Saturday, April 9, 2022

OSR: Wraiths

by Jonathan Lee
 This post was inspired by Anthony Ryan's Blood Song and Raven's Shadow series. 

"Let's step back for a moment.  Frank Dominio was a man of hyper-charged and off-kilter imagination, no denying it; but he had always been held back by his fears and demons.  Domino, on the other hand, was not only completely warped, he also belonged to a class of demon himself.  Both of them shared many like qualities.  Among them was an eagerness to get started on the project, if only to put it behind them as soon as possible." 

- Thomas Ligotti, My Work Is Not Yet Done

Death's grip is not as absolute as the Priests will tell you.  When you die, you will fall into a shadow world, where the details of our world are the same, but different.  This grey world will be inhabited by passing shades and other, stranger creatures.  A creature will come to you.  He will insist you come with him.  If you go with him, you will be taken to your eternal fate, whatever that would be. 

But you did not.  You feared what awaited beyond that final gate, or knew your work was not yet done.  So you fled.  You ran that grey road and fled from your captor.  Now you haunt that world and the land of the living, forever seeking to finish what you began.  Forever looking for your final goal.  Whether it be love, duty, honor, revenge or simply life, it is your drive, your dream, your obsession. 

There are those who would mistake you for a common Ghost.  You are nothing of the sort.  You are greater than they, greater than anything alive or dead.  And soon, they will all know it.  They will fear you.  For unlike them, you are infinite.

The Ones Death Forgot:

Ghosts are created from the shattered remnants of souls shriven by tragedy and sorrow.  Pieces of them remain behind after they die, bonded to one particular place.  They are doomed to repeat particular actions in particular ways.  The smallest ghosts carry out a single action over and over, such as the ghost of a suicide forever leaping from the same tower, or the ghost of a murder victim attempting to reason with invisible captors, before a phantom gunshot sprays his blood and brains across the walls. 

More powerful ghosts retain more knowledge and memory of the events of their(?) previous lives.  They follow more complex patterns, but they are still patterns.  The Moonlight Fiddler still appears to seduce comely maids and doom their fathers to death, the Splatter Man still haunts the streets of the city he once protected, the Mourning Bride still perishes in the arms of her groom, while the ghosts of her wedding party watch in horror, their screams a shrill, eternal chorus. 

A Wraith, on the other hand, is something different.  A Wraith is a person's full soul, full consciousness, torn from the bonds of life and implanted fully in the world of the dead.  This soul retains all of it's memories from life but also, it's power.  Wraiths have much greater ability to affect the world of the living and thus, rarely pass over.  They remain in the world, meddling in affairs, acting as ghostly puppeteers.  All that they see falls under their influence. 

Wraiths can very easily obtain power in the living world, even if their ability to interact with it is still limited.  They can easily invade fortresses to obtain information, or follow important people and black-mail them for their crimes.  If either approach fails, they can simply appear to the powerful or exploitable and offer services in exchange for sacrifices or loyalty.  And if all that fails, the Wraith can simply steal that person's body and wear like a robe, using him as it sees fit, then discarding him when no longer useful to the Wraith.

Their schemes are complex and can span years, decades or even centuries.  Wraiths do not age and only go in strength the longer they remain between life and death.  This is partially because of their growing experience with using their ghostly abilities, but also through their consumption of souls.  Wraiths have the ability to devour the souls of the recently deceased, gaining their knowledge and some of their abilities as well.  The souls of the dead are not destroyed by this process, but instead become unwilling passengers in the 'body' of the Wraith, forever tormented by the Wraith's endless hunger for blood and vengeance.

Wraiths are not common poltergeists, out for revenge against those who wronged them.  A Wraith's revenge will span centuries and lead to whole nations drowning in blood.  A Wraith is not a creature to be crossed.  Flee from them if you fear you have entered the domain of one.  Yet the sad truth is that often Wraiths are created through the destruction of evil souls who cling to life even as they are slain, but have no other way to return to life.  So beware the one who saves his people and wields a sword of light, for he may be followed by a horror that he created, a horror that will bring his doom.

