Around the long, narrow hall, under the fearful light that came from nowhere, but was omnipresent, swept a rushing stream of unspeakable horrors, dancing insanely, gibbering hideously; the dead of forty fears.
— Ralph A. Cram, “In Kropfsberg Keep”

Whereas vampires are beings of selfish and destructive greed, the lingering spirits of the deceased are typically creatures of deep and abiding tragedy. Commonly known as ghosts, these spirits remain trapped between worlds, held captive by the emotional power of their death. This tragic bearing can cause one to see ghosts as victims in need of assistance, and sometimes this is indeed the case. One should always be wary, however, for many ghosts were the architects of their own doom, and even those who were innocent in life may harbor deep hatred and bitterness in death.

Ethereal Resonance

One of the most intriguing results of van Richten’s research on ghosts is his theory of ethereal resonance, which explains how ghosts come to exist. According to the theory, the emotions felt by living creatures leave a psychic imprint on the Ethereal Plane, which surrounds and pervades the material world. These psychic imprints are known as ethereal resonance. This resonance is usually so slight as to be almost nonexistent, but particularly powerful or persistent emotions can generate ethereal resonance of a stronger, more lasting nature. Ethereal resonance is essentially a shadow of the Material Plane, cast on the Ethereal, which provides an ethereal image of a specific moment in material time.

To illustrate, picture a house on the Material Plane. The house is home to an average, content family. No unusually charged emotions have occurred within; thus, the house emits only the slightest level of ethereal resonance. To travelers on the Ethereal Plane, the house would be barely detectable. They might get the sense that something was there but would be unable to perceive it in any concrete way. The living inhabitants of the home might be more easily detected, as they are the strongest sources of emotion in the area, but even they would be shadowy and intangible.

Now imagine that the family was murdered within its home. The house has now been the site of very strong emotions: the fear and grief of the family and the rage and sadistic joy of the murderer. The ethereal resonance of the area suddenly increases dramatically. Now to ethereal travelers, the house stands out in full relief. Its walls are solid and opaque, and they can interact with it (such as opening a door). When travelers open the door on the Ethereal Plane, nothing happens on the Material. The door remains closed because the travelers are not interacting with the actual, material door. Instead, they are interacting with a “ghost” of the door, an image of the way it appeared when the murders occurred.

In game terms, ethereal resonance is divided into five ranks:

Rank One is the lowest level of resonance, Rank One areas or events are devoid of emotionally charged events. They may have been the sites of powerfully charged emotional events in the past, but if so they occurred so long ago that they have been forgotten by the living. A person who suddenly died from a heart attack would probably generate only the first rank of resonance in an area. Minor arguments and small celebrations are also Rank One events.

Rank Two resonance occurs in areas where an event of some emotional strength has occurred. Events that create rank two resonance are usually brief and involve a small number of people, perhaps only one. A brief but terrifying murder might be sufficient to generate rank two resonance, as might a sorrowful suicide. A joyful reunion of long-lost family members might also reach rank two.

Rank Three resonance occurs in areas that have been home to very high levels of emotion. Usually the emotions of several people are required to create rank three resonance, thugh very powerful emotion from a single person might be sufficient, particularly if that emotion was sustained for a long period of time. A man tortured on a rack for days before being killed might build sufficient ethereal resonance to reach the third rank, as might a spirited worship service.

Rank Four Resonance is rare and requires either strong emotion from a large number of people or maniacal emotion fr9om a single person. Events that create rank four resonance are almost always tragic and gruesome. A ritual sacrifice or mass murder might generate fourth rank resonance.

Rank Five resonance is almost unheard of and requires a great number of people experience strong emotion or that maniacal emotion from a single person be sustained for a long period of time. Brutal genocide might result in rank five resonance.

Ethereal resonance is not permanent. Just as emotions create it, emotions are required to feed it, and without these emotions, the resonance fades. Returning to our example, our imaginary house has been abandoned. No one goes there willfully, until over the years, people begin to forget why no one goes there. The emotional power of the house begins to fade as well. On the Ethereal Plane, the house begins to look increasingly hazy and indistinct. As the years pass its walls start to lose their solidity and become transparent and insubstantial. Eventually, it might fade almost entirely. In game terms, ethereal resonance loses one rank each month in the absence of living beings who remember the event that spawned it, down to a minimum of rank one.

