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The distinction between a trap and an undead creature blurs when you introduce a haunt—a hazardous region created by unquiet spirits that react violently to the presence of the living. The exact conditions that cause a haunt to manifest vary from case to case—but haunts always arise from a source of terrific mental or physical anguish endured by living, tormented creatures. A single, source of suffering can create multiple haunts, or multiple sources could consolidate into a single haunt. The relative power of the source has little bearing on the strength of the resulting haunt—it’s the magnitude of the suffering or despair that created the haunt that decides its power. Often, undead inhabit regions infested with haunts—it’s even possible for a person who dies to rise as a ghost (or other undead) and trigger the creation of numerous haunts. A haunt infuses a specific area, and often multiple haunted areas exist within a single structure. The classic haunted house isn’t a single haunt, but usually a dozen or more haunted areas spread throughout the structure.

Horror Atmosphere
Haunting Haunt Haunt Templates
Variant Haunts New Haunts Exorcism

Haunt Rules

Although haunts function like traps, they are difficult to detect since they cannot be easily observed until the round in which they manifest. Detect undead or detect alignment spells of the appropriate type allow an observer a chance to notice a haunt even before it manifests (allowing that character the appropriate check to notice the haunt, but at a –4 penalty).

A haunt can infuse a maximum area with a 5-foot radius per point of CR possessed by the haunt, but the actual area is usually limited by the size of the room in which the haunt is located.

When a haunt is triggered, its effects manifest at initiative rank 10 in a surprise round. All characters in the haunt’s proximity can attempt to notice the haunt at the start of this surprise round by making a notice check). All haunts detect life sources and trigger as a result of the approach of or contact with living creatures, but some haunts can be tricked by effects like hide from undead or invisibility. On the surprise round in which a haunt manifests, positive energy applied to the haunt (via channeled energy, cure spells, and the like) can damage the haunt’s hit points (a haunt never gains a Will save to lessen the damage done by such effects, and attacks that require a successful attack roll to work must strike AC 10 in order to affect the haunt and not merely the physical structure it inhabits). Unless the haunt has an unusual weakness, no other form of attack can reduce its hit points. If the haunt is reduced to 0 hit points by positive energy, it is neutralized— if this occurs before the haunt takes its action at initiative rank 10, its effect does not occur.

A haunt can have virtually any effect identical to an existing spell effect, but often with different—and distinctly more frightening or unnerving—sensory or physical features than that spell effect normally has. (A haunt that has an effect not identical to an existing spell is certainly possible, but this requires designing a new spell effect.) A haunt might cause a room to explode into flames (duplicating fireball or fire storm), infuse a chamber with fear (duplicating cause fear, scare, or fear), or try to frighten a target to death (duplicating phantasmal killer or slay living). How the haunt’s effects manifest are left to you to determine.

A neutralized haunt is not destroyed, and can manifest again after a period of time—to destroy a haunt, a specific action must be taken in the region to end the effect forever (such as burning a haunted house to the ground or burying the bones of the slaves who died on the site to create the haunt). This specific act is different for every haunt (although a number of nearby haunts often share the same destruction act).

Some haunts are persistent, and their immediate effects continue beyond the surprise round into actual full rounds. Persistent haunts continue to trigger their haunt effects once per round on their initiative rank until destroyed or they no longer have a target. All primary effects created by a haunt are mind-affecting fear effects, even those that actually produce physical effects. Immunity to fear grants immunity to a haunt’s direct effects, but not to secondary effects that arise as a result of the haunt’s attack.

Elements of a Haunt

Haunts are presented in the following format.

Haunt Name: The haunt’s name is followed by its CR.

XP: This is the amount of XP to award the PCs for surviving the haunt, as determined by its CR.

Alignment and Area: This line gives the haunt’s alignment and the dimensions of the area it infuses (up to 5 feet per CR). If a haunt is persistent, this is noted here as well.

Caster Level: This is the haunt’s effective caster level for the purposes of dispelling any ongoing effects with dispel magic, and for determining the results of spell effects it creates.

Notice: This indicates the skill check and DC required to notice the haunt in the surprise round before it manifests. The sensory input for what a successful check notices— such as a faint ghostly wailing, a smell of burning flesh, or fresh blood oozing from the walls—is listed in parentheses after the DC.

hp: This lists the haunt’s effective hit points for the purposes of resolving positive energy damage. A haunt’s hit points are equal to twice its CR, except in the case of a persistent haunt, in which case its hit points are equal to its CR × 4.5 (round fractions down).

Weakness: Any weaknesses the haunt might have, such as for haunts that can be tricked by effects like hide from undead or can be damaged by effects other than positive energy, are listed here.

