This is an adventure for ‘Fear Itself’. Inspired by the 1956 film ‘The Red Balloon’ (or ‘Le balloon rouge’ in its original French) it is about something mundane becoming increasingly sinister. It also revolves around the death of a child and the implication that a child close to the PCs is in danger. As such care should be taken that the players are okay with this subject matter.
There is an entity that exists only to corrupt the innocent. It manifests as an object of great desire, that will drive others to kill to possess it. It has taken many forms over the century but in the present it takes the form of a bright red balloon, attached to a cord of white string.
It drifts from country to country, from city to city choosing its victim at random. The only criteria is that they are between 6 and 10 and that they live near other children within this age bracket. The chosen child at first believes that they are blessed to discover the balloon and will quickly come to treasure it.
Soon those around the chosen will view them with envy. They will do anything to obtain their toy but the Rogue Balloon will make this difficult for them, flying away under its own power only to return to the chosen one later. The envious children become more and more frustrated, until one of them snaps and takes extreme measures to obtain it. This usually results in the serious injury and even death of the chosen one.
The red balloon may stay with the killer but it is more likely that it will fly away, to seek out new victims. It is intelligent enough to know that the killer will likely be apprehended and his ill-gotten gains removed. Better for the Rogue Balloon to make its escape while the adults are distracted.
It intrudes upon the PCs lives when its current chosen is killed and it selects someone close to the PCs as its new victim. Can they protect the children of the world or suffer a terrible fate?
THE ROGUE BALLOON
The origin of the Rogue Balloon is deliberately left as a mystery. You can link it to any mythology you wish to establish in your campaign. It fills the classic function of a cursed object that brings doom to its owner.
In a campaign that includes the Esoterrorists the Rogue Balloon could be one of their creations. It wouldn’t take much to weaken the veil of reality using children’s imagination. They simply have to create a red balloon so desirable that children imbue it with life and become willing to kill over it.
If your game involves Mediums then the Rogue Balloon could be haunted. It could be a manifestation of a child who was killed for his red balloon, making sure others experience the same fate. A darker option is that the red balloon was used by a deranged killer to lure children to a terrible fate, a tactic he continues to use in death.
The Rogue Balloon is intelligent, aware of its surroundings and extremely resistant to harm.
General: Fleeing: 12, Health: 20, Infiltration: 10, Scuffling: 8, Sense Trouble: 7
Damage Modifier: 0
Suffocation: The Rogue Balloon can envelope a victims head within its plastic body. Inside the victim is unable to breath (raising questions of how the balloon is able to float with an apparent vacuum inside itself). A successful scuffle check means that the Rogue Balloon has latched on to its victim. The victim will loose 1 Health point each turn unless freed from the Rogue Balloon (with a scuffling check).
Grapple: The string attached to the balloon is able to move, able to act as a tail or tentacle. A successful scuffling check means that it has wrapped itself around a victims neck. As long as it is secure it gains a +2 to all further Scuffling checks. It will often do this before using its Suffocation attack.
Bond: As long as the child the Rogue Balloon has bonded with has an emotional connection with it the balloon is invulnerable. If the child is disoriented, drugged or killed this protective barrier is removed.
Obsession: Children between 6 and 10, other than the child it has bonded with, become obsessed with possessing the Rogue Balloon. Each week they are denied the Rogue Balloon they loose 1 Stability point. If they spend extended time with the chosen this loss increases to 1 point per day. In the end they will be driven into a homicidal rage to gain the Rogue Balloon, killing anyone who gets in their way.
The story begins with the Death Of A Child. This can result in Accusations and Guilt. A child close to the PC receives a Random Gift. Examination of the Rogue Balloon might reveal its secrets but they also find it is willing to Kill For The Child. Finally they can try to Pop The Problem and witness Inflatable Revenge.
Death Of A Child
The current victim of the Rogue Balloon is murdered by his class mates. For the purposes of this adventure we’ll call him Peter Baily. You may wish to adjust his identity to a child that the PCs know, although preferably one that they haven’t seen recently. This gives that PC a deeper reason to care about how they died.
