only to find that they face something relentless and implacable like these:
Darkspawn are an excellent bogeyman and work really well when they ate a surprise. While one genlock may not seem terribly exciting a foe, remember that Darkspawn have a hive mind. When one shouts for blood, the others come running, saliva dripping from their diseased mouths. Grey Wardens with experience in the Deep Roads when the darkspawn are alerted to intruders liken the caves into a angry beehive. Darkspawn surge from every shadow, jagged blades held high, mad with glee that with a lucky swing or a single trip from their quarry and they could take even one person with them to meet the Maker.
Ogres make excellent slasher-movie-style monsters. Their incredible strength and devastating attacks when they can grab a foe means your PCs will fight hard not to get caught by these brutes. Shrieks are killers in the shadows, and can help GMs populate every shadows with sticky-bladed murderers to terrorize PCs. Every broken twig, heavy breath, or glint in the moonlight could be a shriek, so your PCs better make that Perception test. Genlocks and Hurlocks can serve as endless foes who seek to run the men through with blades and drag women unfortunate enough to survive the encounter to the greatest horror the darkspawn can bring: that you will birth more of them.
Demons are the creatures we know that lurk inside us all. It has been said that demons are only as dangerous as what you bring with you. They are drawn to the parts of humanity that intrigue them the most and are changed by them. A great horror scenario could evolve out of a small rural town with a lot of hate in it. Perhaps it’s racial discrimination, or a young mage who gets picked on one too many times, or old bitter rivals who draw demons with their desires for revenge.
Demons are drawn to the darkness of sentient minds, and Thedas has quite a bit of darkness to find. This means that while demons may have trouble crossing over the Veil, they can still be heard from the other side. A pride demon who urges the vengeful mage to show the others who is truly the mightiest; a desire demon who suggests a serial killer to take what they want from their victims; a fear demon who feeds the paranoia of a community into tearing itself apart in terror; these things and more are the plots of the demonic and their dark purpose can create truly horrific adventures for you heroes.
Fear demons serve better than most demons in the purpose of spooking their foes. Fear demons seek far more than a simple yelp or fright from their victims. Fear demons would see people take their own lives or the lives of others in fear. They would see the fearful weep and cry out for the Maker that will not hear them. They feed from your fears of the future, failure, inadequacy, that you are unworthy, or that you are a monster yourself. They command Terror demons, lesser of their kin who seek simple responses of fright, and use them to spread paranoia, doubt, and violence. They would not see that their targets die from fright, but continue their lives consumed by unease that something is amiss. This inevitably destroys communities but the Fear demon is patient and can find more to feast on.
Fear is quite plentiful in Thedas, and your worst nightmares know it…
More classical horrific creatures exist in Thedas so don’t hesitate to use them as you have seen them in their countless publications, movies, games, and art.
The walking dead are plentiful particularly in Nevarra, where it is considered rude to the dead to burn their corpse. Instead they build elaborate tombs like the Grand Necropolis to bury their dead in their finery and with their greatest possessions. This unfortunately means that corpse possession is more common than in other parts of Thedas, but tombs can still draw old ghosts out of the stone in any nation. Dwarven mine shafts can collapse and have bitter dwarven apparitions rise from their bodies to haunt the living. Demons of all kinds possess corpses to walk in the waking world, creating monstrosities like Revenants and Arcane Horrors. Powerful Entropy-specialists can animate bones into small armies turned towards dark conquests. The dead have difficulty staying that way in Thedas, as the Maker’s first born are quite jealous of those who live.
Werewolves are most common in Ferelden, but there’s no reason to say that one or two did not leave the Brecilian to seek new victims and spread the disease of lycanthropy. New packs could have started and spread werewolves to the far corners of Thedas, with slavering teeth ready to tear into the warm, wet flesh of men, dwarves, elves, or even qunari.
Vampires also exist in Thedas, as the life-draining abominations created by hunger demons. Particularly powerful hunger demons could even take more humanoid forms to trick their prey into a moment of weakness that they may use to spring upon their soft necks. Hunger demons are quite rare, even in the Fade, and so should be used sparingly and to dramatic effect. A potent hunger demon could be possessing a living creature the PCs know, merely waiting to get them alone, or they could be the poor soul trapped in a crypt, drawing the PCs into an ambush against several possessed skeletons before feasting on their bodies when they perish.
The Darkness of Humanity
The title is a bit humanocentric, as this can apply to any thinking race, but the darkness of humanity is a common theme in Thedas’ dark and troubled past. Investigations on the trails of serial killers can happen in more cosmopolitan settings. Mages can make particularly potent murderers, especially quiet ones who can conceal their powers. Demon cults and even Old God cults could serve as dark puppeteers, pulling strings that end lives. The possibilities in this category are as wide as the less-supernatural range of horror literature and Thedas can use this to great effect.
We hope this helps your adventures get a little more fearful! Be safe and happy spooking!