Top 15 D&D Horror Campaign Ideas for DMs

Top 15 D&D Horror Campaign Ideas for DMs
Life is more fun when you're on the edge of your seat, or you're the one putting people on theirs

Every now and again even the best Dungeon Masters need a bit of inspiration for a new campaign. Perhaps you may even have a theme or an idea that you want to base a campaign off of but need it to be flushed out a bit more. Maybe your group is used to a sweet and innocent campaign style or even a more traditional D&D style game and you're wanting to switch things up with something a little on the darker side of things, or even for a Halloween one-shot. This article will go through the Top 15 D&D Horror Campaign ideas. 


15. Demon Summoning - Modern Style Campaign  

You thought a genie could ruin your life with a wish? Wait until you meet your demon.

Not every Dungeons & Dragons campaign needs to take place in a medieval fantasy world. One of the best aspects of Dungeons & Dragons is that you can be as creative as you want in the storytelling, and this includes being able to have stories in a modern Earth setting. The idea of this campaign is that a group of friends each with their own wish or desire choose to summon a demon hoping that it can make their wishes come true. However things take a dark turn very quickly. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • At the start of this campaign have each player secretly give you their characters wish or desire that way the other players remain in the dark on what each other wished for.
  •  For the summoning, make this based on true rituals done in history. This can mean animal sacrifice or dark magic, whatever you think would best serve the storyline. However as a caution do not use specific cultures or cultural practices from which you and your players do not have a tie to. You do not want to be disrespectful.
  •  Depending on what your players said their desires are, it's easy enough to twist those. Similar to how a genie works a demon is not going to simply answer your desires without a little dark twist. For example; if one of your party members wants to graduate top of their class they may find that the person who was above them in the rankings has been killed. But don't think even this desire doesn't come with a price. 


14. Zombie Apocalypse 

Disease plus poor hygiene plus the undead is a problem I dont want to have.

The undead are already scary enough. Can you imagine what it would be like if a zombie disease started running rampant through a world with the same medical technology as black plague era England? That's essentially the basis of this campaign. An unknown ailment starts taking over the members of a small town and the town healers are unable to determine the cause. Seemingly healthy people are becoming incredibly lethargic, not eating, going nonverbal, and their skin is becoming discolored. As the town works to determine what this is, an outside force is causing more and more people to zombify. Soon the party who either is from the town or is visiting the town is outnumbered by the undead and must fight to survive. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • You can give your party members the choice of being locals to the town or travelers that have just entered when the zombie outbreak starts. Somehow, most likely being chased by a horde, they all end up in the same building.
  •  At least one of the characters, most likely a non player character, has been bitten or scratched by an infected person but is hiding this information from the party. Slowly the zombie infection starts taking over.
  •  The party will attempt to get to the local hospital in hopes that someone there has figured out how to undo the infection or if the only option is to kill them.
  •  The higher level the party gets the larger the hordes of zombies they can face become. And the stronger kind of zombies that can be presented, they can go from just being a regular zombie to a wight and beyond.


13. 1980s Slasher  

Halloween: A Nightmare on Friday the 13th, or something like that.

When someone thinks of a horror movie oftentimes their minds immediately think of the classics from the 1980s the original horror slasher films. Movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, or Hellraiser. The idea for this campaign is to take what everyone loves about those movies and turn it into a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. This can be a modern campaign or it can be a fantasy campaign. It all depends on how you want to set up the story. It would most likely be easier to run this as a modern campaign set in the 1980s or 1990s because there's so much source material to pull from. But the same ideas from movies like Friday the 13th can be easily translated into a fantasy world, especially with things like constantly coming back to life or being difficult to kill. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • In a small town located next to a dense forest there is a local legend of a person or creature that was led into the woods many many years ago and was left there to perish. The story changes depending on each person telling it on why that creature was brought into the woods but no matter what the reason was the only part that is consistent is that the creature did not perish. It grew up and it became vengeful wanting to take revenge on the children who got to stay who weren't cast aside. Parents in this town pass this story on to their children and they pass it on to theirs, until eventually it's nothing more than a ghost story used to keep kids inside after curfew, or is it. 
  • Gruesome murder scenes are turning up in the woods, at first the town thinks its some local kids pulling a prank, but when a well known local boy’s head is found the town goes into a panic. The party are all local teens hoping to make it through the summer slaughter alive. 
  • Have one of the party members selected at random be abducted by the killer, the party must prepare to save their friend or make the choice to leave them for dead.