Trigger: The conditions that can cause the haunt to manifest are given here. Proximity-triggered haunts occur as soon as a creature enters the haunt’s area. A haunt triggered by touch does not activate until a living creature touches a specific object or location in its area, but it can sense (and thus target with its effects) any creature in its area.

Reset: This is the amount of time that must pass before a haunt can attempt to reset. Until it is destroyed, a haunt can reset after this period by succeeding on a DC 10 caster level check—failure indicates the haunt must wait that amount of time again before making another attempt to reset.

Effect: This details the haunt’s exact effects, including a description of how the haunt manifests.

Destruction: This describes the act needed to permanently destroy the haunt.

Creating a Haunt

To make a haunt like the example below, follow these steps.

Step 1—Determine Base CR: A haunt’s base CR is equal to 1 + the level of the spell it duplicates.
Step 2—Determine Actual CR: Select the elements you want the haunt to have and add up the adjustments to its CR to arrive at the haunt’s final CR (see Table: CR Modifiers for Haunts).

Table: CR Modifiers of Haunts

Feature Type CR Modifier
Persistent +2
Notice DC CR Modifier
15 or lower –1
21–25 +1
26–29 +2
30 or higher +3
Reset Time CR Modifier
1 minute +2
1 hour +1
1 day +0
1 week –1
Example Weaknesses CR Modifier
Slow (manifests at Initiative rank 0) –2
Susceptible to an additional type of damage –1 per additional type
Tricked by hide from undead –2
Tricked by invisibility –1
Tricked by Stealth* –3
Triggered by touch –2
  • The haunt makes a caster level check instead of a Perception check to notice someone using Stealth.

Step 3—Determine Caster Level: A haunt’s caster level is equal to its actual CR score.

Step 4—Determine Hit Points: A haunt’s hit points are equal to twice its CR (or equal to its CR × 4.5 if the haunt is persistent).

Step 5—Calculate Attacks and Save DCs: A haunt’s attack modifier (if one is needed) is equal to its CR. If a haunt’s spell effect allows a saving throw to resist or negate the effect, the save DC is equal to 10 + the level of the spell + the ability modifier of the minimum ability score needed to cast that level of spell.

Investigating Haunts

Whether in the employ of the frightened owners of a haunted estate or simply seeking to exorcise unquiet spirits, PCs may attempt communication with haunts to discover the actions necessary to bring final rest.

The GM may elect to treat all neutralized haunts (those reduced to 0 hp) as CR 1 rapping spirits while they reset. Using this option, haunts retain enough ectoplasmic fortitude to linger in the area, where they attempt to convey their needs to the living. While these knockings are still potentially frightening, communication with these feeble spirits can be established by working out a series of codes (such as one rap for “yes” and two for “no”) or by calling out words, numbers, and letters for selection by the spirits.

Such messages can be formed at the rate of 1d10 words for each minute a character makes a successful Linguistics check, with a DC equal to 15 + the original haunt’s CR. Such communications are typically unreliable and cryptic, never conveying knowledge beyond what the spirit knew in life.

While the spectre always behaves according to the original haunt’s alignment, only the most malevolent spirits would deny themselves a chance at final rest. Some mediums carry flat, lettered boards known as “talking boards,” or planchettes—small, wheeled boards with chalk or charcoal extending below—to better facilitate communication with spirits.

Such tools increase the efficiency of messages received to 3d6 words per minute of communication and grant the user a +4 bonus on Linguistics checks to decipher the cryptic messages of haunts.

Clarifying Haunts

Adjudicating the mind-affecting, fear-based effects of a haunt’s primary attack can be problematic for characters outside the haunt’s range or those immune to such effects. This can deprive some PCs of the ability to witness the haunt’s story elements and thus assist allies plagued by a haunting presence. Fortunately, a haunt’s secondary effects are less absolute. A haunt’s secondary effect should reflect its primary effect in some manner, in ways all PCs can witness. For example, a spectral vermin haunt should still manifest a visible, ghostly phantom of a scurrying, skeletal rat swarm to those immune to the effect or beyond its range, even though the haunt’s primary effect does not affect those PCs. This enables PCs to not only witness the haunt’s secondary effect so as to better interpret a haunt’s clues, but also to more easily recognize when fellow PCs are afflicted and need assistance.

Haunts created using spells with non-instantaneous durations can also create problems. If the haunts do not have the persistent quality, it is unclear whether these spells continue with their normal durations after the haunt’s surprise-round attack. To resolve this matter, consider creating haunts with durations as persistent haunts.

