The veiled acolytes of the Great Red God of the Deep are a most unwelcome sight on any lonely road. Known colloquially as "Redcaps" (on account of the great, blood-soaked hoods they adorn themselves with) these creatures are similar in stature to the halfling or the gnome - but should by no means be underestimated on account of their small size. Constantly whispering sing-song adulations to their dread God in a forbidden tongue, they offer praise to It in the slaughter of all living things (an act at which, either through some dark blessing or sheer fervour, they are fearsomely adept). Wielding an enormous crescent-shaped mowing-blade, they are as deadly in combat as they are difficult to kill; it has been said that woven into their hoods is some malign faery-magic that protects them from harm as long as the fabric is kept moistened with blood. If you have no choice but to fight a Redcap, it is recommended you arm yourself with a weapon of Cold Iron, as the metal's touch repels them (as it does most fey).
Finally getting back to creatures again! We actually had a Redcap illustration on the blog from a while ago (Ben Tobitt's wonderfully violent offering - it went up during a guest week) but the campaign I just finished involved a redcap and I wanted to do one that we could put in the second Dungeons & Drawings Book (did we mention? we're doing a second Dungeons & Drawings book!), so here we are. I kind of added the more Lovecraftian elements... you can see the sigil on his hat is the symbol of some kind of Squid-God. Although Redcaps to speak Aklo in Pathfinder, which is the language of the betentacled Elder Gods and such. So it isn't too far of a sidestep.
Despite their traditional depiction arguably not being that scary (short old man with spiky boots and a red hat), Redcaps are actually pretty beastly, stats-wise, for their CR, so I ended up spinning the encounter with more of a horror theme - one that would make the party just want run away from it instantly rather than try to fight it. I was actually pretty pleased with the result! I built him up a bit beforehand - someone examining a tapestry adorned with a throng of planar travellers rolled a high Spot check, so I told them they happen to notice, among the rest of the colourful creatures, one figure that sends an ominous chill down their spine -
And I drew ^this^ on the game mat we use. One of our PCs, Tythis, is an Oracle (another Pathfinder thing - Oracles are to Clerics what Sorcerers are to Wizards) whose backstory involves him being haunted by a strange spirit called Bartleby. I told Tythis that Bartleby (who usually keeps pretty silent unless called on) sees this little black-and-red figure and seems to recognise it, and his reaction is very negative.
This was framed as kind of an aside, but I think it stuck in the players' heads. Later on, the players come to a strange underground labyryinth. It's pitch black, and the players are working their way through a puzzle involving some teleporters. The tension is ramped up gradually - I think just the idea of being in a pitch black place and having to make your own light makes things quite claustrophobic, and I described the sound of a strange piping in the distance (the Redcap's "singing"). After a few rounds of the singing getting louder and the players maybe starting to worry a bit, I bust him out - the Redcap appears in a doorway and runs at the players! The way I described him was less cartoony than the illustration above... I guess I pictured a sort of Pyramid Head thing (the game, not the movie!). At the same time, I start playing this music, which is one of my favourite pieces ever:
AAAAAAAAAA! Seriously, the first time I heard this - wow! How horrifying. It seemed to set off the panic well, and the rest of the encounter was pretty much one big mad dash to solve the puzzle without meeting the Redcap or his scythe on the way. The party seemed pretty terrified of the prospect of meeting him again throughout the rest of the campaign, which felt good.
Overall, it was just a brief horror excursion in a more typical fantasy campaign, but I think that was why it worked so well, like the sudden shift in tone added to the scare. I'm a real fan of genuinely scary stuff, not just blood and guts or jumpscares but creative and effectively-conveyed scares, especially things that seem scary to you without you being able to explain why. The sort of inexplicable fear you feel in dreams, that kind of thing. If you haven't played any Silent Hill games I'd really recommend them - I think videogames have a particular knack for being scary because you're more directly involved in them than you are in a book or a movie. Definitely play SH2 if nothing else - the various Pyramid Head sections are expertly built up and paid off.
anyway, hope y'all found this interesting. Got any stories about trying to DM scary stuff?