Sunday 30 October 2011

Ghosts and Poltergeists: Ira

Wrath (ira) is a hard sin to attribute to any undead. I originally thought "hey, the wraiths of wrath" but beyond a stupid not-even-pun there is not much going for that. Wraiths and spectres, on reflection, are life-stealers, so they belong with the envious shadows. Redundant ones at that; I always thought that spectres in the original D&D were Gary's realization, "hey, these wraiths are not quite badass enough to be Ringwraiths."

As an emotion, anger is complicated and hard to study. In my analysis, this is because anger can be brought on by many individual things; it's a feeling state that over biological and cultural evolution has been recruited to respond to many situations. We feel angry when we are personally threatened, so that we can put up a threatening front; when our goals are personally blocked, so that we can persevere in working on them; when an injustice is perpetrated, so that we can apply social pressure to right it. The problem with anger is that each of these three things uses the same emotion, meaning that the three causes bleed over to each other. So, even if we have a goal blocked - bad traffic, say, or somebody publishing a game on the Internet that uses ascending armor class - anger pushes us to treat it like a personal threat, and even an injustice. And anger is a very visible state, which motivates us to communicate it and to come up with reasons for it. It's no wonder the medieval church fathers classed this ubiquitous emotion as a sin.

So what undead is defined by its rage? If you look to ghost tradition, the answer is obvious: the poltergeist. A literal spirit of rage, the poltergeist manifests in a house by throwing and disturbing objects. The problem is that in D&D, poltergeists are low-level joke monsters from the Fiend Folio. So we need to make them bigger and badder, and perhaps merge them somewhat with their bigger cousins, the ghost.

If the D&D ghost seems under-used, it's because, like the mummy, it merges high hit dice with weird attack modes: aging, which you can see as a kind of fear effect from its angry expression, and magic jar attack, which in effect is a kind of possession. It's not too much of a stretch to see the ghost as possessing its victims in order to express its rage, turning them immediately to attack their companions. Henceforth, the reworking:

Ghosts are another kind of undead where their sin in life translates well to their state after death. They died possessed by anger, frustrated in the accomplishment of some goal which may even be evident in the environment: an unfinished statue, an unescaped deathtrap. They are very hard to deal with because they can turn invisible and ethereal at will, and may only be hit by magic weapons, holy items or spells. Trying to turn them directly only makes them more angry, and they attack the one doing the turning; the way to deal with them is to face the other way while holding the holy symbol and intoning the sacred words, which will affect them in the normal way. The one weakness a ghost has is for the attainment of the goal that caused its anger; for example, a ghost created when a wrathful person died trying to escape a trap will be dispelled when the original bones are moved to a place of freedom.

A ghost will have 3 (poltergeist), 6 (ghost) or 9 (greater ghost) hit dice, with all other stats as written. It has one special attack for every 3 hit dice, from this list:

1. Save (Mind/Spell) or age 1d20 years when ghost first shows itself.
2. Telekinesis, throwing dangerous objects about as through the spell (and the ghost will seek out places with such objects).
3. Possession as by magic jar.
4. Supernatural chill in a 60' radius, extinguishing small fires, and doing 1 hp of damage/round if warm clothing is not worn (this will not reduce a character to zero hp however).
5. Death wail (as banshee); once per night, all who hear must save (Body/Death magic) or fall unconscious for 1 hour (3HD), 24 hours (6HD), or die (9HD).
6. Fear effect: roll two saves (mind/Spell) when ghost first shows itself, if both are failed then stand rooted to the spot for 3 rounds, if one is failed then flee at top speed for 3 rounds.


  1. I like the powers :)
    But AFAIK wraiths are borne out of corpses of very, very evil people. Their evilness so powerful that it even denies them the final rest of death. Or, at leas, that's the vibe I get from D&D handbook, can't cite but I guess it's either from Redbox or Monstruous Manual 2nd ed... ( no, but it might be from a Dragon Magazine. The MM tho speaks about them being "hateful of life". I love wights :D

  2. Of course I just made an arse out of myself. Wraiths, not Wights. The D&D habit of taking a word describing something and using it and a bunch of cognates or alternate spellings for "alternative versions" (like Dwarf/Duergar, Troll/Drow, for what once was simply a single type of "underground faerie") still makes people lose time on the Internets :D

  3. I totally misread your first sentence as some kind of awful pun. Like, "I'm going to put my money in a wrath I.R.A."