HD 1d6+X or What he/she Had in Life
AR none
Atk Varies, see below
Mor 15
Saves (7+X) or less

Ghost: A Wraith counts as being a Ghost and Undead.  They can fly and are intangible, so non-spiritual objects pass through them.  They are immune to damage from non-magical weapons, as well as cold, poison and necrotic damage.

Sunlight Damage: A Wraith takes 6 damage a round it is exposed to sunlight.        

Invisibility: A Wraith can turn invisible as a free action.  It becomes visible if it attacks or takes an action against another creature.  It can still be seen in mirrors and dogs and cats can detect it, even when invisible. 

Changeable Image: A Wraith, when it appears, can appear as anything it wishes, from an Angel to it's true form- that of murdered soul, strained and divorced from the peace of the grave.  No matter what form it takes, this does not change it's stats. 

Native of the Shallows: Wraiths can, as an action, leave or enter the Shallows of the Astral Sea at will.  When they does this, they vanish from our world but also loses any ability to affect it except indirectly, until they re-enter our world. 

Life Drain: Instead of making it's attacks, a Wraith can touch a creature.  This requires an Attack roll, but do not add non-magical weapons to the Defense roll.  A hit causes the creature to take 1d6 CON damage.  If this CON damage reduces a creature's CON to 0, it dies.  This CON damage cannot be healed until the creature is blessed by someone who carries the power of the Gods such as a Holy Man (Prophet, Holy Man) or a Priest or King.  A God can also remove this effect.  After that, CON returns at a rate of 1 point per day. 

Possession: Instead of making it's attacks, a Wraith can attempt to possess a creature.  This forces a creature to save.  On a failed save, the creature is possessed.  On a successful save, the creature takes 1d6 COG damage.  The Wraith may do this up to 3 times.  If it reduces a creature's COG to 0, the Wraith can possess that creature.  But if it cannot, the Wraith can attempt to possess that creature for 24 hours.

Wraiths, when possessing a body, retain their resistances and immunities.  If a host body is killed, the Wraith is banished to the Shallows for a day and an hour, but can return after this time.  Non-magical damage to a host body is taken by the host body, which retains it's previous physical ability scores (STR, DEX, CON, HP, etc).  Spiritual or magical damage is split between the Wraith and the host creature.

Devour Soul: If a creature is slain around a Wraith and it is not possessing a body, it can devour that soul.  This causes a Wraith to regain X HD, where X is the HD that creature had while still alive.  Additionally, if a Wraith devours a soul that had HD equal to or exceeding the Wraith's current total, the Wraith's HD total increases by 1.  The Wraith also has a X-in-20 chance, where X is the soul's previous HD, of being able to gain some or all of a devoured soul's abilities, as long as they were based on mental ability scores.  This includes spell-casting ability, bearing one of the Secret Names of God, or anything else the Referee feels is appropriate.

Specific Death Condition: Unless reduced to 0 HP by damage from Sunlight, a Wraith that is destroyed will reform in a 1d20-X years (where X is the Wraith's HD - min 1 year and a day). 

- Play with your food, until it shows it can hurt you
- Try to possess the strongest enemy, or the one most likely to fail
- Drain those who can hurt you, kill them first
- Kill one and feed on their soul
- Don't fear destruction unless it threatens a long-term goal or promises to be permanent

What signs signal this Wraith is near?


1- Cold spots and the general lowering of temperatures.  Glass mists over, frost forms on water, people's breath fogs the air.
2- Lights dim, candles gutter.  Torches and fire cast less light and shadows seem to lengthen, growing blacker.
3- Food spoils, water becomes befouled, things that cannot spoil become inedible for some reason.
4- Animals become agitated, dogs bark, cocks crow, horses buck in their stalls. 
5- The wind howls and the weather grows worse.  Rain becomes a downpour, snow becomes a blizzard, storms hurl hail and lightning as they vent their impotent rage.
6- All people nearby have the sense of eyes on them, even if no one is there. 
7- Pictures of people weep blood, mirrors crack, hallucinations occur in certain people.
8- Spell-casters and others attuned to the flow of Magic feel shudders passing through the world and a foul presence.   

