Redefining horror: How Behaviour Interactive brought Dungeons & Dragons to Dead by Daylight

By Giancarlo Valdes, Contributor

Dead by Daylight was built for chaos. 

Each match is a stressful game of cat and mouse between survivors and killers. Add in unique character perks, collaborations with iconic horror franchises, and the singular presence of Nicolas Cage, and it really does feel like anything can happen in this game. 

So perhaps it’s only a little surprising that the newly announced chapter, Dead by Daylight: Dungeons & Dragons (coming out on June 3), is based on the popular tabletop RPG. D&D has a rich mythology of monsters and villains to pull from, along with tons of options for heroes and abilities. But it’s still an unusual idea to wrap your head around. D&D characters in a horror game? How the heck does that work?
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Some folks at Dead by Daylight developer Behaviour Interactive were wondering the same thing too. Principal Game Designer Janick Neveu has been on the Dead by Daylight team since 2017, but even he was a little confused when he first heard they got the D&D license, saying “it made no sense.” But as planning for the DLC got underway, he realized just how well it would mesh with the game. 

“What we did is so horror-oriented that [it ended up being] the perfect fit,” said Neveu.  

For others like Head of Partnerships Mathieu Côté, it was a no-brainer. Côté grew up with D&D and has been playing it nearly every week with his childhood friends for the past decade. As a seasoned player and fan, he knows that there’s way more to D&D than just its high fantasy settings. 

“[D&D] is a storytelling tool. It's how people tell stories, and horror happens in stories,” said Côté. “And whether you decide to run a game like Ravenloft with Strahd—which is very much horror with vampires, very classic—or whether you play a game that's high fantasy with dwarves running with elves, there might be horror elements in how you tell the story. And there might be big, intense emotions, which is what we’re always looking for.”
1Dead by Daylight: Dungeons & Dragons will certainly elicit those kinds of emotions regardless of how much knowledge you have of the tabletop role-playing game. Behaviour is adding a classic D&D villain to its roster of killers: the evil Vecna, a powerful lich-god and spellcaster who, in D&D lore, has mastered control over death itself. Vecna is one of the deadliest foes a party can ever face in a D&D campaign, and Behaviour re-created that sense of terror in their game by arming him with some well-known spells.  

On the survivors’ side, the new chapter adds the bard, who’s actually two characters in one: You can choose either the human Baermar Uraz or the elf Aestri Yazar, and you can mix and match their different outfits. The customization options are a little nod to the way D&D players can create their characters in tabletop campaigns. When playing against Vecna, the bard and other survivors can defend themselves with magical items. 

The chapter also has a new map, Forgotten Ruins, which is set in the medieval-themed Decimated Borgo Realm. This is where Vecna made his home after being pulled in by the Entity, the Lovecraftian creature that kickstarted the events of Dead by Daylight in the first place. It grabs killers and survivors from different worlds and pits them against one another, feeding off their fears and emotions. 
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This simple plot point is why Behaviour is able to pull from so many different franchises and properties, as well as create unique horror stories of its own. But the partnership with Dungeons & Dragons is a particularly special one. Like Dead by Daylight, D&D thrives off of chaos and unpredictability, and this collaboration has proven to be the game’s most extraordinary yet.  

Finding the horror in D&D

D&D video games had an amazing run in the late ‘90s and early 2000s with critically acclaimed PC RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Neverwinter Nights. The franchise became relatively quiet after that, and it wasn’t until the release of Baldur’s Gate 3 last year that people seemed excited about D&D video games again. Larian Studios’ award-winning RPG shifted the spotlight back to the TTRPG in a massive way, and recently, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast revealed that several studios are working on new D&D video games.

Dead by Daylight: Dungeons & Dragons is just the latest of those projects, and it’s the franchise’s first foray into horror games. While D&D is typically known for fantasy tropes like mages and goblins, you don’t have to look far in its history to find some terrifying tales. A variety of spooky settings can be used in tabletop campaigns, with the most famous being Ravenloft, a gothic horror campaign where players face off against vampires, ghosts, and zombies.

So while D&D isn’t well-known for its horror stories, it has all the elements—from monstrous creatures to tragic characters and creepy environments—necessary to create a scary experience. It just comes down to whoever is telling the story, and in this case, horror happens to be Behaviour’s expertise. 

“We take pride here on the Dead by Daylight team saying that we can build horror with whatever themes we have in our hands,” said Senior Creative Director Dave Richard. “A good example I like to use is when we did the K-pop chapter. That was quite challenging, but we still made horror content with it. So Dungeons & Dragons was actually not that hard to imagine as horror because the material is there.”