The location of the murder happens very close to where another PC lives, the closer the better. Preferably it should happen out of view of the public, for example in their garden or back alley way. Peter was attempting to escape his pursuers (with the Rogue Balloon clutched tightly in his hands) and happened to stumble into this area.
Peter was surrounded by four classmates (Will Tegger, Katie Basset, Tom Halford and David Robinson) who demanded he hand over the red balloon. Peter refused and was struck in the head with a rock wielded by Will. He hit the ground hard and Katie and Tom joined in the attack, momentarily forgetting about the red balloon, which floated away. Realising what they had done the children ran, terrified over the consequences of what they had done.
The PC was either out or simply didn’t hear the murder take place. They can make the discovery of the body shortly after he is killed or hours later. When they find Peter he is dead. No amount of medical aide with revive him but don’t dissuade the PC from trying to call the emergency services or trying to use the Medic ability. Peter is bleeding badly and it is likely that unless the PC is taking great care they’ll end up with his DNA all over their clothes.
Investigative Procedure reveals that the rock used to bash Peter’s head in. If the PC doesn’t live near terrain that would provide a rock or stone for the children to have used any solid object will work. Perhaps they used a garden ornament belonging to the PC or a broken heavy object they were throwing out.
A 1 point spend reveals a burn mark on Peter’s palm, where the string was yanked out of his grasp from the escaping Rogue Balloon. If the area is muddy (which it might be if it is garden) a 2 point reveals the four children’s footprints leading to and from the body.
This should be traumatic scene and how the PCs react will be greatly affected by their character. Most people, without anything to hide will call the emergency services, but this will create problems for them later. For the moment the police and ambulances respond quickly, although it is too late to help Peter.
Neighbours can’t help but notice the commotion and it isn’t long before everyone knows that a child was found dead near to where the PC lives. The police will question the PC and bring them to the station for ‘questioning’. If the character shows any form of resistance they’ll be handcuffed and led away.
Feel free to allow the PC to escape, perhaps seeking out the other PCs to offer sanctuary. This can give them motivation to clear their name but be careful to ensure that they feel they can still go out to investigate without immediately being arrested.
Those with a criminal past or mistrust of authority could decide to hide the body, which will bring its own problems. Do they bring one of the other PCs in to help them conceal the death and what happens when it is found?
Don’t forget to involve those PCs who knew Peter. This is a tragic event and the first questions they should be asking themselves is how did this happen and who is responsible? The answers to both are explored in the next scene.
Accusations and Guilt
Those who reported the crime soon find that the police are quick to point the finger of suspicion to them. This is the simplest explanation and most police officers find that is usually the correct answer. They don’t have enough evidence to arrest them but they will be harassed and their life investigated to build a case.
The local community won’t give the PC the benefit of the doubt and soon people are making accusations and warning their children to stay away from the PC. There may even be false accusations made against them as people try to blame them for anything that has gone wrong recently.
If a PC had a connection with Peter then this can create tension between the characters. They have no reason not to believe that the accused PC is guilty. Encourage the players to roleplay this scene, with the hope that they’ll decide to work together to find the true killer.
If Peter’s body is hidden the police will still be searching the area nearby following a missing persons report. Peter was last seen in the area and the PC will find that the police are closing in on him. This will make them look even guiltier when Peter’s body is found (and doubtlessly some DNA evidence on the PC or around their home).
In both scenarios the players should be encouraged to find out who killed Peter.
Speaking to the officers involved with the case can provide a wealth of information. Peter was seen close to PC’s home in the early evening. He was easily recognisable due to the red balloon that he was holding.
A 1 point spend reveals that several other children (matching Will, Katie, Tom and David’s description) where also seen but the police aren’t connect the two events. A 2 point spend secures a promise from the police to keep the PC informed of any developments.
Using the Cop Talk can make the police suspicious if they haven’t yet found the child’s suspicious. Just why does this member of the public want to know so much? This can lead a detective to turn their attention to the PC and maybe find a link to the child.
The PC can pretend to be someone they’re not to get information from the school or people close to Peter. They’ll all agree that Peter was a happy child but had taken to staying out late on his own, with only a red balloon for company. Recently there had been some trouble with children at the school over the red balloon. Just playground rough housing but nothing serious.
