It’s that time of year again—at least in some parts of the world—where spooky décor crawls out from storage to haunt lawns with plaster grave markers, oversized cobwebs, and perhaps even a 12-foot-tall skeleton. In regions where Halloween is celebrated, many Game Masters are preparing to run ghastly 5th Edition games for their players, and either writing or looking for themed content.
One way to easily up the scare-factor of a game at this time of year is to mix things up with encounters by giving monsters some different abilities. The Universal Classic Monsters from the popular horror films and media franchises are a great example of creatures who can present some nice surprises for 5e players. Because these monsters are considered classics, there are many tropes a GM can either lean into or put an unexpected twist on. The tone of the game can also be grim dark or humorous, depending on you and your players. There’s a lot of history with these monsters, and a lot of opportunity for some interesting encounters and storytelling. So let’s look at how these monsters can be portrayed in delightfully familiar ways, yet can still catch players off-guard.
Halloween Hooks to Start Your Adventure
First, let’s set the scene. Vampires and ghosts can be encountered in most campaigns but if you’re looking for some more seasonal inspiration to get you started, here are a couple of Halloween adventure hooks to consider.
The adventurers find themselves in a remote village when they are approached by Van Helsing. The famed expert in the occult recruits them to rid the area of a group of monsters who have terrorized the region for too long.
On All Hallows Eve (or a similar festival of your own design) the adventurers are invited to participate in a local, annual tradition. Each year, villagers go door-to-door seeking out sweet treats or playing pranks. When they reach the manor on the hill, the new owners have tricks of their own.
Hell Hath No Fury
Mina Harker has collected evidence that leads her to believe that Dracula has turned her dear friend Lucy, into one of his undead brides. She hires adventurers to assist her in tracking down and defeating the vampires.
Friend or Foe
With pitchforks and torches raised, an angry mob of villagers are out to destroy Frankenstein’s monster. If caught in the middle, the party must decide whether to side with the mob or help the creature escape.
In the Light of the Moon
A village is under siege by dire wolves and the inhabitants seek the aid of adventurers to cull the pack and its leader. Lawrence Talbot leads the charge in the hopes that an act of heroism will shine a new light upon him in his father’s eyes.
Using Classic Monsters to Scare Your Players
There are plenty of creatures to choose from among the Universal Classic Monsters. For the sake of this article, we’re going to look at arguably three of the most famous among them: Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man. Whether you choose to drop these creatures into an existing campaign or want to use one of the adventure hooks above, they’re sure to delight players in a Halloween themed adventure.
To represent these classic monsters as close to the originals as possible, you’re not just going to use the stat blocks for vampire, flesh golem, and werewolf. At the very least you’ll want to adjust and throw a little curve ball at your players. Adhering closely to the original texts and movies, means Dracula can appear in sunlight without taking radiant damage and Frankenstein’s monster is quite intelligent. Below are some suggested adjustments in lieu of creating a new stat block, which can add even more nuance and intrigue to a spooky adventure.
Arriving at a mysterious castle is a classic setup for meeting Dracula. The prototypical vampire of Bram Stoker’s novel has appeared with a variety of different abilities and weaknesses throughout the years. As alluded to above, he doesn’t have the Sunlight Hypersensitivity flaw listed in the vampire stat block. In fact, he’s unable to be harmed by ordinary means so consider giving him damage immunities to nonmagical attacks and strike out the Regeneration ability.
Many of Dracula’s powers are covered in the vampire stat block but adding Limited Telepathy allows the vampire to magically transmit simple messages and images to any creature within 120 feet of it that can understand a language. This form of telepathy doesn’t allow the receiving creature to telepathically respond, but it sure ups the creepy factor when going head-to-head with this monster.
He can also vanish and reappear elsewhere at will and travel onto “unhallowed” ground, which sounds a lot like the teleport spell that he can only cast on himself. Consider replacing Misty Escape with this innate spellcasting ability that can transport him to specific locations he’s familiar with.
Another fun adjustment could be made by replacing his Children of the Night ability with Summon Minion (1/Day). Dracula magically summons 2d4 swarms of bats or rats, 3d6 wolves, or attempts to summon a vampire spawn with a 50 percent chance of success. The summoned minion arrives in 1d4 rounds, acts as an ally of its summoner, and can’t summon other minions. It remains for 1 hour, until it or its summoner dies, or until its summoner dismisses it as an action.
Some things you can add for narrative flavor include revealing Dracula does not cast a shadow or have a reflection in mirrors, which any character can observe with a successful Wisdom (Perception) check. When it comes to combat, a character could keep him out of melee attack range with garlic or religious icons which Dracula is repulsed by. Because of the nature of the epistolary novel as written by Stoker, there’s also a natural opportunity to include ephemera in your game including letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings.
