A Three Step Modern Haunting Generator - Roleplaying Tips

A Three Step Modern Haunting Generator

From Phil Nicholls

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #676

The ghost story is a classic horror tale, yet it seems to take a back seat in roleplaying to vampires, werewolves, and yet more vampires. These haunting generator tables provide some ghostly ideas for those modern GMs who want to return to the roots of the genre.

This article presents three tables to help you create a ghost story:

  • Appearance of the Ghost
  • Actions of the Ghost
  • Desires of the Ghost

These tables are written assuming a modern setting for your game. To adapt to a fantasy setting, replace any mention of technology with magic.

Appearance of the Ghost

The first step to creating a ghost story is to consider how the ghost manifests. The default form is that the ghost appears as it did when alive. This base appearance is then altered, or replaced, by the result generated on the Appearance Table.

3d6Appearance
3Within a television set
4Disembodied head
5A pair of glowing eyes
6Ball of ectoplasm
7Reflection in a mirror
8Exactly as if alive
9Covered in blood
10Translucent figure
11Long stringy hair covering the face
12Rotting corpse
13Wide-eyed child
14Idealised/angelic form
15Animated shadow
16Column of light
17Inside a computer
18Mass of living insects

Actions of the Ghost

This is how the ghost interacts with people. During the course of a haunting investigation, the PCs might discover other ways to communicate with the ghost. However, roll on this table to determine the primary method the ghost uses to achieve its goals. The initial stories about the ghost will feature the action rolled on this table.

3d6Actions
3Temporary possession
4Short-term hallucinations
5Text-messages from the other side
6Insect infestation
7Control technology
8Powerful nightmares
9Screaming
10Change in temperature
11Whispering
12Childish pranks
13Possess a house
14Messages written in blood
15Malfunctioning technology
16Minor telekinesis
17Induce insanity
18Direct physical attack

Desires of the Ghost

To elevate a ghost story above a simple monster hunt, you need to give the ghost a motivation. This provides opportunities for investigation, roleplaying, and problem solving.

The genre broadly divides ghost stories into two types: unfulfilled needs and pure destruction. The former style allows for more interaction with the ghost, and a greater investigation plot. In contrast, destruction ghosts demand more combat and produce a simpler story at the table.

Choose what version best suits your group. However, even the destructive ghost ought to have a reason for its behaviour.

3d6Desires
3Re-enact its own suffering
4Healing, either physical or emotional
5Revenge for its own death
6Needs the last rites
7Complete one last task
8Deliver a final message
9Protect a beloved individual
10Mortal remains buried
11Correct a past misdeed
12Companionship
13Justice, for itself or a loved one
14Correct distribution of its last will and testament
15Loved one needs to let the ghost die
16Repay a kindness
17Anarchy and destruction
18Fresh blood to ease the pain

Dissecting the Ghost Story

The classic ghost story fits neatly into the Five Scene Plot paradigm previously discussed in RPT. By combining the following plot structure with these tables, you can quickly create ghost stories for your game.

The basic ghost story follows these stages:

  1. Strange Events => an initial haunting, which may happen “off screen”
  2. Investigation => the heroes learn about the actions and background of the ghost
  3. Contact => the heroes interact with the ghost, hopefully learning its desires
  4. Desires of the Ghost => depending upon the nature of these desires, the heroes might work to fulfill these desires and free the ghost, or fight to overcome these aims
  5. Resolution => with the desires met, the ghost freely leaves, or the heroes must fight to banish the ghost

Ghosts at the Table

Just as there can be many types of ghosts, so too can ghosts be used to tell all manner of stories. Regardless of ghost story style, keep these points in mind.

Reveal The Ghost’s Desires

If you are running an investigative story, then make sure the PCs have a chance to learn about the ghost’s desires. This is crucial information for solving the puzzle of the haunting and finding a solution. Be forthcoming with these desires to avoid the game stalling after a poor roll denies the PCs crucial information.

Vary The Plots

There are many combinations possible with these tables, so be sure to vary your ghost stories. Even if your players are keen on one style of ghost story, such as the investigative, you can throw in a destructive ghost occasionally to vary the pace.

The Power Of Contrast

Speaking of contrast, why not combine conflicting appearances and desires. Just because the ghost looks like a rotting corpse, it does not have to mean it wants to kill the current occupants of the house. A story where such a ghost wanted to repay an act of kindness presents all manner of problems for the PCs. Unusual combinations can make for more memorable games.

Remember The Personality

Throughout the ghost story, remember to play the ghost as an NPC with a personality. This heightens the emotion of your story, and reminds players this is not just another monster hunt.

Conclusion

The classic ghost story is often the forgotten trope of the genre when it comes to horror RPGs. Use these tables to generate the appearance, actions, and desires of a ghost. Follow the outlined story structure to create an engaging ghost story to challenge your players.

