Tabletop Review: Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House (Pathfinder/d20)

Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
Cost: $2.45
Page Count: 12
Release Date: 09/10/2013
Get it Here:

Unless characters are very low level, it’s pretty hard to pull off a proper haunted house in Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition. After all, Paladins, Clerics and Necromancers all have special abilities versus the undead, and typical denizens of a haunted house (Ghosts, Spectres, and Poltergeists) are a bit too much for someone at Level 1 or 2. Even Ravenloft, the gothic horror campaign setting for AD&D 2e, didn’t really do so much with haunted houses, as it would be a dungeon crawl in a sprawling manor or castle. This is why haunted houses tend to be better left to games like Call of Cthulhu, Chill, Shadows of Esteren or Hunter: The Reckoning. Of course, this doesn’t mean a good haunted house is impossible with a d20 system – just that it’s very hard to make a high quality one that espouses feelings of horror and terror. This is where Raging Swan Press’ new supplement comes in handy. Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House is a short, twelve page PDF that breaks down into five distinct categories to better help an enterprising DM come up with a haunted house that is scary, yet fits into a system where a starting level character can make zombies run in fear of their holy power.

Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House is a short piece, but you do get two versions of the PDF when you purchase it. The first is optimized for printing, while the other is optimized for screens, such as your desktop, laptop or e-reader. Visually, there isn’t really a difference between the two, but the print one is a larger file, due to higher resolution images. Both are bundled together, but the only time you should open the print version is when you’re planning to well, print a copy of this off.

The first section is “An Alternate Dungeon,” and it gives details on what a haunted house is in high fantasy terms along with how to run one like a dungeon. I do strongly feel that if you run a haunted house in a manner similar to a dungeon crawl, you’re very much missing the point of one, but Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House does things far more to my liking that most attempts at horror in a d20 system. This is because the piece tries to obscure the fact that one of its haunted houses is still a dungeon crawl, while still helping a d20 oriented GM run a spooky manor or long abandoned castle with the terminology and jargon they are used to. This means the overall experience is definitely less of one that you would get from a system or game that is geared for horror/terror, but it’s also leaps and bounds above anything of the sort I’ve seen released for Pathfinder so far. It’s not a knock on Pathfinder as a system – just that horror is harder to pull off than say, Call of Cthulhu, because it’s not expressly designed for it, whereas CoC IS.

Also in “An Alternate Dungeon” are examples of how to spruce up the location with special powers to circumvent typical PC actions. Cursed mirrors, penalties to divination and Detect Magic spells. Even animated objects and weakened floorboards make it in here. There is a really nice list of atmospheric options coupled with mechanics to help a Pathfinder GM make a spooky house. Unfortunately, some obvious options, like penalties to turning undead or other ways of nerfing clerical/necromantic magic are missing here, which is a significant oversight. This section ends with a list of lootable goods that one would normally find in a haunted house. It’s a decent list, but again, incomplete. No mention of any ancient grimoires, spellbooks or cursed objects for example. So this could have been fleshed out more, and longtime horror gamers will spot these flaws outright, but what’s here is still really good, especially for those new or inexperienced at running a haunted house based adventure.

“Dressing” gives you a list of ways haunted houses come to be, such as curses, murder, suicide or other tragic events that may have occurred within the home’s walls. This section also includes a d100 chart of haunts. It’s a well-made and versatile list that should serve newcomers well, although veterans of horror gaming will probably want to pick and choose to create a more cohesive piece.

“Denizens” is a list of eight possible creatures that would be inhabiting a haunted house. The CRs range from 2 to 9, with an interesting mix of options. Some are fairly obvious, like the ghosts and wraiths. Some are less obvious, like vampires, witchfire and shadow demons. Again, this should really be helpful to a newcomer who is plotting their first haunted house adventure out.

“Traps and Hazards” are just what you might expect, but with a haunted house motif. Bleeding walls, collapsing floors and pit traps are just some examples of what await you in this section. I’m kind of surprised things like falling chandeliers, shattering mirrors and secret wall based traps didn’t make it into this section. There are three new haunted house oriented haunts that appear here: anguish, dancing décor and slamming doors. I would be honestly surprised if these hadn’t been done already in some other d20 supplement for horror gaming, but I can’t think of one, so it’s great to see these haunting tropes given d20 mechanics.

Finally, we have “Adventure Hooks,” which give you three short synopsis that a GM can flesh out and turn into full fledged adventures. Obviously, these will take a bit more work than purchasing an already written adventure, but for those of you who are suffering from writer’s block or are taking the first steps into homebrewing adventures, what’s here are some basic elementary ideas that should get your creative juices flowing. I personally like The Seaside Massacre best, but if you find one that leaps out at you, you should definitely use it!

Overall, Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House is one of the best horror minded supplements I’ve seen for Pathfinder in many years. It really tries to hide the flaws that come about when you try to do horror with the d20 system while also accentuating the system’s strengths. Veterans of classic horror systems won’t find much here to use except some specific d20 mechanics, while newer, less experienced or more casual horror gamers are the perfect target audience for this piece. Alternate Dungeons: Haunted House can really help make a spooky old mansion become more than just a generic dungeon crawl with a new coat of paint slapped on it. Just in time for the Halloween season, no less!



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