It's still October! That means it is still Halloween month and so I wanted to show off this Homebrew Item I came up with a while back that might be a fantastic addition to any horror-themed campaign, one-shot, or encounter. It could be a small plot hook for your players to encounter, or something found amongst the loot that, like any cursed item, will cause havoc for a small amount of time!
The Possessed Doll, Haunted Doll or Killer Toy is a trope that is seen in a variety of media, and gained popularity during the 20th Century when film was able to realistically portray such a thing. Inspiration may obviously have come from Voodoo Dolls and Poppets that are effigies used by those who practice magic to curse or cast spells upon the people they represent, or even Shikigami, small ghosts from Japanese folklore that are summoned and made real by powerful practitioners that often inhabit paper manikins.
Popular examples that people may recognise include the clown doll from the film Poltergeist; Chucky the doll that is found in a lot of films but most recently the remake of Child's Play; and Annabelle, the real-world Raggedy Ann doll that is currently being kept in a museum and inspired the film version in the film of the same name. Some may remember a film by the name of Dead Silence that focused on a Ventriloquist and her terrifying, cursed dolls. On a more Sci-Fi/Action note, Small Soldiers focused on toys that were loaded with powerful microprocessors that allowed them to become intelligent and, in turn, deadly. Outside of film, plenty of video games and other media contain this trope too, a recent example being Resident Evil: Village. There are many examples to choose from since the 1930s and it's certainly a fun trope to play with!
So without further ado, here is my Homebrew idea for including something like this in your game! I've based it on the existing Magic Item called the Talking Doll (Xanathar's Guide To Everything, page 139). The original description was this:
"While this stuffed doll is within 5 feet of you, you can spend a short rest telling it to say up to six phrases, none of which can be more than six words long, and you can set a condition under which the doll speaks each phrase. You can also replace old phrases with new ones. Whatever the condition, it must occur within 5 feet of the doll to make it speak. For example, whenever someone picks up the doll, it might say, “I want a piece of candy.” The doll’s phrases are lost when your attunement to the doll ends."
A fun item, but it has quite possibly the most terrifying artwork I've ever seen and definitely needs a variant that is equally as spooky!
Wondrous Item, Uncommon
This odd looking doll is a little unsettling to be around, and yet somehow draws in anyone who gazes upon it.
Curse. The doll is cursed. If you choose to study the doll in some way, either by looking over it during a short rest, passing an INT (Investigation) check on it or casting identify on it, make a WIS Saving Throw (DC 13). Upon a success, you are are not affected by the doll but have no awareness that the Doll tried to curse you. Upon a failure, you want to take the doll and are unwilling to part with it.
If you are cursed, you must roll 1d6 at the end of every long rest.
You end the long rest gaining 1 point of exhaustion as your nightmares are haunted by the sound of giggling.
One item from your pack disappears.
You wake up covered in small marks - scratches, bruises, bite marks and take 2d4 piercing damage.
Everyone rolls 1d6 and if any numbers match the owner of the doll, something from their pack is removed and added to the player cursed by the doll’s pack.
You gain proficiency with one tool and learn one language for the day that you did not know before?
You gain advantage on all ability checks and saving throws made until your next long rest.
If the doll is abandoned somewhere it returns to that person’s pack after the next long rest and the person rolls 2d6, taking the lower number. You are cursed to keep hold of the doll or have it find its way back to you until you are targeted by a remove curse spell or other similar magic.
Tags: Buff, Debuff, Cursed, Sentient
The above contains the beginnings of a pretty creepy magical item, but there are a ton of different ways that it can be flavoured to be even creepier! Perhaps the doll is more than just a cursed toy - perhaps it is sentient! In which case it could take on a stat block and attack your players should they upset it too much. I have a few suggestions - a Carrionette (Van Richten's Guide To Ravenloft, page 231) because of it's terrifying soul swap ability; the home-brewed Evil Doll stat block, StoneStrix's Reddit contribution to r/MonsterADay because it can cast some pretty interesting spells every day; the Creepy Doll stat block from Kyle Hall's 5e Card-A-Day because it can use a legendary action and has some interesting lore; or the Voodoo Doll stat block by Morvick on Reddit because there is a LOT of cool stuff there, including a neat charge system! It's interesting to come up with creative ways that a sentient doll may reward players that do it's bidding or punish those that attempt to fight it!
I also like to think about other flavour pieces. For example, what does it look like? Does it take on the appearance of its last victim, and the players will find out this information later? Or perhaps it will spookily resemble its next intended target - one of the PCs! Is it scary looking, dirty and falling apart? Or eerily pristine? Can it talk? Or does it remain silent and staring? And where will the players find it? Perhaps it is innocuously sitting in a toy shop window, or the bedroom of a child that the players meet, or perhaps it is just found abandoned in the wilderness.
Whatever the choice, this is a nightmare-inducing addition to any adventure, but would particularly suit a horror setting. I hope you enjoyed this post - have you ever put a creepy doll in your game? How did you implement it? Let me know!