According to Shaun Roe, a Creative Producer on Wizards of the Coast’s Digital Licensing team, both sides had already come up with their own ideas of what a D&D and DBD partnership could look like long before they even met. Behaviour has many D&D fans on staff, and there are some Dead by Daylight players in the Wizards office as well. So once the two companies started talking, there was no shortage of ideas to consider.

Dead by Daylight really is one of the perfect ways to explore [D&D in a horror setting] because it's got that asymmetric nature of the cooperative multiplayer party trying to overcome adversity,” said Roe. “That's the core pillar of D&D—can this scrappy band of adventurers overcome evil? We really did want to try to do it in an asymmetric multiplayer way.”
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One of the first things to address was who the new killer would be, and the developers looked at all sorts of monsters from the D&D bestiary. They didn’t want the killer to come off as being too silly or ridiculous (sorry, Gelatinous Cube fans), nor did they want a creature that’s been seen many times before in other media. 

The killer had to be an iconic villain from D&D—at one point, Behaviour thought they’d go with another powerful lich, Acererak. But what tipped the scales in Vecna’s favor, aside from his own enduring legacy in the tabletop game, was that the new chapter would come out during the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast had some big plans in place to celebrate, including a slew of new product releases and events happening throughout the year. 

One of them is Vecna: Eve of Ruin, a new campaign where players have to stop Vecna from remaking the multiverse in his own image. Thus, 2024 was already poised to be a big comeback for The Whispered One, and his inclusion in Dead by Daylight makes sense in light of the celebrations. The game will undoubtedly introduce him to a new generation of players who have never heard of him before. 
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But even if it wasn’t for the 50th anniversary, both Behaviour and Wizards of the Coast say Vecna would have been high on their list anyway for his terrifying persona and the fear he’s instilled in D&D parties over the years. Roe said Vecna is one of the few threats in the mythology that can “scare the crap” out of even high-level players because of how deadly he is.

“He’s just got this sense of inevitability to him,” he continued. “As a lich, you can kill him, but he keeps coming back over and over again like a horror movie monster.”

How do you bring a god to Dead by Daylight?

There really is no precedent for someone like Vecna in Dead by Daylight. While terrifying in their own ways, the game’s current crop of killers isn’t capable of destroying entire worlds like he is. 

“For anybody that doesn't know anything about Dungeons & Dragons, he's gonna be a cool killer, period. He's just an awesome killer,” said Côté. “Back in the very early [D&D materials], you had traces of Vecna—he didn't exist as a character. You had the Eye of Vecna and you had the Hand of Vecna, which were ridiculously powerful items that the most evil of sorcerers would like to get their hands on. … You only saw traces of him throughout the world. I think it's really cool to have that legend built over half a century.”
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It was important for Behaviour to respect Vecna’s power and reputation as they integrated him into Dead by Daylight. But first, they had to explain how he ended up in the game to begin with; while Vecna is a god-like figure, so is the Entity that kidnapped him. Rather than trying to figure out why one god could outmatch the other, the team came up with a more elegant solution with the Mark of Negation. 

The Mark is a new concept in Dead by Daylight lore, and it essentially places a limit on Vecna’s powers so that he can’t escape the Entity’s trials. It’s not just a one-off thing, either, as it now opens the door for other ultra-powered beings to be a part of the game. 

“Some characters that we haven't thought of before—of either creating or introducing in DBD—can now be more of a possibility,” said Richard.
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The Mark doesn’t make him any less dangerous to survivors, however. As a wizard who’s studied magic for centuries, Vecna can use any spell that’s ever been printed in D&D’s 50-year history. Instead of going with all offense-based spells, the team forced themselves to think more creatively about his moveset. They initially envisioned Vecna having multiple spells that you could swap into his loadout, but that idea proved to be a little too ambitious. 

They ended up settling on four different powers for his kit. The first is Fly, which lets you dash forward via levitation as well as move over pallets (the obstacles survivors can knock down while being chased) and vault locations. Flight of the Damned, which is taken directly from Vecna’s Fifth Edition stats, shoots out projectiles in a short cone-shaped radius, passing through obstacles and damaging whomever it hits. 

