Roleplayer #18, February 1990


Options for the Uneasy Dead

by Steffan O'Sullivan


IQ:10Damage:*Habitats:Other, Sub
HT:10-30Reach:C, 1

Specters are ghosts, of course. There is no real difference between a ghost, specter, shade, revenant, etc. – the choice of name is an arbitrary one. If the GM wills it so, they have all the capabilities of classic ghosts: the ability to walk through walls, moan and clank chains, float through the air, appear and disappear at will, etc. The ability to appear or disappear requires a whole action – they may not attack and disappear before the PC has a chance to make an action.

A specter in GURPS is a type of ghost that resents the living, so much so that it attempts to destroy us. It haunts old burial grounds, dungeons, prison cellars – anywhere a vindictive and disgruntled human has been buried. A specter is usually bound to a specific territory: a room, tomb, graveyard, castle, etc.

To represent the unknown qualities of specters, this creature is not defined specifically. The GM may choose offensive and defensive options from the following lists, or create his own. The PCs might meet different types of specters even in the same locale – this will keep the game fresh and the players from knowing in advance what tactics will work. Of course, a GM may decide all specters in his world are of a certain type, making his own job a little less complex!

Specters can be designed to be easy, average, or hard opponents to overcome. Choosing just one of the following capabilities makes for a relatively easy opponent, two make for a good challenge, and three can create a killer. Combining a physical attack capability (types 1 through 5) with one of the spell-casting abilities (types 6 through 12) is a good way to make a specter more interesting.

Offensive Capabilities

In general, specters attack with their DX, even those with weapons (thus, it is not necessary to keep track of their weapon skills). Those who attack with a touch cannot be parried or blocked, only dodged. If they move into the PC's hex and attempt to touch, treat it as an attack, not a slam. Specific possibilities for spectral offense include:

1. The specter resembles a Skull Spirit (p. F90 / M105) in its attack. It uses no weapons, but strikes with a chilling touch. This touch does 2 hits of damage; armor and Toughness are no protection.

2. The specter attacks as above, but instead of damage to HT, the victim must make a HT roll or be physically stunned and take 2 points of fatigue damage.

3. The specter uses a weapon that it is able to materialize and de-materialize at will. Materialization and de-materialization require a 1-second Concentrate maneuver, and may be accomplished while it performs the same action on its own body. Thus, a specter may walk through a wall carrying such a weapon, and then materialize on the following turn. On the third turn it may attack with it – though the PCs may not be aware of it until that turn! The weapon does normal damage for a weapon of that type as wielded by a person of ST 15. If the specter is that of a famous warrior, use the ST and skill he had in his life.

4. The specter cannot draw blood, but is deadly nevertheless. The first time a specter touches a person, the victim must make a HT roll (Strong Will helps here, but Magic Resistance does not). At the second touch, the roll is at HT-1, the third touch at HT-2, etc. A failed roll means the victim loses one level of the highest attribute, and falls unconscious for one hour. Thus, a PC with ST 12, DX 14, IQ 10 and HT 11 would have his DX drop to 13 – and all DX-based skills would be lowered one point! Only a Remove Curse spell or Great Wish can restore the lost attribute point magically, though it can be regained through normal character development (p. B81). A character can only lose one level from one attribute from any given specter. Roll randomly to choose which attribute to lower if two or more are equally the highest.

If the victim makes the HT roll, no physical harm is done, but he is stunned until he makes another HT roll, and will experience a cold chill running through him.

5. The specter has a chilling scream which is, in effect, a sonic attack. Treat this as either the Thunderclap spell (p. F22 / M66) or the Sound Jet spell (p. M67), though it's not really a magic attack in this case.

6. The specter has such a grisly appearance that viewers are often stunned or worse. Use the Fright Check rules on p. B93. Truly ghastly specters, such as those that carry a dripping head, can have up to a -3 modifier to the Will roll. Alternately, the specter can cast the Terror spell (p. M55) or the Panic spell (p. M57).

7. The specter casts the Madness spell (p. F33 / M57) at level 15. All rules apply: -1 per hex range, resisted by IQ-2, etc., except that it costs no fatigue and can be cast in 2 seconds. As an option, the specter may cast the Permanent Madness spell (p. M57).