12. Alien Invasion - Modern Style

I cant be the only one with an intense fear of aliens right? Right!?

Set in the present to slight future you can make the planet Earth or a similar location. There can be some warning signs that something is coming or it can be entirely random. Think Independence Day meets The Quiet Place, an Alien species invades the planet either to eliminate all life and take over the planet or to sap the world of its resources. Give these aliens any abilities you think will add extra terror to the game, this could be that they implant their young into the people of the planet and for them to be born they burst through their flesh or perhaps any kind of noise attracts them and they go in for the kill. 

Campaign Scenarios

  • A meteor shower causes several stray meteors to crash into the planet’s surface. From these meteors strange alien creatures that are 8 feet tall with extra limbs and incredible strength and speed emerge from them, the Government tries to capture them and dissect them to understand what they are and the aliens dont take too kindly to that. 
  • Its been recently discovered that the Government has been hiding that aliens exist for dozens of years, and the truth has only come out just now because more of them have come and they arent happy with how they’ve been treated. 
  • Perhaps your party or at least one of them is sympathetic to the alien’s plight and wants to help them escape the planet, the Government however cant allow this to happen worried about the consequences if the alien’s species finds out what they did to it while here.


11. Serial Killer: Murder Mystery  

This is more than just your run of the mill Cereal Killer…Get it?

This is a great set up for a one-shot campaign, it would be great for trying to get new players into Dungeons and Dragons. The premise can be based on real serial killers of history, a la Jack the Ripper, or you can create your own. The party will have to solve the case and find the killer before its too late and they find themselves on the wrong side of the killer's blade. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • Its the 1800s in England and your party has been called from across Europe to solve the case of Jack the Ripper. Each of the party members should specialize in a different area of crime solving, working together they must find him before he ends the life of another innocent soul.
  • Set in a fantasy world there has been a slew of royal murders across the realm. Originally it seemed as if there were no connections between the deaths but a clever necromancer who worked for one of the royals killed notices a pattern. The party’s characters are called in to set up a sting operation while working to catch the killer. They set up a fake kingdom far out into the realm so that it could have always been there, luring the killer in and unraveling the secrets behind the killings. 
  • Tragically a family member of your party was the most recent victim in a series of killings in a small town believed to be by the same person. That party member gathers up their friends in order to find and possibly avenge the person who killed their family member. 


10. Cults, Cults, and More Cults 

Honestly compared to some of the cults out there, this one doesn’t seem too bad!

This is another horror style campaign that can be done in both a fantasy world or a modern world. Cults are something that we see in the media rather often and the majority of the time we hear about how they devolve into illegal marriages and solicitation and tax fraud. Maybe in the extreme cases we hear about how they have attempted or committed more serious crimes like murder. In movies however we see a darker side of cults, some of them like in the movie midsummer show how every so often the cults will bring in new blood, maybe for sacrifice and maybe to join them. A horror format based around one or more cults in the area could allow for some realistic fears to come true. 

