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Bestiary: Ghosts, Expanded
And 20 Manifestations Thereof
You know what's better than ghosts? Ghosts that are treated with a fraction of the respect they deserve. Also, ghosts that are more like magical traps for unwary players.
HD 4, Defense 10, Morale N/A
Group Size: 1 solo
Appearance: A looping psychic recording of an unfortunate moment. Flickering, broken apparitions of distended body parts and warped faces.
Voice: Dead silence, quiet whispers, or chilling shrieks.
Wants: Everyone nearby to meet its fate.
Attacks: None (although a manifestation can cause harm).
Illusion: Ghosts are not incorporeal or undead – rather, they don’t exist at all. Their manifestations cannot be attacked or targeted even by magic. A ghost is a curse, not a creature that can be struck. In order to target a ghost, their corpse must be located and targeted. Their HD value is only used for spell calculation and rewarded XP.
Ghosts are not monsters. They can’t be attacked, they aren’t elementals, and they have no soul. Ghosts are not spirits. They’re recordings of a violent, messy, painful death. They’re the psychic residue left splattered on the wall of reality. When they manifest, it is a shattered image of what transpired.
A ghost is composed of four elements:
The corpse, which must remain intact for the ghost to manifest.
The premonition, which is a brief emotional, audible, or visible warning that precedes a ghost’s manifestation. Describe it to the players.
The manifestation, which is a deadly phenomenon closely related to the traumatic event that created the ghost.
The satiation, which is the primary method for satisfying the ghost (usually by interacting with the corpse) and ending its manifestation.
Ghosts can always be satiated through the specified satiation, but there's a few other ways to do it. In my system, you don't have holy water, so you've got three options:
Attempting to remove a curse from the corpse. This will permanently destroy a ghost if applied to the ghost’s corpse.
Destroying the corpse. This will end a manifestation immediately, but put a major curse upon the destroyer.
Holding a funeral overseen by a trained priest. A divine psychopomp will be attracted to the funerary rites, and they will take care of the ghost.
I’ve personally found ghosts to be an excellent substitute for magical traps. Put it this way: traps require a degree of what is often implausible intention. Who would build such a complex magical device in a dungeon, just to kill the occasional passerby? The ghost is a handy solution. Its placement wasn’t intentional; it was sporadic, accidental. It can be disarmed, if you’re clever, and it’s thematic in ways that a simple flamethrower just can’t be.
1d20 - Table of Ghostly Manifestations
Have fifteen-ish new free ghostly manifestations (and some reworks of Arnold’s, whose ideas I’ve borrowed in spots). I’ll note that “round” refers to combat rounds, 6-10 seconds, which I approximate in gameplay to a handful of actions a player might perform in that span of time.
● Premonition: Lights leaving, laughter fading. Crushing loneliness creeping in.
● Manifestation: Lights slowly go out, party quickly grows deaf.
● Satiation: Bring ghost’s corpse to the surface, or to friends’ corpses, or leave another nearby.
2. Abyssal Dark
● Premonition: The night is closing in. Demons lurk in wait. The dark isn’t safe.
● Manifestation: Roll encounters & burn fuel once per round (6-10 seconds).
● Satiation: Give a light to the ghost’s corpse.
I assume a ‘mythical underworld’ structure. This one might be hit-or-miss if your players intuitively treat the dark like a friend.
● Premonition: A sharp, tearing pressure on one side of your neck that builds rapidly.
● Manifestation: Blood starts leaking, cut forms rapidly. Fatal in 1d4+2 rounds without extreme magic.
● Satiation: Reattach head of ghost’s corpse to its body.
● Premonition: Hear whispers from party, paranoia creeping. They’re plotting against you.
● Manifestation: Flee from your friends. Make an Intelligence save at every room you pass to end the effect.
● Satiation: Remove the weapon from ghost’s corpse, or destroy betrayer’s corpse (if present).
● Premonition: Envious, hateful gaze upon least liked ally.
● Manifestation: Sneak attack them at nearest opportunity.
● Satiation: Destroy the ghost’s corpse.
6. Buried Alive
● Premonition: Pressing, straining against stone coffin roof.
● Manifestation: Sink underground in 1d4+1 rounds.
● Satiation: Remove ghost’s corpse from sarcophagus.