8. The specter casts the Daze spell (p. F33 / M56) at level 15. The victim must be IQ 7 or above. All rules except fatigue apply. Note that although the specter itself can do no harm in this case, other denizens of a haunted area will have learned about this free-lunch program.

9. The specter casts the Sickness spell (p. F33 / M56) at level 15. The spell lasts until the victim leaves the haunted area or the specter is banished or destroyed. This spell may be cast on only one victim at a time. The GM may reduce casting time to 3 seconds or even less.

10. The specter casts the Death Vision spell (p. F30 / M61) at level 15. All rules except fatigue apply.

11. The specter casts the Possession spell (p. F27 / M27). It might be a while before the other PCs know one of their party has been taken over – then again, they might know immediately if he starts attacking them!

12. The specter casts the Lesser Geas spell (p. F34 / M58) to compel the PCs to help it fulfill its goals – see Specters' Motivations, for some possible missions.

Some specters might have no direct offensive powers, but great nuisance abilities. Such a creature might guide physical enemies to the object of its revenge, or make groans to attract attention at inopportune times. This type of specter might not be bound by geographical constraints – the specter of an unjustly murdered man might follow its murderer, hoping to bring about revenge. Note that this might work in the PCs' favor or against them.

Defenses and Weaknesses

Most specters can walk right through physical barriers. Some specters are stopped by Utter Domes, while others are not. None are bothered by Force Domes.

In general, a specter's only defense is to dodge (unless it has a materialized weapon). It cannot be stunned and is dispelled (permanently laid to rest) when its HT reaches 0 – unless number 12, below is true! If that's the case, the specter is only temporarily dispelled when its HT reaches 0. The GM decides how long of a reprieve the PCs have – legends suggest anything from a few minutes (or even seconds!), to a day, to a year, to a century!

Which of the following defenses (if any) exist is entirely up to the GM. Obviously, since many conflict, not all of them will be true – but they make lovely rumors!

1. The specter cannot be harmed by any physical weapons except magical ones, which do their usual damage.

2. Magic weapons do normal damage. Large metal weapons (swords, axes, halberds, etc.) do 2 hits of damage. Knives, wooden weapons, bullets, arrows, etc. do 1 hit of damage. Beam weapons do no damage at all.

3. Mental spells affect it. Missile spells have no effect on it, nor does any spell that produces a physical result (fire, water, earth, body control, etc.).

4. The Air Jet spell (p. F18 / M31) affects it as if it were a vaporous creature.

5. Fire spells and Air Jet are the only spells effective against it.

6. The specter can be harmed and turned away by the Turn Zombie spell (p. F31 / M62), exactly as if it were a zombie.

7. Persons with the Clerical Investment advantage (p. B 19 / M84) or Blessed advantage (p. M86) can dispel a specter by taking the Concentrate maneuver for 2 seconds and then making a quick contest of Wills with the specter. (The GM may grant a bonus for consistent "holy" roleplaying.) The GM makes the specter's Will roll in secret to represent the uncertainty of this working – in case of failure, the PC won't know if the roll failed or the rumor is false!

8. Holy symbols, water or oil may dispel a specter. A DX roll to hit is needed for holy water or oil, though not for held symbols. The GM may require a quick contest of Wills, as above, or may simply require Clerical Investment or the Blessed advantage for holy symbols to be effective.

9. Burning down a haunted structure will often cleanse it of a specter (though it makes it useless as a dwelling, and may destroy any treasure the specter was guarding).

10. Exorcism (p. H37 / F27 / M27) might also be effective against a specter.

11. The Banish spell (p. M64) might banish a specter for a limited time – anywhere from minutes to hours to days – or even permanently, at the GM's option.

12. There are legends of specters that could not be dispelled until someone walked through them – this can be true, even if the specter is capable of reducing an attribute of anyone who tries this! Sometimes only courage and self-sacrifice work against evil . . .

13. Some specters cannot be dispelled until a certain event occurs – see Specters' Motivations, above. The PCs may have to undertake a such a task to lay a specter at rest. If the mission is no longer possible to fulfill, the PCs may have to convince the specter that this is so – this may not be an easy task if the specter is bound to a physical location. It may even make no difference to the specter, in which case the PCs may be in for big trouble!

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