View Full Version : Ideas for a Carnival of Horrors One-Shot

2018-10-31, 01:46 PM
Hey everyone! DMing a Halloween one shot. Party will venture into a terrible cursed place that takes the form of a carnival to purify and retrieve a magical artifact that has become cursed- which is creating the carnival itself.

I've got a pretty good idea on what kind of encounters I want- A lot of clowns, for starters. Taking a few cues from Trickery Cleric, etc. Some other freak show encounters.

I think the final boss who protects the artifact will be a Ringmaster inspired character, with the top hat and all, with a whip who summons/unleashes various circus beasts around him to distract the party and set up a sneak attack. Lions, Tigers, Bears, even an elephant. Probably climaxing in a very young dragon.

I'm looking for any idea that would excite you as a player, or a dm, in this context. What would you put in here? I was thinking about a couple of puzzles, maybe some cheesy fair stuff that might yield a small magical item.

Any ideas welcome! It will be a DnD 5e game, but I'm looking for ideas in general and not afraid to homebrew.

2018-10-31, 02:12 PM
Look up the Freak Show from 100 Kingdoms (tabletop miniature game), there's lots of odd circus things in there.

2018-10-31, 02:35 PM
When I did a session in a carnival I had an encounter in a house of mirrors. I didn't use a map, but you could easily do so, only filling in the halls when a character interacts with them. Mix of glass and mirror walls, low lighting, not really sure whether the enemy is right next to you or on the other side of the glass (or down a different corridor, and you're seeing a reflection...) Has the potential to be a fun setting.

2018-11-05, 05:19 AM
I did something a bit similar, although it was a house of horrors.
What happened was that the players made their way through the base of their nemesis, and saw a lot of wierd-but-not-scary on the way.
When they got to the boss, he dismissed the illusion covering the entire house, and immediately they could see that the office they were standing in was actually some kind of torture chamber. Then the boss teleported away.
The players now had to make their way back through the house.
In each room, the thing they had seen before was now shown as it really was, and everything was horror.
The advantage was that before entering a given room, the players knew what had been in there before, and they could only speculate what the real version would be. I sometimes used their fearful whispers as inspiration.
The boss was waiting for them in the main hall, and they had their battle.
-Perhaps you can use the idea, the artifact is hiding the true horror of the carneval?

For a carneval you could do a house of "freaks".
Strong man, bearded woman, sameise twins (this is three separate ideas. Or is it..!?)

They will be trapped in a rigged game they need to beat in order to escape. The price is a horde of fluffy unicorns. They are so fluffy you are gonna die!

Candy salesman? I dont know, he force feeds people?
Maybe he has a bunch of hyper children? Horror kids are scary.

2018-11-05, 03:05 PM
Replying to this for posterity!

I took some ideas given here and greatly expanded on them. They entered this carnival, and everything appeared relatively normal, there were a lot of carnival games and tents and things.

The first section was very light hearted. The players participated in the carnival games and mostly lost smll amounts of money.

The goliath barb won the ring toss with a crit, however, and won himself a Rust color Bag of Tricks. They knew they had to take on the Ringmaster, who ran the whole carnival, but wouldn't get close to him until he put on the show.

To kill time they entered the Funhouse, which seemed fairly nonchalant at first... Until they witnessed children being abducted/ vanishing. They saw a clown take a child and throw it in a sack, and engaged him in combat, triggering an ambush in the funhouse.

I statblocked a bunch of clowns. The normal, weaker ones had Pack tactics and resorted to dogpiling and beating with clubs. The only thing special besides pack tactics was a slighter higher charisma and proficiency in Charisma saves (which never came up). Other, more specialized clowns however had more deadly tools. Some of them had "buzzers" on their hands that allowed shocking grasp. Others could cast Acid Splash from flowers on their lapels. One was called the Piethrower, he could cast the Catapult spell without using spell slots by tossing a pie. That actually did a surprising amount of damage.

The head clown was a sorcerer who could cast things like Tasha's Hideous Laughter and Dissonant whispers. The players DID NOT like him.

After dealing with the ambush, the clowns still got away with the children. THey proceed through the funhouse which is now distorting around them. Hallways loop back on themselves, etc.

They enter the hall of mirrors and encounter a spirit. The spirit has the mobile feat and can teleport freely through the mirrors. This was part puzzle, part encounter. They finally realized by breaking mirror they could limit his mobility (10 ft. movement speed when not teleporting.) He had vicious attacks but low HP, once they finally cornered him by breaking mirrors near him he went down easy. Still spooked them.

By leaving the funhouse, they were met by the Freakshow, the Ringmaster's servants. They were: the Strongman, the Contortionist, the Bearded Woman, and the Knife Thrower. This was my favorite encounter.

The Bearded Woman was a berserker with modified stats who locked down the players alongside the Strongman, who was an absolute tank who hit hard. The contortionist had a max dex and a lot of rogue goodies that made her very, very hard to pin down. th Knifethrower had all the Ranger dagger spells including Cloud of Daggers. He nearly dropped the party with Conjure Volley. Unfortunately, I overestimated the tankiness of the bearded woman and the Strongman, thy went down in the volley, and despite being very injured, the party was able to lock down the slippery contortionist and came down with a vengeance on the Knifethrower.

At this point, the session was running really long. I had a bunch of other plans to throw at the party but instead rushed them forward towards the Ringmaster. Turns out the Ringmaster had corrupted the artifact, granting himself absurd power and long life, but it was fueled by the souls of Children. It wasn't as cliche as it sounds as there was a surprising amount of backstory to what he was doing, but I didn't get a chance to explain as our Halfling fighter (and her player) was already really pissed off about the abducted children and dived in to the fray.

The ringmaster was part shadow monk, part rogue, and let out some devastating damage with his whip, but unfortunately, the Goliath barb shrugged it off, locked into combat with it, and usng reckless attack was able to cancel out disadvantage from being blinded by the magical darkness and absolutely devastate the Ringmaster.

He had a managerie that was tearing at the rest of the party, including a Lion, a Tiger, and a Bear, but they rolled really poorly and got curbstomped by the fighter and cleric. As he Ringmaster fell, he blew a whistle to call his last ally... The three level 5 PCs beheld a Young Brass Dragon, who reigned terror on them for slaying his master and friend who had raised him from birth.

The dragon devastated them very well, but I underestimated just how well the Barb could shrug off damage. I got lucky with breath dragon recharges, as it recharged every turn i was alive, and was able to drop the cleric, almost kill the fighter, and get rid of all the minions the party had, but the Barb had shield master and consistently shrugged off the worst of it. When he finally got his hands on the dragon, the Zealot took him down with vicious, righteous, fury, and the game was over as he retrieved the artifact from it's collar and shut down the wicked forces, releasing the souls of the children to the afterlife and unlocking the cage keeping the still living ones there.

It was immensely fun. The Ringmaster show down was suitably epic. The Mirror Monster really had the party on their toes and the Freakshow combatants really gave the PCs a run for their money. My players had a great time. I wish I could've made it a full campaign instead of a one shot.

2018-11-11, 07:47 PM
That sounds like an epic session! I'm glad you were able to work one of my ideas in. Sounds like it was used well :D