All residents and workers have evacuated from Lord Billory’s manor. They flee from the ghosts inside, terrified of the voices and sounds in the night. The party is the most recent group hired to exorcise the threat, entering carefully with only stories and hearsay to guide them. Sounds shift in the floors above, objects seem to move when out of view, and a child laughs in the distance. Others have tried and failed with varying levels of injury, but they must succeed. They draw their holy water, ready their silvered blades, and grip their holy symbols. Behind them, a bookshelf bares its teeth.
We continue our ‘Encounter with a Twist’ series with the Mimic Mansion. Designed to work as a bounty, roadside encounter, or even a mission of mercantile espionage, it’s sure to provide an enjoyable, player-driven adventure. Below you will find everything you need to prepare and run the haunted mansion and mimic encounter. We’ve also included maps and tokens to take as much stress out of your job as DM as possible. You can drop it into your campaign fully formed, adjust any features you like, or even just take it as loose inspiration.
This mimic encounter is another that I have run for my own group. Their connections in the noble houses led to them being offered a secretive task. They were to contact Lord Edmond Billory, pose as experienced exorcists in order to infiltrate his abandoned, haunted manor, and steal deeds, documents, and an item of particular value. The layering of multiple motivations and contexts meant that the players had to remain on their toes. They thought they knew what they were up against. They were unprepared for the final twists I had ready for them.
Setting the Stage
Moving the Pieces
Introducing the encounter organically is often one of the most frustrating steps. You want to guide your players without it feeling forced. Fortunately, this adventure is easily adaptable for the two most common options: a contract or a roadside encounter. Using it as a contract or bounty allows you to add another character and layer to the encounter, but does rely on the context of the campaign. This is how I chose to run it. My players were, at the time, in the employ of a Lord Samuel August. Their employer had them deliver a mysterious package to a shady individual in the city of Vara, a large trade crossroads. This affiliation caught the attention of Vara’s lord, Mathius Wills.
A man by the name of Edmond Billory had recently presented documents of claim to the land neighboring Wills’. He had appeared out of nowhere, yet held proof of lineage. More recently, Billory had begun hiring exorcists to deal with the haunting in his newly acquired manor. Wills used the opportunity to hire the players to pose as ghost-hunters, access Billory’s house, and steal the documents. This meant two things. One, the players were given a reason to not only enter the house but also to explore it in search of safes and vaults. Secondly, it guaranteed them a reward for completing Wills’ contract, while giving them the option and motivation to act further. A successful exorcism meant extra payment; more than even they expected at the time.
It is also possible to adapt this setup as a roadside ‘haunted mansion’ encounter. Leaving out the Wills’ content means that the party can come across Billory and his evacuated staff while traveling. In my own campaign, Billory and his workers had set up camp outside of the manor grounds. He wanted them back to work the moment the threat had passed. This meant that if my players had not met with Wills, or had simply denied him, they could have passed the camps on the road. Billory is prideful but desperate and can proposition passing adventurers to help. This does rely on player curiosity or motivation by payment, but who doesn’t love a haunted mansion? Keep in mind that sacrificing the Wills layer to the encounter does require some adaptation, which we will try to address in each specific section.
Need a town for Wills? Use one of our premade maps, or download our tokens and create your own.
The Scene Itself
Designing the manor and its grounds can be both enjoyable and difficult. Your objective in the layout of the house is making it feel like a living space, rather than an arena for combat. You should think about the rooms and spaces that would be required, while also trying to inject Billory’s personality into the layout. My take on Billory was a pompous, arrogant noble who had recently come into more money than he should have ever been allowed. To show this, his house was full of paintings, expensive rugs, and decorative suits of armor. Billory had a grand office, a stocked wine cellar, and two connected rooms dedicated to trophies and displays. He assigned a small bedroom to his butler, while the rest of the workers had their own sleeping arrangements in a separate, much smaller building. Billory also had an extra bedroom for… entertaining guests.
