Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ghost Generator + New Ghost Rules

So look. D&D has a long history of undead. Undead are classic enemies. They represent a unique challenge and certain class features (like Clerics or Elf Paralysis immunity) are built around them.

Here's the thing- Undead are boring. Not in concept, mind you. But boring in execution.

There are stats for zombies, skeletons, mummies, ghouls, stitched-up corpse golem things, vampires. Zombie dragons and zombie ogres or other monsters could also fill out entire books. Those are some corporeal dead- but you also have stats for ghosts, wraiths, wights, specters, phantoms, phantasms, spirits, and a bunch of other shit. This may sound hyperbolic but I know for a fact there are geists put into the rules as a separate entity to wraiths and ghosts and shit. It's absurd.

So instead, I'm going with something a little different.

How to Fight Ghosts
Ghosts are the spirits of the dead, stuck between this realm and the next. Ghosts are created when a person's death is very traumatic, or when the body and the last rites have not been given to the deceased. Both circumstances are very likely in monster infested dungeons, and as such, ghosts are very common there.

Ghosts are nonphysical beings. Though you can "touch" them and they can touch you, they aren't really physically there. Besides, they're spirits. Normal weapons don't hurt ghosts. You need magical or silver weapons to harm a ghost- or to use magic spells. If a ghost has its HP dropped to zero, it is temporarily banished. You can't kill something that is already dead. It is gone for this adventure.

The ghost will return to its haunt after one season, on the next visit to the dungeon, or if you keep strict time records; a number of weeks equal to its HD. It also makes sense that stronger ghosts come back faster instead of vice versa, so you could make it say 2d6 weeks - HD. If this is equal to zero or a negative number; the ghost can come back in one turn instead. This makes really powerful ghosts terrifying.

Every ghost is tied to something. Usually, this is where it died or where its remains are held. Sometimes it may be an object, which could be the item it was obsessed with before its death or lead to its death. Sometimes treasures can become incredibly cursed by people trying and failing to acquire it over and over- which could add an extra challenge for anyone trying to take it out of the dungeon. This is its haunt. Once you have separated yourself from the haunt, either by leaving the area, closing doors or portals that lead to it, or having washed yourself after touching the item involved with the ghost; the ghost can no longer attack you. Some ghosts are more aggressive then others, and some especially cursed ghosts may mark anyone who they haunt for death; chasing them to the ends of the Earth unless they can finally be banished.

The chance of a ghost manifesting once you disturb or enter its haunt an X in 6 chance, where X is its activity level. Antagonizing ghosts will make them appear immediately.

In my mind, ghosts should be like a spiritual version of a trap or hazard in the dungeon. "Don't stick around too long in the deep well room; a little ghost girl will crawl out and try to kill you." This may make them sound banal, but I disagree. The dungeon has a layer of spiritual or supernatural danger inherent in the stones itself, instead of it being just based on physical traps, magical spells, and the like.

Note: In my game, magic rods are available at character generation. They are 1d6 weapons that roll d20 + Intelligence modifier and shoot out generic beams of magic energy. They count as magic weapons, meaning early game characters are capable of damaging ghosts or other magical beings that are otherwise immune to normal attacks. Without these, ghosts may be impossible for low level characters to fight. You could also patch this over with things like magic sword oils, or force the players to rely more on their exorcism rolls.

Beyond fighting them directly, the main way to work around ghosts is to ward against them. There are several forms of magic that is commonly available and reliable that deal directly with ghosts.

  • Magic Charms are small pieces of paper, wood, or bone that has been painted or carved with prayers or protective symbols. If placed over a doorway, window, hole, or other opening; a ghost cannot pass through this opening.
  • Incense is a more expensive form of protection. Any place where the smell and smoke of the incense is present; ghosts don't like to manifest. It smells as bad to them as good as it does to you. Very aggressive spirits can only be driven away by the most pleasant of aromas. This essentially locks down a room as long as the incense is continually burnt. If you are a Cleric or Sage traveling around with a censer; you roll 1d10 on Activity Level rolls for ghosts.
  • Puzzle Boxes are a form of trap for ghosts. If a ghost has lost half of their hit points or more, the next successful exorcism roll can force the ghost into the puzzle box. The ghost will be trapped inside until the puzzle box is solved and opened.
  • Ofrenda or more simply "Ghost Bread" is a form of food that is left behind for ghosts. Every culture has a different form; some a bone wrapped in animal fat, another will be candies in the shape of skulls or bones. If left quietly in an area of a haunt, the ghost will be busy consuming the essence of the offering and will not appear for one exploration turn. However, this will also strengthen the ghost. Ghosts who consume the offering will gain +1 HD for the next week or until the next time they are defeated/banished.