A 1 point spend reveals the identity of the children involved in the trouble. A 2 point spend reveals that no one knows where the red balloon came from and even that it was taken from Peter and set free only for him to some how recover it.
Those using Impersonate can get into trouble if their ruse is discovered. The police investigation could turn up that people close to Peter were contacted and asked questions putting them on the PCs trail. The PCs would then need to explain their deception.
If the PCs haven’t yet discovered the existence of Will, Katie, Tom and David then this ability may allow the PC to spot them lurking around the crime scene. They’ll return several times both out of guilt and a misguided belief that the Rogue Balloon will return.
They’ll run if seen by the PC, requiring Athletics to catch up with them. If you wish they could also needed to pass a Scuffling check to stop them getting away. Bear in mind that if the PC is under suspicion that being seen chasing a child or physically restraining them will have witnesses calling the police or even taking matters into their own hands, possibly allowing the child to escape.
At this early stage you may wish to imply there is something supernatural about the children. They could be pale from shock, giving them an almost ghostly appearance. If they are elusive other people in the vicinity will deny having seen them, making the PC believe that they are seeing things.
They could even return to the crime scene later at night, awakening the PC only for them to see child like figures scampering away into the dark. If they are laughing or singing nursery rhymes it could be even creepier.
Negotiation and Reassurance
If they find the children responsible they can use these two abilities to get them to confess. The children immediately begin crying, saying it wasn’t their fault and that they just wanted the red balloon. A 1 point spend reveals that they believed the red balloon to be magic as it could fly on its own. A 2 point spend reveals that they became obsessed with it, dreaming of it constantly. Now it is gone they feel empty.
This could be enough to convince the police to investigate the children, although their parents and lawyers will argue that the PCs coerced a confession from them. Given time evidence will be found to tie the children to the murder, clearing the PCs name.
Once the PCs know about the involvement of the children they may decide they want to find evidence themselves, rather than wait for the police. Infiltration can get them into the children’s homes to find plenty of evidence, such as the bloody clothes that they’ve hidden in their room. They’ll also find drawings and diaries that chart the child’s increasing obsession with the red balloon and Peter.
If they discovered then any evidence they find will be suspect. Things get even worse if the PC is found in the room of a sleeping child (or the PC was using Intimidation or Interrogation to get a confession). The best case scenario is that the police are called, the worst case scenario being that a protective parent tries to kill them.
If the PCs confront one of the parents of the guilty children they’ll be told that the child is innocent. This ability reveals that the parent is lying, with a 1 point spend revealing that the parent is providing a story that is a perfect alibi, in fact it is too perfect. Only someone who knew what to lie about would come up with that story.
In fact the child confessed to their parents and they are covering up the truth. Intimidation, Interrogation or Reassurance can get the truth from them, although doing so causes the parent to collapse into an emotional wreck.
Once the guilty parties are found the players may believe the story is over. A simple tale of childish jealousy taken too far. The children will go through the legal system, probably ending up in a juvenile detention centre or receiving extensive counselling to discover why they committed murder.
The PCs may believe that their personal nightmare is over.
They are wrong.
Not long after the previous sequence a child close to the PC finds the Rogue Balloon (you may wish to run another adventure in-between to distance the events). They take it with them everywhere, growing distraught whenever it is taken from them. If released the Rogue Balloon will fly away, much as an ordinary balloon would. The difference being that it will always return to the child when they are alone.
Once the child realises that the Rogue Balloon comes back they will be less upset to release it. They know that they can let go of it during school or before they return home and that it will be waiting for them. Gradually they’ll come to view it as a living being.
When the child encounters the PC they will proudly show off their red balloon. If questioned with Flattery or Reassurance they will simply state that they ‘found it’. A 1 point spend reveals that it was tangled in a tree or street lamp near the site where Peter was murdered (although the child doesn’t know that). A 2 point spend reveals that they felt compelled to climb up and recover it.