Stumbling upon a lab in a manor house, adventurers can get a quick intro to a creature stitched together from corpses and reanimated through a mysterious spark. If there’s one monster that’s been misrepresented in media the most, it’s hands-down Frankenstein’s creation. In the original novel by Mary Shelley, the creature is very articulate and eloquent. In fact, he can speak and read two languages. A quick look at the flesh golem stat block shows an intelligence of 6 (-2). Could a monster that dense frame someone for murder like the creature did in the source material? Unlikely. Boost that intelligence to 11 (+0) and be sure to add a couple languages it speaks.
Next, the tragedy of Frankenstein’s monster is that he is shunned at every turn on account of his appearance. Consider adding an innate ability such as Fear Aura. Each creature that starts its turn within 20 feet of the monster must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw unless the monster is incapacitated. On a failed save, the creature is frightened until the start of its next turn. On a successful save, the creature is immune to this monster’s Fear Aura for the next 24 hours.
Coupled with the fact that the monster’s appearance causes others to flee in terror is its propensity toward violent reactions when rejected. Frankenstein’s monster is a sensitive, emotional creature whose only aim is to share his life with another sentient being like himself. Replace Berserk with Rage (Recharges after a Short or Long Rest). As a bonus action, Frankenstein’s monster can enter a rage that lasts for 1 minute. The rage ends early if Frankenstein’s monster is knocked unconscious, or if his turn ends and he hasn’t attacked a hostile creature or taken damage since his last turn. While raging, Frankenstein’s monster gains the following benefits:
- He has advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
- He deals an extra 3 damage when he hits a target with a melee weapon attack.
- He has resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
Frankenstein’s monster is a more nuanced character than the creature seen in current media, and portraying him closer to the original story allows for some interesting storytelling at the table. Is the monster evil or simply misunderstood?
The Wolf Man
A walk in the woods under the light of the full moon isn’t generally a concern for seasoned adventurers, but on Halloween all bets are off. In this case, perhaps the party’s guide (or Van Helsing himself) could reveal himself to be a werewolf. Unlike the werewolf stat block, the Wolf Man is a monster that cannot control its transformation. Instead, it happens in the light of a full moon.
In a fantasy setting where magic abounds, consider the effects of the moonbeam spell. Perhaps radiant damage triggers an ability that replaces Shapechanger as such: Wolf Man Frenzy. Whenever the wolf man takes radiant damage, he polymorphs into a wolf-humanoid hybrid. On each of his turns while in a frenzy, the wolf man attacks the nearest creature he can see. If no creature is near enough to move to and attack, the wolf man attacks an object, with preference for an object smaller than himself. Once the wolf man enters a frenzy, he continues to do so until he is destroyed or regains all his hit points.
The Wolf Man is cursed with an affliction he cannot control which makes him a sympathetic monster. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster who chooses the path of revenge, the Wolf Man cannot live with his murderous state. It provides an interesting encounter and quandary for those who might want to roleplay rather than outright put the beast out of its misery, so to speak.
Minions, Mentors, and More
There are, of course, a whole roster of minions and others who you can introduce at the table to increase the interest level for players.
Renfield (consider using the cultist stat block) is an off-kilter minion to Dracula. With the promise of immortality, he lives to serve his master, but Renfield is not entirely without a conscience. As an NPC, he is manic and unreliable yet knows many of Dracula’s secrets. Convincing him to act as a tenuous ally requires a successful Charisma (Persuasion) check. Even then, Dracula can undo the relationship with the powers that hold sway over his minion.
Dr. Frankenstein (use the mage or archmage stat block) can test an adventuring party’s sense of right or wrong. If the characters stumble upon a laboratory where the scientist is creating a companion for his monster, they are faced with the moral quandary over whether it is ethical to allow it to continue. Stopping the procedure, of course, enrages Frankenstein’s monster.
As an ally to the party, the Wolf Man’s father, Sir Talbot (use the noble stat block), can try to calm the monster by speaking firmly and persuasively. The Wolf Man must be able to hear Sir Talbot, who must take an action to make a Charisma (Persuasion) check. If the check succeeds, the Wolf Man ceases its frenzied state.
You could also look at including multiple monsters, such as featuring the classic rivalry of Dracula and the Wolf Man. Or introduce the brides of Dracula (use the vampire spawn stat block) as lesser adversaries that lead towards the main villain. Frankenstein’s monster and his bride also make for an equally terrifying pair.
Continuing the Tradition of Spooky Adventures
There are plenty of other holidays and monsters that a GM can use as a source of inspiration to challenge players. It isn’t even necessary to come up with completely new stat blocks, as a few tweaks to existing monsters is enough to terrorize unwary adventurers. Halloween isn’t all about the scares, however, but often just the fun of getting together with friends to retell some classic spooky tales.