Certain ghosts may be able to break these rules. Ghosts without noses (the ghosts of lepers or those disfigured/tortured before death) can't smell incense and as such ignore it. Some ghosts may also travel through walls, and as such, a magic charm won't work unless plastered all over a wall like wallpaper.

Notice how all these methods are temporary. Charms put in place to hold back spirits are likely to get taken down by curious monsters or slowly worn away by the elements. Puzzle boxes are a longer term solution, but its only a matter of time before the ghost slips loose. Perhaps the box gains an aura that draws people in to solve it, or perhaps the ghost slowly unwinds the gears and pulls free the nails until they can be freed. The ghosts are also influencing things; I imagine a wall haunted by a ghost will begin to bleed or stain over time, warping and decaying away the magic charms used to hold it back. Supernatural wind picks up and rips away a magic charm just as your party approaches the portal that was sealed to another ghost; but that may feel like the DM changing the rules for drama. If all the rolls were made in advance- then it's just a measure of presentation!

So these are all well and good, but how do you actually exorcise a spirit? I don't know. Why are you asking me? Do I look like an exorcist to you?

Below is a generator to make your own ghosts. Unless otherwise stated, roll once per table.

Ghost Generator
All ghosts begin with;

  • 3 HD
  • AC of 10
  • Can only be hit with magic
  • No Morale / Never Flees
  • Activity level of 2
  • Deals 1d6 damage on a hit
  • Drains one level on a maximum damage roll
  • Alignment of Neutral

Cause of Death - 1d12 (Roll 1d10 for spirits found in dungeons)
[1] Starvation (AC +1, Level drain on a damage roll of 5 or 6) Deathly thin.
[2] Drowning (+1 HD, 1 in 6 surprise) Bloated, hair floats. Can hide in murky pools.
[3] Combat (+1 activity level, +1 damage) Wounds visible. Murder makes unquiet dead.
[4] Poison (Save or be poisoned on hit; 1d6 damage per turn) They cough ectoplasm bile.
[5] Burning (+2 to hit) Eyes glow with embers, body is half ash and smoke.
[6] Suicide (-1 activity level, always surprised) Poor lost soul. Found crying or sitting silently.
[7] Decapitation (Throws head as weapon; deals 1d4) Laughs or screams in flight.
[8] Torture (+2 activity level) The more cruel and unjust, the more wrathful the spirit.
[9] Asphyxiation (Deals 1d8 damage on hit, grapples on hit- save modified by wisdom) Visibly wrapped in what strangled them.
[10] Eaten Alive / Acid (+1 HD and AC, has morale of 9 vs specific entity) Ghosts know no fear; except this one disappears if the one who ate it is made known. Form is horribly disfigured.
[11] Matyrdom (-1 activity level, add "Lawful-" to front of alignment, immune to Turning) They must have a good reason that they are still here. May guide the living, or rarely attack sinners.
[12] Old Age (-1 activity level and HD, alignment to Oblivious) Unusual to find in a dungeon. Will confuse party members with people from its life, act out things it died when alive. Weak spirit.

Form - Roll 1d10
[1-4] Ectoplasm (Can pass through walls) The default state of most ghosts. Slightly transparent, colors washed out and pale white skin. They do not have a physical body, but they leave behind a slight residue called Ectoplasm when they are "killed".
[5-6] Vapor (Deals 1 cold damage per round within melee range) These ghosts are made of dark or foggy vapor. They are still not physical, but are deathly cold and sap your strength if you are too close. The first clue you have when they manifest is you can see your breath in the room.
[7-8] Real (Always surprise unless you know they're a ghost) These ghosts appear exactly as they did in life; creating a very convincing astral form. They have a shadow and reflection. However, you can't touch them and will pass right through; but they are more "grounded" then ectoplasmic ghosts. The only hint that these are ghosts are their wounds that killed them.
[9] Formed (+1 damage, can be harmed by nonmagical weapons max of 1 damage) You can't actually see what these ghosts looked like in life; they are invisible but create "bodies" of materials like black water, goo, dust, blood, fire, etc. Because their bodies are slightly physical, nonmagical weapons can harm them, but only deal 1 damage.
[10] Light (Add Good to end of Alignment) This ghost is made of light. They may be blinding, or just softly glowing. Only very good, pure spirits can appear this way. They can still be banished unless they are religious spirits; but act as spirit guides. At the first sign of aggression, they'll just disappear and the dazzling light just disappears from the room along with the soul.

