Incorporating elements of the supernatural into my games has never been a strength of mine.
I have to make a conscious effort to dip into that well. In most of the fantasy-style games I run, there are enough flesh and blood beasts, demons and devils to keep adventurers busy.
But haunts and spirits are great for creating mood or for using as markers to point player characters in a certain direction. I need to utilize them more.
To school myself in the gaming possibilities of “the other side,” I picked up the National Geographic Guide to the World’s Supernatural Places by Sarah Bartlett. It’s 256 pages devoted to describing in words, photographs and illustrations haunted places, vampires, witchcraft, sacred places, UFO hot spots and assorted legends.
Concerning myself only with the section on ghosts and apparitions, here is a sampling of some of the more interesting ones.
Not surprising, I suppose, the author starts in Scotland, home to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which uses ghosts and such to great effect.
1. Headless drummer
Upon the castle’s battlements, a morbid drumbeat is heard on winter afternoons just before sunset. The ghost is a headless drummer, who keeps a lonely vigil. Listen for him as long shadows stretch across the cold and lonely courtyard. (Edinburgh Castle, Scotland. The ghost is said to be the first man to fall to the sword of the invading English in 1296.)
2. Devil’s dice game
From a secret chamber comes the sound of rattling dice, cursing at a bad hand of cards and clinking of glasses. The player characters are warned that a servant was once blinded in one eye when he tried to peer through a keyhole into the room when the apparition appeared. (Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland. A hooded man in black appeared after a drunken guest, the earl of Crawford, demanded in a drunken rage that if no one would gamble with him, he would play the devil himself. After the two spent a long night playing cards and dice, the earl was never seen again.)
3. Coaching inn killer
The barmaids say to beware the roughly dressed foreigner drinking alone at the coaching inn and smuggler’s meeting place. This ghost will beckon another guest outside. Those who follow meet a grim fate. The disemboweled corpse of the ghost’s victims have been found upon the moor. (Jamaica Inn, Cornwell England. After closing, the ghost of the disembowled man will appear as well to the inn’s landlords, rushing to the bar to finish the drink he left behind when he followed the murderous ghost into the dark.)
4. One-Eyed evil
Visitors to a chapel of the somber castle sometimes feel compelled to throw themselves into the dungeon along with being overcome by an overwhelming sense of fear and dread. (Leap Castle, Ireland. The 15th century clan chieftain One-Eyed Tadgh is supposed to have drugged 40 members of a rival clan and killed them by impaling them upon iron spikes kept in the dungeon. Centuries later workmen found the skeletal remains of 150 people in the oubliette.)
5. Slaughter for the mob
In the still of the night, the sounds of weeping, swords clashing, animals howling can be heard upon the ancient sands of the gladiatorial stadium. One figure rises from the sands, searching for his mutilated hands so that he can continue writing letters. (Colosseum, Rome. The ghost of St. Ignatius of Antioch was martyred here, ripped apart by lions.)
Plug any of these ghostly encounters into your game and your players are sure to get a taste of the macabre. And if you have interesting haunts you’ve used effectively, please feel free to share them in the comments section below.