When you’ve plundered every cavern, tomb, and abandoned mine on the map, there’s only one thing left to do. You charge your proton pack, you jump in the Mystery Machine, and you head for the nearest spoopy mansion. The idea of the haunted-house-as-dungeon is as old as the hobby, supported even in the earliest editions of the game. Shadows, wraiths, and ghosts have been kicking ass and draining levels for years, and it’s the rare gamer that’s never tried to hack through an incorporeal threat to no avail. My own love affair with haunted dungeons stems from two ideas, one system-agnostic and one specific to Pathfinder.

You see, there’s a special alchemy that happens in a GM’s head when it’s time for “the scary session.” They seem to know instinctively to invest in some candles, cue up the ghost frequency, and ready the fog machines. Here’s my own GM, for example, pulling out all the stops for a Ravenloft campaign. But even more than the special effects, horror sessions force GMs into ambiance overdrive with their descriptions. Suddenly every walk down a castle corridor is the intro to Shia LaBeouf, and that’s exactly the kind of game I love most. You get swept up in the tone and the ambiance, and for a moment you can forget the game. You can forget Dave’s mom’s basement. You’re there in dark, sword in one hand and torch in the other, and your breath begins to frost the air, and the hairs on the back of your neck are prickling… Those moments may be fleeting, but Great Gygax above do I love ’em.

At some point however, the tension inevitably breaks and the ghosty inevitably pops out of the wall. And when that happens, I don’t want just another monster fight. I want it to feel different mechanically. That’s why I love Pathfinder’s haunts. If you’re not familiar, go ahead and hit that link. They take a bit of getting used to mechanically, but the idea of turning the cleric into the thief—combining elements of traps with malevolent undead—is pure conceptual genius. This isn’t a bear trap with a few unsettling adjectives thrown in. This is an otherworldly threat, and only your learned priest’s chanting can hope to turn the tide.

What about the rest of you guys? Have you ever had a run-in with the spooky side of gaming? What was it like? Were there any survivors?


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