From the GMMastery Yahoo Group
A GM asked for help making a haunted house become an interesting NPC. Lots of ideas poured into the thread, which I thought I’d highlight here.
I fully support giving locations personality. And as you’ll see below, creative GMs can also make places interactive and dramatic.
The Initial Request From Eric
I could use some help. I am four sessions into a new campaign. People have low magic, it’s loosely renaissance and it’s fantasy. There are sometimes more powerful magical effects in the world.
On campaign day one, a person unleashed magic onto the world. Now the PCs are magical and trying to figure out how to not get ostracized from society. So they’re forming a guild. The guild needs a house and one of the aforementioned powerful magical effects poses a possibility.
An abandoned monastery rebuilt itself into a new configuration on the day that magic was unleashed into the world. I have had the idea all along the building could become the PCs’ guildhall. The players had the same idea and now they want to explore it.
I want the building to be an ongoing NPC. It needs some quirks, personality and purpose. Though it won’t dialogue, it will continue to reconfigure itself occasionally.
I also want the guildhall to be infected with a variety of magical maladies and it needs to be cured. What the problems could the PCs encounter when exploring the building?
I need some descriptions. If sentient magic created a building, what would it look like?
Thanks in advance for suggestions.
From Mark of the Pixie
Create A Personality
Personality would come first. If it is a grandmother type personality, caring for her tenants, protecting them when needed, spoiling them a bit, then she would be very different from living in a building that had an accountant’s personality. Both would be different to the personality of a passing rat infused into the main hall.
But if we go with abandoned monastery, then we can assume it may be something like an abandoned monk in personality. It is a calm and serene place, but lonely. Perhaps it wonders why everyone left? Perhaps it worries deep in its cellars that it wasn’t good enough. If there was a fire, then it may be afraid of flames, suffering a form of architectural Post Traumatic Stress.
Create A Purpose
Once you have personality purpose follows fairly logically. The monastery is lonely and wants to guide people to wisdom. It wants to shelter them, keep them safe, but above all, it doesn’t want to be abandoned again.
This leads you to quirks.
It is lonely, so it loves having people around. It will open doors and try to make people comfortable. It will be warm and inviting.
There is a downside though. It desperately fears being abandoned again, so it will not let the last person leave. Doors will slam and bolt themselves, windows will prove unbreakable, corridors will lengthen as you run down them. New people can come in, and then all but one of them can leave.
Because of the old fire, it is afraid of flame. Candles are constantly extinguished by drafts; no one can start a fire in any of the fireplaces, no matter how skilled they are. Lanterns are ok, but even then you get the feeling you are being watched constantly (Light spells would be much better).
That said, if a someone does start a fire in a room (or throws in a burning bottle of oil) then the house panics and the fire spreads like something from a nightmare.
It wants to impart wisdom, so books are welcome. Any books inside the building will be protected as fiercely as the people. There will always be more room in the library. Anyone who is wise, kind or helpful will be rewarded as their rooms gets bigger and nicer. Anyone who is unkind or mean will have their rooms shrink.
Another good one for buildings is flashbacks. Perhaps the roof collapsed in a storm. Now every time there is a storm, a extremely convincing illusion occurs where the roof collapses and rain pours in, people are trapped, etc.
It is all fake, but it also can give clues as to the building’s past. For example, they see someone put a signet ring under a floorboard before running off to help with the collapsed roof.
Fixing up a ruin that has been abandoned for centuries and is now magical should provide quite a bit of trouble. Rooms might be repaired, only to “heal” back to their ruined state.
The building may have a fractured personality, and the PCs may need to merge them or even kill parts of the building to make it safe.
Rats, crows, spiders and other animals who lived in the ruins may now be magical as well. An awakened fox mage who is now smart enough to ogranise the other magical animals would be a cool rival who can compete with the PCs for ownership of the buildings, especially if she has already got the basements and cellars on her side. She doesn’t want the PCs dead, she just wants them to leave. After all, this is where the fox has lived her whole life; it is her house.
Some parts may be haunted. Some rooms might hold the emotional echoes of their last inhabitants. For example, terror if the last occupants of the room happened to die in the fire. It may be that anyone stepping into the room feels like they are on fire (no actual damage though), and only the most strong-willed can stand it for more than a few seconds.
A nice balance would be that the PCs have to feed the house magic to keep it going.
From Roger Barr
My initial thoughts were small eddies of magical power that flow through the guild house, particularly in certain rooms.
There might be a closet that gets visited now and then by a dust storm from another dimension. Once every week or so, everything in the closet is covered in dust and sand.
A spot in the hall will cause any food taken through it to spoil.
There was a cat in the abandoned structure when the magic hit, and now it is anchored to the house and cannot be put outside. If someone tosses it out a window, it returns inside in a different place. If they try to kill it, weapons pass through it harmlessly.
A closet will enchant clothing so the next time the clothing is worn it automatically fits the person who dons it. Borrowing clothing could get interesting at that point, as well as all of the PC’s wardrobe suddenly radiating a magical aura.
A spiral staircase designed to make it easy for older wizards to get upstairs by allowing you to walk downstairs until you get to the basement; if you keep walking downwards, the next landing is the attic. Fun thing can be to not let it work in the other direction.
