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Hi all!
Curse of the Skinwalkers, a modular 5e adventure that takes the players to the Forest of Thorns and pits them up against a ravenous pack of lycanthropes, forcing them to take shelter in a local inn and defend it against the terrors outside.
Last Stand at the Black Oak
Shortly into writing Curse of the Skinwalkers, it became clear to us that it wouldn’t be a typical 5e adventure. The action that drives the story is localized almost entirely to one place – an inn called the Black Oak. Rather than Conan the Barbarian or The Lord of the Rings, it takes more of its DNA from stories like John Carpenter’s The Thing or Assault on Precinct 13 (…that’d also be John Carpenter, by the way). The feeling the adventure has in store for your players is one of claustrophobia, dread, and paranoia. Putting the adventure all in one place, however, presented some interesting challenges.
The People Make the Place
The first one was making sure that the Black Oak was an interesting place to hunker down in. No matter how cool the battle map is, an abandoned tavern has only three or four Investigation checks’ worth of interest in it, so the NPCs that populated it had to be fully fleshed out. We worked on making sure that each NPC had extremely solid backstories, motivations, and well-explained mannerisms that would make them easy to “sell” to the players as fully realized people – as well as reasons for the PCs to be suspicious of them. This fed into one of the main goals of the adventure: getting the players to really have to think hard about who they trust, and how to interact with the NPCs.
Counting the Hours
Curse of the Skinwalkers takes place entirely over the course of one night, and surviving until dawn is the primary goal of the adventure. It turned out that dividing each stage of the night into a set of specific hourly events helped to keep players far more aware of the time they’re using, and far more focused. The reactions of NPCs will always be fluid, but having a table of hours and what is expected to happen keeps the GM on track, and gives the players a sense that they understand the mechanical aspect of what they’re doing – which helps them feel a lot less lost in what is a pretty atypical adventure.
Horror Monsters
So, it turns out that getting players actually afraid of your monsters is pretty difficult when they’re playing a bunch of seasoned murderhobos. Five lvl 5 PCs can do a lot of damage, as you may know – so to give our skinwalkers the mechanical edge they needed, we turned to classic horror tropes. Regeneration combined with intelligent predators makes for enemies that can weather incoming damage and retreat back to simply outlast the players. Conditions – like a werewolf’s curse – can make your players feel less sure of their characters’ abilities, especially if they don’t fully understand the condition. Monsters get a whole lot scarier when there’s no time for a long rest, you’re burning spells, and your enemies can be back at full fighting form within a few rounds.
It Just Won’t Die!
Most importantly, we decided to integrate one crucial element of horror storytelling into our monster design that made a huge difference: the monster always comes back. Jason Voorhees (from Friday the 13th) wouldn’t be scary if you could trust him to stay dead, and we wanted our monsters to have that same kind of presence. As per standard 5e rules, werewolves can be killed by pretty much anything, silver only making it easier, but we decided to be as strict as can be with our lycanthrope rules: no silver, no kill. A skinwalker reduced to 0 hit points simply rises from the dead an hour later, ready to gnaw on your unsuspecting players.
So, if you’re looking to terrify your players and push their characters to the limit, you can pick up Curse of the Skinwalkers – alongside it’s full miniature set – by joining the Mammoth Tribe!
Happy Rampaging,
–The Mammoth