One way to simplify the process is to find a floorplan online and adapt it. It might seem obvious, but many overlook the option due to the habit of designing their own maps. Taking the plan for a Victorian manor, or whatever might fit your campaign, means you can spend less time trying to fit in everything you think might be needed. Assign loose measurements for combat, as well as labels for each room. You save time this way, which you can better spend on the rooms’ layouts, encounters, and gimmicks. But more on that later. You might need to create your own cellar for the building, as well as the attached cave. By creating a realistic manor first and designing encounters second, you make the map feel more realistic and liveable. Mimics want to appear as if they fit, after all.
The exterior of the manor is less important but should be given preparation. The gardens won’t hold any mimics, as you want the players deep in the house before they are encountered. What the courtyard will do is act as the stage for a potential climactic fight once the party has left the house. You also have the workers’ campsite, likely positioned outside of the estate’s walls. This area is used mostly as a demonstration of Billory’s character and a stage for conversations. Give him a larger tent or carriage and separate him from the rabble. Everyone else should be making use of what they were able to collect as they ran from the haunting, banding together as a community. Do your best to show the friction between Billory and his employees.
Pulling the Strings
Once your players enter the building, your focus should be entirely on the haunted mansion encounter. You can forget about mimics until they’re further in. Make use of sound effects and describe movement in other rooms. It helps to have a map to yourself with specific furniture placement, to allow you to move objects in rooms behind the players. They need only be subtle changes, to put the characters on edge and constantly unsure of whether something is actually changing. I personally found a short sound clip of a child laughing and played it from my phone intermittently as they moved around. It may seem cliche, but it worked perfectly.
The party’s reason for being there will dictate their movement through the house. My intention was to first lure them into the cellar, so Wills had also contracted them to steal a marked box from the basement storage. This pulled them deeper into the structure and allowed me to begin giving them information on the ‘haunting’. Something had carved an opening in the cellar wall, opening into a confined cavern. Wine barrels hid the opening, but the exposed dirt betrayed the disguise. The cave was a ritual site, with infernal summoning runes on the floor. The exact meaning of the circle relates to a devil character of my campaign, but the larger purpose was to show Billory’s connection to some form of occult magic. It is the first and most prominent clue to his true background.
While moving through the building, your players will most likely be on their toes and ready for combat. Mine certainly were. They kept their eyes locked on the suits of armor and displayed weapons. Drawing them into the cellar forced them to break line of sight. I wanted them as tense as possible and subverted their expectations by having the most obvious ghost encounters not happen. This instills the seeds of doubt in their minds and keeps them guessing. The mimics only appeared when my players heard a shifting from out of the cave, back in the cellar. The players squeezed back out and found a single barrel blocking the doorway.
Playing it Out
It should not be too difficult to juggle the background mechanisms of the mimic encounters, as each room can be separated as its own encounter. What this does mean is planning out the purpose, creatures, and secondary effects present in each room. You also want players to have varied objectives within the house, to have them visit as many rooms as possible. The true encounter begins once the first mimic appears. Your players will hopefully still be in the mindset of a ghost encounter, as mine were. My party’s bard, played by my brother and the creator of 2-Minute Table Top, kicked the events off by trying to boot the barrel out of his way. It ate his shoe.
The aforementioned decorations are what give us our opportunities for mimics and similar creatures. Start off with mimics, animated armors, rugs of smothering, and flying swords. Disguise them well by making small adjustments to the forms they take. In my campaign, a rug of smothering was a bed’s blanket and a mimic was a small table and the drinks on top. Make sure to keep your players unsure of what is and isn’t a monster by including mundane versions of the same objects. You can expand further by including darkmantles and piercers, reskinned as animated curtains and light fixtures. Keep your plans fluid and adjustable in case your players’ actions present an opportunity for a funny mimic appearance.