The PC might not think anything of it. Much more likely is that they’ll make link to Peter’s murder. If they try to take the balloon the child will be distrust and no amount of pleading or threating with get them to be quiet. You will want to have a NPC (such as the child’s parent) to be on hand to investigate the commotion.
The NPC will not be swayed by the PCs argument that the balloon is dangerous. You want to put the PC in the position where there is no reasonable way for them to keep the balloon away from the child without appearing unhinged.
In order to remove the balloon they’ll have to be crafty. Obviously they can use force but that isn’t going to go down well with the child’s parents or extended family. Far better for the PCs to use infiltration or filch to remove the balloon while the child is sleeping, distracted or at school.
If the PCs use photography they can capture footage or photos of the Rogue Balloon behaving strangely. This could be enough for a NPC to allow the PCs to take the balloon away.
Once they have the Rogue Balloon they can examine it.
Examination of the Rogue Balloon
The Rogue Balloon is effective at maintaining its cover in front of adults. This allows the PCs a chance to examine it and discover some qualities of the balloon.
A detailed examination of the balloon reveals that it is made of an unknown plastic-like material. It can’t be burst, punctured or burnt. Any physical force simply causes the balloon to be buffeted but not destroyed. A 1 point spend reveals that while it apparently moves due wind pressure there is a momentary delay, suggesting that the balloon is only pretending to be affected. A 2 point spend reveals gravitational distortions around the balloon are the source of its propulsion (this could be revealed by scattering paper filings around the balloon and watching how they disperse).
The information revealed through this ability depends on the backstory that you wish to create for the Rogue Balloon. Even without an established origin for the balloon the PCs could still find archived newspaper stories, dating back decades, of dead child all last seen with a red balloon.
A 1 point spend reveals the 6 to 10 age bracket that the Rogue Balloon uses. This can give them a clue to how it operates and eventually how to destroy it.
At some point the PCs must take their eyes off the red balloon. It will try to engineer a situation in which it can simply drift out a wind and fly away but even if the PCs lock it in a room or container it will use its string to pick the lock and escape.
Sooner or later the Rogue Balloon will make its way back to the chosen child. This can be a horrifying discovery for the PCs, especially if they went to great lengths to get it away from them. This can create a sense of hopelessness as the PCs realise that they are powerless to destroy the balloon.
If you feel that the PCs are focusing too much on destroying the balloon then allow them to succeed. The Rogue Balloon will reveal its ability to re-manifest itself and return to the child. Its physical form is but a shell that it can shed.
Once the PCs understand the magnitude of what they are dealing with move on to the next scene.
Kill For The Child
With the Rogue Balloon back in the possession of the child the pattern begins to repeat itself. Other school children become increasingly envious, leading to them chasing and fighting the child. It is low level for now but it doesn’t take Sense Trouble to know that this will end in the death of the child.
Play up the drama of what the PCs have to do to protect the child. They may believe that the child’s life is at risk and step in to defend them, only for them to appear heavy handed. Concerned parents and onlookers may question the PCs sanity, believing they are over-reacting. Even if the police have closed the investigation into Peter’s murder they may reopen it if the characters are behaving oddly.
Eventually the Rogue Balloon tips its hand. An adult will take the balloon and it will strike when that person is alone. This could be a PC but it might also be a teacher or the child’s parent. If the PCs aren’t nearby the victim will be found later, suffocated with string burn marks around their neck.
Another death should let the PCs know that they have to act now, before it is too late. The death could even be linked to the PC, meaning that the police are closing in. With little time left they have to find a way to destroy the Rogue Balloon.
Pop The Problem
The question is how do they destroy the balloon, especially if their investigation has revealed it is nearly invulnerable? If you have given the Rogue Balloon an origin then that could also suggest a solution (for example if it is Esoterrorists the PCs could reveal that the balloon is trick or otherwise steal its magic by giving children red balloons of their own) or if it is a ghost they could find a way to put the soul to rest.
Even without an origin the Rogue Balloon does have one important weakness. It creates a bond with the chosen one, evidenced by its ability to hone in on them where ever they are. The chosen ones love for the balloon is what provides it with protection.