Tragedy - 1d10
Most people who die don't become ghosts unless their deaths were especially traumatic. Instead; spirits who remain are those with unfinished business or died unjustly. Some may seek revenge.
[1] Miserable (+1 HD) The ghost was simply a miserable, unfulfilled person.
[2] Wrathful (+2 to hit) This person died especially angry, or lived a life filled with violence.
[3] Cursed (Knows one 1st level spell; once per day) Cursed to linger after death with dark magic.
[4] Obsessed (+1 activity level) Died still chasing something.
[5] Guilty (+1 AC, morale of 14) Died with a heavy heart. Possibly on the run.
[6] Lustful (Can possess sleeping people) Desperately wants to eat, drink, fuck- to feel alive again.
[7] Loss (Wail every-other round; 1d4 damage who all who hear it) Still cries out for their loved one.
[8] Forecasted (Instead of level drain; causes affected party member to roll a 1 on their next 20) This Ghost's death was known to it before it died. Might have died in bitterly ironic way.
[9] Diseased (Instead of level drain; infects with a disease) Harried by disease throughout life. May or may not have been actual cause of death.
[10] Abandoned (Causes irritability; party member who first spots this ghost loses -1 to all reaction checks until ritually purified) This ghost was abandoned by friends or betrayed before death.

Ghostly Power - 1d10
[1] Glow (Select a random stat. On hit; drains 1d4 of that stat) Unnatural, life-sapping glow.
[2] Red Eyes (+1 to hit, save vs paralysis or can't move if you make eye contact) Destined for hell.
[3] Bound (+2 AC, slow) Tied up in chains or heavy weights. Outrun by fast walk.
[4] Whispers (Treat HD as +1 for turn undead/exorcism rolls) Stained with spiritual energies.
[5] Knocker (Morale check for hirelings) Makes the sound of footsteps, slams doors.
[6] Darkness (+2 HD, dims light sources, torch=holy symbol) Powerful specter. Fears the light.
[7] Rotten (+1 HD and activity level) This is a punishment from the Gods; appear as your corpse.
[8] Giant (+2 to hit, reach) Ghost does not appear in scale from its life. It appears unnaturally large, either due to a deep routed dysphoria from its life or due to an inflated, undying ego.
[9] Poltergeist (Can launch objects- damage based on what's around) May remain invisible and simply attack with objects nearby; must throw a pinch of salt to reveal them.
[10] Blind (+1 damage, can't see) Maybe blinded before death, or lost sight as a spirit because they saw too far beyond the veil. Flails about. If you hold breath and stand still; can't attack you.

This is what the ghost appears as. Most of the time after death, the person will appear exactly as they did in life. But sometimes they appear differently. An old man may appear as his idealized younger self, a hunter as the animal they died trying to catch, or bad people appearing more grotesque as a spirit then their real body would suggest- their soul is no longer hidden in that shell.

Roll 1d10 for a normal ghost
Roll 1d10+10 for a weird ghost
Roll 1d20 for a totally random ghost





Man or Woman

Man/Woman in ceremonial tribal garb



Nearly featureless stone-statue



Swarm of rats / bats / snakes


Woman in a torn bridal gown

Weird Animal Person


Feral, naked wildman

Gigantic Beetle



Human-shaped mark on wall/floor


Horse or Wolf

Animated furniture; piano with teeth


Vague person-shaped slime creature

Localized weather effects


Generic faceless wraith w/hood

(Roll Normal) Tiny imp-sized version


Generic Bedsheet ghost

(Roll Normal) Levitating upside-down

Ghost's Haunt Table (Optional) - 1d8
The Ghost's haunt should be the place in the dungeon where it tied, or an object closely tied to its death. This table is optional to act as a launching point for ideas.
[1] Monster's lair. It's bones are in a big pile.
[2] Blank or seemingly empty room. Died there long ago. Just appears right behind you.
[3] Pool or well in the dungeon. Either drowned there, or body dumped there.
[4] Dirty mirror. If you look too far into it you'll see it in the reflection. Then it comes after you.
[5] Stairwell. Appears with a head twisted backwards; corpse at the bottom of shaft.
[6] Graffiti scrawled on a wall. It's the last thing they wrote. If you read it out loud, they manifest.
[7] Stone altar, dried with caked blood. If you hold a blade nearby; will confuse you for the evil high priest that sacrificed them to the dark gods and attack you.
[8] Golden ring. +1 Activity level if you're wearing it. Wedding band, or is the family seal of a noble who was murdered for it. Haunts you even after you dispose of the ring; give the money to charity.

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