Campaign Scenarios:

  • In a fantasy setting the party meets in a tavern of a town none of them have been to before, all of them should be random travelers, none of them should know each other previously. At first the town seems a bit weird but not much more than anywhere else. Then slowly and then rather quickly there are random things happening throughout the town that might not be so random. With very little investigation they should be able to discover that the town is run by a cult and they don't take too kindly to people trying to come and then leave.
  •  In a more modern setting there are a number of ways you could take this story. Perhaps one of your party member’s siblings has gone missing and they ask the rest of the party for help finding them. Through some investigation and survival checks they should be able to determine that the sibling has joined a commune in another country. But when the party member receives a cryptic postcard from their sibling it is up to the party to save them and everyone else.
  •  It was thought that human sacrifice was long outdated and that this was not something that the gods wanted anymore, or at least that's what most people thought. Your party may have come together through any sort of means to begin traveling together, perhaps sent on a basic courier mission to a town about 3 days walk away. On the way to the town they notice carriages fleeing from that direction and odd symbols carved into the trees and painted on the road and what seems to be a red liquid. By the time they get to the town if they haven't realized it they will know very quickly that the reason those carriages were fleeing was because this town is known for not only human sacrifice to appease the god it worships but also rampant cannibalism. 


9. Cave In 

Claustrophobia? Yep! Afraid of the dark? Yep! Toxic fumes causing madness? Hey! Who are you!?

Many people claim to have a fear of the dark, or a fear of small spaces, what do you think they would do if you combined them? This idea can be taken in several directions, from a mine shaft cave in, to an under sea level oil rig cave in, to even an elevator collapsing inside of a building. This would be best played as a one shot as the goal is going to be for the party to get out and only having very little room to move does not make for a good storyline for a long campaign. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • The party is a group of miners going down to start their shift, the shift coming up will have told them that there was some concern about some of the structure further in but that management was ignoring their concerns. Have the party and a few NPCS head down to that part of the tunnel and eventually have part of it collapse. They have very little resources for light and there’s a strange smell almost like natural gas subtly in the air. 
  • An environmental science team is sent out to an oil rig to insure that there is no oil leaking out into the ocean, the party can be members of the science team or the oil rig crew. The rig busts and the lower half becomes stuck with the water pressure slowly increasing. With no food or fresh water and air being scare they may start to turn on each other to keep themselves alive. 
  • The party is just a group of friends who are going spelunking as they have several times before, however this time something goes wrong and they become trapped underground. Have the party make wisdom saving throws every 30 in game minutes and the more they fail the more the dark enclosed space causes them to freak out, until eventually they cannot tell reality from fantasy. 


8. Evil Candyland

Its just like the game you used to play as a child, just with more blood and less sugar!

It's always fun when something is supposed to be childlike and joyful for it to be twisted and become dark and scary, especially when trying to come up with something new or unique for a campaign for Dungeons and Dragons. This is just an example idea but it can be done with any childhood game or story, for example Alice in Wonderland or The Little Mermaid. But specifically for this example I chose to focus on the game Candyland. Typically in the game you are trying to get to the end of the board and make your way through Candyland meeting all sorts of wonderful characters, well similarly in a dark horror version of Candyland you'll also be making your way through the wonderful realm made of candy but the people you meet along the way are not going to be as friendly this time. Think cannibal gumdrop people and witches that use the licorice limbs of the licorice people for their spells. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • The party has been magically transported into the world of Candyland. This is a game where it would be useful to modify or homebrew certain character races and class systems, such as who patrons can be for warlocks, as you can add the Candyland aesthetic to things. The party is quick to realize that they're in the world of Candyland however it isn't until they start exploring a little more that they realize that this is not the childhood game they have always played but rather a sweet twisted version of survival.
  •  In the traditional game of Candyland you are often trying to avoid Lord Licorice and one of the main antagonists in your game can still be this Lord. Rather than him just controlling black licorice perhaps he can animate the crumbling pieces of candy around him into an army and it is the party's duty to defeat him.
  •  Rather than being magically transported into the game you could also make it that the party are all native denizens of Candyland. They know the ins and outs and the political workings of the land. Perhaps King Kandy is really a dictator and has harsh punishments and laws all across the Kingdom and it is up to your party to fight against him and free the people of Candyland. 


7. Zombie Apocalypse - Modern Style 

If you thought Neagen from The Walking Dead was bad, wait until the world is full of them.