The child might even confront the PCs, revealing that they know they’ve been trying to destroy it. The child will proclaim that they’ll never succeed as long as they love it. This is meant as a defiant gesture but can give the PCs the idea to break the bond.
This could be done with flattery, reassurance, or intimidation as they try to persuade the child to reject the Rogue Balloon. Their efforts can be bolstered if they provide evidence that links the balloon to Peter’s murder or the death of the adult NPC in the previous scene. This will be traumatic for the child but will make them see the Rogue Balloon as evil.
Of course the PCs could also just bribe the child with another toy. This could be a commentary on the fickle nature of children or how expensive electronic toys have made simple balloons obsolete.
If the child turns 11 this could also break their bond. The PCs just have to be on hand during their birthday to destroy the Rogue Balloon before it can find another chosen one to bond with.
Once the PCs have broken the bond the Rogue Balloon will either attack or, if there is sufficient resistance, attempt to escape. If the PCs are satisfied to let it escape it will drift to another city to continue killing but at least its not the PCs problems.
It can be cathartic for the PCs to engage in combat with the Rogue Balloon (as ridiculous as they might look fighting a balloon), especially if they spent a lot of time trying to destroy it. NPCs might also witness the conflict, realising that they’d misjudged the PCs.
With the Rogue Balloon the players could take this as a sign that the adventure really has come to an end. A merciful games master will make this so but being a horror game there is once last sting in the tail.
The death of the Rogue Balloon sends out shockwaves through the city. Either there are other similar entities or the evil is able to temporarily possess other balloons. Whatever the cause hundreds of balloons are brought to life and they want revenge.
This works best when the child is outside and in the proximity of the PCs (preferably off guard as they believe that the danger has been avert). From all directions balloons of many different colours descend, entangling the child. By the time the PCs can reach the child they are starting to lift off.
If the PCs do nothing the child is carried away, over the roof tops. Maybe the child’s body will be found later, dashed against a roof top, in the countryside or in a public area. Maybe the child will never be found and the PCs will always wonder where the balloons took them.
In all likelihood they will attempt to prevent the child from being taken. They can try to destroy the balloons but there are so many of them and unless they have a weapon that can do area damage or affects a wide arc (such as a shotgun) then they won’t prevent the child from being taken aloft.
Grabbing hold of the child is a bad idea. Bound by the string the balloons will fly off in multiple directions. With the PCs weighing the child down they will be torn apart, covering the PCs in blood and gore. A suitably horrible way to end a horror game.
If they grab hold of the balloons or the strings, even if they work together, they won’t prevent them from flying upwards. What it does mean is that the PCs will also be carried into the air. This can give them time to free the child from the strings (using scuffling). They need only make an athletics check to jump onto a roof top with the child.
PCs can also use athletics to get to a rooftop in order to intercept the balloons as they fly by, maybe ready to catch any PC that was carried aloft. Shooting can be used to destroy individual balloons and cause them to temporarily loose altitude bringing them closer to the rooftops.
If the PCs are able to rescue the child the balloons disperse, the threat finally over. Congratulate the players on achieving a happy ending.
It is possible to run this as a Esoterrorist adventure but this does remove the emotional connection to the children and the social consequences of a case that revolves around minors. As mentioned in the description of the Rogue Balloon it is easy to justify it as a Esoterrorist experiment.
You could also run this as a ‘Fear Itself’ adventure with the PCs as children. They may know Peter and his magical balloon. They could learn about Peter’s death but the adults might hide this information, saying that he has moved away.
When the PCs find the Rogue Balloon it makes one of them its chosen one. In this case the other PCs will become increasingly jealous of the chosen one. Ensure a sense of paranoia and raise the possibility that one of them might loose control.
The PCs might be able to control themselves but the NPC children are still a danger. Can they find a way to get rid of the Rogue Balloon? In this scenario the chosen one can’t simply reject the balloon to sever the bond. If they try they might suffer a mental backlash or become ill (as if they are going through withdrawal).
A minor adjustment to this scenario is to remove act 1. Begin the game with the introduction of the child and the red balloon. Only when the PCs investigate do they discover the death of Peter and realise he was the previous owner of the Rogue Balloon.