Vampires brood on the battlements of their accursed
castles. Necromancers toil in dark dungeons to create
horrid servants made of dead flesh. Devils corrupt the
innocent, and werewolves prowl the night. All of these
elements evoke horrific aspects of the fantasy genre.
If you want to put a horror spin on your campaign,
you have plenty of material to work with. The Monster
Manual is full of creatures that perfectly suit a storyline
of supernatural horror. The most important element of
such a campaign, though, isn't covered by the rules. A
dark-fantasy setting requires an atmosphere of building
dread, created through careful pacing and evocative
description. Your players contribute too; they have to
be willing to embrace the mood you're trying to evoke.
Whether you want to run a full-fledged dark-fantasy
campaign or a single creepy adventure, you should
discuss your plans with the players ahead of time to
make sure they're on board. Horror can be intense
and personal, and not everyone is comfortable with
such a game.
Novels and game products set in Ravenloft, the
Demiplane of Dread, explore dark-fantasy elements in a
The corrupt vizier schemes with the baron's oldest
daughter to assassinate the baron. A hobgoblin army
sends doppelganger spies to infiltrate the city before the
invasion. At the embassy ball, the spy in the royal court
makes contact with his employer.
Political intrigue, espionage, sabotage, and similar
cloak-and-dagger activities can provide the basis for
an exciting D&D campaign. In this kind of game, the
characters might care more about skill training and
making contacts than about attack spells and magic
weapons. Roleplaying and social interaction take on
greater importance than combat, and the party might go
for several sessions without seeing a monster.
Again, make sure your players know ahead of time
that you want to run this kind of campaign. Otherwise,
a player might create a defense-focused dwarf paladin,
only to find he is out of place among half-elf diplomats
and tiefling spies.
The Brimstone Angels novels by Erin M. Evans focus
on intrigue in the Forgotten Realms setting, from the
backstabbing politics of the Nine Hells to the contested
s_uccession of Cormyrean royalty.
Who stole three legendary magic weapons and hid them
away in a re mote dungeon, leaving a cryptic clue to their
location? Who placed the duke into a magical slumber,
and what can be done to awaken him? Who murdered
the guildmaster, and how did the killer get into the
guild's locked vault?
A mystery-themed campaign puts the characters in
the role of investigators, perhaps traveling from town
to town to crack tough cases the local authorities can't
handle. Such a campaign emphasizes puzzles and
problem-solving in addition to combat prowess.
A larger mystery might even set the stage for the
whole campaign. Why did someone kill the characters'
mentor, setting them on the path of adventure? Who
really controls the Cult of the Red Hand? In this case,
the characters might uncover clues to the greater
mystery only once in a while; individual adventures
might be at best tangentially related to that theme. A
diet of nothing but puzzles can become frustrating, so
be sure to mix up the kinds of encounters you present.
Novels in various D&D settings have explored the
mystery genre with a fantasy twist. In particular, Murder
in Cormyr (by Chet Williamson), Murder in Halruaa (by
Richard S. Meyers), and Spellstorm (by Ed Greenwood)
are mysteries set in the Forgotten Realms. Murder
in Tarsis (by John Maddox Roberts) takes the same
approach in the Dragonlance setting.
Rapier-wielding sailors fight off boarding sahuagin.
Ghouls lurk in derelict ships, waiting to devour treasure
hunters. Dashing rogues and charming paladins weave
their way through palace intrigues and leap from
balconies onto waiting horses below.
The swashbuckling adventures of pirates and
musketeers suggest opportunities for a dynamic
campaign. The characters typically spend more
time in cities, royal courts, and seafaring vessels
than in dungeon delves, making interaction skills
important (though not to the extent of a pure intrigue
campaign). Nevertheless, the heroes might end up in
classic dungeon situations, such as searching storm
sewers beneath the palace to find the evil duke's
A good example of a swashbuckling rogue in the
Forgotten Realms is Jack Ravenwild, who appears in
novels by Richard Baker (City of Ravens and Prince
A hobgoblin army marches toward the city, leading
elephants and giants to batter down the stronghold's
walls and ramparts. Dragons wheel above a barbarian
horde, scattering enemies as the raging warriors
cut a swath through field and forest. Salamanders
muster at an efreeti's command, poised to assault an