● Premonition: Searing heat, blazing hot air and smoke.
● Manifestation: New severity 1d10 burn wound every turn.
● Satiation: Soak ghost’s corpse in water.
● Premonition: Walls pressing in, extreme claustrophobia. The ceiling is coming down on you.
● Manifestation: Every round, ground speed is halved (rounded down) to 5’ minimum. At 5’, take 1d4 damage per round.
● Satiation: Reassemble ghost’s corpse. Takes 1d6+1 full turns split between up to 4 participants.
● Premonition: Choking, gasping, sinking down and down. The bubbles of your last breath slipping.
● Manifestation: Fall into the water. You are unable to leave it. It will rise to drag you back in if you try.
● Satiation: Remove ghost’s corpse from the water.
● Premonition: Licking of a tongue, the crunch of teeth biting limbs in two. The horrible constriction of a throat.
● Manifestation: Unable to move when facing a predator.
● Satiation: Extract corpse from the belly of (potentially still living) monster.
● Premonition: Horrible vertigo, painful aching in your limbs and bones.
● Manifestation: All attempts to climb fail at around their half-way point. Grips slip, pitons loosen.
● Satiation: Reassemble ghost’s corpse, twist bent parts back into shape.
● Premonition: Heat rushing out from your limbs, the crack of ice underneath. Your fire doesn’t aid you. You’re so cold.
● Manifestation: Hands lock up, unable to hold anything. Gain a level of weariness every 10 minutes.
● Satiation: Move ghost’s corpse near a source of heat, or set it ablaze.
● Premonition: Sudden wet shlick and crunch of something stabbing through your ribs.
● Manifestation: Pinned in place by a heavy, painful, penetrating pressure upon your chest.
● Satiation: Remove ghost’s corpse from source of impalement.
● Premonition: Weighty iron digs into your ankles and wrists. You are going to die here.
● Manifestation: Your wrists and ankles are unable to leave the room.
● Satiation: Cut the iron chains binding the ghost’s corpse.
15. Lost something
● Premonition: Frightening vision of having lost a treasure. It’s down here somewhere, it has to be...
● Manifestation: A random item disappears from your pack (but not your hands) every 10 minutes.
● Satiation: Return envisioned item to ghost’s corpse. Items are found in a pile soon afterwards. Ghost’s corpse might be tricky to locate.
● Premonition: Something’s growing inside you. You can feel it. You know it’s there. It has to die, before it eats you inside-out.
● Manifestation: Every 10 minutes, Will (or CHA) save vs drinking poison and ripping at your flesh and stomach to get the parasite out.
● Satiation: Find and kill a member of the species that infested the ghost’s corpse.
● Premonition: Heavy pressure on your skull; reaching out for something and never touching.
● Manifestation: Limbs lock up and petrify as rounds pass. Continued human touch restores you to life.
● Satiation: Move the ghost’s statue to whatever it was trying to reach before it was petrified.
● Premonition: Sharp, sheer terror that cripples and shocks you. Overwhelming paralysis.
● Manifestation: [Level]d4 psychic damage per round. At 0 HP, make Will (or CHA) saves vs heart attack.
● Satiation: Physically comfort the ghost’s corpse as you might a scared child (or equivalent).
My system assumes 0 HP is non-lethal. Your systems may differ. You might consider raising the floor to 1 HP.
● Premonition: Black shouted chanting, wisps of oil smoke, the rest of a dagger’s tip over your heart.
● Manifestation: Victim compelled to lie down on altar, heart carved and ripped out after 1d4+1 rounds.
● Satiation: Reassemble nearby jarred organs inside ghost’s corpse, or sacrifice an ally/treasure.
● Premonition: A gnawing, ravenous hunger intensifies by the second. You haven’t eaten anything in weeks.
● Manifestation: Eat every 10 minutes. If you skip a meal, gain a level of weariness (or your equivalent fatigue system) from starvation.
● Satiation: Place food inside the ghost’s corpse. The relief will last as long as the food does.
Thanks to Arnold K for his similar article on Ghosts, to which this is an expansion.
This is the first entry in what will hopefully be a fairly long experiment. I've got a lot of backlogged notes I'd like to get out in front of some kind of audience. If you're interested in seeing, feel free to stick around. I’d be glad to have you.