DnD 5e Haunted House Guide: Adventures, Campaigns
Build a haunted campaign with these elements in mind:
Set up backstory for house and ghosts within.
Not all ghosts are bad ghosts., mystery themes and clues—keys, letters, paintings, haunted cabin, mansion or castle, 5e ghosts and haunted house monsters.
- Haunted house traps and puzzles.
Resolve the haunting through the story.
Eerie castles, ghost stories, creepy cabins and gothic settings make for a strong, thematic haunted house adventures in Dungeons and Dragons 5e. As a GM, I can choose a premade haunted adventure like Curse of Strahd or pull from classic ghost stories, motifs and worlds to build my own haunted adventure.
So, what do I need to build a compelling haunted house campaign or one-off?
Every haunting has a story behind it. Sometimes, spirits are trapped in the house as a sort of purgatory—stuck until somehow released to the afterlife. Other spirits cling to the mortal world out of vengeance and spite, terrorizing those who dare cross the wrong boundary. Most of the time, a tremendous wrong or traumatic event is tied to the spirits’ presence.
This sets us up for an adventure goal. When we know the context of the haunting, we have footing for the characters to investigate. Plus, the backstory adds flavor and atmosphere to the story and gives players other options to resolve the haunting besides typical combat.
A few background prompts to consider are:
- An heiress is murdered for her wealth by a sinister lover and now resides in her old mansion as a banshee or spirit of vengeance.
- A maniacal ghost of a necromancer warlord haunts the ruins of his old fortress, which is full of traps, puzzles and angry spirits.
- Alone in a woodland cabin, a researcher discovers an ancient spell that unlocks an otherworldly presence ( Evil Dead ).
- The abandoned house on the hill is actually an elaborate wizard contraption built to trap and isolate dangerous spirits ( 13 Ghosts ).
As empty as a building may seem, it could be crawling with ghosts who just need a little nudge to bring themselves forward. Perhaps an entire family or community of ghosts inhabit a particular building—especially in castles or mansions. Sure, we should include combat encounters with the many spirit monsters of the 5e Monster Manuel.
However, social interactions with ghost NPCs can create opportunities for puzzles, answers and even relationships that push the adventure forward. Therefore, be sure the party knows this before playing. If they attack a friendly ghost on impulse, we could always have the ghost disappear and reappear somewhere else. Maybe crying now because your player is mean.
If you’d like a premade example of this set up, try out my Dead Man’s Tale pirate adventure by clicking here or below.
A few examples of friendly spirits are:
- The ghost of a little girl is trapped in the house by some unknown force.
- A butler spirit inhabits a statue bust of an old lord, animating it to talk.
- The ghost of an old knight is convinced (Charisma check) to possess a suit of armor and take up arms alongside the party.
- A horrific, yet benign banshee cries out in the graveyard before the players enter the house. BEWARE!
- The players unlock a puzzle to release a trapped spirit from an urn—who then reveals an important piece of information to the party.
Hauntings are mysterious by nature. If we knew everything there was about the haunting, it wouldn’t be scary. Ghosts carry an inherent sense of mystery. Why are they lingering behind? What do they want with me?
Because of this natural theme, setting up the campaign with mystery elements can bring this sense of wonder alive.
Naturally, the mystery revolves around the backstory of the house. This is the reason the house is haunted in the first place, so solving the problem may release the spirits within. Now, we can include the pieces of this puzzle in the various rooms and settings within the house.
Ability Checks for solving mysteries.
Investigation, History, Religion, Nature and Arcana (Intelligence) checks will help the players piece the mystery together and gain further clues. This means that players can lean on their characters’ Intelligence stat to do some of the heavy lifting. Therefore, we can use these rolls for hints to riddles, puzzles or simply figuring out the next step in the adventure.
Perception, Insight and Survival (Wisdom) checks can be used to pick up hints of danger. Each ability revolves around instinctual senses, which we can play with in a scary setting. Witnessing an eerie occurrence when the other party members are distracted can be used to spooky effect. Plus, Insight is a flexible ability that can be used to sense dishonesty or bad vibes.
Finally, Persuasion, Deception and Intimidation (Charisma) checks can be used to convince spirits to give information. Sometimes, players can even convince an NPC spirit to join the party and help the cause. These checks can come in handy during puzzles inside the house, convincing spirit hosts to give clues to the answer.
Each clue in the mystery should be like a checkpoint in the dungeon crawl. Each one should be earned in some way. Perhaps the first clue could be found with a successful Investigation check. However, the following clues should be more challenging to receive as the adventure progresses.
When deciding how to piece clues into the mystery, consider the following options:
- Paintings: Paintings can contain hidden messages, important characters and even puzzles that play on themes or words (see Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything Creature Painting Puzzle ).