How strong is this Wraith?


1- Newborn.  This Wraith was just created.  It has 1d6+1d4 HD.  It can make two attacks that do 1d6+3 necrotic damage.
2- Mature.  This Wraith has been around for several years, maybe a decade or two.  It has 1d6+1d6 HD.  It can make two attacks that do 1d8+2 necrotic damage.  Roll once on the Otherworldy Powers table.
3- Old.  This Wraith is older than you, your great-grandparents, maybe even the current dynasty.  It has 1d6+1d8 HD.  It can make three attacks that do 1d8+4 necrotic damage.  Roll twice on the Otherworldly Powers table.
4- Ancient.  This Wraith is older than your nation, your people, maybe even your race.  It is old as Time and Death and utterly divorced from whatever put it in this situation so many eons ago.  It has 1d6+1d12 HD.  It can make three attacks that do 1d10+3 necrotic damage.  Roll 1d6 times on the Otherworldly Powers table. 

What Otherworldly Powers does it possess?


1- The Wraith can raise corpses as Undead.  It does this by sacrificing one or more HD.  This permanently raises the Undead and binds it to the Wraith's will. 
2- The Wraith can tear apart the souls of the newly deceased to create Spectres.  These Spectres are bound to the Wraith, but it only controls them through holding the fragments of their soul.  If these fragments could be taken, the Spectres would be healed and could pass over. 
3- The Wraith can curse creatures.  The creature must be able to see the Wraith and understand what it is saying.  The Wraith cannot curse another creature until the first curse is broken or fulfilled. 
4- The Wraith can, by touching a creature, force that creature to save.  That creature becomes infected with a disease on a failed save.  The Wraith carries 1d4 spirits of disease with it, and can only infect that many creatures.
5- The Wraith can create barriers up to 100' long that spiritual creatures or magic cannot cross.  Living creatures and physical objects can cross these barriers without suffering any effect, but nothing magical can.  The only way something magical can cross this barrier is if they ask permission.  These barriers last until the next sunrise.
6- The Wraith can tear open portals in space that lead to other planes of existence, allowing it to travel as it sees fit.  It can only do this 1/Day.        

Who serves it?


1- Undead.  The Wraith is served by 1d3 [1= A small group of Greater Undead, faithful lieutenants who obey out of loyalty; 2= A small group of Undead slaves, bound to perfect obedience through foul magic; 3= A vast horde of Undead slaves, bound either to the Wraith or to lesser servants who it trusts to carry out it's will.] 
2- Demons.  The Wraith is served by 1d3 [1= A Clan of Demons, a small group bound by loyalty to the Clan's Patriarch and united in service to the Wraith based on a highly specific and elegantly argued contract; 2= A host of wicked spirits, united by the Wraith's charisma and the promise that service to it will enable them to indulge every black desire they have; 3= A Prince (or Princess) of Demons, who has become the Wraith's partner in this affair.  The Prince and the Wraith spend as much time working together as they do trying to undermine the other and looking for chances to cut the other out of the deal.]  
3- Mortals.  A group of mortals have come to follow this Wraith.  They are 1d4 [1= A Cult which believes the Wraith is a God of Death that will grant them eternal life if they serve it, the Cult's leader being the Prophet that their God speaks through; 2= A Cult that has formed around a man with magical powers- secretly he has no powers and the Wraith is responsible for everything, he may or may not be aware of this; 3= A group of criminals have 'bound' the Wraith to serve them, but they might not have as much control as they think; 4= A group of wealthy men who have partnered with the Wraith in exchange for it using it's power to help fulfill their ambitions.]