Happy haunting,
Phil

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Brief Word From Johnn

Winners Of The Mega Dice Bag Giveaway

Congrats to these RPT readers for winning the draw for EasyRollerDice.com bulk dice bags:

  • mostdanger
  • gmjasongurps
  • katya_de_leon
  • wayneelf
  • lallander

Thanks to everyone who entered! With your help, I achieved my goal of getting fresh new subscribers and tipsters.

Speaking of which, I have a reader tip request about how to build campaign outlines near the end of the newsletter. I’d love to hear how you outline your campaigns.

And on a side note, if you’re craving dice contests, I am giving away a free set of EasyRollerDice.com dice every month to Platinum Patrons at my Patreon. The next set will be a pumpkin set – orange dice with black numbers.

What’s Your Favourite Fantasy RPG

I’ve been GMing D&D for decades. I grew up living, breathing, and eating D&D (those crayons in the D&D box were not as nutritious as advertised).

I took a break from D&D a few years ago when 4th edition came out. We switched to…Pathfinder, lol. More D&D just a different brand name.

However, if you ask me what my favourite fantasy RPG system is, I would not say it was D&D.

No, my vote would go to Ars Magica. I only played and GMed the game for a couple of years in North Vancouver. But it was such an awesome game. Dynamic spells with a latin noun + verb system, rotating GMs in troupe-style play, tiers of playable characters with Magi, Companions, and Grogs, simple d10 combat, and more flavour oozing from its Mythic Earth setting than a gelatinous cube in a chocolate factory.

My favourite part was how you as a group made an order of mages struggling to set up shop in a medieval Europe brimming with pitchforks, torches, and inquisitors. You built laboratories, did research, and grew in power. You struggled with faction politics within the secret body of magi as well as within your magi’s specific school of magic, and you struggled to get “power pellets” sprinkled throughout the land in dangerous places to fuel your research and spells.

Ars Magica, to me, is like Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones.

How about you? What’s your favourite fantasy RPG? Drop me an email or tweet me at @roleplayingtips

October’s RPG Blog Carnival + Hosts Needed

This month’s carnival is What Walks Into Town, hosted by the Of Dice & Dragons blog:

In past years we’ve sought out those spooky spots the local townsfolk like to avoid and we’ve talked about things that go bump in the night that kept you awake until morning.

This year there’s no escape as the wicked will come to you!

Instead of a house on the haunted hill, or that unexplained sound in the dark, it’s something that just may come to your door.

So share the tale of that wandering witch, the peddler that always seems to know just a bit too much, or the carnival with the many strange performers that’s come to town.

Check out the blog entries to get some chilling ideas for your games.

I volunteer to organize the monthly RPG Blog Carnivals, and need hosts for 2016. If you have an RPG blog, give me a shout. Hosting is easy – it requires a topic and just two posts – and I can help with any questions you might have about hosting or blogging.

Shoot me an email if you are interested in hosting.

Get some gaming done this week!

Cheers,
Johnn
roleplayingtips.com

P.S. Why do dragons have big nostrils? Because they have big claws.

Thanks to Roleplaying Tips’ awesome new Patrons: Maarten Inklaar, John Fiala, Joshua Woodard, Scott Adams, Alessandro Bilosi, Faience, Jonathan, Jim Lomax, Matt Jackson, Kurt Kier, Kevin Geedey, Hamish Sharik, Remi Bilodeau, Andrew Sternick, Joakim FlorĂ©n!

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Readers Tips

GM Tip Exchange

Tips shared by your fellow readers to help your GMing. Have a tip to share? Just hit reply. Thanks!

Six Character Obstacles

From Roninkelt

I use six categories of obstacles to complicate the protagonist’s efforts to solve the overall problem and vanquish the antagonist or antagonistic force:

Internal Obstacles

Relate to problems in the character’s own mind. This is more of an obstacle with the player than the character, as most characters won’t be well defined enough. These can include presenting things relating to phobias or other blocks a player may have.

Ability Obstacles

Based on how the PC makes decisions and takes action. This is the classic problem the characters may or may not have the ability to resolve based on their class and builds.

External Obstacles

Based on physical restrictions and time. These add pressure to a situation by presenting a ticking clock or some other physical limit.

Knowledge obstacles

Based on what the characters know and when they know it. Clues and other types of knowledge relating to some revealing information about the antagonist.

Societal Obstacles

If there is some external imposition of rules or codes the character must break in order to succeed.

Conflicting Beliefs, Values, And Advice

Presenting a situation in which the character must choose between two goods or two evils else they get conflicting advice.

Thinking about these categories helps me come up with a variety of obstacles, both mental and physical, and adds tension to any campaign.

