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Ghost Story

Source Horror Adventures pg. 194
These stories feature ghosts—whether they’re actual spirits or the characters simply believe in those spirits. Usually relatively short tales, stories in this subgenre focus on wayward souls and the tragic events that keep them from passing on. They usually feature a haunted place—such as the archetypical haunted house—but this might be any location, object, person, or other element that is somehow tied to the spirit’s unfortunate past. The protagonists of a ghost story tend to be latecomers to the tragedy. By entering the zone of spiritual fallout, they either embroil themselves in healing residual scars or try to escape before becoming the next victims.

Storytelling: Ghost stories make fantastic single-adventure plots because they typically link an atmospheric story with a specific location. The tie between a ghost and its haunting grounds means that PCs can indulge in a ghost story without it necessarily interfering with a wider campaign.

Ghosts come in an enormous variety, but for horror adventures, the two most useful are ghosts that want something and violent ghosts. The former might be sorrowful entities that make the PCs their agents in the hopes of being set free. The latter are vicious things, incarnations of madness and violence that take their wrath out on any who dare trespass on their haunting grounds. In neither case does a ghost need to be a sympathetic character, but in both, the spirit’s origins affect its appearance, abilities, and behavior. While revealing the lore behind a haunting might be story enough, in a typical Pathfinder ghost story, learning the spirit’s background and using it to put the ghost to rest is central to the plot.

With the wealth of ghost stories in fiction and film, a GM can plunder existing works for inspiration and experiment with the definitions of “ghost” and “haunting.” She might also consider giving the ghost story a trigger, an event that activates a dormant haunting. Perhaps the return of a family member to his ancestral home or a PC gazing through an orb that reveals the spirit world sparks a full-blown ghost story.

Monsters and Threats: Obviously, these tales focus on ghosts, but in the Pathfinder RPG, “ghost” might mean a variety of things, not just the monster of the same name. However, a ghost is an excellent choice of monster due to its rejuvenation ability, which means the spirit can only be truly defeated if the PCs discover the correct means. This ability forces the PCs to involve themselves in a ghost story to defeat their foe. A GM might use any number of ghostly spirits to create specific sorts of ghost stories—for instance, banshees terrorize barren moors, poltergeists disturb peaceful households, and yuki-onnas haunt snowy vistas. Looking up creatures with the incorporeal subtype in Appendix 8 of any Pathfinder RPG Bestiary volume can point to strong ghost story candidates. Ghosts don’t need to be incorporeal. Phantom armors, revenants, skeletal champions, and zuvembies, for example, all make fine corporeal threats. A “ghost” also doesn’t need to be undead, especially as the line between spirit and outsider is often blurry. Consider having any of a variety of fiends—such as owbs or vulnudaemons—haunt a ghost story. For story purposes, a GM shouldn’t hesitate to give non-ghosts the rejuvenation ability as well, but only so long as the threat stays bound to a single plot-rich locale. More so than in other subgenres, haunts make obvious choices. Spectral beings (especially geists) teamed with a variety of flavorful haunts can work together to create a wider and more satisfying haunting.

Basic Plots: The destruction of a local asylum releases years of pent-up mental trauma as an allip or caller in darkness, the dominant personality of which wants nothing more than to visit the sea once more. The ghost of a golemcrafter intimidates a young trespasser into reactivating her laboratory and creating a soulbound body for her to inhabit. A painting from a far-off land drags the ghost of the portrait’s subject with it, a noble but frustrated foreign warrior who speaks only his native language.

Advanced Plots: A ghost becomes the PCs’ patron, offering its treasure (or home) if they complete what it left undone. A violent, mute ghost the PCs thought exorcised reappears— could they have mistaken its identity? The ghost of a defeated villain or a fallen ally becomes linked to one of the PCs’ pieces of equipment, though the connection seems to be stronger than simply that between victim and murder weapon.