What treasures might the Wraith possess?


1- The Lantern of the Second Sight.  A lantern made of brass and glass etched with tiny, almost imperceptible runes.  It must be filled with ordinary oil and lit with ordinary fire and produces light as a normal lantern- bright light for 30' and dim light for an additional 30'.  But, if an invisible creature enters that cone of light or a spiritual creature is watching from the corresponding area of the Shallows/The Ethereal Plane, the lantern's flame flares bright blue and remains that way for as long as the creature is nearby.   
2- Censer of Damned Souls.  A huge censer on a wooden rod that can be used as a mace, doing 1d6+Atk magical bludgeoning damage.  If the flanged head is filled with burning incense, it will allow the user to 3/Day, summon hungry ghosts up from Sheol.  These souls are not loyal to the holder of the mace, but might be willing to provide a service in exchange for something in return, such as protection from psychopomps coming to retrieve it, an offering of blood, revenge against someone living, or anything else it wants.   
3- Brooch of Whispers.  A jeweled brooch that resembles a jet spider squatting on a pink dome that resembles human skin.  If worn, 3/Day, the user can ask a person a question and the person will answer truthfully, no matter the question.  Only the wearer of the brooch will hear this answer, everyone else will hear what the person would have normally said.  For example, if a wife asked her husband, "Does this outfit make me look fat?" and he thought it did, his answer through the brooch would be, "Yes, and frankly, you don't pull that look off as good as your sister."  But everyone else, including the husband would hear him say, "No, of course not, dear" which is what we ordinarily would have said.  Additionally, the brooch is cursed and every day has a X-in-20 chance of giving false answers, where X is the number of days the brooch has been worn by any one person.   
4- Mirror of Life Trapping.  A flawless mirror, set in a lacquered and gilded frame adorned with a fat emerald.  The mirror is usually covered by a non-magical clump of silk.  Any person other than the current owner who looks in this mirror must make a save.  On a failed save, that person is trapped inside the mirror.  Persons stored inside the mirror are stuck in the world as perceived inside the mirror, but cannot leave the area the mirror shows.  They do not need to eat, drink or breathe in this space, nor do they age.  They do need to sleep, however, and will go mad.  Anyone touching the mirror or looking into it can communicate with a person stuck in the mirror.  The Mirror can store up to 20 HD worth of creatures.  If it ever exceeds this limit, or is broken, all trapped creatures are released.  The mirror, if shattered, disappears and then in an abandoned building in 10+1d10 years.
5- Robe of the Nightmare King.  A black robe made of fine, smooth silk that is always faintly, but not unpleasantly warm.  It smells of sweat and conjures up memories of child, particularly of all the things children are scared of, strange noises, the dark, strangers, monsters under the bed, etc.  If thrown over a sleeping person, the person will fall into a deep sleep and remain asleep as long as the robe covers them.  If a creature touches the robe, you can enter that creature's dream.  But beware, if the person covered in the robe is injured or killed while covered by it, there is a chance that a part of their dreams will escape into the spirit world and become a hostile entity that will seek out it's killer.  This chance is X-in-20, where X is that creature's HD.  Wizards also add their number of MD to X. 
6- Lifebane.  A sword that when drawn, blazes with ethereal flames of dark blue and mottle green.  The sword does 1d6+Atk magical sharp damage on a hit.  3/Day, the bearer of the sword can draw a line or geometric shape in the dirt or scratch one into the floor with the sword.  Any living creature that crosses one of these lines ignites with ghostly flames, taking 1d6 radiant damage until it crosses another one of those lines again.  The bearer of the sword is immune.  Additionally, 1/Day, if stabbed into a corpse within 1 minute after death, the bearer can tear apart the dead creature's soul and make it into a Spectre.  This Spectre has 1d4 HD and is bound to the sword, obeying the will of it's wielder.  But beware, it serves the sword, not you.  If you ever lose the sword, the Spectres will be free to do as they wish, until someone else claims the sword.      