Two Ideas: WHFB Standards + Hit Location d6

From Vitaly Malinovsky

Hi, Johnn!

Once again I’ve waited for a fresh issue of RPT – and once again I wasn’t disappointed not even for a moment. So thank you once again for your hard work and interesting materials.

My attention was caught by the article about using flags in games.

WHFB Standards

Pic of WHFB mini

I think it can be useful for DMs to mention Warhammer Fantasy Battles wargame. Battle standards are a great part of any unit there and there’s lots of them in the game. Several are common and can be used by all races. Plus, there’s at least no less then 5-6 unique for every army! Though part of them have effects specific only for WHFB, you one can find some rather interesting ones, especially in non-human Army Books.

I also think that WHFB is not the only fantasy wargame (though the most widespread of all fantasy wargames here in Belarus) which uses rules for Battle Standards. So any DM can visit his local hobby club and look through different wargaming books in search for an inspiration.

Hit Location d6

Photo of dice

The second thought is just a small idea I want to use in my games to speed up combat and make it more narrative. It is a special die, a d6, with symbols (or words) on its sides: head, torso, left arm, right arm, left leg and right leg.

How is it usually getting in most games? “Woah! The werewolf hits you for 35 hit points! Subtract them and it’s your turn! – Oh, just 35? I’ve got 33 more left, and if I use Heal which will restore 12 HP…” You get the idea – the narrative game suddenly becomes one about math, the tension drops, and the player stops caring about his PC, like in a computer game.

The second part is Random Hit location charts. You roll to hit, you roll to wound, you roll (if you roll at all) on this chart – the game bogs down, the tension drops etc.

A die with the symbols I mentioned above deals with both problems at once – you roll it together with your attack die. And instantly you get an idea of where the character was hit and how hard.

So instead of looking through different charts and making abstract Hit-Point-Math – you make a roll and say, “The werewolf hits you at your right leg. A really hard hit which makes you drop your weapon and which will surely leave awful scars…in case you live long enough to heal them…he he he….”

I don’t know if this idea is new to US and European players, but we surely have no such dice in Belarus, so I proudly think of is as of my personal small DM life-hack.

Tiny Game Design Tool

From Johnn Four

I saw this tool mentioned on G+ and thought it was great. While instead for making quick games with, I thought we GMs could use it in other ways:

  • Campaign briefs and Player Guides
  • 5 Room Dungeons huzzah!
  • Props and handouts
  • GM screens and quick references
  • Player character cheat sheets (especially tricky rules)

Here’s how to make one:

Pic of design guide instructions

You can download the instructions and get more info about the Tiny Game Design Tool here.

And you can learn about RPG versions, often called PocketMods, here and here.

How To Create A Campaign Outline (Tip Request)

RPT Subscriber Kristin emailed me this request:

Hello! My name is Kristin, and I am a newbie GM trying to create a campaign for Pathfinder for the first time.

I am completely at a loss for what to do. I have been working on my own world since I was about 16. I’m coming up on 27 now. Do you have any advice for someone whom has never GMed a game before? Tips on how to outline the campaign? Any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! 🙂

Kristin, congrats on taking up the GMing reigns. You are in luck as Patrons just voted Creating A Campaign Outline as a topic for an upcoming issue.

And if you’ll excuse the self-promotion, you might be interested in my book, Campaign Seeds.

Meantime, here are a couple of tips:

  • Start small and keep it simple. Let your players complicate things.
  • Have a villain who keeps things moving forward if the players stall.
  • Give players a clear long-term quest or purpose – bake it into character backgrounds and party make-up.
  • Don’t script what will happen. Instead, make Lego pieces of People, Places, and Things you can combine into encounters as needed.
  • Start with a simple dungeon or setting. Spend 2+ sessions gaming it so you can get experience GMing and get comfortable calling the shots. Then expand into wilderness and civilized areas. Then bring in campaign/big plot stuff.

These tips might also be helpful:

Tip Request

RPT readers, how do you go about creating your campaign outlines? I’d love to hear about different approaches to help give Kristin some options. Please hit reply and let me know. Cheers.

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Murder Hobos S2E4: The Hatch

In this episode the Hobos did something bad. Something very bad. Here’s how it played out.

We gamed last Friday. I was not sure I was going to be ready because I am transitioning the game to the D&D adventure Princes of the Apocalypse and have not finished reading and prepping that module yet.

So I emailed everyone and asked them to bring 1st level PCs as a backup in case I could not GM the Murder Hobos campaign. I’m seeing GMs running classic first edition D&D modules with 5E and think that’s great. So I grabbed my copy of B2: Keep On The Borderlands and was prepared to run that. I’ve run B2 eight times, so it requires no prep. Plus, the first edition modules knew how to create an adventure with concision and minimal prep.

