Friday, January 20, 2017

Ghostwalk and Fifth Edition

The Ghostwalk Campaign Setting Book from the 3E era

Because I'm a slug with immense self-doubts -- but an excellent cook, mind you -- I tend to focus my efforts here on converting old stuff. One day I'll work up the courage to put my own settings and creations up here.

Today is not that day. Today you get some of my meanderings regarding my next project: converting the Ghostwalk systems for 5E. You can find its 3E version here on the DM's Guild.

I really like "city of adventure" style settings, and this one is among my favorites from the 3E era. Designed to be a place you could drop into any world, the city of Manifest lingers close to the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead. As people go about their day to day lives, they share the streets with ghosts. Now, this makes it a bit hard to just deposit over that unexplored hill in your homebrew; the very nature of the place's inhabitants and its inferred cosmological implications probably require some forethought. The people of the world have to come to terms that there are ghosts walking around a city where there is a legit portal to the land of the dead, and you can go meet your dead relatives for a pint at one of the city's bars.

Due to a magical contrivance known as the Manifest Ward, ghosts can only become physical and actually interact with stuff while within the city. Otherwise, they are either fully or partially in the Ethereal Plane and can't do much of anything related to the real world while there. It's probably not a lonely experience; ghosts are swept along Ethereal Currents until they reach a place called the Veil of Souls, where they can either pass along to the afterlife or linger. One is bound to meet a lot of other ghosts adrift in the current or preyed upon by hostile entities that eat ghosts.

Now, these aren't the ghosts from the Monster Manual. In fact, the setting discourages the use of those ghosts to avoid confusion (wraiths, specters, et al. are all fair game though). Ghosts in the Ghostwalk campaign are only kind of undead and they are designed to be used as PCs. This comes with some caveats and implications for the rules.

  • Ghostwalk ghosts aren't undead. They're kind of in this gray area, but for game balance purposes, they are still humanoids of their respective race.
  • Pursuant to that, only humanoids can become ghosts. Other creatures either have too-simple a spirit (beasts) or lack the supernatural quality that allows their souls to linger (most everything else).
  • Ghost characters don't need to breathe or eat. They always have a ghost trait that defines something about their personality, and usually takes the form of a compulsion or outright obsession (such as listening to music, eating food despite not needing to, watching a particular person or place, or lurking around a building).
  • Ghosts that are fully-manifested in the city are physical, have mass and weight, and can be punched back to death.
  • In 3E, ghosts had to plan their advancement very carefully, as they could only advance in the eidolon and eidoloncer classes. If you were ever restored to life, you could convert levels around. This gets weird as hell in 5E and means you need to perform tons of maintenance to your character as you die, adventure as a ghost, come back, etc. There were options to ignore this rule, but they introduced other complications that I won't go into here.

There's a lot to work with in this setting, but also a lot of landmines. As I work on this project, I need to consider what's tenable around the average gaming table. Should I expect this to be an "advanced" setting and system where only people who have good gameplay knowledge can really enjoy the experience? I don't much like that idea, as it creates the potential for the curse of knowledge to strike between the DM and some players.

Regardless, I'm going to need to figure out what to do with the two ghost classes and how leveling, dying, coming back, switching levels works -- if it will work the same way at all.

Once all this work is done, I'll mash it all together and chuck it up on that links bar at the top for people to use, or not, as they see fit. For now, I've got a lot of reading and brainstorming to do.

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