Source: Van Richtens Guide to Ravenloft

Terror doesn't come just for the brave and prepared—often quite the opposite. Some of the most harrowing horror stories involve the least likely heroes, individuals who find their simple lives transformed into waking nightmares.


In most horror adventures, players will employ familiar, adventure-ready characters. That doesn't need to be the case, though. Instead, for short, low-power adventures, immersive retellings of tragic events, out-of-body experiences, or other unique tales, consider providing players with temporary, stand-in characters called survivors.

This section provides guidance for using survivors, characters designed for one- to three-session adventures focused on survival rather than saving the day. Using survivors helps create horror experiences focused on the dread inherent to having limited resources and facing impending doom without forcing players to risk their favorite characters.

Using Survivors

Survivors are premade characters that are simple and easy for players to master, while being customizable enough to fill broad roles in your adventures—whether they be farmers or bored nobles, constables or babysitters. Adventures employing survivors are meant to be asides within broader campaigns or otherwise short experiences.

Cut Scenes, Dreams, and Memories

Use survivors to provide information to players in the form of a self-contained adventure. Even if it doesn't make sense for a campaign's characters to be present for an event, survivors can provide players with perspectives they wouldn't otherwise have. For example, you might use survivors in the following ways:

  • Survivors serve as the first constables on the scene during a serial killer's crime. Afterward, when the players' other characters get involved in the investigations, the players know the details.
  • Survivors give every player a part to play in one character's ominous nightmares, such as those resulting from encounters with the mind flayers of Bluetspur
  • Survivors provide players front row seats to important historic events. It's one thing to hear about the massacre at Castle Ravenloft following Strahd von Zarovich's transformation into a vampire, but it's another to play it.

Terrible Freedom, Delightful Doom

Make sure your players know how long you plan to use survivors and that they'll be playing their usual characters again soon. Also let them know that survivors are designed to engage with terrifying circumstances, but their triumph over such threats is not assured. Players' decisions will certainly impact the survivors' fates, but if it seems like doom is in store, encourage the players to embrace it and make sure their survivors meet unforgettable ends.

What's Old Is New

Dwindling resources contribute to terrifying situations. When a group runs out of hit points, spells, food, or other vital reserves, tension and dread increase. High-level characters, though, have such resources in spades. By running an adventure using survivors, you can recapture some of the same tension adventurers experience early in their careers, encouraging players to use their wits and make desperate choices powerful characters can avoid.

Tools for Terror

Survivors allow you to control how players will engage with a horror adventure. The stat blocks in the following section are designed to be easy-to-use characters with a hint of talent but little that makes them remarkable:

Apprentices have a minor talent for magic and tend to be well-read.

Disciples faithfully adhere to the tenets of their chosen religions and receive spells from the deities they worship.

Sneaks survive by their wits and are often charlatans or petty thieves.

Squires possess a modicum of martial training and are stalwart companions.

Determine how you want to use survivors in your adventure. If it's important to the story, perhaps all the players use the same stat block, representing their shared experience—a group of Sneaks might all be detectives while a band of Disciples might face a terror unleashed upon a monastery. You can also allow players to choose their own survivors, as any survivor might fill a general role like noble, villager, or sailor with a touch of talent. Make use of these ready-made characters in whatever ways suit your adventure best.

Creating a Survivor

When you plan a session using survivors, determine how you'll use the Apprentice, Disciple, Sneak, and Squire stat blocks that appear in the following section. Once you've determined what survivors to use, take a few moments to individualize them. If the survivors have particular roles in your adventure, provide that information to players along with their survivors' statistics; otherwise, let them come up with their own details. Players can give their survivors names, personalities, and lineages, but these details don't affect the survivors' stat blocks.

Survivor Stats


Survivors don't possess classes as detailed in the Player's Handbook. Despite this, you can make a survivor marginally more powerful by increasing its level. The stat blocks present the survivors as they are at 1st level. Rather than gaining experience points, a survivor increases in level whenever it makes sense for your adventure. When a survivor gains a level, it gains the benefits on the Survivor Progression table. A survivor that advances from 1st to 2nd level and from 2nd to 3rd level gains access to the player's choice of Survivor Talents (see the section below).

Survivor Progression
Level Feature
1st See the appropriate stat block
2nd Survivor Talent
3rd Survivor Talent

Hit Points

Whenever a survivor gains a level, it gains one Hit Die and its hit point maximum increases. To determine the amount of the increase, roll the Hit Die (the type that appears in the survivor's stat block), and add the survivor's Constitution modifier. It gains a minimum of 1 hit point per level.

If a survivor drops to 0 hit points, it falls unconscious and subsequently makes death saving throws just like a normal player character.

Survivor Talents

At 2nd level and again at 3rd level, a survivor gains their choice of one of the following talents. A survivor can't gain the same talent more than once, unless a talent's description says otherwise. If a talent has a prerequisite, the character must meet it to gain the talent.