However, it turns out by game day I had enough material to at least start a Hobos session. So we began with the party returning to Phandalin after nearly perishing at the hands of the Cult of the Dragon. Limping back to town, the group returns to the Stonehill Inn.

Dirty Deeds

They rest and decide to visit the Townmaster while Roscoe scouts out the Red Brand hideout at The Manor. The group demands a deed to The Manor and several other concessions if they clear out the Red Brands. Again. (They killed the first batch several weeks ago.)

The Townmaster agrees and also asks for the Hobos help finding a lost caravan due from Mirabar. Pre-arranged before winter, the Waterdeep-bound caravan was to make a stop in Phandalin and deliver much-needed food and supplies. But it’s disappeared and did not make it even as far as Triboar. The party agrees to quest for the caravan.

Red Brands Default

The party girds their loins and heads to The Manor. They circle the place then cautiously try the front door. They find it trapped with a glyph and disarm it. Entering, they discover the Red Brands have left town. There’s a note stuck to a post with a dagger. The note has Malchor’s name written on it.

Six checks the note and discovers another glyph on the floor in front of it, plus an exploding rune on the note set to trigger should anyone read it.

Malchor burns the note, the PCs confirm The Manor has been abandoned, and the group returns to the inn.

The Hatch

Six hires townsfolk to dig deeper into the giant pit created when the Blue Diamond fort vanished during the night. The top stones of a henge are the only clue about how the place disappeared.

After toiling in the unseasonal cold, the pit crew discover a metal hatch buried in rock. Six investigates and spots dwarven runes etched into the portal. He summons Vargulf, the party’s dwarven druid, to read the runes. They say, in ancient dwarven:

“The Demonic Holt of the Iron Reaver”

Below those runes is a symbol that represents the strongest warning a dwarven glyph can provide. Something akin to a real life radiation symbol.

It’s My Birthright

Vargulf tells Kriv, the half-orc barbarian, the runes read “Orc Only.”

Kriv says, “Then it’s my birthright. I must enter.” He opens the hatch and goes down.

The rest of the party scrambles to muster and follow Kriv down a 200′ rung ladder descending into a musty darkness.

Kriv gets to the bottom and finds a room with intricate scenes carved into the walls in bas relief. The scenes depict four demons slaying, eating, and exterminating a dwarven clan. The four demon types are barlgura, goristro, marilith, and balor.

As Kriv admires the art, four ghouls slink into the room and attack. These ghouls spit, but Kriv manages to avoid getting hit. As the rest of the group finally manages their way down the shaft, Kriv is mopping up the creatures.

The Next Warning

The group explores what seems to be an underground lair made by dwarves. They dispatch more undead – all orcs – and then encounter a door. The door has another of the dwarven radiation symbols on it.

The Murder Hobos open the door and unleash a trapped barlgura demon. The creature is tough, but it eventually falls.

The Iron Reaver

After a rest, the party explores deeper and opens a room with an iron golem in it. However, after centuries of guarding the rooms beyond, it has become slow and rusty. The party attacks.

The creature’s breath weapon still functions well, and several PCs are hurt. But eventually the reaver is downed. The party catches its breath and carries on.

The Final Warning

Beyond the Iron Reaver is a corridor with three doors. Each bears an urgent dwarven radiation rune.

The Murder Hobos open the first door. Beyond is a marilith demoness. She screams, “Free at last!” and launches attacks at the PCs. Fortunately, the creature was imprisoned without her weapons, so her seven attacks are deadly but not instant-death for the overwhelmed PCs.

The party fights bravely. But then the demoness teleports past the PCs to the end of the hall, opens a door, and frees a balor demon.

The PCs scramble and run back to the exit shaft, pursued by howling demons. The marilith opens the third door in the hallway and frees a goristro demon, which begins destroying the dungeon.

It becomes a race to the hatch and it’s every Hobo for himself. Those with spider climb escape first. The ground is shaking from the demons’ destruction of the dungeon. As the last Hobo escapes, an obsidian claw curls out of the shaft, followed by the rest of the balor.

The Fate Of Phandalin

The PCs gather their stuff from the Stonehill Inn and warn everyone to flee. Drunken miners ridicule the party and townsfolk laugh at the crazy Hobos. Then the three demons destroy the inn. And the rest of Phandalin.

Townsfolk are eviscerated, eaten, and crushed. The demons lay waste to each building. The marilith soon has a weapon for each of her six hands and she scythes through folk like it’s fall harvest.

The Murder Hobos gather on a hill outside town and watch the destruction for awhile. They are horrified. Phandalin is burning. The tortured screams of the townsfolk reaches them even here. The party is in shock.

We end the session there. The players can’t believe what just happened. They discuss their next move. It seems like the Red Brands got out of town just in time….