Call to Adventure: “Betrayal at Death House”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Introduction

Can your players survive a night trapped within a haunted mansion? Will they check out in the morning or will they extend their stay indefinitely? Test their fledgling ghost-busting skills in this macabre mystery for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition!

This unpredictable dungeon crawl is intended for a party of four to five 3rd level adventurers and can serve as an alternative to the introductory “Appendix B: Death House” mission from the “Curse of Strahd” (page 211 or this link) official campaign. It can also be adapted to any horror-themed setting.

Setup

The main premise of this haunted house is that the layout is created as the party explores it. In order to implement the map auto-generation mechanic you will need map tiles from a board game called “Betrayal at House on the Hill.” To keep things simple, you will only need the following sets (see image below):

  1. Starting Area → contains the Entrance Hall, Foyer, and Grand Staircase
  2. Upper Landing
  3. Stack of universal tiles (can be a Basement, Ground, or Upper tile)
  4. Basement Landing
  5. Stack of Upper tiles
  6. Stack of Ground tiles
  7. Stack of Basement tiles

All the PCs begin at the Entrance Hall in the Starting Area (example of a four-person party shown below).

Development

Whenever a character explores a new room (i.e. they pass through a door for the first time), draw the first tile from the appropriate stack and place it in a way that connects adjacent passageways. Sometimes a door will lead into a wall, but that’s okay. It’s a haunted house; it doesn’t need to make 100% sense. To handle movement and exploration, treat each room as a 15ft x 15ft chamber (see diagram below), and any additional terrain modifications (low/high ceiling, difficult terrain, obstacles, etc.) are at the Dungeon Master’s discretion.


After a few turns the game board could look something like this (consult the configuration example below).

  1. The elf rogue stayed on the ground level and found the Dining Room. Judging by the putrid scent and gore stains on the tablecloths, she discerns that something horrific happened here.
  2. The human fighter hit a dead end at the Graveyard and plans to regroup with the rogue.
  3. The gnome druid rummaged the upstairs area and found the Mystic Elevator! Now she can travel to and from any room using its teleporting abilities!
  4. After accidentally falling down a Coal Chute and into the basement, the halfling wizard found a room strewn with junk. Maybe he can find something useful in this mess.

 

Special Events

Some of these rooms have special text on them that can be either incorporated into gameplay or ignored entirely at the Dungeon Master’s behest. For example, if a player draws a tile with the words “You can attempt a Speed Roll of 3+ to cross. If you fall, stop moving.” consider forcing the player character to roll an Athletics (Strength) Check DC 20 or take fall damage.

Another set of special events are: Items, Events, and Haunts. These are denoted by a Ram Skull, Spiral, and Raven icon respectively (see example set below) in the bottom right-hand corner. The general rule for resolving these special situations are thus:

  • ITEM (Ram Skull)
    • The first player to enter this room finds a special item that is relevant to the plot.
    • This can be a powerful magic weapon, plot-critical MacGuffin, or something that explains more of the background and histories of the paranormal event.
    • For example, in an alternative Death House scenario, an Item room may contain the cultists robes, along with the letter from Strahd voicing his displeasure with their activities.
  • EVENT (Spiral)
    • These are random occurrences and challenges that allow for a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability.
    • These can include random combat encounters with undead, conversations with angry spirits, sudden environmental dangers, or horrific visions.
    • For example, in an altered Death House scenario, an Event can bring the party into contact with the midwife’s specter, whose soul was unable to find rest after she was stabbed to death.
  • HAUNT (Raven)
    • Use this moment to progress the plot. These are the story beats that represent an escalation of tension and urgency. Each one makes the situation more intense and dire.
    • For example, in a modified Death House scenario, each Haunt triggers an encounter with the remnants of the cultists, and reveals more of the mansion’s bloody past. After an arbitrary amount of Haunts (DM’s decision) occur, allow the party in finally meet Rose and Thorn’s spirits.

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