Earlier on in this list I suggested doing a zombie apocalypse in a fantasy medieval based world and that is terrifying on its own. However, as many people know in the modern world we have come up with hundreds of different zombie variants and how they can form and attack and some of them can be extremely dangerous. From the Last of Us zombies who are turned due to fungus to World War Z zombies that will ignore the sick. As the dungeon master you are able to select how the virus spreads and what symptoms those zombies will exhibit. Keep in mind as a helpful tip that most viruses mutate and so just when your party thinks they might have a cure figured out spring something new on them. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • Taking inspiration from my own personal fear and a bit of The Last of Us perhaps there is a mutation in a common food that causes people to turn to zombies. And because of this a majority of the population has begun turning and those who haven't turned have become the prey to those who have. Your party can have varying backgrounds and skill sets but somehow they all come together and are trying to make their way safely out of the city and into the countryside where they have been told a safe haven may be. 
  • Perhaps these zombies take on a much more biblical sense such as in the horror film JeruZalem. These zombies signify the end of time and they have strength beyond what regular zombies in the media are portrayed to have. Your party has been hiding out as the zombie apocalypse has been going on for a few months at this time, some of them may have connected backgrounds and some of them may not but regardless they've all ended up holed up in this abandoned apartment complex together. They realize however that a horde is taking up residence in some of the lower levels and it becomes necessary for them to escape.
  •  An interesting take on the zombie apocalypse narrative could be that all of the characters need to be under 18. Most zombie media and stories follow adult characters, but what happens when children and teenagers are forced to survive. Not only is there going to be a battle for survival against the zombies, they're going to have to learn to make their way through life without the guidance of an adult. 


6. Pandemic 2.0 - Modern Style

We made it through Covid, we’re so much more prepared now, nothing like that will happen again. 

The world thought that it had made it through a pandemic and that we would never be faced with one again, and living through the pandemic showed people that some of their greatest fears could be isolation and the inability to leave the house without possibly getting extremely ill. This is a campaign where you take these fears to the next level. If you've ever played the game Pandemic on your phone you know that diseases mutate and change how they are passed, how they are contracted, and the symptoms they show. This campaign allows for a bit of magic to enter into the world of reality because the pandemic they're facing now doesn't necessarily need to originate in this world. 

Campaign Scenarios:

  • An unknown sickness comes over a small town in rural America. Most people ignore it thinking it's just the flu or even a new covid variant. But the symptoms people are experiencing are far more extreme than anything that's been seen before. In order to prevent the spread the government sets up a perimeter saying that everyone just needs to stay in quarantine until they figure out what this is or until it passes. Unfortunately, someone in your party or the whole party overhears that the government doesn't plan on letting anyone out and that anyone in the quarantine zone will be burned within the next 48 hours. 
  • An interesting take on this campaign would be survival through a new pandemic through a group of characters who know each other via the Internet. They may all have a group chat or do Zoom calls regularly and that is their way of coping with the isolation that everyone is facing. However as is necessary in any good story or game there's a twist. One of them thinks that they have found something out about this virus and right before that person is about to disclose what it is they know they disappear. It is up to the party to figure out what has happened to their friend and possibly end this pandemic.
  •  You could take the idea of the pandemic that we went through and amplify it times 10. You could make it so that no one could leave the house without a gas mask or hazmat suit. Make everyone have such extreme paranoia that they distrust their neighbors even if they are 10 ft or more away. Your party hears a rumor that this pandemic might only be in the United States and so they set out hoping to not be caught or to catch the illness. 


5. Surviving Hell 

Holy Hell its hot in here.

Some people might think that hell could be fun especially after the recent release of Hazbin Hotel on Amazon Prime. However for most people they think of endless eternal pits of lava and torment. And in the Dungeons & Dragons world it's even more intense as there's nine Hells. This campaign idea allows you to take hell in any direction you please. Perhaps you want to focus on a more judeo-christian version of hell or a Greek version. Perhaps you want to create your own version of what hell is. Because of this you can add in many terrifying things for your players, have them specifically send you a list of one or two of their characters biggest fears and use this against them. 

