Well, I’m alive like a sprouting seed, like the deepest roots of an ancient tree / I did not come here for the bread, no, I have come to wake the dead
—”Stranger,” The Devil Makes Three
With Halloween coming up, I’ve been brainstorming this year’s one-shot RPG adventure. Most years, when I can, I run a Halloween-themed one-shot, usually using a game that’s in development or something that I’m not otherwise playing much of lately. The adventure always has a Halloween feeling, even if it’s not a horror game per se or set in a world without Halloween per se.
A previous adventure cast the players as agents of Abraham Lincoln’s most-secret service hunting warlocks in Atlanta just before General Sherman enacted his plan to burn the city and drive them out. Another stranded ordinary folk on a haunted Canadian island the night a summoned Fomori came to eat people. Ghost detectives and space aliens have featured in the past, too.
This year, I’m taking D&D’s 5th edition for a spin in a war-torn, flu-riddled fantastical hellscape where characters from a BPRD-like organization set out to rescue some missing agents and save a bombed-out town in No One’s Land. In my head, the whole thing has an early 20th-century look with fine black suits, gas masks, and broom-handled pistols mixing with swords and shields and classic D&D monsters. It’s a little bit like Ravenloft circa 1919, I guess. I’m in the brainstorming phase.
That brainstorming involves two things at this point:
First, the aesthetic and thematic elements all go in a hopper. What monsters do I want? What visuals do I want to draw out and encourage? What’s a red herring and what’s the secret truth behind the horror? I’m using D&D, in part, because I want the players puzzling out just what kind of monster(s) they’re facing and how they’ll bring them down. I need twice as many pre-gens because these are all 1st-level characters — many of the PCs may perish along the way.
Second, I make a playlist that has the sort of feeling I’m after and I play it in the background while I’m doing other things, to see what sparks. In this case, that playlist features things like:
- "A Lyke Wake Dirge" by Matt Beringer & Andrew Bird
- The Road to Perdition by Thomas Newman
- Squirrel Nut Zippers
- Abel Korzeniowski’s music from Penny Dreadful
- Danny Elfman’s “Wolf Suite” from The Wolfman
- "Stranger" by The Devil Makes Three
Sometimes I share some of the material I cook up for these games after the fact — usually for free — and this year I’ll do the same, depending on what I get written after-hours before the game session. (If you want, I’ll write more about this year’s adventure when it’s no longer a spoiler for my players.)
Watch me roll like an iron wheel, I can stack the deck when the spirits deal / Time cannot hold me in this cage, I’m cheating death, I jump the grave
— “Stranger,” The Devil Makes Three