- Journals/Notes: A more personal clue, writings can give the spirits of the house personality as we unravel their living thoughts. Love letters, personal diaries, business correspondence and scientific notes can lead the party to the next chapter of the game.
- Keys: A great way to set up a future obstacle is to present the party with a mysterious key and let them find its purpose. On the other hand, we can introduce unpickable locks to create a puzzle or need for a magic key.
- Murder Weapons: Not necessarily fresh murder weapons—CSI style. However, we can implement an old, buried weapon as a type of treasure that pushes the story forward: an old pistol, ornate dagger or cursed spell book.
- Cryptic Phenomenon: Sometimes, the spirits are unable to talk to the party directly. Therefore, they may use strange events in an attempt to send a message: blood on the walls, doors slamming in important rooms, distant crying or even violent encounters.
Also, we should consider the size of the haunted house the party explores. This makes a big difference in how the game is played and what options are logically available. Therefore, I’ll take a look at adventures in 3 types of haunted houses—cabins, mansions and castles—and make suggestions for each.
Using a cabin in the woods often brings the wild into the haunting phenomenon. Spooky cabins are often the setting of a supernatural force being awakened ( Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods ) or just murderous shenanigans ( Friday the 13 th ).
People retreat to cabins to escape society, whether for leisure or nefarious deeds. Here, the players will find secrets. Maybe a strange family moved to the small cabin to escape the evils of the world—only to find an evil within who traps their souls. Or maybe a scholar escaped to the cabin to perform a frowned-upon ritual above his paygrade and accidentally summons something horrible.
Use clues like old journals, haunted dolls and puzzles to jumpstart the action. Maybe solving a particular puzzle in the room unlocks the trapped spirit, causing the party to deal with the evil they’ve unleashed. On the other hand, finding a doll on the floor could summon a ghost child who asks for help. It’s hard to say “no” to kids—even ghost kids.
Plus, we can settings outside the small structure, including eerie cellars and dark forests.
When I think of a mansion haunting, my mind turns to gothic romance, wealth and plenty of space for hidden chambers, clues, traps and puzzles. This kind of haunted house is one of the most popular—able to house a spooky exploration and/or a personal story full of mystery.
Maybe the old mansion is empty and abandoned, or maybe a member of the party has been summoned to a special dinner. We can even lean all the way into the trope and reward the party if they spend the entire night.
Consider these writing prompts when building a haunted mansion adventure:
- One of the party members receives a strange invitation—requesting a party of adventurers to a dinner, which turns into a ghostly murder mystery.
- A nobleman is killed in his home and the party is sent to investigate. However, on arrival, strange occurrences disrupt the original plan.
- The archwizard of a college of wizards has misplaced an important book in his home. Unfortunately, he lives in a mansion built to house and trap dangerous spirits, some of which may have escaped.
- A mysterious mansion appears out of a strange mist near a small village. Adventurers find wonders, treasure and forgotten dangers within.
The haunted castle makes for a grand, spooky adventure—full of all kinds of puzzles, traps, rooms and unique supernatural monsters. When exploring a haunted castle, we can find settings like dungeons, gardens, open throne rooms, living quarters, armories and spiraling tower staircases.
Though we always have room for a great backstory, haunted castles can be used as a funhouse dungeon adventure. With so much space to explore, and so much variety in setting, we have plenty of opportunity for puzzles, traps and monster encounters.
Consider building out settings for:
- Gardens : Animated trees, ghouls and even fairies could set the mood in a haunted garden. Set the party up for an ambush as if they were exploring a dense forest.
- Dungeons : Naturally, castles will have dungeons—and dungeons are spooky. The grungiest monsters can lurk here: undead minions, zombie and ghouls.
- Throne Room : This is a great place to set up empty suits of armor. Then, when the players confront the final boss fight, the armor comes to life.
- Hallways : Long hallways lit by torchlight can end in abrupt darkness, creating a moment of hesitation as the party investigates. Plus, paintings, extra rooms and statues can help fill the narrow space out.
- Spirits, specters and shades: Naturally, ghostly knights, jesters, wizards and prisoners offer challenging tactics for the party. Possession, invisibility and the frightened condition are common for these encounters.
- Mimics, animated objects: Something about a castle screams mimic opportunity. Of course, chests and doors are all around the castle. Some of them just might bite. Plus, we can’t forget animated suits of armor, swords and statues.
- Vampires, undead: Curse of Strahd style—use vampires as noble class with ghosts throughout the castle. Then, undead thralls and zombies can lurk in the lower dungeons.