Living creatures can be imprinted on the Ethereal Plane just as objects can. As constant sources of emotions, living creatures always radiate low levels of ethereal resonance. Whenever an individual’s emotions reach a charged peak, such as moments of extreme anger, fear, joy or sorrow, a lasting phantom of that individual is created on the Ethereal Plane, composed entirely of ethereal resonance. These phantoms are mindless images; they are not ghosts, though they may resemble them. The phantoms constantly reenact the event that led to their creation, without variation. Those with the Ethereal Empathy feat can witness these replays of past events. Phantoms fade over time just as all ethereal resonance does.


Ghosts are the souls of deceased creatures, trapped on the Ethereal Plane. According to van Richten’s theory, the interaction between human emotion and the ethereal can serve as a barrier in the event of an emotionally charged death. The ethereal resonance created by the event served to bind the soul of the dying to the Ethereal Plane and prevent in from moving on. Ghosts are tormented by the circumstances surrounding their death, for they prevent the ghost from resting peacefully. Whether van Richten’s theory is correct is impossible to say with certainty, but it does fit all the available evidence.

Like ethereal resonance, ghosts are divided into five ranks. Rank one ghosts are the weakest, products of sudden or unemotional deaths. Rank five ghosts are the most powerful, resulting from deaths of extreme emotion and great consequence. Whenever a ghost is created, the rank of ethereal resonance in the area immediately rises to match the rank of the ghost. The ethereal resonance of an area haunted by a ghost does not fade over time, for the ghost itself serves as enough emotional fuel to keep the resonance strong.

The emotional energy unleashed during a ghost’s creation charges the ghost with power. Higher ranked ghosts are therefore more powerful than those of lower rank. A ghost’s rank if fixed by the moment of its creation and cannot be changed except by extremely unusual circumstances, such as the intervention of the Dark Powers. The following table shows the modifications that should be made to the Ghost template for a ghost of each rank.

Ghost Rank Modifiers

Rank Min Cha Cha Mod Free Manifest? Special Abilities CR
One 6 +2 No 0-2 +1
Two 8 +4 Yes 1-3 +2
Three 10 +6 Yes 2-4 +3
Four 12 +8 Yes 3-5 +4
Five 14 +10 Yes 4-6 +5
Rank: The ghosts rank
Min Cha: The minimum Charisma the base character must have had in life to become a ghost of this rank. Base characters with a lower Charisma do not have sufficient force of personality to become a ghost of this rank. Base characters with an equal or higher Charisma can become ghosts of this rank or any lower rank.
Cha Mod: Che modification made to the base character’s Charisma after becoming a ghost. This modification does not count when determining whether the base character meets the minimum Charisma requirement for a given Rank.
Free Manifest: Whether a ghost of this rank automatically receives the manifestation ability. Rank one ghosts can have the manifestation ability only by selecting it as one of their special abilities. Higher ranked ghosts automatically receive the manifestation ability, and it does not count toward their number of special abilities. Rank one ghosts without the manifestation ability can interact with the Material Plane only by using their other special abilities, such as telekinesis or figments. Rank one ghosts without any special abilities are unable to affect the Material Plane and are forever powerless observers. Spells or abilities that can detect ghosts still reveal their presence, however.
Special Abilities: The number of special abilities the ghost can potentially have. The exact number can be either selected or randomly determined by rolling 1d3, adding the ghost’s rank, and subtracting 2.
CR: Modification made to the base character’s Challenge Rating.

Ghosts and Resonance

Ghosts and other ethereal creatures experience resonance as though it were a physical, material object. Conversely, ghosts are incapable of interacting with physical, material objects in the absence of ethereal resonance.

A ghost passes through all material objects as if they don’t exist. They can also pass through ethereal resonance of a rank lower than themselves if they wish, though they can interact with such objects normally if they choose. Ghosts are unable to pass through ethereal resonance of equal or greater rank than their own; to them, it is completely solid and opaque.