You should always adjust creature abilities and stats depending on the party’s level and size. Keep in mind the number of encounters, however, as the house does not provide opportunities for rests. The adventure should be a battle of attrition, with players rationing abilities between fights. Including a boss fight at the end will also mean either toning down the interior encounters or allowing for a short or long rest once they are out.
Billory and Co.
Billory himself is a simple character to play, but also the trigger for the encounter’s existence. He is an arrogant, selfish man who gets everything he wants through his money. When playing him, be the snootiest and most uptight noble stereotype you can imagine. He should be rude, dismissive, and not accept any blame for the events. The reward he offers the players should outweigh his need to come across as likable. His behavior in my campaign was owed largely to his sudden rise to power. He had been a commoner only weeks prior. That was until he made a deal with a devil.
Your players’ investigation in the house should slowly reveal his backstory. Edmond Billory was previously a working man, who then made the mistake of summoning a devil. What he offered is up to you, but in return, he gained magically falsified documents granting him claim to the estate’s land and riches. These are what Wills is after. They appear legitimate but could be proven false under magical inspection or comparison to Wills’ records. The haunting of the house did not, however, come with or from the devil. Rather, the spike in magical activity drew the attention of a fey. The faerie, which we will call the ‘Mastermind’, remains hidden in the house, enchanting objects and tricking and scaring people in what it considers to be games.
Billory’s workers are minor characters, but you can use them as information sources on both Billory and the house. You need only designate one or two as conversation characters. I chose to use Billory’s manservant and his kennel master. Speaking to them provided the party with information on their employer and helped the party learn of previous attempts at the exorcism. You can use this to warn of threats and build the first seeds of tension. Perhaps the last group to try were defenestrated from the top floor? Conversation can also hint toward where the documents and other objectives might be kept. They might mention areas where Billory spends most of his time or won’t allow anyone else to access. Just try to be subtle, and remember to place these areas deep within the house.
The fey Mastermind is the ultimate endpoint of the encounter, should your players seek to remedy the haunting. The small creature is an amoral trickster, using the house and its residents as its own playground. It will remain hidden, instead doing what it can to trick the party and have fun with them. Its intentions should inform the design of the effects in the house. Try to think of it as a carefree child given control of a manor and effortless magical ability. It is not evil nor malicious. You may wish to expand further, depending on your campaign’s lore. My version of the Mastermind had run from the control of an unnamed greater being, the creeping influence of which was causing outbursts. Making the encounter’s ‘villain’ a victim forced my players to think more sympathetically and find non-violent solutions.
The fey of my campaign’s world are formless shapeshifters with psychic abilities. Their visual design is inspired by Magic: The Gathering’s Eldrazi and similar artwork. This makes them visibly related to mimics, but is not necessary for this encounter. You are welcome to make them appear however you wish, but try to have the animated creatures reflect the fey. Using more traditional fey should mean creatures distinctly less… disgusting than mine.
Concluding the mimic encounter will require a confrontation with the fey. A young fey might be hiding in the attic, as mine was. It may also eventually creep out to observe the party personally if they ignore it. You ideally want this conversation to occur, so lay clues to its location or identity throughout the house. The sounds of laughter and banging on walls that I used seemed to come from above, and the fey had scattered notes in the manor’s study. These notes were tied closely to my campaign’s narrative, but yours might be playful riddles that lead players on a scavenger hunt throughout the house. Once they are led to the fey, it’s time to play it. How it responds is up to you, but try to emphasize its inhuman, though childlike nature. You want it to be creepy, but also show that it is not malevolent.
Concluding the entire haunted mansion encounter can be difficult, as it relies on dealing with the fey. For this reason, you may wish to have some general options for players to take. Explaining that the faerie is hurting people could convince it to leave. It could likewise be allowed to stay if your players hate Billory enough. This was a key factor in the path my players took and led to them receiving a particularly unique reward.
