The Ghost Trade
By Earl Wajenberg
Happy Halloween! In honor of the occasion, I present this small
extension of the In Nomine setting, based on Fault Lines, the modern
horror-fantasy novel by Tim Powers, combining his two other novels,
Expiration Date and Earthquake Weather.
In canon, there is a fairly random lapse of time between a mortal's
death and their appearance at the gates of either Heaven or Hell. In
canon, there are also descriptions of the place-bound and mutilated
souls that are ghosts. But those are just one kind of ghost.
There is another (okay, non-canonical) population of free-range ghosts,
consisting of souls rattling around between their physical deaths and
their ascensions to the Celestial Plane. Lots of people wind up in this
transient state, more than you might realize -- though there is an
excellent chance that someday you will...
When you die, you're supposed to be met by some angels of Death (those
famous Beings of Life spotted in Near-Death Experienced), who escort you
to the Celestial Plane (if you don't disband). But the Archangel of
Death has a chronic staffing problem and a lot of souls get missed. The
result is a disembodied soul wandering the Corporeal Plane, usually in a
state describable as "walking Trauma." They are punch-drunk,
scatter-witted, and occasionally missing some Forces, which are
generally waiting for them somewhere in limbo (or Limbo), to re-join
when they finally ascend.
Speaking of Limbo, these spirits have something like the power of a
celestial in Limbo to generate their own vessels. They have a smidgen
of corporeal manifestation. The Symphonically aware, or the "lucky,"
can see them as little wisps of vapor, usually about hand-sized. These
wisps are solid enough to trap in any water-tight container. They can
also be destroyed by, say, fire, which causes the soul to ascend
Ghosts also manifest as images, drawn from the ghost's life. Like the
wisps, these are always visible to the Symphonically aware and sometimes
visible to mundanes. Different observers may see the same ghost at the
same time as different images -- say, a young girl and an old woman.
Finally, ghosts have an electromagnetic aspect that is perfectly
detectable by mundane equipment. They cause wild magnetic fluctuations
that can be detected with ordinary compasses. They cause little cold
spots that any skin or thermometer can detect. They cause power
fluctuations and radio static, with characteristics that the cognoscenti
can recognize as ghostly.
If a ghost hangs around the Corporeal for months or years, it may become
even more material, instinctively cobbling together a make-shift
"vessel." This is an animated heap of dirt, dead leaves, litter,
what-have-you, pushed into the shape of a human body with more or less
skill, clothed in castoff clothing, and somewhat disguised with ghostly
glamour. To casual inspection (and most of the inspection they get is
VERY casual), they look just like living street-people. They mumble and
rant like them, too.
These creatures have their distinctive appetites. Liquor and candy are
favorites, though they can't digest anything, so the stuff passes
through inertly or leaks out of orifices. They also eat the stuff they
use to cobble their bodies together, i.e. dirt, etc. Some kind souls in
the know go so far as to put out plates of smooth pebbles and clean sand
for them, the way other folk put out milk and kibble for stray cats.
Sometimes, Sorcerors will get hold of a ghost and, using a variation on
a Song of Possession, force it to animate some object, so they can drag
it around and use it as a servant. (Fault Lines includes an animated
burlap sack wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, used by a witch-gang
as a supernatural bloodhound.)
Sometimes, a ghost retains a lot of lucidity when it dies (though it may
not realize it is dead), and sometimes such a ghost decides to stick
around and animate its corpse. The result is a sort of natural undead,
probably the inspiration for Saminga's artificial ones. The result also
looks a lot like a zombie from GURPS Discworld -- someone who walks and
talks, but is, nevertheless, dead and decaying.
The whole effect lasts until the first time the Walking Dead falls
asleep and has a nightmare. (The chances of its having a nightmare are
excellent, considering its probable history.) Then the body flares up
in a case of Spontaneous Human Combustion and the soul is released, to
become a "normal" ghost or to ascend.
There is a market for ghosts. It has spawned its own sub-culture, like
the drug culture, only even more secretive. All ghost-eaters are
Coax a ghostly wisp into a jar, test-tube, or similar container. Make
sure it is at least partly transparent; in a light-tight container, the
ghost quickly "rots" into a psychically "poisonous" muddle of forces.
Mix in a dash of laughing gas, ether, or your favorite incense for
flavor, if desired.
Snort it up your nose.
(Solid ghosts, animations, and walking dead are useless for this.)
The ghost-eater then gets a drug-like rush lasting 5 times the ghost's
total Forces, in minutes. If the ghost has any Ethereal Forces left at
all, the ghost-eater also has someone else's life pass before their
eyes, which some find entertaining or useful (though only high points
and general impressions are retained after the rush is over). If the
ghost carried any Essence at all, the ghost-eater acquires it. Finally,
the ghost-eater does not need to eat or drink for 1 to 3 days (roll a d6
and divide by 2; round up) after a "meal."