Dispelling Sphere is a combination of different spells, and it sends out a big ball of energy that’s invisible to survivors; if they get hit, Vecna will be able to see their positions on the map and briefly disable any magic items they might have. The last one is Mage Hand, a classic D&D spell that can be used to tag pallets from a distance, and it’ll have different effects depending on what state the pallet is in. If it’s sitting upward, Mage Hand temporarily blocks survivors from dropping it. And if it’s already been knocked over, the spell will lift the pallet, leaving room for Vecna to pass through. 
Mage Hand was one of the spells the developers were most excited about because it’s not an obvious choice for such a master spellcaster. But it does fit into the power fantasy they wanted players to have, and that’s to make them feel as if they’re just cruelly toying with their victims. 

“[Mage Hand] makes sense because if you're such a powerful wizard and your whole body is magic and everything you do is magic, why would you actually touch stuff? You don't need to,” said Côté. “It's not like you're saving your power, like the starting wizard that only has two spells to cast today and then needs a nap. This is Vecna, he can do whatever.”

But like all killers in the game, he’s very much beatable, and survivors won’t have to worry about Vecna players spamming the same spells over and over. 

“All the cooldowns are quite long so you can't rely on one spell,” explained Neveu. “It's about managing which spell to activate at the right time, and that's really where skill level [comes into play].”

Creating a home for Vecna

According to Roe, the design of the Forgotten Ruins is a clever callback to familiar locations from Vecna’s past, and it’s filled with Easter eggs and other references to D&D lore. The map is made up of two major areas: an upper outdoor level with tower ruins and a sprawling underground dungeon. The latter is Vecna’s lair, a wretched place where he spends his time conducting experiments and studying his new surroundings. 

Forgotten Ruins has a unique map mechanic known as Passages, which are portals that transport you between the surface ruins and the dungeon. Richard said it adds a “Pac-Man effect” to the killer-survivor chases, with players disappearing from one edge of the map and reappearing in another. Passages add a new twist to the usual gameplay loop of hiding and running away, so the team is excited to see how the community uses them. 
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“We're trying to keep it tight as well to encourage encounters between survivors and killers,” said Lead Level Designer André Laniel. “So it’s a map that's going to be very interesting visually for the players.”

Behaviour also took this D&D chapter as an opportunity to address the community’s complaints with the Decimated Borgo Realm and its first map, Shattered Square. In the past, people had a hard time playing there because of the red-colored lighting, which made it hard to see some of the mechanics in the game.

“We've refactored the lighting of the whole realm so that the new map and the old map will be updated with new lighting, which is kick-ass,” said Richard. “It looks beautiful, and it also fixes the issues of visibility. So we hope our players have a better time playing on them.”

The Stranger Things effect

It’s almost impossible to talk about this renewed focus on Vecna without mentioning the villain inspired by him on the hit Netflix show Stranger Things. The fourth season had a new foe from the mysterious world of the Upside Down, and just as they did in past storylines with the demogorgon and mind flayer, the main cast decided to give him a name from D&D, and this time it was Vecna.

While this ghastly version of Vecna is far different than his tabletop counterpart, he commands a similar level of fear and power, even causing some of the most gruesome deaths ever seen in Stranger Things. The show had already helped put Dungeons & Dragons back in the pop culture spotlight, and season four continued that tradition by introducing Vecna to millions of people who may not have known about him before (this writer included). 

His popularity on the show did lead to some conversations at Behaviour. But since the team hewed so closely to the original source material—the design of Dead by Daylight’s Vecna is based on his new, modernized look from the 50th anniversary—they weren’t worried about their killer being able to stand on his own. 
“It's definitely something we talked about immediately. The very good thing is that we also have Stranger Things in the game,” said Côté. “Therefore there's no competition there, which is great.” 

Yes, thanks to the game’s Stranger Things Chapter from 2019, it’s possible to have Nancy Wheeler and Steve Harrington face the D&D version of Vecna. It’s a testament to just how ridiculous Dead by Daylight has become with its melting pot of franchises and universes. 

But the crossovers don’t end there. Fans of the tabletop role-playing series Critical Role will recognize the voice behind Vecna, Matt Mercer. In addition to being an accomplished voice actor in games and anime, Mercer is the founder and dungeon master of Critical Role and previously played a version of Vecna during one of their campaigns (as well as in the cartoon adaptation, The Legend of Vox Machina).

A new kind of D&D hero

To counter Vecna, Behaviour needed a survivor who represented the heroic side of Dungeons & Dragons. Since there’s no combat in Dead by Daylight, it wouldn’t have made sense to pick paladins, wizards, druids, or anyone else who would be more powerful than the other survivors in the game. The team briefly considered going the meta route and making the survivor an actual D&D player, but it was the bard who won out in the end. 
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“Bards are not a combat-centered class traditionally, and the survivors in Dead by Daylight don't win because they attack and ultimately defeat the killer,” said Roe. “They escape because they outwit, they outsmart, and they support their allies. It's about teamwork, and the bard really is the epitome of that within a Dungeons & Dragons party.”

