Ghosts and other spirits are an underused and often ill-used “monster” in fantasy roleplaying. Still, they offer great opportunities for real roleplaying–and even better storytelling.
It’s better to burn out than to fade away.
― Neil Young
The basic rules in In The Labyrinth cover wraiths, ghosts, wights and night-gaunts. Wraiths are simply listed as insubstantial beings that can only hurt you if they were wizards. Ghosts are defined as spirits that have refused to leave the physical world. They may scare you, but are otherwise harmless.
Wights and night-gaunts, on the other hand, can definitely harm you. The can use the Drain Strength spell to drain their victims, killing them later. They can also make physical attacks with their abilities they had in life (but cannot cast spells other than Mage Sight and Drain Strength). In The labyrinth also covers zombies and skeletons–stock monsters in fantasy RPGs. They can hurt you, too.
Beyond that, the rulebooks really do not say anything about how to use spirits in the game for roleplaying.
Still, there are other spirits that are out there for use, from fiction to mythology to historical belief. These include draugar, liches, shades–even undead plants. Two very good references for these spirits are GURPS Spirits and GURPS Undead. They have a lot of information about spirits in general, from various cultures, that goes beyond simple game stats.
That information is useful as background in deciding how spirits and even death work in your campaign. And that is important in determining how spirits and undead work as monsters and plot points.
And that brings me to the most important point: how to use spirits in The Fantasy Trip. An important aspect that gets lost in the rules is the inherent wrongness of spirits. That feeling should have a huge impact on what the players do in the game, whether it is fright, anger or steadfast disbelief.
Even in a setting where magic and undead are commonplace, that wrongness should drive great roleplaying opportunities for the players. While using fright checks (3d or 4d against IQ) can help force those reactions, the GM should reward good roleplaying when the players do that on their own. This is especially true in a game like TFT which really is geared more towards hack n’ slash attitudes.
With that in mind, here are some ideas for places go use spirits:
- Castles and mansions. An obvious choice, castles and mansions are great places to place spirits–there are always strong emotions in their halls, bloodshed and untimely death.
- Battlefields. As with castles, battlefields are perfect places for hauntings and spirit activity.
- Ruins. Even better, ruins are great places for all manner of undead. They can draw adventurers for lots of reasons–high risk, high reward.
- Bridges. Bridges are a less-used place for hauntings, but are where many ghosts can be found–the suicide of the lost lover, battles or other untimely deaths.
- Forests. Just like bridges, forests are excellent places for spirits to be found. Whether it is a dead guardian, murder victims or victims of other violent death, the undead spirits can hide in the forests and prey upon the isolated living.
- Places from the characters’ past. This requires some knowledge of the characters history–use it! Have people from their past come back to haunt them, friends or foes.
No matter where you place them, ghosts and spirits are great ways to break up normal adventures, change things from straight monster hunts to mysteries–and give players opportunities to roleplay.
How have you used spirits in your TFT campaigns? Let me know!