Nonghosts on the Ethereal Plane may or may not be hindered by ethereal resonance, depending on their Charisma and the rank of the ethereal resonance. If the ethereal creatures have the minimum Charisma for a ghost of that rank, they may pass through ethereal resonance, though they can interact with it if they choose. If they do not meet the minimum Charisma requirement, the ethereal resonance is treated as a solid, physical object.



The vast majority of ghosts are no longer able to gain levels, as their existence is completely focused on the circumstances surrounding their death. Very rarely a ghost might have sufficient determination and sense of self to continue to gain class levels, but even then, opportunities for growth are rare. Of all ghosts, only domain lords might have both the drive and opportunity to continue to gain levels.

Hunting Ghosts

Combating or repelling a ghost takes many forms, since each ghost has a different reason for haunting a particular site. Some methods are presented here for the intrepid adventurer.


Many ghosts have one substance to which they are particularly sensitive. Hunters must take care to discover the particular allergen that fends off a ghost. Usually these substances have some connection to either the ghost’s life or the manner of his death. A particular flower, a rope used to hang the ghost’s corporeal body, a singular aroma or a recurring sound are examples of allergens that repel some ghosts.

To use an allergen effectively, hunters need to confront the ghost with the substance as if it were a holy symbol (see below). Merely possessing or wearing an allergen does not, in most cases, produce the desired effect of warding off the phantom. In some cases, allergens may be used as barriers spread along the perimeter of an area. When arranged in this fashion, the substance acts as a hindrance to a ghost attempting to gain entrance to an area. In all cases, a hunter should conduct thorough enough research into the nature of an individual to discover not only its allergen but the creatures response to it as well.

Holy Water

Holy water is an effective weapon against most ghosts, causing damage to all but the oldest and most powerful ghosts. To harm a ghost, a hunter must actually splash a creature with the holy water. A hurled vial passes harmlessly through the ethereal body of the ghost, doing no damage. A vial tossed in such a way as to shatter at the creature’s feat usually manages to catch the creature within its splash radius, but this is a risky action usually resulting in a waste of precious resources.

Ghost Damage from Holy Water
Rank Damage per Vial
One 1d10
Two 1d8
Three 1d6
Four 1d4

Holy Symbols

A holy symbol by itself has no effect on ghosts. The mere act of presenting a holy symbol does not keep a ghost at bay, regardless of how forcefully it is used to confront the creature. Channeled positive energy, such as from the cleric or paladin class feature, as well as turning via the Turn Undead feat usually do prove effective. When used in this manner the holy symbol uses the faith of the wielder, becoming a channel for divine power and the positive energies so inimical to ghosts. In a few cases, however, particularly with ghosts who were holy men in life or who had some strong connection to religion (positive or negative) holy symbols of the religion may serve as an allergen.


Many spells prove effective in either containing, repelling or harming ghosts.

Special Weapons

Although most physical weapons do not harm incorporeal spirits, some types of weapons are effective when used to fight ghosts. Weapons forged from a substance injurious to spirits are highly effective against them. Silver weapons work well against rank one and two spirits and occasionally affect more powerful ghosts. Some ghosts, however, may require weapons made of other material such as mithral, gold, bronze or brass while a few spirits may only be vulnerably to weapons created from nonmetallic substances, such as oakwood, jade or obsidian.

Enchanted or blessed weapons usually harm spirits to a certain extent, though powerful ghosts may require powerful enchantments. The best types of weapons to use against spirits are those specifically constructed for use against a particular ghost. For example, the ghost of a sea captain may be vulnerable to a sword crafted from wood or metal that has been soaked in seawater.

Communicating with the Undead

Sometimes ghosts require nothing more than the ability to tell their story or divulge some secret information they have been protecting. The spell speak with dead can assist in providing a means of communication between adventurers and the spirits they confront. Characters with feats that enable them to communicate with ghosts can also provide useful services to any ghost-hunting party, while mediums may channel a ghost’s communications through their own body. The Vistini and individuals possessing appropriate psionic powers may agree to act as go between for player characters and spirits — for a price, of course.


A Light in Darkness MKing MKing