One thing to note is that the possibility of a boss fight relies on the fey either becoming angry or, as in my campaign, being controlled. One way to lead toward this without forcing it is to have the Mastermind refer to the mimics as its friends. It may become set on saving or not leaving them. If your players are kind towards it, the fey should allow them to leave before it acts. It doesn’t wish to hurt them, even though it may force them to fight it. Peaceful conversation and a climax fight are not mutually exclusive, but you should reward your players with an advantage for a successful negotiation.
Our map library includes everything you might need to create the manor, cellar, and nearby camp. Our Haunted Estate was created especially to house the adventure, and even has an unfurnished variant to accommodate the Mansion Furniture Tokens, which can double as mimics!
Aside from mimics, the mansion should also include all manner of gimmick rooms. The purpose is to show the randomness and chaos of the fey’s mind and to show that it isn’t simply creating vicious monsters. It likewise catches players off-guard and keeps them interested in what they might find next. The effects you choose can be almost anything and the stranger they are, the better. I actually wish I had included more in mine. The dining room held an enormous feast with food being eaten by invisible revelers. Upstairs, a clan of myconids was playing cards. They were non-hostile but did not appreciate the interruption. Other ideas are a bedroom lacking any gravity or even one filled by water. Be as creative as you can in your own designs.
Keep in mind Billory’s own precautions for protecting his treasures. The cellar cave entrance should be blocked by barrels, and his safe will be well hidden. Mine was covered by a painting and locked behind a complex mechanism. It required both a key kept by the butler and left in his room and a trigger in Billory’s desk. The desk trigger included a trap, of course, with a poison needle that would extend if a secondary lever was not held.
The freedom in designing rooms also allows you to incorporate other creatures. As with the mimics and their like, try to keep the individual challenge ratings low. Be as creative as you like, but always consider what fits within each room. You would rather use several great ideas than have every single room filled with a half-effort fight. Trophy rooms allow for animated swords and other weapons, but could also have a monster version of a Cloud of Daggers. For designing these creatures, look at low CR monsters of similar archetypes. Use them as a guide in assigning health, AC, and other stat values, and always be ready to adjust them during the session if they feel badly tuned.
Your rooms should ultimately help to inform the players of what is truly happening. A more direct way of doing this is to have the Mastermind leaving the aforementioned notes and clues. Mine related to the being trying to control the fey, and included notes, scrawled thoughts, a poem, and even a map of the planar arrangement. Yours can be simpler and favor notes left for Billory and the workers, or riddles and jokes. A series of cryptic directions eventually leading to the fey are a great idea, as they can turn the rooms into a gauntlet of encounters and help ensure your players don’t miss anything. The Mastermind will also be glad to meet the first group to finish its game.
The Mimic House
The use of a boss fight will depend on how well your players handle the fey conversation. It is entirely possible that they will be successful enough to avoid it. If you choose to have an external influence, however, it might be out of their control. In this case, make sure that their success gives them a clear advantage in the following fight. One thing I feel that I did poorly in my own campaign was leading to the boss encounter. My Mastermind was drawn back to the house to help its friends, before being taken over by the external influence. It sewed psychic rage and chaos in the workers, who lashed out at each. One of the injured found the party and convinced them to return and help. I hadn’t prepared properly for my party leaving and took multiple attempts to force them back before it worked.
Above all else, you do not want your method to feel as forced as mine did. The devil character in my campaign is an observer and businessman, but changing this for your version is a good way to adjust the boss encounter’s trigger. He may view Billory’s actions or the documents’ discovery as a breach of contract and use his own power to send the Mastermind into a frenzy, as a way of removing what Billory had gained. There are many other ways to bring about the events, but try to be fair and allow your players to influence what happens as much as possible. If they do choose to leave quickly, have them later hear of what happens and motivate them to track down the mansion and deal with it.
