ATTENTION: This story is based on us running a Halloween one-shot called Happy Jack’s Funhouse – available on dmsguild.com for just under $7. If you don’t want to know what happens do not read on but I will include that our DM adjusted some parts of the story to fit our campaign.
The party made their way through the grey portal that would, theoretically, lead them to the owner. Happy Jack was his name. Along the way they encountered magical creatures, a creepy old hag from their old days in Barovia, and grownup people “working” at the carnival with the personalities of bratty children. Now they had to face the big guy to save the children of Brownbriar.
On the other side of the portal was a unique scene. There was grass all over the place. The “edges” were no edges at all but just fog. It was the same fog they had encountered in Barovia, the Death Fog.
In the center was a giant willow tree. The leaves were deep green and reached to the ground. Through the leaves, under the canopy of the willow, were the missing children of Brownbrair. They were all dancing around a man. He was dressed in colorful clown clothing. His face was painted in cheery arrangements made to delight the innocent. The children were all looking at him in adoration and dancing with joy around him.
The party saw something else too. The longer they watched the children the more they saw them fade. Their souls were here but not their bodies, and they were fading the more time they spent here.
At first the party didn’t know what to do. Should they fight Jack? He didn’t seem to want to hurt the children but something was definitely draining them. They approached the tree and could hear the sounds of enchanting carnival music, smelled fresh popcorn, and saw ethereal streamers and confetti raining down on the children. Jack looked up as they came closer and although his demeanor was fun and sweet, his mouth was full of razor sharp teeth and his eyes were full of hunger.
He proceeded to tell them a story.
There once was a boy named Jack whose father could not love him back. He was the illegitimate son of Count Strahd von Zarovich before his descent into vampirism. For the longest time Jack wanted to make up for his own lack of love. He set out to make children laugh and have fun. He spent years traveling with his circus bringing joy to the people of the towns and villages he visited.
Yet, despite his mission to spread joy, he still felt the sting of loneliness and sadness. No matter how much he tried he could never get enough love to fill the hole in his heart. He wanted to make children happy forever, never let them grow up and experience the pains of life. He wanted to keep them safe from the world.
Then one day a new performer came to the carnival. The sage wisewoman Morgantha. She told him of a way he could keep the children happy forever. He could bring them here to his own domain where no one ever grew old or dealt with the pains of life. He rounded up children from various towns and brought them to his world a forever carnival of joy. Now no one could leave him or ignore his cries, he would have friends for all their lives.
With the last line his rictus turned down and the jagged teeth broke the skin below marring the makeup with blood. He jumped at the party and attacked with everything he had. They flung all the spells and all the weapon attacks they could to slowly bring him to his knees, and with one final blow Hepolita cut him down.
With that done, the extra dimensional place they were in began to go dark. The party quickly grabbed the children’s souls and urged them to move out into the portal now that they were no longer under Happy Jack’s sway. They made it out just as the portal closed behind them. Beyond, the carnival was beginning to collapse. The corridors were becoming transparent as they moved through them and reintroduced the souls of the children to the bodies of the carnival workers that had now reverted back to children’s bodies.
They rushed through the quickest path out and were past the tent flaps in time to see the whole thing collapse into itself. The party didn’t stay to see the whole thing disappear, they hurried the children towards the tavern and pounded on the doors to see if the remaining villagers were still okay.
There was some rustling from within and then the door opened just a hair. A frantic looking eye was peeking through and, once they confirmed they had the missing children, the tavern keep opened the door the rest of the way and let them all in. Huddled at the back were the remaining villagers staring with wide eyes. When they saw some of their children though, many villagers cried out and ran forward to hug their babies.
After an early morning breakfast celebration the villagers all gathered to wave goodbye as the heroes made their way home. The party warned the villagers that there might still be some creatures that made it out and to keep an eye out in case they needed them again. The villagers would sing their praises for years to come. They would become a legend for the village, those five people, the Heroes of Brownbriar.