Ghosts and Spirits in TFT

Ghosts and Spirits in TFT

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!

Marko ∞


  1. I recently ran across a Fantasy RPG that was more or less contemporaneous with TFT. It’s called Dragon Warriors, and is quite interesting, though I’d never even heard of it at the time. So why do I mention this?

    Well, one of the interesting subsystems they had was how they handled spirits and ghosts and other non-corporeal creatures and their attacks. The way they handle it there is to give the supernatural creature a “Fright Attack” rating which the victim subtracts his “Magical Defense” rating from to determine the number which the attacking creature must roll less than on 1D20. It would be completely trivial to translate that into TFT terms. The creature gets a “Fright Attack” rating, which the victim can subtract 1/3rd (rounding fractions up) of his IQ (representing his strength of mind) and the creature would then need to roll less than the resulting number on 3d6. In Dragon Warriors, if the fright attack is successful, the victim dies (literally scared to death), but there is another interesting set of rules on the same subject later on in one of the volumes. Specifically, the victim has to roll on another table to see what happens. Death COULD result, but more likely are things like induced panic (the victim has to run directly away from the creature for one minute), fainting, or perhaps even going insane. In addition, they have a listing of about 10 types of insanity, any of which could be one short episode, temporary (longer than a few seconds, but less than a day) or permanent. The definitions of the insanity type provide role-playing guidance on how they can be portrayed. Shades of Call of Cthulhu here — and now you can play CoC using the vastly simpler TFT rules!!! ;-)

    They have a similar mechanism for “Gaze Attacks” (when the Gorgon tries to stone you) which also works better than the somewhat clunky TFT system for these things (including DX penalties for trying to avoid meeting the creature’s gaze while fighting it). In short, there are some interesting possibilities in Dragon Warriors that could easily solve the non-tangible types of attacks you’re talking about above.

  2. Thanks, Jeff. I got the Dragon Warriors rules from DTRPG. I really like the atmosphere of that game, too. I had never heard of it back in the day, which is not surprising. I had limited access to gaming stores and I’m lucky I even found TFT. I’m still reading the rules–you may end up seeing some conversions here!

  3. I picked up the new hard copies from Amazon for a lot less than what Nobleknight wanted. Or even what the company was selling them for. If you’re interested in hard copies. (Personally, I much prefer print, when I can get it…) Lots of good things in there to consider. I also enjoyed the fact that they created “Fate Points” that early on — but you had a hard, finite limit (only three!) which could be expended to evade certain death! It would tend to seriously ratchet up the tension!

    I like the atmosphere too — it seems just about perfect for what I always sort of envisioned a “real” fantasy world would be like. And I like the fact that Christianity and Islam are present and fighting each other as well — it’s much like Ars Magica in that respect, and without having to remember the names of dozens of weird Gods (like Candalabra, the God of little tricks and small slams, or Fornoost, God of sea cucumbers). To my mind, it makes it infinitely easier to immerse in the game world if things that have a haunting sense of familiarity are present all around you. All in all, I was VERY pleasantly surprised by what I discovered in the “British RPG scene” of about the same time that TFT was going. Interestingly, in an interview, the authors credited “the American Steve Jackson” for “creating” the guided adventure books that led to things like Advanced Fighting Fantasy and Dragon Warriors in the first place — calling Death Test the first-ever version of such a book! So Steve picks up that accolade too…

  4. I fully intent to use spirits at some point, but the characters in my game are not currently in a location where the spirits reside. Some will be helpful, some neutral, and some antagonistic. They will all be tied to the resurgence of magic in the world and inhabit Irudez-Bal, the one time fortress of of the Sorcerer-Kings who caused the magic apocalypse.

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