What should I do to my players in an abandoned creepy carnival?

Homebrew and House Rules

Silver Crusade

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Second Lamp Post Players Read No Farther.

I am running an Ustalav campaign. My level 2 and 3 players are currently walking through the woods. I plan on having them come across an abandoned carnival. I have some ideas I think are great elements but I am drawing a blank on an engaging over all scenario in this carnival. See below for the elements I really like (feel free to use them in your games if you like them, but I would really like some plot ideas.

Thank you.

1) A haunt over the entire carnival that plays calliope music. It’s creepy as hell and once per 24 hrs the players make will saves or be shaken while in the carnival.

2) There was an exotic monster show. One of the monsters was real. It escaped and the people in the carnival either ran or were killed. I think the monster will be a Rakshasa but long gone.

3) A mechanical man. His chest is torn open and there is a sizeable hole in the center. He was an attraction and was powered by a magic item in his chest. The Rakashasa took the previous one on his way out but if the PCs have one of suitable power (5000g or more) they can replace the missing magic item and bring him back.

4) A fortune teller was killed. She has banners up all over the park saying that for 1 silver she will tell your fortune. This could make for some strong foreshadowing. (I plan to run a mod once they hit lvl 5) She is dead in her tent. Her corps is slumped in her chair but one skeletal hand is laying palm up on the table as if waiting for payment. Players pay a silver and get a fortune. I am running this as a haunt. If she gets enough silver the haunt ends, if any one tries to take a coin they get cursed. After a failed save, they get a large needle through the palm of their hand -2 to dex and can’t use that hand until the curse is removed.

That’s everything I got. Please send ideas my way.

5) A haunt that creates the smell of delicious food and compels the characters to eat(will negates). If they aren't compelled but follow the smell, they find rotten mush. Those that fail their save see only delicious carnival food.

Silver Crusade

6) Trapeze in a big tent. Just a couple undead (I'd say unique skeletons) that swing back and forth. Have a bunch of throwing knives sunk on either end of the Trapeze they grab and throw at the party while swinging back and forth.

EDITED to add numbering

Zombie clowns.

Just to clarify -- you DID mean to ask what you should do to your players' CHARACTERS, and not your actual PLAYERS, right?

Because I'd find your question to be pretty disturbing otherwise.

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You might find this audio CD to be useful for theme music when designing and running these encounters:


It's Midnight Syndicate's "Carnival Arcane"

Edit: You can find the entire album all together in this video (but I think it's also available legit on iTunes):


Maybe a member of the freakshow survived and still lurks about the carnival grounds. It has a collection of odds and ends squirreled away somewhere, which might include something interesting. Maybe you could use Ogrekin or something similar as a template.

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A hall of mirrors that reflect only a dim reflection, and as each mirror is gazed at the refection becomes more and more distinct until revealing at the end of the hall, a much aged character in it..maybe with some wasting disease, perhaps its real, or just a illusion.

Various seemingly innocent children patrons of the carnival, but each after a time begins to exhibit a increasingly nasty temperament towards their parents or others..until the players view them eating them, or murdering the same in some horrible manner, revealing distinctly malevolent features to their appearance( wide sharptoothed grins, backwards legs..tails, etc).before darting off behind the scenes.

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The Misery Stone (an excellent fan-made module in NWN 2) had a really creepy part where you encountered "people" with mechanical string-pulling apparatuses on them. Kind of like those toys where you'd pull the string and they say something like "Someone's poisoned the water hole!"

The people didn't say anything and kind of shuffled about harmlessly. However, if your curiosity got the best of you and you pulled one of the strings, the victim's internal organs spilled out their front and they fell to the ground dead.

I think good horror plays off of a person's curiosity. Those who take risks to sate their curiosity may feel even more terrified when something awful happens because on some level they feel responsible for the consequences. If something terrible happens to an innocent or something morally ambiguous it threatens the player's moral consistency creates cognitive dissonance. "I consider myself a good person, but I just disemboweled an innocent person because I was curious what would happen if I pulled a string. Sure it was accidental, but what does that say about my character now?"

Test your players' curiosities with environmental elements. Place a big lever or a big red button just BEGGING to be pushed. Maybe a super creepy doll that calls out to them for help. Instances like these help propagate horror because if players choose to avoid them, they are conceding some level of fear to the game. If they choose to partake in them of their own volition, they are held responsible for what might come forth.

Won't let me edit my post, so here are the two links I provided above in easy to click format:

Carnival Arcane

Entire Album set to Video

[Soory, no idea what number we are up to]

* Were pickled punks in Bestiary 4? You could have them break out of their jars and look for food/PCs, or be forlorn lost types that need to be - returned to the grave, returned to bereaved relatives, out for the now defunct carnival owners blood.

* Ghostly emanations of former carnival-goers, wisps of past-vibrations that whisper red-herrings and real plot-lines equally. Can fade in and out, turning fiendish or just merely scary as they waft about...

* If your carnival is located on a sacred site/burial ground/ley line then there may be angry spirits/locus genii twisting the original intent of the carnival...

