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7 best D&D 5E horror one-shots to play this Halloween

Halloween - the DM's excuse to scare the absolute bejesus out of their players.

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Those aiming to titillate their players with a compact Dungeons & Dragons 5E adventure that's oozing with bloodthirsty narrative and horrifically-charged tension, look no further. This list will see you cornering your quarry in no time, as you hone in on some of the most spine-tingling D&D 5E horror one-shot adventures known to nerd kind.

Below, we've put together a veritable compendium of both official Wizards of the Coast adventures and unofficial fan-made one-shots, some free and some paid, all based around Fifth Edition. Through these D&D Halloween one-shots, you'll have the chance to orchestrate some twisted storylines - there's everything from shockingly short three-hour sessions to terrifyingly epic triptychs of 16 hours or more.

There's always the potential to slot your player's current characters into the frightfest, and a few of those below will scale to your players' current levels. For some of the more intense ones, it might be a good idea to let them roll up some fodder for RNG-focused scares. Either way, these adventures will give both low level chumps and veteran D&D players the fright of their lives this Halloween.

Just to make you aware, a lot of these adventures come with content trigger warnings. Make sure you speak to your players about the themes prior to starting a session, and decide on hard limits together around the horrors they're comfortable facing.

However you plan to pass the time on the lead up to Trolltide - which is essentially D&D Halloween - this list will get you prepped to run one of the grimmest and most ghastly game nights your unwary dice rollers can handle.

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1. Death House - Curse of Strahd

Bring the powerful vampire lord to heel

4 players | Levels 1-3 | 6-12 hours

Artwork for the Curse of Strahd D&D book.
Players can expect an incredibly challenging experience with Death House. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Meant as an introduction to the Curse of Strahd campaign, the Death House one-shot is a ghoul-filled, mist-enshrined extravaganza: complete with dank crypts, hidden spike pits, cultists and dark themes aplenty. Though it is one that can be played at lower levels - though don't expect Ravenloft to be a welcoming place for your poor fledgelings.

The Death House is so named not for its delightfully sanguine interiors, but for the fate likely to befall all who enter. Be warned, if you plan to subject your newly established low-level main characters to this campaign, you may well be rolling up new characters by the end.

As well as a haunting, even tear-jerking narrative, this adventure gives players the option to use the Haunted One character background - sort of like the Dark Urge in Baldur's Gate 3. It grants players a spooky language, the Heart of Darkness feature that will have commoners running to your aid, and a monster hunter's pack with which to face the horrors that ensue.

Get Curse of Stradh on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

2. Don’t Say Vecna!

Keep your mouth shut, and your wits about you

3-4 players | Level 20 | 2-3 hours

Screenshot of Vecna from the March 28th D&D Direct stream
Vecna is one extremely dangerous archlich that players will have a hard time taking down. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

You'll have heard the name Vecna thrown around if you've ever watched Stranger Things, where his reputation precedes him as the most powerful lich in all of D&D lore. In this adventure, your players will face him down in a planeshifted tower amidst the incorporeal horrors of Limbo.

Defeating the Archlich is no easy task, so high-level characters are recommended. Within the accursed tower - once inhabited by doomed scholars researching forbidden knowledge of Vecna - your characters will face "body horror, torture, and dismemberment," as they uncover secrets that have evaded scholars for aeons. Even speaking the name of the great Archlich will cause your players to take 2d10 psychic damage… no saving throw allowed. On top of that, failing a DC17 on intelligence will curse a player's character to silence for 1d10 minutes.

The D&D Beyond page suggests, for a harder encounter still, you add The Book of Vile Darkness to your arsenal. With that and the Vecna Dossier - which is easy enough to find on the web - you'll be set with an official Vecna adventure along with a primer and a boatload of stats to challenge players even more.

Get Don't Say Vecna for free on D&D Beyond.

3. The Madhouse of Tasha's Kiss

A carnivalesque cacophony of stressful strangeness

4-6 players | Levels 3-10 | 3-5 hours

Tasha's Cauldron of Everything D&D RPG artwork cover
Tasha is a character with dark origins that has since been revisited with more nuance. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Bards learning Tasha's Hideous Laughter for the first time may be wondering who it is that gives the spell its namesake. Tasha is the daughter of the fearsome Baba Yaga and creator of the Demonomicon, a tome for summoning and controlling powerful demons. This adventure will see your players survive her very own carnivalesque madhouse, filled with tormented villagers to be saved, or go mad trying.

This three to five-hour campaign offers up a terrifying menagerie of humanoid creatures, a mirror maze that taunts players with alternate life choices, and the constant looming threat of memory swaps and long-term mental damage.

This one's not for the faint of heart, though it has a lot of exciting roleplay opportunities with roll tables to haunt the psyche.

