One of my favorite all-time RPG memories is inviting my friends to the house to run I6: Castle Ravenloft, inviting the players to the titular evil lair to face the vampire Strahd as he stalked them through his home. There's something special about running a horror game on Halloween. Everyone is already in the mood for a fright, and as a game master it's our solemn duty to provide them with one. Malifaux gives us a number of options to do just that. So, with that in mind, here are the top 6 Penny Dreadful one-shots to run for a night of spooky fun.
#6 Til Death Do Us Part
The Fated are contacted by a woman to investigate a murder. Pretty standard adventure set-up, right? Well, there’s a little twist: the woman wants them to investigate HER murder. Poor Sarah’s woken up as a zombie with no idea how she got that way. Worse (well, ok, maybe not worse), her fiancé is about to get married to somebody else! The Fated have about 30 hours to figure out what happened to her and obtain the information necessary to confront her killer. I love the set-up for this Penny Dreadful. The only thing that knocks it down this particular list is the lack of horror elements past the initial hook. If I was going to run it for a Halloween game, I might have to dress up some of the enemies down the line to include a bit more horror. But still, Til Death Do Us Part is a solid mystery with an excellent hook.
#5 The Ferryman
Something is stalking the shores of Malifaux’s waterfronts. Mariners and dock workers are going missing, and rumor has it a creature in the river is to blame. When a bounty is offered for bringing the thing in, a cadre of hunters (including the Fated) take to the waters to try and end the nightmare forever. Playing on the horror of an aquatic unknown menace, the adventure is reminiscent of the movie Jaws (right down to a Quint-like character). Not classically horror-filled, with the right application of a John Williams score and appropriate measures to build tension, this adventure is more than capable of keeping the Fated on the edge of their seats. One thing is for sure: if the Fated go after the Ferryman, they’re going to need a bigger boat.
#4 Ghost House
The classic haunted house story with a Malifaux twist, this story is a fantastic one-off for some spooky horror classics. Every game master at some point or another tries a version of this, and if you’re worth your salt you pick up simple tricks here and there to help things out. The house in question for this story isn’t exactly “The Haunting of Hill House,” however, as it is VERY blatantly haunted and the first thing the Fated will likely see is the phantom owners of the home gliding by. Still, put on some appropriately spooky ambient music. Make some halls longer than they should be. Knock under the table at a tense moment, and you can make for a memorable evening.
#3 Night of the Carver
I mean, come on. He had to be in here somewhere, right? Malifaux’s Halloween Boogeyman has been a part of the world since nearly the beginning, and there’s a reason the Carver endures in the stories. A killer who manifests on the most haunted night of the year and stalks the city’s citizens (and a city full of people who still go out and celebrate Halloween anyways), the Carver combines the dark fairytale fear of childhood with the unstoppable killing power of a modern-day slasher like Jason Vorhees. In this particular story, the Fated have to protect a mark that they’re trying to deliver for a bounty after he angers some Neverborn, leading the Malifaux natives to sick the Carver on him. It’s quick, which is ideal for a holiday party atmosphere where it can be tougher to keep the group’s attention. If you’re looking for a game to run on Halloween Night, you can’t find one that fits better than this.
#2 Bad Moon Rising
Not all Quarantine Zones are created equally, as your Fated will find when they join a pack of Neverborn hunters to try and drive them out of the western QZ named Beggartree. Here, the local Knotwood forests have grown over the walls, congesting the city with gnarly plant growth, tangling roots, and one very, very angry Waldgeist. If they can survive that challenge, they’ll have to deal with infiltration of the hunters by Dopplegangers, try and restore an abandoned Guild relic left on an earlier hunt, and try to disrupt a sinister ritual to awaken one of the Neverborn’s most dangerous enforcers before they can turn him loose on the city. A more combat focused adventure than usual, this locked-in-with-the-monsters adventure has the claustrophobic feeling of movies like Alien. It’s a lot of fun, particularly with pre-generated Fated who you can casually dispatch in a horrific spray of gore.
#1 Heart of Darkness
The first time I read through this adventure, I was legitimately creeped out. The story hook is ultimately fairly benign: a new type of gemstone has been found at a mine in the Badlands, and the Fated are sent to investigate who’s been smuggling them out to sell in the city. When they arrive, however, they learn that workers have been going missing, and those who remain are literally jumping at each other’s shadows. When it is ultimately revealed that the camp is being stalked by a Bandersnatch, and the stones from the mine are egg sacks from the very same creatures, the Fated are left to deal with this horror of the Malifaux world. This is easier said than done, however, as by the time they know what is going on, one of the Fated is likely to have a spider-monster of their own hiding in their shadow. Done right, the slow build of paranoia in the camp combined with the bizarre phenomena of the creatures can build an atmosphere like John Carpenter’s The Thing. This adventure is still one of my favorites of all time.