Fall is officially upon us. Leaves are falling (in places where leaves actually fall), days are getting shorter, and the spooks are coming out each night. For Halloween, that is.
Those of us who love fantasy roleplaying are almost all excited for Halloween. Lights, costumes, and of course scary movies. Horror and Halloween go hand in hand, after all. And for those who want to run something truly horrific for their friends this holiday, here’s a fun idea - Clue. Yes, that’s right. The boardgame.
Setting up Clue in the Ravenloft
If you’re looking for something murderous, but not too serious or gory, running a version of the classic boardgame Clue is the perfect option for your group. It fits perfectly into Ravenloft (DnD's premier horror fantasy setting, which we've talked about before here: What Makes Ravenloft so Iconic? (d20collective.com)), tells your players exactly what to expect from the overall story while allowing you to surprise them with fun twists and conflict that they won’t see coming, and is confined to a single manor for the entirety of the story, which makes it easy to prep any maps you might want to use.
Choosing Your Domain of Dread to Use
Any number of domains in Ravenloft will work for this concept: Borca, Dementlieu, Kalakeri, Kartakas, or even the classic Barovia (making this a great lead-in game before running Curse of Strahd). The one that you choose will affect the type of strange and unusual events that you throw at your players, but not the standard set up. Choose one with a subgenre that you personally enjoy, or that you’re looking to dabble in before a larger campaign.
The domain that you select will also have some impact on exactly why Lord Body is gathering your players for dinner. In Barovia, for instance, he may have discovered a way to finally defeat Count Strahd, and wishes to employ the characters to such an end. In Borca or Kalakeri, he may be an agent for a particular aristocratic family. In others, he may simply be a man out for his own interests, extorting members of the party to various ends (this is the explanation used in the Clue movie, and works extremely well).
Whatever the reason, the one thing you must ensure that you have is a plausible reason for each party member to want him dead. Maybe he’s extorting everyone, maybe someone has a magical item with a curse on it, maybe their god or patron does not favor him. You can work something into the backstories of your characters or go with something more generic. If you can have players already know each other in passing, that works great, too.
Have your players all write down their Passive Wisdom and Passive Perception on pieces of paper, and hand them in to you. Randomly select one. This is the killer – lay out some clues to be found pointing in their direction (the type of weapon they use, the type of their footprints, etc.), and some red herrings about other characters to sprinkle about the manor.
Finally, you’ll need a manor map for DnD. There are plenty of these online, or you can create your own (preferably with a similar number of rooms to a Clue board).
Starting the Story - What Happens in Clue in Ravenloft
An introduction might go something like this: A week ago, your players received an invitation to a dinner party at the house of the mysterious Lord Body, a wealthy patron of adventurers and collector of strange and unusual artefacts from your chosen Ravenloft domain. The letter instructs them to arrive at his manor just before the dinner hour, and to assume a pseudonym while they are in attendance. After all, in such realms of horror, even the walls have ears.
Have a butler seat the players in the dining room, leaving them to roleplay meeting each other for just a moment. Halfway through the first course, Lord Body can arrive home and join them, greeting them and hinting at greater knowledge about their backstories than they might be comfortable with. A maid helps to serve the meal, and Lord Body gives his compliments to the chef (telling your players that there are currently only those three servants in the house). Maybe some of your players recognize one or two of the servants – who knows?
After the meal, a storm starts up, preventing the players from leaving. Lord Body leads them to the study, and explains the reason for calling them there, as is appropriate for your chosen setting. Afterward, he leaves the players to explore the house, and all the players go to bed.
What Happens Next – The Central Story of Clue in Ravenloft
In the morning, they are all woken to the sound of the maid screaming – Lord Body has been murdered! The butler insists that the manor has magical alarms that would trigger had someone entered, and now will keep anyone from leaving until the killer has been caught and it is announced to the house. He suggests everyone split up and search the house for clues, perhaps in pairs.
To keep every character, even the killer, in the dark about whodunnit (just like the game Clue), the killer is whomever you randomly picked before the game. They were overtaken by Strahd, the evils of the Domains of Dread, or whatever weapon they did the deed with. Later deaths should follow in motivation, but not in execution. And, in fact, you can draw randomly for the perpetrator of each one. It needn’t be the same killer.
The players will just have to investigate. The body has clearly been moved, but from where? What killed him? He had magical protection; it might have been a magical weapon – but whose? And time is indeed running out. You can sprinkle clues about the killer throughout the house.
Soon enough, the maid can be found dead, too, in a manner befitting your horror story. Then the chef. Then, finally, the butler. Each of them might have been involved with whatever prompted the first death. Or perhaps it was a new killer, with some motivation against them personally.
While your players search and investigate, you can throw some combat at them in the form of the manor’s protections, lingering ghosts and sprits, or monsters summoned by the malicious entity causing problems. Fit them to the type of horror that you’re going for.
How it Ends: The Finale of Clue in Ravenloft
When your players finally figure out who killed Lord Body (and the rest of the servants, if it’s the same person), they’ll want to make an accusation. That will let the magic on the house know they’ve been caught and let them all out.
But just when they announce it, the character is overwhelmed once again by whatever force compelled them in the first place. Give them a significant stat boost, perhaps some new demonic powers inspired by your chosen Domain and let them know that their mind has been taken over. They have only one goal now – stop these people from leaving. Letting even one of them live will endanger not just them, but the whole of Ravenloft.
This is the final battle: One versus the rest of the party. You can sit back and let them duke it out or add in some magical effects from the manor and the forces of evil if it seems like the fight is getting stale.
Have you ever run something in the Domains of Dread? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below!