What created this Wraith and how can it be defeated?


1- A failed attempt at Lichdom.  The Wraith was trying to become a Lich and something went wrong.  It cannot be affected by Undead control spells, nor bound as a Spirit or normal Undead due to it's origin.  The only way to kill the Wraith is to seal it inside a phylactory to finish the ritual, then destroy the phylactory. 
2- A Demonic Pact.  A Demon prevented the Wraith from passing over, as per the agreement.  The Wraith either owes that Demon a favor, or is owed another service from the Demon (50%).  The Demon has the contract on it's person(?).  This may or may not be an actual contract signed in blood.  The Contract contains the secret for getting rid of the Wraith.  Alternatively, if you become the holder of the Contract through means fair or foul, the Wraith may have to serve you, or at least work with you.
3- An adventurer, who killed the Wraith during a ritual.  The ritual failed, obviously, but the Wraith's soul absorbed much of the power that the Wraith was working with.  The only way to kill the Wraith is to use the weapon that originally killed it.  Hopefully it hasn't been lost, stolen or forgotten in the time since. 
4- The Wraith itself.  The Wraith knew how to become a Wraith and killed itself in a ritualistic way to ascend past it's own mortality.  The only way to destroy this Wraith is to stick it inside a suitable body, bring it back to life, then kill it again.   

Was is the Wraith's goal?


1- Revenge.  It's dead and someone killed it.  That person must pay.  Maybe it's the King, or it could be the institution that the Wraith hates.  Maybe it's the people who shunned him, or the tribe that cast him out.  Maybe he simply suffered and now the world has to as well.  Regardless, it's going to be bad for all involved.
2- Power.  The Wraith didn't have enough of it while alive and dying hasn't quenched his thirst for it. 
3- Completing it's ambition.  The Wraith had a goal while alive- to conquer an enemy, to crush a rival, to secure peace for his people, to correct an ancient error.  Now unbound by time and life, the Wraith is finally able to achieve victory.   
4- To live again. 

Wraith Plot Hooks:


1- The ruling class of one Empire have long hungered for the lands of their neighbor.  Now, with the aid of the Wraith, they plan to take it.  The Wraith will move ahead of the invasion, assassinating important people, gathering intelligence and turning pliable people to the side of the invaders, so they will betray their countrymen when the invasion comes.  Despite it's service, the Wraith might have another goal than a simple invasion and land-grab.
2- Brightstar Khunum was a terror, a brutal warlord who nearly tore the Empire apart and plunged the world into ten years of ceaseless war.  Luckily, he's dead.  Or is he, as his banner was once again raised and thousands flock to it, hearing his siren call of liberation.  Investigating the army will reveal that the new commander bearing the banner of Brightstar is an imposter, a presumptive heir.  Yet this new heir seems to act much like the original Brightstar did, even possessing knowledge that no one but Brightstar and a select few did.  Just what is going on and more importantly, is Brightstar truly gone?  No, he is not.  His Wraith currently watches from the dark, whispering in the ear of his puppet.  Not that the players will find that out until it's too late.
3- A new religious group is rapidly growing in the hinterlands, centered around a man said to have magical powers given to him by God, or so he claims.  His radical preaching is upsetting the rulers of the land and they want you to go investigate him.  Investigation will reveal that the man is a non-magical individual, and the true source of his miracles is the Wraith that speaks to him.  The preacher may be aware of this, or he may think that the Wraith is some kind of divine spirit. 
4- A series of strange murders and other events are occurring in a city, which the city officials seem powerless to stop.  This is because they are being black-mailed by a Wraith who is using them to aid it's own agenda.  For these murders are not random killings, but instead the foundation for a work of massive power, a ritual the likes of which the world hasn't seen in a thousand years.  The Wraith wants to live again, but not as a man, but as a God.  Stop the Wraith, before it's too late.

by Diana Franco

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