The Exchange

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There are fountain drink machines with every flavor imaginable, but the only one that works is Diet Coke.

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Don't forget the midway:

Is that an unholy symbol created by rings in the ring toss game?
Be careful near the shooting gallery, I don't know if a carney has holed up in there or something else, but whatever it is has many repeating crossbows and is not shy about shooting anything that comes into view.
If that is water in the dunk tank then why is it quivering?
It kinda looks like a big mound of cotton candy took over that booth, does cotton candy come in violet and why does it have tendrils?
You hear that dinging every few seconds? I think it's the strength tester on the other side of the carnival, the only problem is the mallet is right here, caked in blood but right here.

snobi wrote:
There are fountain drink machines with every flavor imaginable, but the only one that works is Diet Coke.


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You might get some mileage out of an incorporeal "barker"; someone who directs the players' attentions to the myriad attractions.

If you've got all these Haunts and undead, you might also have someone/thing taking advantage of it all:

- Necromancer utilizing the place to collect souls needed to power a diabolical machine

- Mites using the fear factor to add to their own "Doom" SLA and general freakiness

- Old Man Witherspoon who's using the haunted amusement park to keep people away from the buried treasure he's searching for

I personally like to go truly horrible. I conceptualized but was never able to play a puppeteer, a really nice fellow, but wears a mask and never comes out at night. At the same time he arrives a bugbear starts manifesting though children's dreams and slowly terrorizes them, draining Wis and Cha from them until as mindless automatons they wander into the woods where Old Pogolo Peeps waits with a torture chamber to inflict the final horror; he replaces their eyes with mirror glass trapping their souls in the broken mirrors.

The bugbear hunts by the scent of fear and is in fact blind. He's also immortal. The only way to truly destroy Old Pogolo Peeps is to kill the puppeteer who has mirror glass embedded in his eyes as part of a witch's curse.

While I agree with Puma that curiosity should lead to horror I also think a great way to horrify folks is to muck with innocence. Children are a good metaphor here. Perhaps kids giggling and when the party arrives there's nothing but a drying blood pool around a dolly. You might also have one of those Attic Whisperer undead stalking the carnival. "Where's my mommy... I wanna go home..." then it turns out to be undead and "mommy" is currently being tortured on a wheel.

Finally, there's an element too that you might explore. What if the heroes aren't the ONLY mortals in the faire. If you give them real people amid all the horror you can really mess with them. Perhaps by the end of the game you've tricked them so many times with who's a real person and who's not that they just don't care any more. That's when you've got the last victim NPC standing right there, bloody axe in their hand, saying "if we just head through here we'll get out, I PROMISE!" and WHAM! They take 'em out, only to find the escape tunnel was real. Now THEY'VE killed an innocent, making them no better than the haunts they've just survived.

But that's just mean...

Why are the players there to start with?

How is number 2 going to work out if the Rakshasa is long gone? I mean, it's nice background info, but not a particular menace now. Maybe something else that's lurking around the area?

If the dead fortune teller is the source of the haunt how will the players figure this out? And how will they know what the amount of silver needed to appease her is? Also, if she was at all good at her job how did she end up dead?

Carnivals usually have games and rides as well as curiosities. If they had a "haunted house" it could still be up - and may be the home to something nasty. The games and rides could have been altered by the haunt.

Could there be werecritters in the area? Wererats and werewolves might not live too close to the carnival, but I could imagine them acting as guides until the time is right to strike.

I would think the obvious answer would be "Turn them into Circus Freaks"

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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

This thread, 1001 Mournland Horrors, has nearly a thousand posts dedicated to coming up with unbelievable scenarios loaded with high creep factor. And they more than surpassed the thread title's numerical goal.

Surely there's plenty there for you to mine inspiration from.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

Attack the party with animated objects in the form of abandoned carnival prizes (teddy bear, cupie doll, fake swords, etc.). Creepy dolls are creepy.

I agree with a suggestion that there is a living (or at least non undead) dweller there... either one of the freakshow members as suggested, or someone who just came upon the scene and decided to camp out. An evil or chaotic outsider, or just someone who's gone mad (perhaps with magical powers, and their madness is fueling some of the weird events).

If the carnival is cursed/haunted, have them find some notes, diaries, etc. that gives them clues as to why. This doesn't necessarily add to the creep factor (although you can do it in creepy ways, like messages scrawled in blood on tent walls, or the image of someone mouthing a warning to you in a funhouse mirror) but puts more of a story to the scenario. It might also give them some motivation to stick around rather than just flee the place.

Stealing from an old episode of Doctor Who, "the Greatest Show in the Galaxy".... there are outsiders/shells of ancient deities/old ones, who demand whoever enters the carnival "entertain them," and prevent them from leaving until they "perform." The entertainments they enjoy most are acts that are sadistic or otherwise highlight someone's pain and anguish (one example from the episode I'm cribbing from is a performer forces his tormented lycanthropic assistant to change and then as a werewolf she tries to tear apart anyone else in the ring)---and acts that fail to be entertaining enough result in the performer's gruesome death. The party may be forced to try to perform and if they do well enough, they are given a break but asked to perform again in a few hours.