Get The Madhouse of Tasha's Kiss for $4.17 on DM's Guild.

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4. The Grand Masquerade

Don your frocks and forge high-stakes alliances in high-society

3-5 players | Level 1 | 4-5 hours

Artwork for Ravenloft Mist Hunters D&D campaign.
A dark world of nightmares is hidden beneath a mask of frivolity in The Grand Masquerade. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

A D&D Adventurers League adventure for new players and the first of 14 scenarios in the Ravenloft: Mist Hunters storyline, The Grand Masquerade is a tale of sinister frivolity, social deception and power-hungry secret societies. Set in a dreamlike world of decadence and supernatural intrigue, morality is a big theme in this one-shot campaign. There's a focus on roleplay as opposed to combat, though the story could just as well see your characters duelling for their honour as facing the ravenous plague that haunts the world at large.

Your players will encounter many masks of power that grant their wearers enchantments. That includes everything from bolstering their magic, offering control over certain elements - even the potential to travel between dimensions.

There's some leeway for game masters to play around with the mask mechanics, with the rulebook suggesting they be able to "customise and enchant their masks, acquire new masks with different abilities, or even learn to combine the powers of multiple masks."

This is one for the dark academics among us looking for a taste of high-society elegance, as well as a chance to do some puppeteering.

Get The Grand Masquerade for $8.99 on DM's Guild.

5. The Ship of the Damned

A whimsical pirate adventure for would-be vampire hunters

4-5 players | Level 6 | 4-8 hours

Artwork from the D&D adventure Ship of the Damned.
Expect to encounter some classic horror tropes in this particular D&D adventure. | Image credit: Limithron

A free sixth-level adventure, this horror one-shot is set on the high seas and features everything you'd expect from a swashbuckling frightfest - ghost ships, unholy monsters and blood trials aplenty.

This one's a little more campy than some of the twisted adventures on this list, making use of all the classic horror tropes, but it's a thrilling tale of undead bloodsuckers and trypophobia-inducing skullbearers all the same. Your adventurers task is to hunt and destroy the feared vampiric pirate, Captain Catacomb, and his undead army.

The Ship of the Damned adventure even comes with free music to accompany your playthrough. The extended adventure is just $5.99 on Roll20 too.

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6. The Chapel on the Cliffs

Plenty of threads to tug on in this desolate seaside tale

4-5 players | Levels 2-6 | 7/12/17 hours

Artwork for the Chapel on the Cliff D&D adventure.
Chapel on the Cliffs have things that both morally good and morally bad characters can do. | Image credit: Goblin Stone

A platinum bestseller on DriveThruRPG, this D&D 5E one-shot is a woeful tale of gothic horror in Kennmouth - an abandoned village haunted by sleepless spectres and an unending curse. Players can expect a grim story filled with carnivorous bats, shallow witches' graves and ghost ships curling through the mist.

This one is made for third-level characters, but will scale quite happily between second and sixth level. There's a focus on combat and exploration here, though there are some great roleplay setups for "PCs who don't kill everything on sight," as the description says. Good-aligned players can get stuck into saving the villagers and lifting the curse, while there's plenty of great loot for those whose moral compass points elsewhere.

The Chapel on the Cliffs features a pretty intense chase scene involving more skeletons than "any group of third level characters can defeat." As such, the PDF warns that by using the usual combat rules of the SRD or GM's Guide chase rules, your players' characters will undoubtedly die. Thankfully it offers some alternative combat rules in the appendix to give them a fighting chance.

Get The Chapel on the Cliffs for $4.95 on Drive Thru RPG.

7. One Night Strahd

A compact and fantastically fleshed out take on the Curse of Strahd adventure

3-6 players | Levels 6-10 | 12 or 16 hours

Artwork from the D&D book Curse of Strahd.
People who have always wanted to play Curse of Strahd but never have the time, will have the chance with this one-shot. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

One Night Strahd is a shortened, remixed version of the best-selling, but complex and time-heavy, spookfest that is The Curse of Strahd. This unofficial adventure simplifies Wizards of the Coast's Ravenloft spectacular into a "catastrophe of gothic horror," that lasts either 12 or 16 hours - three or four sessions - contrary to the original campaign's 200-hour play-time.

The 525-page book is filled with original artwork, roll tables, maps and tons of new content all packed into a much shorter adventure. To help speed things along, there are even handouts and flowcharts for all major encounters. Alongside the 16 encounters, there are 27 new magic items to be found, an almost entirely unique bestiary - including a wolf the size of a house - and a narrative that will leave your players gasping.

As a plus, after the game's development costs are covered, a large portion of the proceeds will go to the Pride Foundation.

Get One Night Strahd for $14 on DM's Guild.

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