A box on a table is always cold, like a tiny refrigerator.
A barrel of water never runs dry.
A chamber pot is self-cleaning.
One window always has beams of sunlight streaming in, even during bad weather outside.
Everlit candle that will not burn out. (May not even have real heat, just light.)
Give It A Helpful Personality
I would be tempted to have it work like an old butler commanding a household staff in a manor house. “He” is sometimes forgetful, but very dedicated for service.
Things get done, albeit slowly. Dishes get washed and put away in the kitchen. Laundry gets cleaned, armor polished and weapons sharpened. The garden is well tended. Horses are groomed and fed.
If you want to make it more challenging for the players, have things the butler performs happen sometimes, but not always, so the PCs will end up being used to check on what has been done and what has not. Did the horses get fed? Better go check.
This makes it more of a pleasant surprise that they sometimes get to skip a chore, than to always have things done for them.
Some mornings there is a nice breakfast laid out in the dining hall, other days just a pitcher of milk or juice.
From Douglas E Knapp
After reading the others’ ideas, I got to thinking about a person who moves into a bedroom but the house does not like them.
At first, the room is safe and in a good place in the house. However, with time it is moved to the outside wall of the house and made to have a hallway into the main building.
One time the PC goes to sleep and the door locks. He wakes up to find half the roof gone and part of a wall. He can’t get back in because all the doors are locked. A lot like a cell getting rid of toxic stuff.
The building has a near-random opinion of new people, depending on their resemblance to former occupants. As a former monastery, it dislikes elves and opposing priests, but likes anyone who is bald. If the person can somehow prove to the building they are different, it will change its opinion.
Different parts of the building have different personalities and different magical effects. The kitchens are warm and inviting, and any food prepared there is tastier and more nutritious.
The infirmary was basically a hospice, and until rebalanced it will make people sick. Rebalancing will require building a monument to all who died there, or properly sanctifying the mass grave.
The library encourages people to stay a while (and lose track of time).
The twist is that the areas may not be immediately identifiable; the library may look like another storage room, etc.
I had a creepy idea that may not fit with your vision or your campaign, but here it is anyway.
Two similar horror stories come to mind. One is the story of the rich old woman who kept building and renovating her giant mansion because she thought she would die when she stopped (when she did stop, she died).
Another is the tale of Rose Red, the mansion of a rich oil baron in the 1900s. The lady of the house swore that it was haunted and that it claimed the lives of a few tenants. She swore it was alive, and the creepy lady actually became an avowed Satanist, if I recall correctly.
There are many places you can go with such ideas, from the slightly creepy (fitting for a formerly low magic world) to the outright scary. Perhaps the monastery is somehow tied to the spirit of its founder? Perhaps he was secretly a mage or alchemist, or alternatively, perhaps he HATED magic. His spirit can be trapped in the place, or the effects of his metaphysical experiments could still linger in the place, causing all the changes.
Perhaps the place needs blood (or the blood of a mage) every so often? If the owners don’t realize this, the place causes accidents (minor at first, but increasingly serious).
If you flesh out the founder, you’ll be able to explain the weird shifts in the hall. The founder might have hated mages or been a secret mage, but he might also have loved innovation or study, so the hall may help any residents engaged in such activities.
Before you get to work, ask yourself what you want out of this whole idea. Have an end goal. Though this isn’t well thought out, my gut says I would want a place that is tempting and inviting for PCs, but one that is equally dangerous.
This would create tension for the players (which is good for games), for they will always be craving the new and exciting (and seemingly limitless) perks the house can provide, while dreading the increasingly serious dangers.
Give the building a no-go dark or bad area. Work this into the backstory and personality. Be ready for the PCs to want to go there first, but try to block for several sessions. The mystery will gnaw.
I side with others who give the house control of rooms, lighting and furnishings. This offers you interactivity.
Have doors lead to different places, at the house’s control. A nice way to block, trap or confuse.
Traps! Just thought of that as I wrote trap above. Mouse traps (elf-sized mouse traps preferably), coughing chimney, sliding stairs.
Give the building a sage area. A meditation room or part of the ceiling with a changing paint splotch. Gives you a way to provide clues and communicate.
Put Cthulhu in the toilet. PC has a seat and boom goes the dynamite.
More From Douglas E Knapp
As a bad person sleeps, the house forms a drip on the ceiling and drips it into the person’s mouth. God only knows what this is a drop of.
As the person sleeps, the floor goes mushy and the bed drops down into a pit of hell, a dungeon or just a musty old basement.
Can we animate the house goods? Player eaten by chair, anyone?
Player wakes up to find himself mummified by wallpaper.
Heater goes super nova.
Age old stairs turn into slide.
House sucks player into a wall to save him from….
Plain old creaking can be scary. I know this from being a kid in an old house.
Flickering lights are always scary.
Doors of closets and such will not stay shut for bad people, but shut by themselves for good ones.
Clothing is made damp or clean for players if they leave it out, perhaps food and stuff too.
Room is always dusty or clean by itself. Good air or bad depending of course on the player.
Might want to look into fung shui. They have a lot of info about good and bad houses and what can happen.
I always liked the blood from the water taps in movies.