Campaign Scenarios:

  • The party is comprised of demons and devils native to the nine Hells in the world of Dungeons and Dragons. This kind of campaign is based around the fears that the party members have sent to the DM. Each party member must face and fight their way through their greatest fears. And once they do, their soul can be saved and they are not forced to stay in the nine Hells forever.
  •  One of the party members’ spouses has recently been condemned to a circle of hell. The party member begs and pleads with the rest of the party to help them save their  spouse. They try their best to prepare for what they may meet in hell but nothing can prepare them for the atrocities that they would witness committed against others when they get there.
  •  The idea around this campaign could be that the party is building up to fight the Devil himself. Perhaps they have been tasked by some other holy being to gather an army great enough to take on the Devil at his own front door. And though the party might have this holy being on their side the Devil has his minions on his and they are just as frightening as him. 


4. Ouija Board Gone Wrong - 1970s Setting

If there is one thing I will not mess with it is a Ouija board, for good reasons.

This campaign idea relies heavily on people not understanding the rules and consequences for breaking those rules around a Ouija board. This setting would be best held in the 1970s and 1980s in a modern style World rather than a fantasy world. A Ouija board allows for a group or individual to contact someone or something from the other side, but what they contact is not always friendly. 

Campaign Scenarios:

  • Have the party be composed of young adults who are having a party at one of the characters houses one night. Whoever's house it is, have that person have a younger sibling. As is common with younger siblings they want to tag along and do what their older sibling is doing. And tonight it happens to be playing with a Ouija board. At first have that younger sibling be very scared but eventually ask to play. Unfortunately no one told the younger sibling the rules and they may have broken a few.
  •  A group of friends have bought a house on their college campus to live in so they can get out of the dorms. While cleaning out the attic, have one of the party members discover an old Ouija board. Thinking it would be a fun joke to play with it that night at dinner the character brings it out. Have one character be very superstitious, make sure that one of your players knows that this is a character trait they have. Have the superstitious character make a religion or arcana check and if they pass they know the rules for using a Ouija board and if they don't then all of the consequences that follow are just as much their fault as anyone else's.
  •  One of the biggest rules when using a Ouija board is you must always say goodbye. While using a Ouija board at a sleepover have your party get frightened. This could be by having the lights shut off, having a door bang shut, or even a glass flying across the room. Whatever it is it makes them throw the board to the side and not say goodbye. This allows whatever they were talking to that was throwing all these things to remain and wreak havoc. 


3. Possessed Family Member  

We get it, your sister is a demon, get over it. Oh no wait you mean literally!

There is nothing more frightening than betrayal or thinking that your loved one is being harmed. The idea of possession combines both of these in a way. It takes the idea that your family member or loved one could be betraying you and harming you but also that as they are being possessed themselves they are also being harmed. Possession of a family member works as a good one shot campaign story because you can have all of the characters be from a single family or majority of them are from one family and the rest are friends of that family. But either way one of the family members has been possessed by an entity, it doesn't necessarily have to be a demon, it can be something else. Regardless, this entity is using the family member to commit atrocities against the rest of the family. Can you imagine how scary it must be to wake up to your sister staring at you as you sleep? 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • If the campaign is based on a singular family, have that family move into a new home in the country. The first few weeks everything seems normal. It's an old home so the stairs creek, there's a draft in the hallway, and sometimes the lights don't work. Slowly things start getting weirder. Have one of the siblings or parents not played by a person start developing odd tendencies and scratches or bruises that they don't know how they got. Slowly things will escalate until that family member is fully possessed.
  •  If you want to base a campaign around a well-known and very scary possession, base it around the Amityville Horror case. Have the party pick a person other than the father and obviously change the names as you do not want to directly imitate the victims of this case. The goal of this campaign is to either stop the possessed father from killing all of the family members or escape the house and get help. This idea is best run as a one shot.
  •  In most possession stories we hear that the parental figure is the one possessed but perhaps a younger sibling could be just as frightening. If a young sibling starts showing signs of possession often it would be shrugged off as normal childhood behavior. But it wouldn't be until the younger sibling is crawling on the ceiling above one of your characters beds that they would realize how in danger they truly are. 