Now for the boss itself. The basic idea is to take the idea of a mimic encounter and push it to its limit. This gives us the mansion mimic. Yes, the entire mansion becomes a mimic. External walls crack and break to reveal teeth, sinew and adhesive flesh fill the halls, and it attempts to make a getaway. The house itself is a simple creature. Exact stat numbers can and should depend on your party composition, but the basic abilities can stay the same. The mansion will toss mobile furniture mimics as distractions and use its fey magic to disrupt the party until it can make its escape. As a lair action at initiative 20 of each round, the mansion will produce one of four arms. Once all four are active, it will rise from the ground and gain a movement speed of 30ft.
The arms themselves act as extensions of the mansion. They should only take actions to grab characters as a trap for those that get too close. The combination of their tendril grab and the mansion’s consume ability also acts to inform players of how to deal with the house by forcing them inside.
We even made statblocks for the fight, using Reddit user chickenwraith’s 5e Statblock Generator. Take all the values only as guidelines. Everything should be adjusted for your own party.
The key to defeating the mansion is not in dealing damage to it, but rather by targeting its heart. Characters can harm it from the outside and arms can be targeted to cripple it, but you want to make it clear to the players that it must be overpowered from within. The simplest way to do this is by having the fey suggest it, but if the fey is hostile you might choose to have it call out from within. Emphasize its control over the construct. Entering it will risk the digestion damage, and if players discover it quickly you might wish to have animated armor inside to protect the core.
From there the decision falls to them: do they kill the fey/the fey’s friend, or talk it down. My version of the climax had the party’s monk protecting the bard, who was making a contest of charisma checks against the controlled fey. He succeeded, allowing the two to wrest control of the house. If your Mastermind is lashing out on its own, your characters may need to calm it like a child in a tantrum. This is where the emphasis on its childlike nature comes to fruition, as you want your players to view killing it as a last resort. The same goes for if the house is acting independently of the fey, as the Mastermind should beg them not to kill its friend.
The Curtain Call
Whether the boss fight is triggered or not, your players should be rewarded. One of the strengths of this adventure’s setup is that the players are contracted and will, therefore, be paid for their work. The more successful they are for both Wills and Billory, the greater their reward. Seeing the monstrosity firsthand may also motivate Billory to grant them a bonus, or at least give them grounds to negotiate for one. If the lord resists paying a bonus, have his manservant speak up on his behalf and offer more before he and a number of the workers resign.
Billory’s attitude and the disdain your players should have for him also means that his belongings can act as item rewards. Placing an enchanted weapon or trinket in the trophy rooms will tempt characters, though the morally upright might not go for it. To preempt this, Billory may have offered to let them take whatever they please from the room as part of their payment. The majority of the items will be mundane and worthless, but one might catch their eye. Alternatively, the magic and effects during the fight might affect items they are already carrying. In my campaign, the party stole a silver shortsword that had been temporarily animated. Our bard, who had lost a boot to the first barrel they encountered, took a pair of Billory’s. The shoes were then revealed, of course, to be friendly mimics.
Your party’s actions in the mimic encounter’s climax may also lead to other rewards. My players, befriending the fey and disliking Billory, opted to leave it in control of the house. Billory and his workers had fled from the chaos and violence, allowing the party to lead the house away and hide it in the forest. This has provided them with a base of operations in the form of a living house. I had an inkling of this possibility before the session, and was thus able to prepare for and improvise the outcome as it happened. Your results may vary, but it is key to think about what your players might try and how you might reward them. There’s no better feeling as a player than overcoming a great threat and being granted an equally great, unique, and unexpected reward.
That’s everything for the second entry in our ‘Encounter with a Twist’ series. We’ve loved seeing the responses to our first entry, Ghost Encounter with a Goblin Twist. We’re excited to produce more alongside our d20 Encounter Charts, and are eager to hear any feedback you might have. Whether you follow it closely or just use pieces to make your own, feel free to comment with any thoughts you might have. And as always, we absolutely want to know how your players reacted and got through it.
Finally, leave a comment if you have your own ideas for encounters. We’re always looking out for new ‘Encounter with a Twist’ concepts and would love to hear any ideas you have. The stranger the better!