Underworld Lore | Another for Issue 4: Ghost Behavior

The working title for this article is


Gorgonmilk answers(?) the questions

  • What sort of society/non-society of lost spirits exists in the Underworld and (by extension) most dungeons?
  • Does it make sense to the living? / Is it comprehensible?
  • What do ghosts do down there? What weird games do they play? (I imagine many of them consider dungeoneers to be particularly good game pieces)
  • Are ghosts different based on the type of creature they were when alive? For instance, when a giant dies is its ghost rather small and grotesque but still fond of throwing rocks?
Specifically the idea of dead adventurers -- guys who came to the dungeon, fought like hell and died grisly deaths long before the PCs got there -- appeals to my Referee-brain. Ghosts that can trade information/provide advice or directions/hassle or block their progress will make for interesting chains of events.

The subject also ties in with the mezzoglune topic here.


  1. I imagine ghosts operate as Nichole Kidman and the kids in The Others. Each ghost or family of ghosts is trapped in its/their own private, low-stress hell. They're selfish, self-centered, obsessive, and unable to comprehend any other's point of view - especially other ghosts. Most importantly, they probably don't think they're ghosts. Dungeoneers, to them, are old lovers, dead children, past landlords, judges that (unjustly) sentenced them to death, past co-conspirators and mistaken comrades. They are in a fog, halfway between bumbling and frightfully dangerous.

    1. I like that interpretation -- each ghost would be locked into its own delusions. I imagine this is not a permanent state of affairs for some -- maybe delusion gives way to madness and the ghost loses any coherent relationship with its mortal existence. Certain ghosts might go beyond this state and develop new personas.

    2. Non-adventurer ghosts would be rare in the upper, dungeonized levels of the Underworld. I'm thinking most souls on the surface would transcend to one of the upper worlds. The poor dead fools wandering the Underworld are lost in its labyrinths.

  2. Undek, God of Lost Soul (see Original Petty Gods), wanders in the deep dungeons, gathering ghosts for a unknow goal.

  3. The living Undek's cultists make wicked shrines in dungeons... and attract spirits for the God of Lost Souls. According the gossips, Undek comands a ethereal secret army spread across the world...

    1. DL -- Did you create Undek? And if so would you be interested in describing a "wicked shrine" for the pages of UL? Contact me directly:


  4. This sounds like a Spirit Town. I'm using ghosts and spirits interchangeably.

    I like the idea of the spirits being bound d100 yards from the spot of their demise or physical remains. In a dungeon full of spirits you'd have all of these randomly rolled ranges overlapping like venn diagrams. Word spread through this spirit town would be like a Chinese Whisper Game. Information routed through a spirit town would also be subject to manipulation by tricksters among ethereal populace.

    Some ghosts may have limited range and are isolated and be going out of their mind with boredom screaming to the PCs to pay attention to them or begging for release.

    Perhaps moving the ghost's remains effectively slides their range into new territories. Some spirits might just want a lift across town - and they'll pay PCs with information or gold.

    Ghost who gleaned the most information about the dungeon and their fellow spirits would be the power brokers. They might know where much of the hidden loot is and be able to bribe and PCs to even move undesirable ghosts out of town.

    If the "Deep Delvers Five" (motto "No one gets left behind") - all died spread out across a spirit town dungeon map. Then maybe only one or two of the delvers died close enough to each other to share information. If the PCs were trying to retrieve the bones of this party back to the surface - they'd have to negotiate with all of these crazy or unreliable ghosts - the majority with unresolved issues binding them to the material plain. The PCs could get saddled with dozens of insane fetch quests or message jobs from ghosts wanting word to be sent back to the living.

  5. Ghosts of dead adventurers are caught between planes. Their souls are somehow anchored to the material plane due to unfinished business. Some must pay debts, others forgive them, some must carry out revenge, others are serving punishment for things done in life. Most ghosts want to move on to whatever the afterlife has in store for them--even those destined to the planes of Hell have grown bored with the material world and seek new experiences, however painful they may be.

    Ghosts are, as Baron notes, obsessive narcissists and/or sociopaths; their number one priority is their release from boredom. While they ultimately would like to be unanchored from this plane, their boredom is slightly eased by screwing with the living.

    Yes, there are helpful ghosts, those who will give aid or information without strings attached and without obfuscating word games. But most ghosts, like the people they were when they were alive, are greedy, self-pleasing bastards and like nothing more than to have some fun at others' expense.

    Thus, most ghosts view the living as nothing more than interactive entertainment. They take delight in haunting us, frightening us, puzzling us with signs and cold drafts through warm rooms. They laugh at our torment as it relieves their boredom.

    Ghosts will be helpful to the living if and only if there is the possibility of earning release from the material plane.

  6. Some places have phantoms in them, last vestiges of a consciousness that already went on to the real afterlife. This figments of the past can show someone looking at them some hints, like what type of persons used to live, or more specifically, die there.
    Sometimes these phantasms show whrere treasure is hidden or could be hidden - and sometimes the dead cross about terrains that is not longer safe to cross - or even actively hostile creatures use the phantoms to their own ends...
    Most sages agree, that these moving shadows are without any consciosness left, but some tales are heard of some action that released a phantom either into oblivion, or reached it's inner core enough to rise it up to create some sentient undead, mostly thankfull for this, but nonetheless malevolent and outright evil in most cases, too...