Holy Water

While haunts are typically damaged only by applied positive energy, holy water is another potential weapon against them. A flask (1 pint) of holy water that successfully hits a haunt as a splash weapon deals 2d4 points of damage to the haunt on a direct hit, and deals 1 point of damage to haunts within 5 feet of the splash radius.

Table: Additional Haunt Elements Type CR Modifier
Belligerent (hit points equal to CR x 6 ) +3
Item-bound (bound to item) —1
Chained (bound to ghost) —1
Fast (manifests on initiative rank 20) +2
Free-roaming (gains movement speed: fly 10 ft. [good]) +1
Increased area (double radius to 10 ft. per CR) +1
Possessing (bound to creature) +1
Spiteful (caster level and save DCs increase by 2) +1
Vaporous (AC = 10 + CR and gains incorporeal quality) +1

Item-Bound and Possessing Haunts

Some haunts are tied to special objects or creatures. Such haunts take normal damage from positive energy, and follow the normal reset rules for haunts of their type.

Dispel evil can eject a haunting presence if the spell is cast quickly; the caster must succeed at a caster level check with a DC equal to 10 + the haunt’s CR + 1 for each month that the creature or object has been possessed.

While haunts can be complex antagonists, they are versatile tools that are well suited to portray the drama and atmosphere of occult games. This section presents new haunt rules and clarifications on previous rules.

Bound haunts possess items when created, and gain mobility at the cost of having their tragic fates tied to physical objects that are more easily destroyed. These haunts spontaneously manifest at scenes of great terror, as the psychic residue of tragic events seeps into items tied to the events. Once bound to an item, an item-bound haunt uses all of the normal rules for haunts, with the radius of its effects centered on the haunted object. Some effects may have special triggers based on the item’s nature, such as haunted instruments being played or weapons being used. The haunting presence adds 5 to the break DC for its possessed item, and doubles the item’s hardness and hit points.

Malevolent spirits may similarly haunt creatures rather than items, following the subjects wherever they go and causing strange occurrences and poltergeist-like activity around the subject in revenge for a perceived trespass or involvement in the tragic events that created the haunt.

While they sometimes seem beneficial to their hosts at first, such haunts inevitably seek their hosts’ destruction.

Individuals possessed by such haunts must always take a standard action to retrieve stored items, unless it would normally take longer. In addition, any item the host drops lands 10 feet away in a random direction. A possessing haunt uses all normal rules for haunts, with the radius of its effects centered on the haunted subject, who takes a —2 penalty on all saving throws against the haunt’s effects. Subject to the GM’s discretion, haunted creatures may suffer tormenting dreams that cause 1 point of drain each day to an ability score appropriate for the haunt.

Chained Haunts

Some haunts are intrinsically connected with incorporeal undead entities (most commonly ghosts) and manifest as displays of the associated creatures’ fractured psyches.

Chained haunts can be destroyed only by bringing final rest to their connected entities. Chained haunts can be used to illustrate and emphasize a ghost’s tragic story. For example, a series of chained haunts could be spread across the site of a ruined mansion: while the linked creature—a ghost— dwells in the attic where it was murdered, a downstairs bedroom might manifest a bleeding walls haunt to emphasize the scene of a tragic loss pertinent to the ghost’s history; a demanding dead haunt might cause a trespasser to dig up a shallow grave in the garden where the ghost’s corpse is buried; and the murder weapon might roam the halls of the mansion, manifesting as a malignant weapon haunt.

Seances and Spirit Communication

Some PCs may wish to establish communication with haunts that have been neutralized (reduced to 0 hit points) but not yet destroyed. Regardless of the haunts’ original powers or CRs, GMs may elect to have neutralized haunts revert to rapping spirits or possessing dead haunts during their reset periods. Likewise, GMs may elect for rejuvenating undead such as ghosts and poltergeists to assume one of these states during rejuvenation periods.

While still potentially frightening or even malevolent, these haunts can potentially communicate by using a code (such as one rap for —yes— and two for —no—) in response to called out words, numbers, and letters. Those in contact with a demanding dead haunt, on the other hand, typically whisper messages in darkened seance chambers, or scribble writing at the haunt’s suggestion. In either case, such spirits are often unreliable, always cryptic, and never able to convey knowledge beyond what they knew in life.

Diplomacy, spells such as calm spirit*, and comforting environments such as darkened seance cabinets can all improve a spirit’s attitude. Some characters attempting to communicate with haunts carry flat, lettered boards known as talking boards, cone-shaped spirit trumpets, or writing planchettes—small, wheeled boards that write with chalk or charcoal pencils. While these are mundane items with no inherent magic of their own, in the hands of those with properly established rapports, these tools increase the efficiency of messages received from haunts, doubling the rate of communication from two signals (raps, letters, etc.) per round to four signals per round.