“Wait a moment, vile thing, I am engaged in describing the bowels of the Gorge of Misery and Flame.”
“But master, I have something for your players, something that plays upon their superstitions…”
“What use would such a chart be, least-thing?”
“Why, to confuse them, master!”
30 Unsettling Moments, Asides for the Worrisome…
Sometimes, having unsettling things happen that have nothing to do with the adventure can surprise and alarm your players, throwing a spanner in the works and blurring their appreciation of true clues. Here are 30 such moments to use as you see fit during adventures. As ever, don’t use such moments too often or your players will get bored with them…
If you like, you could base whole adventures around such events. An example:
2. The children start to sing a song about beheading whenever a certain PC enters the vicinity.
The children are singing the song about beheading because the PC has blonde hair (or hair of whatever color). The man the children saw beheaded in the old river by the troll also had blonde (or similarly colored) hair.
Of course, the troll was careful to point out that if the children tell any grownups about his actions, their heads are going to be the next ones he collects for the talking Decapitating Tree that he has grown in his lair. Whenever the PC tries to talk to the children they scatter, and it soon becomes obvious that whenever they flee, they head towards the Old River.
The tree in this adventure could easily be some sort of treant, or an animated object. The troll could simply be a standard one, or one with levels in fighter if you’d like to make it tougher.
And now, the list:
- Although Benjy the grey cat likes everyone else in the tavern, it hisses whenever a certain PC passes by.
- The children start to sing a song about beheading whenever a certain PC enters the vicinity.
- The spider seems drawn to one PC’s leg and constantly crawls up it.
- A strange smell follows one PC throughout the month, a pervasive graveyard stink that is commented upon behind his or her back by others.
- All the birds fly away as the characters enter town, screeching and calling in terror.
- Downstairs in the inn, one particular character is unsettled by the way the man in the portrait’s eyes seem to follow him. Upstairs in his room is an identical portrait that has an identical effect.
- The insect legs the character finds in his stew wriggle about despite the absence of a body.
- Throughout their stay in the village, the cockerel keeps appearing by a character’s side and crowing, even at night and no matter where he or she hides.
- Troubled Jik warns one character that the “devil rides in the hump upon the characters back.” As the rumor spreads throughout the village, all the locals begin to notice the imaginary hump with its devil passenger on the PC.
- People keep approaching the character and offering their condolences about his or her cousin Maud and the terrible and bizarre gardening accident that caused Maud’s sudden death.
- Throughout the week, the same scarecrow seems to turn up in fields the PCs walk past.
- How come the children’s nursery rhyme keeps referring to one of the PCs by name? And worse, why is the rhyme about eating slugs, bugs, and thugs?
- Every bad person the PCs meet during the next three adventures is rumored to have a henchman called Grust the Merciless. Grust regrettably never actually makes an appearance.
- The same face keeps appearing in crowds everywhere—a rotund, somewhat ruddy complexioned fellow with a huge, flat, red nose. Chug Hoppwell is actually the PC’s biggest fan, and takes great joy in following their exploits—he’s merely admiring them and has given up his job and home to see them in action as much as possible.
- Everyone in the village seems afraid of one of the PCs. As the PC crosses the street, people cross to the other side; as the PC enters a tavern, a drink is poured and no charge made; when the PC approaches a shop, it closes. The PC actually resembles an infamous murderer and pirate called Thrashnan who terrorized the village a summer ago. The locals cornered Thrashnan, who had kidnapped a trio of innocent villagers, in a barn. Terrified that he would escape the local barred the barn doors and set fire to the place. As he and his prisoners were burning, Thrashnan swore he would come back from the dead. The villagers, of course, will never willingly reveal what happened but begin to discuss what to do about the return from the dead of the infamous killer.
- Throughout the adventure, a wolf pack is heard howling.
- The same magpie follows the PCs throughout the week—a sure sign of ill-fortune: one for sorrow as the old rhyme goes.
- In the graveyard, the PCs each find a grave with their name upon it, most dating from the same year a century ago.
- As the PCs enter the tavern, the town clock strikes noon, and at that exact moment, Chape, the tavern owner’s dog, expires at their feet.
- The chicken fight abruptly stops as the PCs walk by, and inexplicably, all the chickens rush into the coop, fighting to get into its safety first.
- A seventh daughter of a seventh daughter claims she has seen one of the PCs in two distinct dreams she’s had. In the first dream, three things happen: he meets her, avoids her, and is then eaten by a huge six-headed crocodile at midnight. In the second dream, he meets her, marries her, and they live happily ever after. After telling her tale, she smiles toothlessly up at him.
- As they are playing cards, the PCs suddenly discover that there are twenty aces of spades in the pack.
- As the PCs enter the market, a bard is singing a song about a man who was a werewolf but didn’t know it—he came to a town on market day with a bard who sang a song about a man who was a werewolf and didn’t know it. In the chorus, it transpires that the werewolf’s name is the same as one of the PCs.
- Rumor has it round these parts that when a group of strangers enters town on the Festival of Saint Garuday, the dreaded Vampire Lamprey of the Great Lake shall rise and eat all the local unmarried women. As the PCs ask what day it is, the townsfolk fall silent…
- The wicker men, whose numbers match those of the heroes, are “merely ornamentation” the locals claim…
- As the PCs enter town, it begins to rain black rain.
- The man in the ancient portrait in the Lord’s House does indeed look exactly like the character. His name? Deathly Lord Rache the Slayer of Innocents, the devil who swore to return…
- “Sixteen men shall rise, rise up from their graves, this very night they’ll rise and take the strangers there.” Old sailor’s song sung when strangers or groups of heroes enter taverns
- Although they can never prove it, all the characters have the uncanny feeling that they are being watched whilst in town. As they finally leave town a huge-eyed dog appears from a barn and tries to follow them.
- “Adventurers are yeh?” says the guard on the town gate. “They never last long in these parts on account of the terrible night things—things that are both terrible and which appear nightly…” Swizz concocted by town guards to ensure that traveling heroes stay in town longer than they intended to. Tavern owners are, of course, grateful for such help and reward it generously.