Aside from being a good fit for the game’s horror setting, Côté pointed out that the bard is having a big moment in the D&D zeitgeist. Chris Pine played a charming bard in the well-received movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and the bard is also a colorful character in Critical Role.

“I think the bard is a good fit for our era, for the new generation of players. Dungeons & Dragons, maybe 50 years ago when it started, was a lot of pure gameplay mechanics, miniatures, and the players versus the DM—I create an impossible place and you try to get through,” said Côté. “As opposed to today, where it’s much more about storytelling. It's much more about creating a fantasy world to get lost in. And I think the bard appeals more from that perspective.”
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With the bard comes another familiar mechanic from D&D: dice rolls. You’ll see this in the bard’s Bardic Inspiration perk, a musical performance that grants a skill check buff to the rest of the survivors depending on the result of a d20 roll. Dice are also incorporated with the opening of special treasure chests. Whenever Vecna is the killer in a game, seven of these chests will randomly spawn on the map, and survivors need to roll a d20 to open them. 

If the result is a two or three, you’ll get basic items like a brown medkit or flashlight. Anything from a four to 19 will grant you Bracers or Boots, two new magical items that you automatically equip to your character. Bracers let you see the killer’s aura whenever he uses his Fly spell and with Boots you can see the aura of the projectiles from Flight of the Damned so you can avoid them. 

“The idea for survivors is to get those items as soon as possible because the power of the killer is really more balanced toward players who have them,” said Neveu. “So if you don't equip them, Vecna might feel a bit oppressive, but that's intended.”
It’s also possible to roll a critical failure (1) and not receive any items (which also triggers a little event, but Behaviour wanted to keep that a surprise for now). If you’re lucky enough to roll a critical success (20), you’ll get one of two rare items: the Eye of Vecna or the Hand of Vecna. As Côté mentioned earlier, these are ancient artifacts from D&D lore, and to use them, your character must perform a violent ritual. 

“Just like in D&D, when players find these objects, they have to assimilate them [into their bodies]. They have to cut their hand off, put on the Hand of Vecna, and become a demi-god. Same thing with the eye,” said Neveu.

The Eye temporarily turns you invisible whenever you exit a locker, giving you extra time to run away. If you enter a locker while having the Hand, meanwhile, you’ll be teleported to a locker that’s further away. Both items can help immensely when you’re being chased, but they do come with a heavy cost. You get injured (losing one health state) whenever you activate them, so you have to be at full health before you can use these artifacts.

Expanding the museum of horror

Dead by Daylight is a game brimming with different genres of horror, from slasher films to sci-fi and even the nascent analog horror movement. And with Dungeons & Dragons, it finally gets to add dark fantasy to that ever-growing list—“unlocking a new realm of possibility in terms of themes and genre,” said Richard. 

There’s a term Côté likes to use to describe this improbable mix of stories and ideas: the museum of horror. Every map, killer, and survivor adds exciting new wings and exhibits to the museum, which is simultaneously a celebration and reexamination of what the genre can be. Behaviour didn’t originally make the game with these lofty goals in mind. But it grew much bigger than the team could’ve ever imagined thanks to the strength of its community.
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Dead by Daylight turns eight this year, a remarkable feat for a live multiplayer game, and that kind of support has enabled the team to take bigger and bigger swings. Yet throughout it all, they’ve tried to stay true to what made the game so popular in the first place. 

“As we grew, one of the rules that we set was that we need to keep the original Dead by Daylight content a very important part [of the game],” said Côté. “Everything else needs to be invited into our world. We can’t just become a support for everything else. It needs to be clear that this is our universe that we're building and our characters.”

It’s a universe that’s able to bend and adapt to whatever the studio throws at it, even if it’s a character or property that isn’t normally associated with the horror genre. But when asked about what exactly their definition of horror is, Richard just laughed. He said that’s one subject they can’t seem to agree on within their team, and that everyone there has their own interpretation.
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“I think that [unexpectedness] and surprise is really at the core of why horror keeps being horror,” said Côté, “And that's the thing: When you're not able to understand something, when you don't know what's going to happen—this is why you get stressed, this is why you get nervous, right?”

“It's such a strange one to define,” Richard added. “I think we all feel it in our soul. We know when it's horror.”