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We all love Halloween, but except for those wacky Lovecraftian investigators who spend every October 31 trying to stop another evil cult from summoning up yet more Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, most RPG characters never get to celebrate the holiday. That’s just wrong, so here are a few ideas to help get PCs into the holiday spirit no matter what genre you’re playing.
With the police busy with their usual holiday duties (keeping trick-or-treaters from getting run over, preventing vandalism, and harassing drunk college students), Halloween’s a great night for criminals, especially since it’s the one night of the year when you can completely obscure your identity without raising any eyebrows. If the PCs are criminally inclined, this might be a good time to pull that big job they’ve been planning. If the PCs are the good guys, they get to try to separate the criminals from all the other guys walking around in ninja suits. Want a more horror movie feel, but don’t want real monsters running loose in your world? Have a (normal, everyday, non-supernatural) serial killer bust out of the local bughouse and start offing coeds. The PCs can be cops, personnel from the mental institution, part of a lynch mob, or just potential victims.
Grave Robbing 101: Steal the plot of Die Hard, but instead of the office Christmas Party, the “terrorists” decide to pull off their little robbery on Halloween. For added fun, have the bad guys wear costumes so they can sneak into the party.
This one’s pretty easy, especially if you’re doing a sit-com. Just have somebody throw a costume party. With everyone three sheets to the wind and wearing ape suits, the potential for wacky misunderstandings is astronomical. If you’re running a slightly more serious game, just play down the wackiness and play up the trust-destroying, marriage-ending, murderous rage-inducing aspects of the misunderstandings.
Grave Robbing 101: Why not have Very Bad Things happen to the PCs? A small group of people (preferably with promising futures) has a little Halloween get-together. Somebody ends up dead, and even if the death was an honest accident, there are extenuating circumstances that makes going to the proper authorities a very bad idea. If the players decide to bite the bullet and call the cops, you’ve got a courtroom drama on your hands, and maybe even a prison film. If they decide to cover things up, the guilt will probably kill them (literally!).
The obvious choice here is to let armies of undead, werewolves, and other fun-loving types run wild on All Hallow’s Eve. If you’d prefer a bit more world/campaign-building, have the PCs attend the kingdom’s Harvest Festival. In addition to letting you throw in some of those cultural details that can help bring a campaign to life, you can use the festivities to introduce new NPCs. Since Halloween has strong magical associations, especially where divination is concerned, this is also a good time to throw out some prophecies and omens that’ll be useful later in the campaign. If the hack-n-slashers get bored, someone can always start a good old-fashioned drunken brawl.
Grave Robbing 101: It’s the Holy Grail, Charlie Brown! This one’s actually the climax of a long quest-type adventure, so you’ll have to start setting it up now and play the actual session next year (you’ll also want to come up with better names). The Demon Lord Skip has set up a reign of terror across the land. According to legend, Skip can only be banished by Demonbane, the sword King Missile used to defeat Skip hundreds of years ago. As they quest for the sword and fight against Skip’s evil minions, the PCs eventually discover that King Missile took Demonbane with him to the great beyond. In order to get the sword, they’ll have to summon up King Missile’s ghost (at his tomb, of course) and convince him to pony up the sword. Of course, the ghost can only appear on Halloween, when the veils are lifted between the lands of the living and the dead. To make things even more complicated, have another group of potential world-savers (maybe even Skip’s minions in disguise) show up looking for the sword, and make the PCs convince King Missile that they’re more deserving.
The historical Halloween Special will depend on the place and time period of the game. You’ll have to do a bit of research into the Halloween (or Halloween-like) traditions of the culture and time period, then work from there. Depending on the setting, you might be able to steal something from one of the other genres.
Grave Robbing 101: This one’s really too easy. During October of 1888, London was terrified of Jack the Ripper (the last generally accepted Ripper murder took place on November 9), so there’s a good chance that the superstitious went completely batty on Halloween. Read From Hell and then do a bit of research on Halloween in Victorian England–I’m sure you’ll come up with something.
Come on, do you really need help with this one? Just about any horror plot you can think of will only be better if it happens on Halloween. Here’s one fun idea for M-Force, though–have October 31 be the night of a full moon. That way, in addition the usual Halloween problems (which undoubtedly includes lots of false alarms), there might be werewolves afoot.
Grave Robbing 101: Pick any horror movie. Change the names and run with it.
Muder, fog, intrepid investigators–I think you can figure this one out on your own. If your campaign features occult elements, life gets even easier.
Grave Robbing 101: Just steal the plot from a pre-packaged “How to Host A Muder Mystery” game. If you need a way to lure the PCs in, invite them to a “Murder Mystery” Halloween party–having everyone think the real murder was just part of the festivities might add to the fun (and the characters’ frustration).
Obviously, you can throw some horrifying alien or “killer on the ship” scenario at the PCs, but it might be more fun to actually see what a nice, normal, Halloween in space is like–from trick-or-treating in the saucer section to costume parties on the holodeck. Alien crew members can of course marvel at the stupidity of humans, get into the spirit of things, or wax philosophically about Halloween’s similarities to one of their own culture’s holidays.
Grave Robbing 101: Wow, this is a tough one. No, wait a minute, I’ve got an idea. RUN ALIEN YOU MORON.
Obviously, Halloween is a great time for all of The Bard’s ghosts and witches and such to make an appearance. Also, if you enjoyed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, hanging around in Fairy Rings on Halloween is a great way to get spirited off to the Fairy Realm (getting back’s another story). And for those hopeless romantics out there, Halloween’s traditionally a good time for love divination–so why not check to make sure you’re really dealing with star-crossed lovers and not just puppy love.
Grave Robbing 101: I’m not sure if the connection between Halloween and costumes had been made yet at the time, but Romeo and Juliet met at a masquerade, so it shouldn’t be too hard to throw in some Jack-O-Lanterns.
Since costumes are already such a major part of the genre, it seems like half the Halloween fun already happens every day, but luckily there’s still plenty of spooky fun to be had. If you want some character interaction and NPC development, have the PCs throw a party at the Hall of Justice. They can dress up as their nemeses and do bad imitations, chat it up with supporting characters, and sternly tell kids not to do drugs. If you want a little more action, have a bad guy mistake costumed civilians for the heroes and attack/kidnap them. And of course the October issue’s a great time to introduce (or re-introduce) horror or occult themed characters.
Grave Robbing 101: If you’re going to steal, you should steal from the best. In this case, we’ll swipe a plot from Joss Whedon. A villain (who probably has a lame name, like “The Mad Tailor” or “The Costumer”) sets up a costume shop. On the big night, people start turning into their costumes. Hilarity ensues. If you don’t want to steal the Buffy episode directly, have the costumes include mind-control devices. In one night, a lame villain gets a whole army of servants.
Halloween was brought to the U.S. by Irish immigrants in the 1840’s so with a little research you can play the historical angle here. Alternately, Halloween’s a great night for the PCs to just sit around the campfire and tell ghost stories, which might be a relaxing change of pace. Of course, if you don’t mind the west being a little weird, check out Jonah Hex, Brisco County Jr., and Deadlands for inspiration.
Grave Robbing 101: The basics of this one come from The Hound of the Baskervilles. A mining community has suffered a string of unusual murders. The superstitious among them blame “haints,” for the deaths, and some of the details indicated they might be right. Of course, the killings are being carried out by perfectly normal outlaws who are hoping to scare away the miners so they can jump the claim.