As a result of this last feature, frequent ghost-eaters may become
reluctant to eat normally and develop eating disorders.
Ghost-eaters must also beware of "rotted" ghosts, caused by light
deprivation. These give convulsions instead of a rush, and make it
impossible to eat any more ghosts until they have been dislodged from
the spiritual esophagus. Also, all the ghosts they have already eaten
start to become restless and rebellious, resulting in mental confusion.
When ghost-eaters die, all their ghosts explode out of them, unless they
are eaten very quickly by someone else. Then it is *their* turn to be
the prey, of other ghost-eaters and, eventually, of Angels of Death.
These are the folk who supply ghost-eaters. They are usually
ghost-eaters themselves, and they are always Symphonically aware. See
Lures and Traps.
Anyone can become ghost-bound, usually by strong social contact with the
ghost, especially at the time of its death. Bring a ghost-bound near a
ghost -- especially their ghost -- and the ghost starts to become
"excited," manifesting as phantoms, electro-magnetic effects, and
sometimes as poltergeistery.
The ghost-bound is also affected. They see the ghost, or hear it. If
they are in a place that was significant to the ghost, that place may
briefly appear as it did in the significant period. During an
excitation, ghost-bound often become somewhat dislocated in time, and
may react to sudden events just before they happen. This can let them
dodge blows and bullets, but it also puts them at -1 on Agility.
Excitations always happen between a ghost-bound and their own ghost. If
other ghosts are around, the ghost-bound makes an involuntary Perception
roll; if they succeed, an excitation ensues.
Ghost-bound need not be Symphonically aware, but usually become so after
several closely-spaced excitations. If they are aware, they can see
ghosts as wisps or as phantoms even without an excitation going on. In
the absence of an excitiation, there are no temporal effects.
Even when they are Symphonically aware, ghost-bound, along with
ghost-eaters and ghost-hunters, may not be aware of the War. They are
focused on ghosts. If they spot a celestial in celestial form, they
often dismiss it as a bizarre ghost. Similarly, they dismiss far-off
rumbles of Disturbance as distant ghostly events.
Lures and Traps
Most roving ghosts are so muddled, they are easily attracted by various
simple lures. Examples:
- Jigsaw pieces -- The ghosts will try to fit them together, though
they lack the concentration to do so.
- Scattered coins -- The ghosts will sort and stack them, or try to.
- Palindromes -- Ghosts will read them backward and forward for hours,
- Escher prints -- Many ghosts are fascinated by them.
- Targets -- Particularly fuddled ghosts will accumulate in a
bull's-eye pattern painted in an old back lot.
The ghost-hunter can then make the rounds of their trap lines and bottle
up the day's catch.
Lucid ghosts can think just as clearly as when they were alive. Most
Symphonically aware mortals become lucid ghosts, if they become ghosts
when they die. Lucid ghosts are not subject to lures and traps unless
they are very tired or inattentive.
To avoid the effects of being ghost-bound, or to hide a ghost from
ghost-hunters, use a "mask." This is some object or setting, designed
on the principles of sympathic magic, that hide things from ghosts or
hide ghosts from the Symphonically aware. Examples:
- To stop a ghost from tracking you, throw live firecrackers at your feet to "blow up" the trail.
- Change your name and move away, to break or suppress ghost-binding.
- Bizarre architecture makes a very effective mask.
- Uniquely personal effects of other ghost-bound act as masks. (In the
novel, these were plaster casts of Houdini's hands and his actual
Ghosts and Celestials
Egging on the ghost trade would be a natural activity for combined teams
of Fleurity and Saminga demons.
Ghosts are a natural way to bring the Archangel of Death into your game,
if you wish to do so. Several good write-ups are available for this
being. None of them would look kindly on the ghost trade.
The ghost trade involves massive cruelty to ghosts, which would attract
Ex-ghosts and ex-ghost-bound in Heaven might well want to come back as
Saints, to put a stop to the trade that afflicted them for so long.
People in the ghost trade are a natural recruiting ground for Samgina.
Ghosts means mortal characters are not necessarily out of the game when
they die. If they are lucid ghosts (as Soliders and other aware mortals
would be), they'll have much the same mental characteristics as before.
Even if they are not lucid, they could still be interesting. (E.g.,
imagining an angel trying to interview a recently dead mortal servant,
who is now muzzy with death-shock.)
Back to the INC Mainpage.
Back to the Settings page.
Send mail to the Curator