On the corporeal plane, they take the form of a lone family sitting in the big tent watching ghostly acts--replays of past performances for them--when real performers aren't there to please them. They cannot be attacked until the party finds a way into their home plane and attacks them in their true form (or finds some of other way to convince them to leave).

For the usual killer clown concept, there's a Rite Publishing Pathways issue #26 (free) that had a demon clown as kind of a lich of sorts with some unique abilities like throwing pies of sticky mass that entangles you when you're hit by them, great skill at tripping using clown shoes, infinitely long stretching arms that can wrap around victims for powerful grapple ability, and kind of a giant easter egg that serves as a phylactry - among other interesting abilities.

I would try this, but as soon as I announced, "You exit the woods and see what appears to be an abandoned carnival and faint calliope music can be heard." my players would be, "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope."

Maybe spending all that time in Ravenloft was a wee bit scarring.

* A hall of mirror where you see yourself getting older, when you get out you have advaned in age category. If you try going back you get out as a younger version of yourself (child).

* An oddities exposition where the exhibitions are polymorphed previous visitors cursed when they tried to touch what looks like a powerful magic item.

* Poisoned food that shows the past or future to those eating it (Also makes them confused while they have the visions)

Something Wicked This Way Comes By Ray Bradbury could be good inspiration

Nick Logue wrote a GameMastery module that involved a carnival taken over by evil ice fey.

Also, see Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

I missed that you were looking for an actual plot for the carnival. That's simple, spies. The carnival was financed by the Shining Crusade to maintain contact among the various covert agents the Crusade has. Most of the carnival workers knew nothing about this arrangement (although several suspected something was up) but a few of the carnies were actually members of the Crusade's intelligence service. Some other group (perhaps even affiliated with the Tyrant) followed a Crusade spy to the carnival and observed the spy reporting then destroyed the carnival and laid "traps" for any other spies which came to investigate what happened to the carnival.

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Did you watch the HBO show Carnivale back in the day? I think one of the plotlines from the Babylon arc would be excellent.

Carnivale spoilers:

The eponymous Carnivale included a cooch show -- a mother and her two daughters who did a strip tease for carnival patrons, with the mother's husband as barker and pimp. The dancers were available as prostitutes for those who paid the mother's husband.

The town of Babylon had a horrible reputation among carnival folk, but Samson, leader of the carnival, insisted they do a show there. The people were creepy as hell, staring at all of the carnies, and not really having fun like normal people would.

But they erupted into a sort of riot when they watched the cooch show, and the dancers had to retreat behind the stage.

The next day, one of the dancers was murdered. The carnies weren't sure who did it, so they apprehended one guy from town -- the only one who seemed to be normal. They held a show trial. The theme of the trial was basically "One of us has been taken. Now one of them must pay." The man was found not guilty at the show trial (it came down to picking a number), and the carnies let him go.

But the show's leader (a little person named Samson) found the guy at a bar in town later and he shot him dead. On the way out of town, Samson looked up at a second-story window ... and he saw the dead dancer standing there. A hand pulled her back from the window and closed a curtain.

I think there's a hell of a lot to play with there.

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They can fight 4 meddling kids and their vicious dog.

I'm surprised no one brought up the Haunted-Carnival themed arcade game, "CarnEVIL!" Monster clowns, haunted house rides, a stretching midway or horrors, freakshow, and a big top! It's all there! Perhaps it's a bit too modern, but a quick playthrough (or LP video) could inspire some more ideas.

We all float down here Georgie.

This is more for the OP to thank Him/Her for an awesome inspiration idea. i am running a home brew game using PF rules but not set in Golorian and the story behind the haunted carnival I wrote ties into the main plot perfectly to set up the party for it. I also am borrowing the fortune teller (awesome idea btw) idea only I made her a oracle and changed the sp to a gp which gives a divination spell for a clue on how to escape the carnival (my group will be magically trapped in it by the spirit of a slain lesser deity and having his spirit perverted to a haunt after being slain by a lich cleric channeling the might of Orcus to steal his divinity. Orcus is trying to accend to godhood in my game) . Along with the deity, 13 of his followers were slain and turned into haunts two.!

The carnival unrelated to the attack, happened to set up at the gravesite and the haunting spirits took over. The spirit of the deity haunt is to trap the players in the carnival till they destroy the 13 other haunts within. Still mapping out the haunts but this has been a lot of fun to set up as I love survival horror.

Thanks again for the idea.

Getting them there. Carnival of Souls. A little girl leads them there looking for their Mommy and Daddy. They get to a tent with a sign that says, "Music and Dancing". There's creepy music aqnd translucent people dancing. Everyone stops, the little girl runs to two of the dancers. They begin to dance and vanish, everyone dancing, the band, and everything. In the now empty tent there is a shallow grave with the corpses of the parents and the girl in it. They are now trapped in the carnival, but they know of one of the ways out.

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