Ghosts and an insubstantial world

One of the first things I did when I started writing Tattered Magicks was figure out how ghosts would work. As a staple in urban fantasy and science fiction stories, I wanted to make sure I had a good handle on the how’s and why’s of how they would interact with the world — and how our characters would interact with the ghosts in return.

Let’s start with a simple question: What is a ghost?

The simple answer is that a ghost is nothing more than a disembodied spirit, and usually the spirit of someone who died feeling strongly they still had something to do. Perhaps the individual died in a particularly traumatic fashion and is angry with their killers. Maybe they perished in an accident and weren’t ready to leave their loved ones. Or maybe they never had the opportunity to clear their browser history and they felt like that needed to be remedied right away!

Most ghosts never leave that insubstantial state and are able to pass through solid objects at will, unable to really interact with the physical world in any meaningful way. These are your standard ghosts. They are unable to communicate with the living beyond appearing and disappearing to those who can see them.

  • Ghost (Low-level): Attribute 5, Speed 5, Trait: Insubstantial
    • Trait: Insubstantial – Creature has the ability to pass through solid objects as if they weren’t there.

Essentially this ghost can’t do much more than scare the living by showing up.

But then you have the ghosts who have figured out how to move beyond this state. Poltergeists are able to manifest enough of a physical nature to affect the world around them, making noise or knocking things off shelves.

How do ghosts go from that insubstantial state to being able to rattle things around a haunted house? They begin to drain other ghosts or living beings.

In TM, this happens through attribute point drain. So if a ghost wants to be a bit more substantial, they drain a point of Toughness from another creature. This happens with a saving throw for the attribute they’re trying to drain. The ghost rolls an attack and the target rolls a save. If they miss the save, one point of the attribute flows to the ghost.

  • Ghost (Low-level): Attribute 8, Speed 5, Traits: Insubstantial, Ability Drain
    • Trait: Ability Drain – Creature has the ability to drain an attribute point from another creature with a successful hit and a failed saving throw on the part of the target.

Ghost-on-ghost violence where stronger, more willful ghosts attack weaker ghosts is common for this. And if a ghost has their Toughness attribute drained to zero, they disappear. Many ghosts have left the world in this manner.

The ultimate expression of one of these ghosts is known as a Revenant, a spiritual creature that has consumed enough energy from other beings to become physical again. This is a dangerous form of the undead.

Most of these creatures have a quest they must finish before they rest. Perhaps they must get revenge on the people who killed them and their family or locate an object to return to a descendant in a time of need.

  • Revenant (High-level): Attribute 13, Traits: Legged (10m), Claw, Enhanced Punch, Geas, Grab, Punch, Rip, Sleepless, Tough Bastard (doubles HP), Tough Hide (AR2)
    • Trait: Geas – Creature must complete a task before being released to a state of peace again. If undead, the geas will end with the creature fading from existence and entering the afterlife.
    • Trait: Sleepless – Creature requires no sleep and heals 1 HP or 1 Attribute point per hour.

The idea here is that there is a bit of a lifecycle to life after death, which gives ghosts left in a state “between” life and the afterlife a chance to change and grow into other creatures higher on the food chain.

That doesn’t mean that ghosts in all their forms are without their weaknesses, which we’ll cover at another time!

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