- Devils/Demons: I would reserve this level of haunting for a late game boss fight. Perhaps the underlying demon or devil is the cause of the spiritual chaos in the first place—especially in an epic setting like a castle.
Haunted House Traps and Puzzles
Firstly, the haunted should be considered important to the adventure–just as much as the the spirits within. In some ways, the house, mansion or castle is character itself, full of unique environments within a relatively small amount of space. Therefore, adding in elements like traps and puzzles give these haunted environments more obstacles and mystique.
- Doors: Opening doors in castles and mansions can be dangerous business. Doors can transform into mimics , trigger booby traps contain complex locking mechanisms. Perhaps trying to pick the lock is a bad idea. Plus, castles are great places to hide trap doors in the floor.
- Illusions: Castles and mansions are full of long hallways, which are perfect for setting up illusion traps. This is especially likely in a haunted castle, where apparitions can appear and disappear at will. Mislead players, make them lost and set them up for disaster.
- Hallway of Armor: Playing off the animated armor idea, we could set a locked door at the end of a hallway whose walls are lined with knight armor. A misstep in unlocking the door (trap, puzzle or failed lockpicking attempt) will trigger the spirits within the armor to come to life and attack the party.
- Creature Painting: Introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything , a painting showing different groupings of monsters hints at a word puzzle. The players must take the number of monsters and count the letters in the monsters’ names. With these letters, we spell out the answer to a riddle.
- Riddle Locks: Every castle needs a good wizard, and wizards tend to hide information in unique ways. One way to uncover important clues is to solve a riddle that opens a magic lock. Of course, the players only have so many guesses before something catastrophic happens.
- Burned letters: Handwritten letters that are “burned” (maybe avoid actual fire), smudged or missing letters creates opportunities for players to piece together missing information. This fits nicely in a mystery campaign as characters collect more clues with the missing info.
- Ghost Memories: Sometimes, benign spirits need help remembering details from their lives. This may be important to moving on. Use riddles to create cyphers—like the Haunted Hallway in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. These cyphers can answer a hidden mystery that allows the spirit to move on.
Finally, resolving this adventure should bring elements of the backstory together in a satisfying way. We don’t just want an adventure based on seek and destroy tactics. Sure, we’ll need a few of those encounters to keep it spicy, but make the story based around something bigger.
Mystery campaigns can be broken down into chapters, where each clue is earned and pieces the puzzle together. Consider ideas such as:
- Components to a magic ritual must be found around the house before the haunting can be resolved.
- Before a spirit of vengeance can move on, the secret to its murder must be revealed. Collect the clues around the house and solve the mystery.
- A secret treasure must be retrieved from the lowest dungeon in the haunted castle to defeat a powerful evil.
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The Haunted House Map Pack
A downloadable Map Pack
Within this map pack you will find three different maps representing The Haunted House from the adventure The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh , published in the 5e Dungeons and Dragons module Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
Grid and gridless high resolution PNG files:
- Ground (garden and first floor of the house)
- Cellar (including the caves that lead into the sea)
Included in this pack, you'll also find a folder containing JPG files optimized for Roll20 (less than 5mb each). You just need to drag-and-drop and resize it!
Pay what you want! Even nothing!
It's up to you: you can have the files for FREE , or contribute with a little amount to tip me, which I'll appreciate immensely! Thank you very much!
Dungeondraft source files: Personalize your own map!
If you're interested in the Dungeondraft source files, you can have them if you tip $5 USD or more when downloading the files. Just be sure to choose the right amount for your support contribution.
Using these files with Roll20:
To use this files with Roll20 , follow these simple instructions:
- Unzip the files.
- Navigate to the folder named roll20 and chose between grid or gridless version of the different maps.
- Ground and 2nd Floor: 32x22 units (2240x1540).
- Cellar: 28x36 units (1960x2520).
- Choose the Map and Background Layer and Import your map image.
- Use the Select Tool to resize the map until it fits the area.
- Optional: If you want to hide the Roll20's grid just turn the opacity down by dragging the Opacity bar all the way to the left.
Q: I can't find or did not received my download link. How can I recover my download links?
A: Go to this page and follow the instructions. Probably all you need to do is to type in your e-mail and click "Resend my Download Links" .
Q: Will you make all the maps for this campaign?
A: That is the idea. If you're interested you can follow my profile here on itch.io to know when new maps are released!
The Haunted House Map Pack is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.
Click download now to get access to the following files:
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Hey, I just purchased these maps and am looking forward to running Sinister Secrets of Saltmarsh with my wonderful niece and her boyfriend.
Have you done a map for the pirate ship at the end of the adventure? If not, might you consider doing so please?
Hey! Do you mean the Sea Ghost?
I do indeed! Thank you.