2. Town Overrun by Vampires 

Think 30 Days of Night, your town is basically an all you can eat buffet for bloodsuckers.

Maybe it was just that I saw the movie 30 Days of Night at a very impressionable age but the idea of a town stuck in darkness for an extended period of time where vampires have decided to make their home is absolutely terrifying to me. The basis of this campaign is that a town has been sent into darkness, whether this be through natural or magical means. And during this time of darkness a clan of vampires have settled within the town's boundaries in order to feast. There is nothing scarier than hoping that the light will come to save you and then realizing there is no light. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • Taking direct inspiration from the movie 30 Days of Night this campaign could be set in Alaska where they do experience 30 days with little to no sunlight. The town typically prepares for this time as one where they just have to be a little extra careful and make sure their flashlights have extra batteries. Your party are natives to this town and have experienced this yearly phenomenon without issue. However, there's a few newcomers shortly before this time is about to start. However the party will realize too late that the reason these newcomers are here is for the open buffet.
  •  I also mentioned that you could take this in a direction of magical darkness and not just natural darkness. For that kind of campaign perhaps a clan of vampires is traveling through an area where your party happens to live. Suddenly the town is enshrouded in darkness despite the fact that it is midday and it isn't until they begin hearing screams that they know something is wrong.
  •  The party has been tasked with clearing out the vampires in a town near to the capital city. The capital officials that assigned you this task do not seem to know why the locals have been unable to handle this problem but they do not want it spreading further in towards the capital. The party sets out and realizes quickly that the closer they get to the town the less light there is until it is almost completely dark by the time they arrive at the town's outskirts. 


1. Post-Apocalyptic Mutated World - Modern Style

This one doesn’t even include zombies! (Mutant bears that scream in the voice of its last victim however). 

Sometimes the scariest thing we can think of is what the world is like after it ends. Most of the time when we see the apocalypse and its aftermath there are zombies or some other type of mutated human that’s only goal is to wipe out the rest of humanity, but what if humanity is left fighting against the rest of the world and not itself. Movies like Annihilation or The Happening show the world fighting against humanity. Some of the mutations and abilities the Earth and its species other than humans develop are truly fearsome to go up against, the bear in Annihilation can vocalize the screams of its last victim to lure more out towards it, facing a force like this would be a challenge for even the most prepared humans/humanoids. 

Campaign Scenarios: 

  • The bits of humanity left after nuclear fallout struggle to survive. Some people have been mutated (this would allow for other races besides humans to be played) and others have developed seemingly mystical abilities. The world has become inhospitable to growing food and as the food supplies continue to dwindle wars between groups break out. Not only is there fighting between the “humans” but they must constantly look out for animals that have mutated into nightmare creatures with a hunger as well. 
  • The party has been hiding in a bunker since the day the power plant exploded, it was a meltdown 10 times worse than Cheranobyl ever was. After the food and water supplies start to run out they decide they must venture out of the bunker for supplies. As they have had no communication with the outside world they aren’t prepared for what they’ll face, rather than a barren wasteland it’s a lush jungle like environment, where every plant wants to take them out. 
  • The apocalypse happened 60 years ago and a generation that never saw the old version of Earth is beginning to go out into the world on their own. They’ve been raised to fear the mutations outside of their safe haven, but when one of their friends goes missing while on night watch the party decides they must brave the monsters their parents warned them off, lions the size of tanks, birds of prey whose prey is now humans, and even spiders the size of cars. 


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Gifted with the talent of creative writing from her patron, Miranda enjoys weaving together reality and fantasy in mind bending tales that transport the reader to distant lands.
Gamer Since: 2009
Favorite Genre: RPG
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