by Jason Campbell

The weekly D&D 5e campaign I DM began in January 2022 and at this point the characters are 7th level. We’re playing in the Ptolus setting (from Monte Cook Games, available for D&D 5e or the Cypher System.) As the last session fell on Halloween we decided to run a one session version of Monte Cook Games’ The Darkest House. Here’s what happened when I adapted it for a single session and a story about the final room and how deadly it was. Note that this contains a few spoilers about the Darkest House.

The Darkest House is a unique combination of setting and game system. It’s built around a haunted house, where the house is evil and at times actively trying to thwart the PCs. It’s available as an electronic product for use online and as a book. The Darkest House runs using a simplified game system so that it’s largely focused on theme and story. It contains a simple system to convert characters from any TTRPG system to the Darkest House system, so you can import characters from  any campaign into the Darkest House. The Darkest House is a deadly system compared to many other fantasy games, for instance with every wound the PC has to roll to avoid getting knocked unconscious, or worse.

The book is 296 pages with the first 78 pages being introduction and rules and the rest of the book are descriptions of rooms, so it’s meant to be used for a longer adventure of several sessions, not a one-shot. To adapt this to a single session one-shot I went through the book and chose several rooms that worked together and could have a satisfying conclusion. This was flexible because we were only going to have 2.5 hours for this session, and I wanted the PCs to escape at the end and return to their regular campaign (if they lived.) 

The players enjoyed exploring the house and all its creepiness. The final room was inhabited by a creature called the Gatekeeper. The PCs could see that beyond the Gatekeeper was the door they needed to pass through to escape the house. The Gatekeeper asks the PCs several questions. The final question is, “Whom or what do you love most?” The idea is that whoever answers first, the Gatekeeper makes that person or thing appear and immediately murders/destroys them in front of the PCs. Yeah, the Gatekeeper is really evil. 

One of the PCs in this campaign is a minotaur fighter who is best friends with a harengon (rabbit-person) druid, also a party member. The minotaur immediately responds that they love the harengon druid the most.

I’m not sure why, but I never anticipated this. One interpretation of the house rules would be that the Gatekeeper immediately executes the druid. This wouldn’t sit right with me as it completely takes away any player agency and wouldn’t feel like that death was earned for the players. It’d be shocking, but over the long term it would be resented. Simply beginning combat wouldn’t seem deadly enough and wouldn’t convey the deadliness of the Gatekeeper. I ran it in a way that I thought would be fair, but deadly. The Gatekeeper raises a hand and the druid immediately floats towards her, no saving throw or apparent escape. It raises a huge scimitar over her head about to execute her. I told the players they had a single action if there was anything they wanted to do. The bard cast the spell Vortex Warp, which teleported the druid back to the party. In the Darkest Houses system spells work as written as much as possible. The party then fought the Gatekeeper and succeeded in defeating it and escaping the house. 

So what do you think about the way I ran the Gatekeeper? Please post advice and comments below, I’d love to hear what you think!

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