Libris Monstrum #40: Ghosts Revisited

Friends, we come to the final entry in the Libris Monstrum. After today it will no longer be a regular article here on Notes of the Wandering Alchemist. At least not in its current form.

Come February the Libris Monstrum will be releasing as something a bit different. Rather than looking into the origins of some of the most common monsters of Dungeons & Dragons, I am going to be looking towards their potential. Stay tuned for monthly entries featuring new monster concepts and ways to amend stat blocks for more fun!

Until then lets dive back into ghosts and discuss some real-world examples of spiritual undead!


Poltergeists

One of the most recognizable forms of ghosts is that terrifying haunt which moves chairs, shatters plates, and drives people out of their homes. The difference these spirits and demons are relatively grey when it comes to what paranormal experts describe. Often the main difference is that a poltergeist is the actual ghost of a spirit, while a demon is (obviously) something much worse.

A specter from WotC’s 5E Monster Manual

As the ghost of a person poltergeists can be helped to move on or, otherwise, forced to leave a home. One of the key elements of poltergeists is the pure emotional energy that is associated with them. This is most often rage but can include fear, confusion, and displeasure. Because of their attachment to an item or home there are relatively few options for those being haunted. Mediums might help communicate issues to either help the spirit move on or some to a truce between spiritual and physical inhabitant of a house.

But what happens when the poltergeist is malevolent and cares not for what the medium or residents want? Well in these cases you might need someone to drive the spirit out and protect your home. In worst case scenarios people have left residences or given away haunted artifacts.

These types of ghosts are great for interactive scenes in D&D where the players might even have to deal with environmental hazards caused by the haunt or even possession.


White Lady

Another common ghost, white ladies are known for their appearance wearing white dresses. These ghosts often simply appear and disappear without sound, showing themselves in places where they died or had strong connections. However, sometimes these ghosts can be angry spirits that will protect their homes from any and all visitors.

A ghost from Paizo’s Carrion Crown adventure path.

These ghosts can readily be used in a D&D game to freak out and frighten the players. A white lady might appear at random or to only a certain character. Maybe she is trying to get the PCs’ attention so they might set something right and free her. Or, maybe she simply is a feature of an area and acts as a spooky red herring.

There are many other ghosts you might hear about with similar names as well. Blue ladies, grey ladies, black knights, and ladies in red. All of them are generally named for the color they frequently appear to wear.


Echoes or Spirits?

If there is one difficult thing that must be considered when presenting ghosts in the D&D world. Okay…maybe a couple. Among the more important ones is the decision about what kind of ghost this might be. In Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, ghosts are a very specific monster. They have a certain set of powers and there are other stat blocks if you are looking for something else. Pathfinder, especially, has many different types but among those you might find are specters, poltergeists, shades, and wraiths.

Each of those might have their own rules, mechanically and narratively but luckily you can do as you please. Because ghosts in the real world often follow specific patterns and rules, you might want to consider setting some for ghosts you plan to incorporate in game. Answer some of the following questions based on your needs and goals:

  • How did they die?
  • Why are they like this?
  • What is their emotional state?
  • Can they interact with the world? People?
  • What kind of powers do they have? Which stat block do you use?
  • What patterns do they follow?
  • What supernatural rules are they confined by?

There are hundreds of ghost stories and different kinds of ghosts. Cultures have all kinds of takes on the human spirit and what might happen to it. I urge you all to take a deep dive if you are interested and want some inspiration. Be sure to share some of your favorites in the comments below!

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