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The darkness is made all the more disturbing by the feeling that someone… or something… is just out of sight, watching you. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear them whispering to you.

Basic Information

A ghost is the disembodied spirit or soul of a deceased person1. Traditionally, a ghost appears if the person's death was especially violent (possibly a suicide or murder), or if the deceased had unfinished business to attend to.

Many different powers are attributed to ghosts, and these powers vary not only from culture to culture but from ghost to ghost. Some may manifest physically and be indistinguishable from a living person for a time, while others can interact with the mortal world only when summoned or questioned via a medium or a séance. More powerful ghosts can manifest ectoplasm and/or generate physical effects with some form of telekinesis.

Ghosts may be vengeful, violent, and dangerous, or they may be helpful and sympathetic. They may even be mindless 'echoes' of their mortal life, doing nothing except repeating or replaying scenes from their life.

A lot will depend on the ghost's exact powers - one that can do little except float about looking spooky is more or less limited to lowering property values (unless the very spookiness of its appearance can do people harm) … those with the ability to possess the living, to generate illusions and phantasms or meddle in people's dreams are significantly worse and those with the ability to interact physically with the living world can be as scary as anything else available. Of particular note are those ghosts that can hit you without you being able to hit back (including those that can do you harm just by flying through you).

The appearance of any given ghost may not be straightforward - it may appear more or less as it did in life (or, indeed, in death), but could equally manifest as almost anything else that is the object of its obsession (such as its killer or victim) or an entire phantom building2 for that matter. Animals are rarely though to leave their own ghosts and a ghostly animal is generally an accessory or manifestation of a sapient ghost instead.

Significant sub-types include the poltergeist and the hungry ghost. More complex hauntings may actually be a gestalt of several ghosts - possibly going so far as to create a bad place by their interaction as they inflict a complex and multi-layered horror on wherever they manifest.

Some sources suggest that ghosts are prone to have "anchors" - items of great personal significance that tie them to the living world. Destroying these may free the ghost to pass on, or may just make it a lot harder to resolve their unfinished business. In many cases, the ghost's mortal remains are a (or the) typical anchor and having these undergo the correct funeral rites the ghost's unfinished business3.

Useful terms related to ghosts may include:

  • Apparent (visible but not material) - an apparent ghost may be called an apparition, a category which can encompass all sorts of illusionary phenomena associated with a ghost.
  • Manifest - being possessed of a temporary body (or part thereof) formed from ectoplasm.
  • Phantom - alternate, originally French, name for a ghost. As with other folklore terms, RPGs may sometimes use a specific term for mechanically variant creatures. See, for example, spectre.
  • Present - as it implies, a ghost which is in a specific place but not otherwise visible or tangible.

List of noteworthy ghosts and ghost-infested locations

See Also



Game and Story Use

  • Adventure Seed: The Newspaper Ghost
  • Ghosts may be minor or major antagonists in any genre which allows for them; even in 'hard Sci-Fi,' ghosts may be simulated by AIs or recorded personalities.
  • Ghosts might be useful sources of information for characters who have the means to question them.
    • A Ouija board could be used by untrained characters.
    • A professional medium could perform a séance for the characters (if they can't themselves).
    • This is what necromancy was originally about - extracting knowledge from the dead. Ironically, many RPGs go ahead and drop this sort of power on The Cleric.
  • Since ghosts usually cannot be "killed" via conventional means, the PCs must often help resolve the ghost's unfinished business. Figuring out what must be done to lay the ghost to rest often results in an investigative adventure.
    • And if the unfinished business is something horrible (such as disproportionate revenge or finishing an atrocity), the PCs are in for a moral dilemma.
  • On the other hand, maybe there is some equipment which can dispose of ghosts - but that doesn't mean that ghosts will be pushovers. An entire campaign can be built on hunting down and defeating ghosts.
  • Becoming ghosts might be a way for player characters to continue in a campaign even if their character has been killed.
  • Adventure Seed: (Based on an Episode of NCIS): An old warrior is lead on a quixotic quest by the ghost of an old comrade in arms who he believes to be still alive and to have been in hiding in the years since he saw him appear to die. In NCIS the character in question was a paranoid schizophrenic, but in a setting with supernatural elements, he needn't have been.
  • Murderers and their co-dependent victims make a great source of gestalt hauntings, especially when the killer follows murder with suicide.
  • In the right setting a ghost may form part of a shaman's cadre of spirit allies - especially where the distinction between a ghost and an "ancestor spirit" is either blurred or non-existent.
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