Before I buy DundeonDraft, do you know if it's possible please to import the walls and lighting into Roll20 so I don't have to draw them all from scratch?
I'm not sure if you can by default, but I believe there is a script for Roll20 that helps with that. But I myself never tested it. Good luck and thanks for your support!
I cant seem to pay for the maps. I've tried to different cards but keep getting the same error. Juan
Hi! My GM uses this map for a house my party now owns in Saltmarsh. We're renovating the house and I thought it would be amazing to gift the GM with a "New" version all cleaned up and decorated. Is this something I could Commission you to do?
Map commissions are always complicated because I can't charge you for the amount of time I need to make something this detailed. But there are some things that we can do to solve this.
Firstly, you can have the source files to edit these maps in DungeonDraft (to clean it up, and add furniture as many times as you want, for ever), if you donate 5 bucks. DungeonDraft is not that expensive and relatively simple to use.
If that's not your cup of tea, I can upload an empty, cleaned up version of the house, and you and your group and GM can populate it in your VTT using free assets you can find online ( 2 minute table top have some really good ones). Then, if you like this empty house, you can make a donation based on how much you think this is worth to you.
But, if you really want to commission a fully decorated house, DM me on twitter (@nqatsi) or reddit (u/nqatsi), and we can talk!
Thanks for the contact and support
I used your haunted house as a background in my game. https://naav.itch.io/skeleton-rampage . Thank you so much!
Amazing maps, export from Dungeondraft to FoundryVTT worked flawlessly.
Thank you!!!! Love these!!! Tip Sent!
Thank you for your support! :D
thanks you alot!!! God bless you!
Thank you my friend! Enjoy the maps!
Awesome my friend! Thank you very much for your support!! I hope you enjoy the maps! ;)
Just came across these today. They're exactly what I was hoping to find. Please make all of them! FYI, I'm using the 2-Minute token editor to make characters and monsters for these. They work perfectly together. 2-Minute Token Editor
Hey buddy! Sorry that I never replied! I'm very glad that you like the maps! And those tokens are really cool... they sure match the style! :D
Amazing! Thank you so much for these 🤗❤
Thanks for your support! :)
I have run into a slight problem, the cellar map is 14MB and Roll20 only allows 10MB max upload, are you able to compress the file size to no more than 10MB?
Hey! There are specific files inside the zip file that are compressed to be used with Roll20! Check the instructions above under "Using these files with Roll20" :D
I'm out of town at the moment, so I'll have a look when I get back and edit/ delete my comment. :)
Don't worry! More people might have the same question :)
Yup, they are there in a subfolder, apologies for the confusion.
Love the maps, hope to see more developed.
Slight edit, the second floor seems to be darker than the ground floor, was this done on purpose?
Thank you for your support! I hope to have something new soon(ish)! :)
Hi! I just donated $5.00. But didn't received Dungeondraft Map Source yet. I think there was some error on the paypal or itch's payment system. By the way, I am a huge fan of your works! Keep doing it right!
Invoice says it's "Unclaimed". I really don't know why. My paypal account starts with "diehard". Plz check for me!
Hey! Thanks for your donation! Hm, thats awkward I don't see your name on paypal... Could you email me more info about it, like the transaction id? The payment system is kinda weird sometimes...
Oh, never mind! I just got an email from itch.io! Thanks!
Great!! Thanks! :)
I really like your maps! What software did u use for making them?
Thanks! I'm using Dungeondraft. You can check it here: https://dungeondraft.net/
I run a stream called Chronos World, and we are launching a Saltmarsh campaign. We'd love to use these maps on the stream! Can I donate for using them this way?
Sorry I just saw your comment now! Please use them! I would love that. Fell free to donate if you want. It will be very much appreciated! And don't forget to share the link to the stream! :D
PS: if you could post a link to this page on you stream it would be very helpful :)
I will definitely do that! Thank you so much, sir! You can find your work on Thursday night @6pm PST! Chronos World
Have you tried setting these up in the Foundry? Do you have a recommended map size and grid unit size? I seem to be having trouble making all of the walkways and doorways fit a grid properly.
I've only tested in roll20... With a unit size of 70 pixels, these are recommended dimensions:
Those settings worked great in The Foundry, thank you, sir!
Dude these have given so much love to my campaign, thank you so much! I've donated and money has left my account but itch said there may have been an error, so let me know if you don't receive it! So looking forward to all the other maps, can't wait.
I'm so glad that you like the maps! I received your donation all right! I'm not sure why itch have this problem... But I would like to say that you're very generous! Thank you very much!! I'm already working on the next one, so stay tuned ;) thanks again!
Thanks! I'm releasing the Sea Ghost in 5 minutes! :D